'Maria Lewis is a must-read' BUZZFEED 'Weaves magic into each page' THE NERD DAILY 'Author Maria Lewis has created her own pop culture universe' DAILY TELEGRAPH _________________ She never meant to be a hero . . . In fact, Dreckly Jones has made a point her whole life to be exactly not that. The daughter of a forbidden union between an earth elemental and a selkie, her rare powers have meant she has always had a target on her back. So Dreckly - a 40-something oyster shucker according to her fake documents, 140-something sprite if you're going to get all nit-picky about it - has become an expert at many things. Chief amongst them: hiding. When she meets a determined group of rebels who desperately need her help, she finds herself wanting to stick her neck out for the first time in a long while. Yet is she ready to be noticed? Is Dreckly willing to use her powers to stand up when it could cost her everything? ___________________________ Praise for Who's Afraid Too? (Nominee - Best Horror Novel, Aurealis Awards) 'Feminist werewolf antics [and] good old fashioned sex. More books please!' Natalia Tena ( Harry Potter, Game Of Thrones) 'Being curled up in a werewolf fantasy is a respite and a haven!' Teri Hatcher ( Lois & Clark, Desperate Housewives) 'Maria Lewis is definitely one to watch' NY Times best-selling author Darynda Jones 'A fresh, funny, sexy & downright sassy take on the werewolf genre' Geek Bomb Praise for The Witch Who Courted Death (Winner - Best Fantasy Novel, Aurealis Awards) '[Takes] a fresh look at the things that make us scream' The West Australian 'An unashamedly feminist story about a woman out for revenge' Readings Praise for The Wailing Woman (Nominee - Best Fantasy Novel, Aurealis Awards) 'World-building at its finest' The Nerd Daily 'An absolute master of the genre' Bookish Bron 'An excellent urban fantasy novel .. . magic, intrigue and romance ' Canberra Weekly 'Suspenseful and fantastical' Her HQ 'Journalist Maria Lewis grabs the paranormal fiction genre by the scruff of its neck and gives it a shake' T he West Australian 'Truly one of the best in the genre I have ever read' Oscar-nominee Lexi Alexander ' An intriguing take on a classic monster with vibrant, modern characters' Sci Fi Bulletin
Release date: April 6, 2021
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Print pages: 320
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Rose Daughter
You are not a hero.
Those were the first words I ever remembered hearing. It was the first sentence I ever properly comprehended. I was born in a prison, yet it took me years to understand that fact. If you’ve never known anything but a cell, it’s hard to appreciate what you’re missing out on.
My father told me, though. My mother had died in childbirth and I still woke from nightmares of her dead eyes staring into mine before she floated to the bottom of the tank. My parents had been captured together, my existence the result of their forbidden union. So, while my mother had only found freedom through death, my father was locked up with me, Dreckly Jones. Indefinitely.
‘There are worse things than a cell,’ he would say. I knew that to be true. As I lay in bed at night, trying to go to sleep, I could hear them. They were just on the other side of the walls that kept us confined. Walls that also kept them out.
The nights of the full moon were the worst. Not that I could see the moon, of course, but I always knew when it was high in the sky. The growling. The screaming. The roaring. The screeching.
‘It’s not just werewolves who are impacted by the lunar cycle,’ my father said, drawing shapes on the wall with a piece of chalk he had managed to coax out of the one, kind guard. ‘Goblins are too.’
‘They turn into big wolves?’ I asked.
‘No, but … they hunger. They’re irrational and irritable. Moody, even. You’ll understand what that feels like some day.’
‘Am I goblin?’
‘No, sweetheart. You’re something else. Something very special.’
‘What does the moon look like?’
‘It’s beautiful,’ he sighed. ‘At every stage, whether that’s round and full or curved over during the crescent moon. When it’s not there in the sky at night, you feel its absence. Like a beautiful woman forced to leave the ball too soon. Like your mother.’
