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Mercy Blade
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Mercy Blade

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Author: Faith Hunter
Publisher: Roc, 2011
Series: Jane Yellowrock: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Urban Fantasy
Vampires
Werewolves
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Synopsis

Jane, a shapeshifting vampire-hunter-for-hire, crosses paths with a stranger who has arrived in New Orleans, enlisted to hunt vampires who have gone insane-or so he says.


Excerpt

Chapter One

I Didn’t Know You Had a Brain

I rolled over, taking most of the covers with me as I stretched. I felt like a big, satisfied cat—well fed, well loved, and nearly purring with contentment. Beside me, still snoring softly, was Rick LaFleur, my boyfriend—Crap. I had a boyfriend. I was still trying to get used to the idea. We’d been together for over a month, when he wasn’t disappearing into the underbelly of New Orleans investigating—well, investigating something he had yet to share with me. Or when I wasn’t tied up with vamp HQ security systems. The Master of the City had ordered a total upgrade of the grounds; I was earning my retainer.

Our jobs meant stealing moments when we could.

The relationship with Rick was still new. Still scary. I still wasn’t sure when to push the barriers of conversation, or sharing of info, and when to hold back. Rick is a cop, and so some things he can’t share; my job means keeping client secrets, so ditto on the not sharing. It puts a barrier between us at times.

Worse, part of me was still fighting having him around. It wasn’t that I resisted commitment. Really. Part of me just resisted sharing my territory. I mean, I already shared my body with another soul, and having another person around so much had seriously affected my lifestyle, stealing time from the other half of my dual nature. I hadn’t shifted into Beast in two weeks, and while she had nothing but good stuff to say about my sex life, my big-cat was pacing unhappily at not being allowed out to hunt.

I sat up on the side of the bed and retied my hip-length hair into a sloppy knot at the back of my head, tucking silver-tipped stakes into the makeshift bun. For a rogue-vamp killer, it was an action similar to a cop carrying his weapon with him to potty. Overkill, paranoid, but once it had kept him alive, so it became habit. Stakes twenty-four/seven had become my new habit.

I eased out of bed and padded naked—except for the gold nugget necklace I never took off—to the bathroom of my tiny, one room apartment in the Appalachian Mountains. I had given my landlady notice on the place, and Rick and I had motored up from Louisiana on our bikes, his Kawasaki and my bastard Harley, rented a small truck, and cleared out my stuff. All that was left to load was the TV, the bikes themselves, and the last of my linens and clothes. Even the bed had come with the furnished apartment, and I didn’t own much except things I could carry—clothes and weapons. My job usually required a lot of travel, and I wasn’t in a position to own or keep a lot of stuff unless it helped me stay alive.

Starting to wake up, moving in the murky light with ease, I put on water for tea and turned on the coffeemaker. As I worked, I checked on the weather through the window to see a very dark, gray dawn, with lowering clouds, and intermittent rain. The thermometer on the tiny porch read seventy-two, not bad for summer in the mountains, though it might hit ninety by noon. We had arrived last night, and had only today in the high country before heading back to New Orleans, where I was living for the next six months, thanks to the retainer I had accepted from the Louisiana vamp council. When that gig was over, I’d have to make a decision where to live, but the last few months had been profitable enough to make that much less worrisome than during my once-upon-a-broke-and-destitute time. And with Rick in my life, well, it was nice to be sticking around one place for a while.

I sat in a pink painted chair at the kitchen table, waiting as water burbled in the coffeemaker and the flames hissed under the pot. Pink was my landlady’s color, not mine. The shade had never bothered me, as I wasn’t here often enough to care one way or the other about the décor, but Rick had teased me unmercifully about the frills, ruffles, tucks, buttons, and florals that Old Lady Pierson had thought appropriate for the rental space under the eaves of her house.

I clicked on the TV to check the time, muting the sound. CNN was on, showing a still shot of a good-looking man with fierce eyes, very black skin, and short-cropped hair. The words “Breaking News” lit the bar at the bottom, followed by the words, “BBC claims existence of Were-Creatures.”

