For my stop, I have a short story from the Jane Yellowrock series. Be sure to enter the Giveaway!
Set in the same world as the New York Times bestselling Jane Yellowrock novels, an all-new series starring Nell Ingram, who wields powers as old as the earth.
When Nell Ingram met skinwalker Jane Yellowrock, she was almost alone in the world, exiled by both choice and fear from the cult she was raised in, defending herself with the magic she drew from her deep connection to the forest that surrounds her. Now, Jane has referred Nell to PsyLED, a Homeland Security agency policing paranormals, and agent Rick LaFleur has shown up at Nell’s doorstep. His appearance forces her out of her isolated life into an investigation that leads to the vampire Blood Master of Nashville. Nell has a team-—and a mission. But to find the Master’s kidnapped vassal, Nell and the PsyLED team will be forced to go deep into the heart of the very cult Nell fears, infiltrating the cult and a humans-only terrorist group before time runs out…
Off the Grid
By Faith HunterThis story takes place just before Broken Soul. In it, you’ll meet Nell, who will be getting her own series! The first book, BLOOD OF THE EARTH will be published in August 2016.We found the colonel’s house and entered, to the accompaniment of a new hymn from the church, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and I had to wonder if the colonel was singing with the men, bragging to God that his people had defeated the government types at the gates. But he wasn’t singing. He was in bed with three naked girls, one who looked about twenty and two others who looked much, much younger.
The colonel rose to his knees on the mattress and shouted, “Guards! Guards!” I switched on a lamp to see the shriveled, wasted man, his skin hanging in long folds on his lanky, pasty body. His tanned hands were fisted in the hair of a child. She wasn’t crying. She didn’t even seem to be afraid. She was staring out the window into the night, vacant-eyed, empty-souled.
His was the scent on the women in the punishment house. His scent was on the child he held. The anger that was simmering in my blood began to boil. I felt Beast’s claws press against the tips of my fingers. Kill one who hurt kits, she thought.
“Your guards, they’re not gonna help you,” Yummy said between her fangs.
“Vampire! I call upon the Holy Ghost to smite thee, demon of hell!” he roared, shaking the child by her hair. Her body juddered and quivered. But she didn’t make a sound.
“Me and the big guy up there are close, personal pals,” Yummy said. “He’s too busy at the moment to answer. You’re all mine, baby.”
I reached across Yummy, stopping her forward movement, and took the colonel’s wrist in mine. The girl couldn’t see what I was doing. What I was going to do. Silently, watching his face, I broke his index finger. The colonel cursed and let the girl go. I dropped the colonel’s maimed hand and covered the girl with the blankets. Sometime in the last few moments, the other girls had disappeared out the front door into the night.
Yummy laughed, her eyes on me, and said, “Yeah. Just like that.” To the colonel, she said, “The Holy Ghost wants to have a word of prayer with you, old man.” Faster than I could see, she gripped the man around the throat and yanked him to her.
Yummy’s power raced over me like a burst of static electricity, lifting the hairs on the back of my arms. “This one is mine,” she said, her words measured and low. It was a challenge I wasn’t going to argue. I gave her a slow, steady nod. Yummy took the old man out the front door, carrying him by the throat.
It was against the law for vamps to kill humans. My morals and the law were at odds, but . . . I looked at the silent girl, huddling on the sheets, still staring into the dark. I didn’t feel the least bit bad about the colonel. He had been alive when I last saw him. As far as the law was concerned, that was enough to protect me.
Sirens sounded in the distance. We were out of time. Local law enforcement and the state cops had made the trek through the crevasse and were on the premises, somehow with a cop car. I tapped my mic on and whispered, “Time’s up. You got her?”
“We have her,” Prince said. “We are taking her up the cliff now.”
“Let’s go home, boys and girls,” I said into the mic. “See you back at the van.” As I left, I checked the Cohen house out, the one marked on Nell’s map. It looked secure. I smelled women and children. No blood. I hoped their safety was worth whatever Heyda had been through.
The drive back was silent except for the sounds of Heyda feeding. She had been out of her mind with anguish and blood-loss when found, and it had been all the vamps could do to get her back to the van. Once off the mountain and heading home, all the humans from her clan fed her, followed by all the vamps. It took a lot of blood to feed a drained and tortured vampire back to sanity. I’d seen a vamp drained into madness before. It was pretty awful.
Heyda’s skin was the blue-white of death, except where she was bruised from beatings. Her head had been shaved. There were dozens of half-healed cuts on her. Her wrists and ankles had been shackled with silver and were blistered, the skin torn and blackened in places. I didn’t know what Yummy had done with the colonel, but no matter what she had done, it wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t.
