It is 43 days until The Wolf Witch officially releases, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to post a teaser. This story takes place after the events of Selkie Cove and can be read as a standalone if you don’t mind reading a series out of order. You can pre-order The Wolf Witch on Amazon and have it delivered to your Kindle on the release day. Paperbacks will be forthcoming.
Chapter One: A Wolf and a Pinkerton
Wesley Bisclavret didn’t believe in coincidences. The fact that three gruesome murders had gone unreported in a city like London was the first clue that something was amiss. After Ripper, the press should have been all over it, yet no paper he picked up even mentioned the killings. The second was that they appeared to have been caused by a wolf, and to Wesley’s knowledge, he was the only werewolf in all of Britain and he certainly hadn’t done it. It didn’t take a Pinkerton to realize that someone with some clout had something to hide.
Snuffling along the cobbles, Wesley’s wolf lifted its head at the sound of a steamer chugging down the lane. Its ears flattened in annoyance as it pushed into the hedges again. This is why Wesley never took city assignments. The stench of so much garbage on top of thousands of bodies made it nearly impossible to track anyone, and the racket of banging and thrumming from streets over gave him a headache. Dogs could do it, but he was part man and that made things more difficult. He should have told Les Meutes to shove their assignment, but he needed to prove that he was more than just his father’s son.
The moment the cab passed, the wolf slunk out and shook the grime from its back. At least England didn’t have so many horses. The damn things seemed to know a werewolf from a dog and made a god-awful racket when they got too close. Most of his work took him to the West or up the Mississippi. At least there, he could blend into the shadows even if wolves had long since abandoned those parts for fear of running into humans. In Louisiana, he had grown up stalking bandits with his father and the rest of the local packs, moving through the trees on silent paws as one. Wolves lived in those parts, bobcats too, but here… Here, there was nothing but the occasional scraggly stray dog and rats that looked as if they ate better than he did. Even their parks were barely more than manicured lawns. It was depressing.
When the streets fell silent, Wesley’s wolf padded down the cobbles and sniffed the air. Cologne. Expensive cologne and fancy food. French, if he wasn’t mistaken. His mouth watered at the heady perfume of beef hanging in the air, but with a shake of its head, the wolf continued on, following the familiar smell lurking beneath it. Its tail flicked as its lips curled into a semblance of a smile. They had him now. Shifting its eyes between the pavement and the road ahead, the wolf followed the smell through the city, ducking into parks or behind iron fences and trees like some feral creature whenever a human shape cut through the nighttime fog. Trotting across the road to a row of neat red brick houses choked in ivy and with fences sharp as iron pikes, Wesley could taste the slick of paint on his tongue and the stench of flowers that had no business being concentrated into perfume. Dandies, he huffed, curling his lip as the wolf sneezed out the irritating odor.
Wesley’s wolf darted past a house alight with the clamor of a party in full swing, hoping no one spotted him through the window as he picked up the scent in the next shadow. Trailing down the alley between the two houses, his wolf lifted its head. The other wolf was here or had been recently. He was certain of it. As his wolf lifted its leg on the corner of the house, Wesley figured out his next move. Even in his human form, he could smell his way back to the house and confront the man. Squeezing past the garbage littering the back alley, Wesley’s wolf froze. Its mouth watered at the scent, and it instinctively licked its teeth as if it could taste it.
The primal part of the wolf stirred within. Blood, and where there’s blood, there’s flesh.
Shit, Wesley thought as he pushed past the mottled brown and black wolf.
Pain ripped through him as his bones broke with a sickening crunch, stretching until every ligament tore only to reform the moment he feared they would sever. Claws sunk beneath the flesh of his digits as they lengthened to form pink fingers and toes that curled against the war of natures. Fur flattened into skin, which grew and darkened to accommodate his new but all too familiar form. Keeping his head low, he bit back a scream as his face and jaw caved in before rebuilding into a human skull. Wesley staggered forward with his hand on his throat to brace against the bile that rose where a cry should have been. Leaning against the garden wall, Wesley rested his forehead against the cool brick and panted as the final reverberations of the curse passed. It never seemed to get easier. Rain pattered against the skin of his bare back, cooling the crescendo of aggravated nerve endings until he could think again. A shiver passed through him that took his breath away as the wolf curled deep within him. It was times like this that he understood why his brother refused to shift anymore. It hurt like hell even at the best of times.
He rubbed his arms and passed a hand through his chestnut hair until it brushed against the bundle of fabric draped around his neck like a yolk. Pulling the makeshift collar from his throat, he unfurled a pair of trousers and a wrinkled shirt. Somehow seeing a collar around a wolf’s neck gave people pause. The line between pet and predator was thin, and thankfully a collar led to more awkward head pats than gunshots. Quickly dressing and pocketing the leather kit he had hidden within the bundle, Wesley peered into the darkened windows at the back of the house. Through the part in the curtains, he couldn’t see a soul, but the tang of cooling blood was unmistakable. He choked down the saliva pooling in his mouth and focused on the back door. Pulling the picks from the leather pouch, he worked them through each tumbler despite his trembling hands. With a soft snick, the door yielded.
Standing on the threshold, Wesley listened for footsteps but when none came, he closed the door and crept through the back parlor. The servants must have the night off, he thought as he inhaled the familiar scent of furniture polish and something herbaceous. He didn’t know enough to differentiate the plants, but memories of following Grand-père into New Orleans to consult Madam Laveau and the other knowing queens surfaced in the gloom. Their parlors had made his nose itch with the pungent aroma of ground herbs and smoke, but what clung to his senses were the tenuous stirrings of magic. Not quite a smell or a feeling, each remnant was unique to its owner. It’s why the priestesses rarely crossed the werewolves; they could sniff out who had done them wrong. Copper, flesh, and the underlying smell of magic hung heavy as he crossed the dining room. Upstairs, the wolf nudged. Turning the corner, Wesley jolted, a growl rising in his throat at the flash of motion at the end of the hall. His shoulders sagged as he realized it was only his reflection staring back from a gilt mirror.