“Crap,” I whispered. Beast woke inside me with the instant attentive awareness of the predator, and focused through my eyes at the screen. I eased up the volume one notch and drew on Beast’s excellent hearing to listen to the commentator, whose voice-over spoke about the picture of a reporter, blond-haired and fair-skinned, holding a microphone.

“Though no independent confirmation exists, BBC investigator Donald Cooper, seen here on the center screen, has released an interview with an African man, referred to only as Kemnebi, pictured on the upper screen. Kemnebi claims to be a werecat, a black leopard. In the footage that follows we see Kemnebi remove his clothing and shift into a jungle cat. We caution our viewers that the BBC footage is graphic and depicts partial nudity common to his culture.”

I leaned toward the screen and watched as footage began to roll. The man from the still shot, who was carefully filmed above the lower hips for decorum’s sake, began to remove his clothes, dropping them one by one to the floor. He bent, most of him disappearing from the screen as if to remove his pants, and then crossed the room. He was tall and thin, muscles well defined, his skin stretched over a frame without an ounce of fat. He moved with a lissome grace uncommon in humans other than dancers. Still silent, the man knelt on a cushion on the floor, the camera viewing him from the side, the long lean length of his body gleaming—a lot of skin for an American cable TV network.

Tension raced through me. It could be a joke. No new supernatural being had appeared on the world stage since the vamps and witches came out of the supernat-closet after the Secret Service staked Marilyn Monroe while she was trying to turn the president in the Oval Office. No elves, no pixies, no trolls, no brownies, no nothing. Certainly no weres or skinwalkers, or there weren’t since I killed the only one of my kind I’d ever met. That very old, very nutso skinwalker had stolen the form of a vamp and taken to killing and eating humans and vampires, so it had been a sanctioned kill. Since then, as a shape-shifter-in-hiding, I was a singularity in the world of humans, vamps, and witches. No longer, if the BBC’s claims were real. If.

I closed my fingers on the arms of the chair, digging in with my nails. I’m a skinwalker, not a were; I didn’t know if the magics would be the same, totally different, or only subtly dissimilar. If it was real.

The man began to lose focus. A pale fog seemed to sift from his skin and surround him, blurring him, the mist moving slowly, as if caught in a breeze. Dark lights sparkled through the haze, looking like black crystals on the digital footage. It wasn’t exactly the way I looked when I shifted, though a lot of things might affect what I was seeing, from the digital processing software to my cheap TV. But it was familiar. Very, achingly, familiar.

The black lights surrounding Kemnebi increased as the mist above his skin darkened, deepened. His bones popped, a sickening sound, as they shortened or lengthened and the joints reshaped. He threw back his head, mouth open in what looked like a silent scream, like gut-wrenching pain. Black hair sprouted all over his body. His spine bowed and arched. Canines grew up from his gums, an inch long on the bottom jaw, longer on top. His jaw and skull took on different contours, flowing into a catlike form. I could see the effort and agony as his flesh rippled, stretched, and restructured into something else.

I couldn’t look away from the screen. Cold sweat broke out on my body. I could hear my breath, coarse and uneven over the soft patter of rain on the metal roof. My heartbeat raced and stuttered.

Beast placed a clawed paw onto my mind as if to calm me, her gaze intent on the screen before us. Beast is not prey, she thought at me. Will not be afraid.

Yeah. Right, I thought back. I never looked away from the transformation on the television. My eyes burned, hot and scratchy. I shivered, skin prickling. Two minutes passed. The fog that was a man wisped away. A jungle cat sat on the floor where once the man had knelt. It had a black coat, with barely visible, muted spots that caught the light. Its paws had retractable claws like my Beast’s, but its tail was long and slender, unlike my Beast’s heavy, clubbed version. The black leopard looked into the camera. Huffed. And, I swear, it grinned.

