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       Black Water, p.1

           Faith Hunter
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Black Water


  Also by Faith Hunter

  The Jane Yellowrock Novels

  Skinwalker

  Blood Cross

  Mercy Blade

  Cat Tales (a short-story compilation)

  Raven Cursed

  Have Stakes Will Travel (a short-story compilation)

  Death’s Rival

  Blood Trade

  The Rogue Mage Novels

  Bloodring

  Seraphs

  Host

  The Jane Yellowrock World Companion

  Black Water

  Stories from the World of Jane Yellowrock

  Faith Hunter

  InterMix Books, New York

  INTERMIX BOOKS

  PUBLISHED BY THE PENGUIN GROUP

  PENGUIN GROUP (USA) LLC

  375 HUDSON STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10014, USA

  USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

  penguin.com

  A Penguin Random House Company

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  BLACK WATER

  An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

  PUBLISHING HISTORY

  InterMix eBook edition / September 2014

  Copyright © 2014 by Faith Hunter.

  Excerpt from Broken Soul copyright © 2014 by Faith Hunter.

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-18815-0

  INTERMIX

  InterMix Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group

  and New American Library, divisions of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  INTERMIX® and the “IM” design are registered trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

  Version_1

  This compilation is dedicated to the Kicker. We know who you are.

  CONTENTS

  Also by Faith Hunter

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Letter from the Author

  Chronology of Books and Stories

  Black Water

  Snafu

  Off the Grid

  Special Preview of Broken Soul

  Acknowledgements

  About the Author

  Hi, All!

  Let me start by making a confession. Honestly? Until the Jane Yellowrock series, I never thought I could even write a short story. The length seemed too truncated to achieve any kind of character development or intensity of suspense. And then I started writing them. Oh My Gosh! The fun of kicking butt in very few words! The shorter format lets me learn things about Jane’s pals that I never did before, and delve into their backstories in ways that I can’t in a novel. It also lets me find and reveal things about Jane that I hadn’t known and sometimes try new weapons for Jane that might not make it into the longer format of a novel. In these two stories, I discovered lots of cool stuff about all the characters.

  This collection includes two very long short stories and one shorter vignette. The long stories take place in between existing novels in the Jane Yellowrock series. “Black Water” sees Jane back in Chauvin, Louisiana, where she has some unfinished business, tied up with the family of Rick LaFleur.

  The vignette, “Snafu,” is a fun snippet that gives a glimpse into Jane’s untold, early backstory. Fans always want to know how Jane got from the children’s home where she was raised to the job of rogue-vamp hunter. Well, here’s her first day on the job. It introduces Nomad, who becomes more than just a boss. You’ll definitely be hearing more about him in the future.

  The last story, “Off the Grid,” is one I’m incredibly excited about. It’s from Jane’s point of view, and it introduces a character named Nell Nicholson. Nell popped into my head one day and I couldn’t shake this idea for a scene: her answering the door to Jane with a shotgun cocked. Who is this woman? Does she always answer the door with a gun? Why? What is she afraid of? Or maybe better—who is hunting her? As I began to explore who she was and what her abilities were, I realized her backstory was fascinating. She’s going to get involved in Jane’s world, and she’s also going to be the star of her own series of novels, debuting next year from Roc.

  And finally you’re getting an exclusive preview: the first two chapters of Broken Soul, the next Jane Yellowrock novel. It hits the shelves October 7, 2014.

  I hope you enjoy.

  Faith Hunter

  Chronology of Books and Stories

  WeSa and the Lumber King (in the compilation Have Stakes Will Travel)

  The Early Years (in the compilation Cat Tales)

  Snafu (Prequel)

  Cat Tats (in the compilation Cat Tales)

  Kits (in the compilation Cat Tales)

  Haints (in the compilation Have Stakes Will Travel)

  Signatures of the Dead (in the anthology Strange Brew and the compilation Have Stakes Will Travel)

  Skinwalker

  First Sight (in the Jane Yellowrock Companion Guide)

  Blood Cross

  Mercy Blade

  Easy Pickings (crossover, alternative universe e-novella with C. E. Murphy)

  Blood, Fangs, and Going Furry (in the compilation Cat Tales)

  Dance Master (in the Jane Yellowrock Companion Guide)

  Raven Cursed

  Cajun With Fangs (in the compilation Have Stakes Will Travel)

  Golden Delicious (in the anthology An Apple for the Teacher)

  Death’s Rival

  Blood Trade

  The Devil’s Left Boot (in the anthology Kicking It)

  Beneath a Bloody Moon (a novella in the Jane Yellowrock Companion Guide)

  Black Water (in the compilation Black Water)

  Black Arts

  Off the Grid (in the compilation Black Water)

  Broken Soul

  Dark Heir

  Black Water

  Author’s Note: This novella takes place (in the JY timeline) after Blood Trade and before Black Arts.

