I’m at least a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t wait for a full moon to launch this book. What a missed opportunity!
But I shall blame that on Gobs being quite certain that werewolves don’t need any more encouragement than they already get, and his fervent desire to maintain a no-were life.
All of which is just to say – A Worry of Weres is out this Friday!
If you’ve already got your pre-order sorted, it’ll appear in a waft of hair and chew toys on your e-reader on Friday. If you have not … well, there’s still time! It’s available at all the usual retailers now.
And, of course, if you’re unsure that snarky cats and modern weres are for you, you can read chapter one here, and chapter two below.
Happy reading, lovely people!
“Find Malcolm. His safety is your safety.”
Threat or promise, I wasn’t hanging around to find out. Not when the sorcerer making it had just yanked me straight out of my skin for a friendly chat.
But with our situation normal involving scheming magicians, lurking necromancers, and Callum’s long-lost family all competing to make my next out of body experience a permanent one, having a sorcerer on our side seemed like a pretty good option. Better than the alternative, anyway.
There’s only one problem. If we want her help, we need to find her dentist. And we’ve got one lead. One hairy, stinking lead.
Weres. Mouth-breathing, ravening monsters with too many teeth and no affection for my kind – or any other that I know of. Which is why dealing with them is completely against company policy.
But we’re going to have to make an exception, because we’re not just caught between a sorcerer and some drooling pack. Never mind our usual hazards of the job – there’s a hungry void stalking me and the Watch is closing in. We need all the help we can get.
Grab the chew toys. We’re going on a were hunt …
A Worry of Weres, Chapter Two
A Brush with Something Vast & Distant
Relatively happy, anyway. My heart was still so loud in my ears that I could hardly hear Callum shouting at me to make myself scarce so he had a chance to get the dog under control, and I wasn’t entirely sure I could stand without the wall to hold me. But I straightened up anyway, muscles twinging from the tension of the fright, and glanced around the alley. It was just us. Just Callum and the damn dog, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. Not this time. Maybe not even last time, although the sudden, unfocused wash of memory that had come with the almost-shift was fading, and I couldn’t tell if I’d actually been remembering something from before my last death, or if it had been simply a panic response. Not that it mattered right now. The important thing now was to get this bloody dog sorted, because if the Watch weren’t the ones already breathing down our necks, they soon would be. And I wasn’t having any of it. Not again.
So when SharkDog managed a furious bark, still dragging herself and Callum toward me, I charged forward and slapped her three times on the snout with one paw.
“Bad dog!” I snarled, and hit her again to be sure she got the message. Which would’ve been perfect if she’d had the sense to listen, but her tail shot out and slapped me at least twice as hard as I’d hit her, sending me tumbling across the cobbles and into the wall. I rolled to my feet and charged back, ears flat and teeth bared, and the dog and I snarled at each other.
“Gobs!” Callum shouted. “What’re you doing? Just get out, can’t you? I’ll hold her!”
“Bloody dogs! Bloody pixie bloody useless soggy pumpkin Sasquatch dogs!”
“What?” he asked, and the dog tipped her head to one side, her tail forming a question mark above them where they both sprawled in the alleyway.
“Just … behave!” I snapped. “Heel! Sit! Do something useful and stop drawing attention to yourself, you lentil!”
“Right now I’m not even sure if you’re talking to her or me,” Callum said, far too reasonably.
“Both of you!” I yelled, and, to be fair, I might’ve been overreacting a little, but I was fairly sure someone had just tried to grab me by the scruff of the neck and turf me into the Inbetween, and while I might’ve suspected the Watch, I didn’t actually know who it had been, or why, so my tolerance for SharkDogs and reasonable partners was not at an all-time high.
I gathered myself to rush the dog again, but before I could launch back into the fray, a small green snake slithered smartly between the beast’s paws, straight into her line of sight, then raised his head up and tilted it rather severely at her.
The dog would’ve taken a step back if Callum hadn’t been holding her. She whined.
The snake tilted his head a little more firmly, and the dog attempted to tuck her own snaky tail between her legs. Callum was in the way, though, so she just thumped him mercilessly on the shoulders.
“Ow,” he said, trying to fend off the rogue tail.
I ambled over and stood by the snake, who glanced at me, then back at the dog. The dog whined again, and the snake stuck his tongue out. The whine turned into a yelp, and SharkDog tried to become a lap dog, bowling Callum over as she pushed back into him in a panic.
Callum held her off as well as he could, pushing himself up onto his knees and brushing vaguely at the mucky front of his jumper. It was black, but that didn’t do much to hide the mud and broken eggshells he’d rolled through.
