My next book in a brand new queer paranormal historical series, Kinship and Kindness, comes out July 31st, and to celebrate and whet your appetites, I have posted chapter one below. You can preorder Kinship and Kindness, on all major ebook platforms and paperbacks will be coming later.
Let me know what you think and stay tuned for more soon.
Preparing for the Annual Delegation of American Werewolves for the first time on his own should have been exciting, but Theo Bisclavret’s eyes glazed over as Mr. Rosier droned on about the growing list of half-finished tasks he had to accomplish. Every werewolf in Grand Chien had been abuzz about the imminent arrival of delegation members from all over the United States, but after facilitating the preparations for three weeks in his father’s stead, Theo just wanted it to be over or for his father to return from England, whichever came first. It had been an endless parade of lists from various members of their international governing body, Les Meutes, each trying to make sure he had everything in order, as if he hadn’t attended nearly every werewolf event his father had organized in the last fifteen years. Tension creeped up Theo’s neck and into his jaw, but as he rolled his shoulders and tried to breathe out the nagging pain, his eyes shot up as his sister pointedly cleared her throat on the other side of the room. He raised his gaze to find Rosier looking at him with a grey eyebrows raised as if waiting for an answer.
Theo slowly straightened in his chair, keeping his face neutral and his back straight as he often saw his father do. “Could you please repeat the question? I thought I heard something outside.” His wolf surfaced, searching for a sound, but Theo gently shoved it down.
“I said, do you know when the Rougarou will return?”
That was what they were all wondering. “Our father has assured us that he will return in ample time to meet with the delegations. When we have a specific date of arrival, we will let everyone know.”
Rosier looked over his shoulder at Eudora, but she kept her head down over her portable desk. When Rosier turned back to him, Theo leveled a look at him that would quash any further questions. With a tightening of his lips and a final admonishment to send him the final preparations post haste, Rosier took his bowler from the edge of the desk and departed. The moment the door closed behind him, Theo deflated and let the chair beneath him languidly spin before swiveling back to his sister. Eudora pursed her lips and shrugged. Tucking a wayward brown curl behind her ear, she sat on the edge of the desk and reread the notes she had taken.
On the far wall, the calendar hung mockingly across from the desk. Theo counted back the weeks and scrubbed a hand over his face. “I can’t believe Pa’s been away three weeks already.”
“Yup,” Eudora replied flatly, her brows furrowing at the interruption.
“And you’re certain the last telegram came six days ago?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Yes.”
“Do you think something’s wrong? It isn’t like him to be away for so long.”
“I’m sure everything’s fine. Maybe they have bad weather and he can’t leave. I’m sure it snows in England.”
“Yeah.” Theo sat back. He wished he knew where his sister had put the letters she had read to him over the past few weeks during dinner. Reading them might put his mind at ease, but he hadn’t thought to ask. It seemed pointless to demand them now. “Do you think Wesley is all right?”
Eudora’s face tightened a fraction before brightening with a placating smile. “You are such a mother hen, Theo. Wesley is fine. He’s a Pinkerton. He can hold his own. Hopefully Pa can talk him into coming back sooner than later. Then, you won’t have to keep up this charade.”
Guilt rose in Theo’s gut so fast he felt ill. Being the future Rougarou had been his dream for so long that, even though it was impossible and had been for some time, he still felt as if he had failed. He had failed himself, he had failed Pa, he had failed the packs if Wesley or Eudora couldn’t take over after Pa stepped down and instability ensued. His wolf’s comforting bulk rubbed against his mind, and he absently flexed his hand as if reaching to touch it. An unexpected warmth closed over his hand. He looked up to find his sister’s acorn brown eyes pinning him with something between affection and sorrow.
“That is what you want, right?”
Theo nodded and inwardly sighed. “You should go back to the house and get some sleep. You’re going on patrol tonight, aren’t you?”
“Yes, mother. And you should, too. You’re burning the candle at both ends.”
“I have a few things left to finish up.”
“I balanced the books and took stock of the linens that came in this morning, so you don’t have to.”
“Oh. Then, I guess I’ll go home with you. I want to put a few baskets of food together for the neighbors before you go out tonight.”
“Just make me a list of names, and I’ll do it. Give them some peaches, would you? I can’t bear to eat another jar of peaches.”
“They’re good for you, and you love peach jam.”
“Used to.” With a smile, Eudora kissed the top of his head and squeezed his shoulder. “Come on, let’s walk home together. I don’t like you walking through the woods alone.”
“Now, who’s the mother hen?” Theo said only to receive a flash of her tongue in response.