  I took the long, bumpy roads south of New Orleans, to the backwaters of Louisiana, in Terrebonne Parish. I had been there recently with my business partners in Yellowrock Securities, Eli and Alex Younger. With us had been Special Agent, PsyLED, Rick LaFleur, and his supernat team, Brute and Pea. We had been hired to track and kill a werewolf pack, which we had done. We left the place better off than when we found it.

  Or so I’d thought.

  Until I’d received a text from Harold, who owned the Sandlapper
Guesthouse with his wife, Clara. We’d stayed with them, partly because Harold was the uncle of my sorta boyfriend, Rick. Harold’s text was to the point: Man w gun looking for you. Come quick. On the heels of the text had been the news coming from Chauvin, Louisiana, today—video of cops at a crime scene, near the Sandlapper.

  The press hadn’t said much except that a rampage had occurred in Chauvin and news vans were on the way with more to follow soon in this “Breaking news report.” Harold didn’t respond to my texts back. And Rick hadn’t replied to my texts asking for details. Harold and Clara were part of Rick’s extended family. He would know what had happened. And he wasn’t saying.

  So here I was, riding Bitsa (built with bitsa this and bitsa that, from two rotted, rusted Harley bikes) down the horrible Louisiana roads and into danger—a man with a gun looking for me. Lately my enemies all had fangs, and most weres and vamps didn’t use guns. Humans used guns. I had no idea what human I had ticked off in Chauvin, but I was gifted that way—ticking off people. I had cleaned house, and someone wasn’t happy about it.

  ***

  I pulled into the parking lot of the Sandlapper Guesthouse, on 56, south of Chauvin, wheeled between sheriff deputy cars, a CSI van, and video news vans. The deputies looked relaxed and at ease, so they had been here awhile and had everything under control, but the news teams were still active. Crap. I was gonna get filmed, appear on TV news, and then I’d have to explain to my business partners why I’d come back here, alone, without the team. They needed time off. They were human; I wasn’t. And the last job, here in Chauvin, had been draining. But that argument wasn’t going to fly and I knew it. I’d deal with that later. For now, I needed to get to Harold and Clara.

  I cut off Bitsa, set the kick, bungeed my helmet to the back of the seat, stuck my hands in my pockets to appear nonthreatening to the sheriff’s deputies, and headed closer, wearing a friendly smile. I kept my face turned away from the news cameras, but if the media wanted to know who I was, they’d figure it out. There weren’t that many six-feet-tall, long-black-haired Cherokee females anywhere.

  The cops studying me wore distinctly hostile faces, hands near gun butts, and I paused at the youngest cop, a redhead with freckles and bright eyes. Trying for innocent, I said, “Hey. What’s going on here?”

  “You need to move along, miss,” the older one said, his hand sliding over his gun. The small strap that kept the weapon seated came unsnapped with a tiny click of sound. Somebody was in a mood. But I was smart enough not to say it.

  Before I could reply, the wind shifted and I smelled the sickly stench of old blood. Human. I came to a stop, mouth open, breathing in air over my tongue and the roof of my mouth, scenting as my Beast did, with a soft scree of sound. I took the place in more carefully, smelling the old blood, the fresher stink of injured humans, and the nitrocellulose of fired weapons. By the smells, Harold and Clara were on the premises, wounded. I wasn’t sure how that was possible. Cops usually made sure any injured people were taken to a hospital right away.

  I couldn’t shake the feeling this was connected to my last job somehow.

  The cops were looking at me strangely and I attempted a smile while I took another breath. A hint of magic tingled on my tongue; an old and weary magic. Crap. Where were Harold and Clara?

  The mom-and-pop hotel was built on stilts to protect it from high tides and storm surge. The extra height gave every room fabulous water views, with fish-cleaning stations, parking, and rentable, fenced gear lockers/storage units underneath the hotel proper. Fishermen loved it. So had I. Harold and Clara lived on the far side. And there were other ways in, instead of through the cops.

  Not waiting to get permission to enter—which I wasn’t going to get in any case—I lifted a hand in what might have been interpreted as a farewell gesture and headed back to Bitsa. I pushed the bike farther into the shadows under the hotel. And slid into the darkness. I pulled my cell. The unit was top-of-the-line, a communication device built for the military, to deflect bullets and work off anything—Internet towers, satellite, Wi-Fi—anything. It also let the Master of the City of New Orleans, Leo Pellissier, keep tabs on my whereabouts. Which reminded me that I hadn’t called to tell him I was coming here. My bad. Currently I had text messages waiting, most from the Kid. I sent back a quick K, not bothering to read them. Alex was wordy and I could digest them later. Unzipping my motorcycle jacket, I drew the nine-millimeter semiautomatic, slid the safety off, and chambered a round without looking. Muscle memory. Handy thing, that. It was an automatic reaction, probably a stupid one, since I’d just been seen by the cops, but I couldn’t make myself put the weapon away. Instead I added to it. With my left hand, I palmed a blade, a silver-plated, steel-edged throwing knife. Silver was poisonous to most supernatural creatures, and everything that might hurt me could bleed. The TV cameras hadn’t followed me. The deputies were shooting the breeze with a medic crew. I’d been forgotten. Good.

