Nell Ingram has always known she was different. Since she was a child, she’s been able to feel and channel ancient powers from deep within the earth. When she met Jane Yellowrock, her entire life changed, and she was recruited into PsyLED—the Homeland Security division that polices paranormals. But now her newly formed unit is about to take on its toughest case yet.
A powerful senator barely survives an assassination attempt that leaves many others dead—and the house he was visiting burns to the ground. Invisible to security cameras, the assassin literally disappears, and Nell’s team is called in. As they track a killer they know is more—or less—than human, they unravel a web of dark intrigue and malevolent motives that tests them to their limits and beyond.
The third Soulwood novel, Flame in the Dark, is out today; so if Black Friday Shopping with Nell and Occam gets your interest, make sure you check out the first book in the Soulwood series, Blood of the Earth.
Black Friday Shopping with Nell and Occam
Takes place just before Flame in the Dark
“Mama says Walmart is the devil’s storehouse,” I said, hiding my badge in my jacket lapel pocket and making sure my weapon was secure and out of sight in its Kydex holster.
“Nell, sugar. You never been in a Walmart?” Occam stopped and pulled me to a stop with him by the simple expedient of catching my jacket sleeve between thumb and forefinger.
“Course I been in a Walmart.” I eased away from his touch and he let go. Occam knew my history and was always careful when it came to trapping me. Neither of us liked cages of any kind, him being a were-leopard who’d spent twenty years in a cage, and me being an escapee from a polygamous church. “I just think about mama anytime I go to a place she would disapprove of. And mama would highly disapprove of me shopping at a Walmart on Black Friday—what she would interpret as the devil’s holiday.”
“Well let me lead you into sin and destruction,” he shot me a sidewise glance and a cat grin, “at Walmart.”
I knew he could smell my blush. Occam wanted to take me to dinner and a movie. A date. Like normal people did. But I wasn’t normal and neither was he. And I wasn’t sure how to date, what to do, or what to talk about, or how to act. I’d sorta put him off, which had made the occasional mischievous banter more pointed.
Determined not to be teased without some kind of rebuttal, I said, “They got steak and pork and salmon and shrimp and chicken in there. You gonna go all furry and raid the refrigerated meats?”
Occam snorted and led the way. “I’ll try to restrain my cat, Nell, sugar.”
I made a, “Hmmming” sound and followed him into the chaos and insanity of a Thanksgiving evening at Walmart.
We had been sent by JoJo at HQ to take a long walk through Walmart while keeping an eye out for someone who might be casting curses at the shoppers or the store itself. The week before Thanksgiving, there had been half a dozen anomalous accidents in the store, from a rack of children’s Santa-style pajamas collapsing and taking down four other racks, to a shelving unit full of Christmas trees falling on one shopper, to a row of three car batteries exploding in the automotive shop, to all the freezers in the frozen foods section going off at the same time. Other than a customer wearing tinsel, the fire department arriving to put out a small fire, and the mess of a lot of melted seafood and ice-cream, there had been no major danger. But the customer who had worn tree lights was a sensitive and claimed to smell magic, hence our presence in the store on Black Friday, undercover as shoppers.
Occam snagged a buggy and we melded into the crazy.
Two woman were fighting over a sale item made of camo-material. Another woman yanked an item out of the hands of a disabled woman. Fortunately someone accidently tripped the thief and the item was returned. In the bedding section there was insane fighting over some Marvel Comic hero sheets. In the toy section, several shelves were empty already. In the food section the frozen turkey bin was empty and shoppers were yanking turkeys out of the hands of the poor clerk as he was re-stocking. And there was a near riot in the electronics section. Occam called it into the local PD and we kept an eye until the cops waded into the melee and arrested two women who were wrestling on the floor over an IPad case that glowed in the dark.
We trundled through the store, eventually leaving the buggy in an aisle and just people watching. An hour in, I felt a wash of magic, like sparklers cascading over my skin. I pointed. “That way. Fast.”
Occam took off at a jog while I walked slower, checking out the shoppers for anyone who looked like they might be casting mischievous spells on the customers, the store stock, and the store itself. I spotted a little girl, standing off by herself. She was wearing boys clothing—too big for her, none too clean, and worn in tattered layers. I slowed, taking her in, knowing that something was wrong here.
