Home > Dark Queen (Jane Yellowrock #12)(3)

Dark Queen (Jane Yellowrock #12)(3)
Author: Faith Hunter

“I know, right? I should comb my hair. Dress. Maybe even makeup. For company, you know.”

“Girly stuff,” Eli said at my makeup comment. Frowning, he dropped my wrist. “You get any sleep?” he asked, but really asking about my sickness.

“Not a lick.” I touched my head and winced. “Of course, now that I’ve exercised a little, I’m sleepy. And we have uninvited company and I can’t go back to bed.”

“Always the way,” Eli said.

“Dude showed up unannounced, and tried to kill you. Double case of the rudes,” Alex said.

The man on the floor gurgled.

“Ice pack?” I suggested.

“Nah. Let him suffer,” Eli said. He bent forward and rested his elbows on his knees, hands together under his chin, watching the man’s ribs try to work. Casually, he added, “He’s turning blue.”

“I see that,” I said.

“You people are sadistic. I’m going back to my game.”

“Shooting and dismembering nonhumans on video? Sadistic, much?” Eli asked, his words sorta mushy, due to his chin on fists.

“Totally not the same,” Alex said, shaking his head, the long, tight curls around his face swinging. “Alien bugs. Exoskeletons. Antennae. Multiple legs. Green goo instead of blood.” The curls stopped swaying. They were tangled, hanging in spirals like a shaggy mop. He needed a haircut. And a shave. Alex had a lot of whiskers on his dark-skinned chin.

I blinked, surprised. His masculine chin. His eyes were deep-set over sharp cheekbones. His shoulders were broad and his arms were well-defined under his T-shirt. Holy crap. He had been doing chores and helping to cook and clean up without being asked for months. Taking showers regularly. Joining us in weightlifting, martial art practice, and sparring workouts, and he had been to the shooting range several dozen times. Alex was . . . adulting. Stinky had grown up into a very nice-looking man.

“What?” he demanded when he caught me gawking, jutting out his chin, peeved. His tone was the one a teenager makes to meddlesome parents. He squinted his eyes and frowned, short-tempered and petulant. A child still.

“Never mind. Just a bad dream. Go back to your game.”

Alex stomped off.

“Kid’s growing up,” Eli said without looking up, reading my mind. “It’s disconcerting.”

“Yeah. It is.” I picked up my vamp-killer and went to my room, setting the blade on the bedside table beside the nine-mil and bringing back my cuffs. “You cuff him. I’ll sit on him in case he’s faking.”

“No way he’s faking. Men do not turn that color from anything else. You cuff him.”

I shrugged, bent over the man on the floor, grabbed his arm, and whipped him facedown. Stepped on his spine. Yanked up his arms. Cuffed him. He made a sound that let me know he had managed a breath. “He’ll live. If he’s a skinwalker he’ll heal even if he has to shift. And I’m not feeling really chatty right now with a guy who tried to kill me.”

The shooter was lying on the very dusty foyer floor, the dust well scuffed around him, smeared all over his nice pants and jacket. We had a renovation going, opening the attic into a third floor, and the dust had quickly become ubiquitous. Even Eli’s super-neat streak couldn’t keep up with it.

Eli said, “He had a big-cat tooth amulet. Like yours.”

“Yeah. He did.” I wore my tooth fetish on a gold chain around my neck, with the gold nugget that tied me metaphysically to the time and place I’d shifted for the first time as an adult. Most days, I hardly noticed the necklace; it was part of me. I also owned several fetish necklaces with the bones and teeth of other predators I might need to change into, and I’d added a few creatures to my collection recently. I had the ability to shift into prey animals of a similar mass, but Beast hated it when I did that. She was a carnivore and preferred to never be a prey animal. She was also grumpy and callously passive-aggressive. I tried to keep her happy.

