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Blood Trade

(The sixth book in the Jane Yellowrock series)

A novel by Faith Hunter

To the Hubby, my Renaissance Man,

for all the everyday declarations of love. And for the new shelves and cabinets in my writing room. Squeee!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND NOTE

I want to thank my fans. You have made this series a success. I adore each and every one of you! Next time you eat a piece of really good chocolate, think of me!

A huge thank-you to Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency for her comments and suggestions. Blood Trade is much better because of her. And my fantasy career—well . . . I wouldn’t have one but for her.

A huge, HUGE thank-you to Jessica Wade, my editor at Roc. This book survived only because of her magical hand, amazing talents, and inexhaustible patience. I need to buy you a tiara.

And a special thanks to Mike Prater for helping me with weapons info. Fewer errors took place in this novel because of you. (And all errors are mine!)

Note to readers:

I often change places, things, and people in my books from the reality, and I am not just talking about making magic or skinwalkers real. Sometimes it’s more subtle, like changing street names for my convenience or the layout of a police station to protect our men in blue. And sometimes I change history.

In Blood Trade I changed Under the Hill. If you go to Natchez today, Under the Hill looks nothing like the place I have imagined. It’s Under the Hill as I want it to be, if the witches had been able to hold the earth secure during the huge earthquake of 1811–1812. But hey—it’s fiction.

The church I described on Jefferson Street is wholly from my imagination.

Enjoy reading.

Faith

CHAPTER 1

Been There, Shot the Place Up

I threw my leg over Bitsa and slammed my weight down on the kick start. The engine fired up with the rumble only a Harley can boast. It should have made me feel better, that lovely roar, but it didn’t. I was too ticked off. Or something. I wasn’t big on introspection or self-analysis; I just knew I wasn’t happy and hadn’t been in weeks. It had started back at Christmas and New Year’s, which I’d spent alone. Well, as alone as a girl can be living with two men.

Previously, my new roommates—the Younger brothers—and I had spent days training, learning how to work together, wisecracking, and picking on one another. More recently, they had proven themselves good about giving me space and letting me hide in my room. My black mood had started when the Kid, the younger Younger, demanded a Christmas tree and gift giving. I have no idea why. But I’d been impossible to live with for weeks and I knew it.

Stretching back, I locked the gate blocking the narrow drive of my freebie house in New Orleans and took off into the dawn. It was chilly and damp, gray and miserable. Winter, Deep South style, suited my mood. I’d never been the emotional type—no weepy Wilma, not whiny, teary-eyed, depressed . . .

My inner self stilled, the wind buffeting me as I leaned over Bitsa and gunned the engine, heading out of the French Quarter. Smelling the now-familiar scents of Cajun food and water-water-everywhere. Thinking about that word—depressed.

Crap. I’d never been depressed before, but I was now. Classic case of it. Lack of interest in much of anything, sleeping too much or unable to sleep at all. Not eating enough or binging on protein. Staying in my room with the door closed, lying on the bed, staring at the overhead fan. Not shifting into my Beast- form to hunt in months had to be contributing to it. Not dealing with Beast’s little problem.

I’m a skinwalker, a shape-changer, sharing my physical form—and physical forms—with the soul of a mountain lion I’d accidently pulled into myself when I was five years old and fighting for my life. And Beast’s current little problem was a good reason not to shift, though it left her feeling ticked off, and a ticked-off big-cat isn’t a pretty thing.

The only thing I had been doing was riding my bike through bayou country all alone, sightseeing, trying to see how far away from New Orleans I could get before that Beastly problem made distance difficult. Or impossible. And I’d been working out, lifting weights. A lot of weights. I had put on twenty pounds of pure muscle. When I finally shifted into Beast again, she was going to have to accommodate the extra poundage. Somehow.

“I’m depressed,” I murmured into the wind, trying the words on for size. Yeah. Depressed. I felt a shadow lift off me just admitting it to myself.

I knew why I was depressed. I’d screwed up so bad, so often, in the past year that I’d lost friends, lovers, and, well, that was enough. Wasn’t it? Now that I knew what was wrong, I could do something about it. If I could figure out what to do. This moodiness was uncharted territory.

Letting that thought simmer on the back burner of my mind, I wended my way through the city, heading uptown, which meant upriver, as everything in New Orleans was about the Mississippi River—uptown was upstream; downtown was downstream (something new I’d learned about the city that was my temporary home). I needed to cross the river, and though I could have taken the newer Crescent City Connection, part of I-90, I took the older, narrow, dangerous, two-lane hell of the Huey P. Long Bridge. I liked the old bridge, maybe because it was so dangerous; it had character, like an old noir film, a bridge leading out of the Land of Shangri-la.

On the other side of the Mississippi, I headed through Westwego and then vaguely west, like the town’s name suggested. Unsurprisingly, I found myself headed to Aggie One Feather’s place, adjacent to the John Lafitte Preserve, a wilderness area where the Cherokee elder who was my personal shaman—and probably my personal counselor too, now that I knew my emotional state—lived. But I could tell that she was still out of town. No car in the drive, shades pulled, no smell on the still air of coffee or bacon cooking, and the sweathouse out back had no smoke seeping from the chimney.

I slowed to a stop and set my boot soles on the shell-based asphalt, thinking about going into the sweathouse by myself, but I’d had some difficult experiences going it alone in there and wasn’t ready to try that again, even with the depression to motivate me. Even though I had some really heavy stuff to deal with. And so did my Beast.

I thought about the mountain lion soul who lived inside me, but she was still asleep, curled into a tight ball, her nose under her long, thick tail. She had been sleeping a lot lately, angry because I wasn’t letting her out to hunt—because I was afraid she’d do something stupid, like track down the vampire Master of the City, roll over and show him her belly, and then lick his feet. My fear was caused by a silver chain that no one but Beast and I could see. It was in the place in my mind that Aggie One Feather called my soul home, and the chain was some kind of binding that curled from Beast’s leg across the floor to a shadow in the corner of my mind, a shadow that was Leo Pellissier, the Master of the City of New Orleans and the entire Southeast USA, with the exception of Florida. Leo was the biggest, baddest fanghead I’d ever met. He was also my boss, for now, because I couldn’t actually get

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