I had never seen the sky. When I closed my eyes at night, my father told me what to imagine: a never-ending sea of what you think is just blackness at first, but the longer you look you see shades of blue and purple and sometimes light pink swirled in. Then there are stars; tiny white specks that exist in numbers you can’t even begin to count. They glitter and burn even when you’re not looking at them. Even in death.
‘Remember that time you jumped from the top bunk and I didn’t catch you quick enough?’
‘You bumped your head and all those fuzzy little bits swam into your vision—’
‘Those are stars?’
‘That’s what stars look like. Just on a very different canvas.’
In truth, I couldn’t imagine it. I tried very, very hard. Yet it was difficult to manifest a world outside of the three walls I knew and the one translucent one that made up the fourth side of our cell. That was my favourite. The glass wall was unpredictable: you never knew who or what might walk by when you least expected it. The other walls never changed except for what my father drew on them, trying to paint visions of what the world looked like out there. I didn’t need to have seen any other art to know he was gifted. He had no brushes, just his hands and limited colours, but he was able to create a reality that was better than the one we lived.
Guards would come by and watch as he worked sometimes. The Kind Guard would bring new paints when he had run out. The Mean One would beat us until we washed it away. Yet my father would always paint more.
‘What is a little bit of blood in exchange for a little bit of beauty?’ he said, attempting to smile and wincing as the cut above his eyebrow opened up again.
We had very few supplies for healing at first. One day, Father cut up a small piece of carpet in the corner of our cell, covering it during the day but working on it late at night when he thought I was asleep. It took months, but he worked his way through to the wooden floor and then the dirt beneath that. It helped him, he told me; just being connected with the earth in even the smallest way made him feel better.
‘How come?’ I asked.
‘It’s where I’m from,’ he answered, sneaking me over to his special spot when he decided I was ready. ‘A long, long time ago that’s where I came from: the earth. It’s connected to me and I’m connected to it. I can feel it pulsing like a heartbeat, can you?’
I felt nothing at first, the chubby fingers of a child gripping and releasing the dirt granules with curiosity. Then I sensed it: not a heartbeat, like he had said. It was a presence, really. Like a warm blanket being thrown over my shoulders when I was cold, except this blanket knew me, it welcomed me, it greeted me like an old friend.
‘Is this where Mamm came from too?’
He smiled in that sad way he did whenever my mother was brought up.
‘No, my rose. She came from the East China Sea, which is very far away from where we are now.’
I had more questions, I always did, but they drifted away with a gasp of surprise as something began to burrow out of the tiny patch of dirt. It was green at first, and long, climbing into the sky until it was at eye level. It uncurled right in front of me, slowly and then faster as the green bulb gave way to white then pink and eventually a deep, blood red. I reached out to touch it, ever so gently. The petals were softer than anything I had ever felt. And the smell! It was intoxicating, almost too sweet.
‘What is it?’ I breathed.
‘A rose.’ He smiled. ‘For my rose.’
I didn’t know it at the time, but it was also the key to my freedom.
‘I’m not a hero,’ Dreckly murmured, not bothering to look up from the passport she was doctoring. ‘So put those heart eyes back in your head.’
‘You are,’ the man purred. ‘You’re my hero for this, truly.’
This time, she did glance up if only to scowl at Simon Tianne as he sat there before her, smirking. Dreckly’s eyes ran over the tattoos that snaked up one arm and spread across his chest. She couldn’t see those, but they peeked out of the top of his singlet like a teaser of what was below. He didn’t know about the tattoos on her body. He didn’t know about the people who’d given them to her, about the peace it had brought her in a time when she didn’t think she’d ever know peace again. He didn’t know any of that and she didn’t tell him. It would have meant they had something in common. Dreckly didn’t want to give Simon Tianne the ‘in’ she knew he’d been looking for.
‘Your family have been my best paying customers for years now,’ she said instead, choosing her words carefully. ‘I forged documents for your mother, your auntie, and your uncle back when he was still alive.’
