Home > Dark Queen (Jane Yellowrock #12)(2)

Dark Queen (Jane Yellowrock #12)(2)
Author: Faith Hunter

A man had come to my door and tried to kill me. I should let Eli do his job. Except . . . A cop, maybe even a real cop with real badge. Yellow eyes. Floral scent.

Skinwalker, Beast thought at me again. Demanding.

My shock settled. Just having the word spoken between us helped. “Yeah.”

I climbed the stairs to Eli. I needed to talk to him before I did anything. I needed my partner’s tactical and strategic experience. Mostly I just needed Eli Younger to help me get . . . steady. To help me think. My belly seemed a bit better, but the headache was getting worse and rational thinking wasn’t easy. I knocked Eli’s round down too, until it now aimed at the floor. I stood in front of Eli, not certain what to do. Eli would say I should pull him into the time bubble with me. It was the most satisfactory tactic in this battle situation. But spending time in no-time did bad things to genetic structures.

My own was a scrambled mess that might lead to death someday from a brain tumor, a brain aneurysm, a stroke, or maybe bleeding out through my damaged digestive tract. The nausea and headaches were getting much worse much faster, and after today, I had no doubt that they were part of bending/bubbling time. Not that a doctor could tell me what might happen to a skinwalker with damaged genes. Until this minute I’d thought I was the only skinwalker alive. I’d killed the only other one I had met in the last hundred seventy years. He had been u’tlun’ta, killing and eating and replacing people with his own shape-shifting abilities. Black magic even worse than what I had done when I killed Beast and pulled her soul inside with me.

Beast thought, Prey is at watering hole. Attack or hide.

It was the thought concept of a predator cat, a Puma concolor, making me decide.

Bad use of Jane’s minutes, she added, though Beast had little concept of time except now, soon, later, before, hungry, seasons, and moon cycles. Animals didn’t follow time as humans did.

Choose, she demanded. Head hurts.

I gripped Eli’s right arm, pulling him into the time bubble. He stumbled and I caught him, shoving his weapon up and away. “Jane?” he said, almost startled at the time change. Almost but not quite. It was hard to startle one of Uncle Sam’s best, especially as he had been in the Gray Between with me before. He looked at the unwelcome visitor. “Who?”

“Don’t know. Wearing a PsyLED badge.” I held up the badge as proof. “Using the new Glock issued to PsyLED. He speaks some of the language of The People. He called me by my Cherokee name. And then called me u’tlun’ta.”

“He smell like you?”

“No. Floral.” My own scent was a challenge to most vampires, until the team leader accepted me. Then that one’s underlings fell into line and accepted me too. But oral history, things people had told me about a skinwalker who had lived in New Orleans a century and more ago, hinted that at least one other skinwalker had smelled like flowers. At some point soon, I had to track down the vamp who had owned her and ask questions. In my copious free time. Right.

Eli frowned. He checked the altered trajectory of his round, patted my hand, telling me to not let go, which would drop him into normal time. He lifted a thigh rig from the floor and strapped it onto his shower-damp body and seated his weapon in its Kydex holster. He looked me over, seeing too much. “Your head?”


Eli grunted. With one free hand, he gripped my arm, making sure we didn’t separate. Together we pattered down the steps, back to the killer. “We still don’t know if all skinwalkers can bubble time or if it’s unique,” he said, “part of you and Beast. We need to make sure he doesn’t learn that you have that skill.”

“It’s on video footage at HQ,” I said.

“Yeah. But that’s in a time and place where witch magic could be playing tricks. Discussing that with cops is a battle for tomorrow. We play it by ear, wronged, in danger, and innocent.” Eli looked the visitor over as if he was a piece of terrain to be taken from the enemy, staring into the yellow eyes, as if looking for contacts. Eli frowned. “Too bad I can’t get his weapon away without pulling him into time with us. Let me get to the left side of the doorframe, weapon drawn, ready to fire. You get into your previous position, and let me go. Then you take the guy out. I’ll take care that the weapon doesn’t fire again.”

“Okay. Modified kata guruma?” Kata guruma was a dramatic, vicious martial takedown.

“Okay by me. Use his hair. Grab his dumplings and give ’em a twist as you slam him down, but toss him inside. We got gawkers.” He meant the tourists on the sidewalk across the street. “I’ll have his weapon long before he hits.”

I shrugged and put the vamp-killer and the PsyLED badge on the floor, out of the way, then stepped into position, my foot touching Eli’s to keep him in my time bubble, my body and hands almost touching the stranger. Eli positioned his hands just above and beneath the killer’s gun hand. “Now,” I said to my partner. Eli moved his foot. Instantly I was alone in the Gray Between. My head spun and spiked with pain. I took a breath to keep from throwing up and blew it out. And dropped the Gray Between. Drew on Beast speed.

The overlapping gunshots sounded, blasting the silence away as I seized the lustrous, slick black hair instead of the back of his neck. Reached between his legs and seized his testicles in a crushing grip. Lifted high, as I pulled his head down low to my right side. And slammed him inside the house and into the foyer floor. Not a textbook move but good enough. All in one faster-than-human motion.

The house shook. The man made a breathless, squealing, squeaking sound. Eli was standing over him, holding the attacker’s weapon and his own, both pointing at the man. Maybe a whole second had passed. He lay on the floor, his hands between his legs. Squeaking still. His golden-skinned face pale as death. His eyes rolled up.

“I will not”—I hesitated—“nuwhtohiyada gotlvdi. I don’t make peace with assassins.” I kicked his foot out of the way and closed the door on the startled cries of the onlookers and the winter air. Winter in New Orleans meant the high sixties, but still. It was the ecologically appropriate thing to do.

“I missed it. What happened?” Eli’s younger brother, Alex, asked, running in from the living room. He hadn’t answered the door. Probably playing some kind of video game and couldn’t be bothered.

“Jane happened,” Eli said, his dark skin picking up the lights through the layers of stained glass and bulletproof glass.

The man on the floor groaned. Eli patted him down and removed a weapon from a leather ankle holster. From a small pocket built in the holster, he also pulled a tooth and held it out to me. The canine tooth was curved and sharp, nearly two inches in length. A big-cat tooth, longer and slightly more narrow at the root end than a Puma concolor tooth, though curved, like all Western Hemisphere big-cats. Whatever species, it was additional evidence that the man was a skinwalker. He carried the genetic material of his favorite animal to shift into in case of injury or near death. He might feel like he was dying, but he’d live. I curled my fist around the tooth. Ignored the bass drum pounding and the ice picks stabbing inside my head. Ignored the desire to hurl my cookies.

Alex brought up kitchen chairs. We all three sat in a small ring around the downed man and watched, as if he was a one-man play. Alex passed around ice-cold bottled Cokes—my favorite way to drink Coke now—and a bag of potato chips. I smothered a laugh at the picture we must have made. I chewed, watching. The man’s color wasn’t getting any better. “How long does it take to get over a testicle twisting?”

“With your grip?” Eli asked casually. “Days?”

Alex made a sound that was mostly “gack” and crossed his legs, suddenly pale even despite his mixed-race heritage.

“Three minutes till he can breathe?” Eli guessed. He reached out and took my wrist, guesstimating my pulse, still saying nothing in front of the outsider about my headache and nausea.

“Better cuff him,” Alex advised. “As entertaining as this is, we got work to do.”

“True,” I said. “And I’m in my jammies.”

“You went to the door in your PJs? Shame on you,” Alex said.

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