“What’d you say to her?” I asked Green Snake, but he just tipped his head at me.
Callum got to his feet and picked his coat up off the ground, inspecting the new rips in it while the dog cowered behind his legs. “I’m glad someone knew what to say to her.”
“Was it the tail?” I asked Green Snake, but he just dropped to the ground and slithered back to Callum, who picked him up and put him in a pocket of his coat. SharkDog whimpered and scuttled over to sit next to me, dropping her belly to the ground and shooting me alarmed glances out of her five eyes. “I am not your friend,” I told her, and she whined.
“I don’t know,” a new voice said. “You look pretty cosy there.”
SharkDog spun around with something far too close to a roar, raising all the hair on my back just as it had started to settle down, and charged for the mouth of the alley.
“Stop her!” Callum shouted, already lunging into pursuit, although he’d have been better to chuck Green Snake in front of the beast for all the luck we’d had.
SharkDog’s roar was met with a snarl that, while quieter, was still more than enough to set small creatures quaking in their burrows, and the monster put the brakes on so hard that her hindquarters hit the ground and I swear I saw sparks rising from the cobbles under her claws. She skidded to a stop with her front legs locked straight and her head straining up and away from the cobbles, her five eyes rolling desperately. I padded to the side of the alley to see a large, brindled tabby cat sitting between the beast’s paws, regarding the monster looming over her with vague interest. She flicked her tatty ears and yawned, and SharkDog scooted backward until Callum grabbed her by the scruff of the neck.
“Tam,” I said. “What I wouldn’t have done to have you here ten minutes ago.”
The big tabby examined me for a moment, then inspected a paw.
“Not that I’m not pleased to see you now, of course. But ten minutes ago would’ve been even better.”
Tam yawned again, and shook herself off. She gave the distinct impression that she’d never quite got the hang of personal grooming, but I doubt anyone would be too quick to say it to her.
“She’s really come out of herself,” I said instead, to the cat standing next to her. She had her ears back, and fresh scars stood out on her pale, hairless flanks as she examined the dog.
Pru shifted her attention to me, eyes narrowed in amusement. “Not everyone talks as much as you, Gobbelino.”
“People miss out on so much.”
“Whereas I couldn’t miss out if I tried,” Callum said, shrugging into his tatty coat. “Hi Pru, Tam.”
“Callum,” Pru said, and Tam raised her chin slightly.
“So, you here to see us in action?” I asked. “The excitement of the hunt and all that?”
“It certainly has its entertainment value,” Pru said.
“Yet is ultimately successful,” I pointed out.
“You have lettuce in your whiskers,” Tam said, startling me.
“Camouflage,” I said, shaking it off, and she snorted.
“Not that it’s not wonderful to see you both,” Callum said, “But we need to get this dog out of here before anyone really does report us to the RSPCA.”
“Why would they?” I demanded. “We’re performing a public service here.”
“Public disruption, more like,” Pru said. “We went past the pound shop and the police were already there.”
Callum groaned, and rubbed his face with his free hand. He’d taken his belt off to use as makeshift collar, and SharkDog was straining against it, intent on the street beyond the alley. She was trying not to look at Tam, but her eyes seemed to work fairly independently, and at least two of them kept straying back to the big cat. Tam exposed one broken tooth and huffed in amusement when the dog tried to back away from Callum, almost ripping the belt out of his hands. “Unhelpful,” he said.
Tam shrugged, and looked at Pru. She examined Callum and me, then said, “We’re here on business.”
“What business?” Callum asked.
Pru started to speak, and suddenly I wondered how she and Tam were both here, just after the Inbetween had tried to grab me, because the Watch is cats. Only cats, always, and for one horrifying moment the world shifted around me again, darkening at the edges, and I felt vast beasts turning their endless, patient attention toward me as the membrane thinned. I backed up, not even sure where I was going, then squawked as I bumped into the dog and she licked my head.
“No! Bad dog!”
She whined and tried to lick me again, and I stumbled away, my heart too fast and spots in my vision, but the world feeling more solid.
“Alright?” Pru asked, watching me with pale eyes.
“Sure. Fine. What business?” My heart was harsh in my ears, and I was aware I was speaking too loudly over it, but I didn’t care.
“Claudia,” Pru said. “We’ve still not been able to find her since the whole thing with the necromancers. We wanted to ask Ms Jones, but we can’t find her, either.”
Claudia was very much Watch. Although she’d never actually tried to kill me, which put her over and above almost every other Watch cat I knew. She had, in fact, helped me, more than once. I closed my eyes for a moment, but that was too close to the void I’d felt – could still feel – behind me, so I opened them again and returned Pru’s cool gaze instead. She was watching me with her wrinkly forehead even more furrowed than usual, and Tam had stopped looking bored.