‘And I appreciate it, all of it. These ones though—’ he tapped her desk for emphasis ‘—these ones will really count.’
‘Access to anywhere within the European Union isn’t that difficult,’ she muttered, holding up a hand as she anticipated that he was about to speak. ‘I don’t want to know, Simon. And if you don’t tell me, I can’t know.’
‘I’m looking for my cousin.’
‘Everyone’s looking for someone.’
‘And I think I’ve finally found her.’
‘What is it that makes you so chatty, huh? The women in your family just let me work. They tell me what I need to know, I make what they need, then they leave.’
‘They’re not trying to hit on you.’
A woman’s voice spoke up and Dreckly smiled, recognising the cadence of his auntie Tiaki Ihi. Her best customer. Good, she thought. Her presence would do more to verbally pat off his advances than she could. She needed to concentrate, as manufacturing a German passport in under four hours was stretching even her very impressive skill set.
‘Nephew. You letting the wāhine work?’
‘Of course, just making small talk.’
Dreckly could hear the woman’s amusement in her tone and she smirked as she blew gently on the drying ink. She’d seen someone use a manicurist fan to dry documents once, it providing exactly the right amount of air and the right amount of pressure so there was no bubbling on the paper. Dreckly didn’t need such a tool. She’d only needed to watch it in action once before she was able to gauge the pressure and distance required to recreate that exact same effect with her mouth.
It was her gift, after all. Her mother had been of the water, her father of the earth, and together they had created her: air. Little could they have known how useful a sprite’s control and manipulation of the element could be to her chosen profession of forgery. Leaning back with satisfaction, she held the passport up to the light to make sure it passed the eyeball test. It did. They always did.
‘That’s my last RFID chip,’ she said, handing the document over. ‘You need that biometric certificate, but with the tight deadline it’s going to cost you extra.’
‘Choice.’ He nodded, taking it from her.
‘And here, a national identity card, gym card, library card, and customer loyalty card for Oslo Kaffebar in Berlin.’
‘Always going the extra mile.’
She always did. Having passable identity documentation was one thing – it would get you into a country – but if you were stopped and properly inspected, an empty wallet would be as much of a giveaway as a dodgy stick-on moustache and fake nose.
‘Money, please.’ She held out her hand with a tight smile.
‘Tēnā koe,’ he replied, handing over a thick wad of cash. She didn’t count it. She knew it would add up to twelve thousand. In truth, it was a bargain: most fake passports as good as the work she did could cost anywhere upwards of fifteen thousand, let alone the complimentary documents. Yet Dreckly had meant what she said. Simon Tianne was a prominent member of the Ihi werewolf pack and – if word on the street was anything to go by – the heir apparent now that the previous pack leader Jonah Ihi was dead.
She had worked with him too, albeit briefly. The past generation of Ihi werewolves were not as mobile as the present ones, which was perhaps a good thing given that many of their key men were dead. The women and their children endured. Collectively, the Ihi pack were her best and longest customers. Because of that, she always gave them a small discount for their loyalty. And their secret keeping.
Sure, Simon had been hitting on her and he was needlessly chatty every time he visited. Yet Dreckly intimately understood why: she was a safe space. Her life, her business, everything about her: all of it was safe. She was probably the only outlet he had outside of his blood relatives where he could actually talk about real shit, the nitty-gritty, and know nothing was leaving her boat. There was no one Dreckly would tell his secrets to because she had just as much to lose. More.
She also had no one to tell.
Simon got to his feet, thanking her again as he followed his auntie out on to the jetty. Dreckly trailed after them, pausing at the edge of the stern to watch them leave. Her associate Wyck was sitting in his usual spot, fishing rod propped up for all to see and line trailing aimlessly in the water. Rifle at his feet. He and Simon exchanged a smooth handshake, Dreckly rolling her eyes with frustration. Tiaki caught her in the act and smirked, mouthing the word ‘boys’ at her.
‘Good luck with Berlin,’ she told him. ‘And your cousin.’
‘I’ll see you soon,’ he promised.
