Meet Tommi Grayson: she's all bark . . . and all bite 'It was like my wolf had been there all along, waiting for me to tap its hand and step into the ring . . .' Tommi Grayson's never exactly been a normal girl. Bright blue hair, a mysterious past and barely controlled rage issues have a way of making a woman stand out. Yet she's never come close to guessing who she really is . . . When her mother dies, a shattered Tommi decides to track down her estranged father. Leaving Scotland for a remote corner of New Zealand, she discovers the truth of her heritage - and it's a whole lot more than merely human. Barely escaping with her life, now Tommi must return to her her friends, pretending everything is normal, while all too aware of the dangers lurking outside - and within. Worse still, something has followed her home . . . With the clock ticking, can Tommi learn to control her new powers in time to save the ones she loves? Mixing elements of fantasy, mystery and romance, Who's Afraid? is a must-read tale about one woman who takes on the world, one bite at a time 'Gripping, fast-paced, and completely unexpected, Who's Afraid has more twists than a tornado. I loved this story! ' Darynda Jones, New York Times bestselling author of the Charley Davidson series
Release date: January 5, 2016
Print pages: 352
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I took a few steps forward to start running and was brought crashing to the ground again by the same agonising feeling. Except this time it was worse. It felt like hundreds of small knives gouging through my skin from the inside out. The pain was beyond screams. My mouth opened and closed in silent agony as I lay on the forest floor, arching my back into the earth. It could have gone on for seconds, maybe minutes. All sense of time and reason was lost to me amid the excruciating pain.
And then it was gone. I was shaking, sweating, and I realised the whimpering sound I could hear was coming from my own mouth.
Excruciating. This is what Steven had said it would be like, wasn’t it?
I heard a shout somewhere off in the distance, far, but not far enough. Another shout returned it and I recognised Simon’s scent on the wind. No, I couldn’t smell him. I was clearly still delirious from the after-effects of the pain, yet somehow I knew it was him coming for me. And the others.
If I was going to escape I couldn’t lose any more time. I gripped a tree, digging my clawed hand into it and bit down on my lip until I felt blood running down my chin. I pushed forward. Shadows had replaced the light coming through the trees and I could sense darkness was nearly upon us. I stumbled, screamed and sprinted in bursts, as I battled with what was undoubtedly the worst pain I’d experienced in this or any lifetime.
I tore furiously at my shirts, suddenly frustrated by the material restricting my back and arms as I pumped them, urging myself to go faster. The clothing fell in shreds around me and I didn’t worry about leaving a trail. They were too close anyway. I sprinted through the thinning trees with branches lashing at my face and body.
‘Tommi!’ I heard James shout. It sounded like he was practically at my neck.
I smelled something in the air and sniffed. Salt. The ocean was close. I could even hear waves pounding heavily on what had to be rocks. I could swim. I wasn’t sure if the Ihis could. I was hoping I was better. I broke through the last of the trees and on to clear land. I was on a grassy cliff top with the dropoff about a hundred metres directly in front of me.
I paused for a second, suddenly transfixed by the glowing orb that appeared from behind the clouds. I saw it for only a moment before I was on the ground, screaming as the pain returned in all its searing glory. I dug my hands into the earth and felt tears as wave after wave of flesh-splitting torture washed over me. I heard a rip and a crack come from within my own body and I let out a brief cry as it happened. Then it happened again, over and over, faster and faster, until I was begging for death.
Sweet nothingness would be better than this suffering.
Somehow, through the hell, I sensed the Ihis emerge from the trees behind me.
I smelled Steven among them. Impossible. As I heard their footsteps get closer, I used every last fragment of willpower I had left and sprinted towards the edge of the cliff. I caught them unawares and heard shouts of surprise behind me.
I didn’t look back. Within a few strides, I realised I was moving faster than I’d ever moved before. I was bounding towards the edge on all four limbs, each stride throwing me powerfully closer to my goal. I didn’t know what lay beneath me. I could smell the ocean close by. Whether it was directly below me or hundreds of jagged rocks were, I didn’t care. Freedom or death. Either option sounded promising.
‘No!’ I heard someone shout, but it was too late.
I launched myself far out over the cliff edge and into the air. I had a second of suspension before gravity took hold and I began to plummet. I screamed, and not with fear this time, with pure exhilaration. It took me a second to realise that I wasn’t screaming at all. Following me down into the unknown was a piercing howl.
Four days earlier
‘I wanted to find a level of depth that’s as admirable as it is hypnotic, while juxtaposing a part of that impenetrability from my last works, you ken?’
No. A dinnae ken.