Beast trembled deep inside, her coat bristling against my skin, coarse and almost painful. Big-cat. Like Beast. But not like Beast. Beast opened her mouth and chuffed in displeasure, pulling back her lips, showing her fangs deep in my mind, as if the leopard on screen could see her challenge and her strength. Beast is better. I/we are better hunter. Stronger.

“Is it real,” the CNN voice asked when it flashed back to a still of Donald Cooper, “or is it a hoax? Or maybe it’s only special effects for an upcoming British action-adventure blockbuster. Or . . .”—his voice dropped lower—“maybe other supernatural creatures like Kemnebi, the African black were- leopard, have been living among us all along. More on this breaking news as it develops.”

I flipped to the BBC, finding only footage of a war zone somewhere, and began flipping cable news stations for more on the were. There was nothing. Not yet. From behind me, I heard the bed squeak and had a moment to school my face as Rick rolled over and glanced at the television, then stared at me, sitting naked in the stark shadows created by the TV’s glare. He smiled slowly, his eyes roaming over me in the bluish light, his teeth white against his black, two-day beard. Even with the stubble—or maybe in part because of it—he was stunning. Black-eyed, slender, my six feet in height or an inch more, he had the smooth golden-olive complexion of his mostly French and American Indian heritage. With his shaggy, bed-head black hair, he was by far the prettiest man I had ever known. Just looking at him could make my heart speed up, dance around, and melt into a puddle of happy hormones. Even this morning when the world was changing around me. “Morning babe,” he said, voice gravelly with sleep. “What time is it? I smell coffee.”

“Morning yourself. Sorry I woke you. It’s five a.m. I put on a pot.”

“The rain woke me, not you. How did you live here with the noise?”

The question was rhetorical and I didn’t answer. I’d scarcely noticed the rain on the metal roof. As he slid from the sheets, the light from the TV caught the scars on his chest and abdomen, white against his skin, big-cat claws in harsh relief. He’d nearly died fighting the skinwalker in sabertooth lion form that tried to kill him while he was undercover for the New Orleans Police Department, something he’d half forgotten. He was alive today only because Beast and I had chased off the skinwalker and called the vampire Master of the City of New Orleans to save him.

Rick stretched his way into the bathroom, the flickering light dappling his skin, his tattoos looking dark and menacing—the golden eyes of the crouching mountain lion and the bobcat on one shoulder visible in the gloom, the globes of red on their claws too bright. I shivered again, seeing them. I didn’t believe in fate or karma, but the presence of my two cats painted on his body had always seemed like a sign, a portent, that we should, and one day would, be together. And now we were. When one of us wasn’t working.

The bobcat had been my first animal to shift into when I was a child. The mountain lion was my adult beast, and my Beast, the other soul sharing my head. That she was inside with me wasn’t skinwalker magic, but something darker. She was there by accident, but even an accident didn’t make the black magic any cleaner, purer, or more acceptable.

Beast is amused by my guilt, any guilt, even the guilt I feel about stealing her soul. My Beast goes by many names: cougar, puma, panther, catamount, screamer, devil-cat, silver lion, mountain lion, and even the North American black panther, but they all refer to one beast—the Puma concolor, which once was the widest ranging mammal on the North American continent, and is still one of the largest, modern-day land predators in the continental U.S. other than humans, bears, a few large wolves, and the vamps.

Rick moved toward the coffeepot like steel to a magnet and found a mug in the dark. My heart did a little pitter-patter and a blood flush touched my skin, evidence of Beast’s appreciation of my boyfriend. Since Rick and I had, um, gotten together, my own emotional roller coaster had smoothed out, and her rut had faded. I’d had no more peculiar crying jags, and Beast had begun to purr more often. When Beast is happy, everybody—or everyone in my body—is happy. I heard coffee pouring into the mug and the softer sounds of swallowing. Rick sighed in pleasure, a sound I was learning had many different meanings—food, music, and sex each had its own sigh, a breathy pleasure. Coffee, however, was in a category by itself, being as much relief as bliss.