Due to my issues with the Watch, I didn’t take up with too many other cats. Not all cats are Watch, but any cat can work for them. And will, when it suits their own needs, or if the Watch demands it. The Watch doesn’t ask. But if I trusted anyone, I trusted these two.
Not even a couple of months ago, there had been the whole thing with the necromancers, as Pru put it. The whole thing being a bunch of necromancers who weren’t even technically meant to exist anymore – not with proper power, anyway – performing a ritual that would raise an Old One, an ancient necromancer of a kind that had been so powerful they were just about gods. The Old Ones had been banished centuries ago by the Watch, when the Watch had actually been doing things other than terrifying blameless PIs, and were now more myth than reality. Or so we’d thought, until Tam, Pru, and I, as well as a bunch of other cats, had all ended up trapped in cages and intended for use as Old One snacks. The ritual would’ve taken all our remaining lives at once, if it had succeeded. We’d got out, and had ultimately sent the Old One back where it belonged, and Pru and Tam had been beside me all the way. The Watch hadn’t even shown their noses.
So I supposed the odds were good that they hadn’t turned up in the alley to chuck me into the Inbetween when they could’ve just let the Old One eat me.
“Okay,” I said, finding I could talk a little more steadily. “Why ask Ms Jones?”
Pru shifted her paws slightly. “She and Claudia were close. I don’t know the details, but I think they were helping each other somehow. So Ms Jones might know where she’s gone. But there’s no trace of her anywhere that we can find, either.”
Ms Jones was our lovely yet terrifying local sorcerer, who might, maybe, possibly, carry a teeny tiny grudge against us for throwing her book of power into the Inbetween. Well, I had. But in my defence, it had been stolen by her useless dentist boyfriend, then had gone feral and was about to rip reality apart. So I still maintain it had been good thinking under pressure, and just what was expected of an enterprising PI.
“We haven’t seen her since before the necromancers either,” I said, and shivered. She’d sat in our car with a whisky bottle in one hand and the other on my back, and she’d almost made me remember my last death. I was sure the beasts had been closer since then, had held to my scent more firmly.
“And you don’t know where she lives?”
“We don’t, but we can find out,” Callum said.
“Yes, we’ll just look up sorcerers for hire in the Yellow Pages,” I said, trying to get back into the spirit of things.
“If it were that easy we’d have already found her,” Pru said.
“And deprived yourselves of our company?”
Callum had pulled his phone from his jeans, and now he hit dial and trapped it between his ear and shoulder as he patted his coat pockets. He fished out a crushed packet of cigarettes, then took the phone away from his ear, shaking his head. “Straight to messages.”
“But it’s not disconnected,” I said. “That’s something.”
“I suppose. I’ll keep trying.” He selected a cigarette that didn’t look too bent and went searching through his pockets for his lighter. “I hate to say this, but … if we haven’t seen Claudia since the necromancers … do we know she survived the necromancers?”
Tam growled, and I gave her an uneasy look. We hadn’t been the first cats the necromancers had trapped, and I doubted it had been the first time they’d attempted their ritual. We were just the first ones that had escaped.
“Not entirely,” Pru admitted. “But we have to at least try. We can’t just give up on her. And I’d’ve thought you’d be pretty keen to find her too.”
“Why?” Callum asked, when I didn’t.
Pru shifted uneasily and looked at Tam, who watched me with a bright and electric green gaze. For a moment I thought she wasn’t going to speak – after all, she’d already about used her quota of words for the day, going from past experience. But then she said, “Because Claudia was the one thing keeping the Watch proper off you.”
Everything was silent but for the panting of SharkDog and the cars passing on the road outside, and I felt the world stop again, even if it was more in memory than reality this time.
“Hairballs,” I said, and hoped my voice was steadier on the outside than it felt on the inside.
“Are you sure?” Callum asked, and Tam shifted her gaze to him, arching her eyebrow whiskers. “Not about the Watch thing, that makes sense—”
“Does it?” I asked. “I haven’t done anything. And I’m just one cat, exceptional though I may be. There must be plenty of others they can worry about.”
“Not too many others running about the place poking their snouts into Folk business,” Pru said. “Most of us just hang out and confuse humans.”
“And help stop the zombie apocalypse,” I pointed out. “The Watch told you to leave it, but you helped us, remember?”
“I can’t exactly forget my human scarfing raw chicken hearts on the kitchen floor.”
I shot a sideways look at Callum, who’d put a good effort into scarfing raw meat himself during a small spate of zombification. Luckily it had turned out to be reversible, and Claudia had helped us with that, as had Ms Jones. They had seemed to hit it off pretty well.
