Blood Cross - By Faith Hunter

Chapter 1
I like the fire. Can I come play?

Molly and the kids and I were eating a big lunch when the lightning hit. The bolt slammed into the ground only feet from the house, throwing brilliant light through the windows, shaking the floor beneath us. I grabbed the table and looked up to see Molly questing with her senses to discern if the lightning had harmed her wards. She had deactivated them because lightning and wards don't play well with each other, but even a quiescent ward can be structurally damaged. She gave me an "it's fine" look, but I could tell she was uneasy. Without the wards, the house where I lived while I fulfilled my current contract with the New Orleans vamp council was unprotected.

Molly - a powerful earth witch and my best friend - and I are used to the summer storms in the Appalachian Mountains. Though they can be violent and intense, they had nothing on this monster. Outside, Hurricane Ada was pounding New Orleans, the category-two storm bringing with it wind and torrential rain, though none of the might and tidal surge of Katrina and Rita, and much less of the damage. Human memory is short; most of the natives had elected to ride out the storm, depend on the new levies to hold, and trust in the improvements to the city's infrastructure, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

The only unanticipated aspect of the storm was the intense lightning and two tornados that had set down in the middle of the city's electric grid, resulting in the loss of power.

The wind died for a moment and then slammed the house like a giant fist, the walls quaking. A fresh burst of rain drummed against the windows.

Without power for the air-conditioning units, it was growing muggy inside, but fortunately, I had gas-heated water and a gas stove, and the city's water supply hadn't been impacted. So the kids had sandwiches and hot canned soup and Mol and I had prime rib, mine huge and rare enough to still have a moo or two in it, Mol's daintier and cooked medium. I had even made spinach salads to placate health-conscious Molly.

Wind swirled against the front of the old house, and the noise went up a notch for a long moment, the house groaning. I had never been through a hurricane, and even a category two was pretty intense. I couldn't imagine a cat three or four, with a storm surge. It was no wonder Katrina and Rita had devastated the Gulf Coast, despite the efforts of New Orleans's witches to ward against landfall.

I finished off the steak, ate a spinach leaf, and took a tour to check for damage. The old house in the middle of the French Quarter wasn't mine - only on loan, as long as I was under contract - but I intended to keep it in the same pristine condition I got it in. Not that the vamps I worked for were making that easy.

I studied the twelve-foot-tall ceilings on both stories looking for leaks, made sure the towels at the doors were sopping up any rain that had blown in, and checked to see that the windows were secure. So far, so good - no leaks, no damage. I sniffed at the damp air to confirm that the lightning strike hadn't hit the house. No smell of smoke, just the strong odor of ozone. It had been close.

On the side porch on the first floor, my old, rebuilt, one-of-a-kind Harley, Bitsa, was safe and sound under a heavy tarp I'd bought to protect her. Out back, the granite boulders my vamp landlady, Katie Fonteneau, had brought in for the rock garden I'd needed installed were rain-slick and broken. Those were not going to survive my stay here. Already the stones were cracked and split, and one had been ground to sharp shards and piles of grit. I exchanged mass with stone when I shifted into an animal whose genetic structure and size were vastly different from my own. It was dangerous.

And it always resulted in damage to the boulders. Quite a lot of damage.

The power came on for a moment and the lights flickered. The fountain in the back garden stuttered, sending water into the air, the naked vamp statue in its center glistening with wetness. The vamp sent up a last, single spurt as the power flickered and died again.

I walked from window to window, watching the wind and rain attack