I looked back at the TV, back on CNN, and saw a still shot of a sitting leopard. I gestured with the remote, keeping my voice light, slightly wry. “Big news. Guy claims he’s a black were-leopard. I just saw him change shape on BBC footage.”

Rick went still, staring at the screen, studying the jungle cat that was sitting with front paws close, ears pricked forward, preening and purring, making nice with the camera. “Pretty cat,” Rick murmured finally, his voice oddly casual. The “pretty cat” comment made me smile and made Beast huff with something like possessive jealousy, which was amusing on all kinds of levels.

Rick’s fingertips brushed the cat-claw scars on his chest, an unconscious gesture. “It’s got green eyes and a round pupil, like a human. Not cat eyes.”

Shock chased the contentment away. The sabertooth lion that had almost killed him had had round pupils. Rick was remembering. “Big-cats have a round pupil,” I said, my voice sounding calm despite my speeding heart rate. “Housecats and some smaller wildcats have a slit pupil.”

Rick grunted, eyes fixed on the screen, his tone mild in counterpoint, as if saying, Well, how ’bout that. “Turn it up.”

I did as he requested, and flipped to the BBC channel where the werecat news was on again, and Donald Cooper was saying, “—quite keen on the hunt, he is, when in cat form. Vegetarians and animal protection organizations the world over will likely put out quite a stink at his diet, which is fresh meat on the hoof, and, according to him, tastes better if he brings down his prey with his were-teeth and claws.”

Beast agreed with the statement, sending me images of a big-cat bringing down bigger prey. It was graphic and bloody and beastly. Beast huffed with amusement and retreated back into the darker parts of my mind.

Rick took his mug to the bed and sat, patting the mattress. Over coffee-scent, I smelled tea steeping. He’d poured hot water in the pot, over the leaves in the strainer. I smelled a strong black I particularly loved, an organic Darjeeling first flush that I would have all the time if I could, but at a hundred twenty bucks a pound, it was too dear for regular drinking. This pound was a gift from Rick, unexpected and generous and thoughtful.

In the kitchen, I removed the leaves and joined him in bed with my own mug, tea sweetened and topped with a dollop of Cool Whip, and carrying a box of Krispy Kremes that had been Hot ’n Now last night, and were still fresh enough to melt in my mouth. I curled into the crook of his arm, not easy when there was no height disparity, but not impossible for the truly determined. It was cozy and warm and well established, as if we cuddled this way every day instead of only when we could grab the time.

On some level I felt guilty for sleeping with Rick, for being so homey and comfortable with him outside of marriage. My housemother in the Christian children’s home where I grew up would have chided me for it. A lot. It was that guilt that pricked me now as I lay against him, watching the flickering screen. And that guilt that I shoved away, deep inside, to worry about later. A lot later.

Overhead, the rain’s metallic pattering grew into a drumming roar. Rick turned the TV up another two notches and I snuggled close to him, skin to skin, watching the events unfurl across the globe as America woke to a world quite different from the one they’d left behind in dreams. There was an unconscious tension thrumming through Rick as he watched, and his hand strayed often to his scars.

We had missed the interview with the black were-leopard, but tuned in for an in-depth and politically astute dialogue between Donald Cooper and Raymond Micheika, a rare African werelion who said he was the leader of the International Association of Weres, and of the Party of African Weres. Rick spelled out the acronym—PAW—and said he thought it was amusing, while I thought it was disingenuous and too cute for the raw power of the man. Raymond Micheika was an alpha predator, bigger than Beast and twice as vicious.

I can be big, she reminded me smugly. The I/we of Beast can be alpha male sabertooth. Kill any male big-cat in personal challenge.

“Some cat species run, live, and hunt in packs,” I murmured, to Rick as much as to Beast. “Take on one, I bet you take on them all.”

