Collected together for the first time, this volume contains shorter works featuring heroines Jane Yellowrock and Nell Ingram, as well as a host of other characters from the Jane Yellowrock and Soulwood series. Faith Hunter is “an expert at creating worlds filled with intriguing supernatural elements and exciting scenarios”* and her skills are on full display in this collection. From a vampire-filled Halloween evening in New Orleans to the searing tale of how a certain were-leopard first got his spots, this collection has something for everyone, and each story is sure to put the super in supernatural.
With eighteen stories in all, Of Claws and Fangs will enrich and entertain—it’s a must-have for Faith Hunter’s readers and all lovers of fantasy.
*RT Book Reviews
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Candy from a Vampire
A vignette first published online, on my blog, as a serial blog tour short for Halloween in 2017. It is from the point of view of Leo Pellissier, a view of his thoughts, for which my fans have often clamored.
Leo Pellissier stood outside the Royal Mojo Blues Company, a bucket—a cauldron, really—filled with individual servings of candy in front of him. Each piece was wrapped in paper, or foil, or foiled paper, with the ingredients in tiny print on the back, showing calorie content and fat content, which was significant, and nutritional value, which was negligible. He had always thought that was the point of candy, that it was to be nothing but sugar and fat and delicious. A treat, back in his day, a sweet that was earned when he had done something good, like staying on his pony through a trot, over small fences, or translated a particularly difficult Latin tale into the French or Castilian or Greek, as his tutor demanded. His hand beaten with a thin strip of wood when he failed, and his presence at dinner denied. Treats when he succeeded. It was the way of his father’s house. Carrot and stick. Or candy and stick. It had been effective then. Now children could have sweets at every meal. And on All Hallows Eve, even more.
It was scarcely past sunset and the streets were filled with adults in various stages of inebriation, accompanied by various stages of nudity, the closer to Bourbon Street one drew. Costumes that did far more than hint were everywhere, even here at the Mithran Council Chambers. But here, as tradition dictated, there were children. Many, many children.
Halloween in the French Quarter of New Orleans had been changed forever when Marilyn Monroe had attempted to turn John Kennedy in the Oval Office and been staked for her trouble. That next year, 1963, Leo had appeared for the first time, in full tuxedo and a black cloak, with scarlet silk lining, to hand out candy. Personally. The children had been bused in from all over the city at Mithran expense. And back then, a parent thought nothing of putting children on a bus and sending them off for a party, which was what he had put on for them, all along the street in front of the chambers.
There had been humans dressed as storybook witches in every doorway, some with hot cauldrons full of liquid pralines that they ladled onto waxed paper, allowed to cool and solidify, and gave away, others offering popcorn balls or caramels. Jugglers, clowns, artists of every stripe were encouraged to display their wares. Musicians stood on every street corner, with baskets or open instrument cases before them for tips. There were pony rides. The press wandered among the crowds, taking photographs for the Times-Picayune and to show on CBS or NBC or ABC, all across the nation. The party had been a ploy to improve public opinion of the newly revealed Creatures of Darkness, as described by a young, up-and-coming newsman whose name he had long forgotten.
The street party had been successful at the time. Now, fewer parents allowed their children onto the chartered buses, instead throwing parties for them in the safety of their schools or in private homes. And when they did allow the children aboard, the parents came too, holding their child’s hand. These days monsters on the streets might be human, intent on much worse than stealing a little blood.
There were fewer and fewer newsmen and newswomen on the streets to photograph the decades-old tradition. Perhaps in a few years, he would discontinue the party, or perhaps make it bigger. He could add wine tasting and beer tasting, and persuade restaurants to bring their foods to taste, in order to attract an older, more sophisticated crowd.
But there were still a few here tonight. Children and reporters both. Enough each year to brave the Quarter for the joy of taking candy from a vampire. And this year, one of the candy makers was a real witch, one he recognized from her dossier. He nodded regally to Suzanne Richardson-White, an earth witch with a gift for making pralines that rivaled Aunt Sally’s. It was a sign of improvement between the races that she was here, in public, sharing a street with a Mithran. On All Hallows Eve. She nodded back, an amused expression on her face.
A little girl with bright red hair raced up to him, her brown paper sack held out in two tiny fists. “Twick or Tweat, Mr. Pewisir.”