“Look, we’re helping,” I said. “The Watch should be dealing with things like runaway pixie dogs charging through the local pound shop and drawing attention to themselves. So we’re doing their work here.”
Pru looked at Tam, but having spoken twice in the space of five minutes the big cat was evidently still recovering. “The Watch should also have been dealing with zombies, and necromancers, and unicorn dust weapons, because they’re all actual threats to humans, not just at risk of drawing attention to Folk. But they’re not. And I know Claudia was trying to figure out what was going on, but now she’s gone.”
I licked my chops, tasting dust and emptiness somewhere on the edge of my senses, and almost thought I heard a whisper of Gobbelino again. I wanted to say, But is this our business? but I couldn’t. The words wouldn’t come, and the yawning void lurking just out of sight reminded me that Claudia had pulled me out of the Inbetween when I’d taken the sorcerer’s book there to destroy it. She’d literally ripped me away from the beasts of the void, and we bore matching sucker scars to prove it (which look just as cool as they sound). She’d told me more than once to keep a low profile, too. I had the impression that she led some shadowy branch of the Watch that was trying to keep the more megalomaniacal tendencies of the Watch proper in check. Apparently that wasn’t going so well.
Callum hunkered down next to the dog, the hand holding his cigarette resting on her makeshift collar and smoke trailing over us. Tam sneezed.
“Sorry,” he said, and looked at me. “We can find Ms Jones.”
I started to speak, swallowed, then tried again. “If this is Watch business, then we’re really sticking our paws in the custard bowl.”
He nodded, rubbed his chin with his free hand, then said, “I think we’ve been doing that anyway.”
“And we could be wrong,” Pru said. “Maybe Claudia’s just lying low for a bit, and Ms Jones really is on holiday.”
“What?” Callum and I both asked.
“We spoke to the dentist, what’s his name – Toddler, or something.”
“Walker,” Callum said. “Or Malcolm.”
“Right. Him. He said she was on holiday.”
Callum frowned. “I’m having trouble seeing Ms Jones sitting on a beach somewhere sipping on a fruity rum drink with an umbrella in it.”
Pru blinked at him. “How big are these drinks?”
“To fit an umbrella in it,” I said. “Can even a sorcerer drink that much fruity rum drink?”
“It’s not—” He shook his head. “Never mind the umbrella. Last time we saw her she didn’t look like she was going on any sort of holiday.”
Last time we saw her, a magician had trapped her in the walls of his house, and she was not happy, even after we let her out.
“And the last person we know definitely saw her was your friend Ifan,” Pru said, her snout wrinkling as she said your friend.
Callum gave her a sideways look and took a final puff on the cigarette, stubbing it out on the cobbles. Ifan was the son of the magician in question, who everyone had thought was dead. Turned out he was just hanging out in Mustique, probably drinking giant fruity rum drinks with umbrellas in them. “We can ask him,” Callum said.
“And I’m sure he’ll be entirely truthful.”
I looked at Pru, her naked tail twitching and curling in that unsettling way, and Tam sitting next to her with her own tatty tail curled over her toes, and said, “Let’s not get magicians of any variety involved just yet.”
Callum looked at me. “It’s the obvious place to start.”
Except that he lies. Although I had a feeling Callum knew that better than I did. “Why don’t we start with Walker? See what the deal is with this whole holiday thing, maybe get a home address for Ms Jones off him. He might be more likely to tell us than two cats he doesn’t know.”
Callum got up, tugging SharkDog with him as he went to flick the cigarette butt into the bin. “Alright. Seems like a plan.”
I looked at Pru, trying to ignore the loom of the void behind me, and said, “G and C London are on the case.”
“Well, I feel so much better,” Pru said, but she shoulder-bumped me gently as we followed Callum out of the alley, his ripped coat swinging around his legs and the spiky-spined dog pulled close to his side. Tam fell into step with us, and we headed into the streets of Leeds together, in search of sorcerers and cats and other deadly things.
It still felt safer than the alley.
Lovely people, I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek at A Worry of Weres. Don’t forget you can grab your pre-order now at all your favourite retailers, and be all set for a very wolfy weekend!
But firstly – and most importantly – I need to say thank you so much, lovely people. To everyone who’s stuck with snarky cats and scruffy humans all the way through this series. To everyone who has become invested in Callum’s past and delighted by Gobs’ mangled sayings. You’re the reason for these books, and you are most, most exceptional. ❤️ This writer wishes you all the best custard and nicest biscuits.
And a distinct dearth of unfriendly voids following you.