  As I ascended the back stairs, I evaluated scents. Except for human blood, the acrid residue from fired weapons, and the salty taste of the Gulf of Mexico, nothing I smelled was familiar. Not were, not witch, not vamp, not anything I remembered smelling before, and my repertory of scents was vast, compared to humans’.

  I made my way up the last step, as silent as the squeaky, weather-worn wood allowed. The smell got stronger, but oddly it made me relax. The gunfire had happened much earlier, and someone was cleaning up. I smelled bleach. Heard water sloshing. Heard soft cursing and softer laughter. It wasn’t happy laughter, but rather the kind of laughter humans made when they could either laugh or bust out crying. I recognized the voices of Clara and Harold. I chuffed out a relieved breath.

  Inside, my Beast relaxed. Humans not dead, she thought at me. I/we knew this.

  I slid the small blade out of sight, into its thigh sheath, but thought better of holstering my sidearm. I didn’t want to be unarmed if the couple were under compulsion or had uninvited guests that the cops had missed. I followed the smells to their corner rooms and stopped just outside in the covered walkway. The light was against me. If I bobbed my head to peer in the windows, anyone inside would see me silhouetted against the bright afternoon sky. If there were still cops inside, they wouldn’t like the fact that I’d bypassed their crime scene tape. Weapon by my thigh in one hand, index finger along the slide, off the trigger, I made my way to the door, passing right in front of the windows. The glare obscured everything inside, but no one shot me. That was always a good thing. I tapped on the door and it opened almost instantly.

  Harold’s welcoming gaze changed to surprise as it shifted from my face and down to my gun. I shrugged with what I hoped was a good-natured smile, sniffed to make sure there was no magical residue or compulsion on him—just in case—removed the round from the chamber, and holstered the weapon. The extra round went into a pocket.

  “Flying carpet?” Harold asked, holding the door open.

  “Um.” Which seemed like a perfectly acceptable response to the odd question.

  “Thanks for getting here so fast,” he added.

  “Oh. Yeah. Sure,” I said, entering the second-floor apartment. I was such a smooth talker.

  Except for muscular arms, Harold was a round kinda guy. Round belly, round, bald head, round eyes, and round face, which now had horizontal lines across the forehead and vertical lines along the sides of his mouth. His face reminded me of a pop quiz in a geometry class in school.

  The entry was divided by a counter with apparatus and paperwork for guests to sign in. Behind it was the couple’s living quarters. I breathed in the room’s smells and took in dainty, delicate Clara on her knees just inside the door, a bucket beside her giving off the stink of chlorine bleach and soap. She had a sponge in one hand, a small brush in the other, and relief on her face.

  “Thank God you’re here,” Clara said.

  Before we could get further, my cell rang, an unknown number
on it. I answered and said, “Yellowrock Securities.”

  “Jane.”

  Inside, my Beast sat up and purred. “Ricky Bo, as I live and breathe. You must be calling from your office number.”

  “Got it in one, darlin’.”

  Instantly, inexplicably, I was irritated, mostly at the “darlin’” but also because this couldn’t be good news. I was standing at a crime scene in his relatives’ home. Rick had to be wanting me to do him a favor. Again. Even though I had yet to be paid by Uncle Sam for the last one. I snarled, “What’s with the darlin’ stuff?”

  “I. . . uh.” He stopped talking and then seemed to change, as if he put my mood in a box, sealed it up, and tossed it in the basement. If he had a basement. He turned on his business voice. Cop business. “I need a favor in Chauvin. A big favor.”

  I blew out a breath and most of my irritation. He was a cop to his bones and a man loyal to his family, traits I liked. I couldn’t—shouldn’t—get upset when the behaviors resulting from his natural inclinations and his job worked against me. A wordless apology in my tone, I said, “I’m standing in front of Harold now.”

  “Yeah? Why?” he asked, voice cautious.

  “Because Harold texted me that a man with a gun wanted to see me. I figured that whatever happened could be related to my last job here, and if not, then I’d see what I could do to help your uncle. I’m nice that way.”

  I could hear the smile back in his voice when he said, “Yes, you are. And what do you think about the crime?”

  “No werewolf stink. No one dead.” I shrugged and punched the screen. “You’re on speakerphone. Local LEOs are gone. Press is still out front. Clara is cleaning up human blood.” I meandered as I talked and placed my finger over one of many holes in the front door, measuring. “There’s evidence of a shotgun being fired into the door.” I sniffed the hole and smelled fresh gunpowder and fresh wood. An interesting combo. “Shot came from inside; door was open at the time. Blood on the wall and floor inside. Crime scene tape, but no CSI around, which tells me there was a crime but it was unimportant, or the cops were too lazy to work it up, which doesn’t sound like your cousin, the sheriff.” I looked at Harold. “What happened?”

 
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