“Oh, please. No tricks tonight,” Leo said, reaching down and lifting up enough candy to turn the little girl into an instant diabetic. He let them all fall in a cascade of shushing sounds into her bag. He felt the moment the cameras focused on him and the little girl, and he smiled his public smile, toothy but totally human, the smile that the whole world knew.
“Thank you, Mr. Pewisir,” the little girl said, before racing away to the next candy station.
“You’re welcome, my dear,” Leo replied, though she was no longer there to hear, and a tiny tot in a cowboy suit took her place, his father standing behind, smiling, as if remembering the time he took the bus to this section of the French Quarter to receive candy from a vampire.
The hours wore on, and the crowds thinned. The moon rose in a hazy night sky.
Suzanne dipped up the last of the candies and closed her booth. She packed her mini-cauldron and the brazier that had kept the melted sugar hot. He watched from beneath the streetlight as she moved, her body encased in a corset, the laces holding and reshaping her curves, her breasts thrust up high and rounded. Her flowing witch’s dress was made of silk and netting, the fabric catching the night breeze as if a spell caused it to float. She wore ankle boots with tiny spike heels and the kind of old-fashioned buttons that had to be closed with a hook. He had always loved taking such shoes off a woman. And corsets.
Leo smiled. The girl was all of thirty, a graduate of Tulane. He had learned that acting on such thoughts was considered improper for anyone, especially for an old man such as he. Jane Yellowrock had made him rethink many things that he had once taken as his due.
“Shall I pack everything away?” Del asked, interrupting his reverie.
Leo turned to her and smiled his nonpublic smile, the one he kept for retainers and blood-servants, especially those he depended upon for security and a pleasant life. “Thank you, Del. Yes, it’s late.”
Del spoke into a headpiece, calling in the menials who would clean up and take down the candy stand. She was efficient and beautiful and far too bright and accomplished to be acting as a caterer, though as primo, that was part of her job from time to time. Perhaps too often.
“Del? . . .” She looked up at him, instantly alert for any need he might have. He studied her in the wan yellowed light that tried unsuccessfully to replicate gas streetlights of his early years in New Orleans. “You look lovely tonight. Are you happy in my employ?”
Del’s blond brows went up in surprise, wrinkling her forehead. “Thank—Sir?”
She sounded . . . nonplussed. As if he never asked such things of her, of any of his dependents. And perhaps he had not done so, not in a long while. Had ruling made him hard and insensitive? Jane had insisted this was true, the last time he called her for some small service. Her exact words had been, “Do it yourself, your Royal Fangyness. This is my day off. And maybe it’s time to stop being such a royal ass.” She had hung up on him. And while he had raged, he had also enjoyed the exchange, her indifference, her rebellion, her refusal to bow before him.
To Del, Leo said, “I have been remiss in asking. I want you to be happy in my service, Del. I want you to find joy here, in New Orleans, fulfillment and satisfaction. What can I do to make certain that happens?”
Security closed in around him, urging their small crowd to move down the street. A limo pulled around the corner. Behind him, the kitchen servants began to tear down the candy stand. He and Del walked toward the approaching limo, their legs illuminated in the headlights.
“I don’t know what to say,” Del admitted as the limo slid to a stop beside them. The door opened and Derek Lee, head of security, stepped out, scanning the darkness for threats. Del slid in, her blond, upswept hair and pale skin catching the light. But her eyes were brighter than he had seen in some time.
Yes. Jane was right. He had been more than remiss. “Well, think about it. You are not a menial, but skilled and capable. Your legal degree and aptitude make you too valuable to waste on tedious and humble tasks. You have proven both ability and loyalty.” He smiled again as Derek took his place across from them and closed the limo door. The armored vehicle pulled into traffic. “I am prepared to entrust my personal legal affairs to you. Perhaps I shall also ask you to oversee the financial affairs of the city and the clans. Such jobs as these”—he indicated the darkness and the stand that fell behind them—“could be better administered by a secretary or personal assistant.”
Del’s eyes lit up. “I know just the woman. She’s bright and sharp and detail-oriented.”
“I trust your decision.” He waved languid fingers in the air. “See to it. And for her first task, have her schedule a meeting with you and my law firm.”
“Yes, sir.” Her voice sounded breathy. Excited. “Thank you, sir.”
“Think nothing of it. Happy All Hallows Eve.”
