SHADOW CLAN: First Chapter Sneak Peek
I’m so happy with this final edit that I’m going to release the first few chapters at a time on my newsletter and possibly also on Wattpad. I also have some ideas stored up for essays, so stay tuned on that front.
By Denise Ruttan
Malcolm Lowell knew it was time to grow up. He looked at his phone during the school board meeting he was covering and frowned at the dozens of missed calls from Donovan Beaumont, his foster father, clan leader, and the man he once swore he’d never see again. His thumb hesitated over the screen, trembling.
Now Donovan was calling him yet again, interrupting him at work as a general assignment reporter. It was the fifth time he’d called that day. Mal exhaled the breath he was holding. He knew he was avoiding his duty, a childish impulse.
Shifting in his seat, Mal stashed his phone in his pocket and told himself to focus. The school superintendent, a man with a ruddy complexion and a shock of black hair, played Solitaire on his tablet. The school board was eagerly plowing through variations of “What’s best for kids.” So Mal’s job wasn’t as glamorous as he thought it’d be watching Edward Murrow in journalism school. Mostly, he got stuck covering these drab meetings in hopes of a scoop. It didn’t mean he wanted to get swept back up into werewolf politics again. As Donovan’s stepson, estranged or not, his family expected more of him than he wanted to give.
Mal looked at the clock, then at the agenda, then at his notes. He could call Walt, the superintendent, tomorrow for a quote. Board meeting coverage was a drudgery he was looking forward to leaving behind in his new promotion to cops and courts reporter, which would start in a few weeks.
He snuck out the back from his seat in the last row and escaped into the chilly night breeze, taking in gulps of fresh air as he stood with his back to the brick wall of the district office and took out a cigarette from his pocket. He didn’t smoke it, just held it in his fingers and smelled the tobacco. He stared at his phone one more time and listened to Donovan’s message. Typically, he said nothing specific, just that it was urgent and he needed him to call him right away. Mal frowned.
The voice of his papa tugged at his conscience. He’d want to know if he wasn’t well. But was it his papa talking, or the alpha of his clan? Memories came slicing back like a knife. Ancient blood rituals. The full moon hunt. He felt lightheaded.
Wrapped up in his thoughts, Mal didn’t notice the presence beside him until salty breath warmed his neck, an all-too-familiar scent that made his spine crawl. He yelped and practically leapt backwards, dropping his cigarette in the pool of rainwater slicking the street. Red hair, mauve lipstick, pale cheekbones, green eyes. Kat, loyal foot soldier of the Bright Waters clan. Mal’s whole body stiffened.
“Jesus, Kat.” He stepped back from her. She moved closer. He could smell her sweat; the cloying scent of lavender. He took another step back and she glared.
She crossed her arms and appraised him. “Some greeting for an old friend.”
“You were never my friend. I’m working. Why are you here?”
“Let’s go somewhere where we can talk, shall we?”
“We are talking.”
“We’re not talking. You just want to punch me in the face.” She arched an eyebrow. Mal shrugged, admitting to himself that the thought had crossed his mind.
“Come on, then. I know a cocktail bar not far from here,” he said, his voice resigned.
The night sky glittered, the constellations obscured by big-city pollution. Loyalty coming back to haunt him again, and he knew he would heed its call because that was the way of things. You couldn’t outrun your nature.
They sat in a booth as Mal nursed a glass of wine and Kat took one delicate sip of a martini with two olives. She withdrew a large manila envelope from her purse and laid out photographs on the table. The matte finish gleamed in the muted reflection of the candlelight. The first photograph showed a young woman with her throat ripped out, blood everywhere. Another woman in her 20s in the next photograph, bite marks all over her face. The next photograph showed a young man, similarly thrashed. Like an animal had mutilated all of them.
Mal touched each print, studying the grisly details. He took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes and ran a hand through his unruly dark brown hair. “Okay, so what do you need me for? And again, why are you here?”
“Thought it would be obvious when I showed you the photographs,” said Kat. She collected the prints and shoved them back in her bag, leaning forward, ignoring the rest of her drink. “I’m here because you’ve been dodging your alpha’s phone calls for weeks. Donovan sent me to collect you. You were ignoring us and you know it. Your papa was getting worried.”
“It hasn’t been that long,” protested Mal. “And we haven’t talked in years, not really.”
“This is just about you and Eamon and your stupid fight with your papa and you know it,” said Kat, rolling her eyes.
“It was never about that,” said Mal, his voice strangled. He imagined Eamon then, the last time he saw him, at the courthouse steps from a distance, how he knew Eamon saw him but didn’t look back. “I haven’t called him that in a long time.”