There were dark circles beneath the child’s eyes. She hadn’t bathed or washed her hair in a while, her face smeared with orange Cheetos. Most telling, her ankles were bare and dirty above brand new bunny slippers with the tags still on. And there was an aura of magic about her, like a soft blue haze.
To her left, a glass-topped case cracked and fell to the floor. Inside, an entire rack of jewelry slid to the floor on top of it, fake diamonds glittering. Shoppers raced in and grabbed up whatever was on the floor, one woman scooping glittery jewelry into her pocketbook, her hands like brooms. Security guards and the police from the electronics fight descended into the mess and arrested more people.
I watched the little girl as she watched the action. Occam looked back and caught the direction of my stare. He moseyed over, easy to do because he was wearing cowboy boots and jeans for this undercover Op. “A kid? Naw,” he murmured.
“She’s the source of the magic. And I don’t see anyone watching for her. I think … I think she’s homeless. I think … she’s living here. In the store. Stealing food. Thrown out by her parents because weird things were happening and they were afraid? Doing magic by accident maybe?”
To her right, an entire row of cosmetics hit the floor with a clatter. The little girl didn’t even turn that way.
“Who do we call?” Occam asked.
“Social Services for sure, but she’ll need a foster who can handle a witchling.”
“T. Laine,” he said, speaking of the unit’s resident witch. It was her day off, but she’d come for this. Occam pulled his cell to text JoJo HQ. He also managed to wander around behind the wild child to cut off possible escape.
Half an hour later T. Laine showed up and we formulated a plan to approach the little girl.
Laine knelt near the child, as if inspecting a scarf on an endcap. She twirled her fingers, creating a flare of light, quickly extinguished. The little girl whipped her head to the side. Without looking at her, Laine said, “It’s not bad. It’s not dangerous. It’s just a gift, like being able to see or smell or taste.”
“You’uns a witch. You’uns gonna burn in hell or on a stake first.”
My heart fell to my feet. The little girl was speaking church-speak, the accent that set the members of God’s Cloud of Glory apart from other people of Appalachia.
“Nope,” Laine said, quickly adopting the accent I had used all my life until I joined PsyLED, the Psychometric Law Enforcement of Homeland Security. “Ain’t nobody gonna hurt me. A cause I’m a police officer and I got a gun to go with my magic. I can keep myself safe.”
The little girl blinked, slowly. “Safe?” The single word was a tone of disbelief, hope, and pain all at once. “I ain’t never been safe.”
T. Laine’s face underwent a series of reactions, too fast to interpret, but leaving tears in her eyes. “I’ll keep you safe. My name is Lainie. What’s your name?”
“Rebecca the witch.”
“Well, Rebecca, how about we go to the MacDonald’s over there in the corner, get a hamburger and a milk shake.” Laine held out her hand. Slowly, Rebecca placed her hand into Lainie’s. Together they walked to MacDonald’s and placed an order, and took a seat in the back, heads bent close in conversation.
“Looks like Lainie’s got a houseguest for the night.” Occam handed me a crisp hundred dollar bill. “She’ll need some stuff. Go shopping. I’ll keep watch.
I nodded and found a buggy, taking the aisles through the toys and dolls and stuffed animals and then children’s clothes and toiletries, picking out sensible and frivolous things to wear and play with. Trying not to think about the holy hell I was planning to bring down on the church come morning.
I finished shopping fast and paid with Occam’s hundred, adding everything I had in my pocket. Because Christmas shopping mattered.
A Social worker appeared through the doors slightly before ten p.m. Laine and Rebecca the witch left the store, hand-in-hand. Occam and I took a break in MacDonald’s and dined on shakes and fries and watched the shoppers. Thinking about a little girl abandoned and hiding and finally rescued, on Black Friday.
Meet Faith Hunter!
NYT Bestselling author Faith Hunter writes three series: the Jane Yellowrock series, dark urban fantasy novels featuring Jane, a Cherokee Skinwalker; the Rogue Mage novels, a dark, urban fantasy / post apocalyptic series and role playing game featuring Thorn St. Croix; and the Soulwood Series featuring Nell Nicholson Ingram.
- Blood Cross
- Mercy Blade
- Raven Cursed
- Death’s Rival
- Blood Trade
- Black Arts
- Broken Soul
- Dark Heir
- Shadow Rites
- Cold Reign
- Dark Queen (May 1, 2018)
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