As he reached the base of the steps, the stench of the other wolf trailed from the door to the shadows of the second floor. It didn’t smell like the wolves back home. They smelled like nature, like leaves and sap clinging to fur. The refuse of the city clung to the other crime scenes: slobber and wet fur overlain with waste and ash. Something was wrong with this one, horribly wrong if the crime scenes were any indication of its character. Thankful for his bare feet, Wesley silently walked up the steps, pushing back the wolf inside him as it rose to flick its tongue out to taste the blood in the air. We’re on duty, he reminded the wolf as the scent grew so powerful he could barely register the other wolf anymore. At the end of the hall, a door stood ajar. Even without the lights on, he could make out papers standing starkly against the carpet and the bookcase tipped over in the struggle, its contents dumped unceremoniously on the floor atop a misshapen, bloody heap. Keeping his eyes on the shelves littering the study, he searched among the clay seals etched with cartouches and the mummies of long-dead creatures. Had it been a thief? The other crime scenes had been ransacked too, but nothing ever appeared to be taken. Not one item on the workbench across the room, littered with jars of dried spices and things so pickled he couldn’t tell if they were plant or animal, seemed out of place.
Glass littered the floor where the victim had dropped a jar of blue powder. Apart from the shelf of books that had overturned in the struggle, nothing appeared to be amiss. Collecting himself, Wesley turned to face the body. Blood soaked into the carpet, spreading away from the broken body where a pale, lined hand peeked out. Wesley tried not to breathe as he pulled the shelf back, cringing as the last of the books clinging to the shelves clattered to the floor. The carpet squished beneath his feet and stained his soles red as he looked down at the white-haired gentleman who lay twisted on the rug. He stared up at nothing, his spectacles cracked and askew, his mouth open in an anguished cry. Wesley made the sign of the cross and shook his head.
Lowering his gaze to the man’s chest, Wesley carefully lifted the lapel of his bloody tweed jacket. The gorge rose in his throat at the sight of his half-eaten liver and the rope of his intestines hanging loose from his body. Bite and claw marks scored his ribs and left what remained of his pink, wiry flesh in shreds. Wesley closed his eyes. It had been the same with the other murders. All the victims had lived in decent neighborhoods, had enough money to be comfortable without attracting attention, and all had been eviscerated. Even the most moon-sick wolf wouldn’t resort to something so abhorrent. This wasn’t simply some mutant hybrid or hot-housed wolf. This was something far more sinister, something without rules or a shred of human decency left. Perhaps the human part was the problem.
Cocking his head, Wesley noticed that between the dead man’s outstretched fingers was a clump of rough black fur. He squatted down and plucked it from his hand, turning it over in the light as he rubbed his fingers over the coarse strands. At home, he could have gone to his father or the other families for help, but here it was just him. There had to be some way he could tip off the authorities without exposing himself. Holding the wad of black fur to his nose, Wesley drew in a deep breath to commit the smell to memory. The wolf rubbed across his mind in agitation, but Wesley ignored it. There had to be some clue as to how the victims were linked. As he rose to his feet, his attention twitched to the door. For a second, he could have sworn he heard—
At the sound of a board whining in the foyer, Wesley sprang over the desk. Standing before it, he yanked at his shirt, sending a button flying, but there was no time. He called to the wolf, and the beast rose within him, bringing forth the stillness of eons past, the scent of wet earth, and the agony of evolution. Wesley’s bones tore and fur shot through his skin like hot needles, but there was no time to recover. Shaking his head, he struggled to free himself from the cloth tangled around his neck. He kicked and shook, glancing toward the door as the muffled tread approached. How stupid could he be? As he pawed the shirt over his nose, a blow hit him squarely in the side. He stumbled into the heavy oaken desk, teeth bared as two men in worn, rough uniforms loomed over him. In their hands were long poles ending in blunt metal spears with a loop dangling beneath them. The closest man pushed the tip of the pole against the flesh of his neck where the fabric collar had once been while the other pinned him by pressing his weapon into the soft flesh of his belly. The wolf snarled, but when the men didn’t retreat, it bit at the pole. As the wolf snapped, the second man lunged forward, hooking a burning chain around his neck.
Spots flashed in their vision as the chain tightened around their throat until they gagged. Wesley wanted to transform, the wolf wanted to escape, but they couldn’t. In that moment, he could see himself as man and wolf, but the fluid bridge between them had been hopelessly tangled. His paws slid against the carpet as he staggered back. Before he could try to slip from the makeshift noose, a woman appeared, her fine features silhouetted in the library’s golden glow. Her silver hair had been pulled back in a tight bun, and while her face had lined with time, her bearing gave no hint of infirmity.
“You are hereby under arrest by order of Her Majesty’s Interceptors for murder and for violating the sovereign laws governing extranormal creatures and for the murder of Alexander Lockwood,” she said, her eyes staring past the wolf to speak to the man within.
Without looking away, she raised a tube the length of a flute to her lips and blew. A hot prick of pain jolted through Wesley’s flank as the first man let go. The metal pole disappeared only to be replaced by the weight of a net. The wolf took a step forward, but before Wesley could attempt to pull the wolf back, a wave of fatigue washed over them. Their legs slid out from under them, and they tipped headfirst into the rug. All thoughts fled from their mind, except the smell of blood and the chain burning deep into their neck. Their eyes flickered and their tongue lolled under the weight of the their binds, but before they could muster the strength to rise again, the world teetered and went black.