She watched them leave, not bothering to speak until the metal gate that blocked the entrance to the jetty had clicked shut behind them. Werewolf hearing was significant and she didn’t want to be overheard. Dreckly whacked Wyck on the shoulder, hard enough so he would feel it but soft enough so he wouldn’t actually be hurt.
‘Don’t encourage him,’ she hissed.
‘What?’ He smiled, offering her his best shit-eating grin. ‘You know I always like it when Simon comes around.’
‘You date him then.’
‘Uh, don’t think I’m his type in case you haven’t noticed. Given how slappy you always get, though, I’d guess you’ve noticed.’
‘Never mix business with pleasure,’ she muttered, heading back inside.
‘I’d say that’s why you haven’t had any pleasure in a while.’
‘I heard that!’
‘You were meant to!’
Dreckly exhaled, running her hands over her face and gently massaging the headache she could feel building at her temple. Pleasure. She wanted to laugh at the very notion of it. Her mind flashed involuntarily, like it always did, jerking her back to that place with him. Hands touching, mouths meeting, laughs mixing together like two dancers seamlessly moving across the floor. She jumped slightly at the electric jolt she felt run through her just like she had back then as he came indoors, dripping from the freezing rain because it was always raining in England that time of year.
He’d returned from his post a week earlier than expected, surprising Dreckly with a bouquet of the ugliest roses she’d ever seen. If it was possible for flowers to look soggy, they did, but the fact he’d even managed to find them during wartime was remarkable. She’d snatched them as he’d snatched her up off the ground, Dreckly not caring as the wetness from his clothes soaked into hers, and she kissed him like a scene off a soppy postcard.
The churn of an outboard motor kicking into gear hurled her back into the present, unceremoniously dumping Dreckly into the tiny kitchen of her tiny boat. Her knuckles were white as she gripped the counter, cuticles visible as her acrylic manicure continued to grow out. Her heartbeat thudded beneath her chest and she had to take a few seconds to adjust emotionally to the whiplash of her memories. She had a lot of baggage and she knew it, but her recall was always the heaviest to shoulder.
So she did what she always did when she felt a little bit shit about herself. Checking her schedule for the rest of the day, she punched a code into a small safe and retrieved what totalled some fifty thousand dollars in cash. She stuffed it into a bag that resembled a fluffy, plush unicorn soft toy. Adding the money from Simon, she zipped it up and tossed it on to Wyck’s lap. He crinkled his nose with disgust as he looked at the creature, which was sitting at an odd angle due to its internal organs being wads of cash.
‘Deposit time?’ he asked.
Dreckly made sure there was never more than sixty thousand in her safe, just in case. That may have seemed like an outrageously unsafe amount as it was, but anything less than that and Wyck would be rolling to the bank every damn day to make deposits. And that would be noticed. She took electronic payment and credit card as well; however, most of her supernatural clients liked to pay cash.
‘All right, I’m on my way,’ he said, pulling his legs off the railing of the boat where they had been resting. Wyck had been paralysed from the waist down ten years earlier after he got jumped by members of a rival motorcycle gang. He should have been protected at the time, should have never been vulnerable, and he’d remained a cut-carrying member of the club largely thanks to their guilt.
He’d been working as the club’s accountant out of sheer necessity more than anything else when Dreckly first docked at the Sydney Fish Markets. He’d been their sergeant at arms previously and although he couldn’t ride anymore, he could still shoot anyone with anything. Most useful, though, was a borderline supernatural ability to read people: it was something that couldn’t be learned or lived. You either had it or you didn’t it. Wyck had it.
‘You need anything else while I’m out?’ he asked.
‘Yes, I made a list. Mainly electronics.’
He inspected the piece of paper she passed to him. ‘I can get this from the goblins.’
‘They’re expecting you. This envelope has what I’ll owe them. And this envelope is for you.’
He took them both with a wink. ‘Bless your organisational skills.’
‘Bless my OCD. That will take you a minute, so have the rest of the night off.’