“Really? Was it ever about anything else?” Kat clenched her porcelain jaw. “We need you, Mal. You’re a good reporter. We need your help.”
“I’m a reporter, not a cop.” Mal leaned back. “What you need is a private investigator. And I can’t just leave my job.”
He thought of the paper where he’d worked for five years. The new beat he was starting. His editor, whose breath always smelled like Pez candy. He grimaced. It wasn’t all perfect. He had to admit that even he was growing restless. Didn’t mean he wanted to rush back to the clan whenever Donovan needed someone’s shoes shined.
“I’ll give you the night to think about it, but there’s nothing to think about.” Kat’s eyes shone with a preternatural light. “I’ll be by your apartment tomorrow night to pick you up. Flight leaves at nine. Plenty of time to settle your affairs.”
Mal’s hands stiffened in his lap until his knuckles strained white against his knees. “Just like that.”
“Don’t be that way. We miss you,” she whispered. She reached her manicured nails across the table, as if grasping for ghosts. “Eamon’s still single, you know.”
Mal glared at her. “He’s the one who broke it off. Stop meddling. My personal life is none of your business.”
Kat rolled her piercing green eyes, her red hair flouncing in her face. “Have you been away from clan politics so long that you actually think that? Fine. Mope all you want. But we do miss you. I mean that.” Her voice softened.
She rose to her feet and left. She had not taken another sip of her martini. Mal reached out to grab the glass and drank the rest. It tasted like sawdust.
All night, Mal couldn’t sleep. He mostly stared at the ceiling and drifted off every now and then. He dreamed of Donovan the day after the car accident that had killed his parents. It was a drunk driver, they said; he didn’t know what that meant. Appearing at his alpha’s house at six years old with a suitcase and a stuffed teddy bear, numb, lost in the chaos. Donovan showing him to his room, with a twin bed already made up with a fresh comforter, toys in the corner and books in a bookshelf. Wrapping him in a hug, kissing his tousled hair, telling him everything would be all right. But his parents were gone so the six year old didn’t know how things could be all right.
Then he dreamed of their argument, the day he left, the things he said fresh from his breakup with Eamon, the hurt look in Donovan’s face that still haunted him. Papa. The word tasted like acid in his mouth.
Early in the morning, Mal hastily dressed, slipped on his favorite battered running shoes and greeted the sunrise. There were still people about at this hour because it was a city. Always some kind of primal chaos that sang through his muscles. He jogged through his neighborhood, taking his usual route past homeless camps, convenience stores and hot dog stands. Smells of mustard and garlic made his hollow belly rumble. Horns blared and people yelled at each other. A bus screamed by him before he crossed a street.
He didn’t want to leave. He breathed in the city and its smells and all the humans with their messy lives and loves. He could smell their body odors, their shampoos, the food they just ate that morning. The easy nostalgia for this place rose up within his chest and he couldn’t breathe. The steel and the lights and the crowds. There was a kind of liberty in the city that was intoxicating.
He stopped in a neighborhood park, panting, leaning with his back against a tree. A little flash of wildness in the urban jungle. He sank to his haunches and wiped his sweaty face, breathed in the smoggy air, looked at the pine needles above him. He realized that he missed the wildness, too. There was a part of him that didn’t belong in the city, maybe a big part of him, and he knew it in his bones, a whisper from his wolf along the edges of his subconscious.
His meeting with editor and the publisher had not gone well, as he’d expected. “Family emergency,” he’d told them. “I’ll be gone a week.”
But he knew he wouldn’t be gone a week, and he knew he wouldn’t have a job when he got back as he’d stared at his editor’s beady eyes and narrow mouth, the disappointment slashed in his cheeks.
Kat met him at his front door, all prim in a white flowing jumpsuit and a black blazer, her red hair coiffed in a bun. Mal had packed light, just one suitcase, one he hadn’t used since his last Christmas vacation home last year. He felt like he was following his executioner off to the gallows, but he squared his shoulders. He could do this. He needed to do this. He could pretend to be a human all he wanted, but he knew the truth. He was a creature, a werewolf, and creatures needed community, and moonlight, and open spaces.
They took a taxi to the airport, not saying anything. More than once Kat opened her mouth as if to say something but then thought better of it, which made Mal grateful. The silence weighed heavily between them. Kat had arranged a nonstop flight back to SeaTac, and Mal steeled himself for five hours crammed in an airplane with her. She smelled like tobacco and confidence. Back to home and duty. He was a fool to think he had escaped.
He wondered what he smelled like.