Rick said, “Yeah. I’d hate to meet him in a dark alley, especially with his cronies around. ‘We need a bigger gun,’” he paraphrased the old Jaws movie, his voice tight in contrast to the light words. I turned and watched his face. “If there’s cats, then there’s gotta be other things,” he said, sipping his coffee, his fingers still tracing his scars. “Maybe whatever gorilla-type creature Big Foot is. Maybe that fish thing they see in the Great Lakes. Werewolves,” Rick said. “The B-grade movie variety.” He knew I was watching him, but he kept his gaze on the TV, avoiding my eyes, not letting me in. He took a slow breath and said the words that had been playing around inside his head. “Sabertooth cats.” When I didn’t reply, he said, “Like the one that got me. You killed it. And it changed back to human.”

“Part human,” I said, watching his face, my breath tight, “part vamp, part sabertooth.”

“If they only change partway back when they die, why haven’t we found any half-human skeletons?” His fingers caressed his scars, his eyes glued to the TV, tension buzzing through him, almost singing from him.

“He wasn’t a were,” I said slowly, knowing we were straying perilously close to the word skinwalker.

“He was something else.” His hand slid from his scars, his tension softening. That was what I liked most about Rick, other than his sex-on-a-stick smile, his tats, and his ability to let me do my job without being overly protective. He was smart. He didn’t overanalyze things. He just . . . accepted what was.

“Yeah.”

The thing I liked least about him, however, was job related—the fact that we couldn’t share much of our lives. So far, though we’d been sleeping together for weeks, he hadn’t talked about the attack that nearly killed him. He’d been undercover at the time, and the story he had been told was that I had followed him in human form, chased off the cat that had mauled him, and later killed it. But his memories had to include two cats not one. Some day we’d have to address that. Some day we had to address a lot of things, if our relationship was to continue.

I sipped my tea, waiting, giving him a chance to draw whatever conclusions he might be heading toward. He opened his mouth, stopped, closed it. It was like missing a step in a dance. As if something had gone astray, been omitted, and I had no idea what.

A half beat later, Rick indicated the TV with his mug and veered the subject onto a different course, his tone forced, but lighter, his voice the cop-tone he used when he was telling something he knew for fact. “That’s a slick bit of video. This wasn’t filmed fast and dumped on the airwaves. They spent time with it, which means the BBC’s known about weres for a while.”

I shifted slightly to see his face better. But he didn’t look my way. “And?” I asked, trying to read his body language, recognizing the slight trace of adrenaline leaching from his pores.

“There’s no way they could keep it totally under wraps. Word probably got out that it was going to hit the airwaves. And whatever weres we have in the U.S. will have been informed it was going to break and will make a statement. Fast.” He said it like a pronouncement rather than just guessing.

When Rick was undercover, he had been investigating the vamps, and though he’d been outed to them, any weres . . . Crap. Any weres would never know he was a cop. He could fit in anywhere, which had made him so good undercover. And Rick had been mostly unavailable for the last couple of weeks, appearing for quick breakfast dates, late-night dinners, and for this trip into the mountains to move me to New Orleans. Suddenly I realized why Rick had been working undercover. It had something to do with weres.

My cold chills returned, lifting my skin in tight points as if my pelt rose. Beast rumbled inside, watching Rick, curious, focused, like a kitten watching a fluffy toy twisting on the end of a string, not sure if attack was warranted. I breathed in through my open mouth, Beast-like. The scent of his body was like the color of daffodils, yellow and tart. Rick did know something.

He took a donut and ate it in three bites, washing it down with coffee. “This announcement,” he said, sounding more certain than prophetic, “will be followed with one of several reactions.” He licked the sugar from a finger and held it up. “One. The press will go wild. That’s axiomatic, actually.” He held up another finger. “Two. More weres’ll come out of the closet. Three. The white supremacists and the xenophobic human extremists’ll join hands and vow to hunt down and exterminate the nonhumans.”

“And they call you a glass-is-half-full kinda guy.” I could hear the low timbre of concern in my voice.

“Hey, I’m an optimist, babe,” Rick said. But he still hadn’t taken his eyes off the TV; he still hadn’t looked at me. He chuckled and took another donut, gesturing with it. “It’s gonna be a zoo. You know. Wild animals. Zoo.”