She nodded, jerking her head towards the massive blue structure that made up the Sydney Fish Markets. It was usually bustling with people as they bought, bartered, and consumed seafood from the myriad of vendors that were packed into the place. But it was late on a Tuesday afternoon. Serious restaurateurs came early and tourists came mid-morning to stay through lunch. Everything was winding down now and it was mostly quiet. There were a cluster of folks from the Ravens Motorcycle Club lounging on one of the dozens of benches that sat on a deck overlooking the water where her boat was docked alongside many others. They were picking at fish and chips cradled inside a wad of butcher’s paper and swigging beers. Their vice president was among them and caught Wyck’s gaze. The man gave him a nod, which he returned, before retrieving the specially built ramp that bridged the gap between the boat and the jetty.
‘They’ll keep an eye on things,’ he said, wheeling away from her. ‘I’ll leave Betty with you, but I’ve got Sandra.’
He patted an area on his thick, barrelled chest where Dreckly knew he kept his favourite pistol under the busy print of his shirt. Her name was Sandra and the rifle left behind hidden under the designated holder for a fishing rod was Betty. Each of his weapons were named after women that had been important to him in one way or another. Dreckly never questioned why.
‘See you in the a.m., Dreckly.’
She gave him a mock salute, before returning the small wave his club members offered her from a distance. If the stereotype of bikers was black leather, tattoos and crew cuts, none of the Ravens M.C. fit that mould. Most had attire like Wyck: board shorts and singlets and thongs and patterned shirts. They all looked like washed up surfers who dressed appropriately to survive the Australian heat in a Sydney summer. But it was more than that: they looked just like anyone else at the fish markets, tourist or otherwise. They were smart and they knew how to blend. Just like her.
She grabbed her purse, which fitted little more in it than keys for the jetty, some cash, two different types of knives and her water bottle. Dreckly knew that putting physical space between herself and her memories didn’t make any sense – they went wherever she did – but that didn’t decrease her pace one bit. The sun was hiding behind clouds as she treaded the pavement for nearly twenty minutes, enjoying the huff of her breath as she marched up the steep hill to her destination.
If choral music played as the neon-pink sign that said ‘Klaws By Katya’ came into view, thick letters dripping as if they were made from puff paint, Dreckly was certain she was the only one who heard it. It was right on lunchtime, but the usually quiet hour for other businesses didn’t impact this place. As she pushed through the glass door and into the salon, she was unsurprised to see all but two of the fifteen stations occupied with customers. The owner, Katya, parted a pink and purple beaded curtain as she emerged from the rear of the store, as if detecting Dreckly’s presence. She was a goblin and they had a keen sense of smell, so for all she knew it was likely her perfume had tipped her off.
‘Hi there, do you have—’
‘I’ve got it, Melody,’ the woman said, cutting off the counter girl who nodded politely at the order from her boss. ‘This way.’
Dreckly followed her to one of the remaining stations, with something jingling at each step Katya took. Whether it was the Hello Kitty baubles in her pigtails or the small bells that sat inside her giant, love heart earrings, it was like a sultry Christmas ornament come to life as she sashayed to her seat and gestured for Dreckly to sit down.
‘These aren’t that bad, babe,’ she said, the two never wasting time on pleasantries. ‘It has only been …’
‘A few weeks,’ Dreckly answered. ‘I just need—’
‘Self-care.’ Katya beamed.
‘Surrrrre.’ Your words, not mine, her answer said without saying.
‘Refills or new set? I can do something fancy over this matte lilac if ya want it? It will make it feel fresh and give you a few more weeks wearage.’
‘Not Playboy bunnies.’
Katya feigned offence, slapping her own perfectly manicured hand to her chest as her plump lips formed the perfect ‘o’. Dreckly didn’t miss the detail there either, with diamanté versions of the iconic bunny symbol twinkling back at her from Katya’s nails.
‘What about a sweet Animal Crossing set?’