I closed my door on Eli and the stranger and tossed my black jammies on the bed. I took a half dozen antacid tablets, four aspirin, and two Tylenol. Meds don’t work on me like they do on humans, but at this point I was willing to try anything. I dressed in jeans and layered tees and stomped into an old, scuffed pair of Lucchese boots. They had started out a gorgeous green, but I hadn’t made a habit of cleaning and caring for the leather, and the damp Louisiana air had left them sorta moldy on the outside. I wiped them down with a rag to reveal the color of the leather, which had weathered to a greenish charcoal. They looked like something I’d wear to a barn to muck out stalls. I really needed to pay them some attention. I combed and braided my hair and slashed lipstick on my mouth. Looked at myself in the mirror. Black hair. Amber eyes. Golden-copper skin.

The man had hair the same length and color as mine. I ran my hand down my braid. Same texture. He was Tsalagi. He was skinwalker.

I was no longer alone in the world.

Hope billowed up from some forgotten crevice deep inside me.

But like the last one I found, this skinwalker had tried to kill me too. I shoved down the useless traitor of hope and capped off the fissure. I would not waste emotion on the possibility of finding a skinwalker who didn’t want to kill me. Hope was a lie.

Sometimes life sucked.

I dropped my braid and left my room. In the foyer, the chairs were gone. So was the man. Eli was carrying the stranger to the kitchen, a handful of long hair and the cuffs in his right hand, the man’s belt in his left. The fancy shoes were getting scuffed as they dragged, and by his breathing, it was clear the carry position wasn’t helping his cojones. The stranger had to weigh two hundred pounds, but Eli carried him as if he weighed forty. Eli swung him up and into a chair like a bale of hay and the guy landed with a thump. On his butt, but probably banging his damaged cojones on the wood seat. The man groaned.

“Been there, bub. Hurts like a mother,” Eli muttered, recuffing the man’s hands in front. “I’m making coffee and tea. You act like a normal polite human and I’ll let you have some. And some aspirin. You act stupid and I’ll let my sister at you again. Understand?”

The man didn’t reply, but I swelled up with happiness. Eli had called me his sister, and neither the Cherokee adoption procedures nor the vamp ones had even started.

Alex, apparently over his pique, grunted behind me and said, “My bro’s getting all lovey-dovey in his old age.” I felt something deflate inside me, until he added, “Offering a coffee to a killer. So sweet.”

“I didn’t offer him the best espresso, just some coffee. Standard American. Or one of Jane’s cheaper teas.”

I let the smile that had started at the use of the word sister spread. This was way better than hope. This was real. The thought of family settled me.

I heard a horn beep outside. Eli tossed the man’s badge, his wallet, his key fob, and a pack of gum on the table. “PsyLED ID or a very good fake. Key beeped to a government vehicle with government plates down the street. Appears he drove here alone, but Alex’s systems are keeping watch on the exterior cams for a partner.”

The man lifted his head. His eyes were squinted in pain, but his breathing was slow and regulated as he tried to work through the misery. Skinwalker healing was way better than human. His color was returning. But he didn’t talk.

I said, “While my brother makes us all something civilized to drink, I can duct tape your legs to the chair or you can give me your word of honor that you’ll be good.”

The stranger sat up straighter and tossed his tangled hair back. “Brother?” His voice was graveled with pain. “Not by blood. Mixed race black and maybe Choctaw. Not Chelokay.” Chelokay was another way of saying Tsaligi—Cherokee in the speech of The People. That was intended as an insult, delivered without looking at Eli. Ignoring another warrior was an additional insult. “You’re u’tlun’ta,” he said to me, pronouncing the word a little different from my own hut-luna, though close enough. It was insult number three. On top of trying to kill me. Dude was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, obviously being deliberately bad mannered to see if I’d go u’tlun’ta on his ass. “But you didn’t try to kill me,” he said as if thinking things through. “Why? Since I fired at you. And how did you not get shot? There is no way I could have missed.”

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