I made the requisite groan over the humor. “You know something, don’t you?”

He lifted a shoulder, noncommittal.

Apprehension started to churn in the pit of my stomach, heavy, bitter tasting, a dark recirculating whirlpool of possibilities. Wondering what he knew. Wondering if—okay, hoping that—skinwalkers would come out with the weres. Hoping that I finally wouldn’t be alone. And worrying what Rick might do when—if—he learned he had been sleeping with one. “Pretty cat,” he’d said of the black were-leopard, as if he had liked it. But it was a heck of a lot easier to be blasé about a theory; it might be quite different in a relationship reality. And lastly, wondering what he had been doing undercover with weres.

I hadn’t smelled anything on him, but his sisters had cats, and there were at least a dozen barn cats at his parents’ place. If he’d been with werecats I might not have noticed.

Back on the BBC, Donald was chatting with the big-cat, Kemnebi, once again in human form, about how he became a cat, the interview we had missed. The werecat spoke English, the dialect one of those liquid African accents that flowed like water down stone. “We reproduce much as human do, mating and having baby. But we have litter, some small, some large, some with cat baby that have potential to change to human, some with human baby that have potential to change to cat. Some with both. Potential is there, ready to be awakened.”

“You don’t bite to make a werecat?” the anchor asked, clearly surprised.

“No. To bite a human, even in self-defense is against all of our laws,” he said, his black-skinned face compelling. “To bite a human, hoping to turn him into one of us is a death sentence. We may not mate with human, for fear of passing the contagion. For this crime, there is no mercy.”

Rick started to speak and stopped. A broken instant later, he said, “Jodi’s gonna love adding that to the woo-woo files.” Jodi is Rick’s boss, in charge of all paranormal investigations in the party city of the South. “Especially the part about a human-shaped mother giving birth to a litter of kittens and humans all at the same time.”

I didn’t reply. We watched, switching channels between the networks and the cable stations as the sky lightened outside, despite the din of rain. We didn’t talk, though I wanted to ask questions, wanted to know what Rick was thinking. I had a feeling that a normal girl would have been pumping him for answers about his were-knowledge. But I had no idea what to ask or how. Unlike most girls, I hadn’t spent my early years absorbing the social interactions between humans. Impossible to do while living inside the body of a mountain lion; nearly as hard to do while living in a children’s home, the amnesiac outsider with no English and no past. So I sat on the bed, my shoulder under Rick’s, snuggled close, with him, but alone.

Near six a.m., Rick changed to FOX, which was running an interview purported to be with one of the leaders of the U.S. werewolves, the Lupus Clan, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “What’d I tell you?” Rick said. We’d slid down in the bed, under the covers, mugs replenished and a box of cereal open between us as we ate it, dry. “Werewolves. B-grade movie version.” The purported wolfman was muscled but slender, strawberry blond, tough-looking, aggressive, angry, gesticulating in a hostile manner, his words being bleeped as he cursed at the reporter.

Rick said, “Bet it’d tick him off to hear this, but he’s mean as a pit bull.”

It struck me as funny and I chuckled, mostly in relief. Rick slanted me a grin and I snorted, feeling better, though not sure why. On TV, the pit bull/werewolf was still going at it.

“He stands about six feet tall,” Rick mused, “and probably one eighty. How big do you think he’d be as a wolf?” There was something odd about his tone, but then there was something odd about Rick today altogether, so I didn’t know how to categorize this new odd.

“If the law of conservation of mass and energy holds true,” I said, thinking about what happened when I shifted into any animal that genetically might equal my body mass, “then he’d be a wolf weighing in at one eighty.” Rick looked at me in surprise. “What?” I asked. “I took physics in high school.”

“So did I but I’d never remember the name of a law. I didn’t know you had a brain,” he said, teasing. I made a fist and mimed socking him. He took my fist and kissed my fingers, one at time which had my toes curling. I gripped his hand, holding it tightly, as if it might disappear. As if he might disappear. “Besides,” Rick said, his lips moving against my knuckles, “it’s magic. Why would the physical laws hold true?”