Make It Snappy
“Make It Snappy” was first published in Urban Enemies, an anthology from Gallery Books (2017), edited by Joseph Nassise. The story is from Leo’s point of view and is set in the modern-day world of Jane Yellowrock, but a few years before Jane and Leo Pellissier meet.
Leo eased the girl’s blond head off his shoulder. She was asleep, dreaming blissfully about their encounter, his mesmerism and the power of his blood ensuring her happiness. He ran a hand over her hip. Her body was rounded and plump, the perfect vision of beauty until modern times. Now when he visited those sworn to his service, he was often offered scrawny, bony creatures with no curves, no soft and pleasing warmth. She murmured in her sleep, pleasure in her voice and on her face.
Many of his kind preferred the scent of fear, the unwilling, the blood-bound. He preferred his meals willing, even if only by bargain. This one came to him at dusk, when he woke, offering herself in return for a simple favor. He tried to remember her name as he dressed. Cynthia? Sharon? Simone? She had been an easy read, offering all of her past but for one small corner of her thoughts that was closed off and darkened, perhaps some trauma, some childhood fear. He’d left it there, in the depths of her mind, silent and untouched.
He strapped a small blade to each wrist, positioning the hilts in their spring-loaded scabbards. Shrugged into his crisp dove-gray shirt and black suit. Tied the contrasting charcoal tie. No denim or T-shirts for him. He had worked too hard for too many centuries to dress down in casual clothing, using comfort as an excuse for a crass lack of style. His uncle had taught him the social advantages of education, intelligence, and elegance, and while he was delighted the old Master of the City was dead, he wouldn’t toss out the lessons learned at the knee of a dominant, successful Mithran, particularly his sire.
He smoothed back his hair as he walked toward the door. The sheets on the bed shifted when he reached the entrance, and he paused to look back. The young woman was sitting up, watching him, a hand at her throat where his fangs had pierced her as he fed. Her face was wan and uncertain. “You won’t forget?”
Forget? His brow quirked up in amusement. The woman was his, with or without his compliance in her little family matter, her useless bargain. Women were such an easy indulgence. But still, he was concerned with her “favor” for business reasons, and it would not take him long to resolve it. “I shall do more than remember. I shall accomplish your request before the sun, ma chérie. Marcoise will no longer have the power to cause pain.” A small smile lifted his lips. “Perhaps we may meet for dinner, just before dawn, d’accord?”
“C’est possible,” she said in a schoolgirl French accent. She ducked her head, her long hair sliding forward to curl around her breast. “You know where to find me.”
“I do.” She had recently come to work in the Royal Mojo Blues Company, a music, dance, and cocktail bar catering to Mithrans, the vampire citizens of New Orleans. As the Master of the City, he had right of first taste of all the new blood. Mixed with wine, he had found hers to be piquant, saucy, with undertones of currants and laughter. When she had begged a favor in return for a night in his arms, he had readily agreed.
Leo tapped down the stairs of the town house she shared with another girl from Royal Mojo Blues and out the door, into the street. His guards gathered close, summoned on the cellular telephone used by George, his primo blood-servant. Security was much easier since the invention of the devices, though at some point his vampire enemies would discover their use, he was certain.
The limousine approached quietly from down the street, riding low, the weight of its armor holding it close to the asphalt. Once inside, Leo said, “One more stop tonight. Back to the club.” The club where Marcoise worked as head bartender. Where his bargain with the girl would be satisfied.
“Why, boss?” George asked, his upper-class London accent deliberately coarsened to fit his new persona, his new identity. Like most blood-servants, George had outlived his natural life, his papers and his past reinvented again and again.
“The sister of ma petite fleur received an inappropriate and unwanted advance from Marcoise.”
George’s brows drew down.
“According to la fille, several of the other girls were similarly approached, with the implication that they would lose their employment if they refused his attention, a clear violation of his service to me.”
George shifted his eyes from the street to meet Leo’s. “Inappropriate and unwanted advances? And that becomes problematic to you, my master?”
Leo lifted an eyebrow at what might have been censure in the tone. “They are mine. When would I not protect what belongs to me?”
George bowed his head, the gesture formal, the gaze between them broken. “My apologies, my master. It’s of no matter.”
Leo thought otherwise. George was conflicted and wished to speak but was holding his tongue, his scent burning with an internal struggle. He was known to have a tender heart for females, having seen his sister abused and his mother killed by those who used them. They would speak of this later, after the situation with Marcoise was addressed. “Her sister acquiesced and has not been seen since their date. I shall attend to the issue.”