When we got back to the clan home, Ming met us in the drive. Heyda fell out of the back of the van, into her maker’s arms. Instantly Ming pulled the injured vamp to her and leaned back her neck in one of those not-human movements. Heyda, already vamped-out, bit down into Ming’s carotid and started drinking. The other vamps gathered around, the mixed power of vamps rising on the night air in a ceremony that I had seen once, but never completely understood. The prince was part of the mix, his arms around both vamps. I guessed the little challenge between him and Eli was off for the time being, which was fine by me.
The driver closed the side doors and got back in the cab, gunning the motor of the old van and heading away from the clan home, back to our hotel. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the leather headrest.
Yummy hadn’t been with us on the ride home. I figured that was a good thing. It might be good if I never saw the vamp again. But there’s something about the universe that forces us to face our fears and our pasts and our weaknesses. I had a feeling that Yummy and I would cross paths again someday.
On the drive through Knoxville, Alex hacked in to the police coms and informed us that the local and state law enforcement officers were taking a number of children and women into protective custody and had arrested several men and women for various and sundry crimes, with more arrests and charges pending. It wasn’t enough, not with what I’d seen and smelled at the compound, but like a lot of things in my life, it would have to do.
The next afternoon, I rode Fang up the hillside to see Nell, to thank her for the help and for the intel. To determine a few things about her. To suggest a few things to her about her security and, maybe, a few things about her future. This time when she met me on the front porch, she wasn’t carrying a gun. She was wearing a long skirt and flip-flops, her brown hair pulled back in a braid, much like the way I wore mine. She was sitting on the swing, whose chain supports had been replaced with new steel that creaked pleasantly when she pushed off with a toe. I hoped the money Alex had left on the front porch last night had gone toward the dress and the chains.
I rode Fang all the way up to the end of the drive and left the bike in the sun, the metal pinging and ticking as it cooled. “Afternoon, Nell,” I said.
“Jane Yellowrock. You’uns come set a spell,” she said in the local vernacular. “I got you some good strong iced tea with honey and ginger in it.”
I never drank tea that way, but it seemed impolite to make a face. I climbed the steps and accepted a sweating tea glass. The green glass was old, bubbled with air like old, handblown glass. It probably was an antique; there were treasures in these hills. I sat, sipped, and was pleasantly surprised by the taste. After a comfortable moment, I said, “You act like you were expecting me.”
“I was, sorta. Don’t know why.”
“Is it because of the magic I feel every time I put a foot on the ground here?”
Nell’s face paled to nearly vamp-white. She whispered, “I’m not a witch.”
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Right? That’s the way you were taught.”
Nell just stared and I felt the land around me rise, as if aware, as if to protect her, the current of intent passing through the foundation of the house, into the porch chair where I sat, and into me. And I caught again the scent of Nell Nicholson Ingram. “My people would have called you yi-ne-hi. Or maybe yv-wi tsv-di. Or even a-ma-yi-ne-hi. You would have been respected and maybe a little feared, but not burned or tortured or beaten.”
Nell frowned, not knowing that her body language was telling me so much about her. About her life in another time, another place, but still so close. Just over the ridge.
“I’m not a witch,” she whispered again, as if saying it so tonelessly, so repetitively over the years, had kept her safe.
“No. Your gift isn’t witch magic.”
Nell blinked. “It’s not?”
I let my mouth curl up slightly. “I’m not even a hundred percent sure it would properly be called magic. More a paranormal gift of some sort, but then, I’m not a specialist.”
“You’re not human either.”
My smile went wider and I sipped the tea, letting her put things together.
“Are you like me?”
I heard the plaintive tone in her words. I knew what it was to be so very alone in the world. I knew that my answer would cause her pain and leave her feeling even more alone. “No.” My smile slid away. “I only ever met one other like me before. He tried to kill me. I had to kill him to save my life. Now I’m alone. Maybe forever.”
Nell looked away from my eyes, holding her green glass in both hands. “Forever is a long time to be alone.”
Nell had been alone since her husband died, according to what Alex had been able to dig up on her—which was next to nothing. Just Nell and her dogs, on this mountain land, for years. “It’s all good,” I said. “Life is good. I do good for humans and for others, outcasts, people in need. I protect the innocent when I can. There may not be others like me, but I found a place for myself. Found friends. People who came to me and we made a family. I have a job. A purpose.”
“You think I need a purpose. You think that living here, making my way, reading my books, and growing things isn’t good enough.” Her chin lifted. “Proust said, ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’ I got new eyes aplenty. I don’t want to leave. I’m not a hundred percent sure I even can.”