“Why wouldn’t they? Those black motes that floated around him when he changed looked like sparks of some kind, which is energy.” I muted the TV and rolled over so I could look up at him, and so he’d have better access to my fingers and any other parts of me he might want to reach, wanting to touch him, wanting him to touch me. I slid my other hand up his arm, his skin warm against my palm. “When the man became a black were-leopard, the cat looked big enough to weigh one eighty.”

“So if a fat guy got turned into a were, he’d be a fat were?”

I laughed at the mental image of a pudgy black leopard, rolls of fat undulating as he walked. Beast showed fangs, not amused. “No. Remember, that Micheika guy said the caloric requirements of shifting were enormous.”

“So fat people could get bitten by a were and lose weight every time the moon was full.”

“You’re a funny guy. Funny, funny guy.” But the mundane dull chitchat and the texture of his skin had relaxed me. “They get killed for biting a human. Not a good way to promote weight loss.”

“There is that. And they go furry once a month. Hard to hold down a job with that.” Rick returned his attention to the TV and switched between news channels to stop on CNN again, where they were playing an early morning telephone interview with a Texas senator named Jones about the “problem with the supernatural creatures in our midst,” as he put it. Jones, his speech pattern stolen from small- town Southern Baptist preachers, said, “In species that live for cent-u-ries instead of decades, of what use are sta-tutes of lim-i-ta-tion? And, how long is a life sentence for vampires, who live decades longer than real humans? How will we deal with the cost to the prison system in terms of prison cells that will be occupied for cent-u-ries? In terms of feeding the bloodsuckers? Keeping them safe from the sun? In terms of the confine-ment require-ments to hold a creature that is so much stronger than humans. How do we control the foul things?”

“For vamps, you hire a vamp-killer,” I said to the screen, “and give them true-death, according to Mithran Law. Human law can’t apply. Which Congress will figure out sooner or later.”

“They haven’t so far,” Rick said, cynical and disparaging, “and it’s playing havoc with the legal system.”

Just to round out the hater-of-nonhumans, Jones added, “And these witches. The Holy Scriptures tells us that we, ‘must not suffer a witch to live’.” He raised a finger toward the sky. “Our great coun-try has already fallen far from God’s i-deal by allowing—”

Rick lowered the volume and switched through the news channels, the TV glare flashing with each channel-jump. He said, “Even money says Jones likes small boys, and that he’ll propose a law that allows law enforcement officers to shoot first and ask questions later when it comes to weres, vamps, and witches.”

“Did you hear that?” I rolled back upright and took the remote, found the channel and raised the volume on the TV to hear the wolfman say, “—killed my grandfather, Henri Molyneux, and stole our hunting territory from us. Murder and grand theft.” He snarled, “I can prove Leo Pellissier is guilty of it. And”—he glared into the TV camera—“there’s no statute of limitations on murder.”

“Oh, crap,” I muttered, seeing a sidebar photo of Leo, vampire Master of the City of New Orleans, dressed in a tuxedo, looking gorgeous and suave and anything but dangerous. I’d seen him wearing his other face, his vamped-out, creepy, and dangerous as a rabid wolf face. Though the wolf thought may not be politically acceptable now.

Rick laughed, half mocking, slanting his eyes at me. “Vacation’s over,” he said. “Your boss is accused of murder. You know he’ll want his pet rogue-vamp killer at his side.” He looked at the time on the screen. “It’s ten minutes to dawn. He’ll call. Five bucks.” He held out his hand to shake on the offered bet.

“You knew all about this,” I accused. Rick shrugged, not denying it. “And you offer me awful bets,” I grumbled. “No thanks.” Five minutes later, my new cell phone chirped. Rick rolled out of bed, hunting up his clothes.

I answered the phone, which displayed Leo Pellissier’s private number.

Copyright © 2011 by Faith Hunter


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