‘I don’t cross animals.’
The goblin snorted, a smile making the small crescent moon decoration under her eye crinkle as dimples appeared. ‘No, it’s—’
‘Something blue,’ she offered, before they back-and-forthed any further about one of the designs Katya always tried to talk her into. ‘Something … aquatic, like the ocean.’
‘One crystal, Kat.’
‘Three. And a feature nail.’
‘One. No feature nail.’
Katya grumbled under her breath, getting started as she dived into her little toolkit that was the same shade of turquoise as her dyed hair. She was the cousin of the same goblin who manufactured the biometric chip readers for Dreckly that she planted in passports. Unlike Ruken, however, Katya kept her business strictly above board: she ran a nail salon that had both human and supernatural clientele, but mostly the former. She was also the most skilled nail technician in the country, in Dreckly’s opinion, and she’d been going to her ever since she moved to Sydney seven years ago.
‘Speaking of selfcare …’ the goblin murmured.
‘I may or may not have heard of someone who wants to take care of your self.’
It took Dreckly a moment to sort through the jumble of words before she understood Katya’s meaning.
‘Unlikely,’ she replied.
‘Hey, just because you never come off that boat doesn’t mean people don’t wanna jump on it, ya know?’
‘I do not enjoy that metaphor,’ she grumbled, before adding, ‘I came here, didn’t I?’
Katya stuck out her tongue in defiance. ‘Who gets ya groceries?’
‘Who picks up your supplies?’
‘If I gave in and came to you like you’ve been begging me all these years, you’d never step foot in this salon.’
It was true, Dreckly admitted to herself. If she wasn’t on the boat, close to water and where she felt safest, then she wasn’t far from it. She knew all the supernatural hotspots in the city, all the human ones too, but she rarely visited them. She’d made herself a one-woman island on purpose.
‘I rest my case,’ Katya said, taking Dreckly’s silence as an answer. ‘And don’t you wanna know?’
‘Who has got a raging stiffy for you?’
‘Gah! Can you just pretend to be fun for one moment?’
Dreckly blinked. Taking a deep breath, she raised the pitch of her voice just a fraction.
‘Like omigod I’m totally dying and I really need to know before I positively perish in this chair, bebe.’
Katya laughed, nodding with approval. ‘That wasn’t bad, that wasn’t bad.’
Dreckly gave an attempt at a bow, or as much of one as you could give when your hand was being held firmly in the grip of another.
‘So, he’s Indian,’ she started. ‘And you’re Chinese, so you’d make beautiful babies.’
She’d never told Katya she was Chinese, but the goblin had heard her speak Mandarin once and assumed ever since.
‘His interests include long walks on the beach under the full moon.’
Dreckly caught the goblin’s true meaning: he was a werewolf. It had to be someone from the Kapoor pack, which was Sydney’s dominant one, and she thought of the tall, lean leader she had often seen hanging at the fish markets with the motorcycle club.
‘Ben Kapoor,’ Katya said, as if plucking the man’s name right from her mind. ‘His sister-in-law comes here actually and might have mentioned he was into some chick who works at the fish markets.’
‘How’d you know it was me?’
‘Said he only sees her off the boat when she’s working the oyster cart. Never at The Wisdom or—’
‘No thank you.’
‘You don’t think he’s a total hoddie with a boddie?’
She didn’t bother denying either of those things.
‘Cos I wouldn’t say no to a double date if you two wanted to join—’
Damp roses. Wet lips. His hand gripping tightly at her hips.
‘No,’ Dreckly repeated, more firmly as she tried to maintain her hold on the present. ‘No thank you, Kat.’
The goblin got the message, dropping the subject altogether. Besides making a comment about ‘loving this new Jojo track’, they didn’t converse much for the rest of the appointment that Dreckly hadn’t booked.
When she left a little over an hour later, she paid more than the amount that was due – she always did – but it was worth it. Katya did incredible work and as she walked back to the fish market, she felt bad about the way she had shut down the . . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...