I thought about that for a while, as the old bird dog climbed the short steps and curled under Nell’s swing, his tail thumping on the smooth boards. I had been chained to Leo Pellissier once upon a time. I hadn’t been able to leave his side for long without getting terribly sick. Maybe Nell was chained to the land in much the same way. “You never know how far you can travel until you start walking.”
“Who said that?”
“I did. And no one said you’d have to leave the land forever.”
“You already told people about me, didn’t you?”
“I did. I’m sorry. But the vampires who ran across your mountain felt your magic in the land. Felt it thrum up through their feet. They knew you were something special. To keep them from coming after you, maybe changing you whether you want it or not. I told a friend about you. He’ll be coming to talk to you soon. To offer his protection. To try to get you to work with him. Working with him offers you safety from all the others. Working with him will keep the vamps from sniffing around. Working with him will keep you safer from the church, from whoever takes over for the colonel.”
“You made the colonel disappear, didn’t you?”
“Not me. But I didn’t stop the one who did.”
Nell looked out over her land, the lawn rolling down the sloping hill into the trees, something odd on her face. Something I couldn’t read. “The colonel’s heir is Ernest Jr.,” she said, without looking at me. “He’s evil through and through. Junior hates me with a hatred like a forge, burning hot. Hatred like that shapes a man, and never in a good way. Junior will kill me if he gets half a chance. Kill me and take my land.” She sighed, the sound wistful. “Life is like train tracks, parallel rails, one side blessings, the other side troubles. I’ve been blessed for years. Now I guess I might have to ride the other rail for a while, again.”
“And that other rail, it might prove to be a blessing too.”
Nell shook her head sadly. “Go away, Jane Yellowrock. Go back to your vampires and your witches and your search for whatever you are. Get off my land. Leave me in peace. Please.”
I stood and set the green iced tea glass on a small table. Beside it I placed a card. “This belongs to the friend I mentioned. He’s a cop in PsyLED. He’s a pretty boy, black hair and black eyes. Up here, he’d be called Indian-looking, Cherokee, like me. But he’s mostly Frenchy. He’ll take care of you. Get you introduced to his people. Just don’t fall in love with him. He’ll break your heart.”
“You already done that, Jane. You already done that.”
Knowing I had changed this girl’s life forever, I walked down the steps and swung my leg over Fang. “I can’t say I’m sorry,” I said. “I’d do it again. You losing your peaceful life meant getting one hundred thirty-eight physically and mentally abused children out of the clutches of God’s Cloud of Glory Church. And you might not want to admit it yet, but you’d let me do it again too.”
I had done the best I could, despite shoving Nell out of the shadows and into the limelight. She was no longer off the grid. No longer hidden away. The rest was up to Nell. I keyed the bike on and rode off Nell’s mountain and back into Knoxville. I had a private jet waiting on me, a flight back to New Orleans and the problems that awaited me there. There were always problems with fangheads.
Usually I had buyer’s remorse about taking a job with the vamps. Usually I spent a lot of time in self-recrimination and guilt and second-guessing myself and my choices and my decisions. But just this once, I felt good about a job for the bloodsuckers. A job well done. One hundred thirty-eight children set free. And a pedophile and sexual predator gone missing.
I wondered where Yummy had buried the old man.
I wondered if he had died on Nell’s land.
I wonder a lot of things. But I seldom have answers. Rogue-vamp hunters and Enforcers act in a vacuum, flying by the seat of our pants. And now, flying back to New Orleans in the Master of the City’s private jet, I knew I was flying back into trouble. But I was flying with the Youngers. A girl could do a lot worse.
Faith Hunter, fantasy writer, was born in Louisiana and raised all over the south. She writes three Urban Fantasy series: the Skinwalker series, featuring Jane Yellowrock, a Cherokee skinwalker who hunts rogue vampires. The Soulwood series, featuring earth magic user Nell Ingram. And the Rogue Mage novels, a dark, urban, post-apocalyptic, fantasy series featuring Thorn St. Croix, a stone mage. (There is a role playing game based on the series, ROGUE MAGE.)
Under the pen name Gwen Hunter, she writes action-adventure, mysteries, and thrillers. As Faith and Gwen, she has 30+ books in print in 29 countries.
Hunter writes full-time, tries to keep house, and is a workaholic with a passion for travel, jewelry making, white-water kayaking, and writing. She and her husband love to RV, traveling with their rescued Pomeranians to whitewater rivers all over the Southeast.
Faith is giving away a $25 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card (winner’s choice), and 5 custom key chains. Open to US residents only.