In fact, I was less than a minute into an interview with Wil Garman and the only thing I was sure of was how much I wanted to punch him in the throat. I felt rage bubbling up in my stomach and I began casually flicking the elastic band wrapped around my wrist. Whenever I felt anger or irritation, this is what I did. I flicked the band against my skin until the emotions subsided. It was unsurprising that the flesh there was permanently red, as scars had healed over scars during the many years I’d adopted this habit.
Wil was the hottest young artist to emerge from the local scene in, well, ever. I live in Dundee, which is essentially Scotland’s most important city if Edinburgh or Glasgow didn’t exist. Or Aberdeen. Or Inverness. So to produce a 27-year-old artist with sell-out shows at all the underground art galleries in the UK was significant and probably why Wil thought he was such a big deal.
Personally, I didn’t get it. I may be a junior art curator only one year out of university, but I recognise a mildly talentless hack when I see one. Wil was just flavour of the month, only he didn’t know it yet. Regardless of his inevitable use-by date, Wil’s exhibitions sold paintings. They filled galleries. They attracted attention from all the right kind of waistcoat-wearers under forty. It was no wonder my boss at McManus Galleries wanted his to be the first show in our newest venture: pop-up exhibitions.
As one of the most prestigious and historic galleries in the country, the place carried a lot of weight. It was also old. The pop-up exhibitions were a way to modernise McManus’s reputation. Wil’s show on body image was to be a triumphant extravaganza when we launched the first of six shows next month. To be held in various locations throughout the city, the show would open for a space of three weeks before moving to a different location with a different artist. It was a very cool idea and one I had been appointed to organise thanks to my ‘youth and enthusiasm’, as it had been phrased.
But Wil was making it difficult. Sitting there with his chicken legs crossed in faded skinny-leg jeans, a loosely buttoned flannelette shirt, and a black bowler hat tilted on his blond hair, he hadn’t seemed to notice my lack of attention.
I hoped he was midway through his monologue.
‘I just wanted to, like, use all this pressure I’m seeing being applied to women as a catalyst for pieces that personify their struggle and puncture through the plethora of labels they’re made to carry like contemporary Atlases,’ he said.
Our waiter reminded me of Niles from The Nanny, but I would never tell him that at risk of finding arsenic in my coffee one day.
‘A chai soy latte for me,’ said Wil.
This was going to be an excruciating fifteen, no, thirteen minutes.
‘I’ll have a coffee, Irish,’ I said.
The waiter raised an eyebrow at me but said no more. Smart man.
Wil-with-one-L and I were sitting at the most secluded table in the Poison Art; it was as modern as a café could get in Dundee and situated directly across from McManus. It specialised in the latest prints and art deco knick-knacks, but, most importantly (and unlike our in-house café), it was licensed. The set-up was sparse; purple and green designer tables stood out against the crisp white of the linoleum floor. It would have been clinical if not for the doodles printed underneath our feet.
‘Art is a lie that makes us realise truth,’ said a speech bubble sprouting from the mouth of a crudely sketched Picasso.
Exposed light bulbs of every colour imaginable hung at various heights, illuminating the venue. Dale Frank abstract paintings lined the walls, making the space feel like the offspring of a kaleidoscope and hospital room. The atmosphere was all hushed business, which was perfect when trying to interview a pretentious artist in the hopes of writing an exhibition booklet worthy of MoMA.
Yet, when you looked at me, ‘all business’ isn’t a phrase that would leap to mind. ‘Holy shit’ would probably be first, followed by ‘that’s really blue’. Those were the exact words that had fallen from a colleague’s mouth when I started an internship at McManus. I had an androgynous name, Tommi Grayson, was twenty-two, and had bright blue hair. When I walked through the Poison Art doors on my second day to grab a desperately needed latte, double shot, I literally saw a silver-haired woman draped in pearls choke on her biscotti at the sight of me.
At five foot six I’m relatively normal height, with dark brown eyes and dark skin that’s a mix of my mother’s Caucasian background and my estranged father’s Maori heritage. I’d be all curves if it wasn’t for a toned physique courtesy of nearly a decade of Muay Thai training. Add to that image electric blue, waist-length hair instead of my natural black and you have someone who’ll make you choke on your biscotti. Yup, Tommi Grayson a.k.a. me.
The waiter came with our drinks. My Irish coffee didn’t have nearly as much kick as I would have liked. But hey, it was eleven in the morning. I’m not an alcoholic, but since my mum passed away eight months earlier, I liked a touch of fuel to my fire. Especially when, for instance, I was only one-third of my way through an interview with a bampot artist on my last day before holidays.