George scanned the street and the sidewalks to either side as they drove, searching for enemies, problems, threats. Such loyalty as existed between them was rare, but their relationship began in death and violence and had joined them closer than most. Leo knew his primo’s mind and heart; they were bound, blood and soul.
They pulled up in front of the club, the lights bright inside as the cleanup crew attended to postclosing duties. Leo lifted his cuff and checked the time on his Versace Reve Chrono, though he knew, almost to the second, when the sun would rise. His kind always did. “I’ll be only a moment. Security will wait outside.”
George opened his mouth to protest. George was always protesting something. Leo lifted his finger, silencing his primo. “I will speak to Marcoise alone. You may cover the outer exits. You may not enter. The cleaning crew will be working and, as former military, they will be armed. I will calm them. I will not have a bloodbath in my club.”
George hesitated, clearly thinking about the numbers of potential victims and hostages. “Derek Lee’s company is new,” George said. “I’m not certain of the extent of his knowledge, or of his biases.”
He did not need to add Many have refused to work for the vampire Master of the City of New Orleans.
He raked through his hair with his long fingers, worried.
“Alone,” Leo insisted, and tapped on the window. The chauffeur opened his door. “Thank you, Alfonse,” Leo said. He was always polite to the help.
Into the night, he exited with all the grace of his kind, part ballerina, part snake, part spider, all predator. The night smelled of humans and blood. Saliva filled his mouth, hunger riding him. The girl earlier had been a tasty diversion, her body a delight as she used it to seal his promise, but this . . . this was the hunt. There was nothing like it, and even civilized Mithrans such as himself knew the desire, the overriding craving for shadowing and stalking prey.
Leo leaped to the door, his speed creating a pop of sound as the air around him was displaced. He keyed open the lock and entered. His men, left behind, rushed to guard the entrance and provide the protection his kind seldom needed. He slipped inside, into the shadows. Standing behind a brick pillar, he watched the cleaning crew, scenting them. The men were all dressed alike, in one-piece gray uniforms; they were healthy, their blood touched with alcohol and marijuana. He had known it for centuries as hemp, MJ, ganja, and by a hundred other names and grades and varieties.
He took in a slow breath and parsed the chemicals in their blood. The marijuana smelled . . . odd. Impure. He watched as a small man, no more than five feet, five inches tall, lifted a bucket and then, oddly, dropped it. The pail landed with a clatter and splash of water on the concrete floor, and the man stood, hunched over, staring at the mess as if mesmerized. Certainly confused.
Leo sniffed again. There was something mixed with the marijuana, some chemical he did not recognize. The small man took a breath, a faint gasp of sound. He fell.
Leo held still, as only undeath allowed. The other men rushed to help. Another fell, his head bouncing on the floor. A third dropped. And another. Only Derek was still standing, the boss of the crew. Leo had hired Derek Lee’s fledgling company because of his service in the military, though the man was destined for far more. Derek pulled a weapon and backed to the bar, the brass rail at his spine, analyzing the room, the short hallways.
Leo said, “You did not partake of the smoke offered to the others.”
Derek swung his weapon toward the column hiding Leo. “Who’s there?”
“Leo Pellissier, Master of the City. The smoke? The weed?”
“Owner of the Royal Mojo. Fanghead. And no, to the weed,” Derek said, his weapon steady on the brick pillar. “One of the guys brought it. Said his brother had gotten a deal on the streets.”
“Mmmm. And a gift is always a good thing?”
“And what shall you do to the man who injured your cohorts?”
“Better you don’t know.” Derek’s voice was harsh, unyielding.
Leo chuckled. “There is more here than meets the eyes.”
“No shit, dude. I got free weed, four downed boys, and the Master of the City hiding behind a brick column. How ’bout you come out. Make nice-nice wid me.”
“How about we take down whoever is waiting for us in the office? I smell six. One is a Mithran, one is female and bleeding, one is a dead human.”
“They are breathing. I will offer them healing blood if they are not awake before dawn.”
Derek considered. “You take the fanghead. I’ll take the others.”
Leo stepped from behind the column, hands where they could be seen.
“You seem certain that you can contain the humans,” he said. “Three against one?”
“This trap wasn’t for me. Makes sense it was for you. I’m supposed to be down and out so they won’t be expecting me.”