Gathering his coat and hat, Theo tried to ignore the pain in the back of his head and the twisting in his stomach. It was probably just worry, but he couldn’t help the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
Bennett swore as he slapped a mosquito off his cheek. This trip had been nothing but a pain in the ass. He had thought the trip to Louisiana would be a vacation from his life in Brooklyn. For the first time in years, Bennett could sleep without the constant cacophony of city life only a stack of brick away. He could eat in relative peace without the lingering scent of turpentine or oil paint. There would be no fine layer of clay dust on everything or piss-poor piano music playing at all hours, and no raucous lovemaking on the other side of too thin plaster walls.
Instead, Bennett spent three days vomiting everything that passed his lips. Whether he was on the deck overlooking the East Coast rolling below or tucked into his windowless room, bile clawed up his throat and his stomach roiled at the ship’s constant motion. All he had been able to see before dirigible sickness struck was the northern half of New Jersey, and he had already seen that from the ground. Stepping off the dirigible outside of New Orleans, he knew he looked like death. He felt like it and probably smelled liked it. Three drivers had refused to take him to Grand Chien, but this one seemed far more eager to take him than he should have. As the narrow boat tilted beneath him, Bennett clutched the sides but yanked his hands back when he remembered the swamps were supposedly riddled with alligators. Cramps rippled through his calves and arms, but he bit them down with a grimace.
Hoping the young man ferrying him across the swamp didn’t notice, Bennett eyed him with suspicion. The entire journey, he hadn’t shut up for longer than it took to take a breath, and while he was far more willing to ferry an ill passenger than the others, Bennett couldn’t help but be suspicious. He knew he could easily be shanked and dumped into the swamp without a qualm once his pockets were emptied. It happened plenty in Brooklyn.
Bennett squinted at the stars dazzling through the trees as the midnight world began to awake around them. Bats and night birds cried from the tree tops while insects kept a heady buzz in time to an unseen metronome. Despite the noise, the lack of people was disconcerting in a way Bennett hadn’t expected. He was accustomed to constant movement. At all hours he could hear people coming and going from the Ruth’s house. Her numerous boarders and friends never seemed to all sleep at once, and the grocers, suppliers, and newsboys outside had no qualms about waking people up. Years in the city had taught him how to sleep through anything, except silence. Luckily, the ferryman hadn’t stopped talking since they embarked from the landing field.
Bennett pulled at his collar and licked his dry lips. God, he was tired and thirsty. It was painful how badly he wanted some water. The other man probably had a flask of something on him, but Bennett didn’t want to ask. Too much liquid meant he would have to relieve himself eventually, and he didn’t want to think about the logistics of that. He chuckled to himself under his breath. It was ironic to be surrounded by so much water yet be so thirsty. That shouldn’t have been so funny.
“Y’all right?” the ferryman asked.
Bennett swallowed against another surge of dizziness as he turned to face the other man. “Yes, why?”
“You’re a little green around the gills.” Removing the lantern from the bottom of the boat, the ferryman held it aloft. Bennett squinted into the darkness but couldn’t see what he was focusing on. Then, he shuttered the light and opened it again three times; twice slowly and once quickly. When Bennett looked at him quizzically, he added, “I’m letting the patrols know I’m a friend.”
“Oh yeah, the Rougarou’s people patrol the bayou every night.”
“Because the bayou is vast and dark, and people do bad things when they think others can’t see.”
Was that a hint or a threat? Bennett’s ribs struggled against the confines of his girdle at the thought. His normally attuned danger senses felt fuzzy. Bennett tugged at his collar and licked his dry lips as the pirogue pushed through a copse of mangroves to emerge in an open stretch of water that ended in a vast swath of grass. At the shore, a large shed stood near a dock, and behind it, a house emerged through the darkness. While he couldn’t make out much detail, Bennett could tell it wasn’t the grand plantation home he had expected the Rougarou to inhabit. The boat slid smoothly beside the dock and bumped onto the mossy shore.
“This is it?” Bennett asked, ignoring the ticking of a muscle in his leg.
“You said you wanted to be taken to the Rougarou, right?”
“Right. Will anyone be up this time of night?”
“Of course! I wouldn’t have brought you out here otherwise. The house is straight ahead up a ways.”
“Ah.” Fishing into his pocket, Bennett struggled to count out enough money to, hopefully, cover the fare, but as he put his hand out, the younger man pushed it away. “But I—”
“The Bisclavrets are paying me to ferry delegation members to and from the landing field. I’m not to take money from guests, Mr. Reynard.”
“I see. Well then, thank you for your help.”
Hefting his bag onto the grass, Bennett stood to shake the other man’s hand and lurched forward. He clasped his hand in what he hoped felt like a natural handshake even though the earth seemed to pitch beneath his feet. With a tight smile, he turned and took a heavy step onto the shore. His knees buckled beneath him as his vision shrunk to a pinpoint and his body collided with the wet grass.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. If you’re interested, you can preorder a copy at all major ebook retailers.