Walking through the gallery to our office twelve minutes later, I was decidedly more chipper due to a) sending Wil and his skinny-leg-jeans-wearing-self on his way and b) a smidge of whisky. It didn’t matter how long I had been working at McManus, I never got used to the building’s ability to take my breath away. My grandparents even used to bring me here when I was kid. The architect had been a big fan of classic Gothic style when construction began in the mid-1800s. More than 150 years later, both the exterior and interior were works of art. A multi-million dollar restoration had seen some of the finer details restored to their former glory as well as a skylight added here and there.
The entrance to our somewhat cramped working area was situated behind a small door at the top of a metal staircase near the local exhibition room. The senior curator, Gerrick, was hunched over his desk when I entered and whispering furiously into the phone. He only adopted that tone when he was speaking to his wife. I rolled out my chair and began setting up headphones to transcribe the interview I’d recorded on my iPhone. The clip clap of stiletto heels announced the presence of Alexis Scales, my boss. I swivelled to give her a grin as she walked in carrying the final designs for the exhibition booklet.
‘Tommi, good. How did the interview with Wil go?’
‘I could barely get a word out of him,’ I said, straight-faced.
She gave me a begrudging smile before continuing. ‘Do you think you can have the main profile for the booklet completed by this afternoon?’
‘No doubt. I’ve got everything else finished and sent to the graphics team. Once I write up the chat I’ll be done.’
‘Lovely. And, Tommi?’
‘You will make him sound … you know, not like—’
‘A dickhead?’ I offered.
‘Although not the phrasing I’d use, aye.’
‘No problem. When I’ve finished with this puppy he’ll be as interesting and hip as everyone thinks he is.’
And with that, she was off.
‘What was Alexis after?’ asked Gerrick, as he hung up the phone.
He sighed. ‘I’ll go see if she needs help with anything.’
I watched his podgy frame head toward Alexis’s office before turning back to my computer screen. Only a few more hours and I would be on holidays, my first since the death of my mum, Tilly, which you couldn’t really call holidays. I think ‘grief leave’ is the appropriate term and, boy, was it fitting. My mum and I were close. My father hadn’t been on the scene since my birth and I’d been raised single-handedly by her.
Now that she was gone … every now and then when the reality of the fact hit home I would find myself curling inwards as my stomach spasmed with the recognition of a beyond-physical loss. Other days, I’d just find myself crouched in my room. No tears. I was beyond that now. Today was not one of those days, I told myself. I would get this done and then I would get the heck out of here. I began subconsciously flicking the rubber band at my wrist.
Opening the door to my apartment six hours later, I had proved myself right; I got the work done and then I got gone. Gold star for me. I groaned as I sorted through the mail that had been slipped under the door, all addressed to me. Electricity bill, internet bill and, hooray, water bill. When it rains it pours, I thought, as I quickly wrote down the amounts on a whiteboard we had in the kitchen for keeping track of incoming and outgoing finances.
All of the bills were in my name, and I split them with the occupants of the small but comfortable three-bedroom unit I rented on the second floor of an old building a few streets away from the city centre. Our last flatmate had just moved out after taking a job in Edinburgh and I added another note to the whiteboard about a potential roomie we were supposed to interview next week while I remembered.
My other flatmate was Mari Bronberg, one of my closest friends. Mari’s real name was Mariposa, which is Spanish for ‘butterfly’. Since her mother had been in Spanish class before her 49-hour labour, it had obviously seemed like a good idea at the time. Or a good punishment. Either way, a mentally depleted Mrs Bronberg named her first child Mariposa and committed her to a lifetime of ridicule. It was no Apple, but she preferred to go by Mari.
I dumped some grocery bags in the kitchen and made my way down the hall to my room. Mari was walking out of the shower with a towel around her.
‘Baby, you should have told me to pick up the cherries and whipped cream on my way home,’ I said, trying to lower my voice seductively.
Laughing, Mari replied: ‘Let’s all just be thankful there were no mass murders today and I was able to shower before your farewell drinks tonight.’
‘Hey, even 24-year-old police reporter extraordinaires deserve a night off. Just one.’
Mari worked at the local newspaper and had a crazy schedule completely indicative of what crimes were committed that day. It wasn’t unheard of for her to pull a fourteen-hour shift when something especially grisly occurred.
‘Well, just the one then.’ She smirked.
‘Shit, I almost forgot about my completely unnecessary farewell drinks.’
Mari shrugged, the hair of her straight, black bob swinging with the movement. ‘It’s only an informal thing, a few of us getting rowdy before you leave tomorrow morning. And it’s not like we wouldn’t be out on a Friday night anyway. This time we just have a reason.’
‘True, all true.’
‘Kane and Poc are going to be around in twenty minutes so unless you want to look like the L.E.S. artiste that you are …’
‘Then I should hustle, hustle.’
With a satisfied smile and a nod, Mari shuffled to her room, leaving wet footprints on the carpet as if it were snow. Kane Goode was Mari’s long-time boyfriend and, in his own words, a ‘righteous dude’. Poc was an all together different story.
Standing in front of the full-length mirror in my room, I took a few seconds to assess what I was going to wear. After slipping out of my stockings, grass-green pencil skirt and black blouse, I pulled on my favourite ripped jeans and a black, strappy bra. There were five novelty straps that shot out from the middle of the bra and spilled over the mounds of each breast in a way that made it look somewhat like a spider web. I threw on a loose, low-cut white top to complete the look and black combat boots. I was going for casual cool; something that wasn’t easy to achieve when your hair was the colour of a Smurf. I had barely finished putting on my make-up and earrings when I heard a ruckus from the lounge.
The lads had arrived. After giving myself a quick once-over, I grabbed my leather jacket and ducked into the hallway. I was blessed with amicable hair that usually fell in waves and that’s how I left it tonight.
We were all keen to get to our favourite bar: Eggs and Ham. The bar owner had a thing for Dr Seuss, hence the name, but as long as they served alcohol I didn’t care if they called it the Dead Seals Club. Kane and I had both been banned from there once for getting into a fight with a group of N.E.Ds (Non Educated Delinquents) who had tried to get touchy feely with Mari. Thankfully, that was all just lolly water under the bridge now. The bar was only about five blocks away and across from Dundee University, so we were walking in. I was barely out the door before Poc brushed up beside me and whispered in my ear.
‘You look dangerous tonight,’ he said, looking down at me like a lion would an antelope.
I rolled my eyes. ‘While I appreciate the hollow flattery, I got ready in twenty minutes. I know my underwear is probably hanging out of my jeans.’
He made an exaggerated inspection of my arse before continuing. ‘Not that I can see.’
‘You know, you actually have to look past my thickness to have an honest opinion on that,’ I said with a smirk.
‘I never look past your thickness,’ he replied, walking ahead of me so that I could see the massive tattoo of a Native American eagle on his back peeking out over the top of his green shirt. This is how James Hughes had earned the nickname Poc, short for Pocahontas.
‘How was Wil today?’ he asked casually. The look on my face was enough to make him chuckle. ‘That bad, huh?’
‘Très bad. The infinite badness. You know, I wish all the artists I interviewed were as easy to deal with as you were.’ Poc was part of a relatively successful street art collective that was making a name for itself in Scotland, partly due to an exhibition I had curated for them over a year ago when I was still in university.
‘Easy is the word,’ muttered Mari with a giggle.
‘Ugh, I walked into that,’ I groaned. Poc and I had been sleeping together for the past few months, but it was something we didn’t really talk about among our group of friends even though everyone knew about it.
‘Yes, you did,’ Poc said, turning to smirk at me. His family had emigrated from Nigeria and his beautiful chocolate skin, which went so well with his dark hair and dark eyes, glinted as we passed under a streetlight. If it wasn’t for my blue hair and slightly lighter shade of skin, we would look like we came from the same island.
‘I’ll have four Coronas with lime, a Foster’s, Irn-Bru, and four tequila shots,’ Kane yelled over the bar.
‘You’re a bad, bad man,’ I said.
‘I’ve always been one for the bad boys,’ said Mari dreamily and we laughed because we all knew it was a lie. Kane worked for one of the few local computer game companies that was still standing after the recession and was as far from a ‘bad boy’ as you could get.
We’d been there over two hours and were on our fourth round, a steady but not sloppy pace. I helped Kane back to the table with our drinks. With a customary clink of glasses the tequila was burning its way down my throat. My best friend Joss joined us breathlessly at the table, using his tiny frame to negotiate his way through the heaving crowd like a ghost. I had been watching his ginger head appear and disappear amongst the throng of people and handed him his soft drink when he came to a halt.
‘Aye, belter! Thanks, Tommi,’ he said, as he grabbed it. At twenty, Joss was over the legal drinking age but tended to avoid alcohol due to a bout of cancer he got last year. He’d been in remission for six months now, but was still being cautious about what he put in his body.
‘How you handling that Irn-Bru, son?’ Poc asked Joss.
‘Meh,’ my best friend replied. ‘I’m enjoying drinking in all the pretty birds here more.’
I made a gagging noise at his comment while Joss grinned, pleased with the desired effect.
‘Weren’t you supposed to be meeting a dame here tonight?’ Poc asked.
‘Cindy, from my economics class.’
My face scrunched with disapproval.
‘Stop looking at me like that. You look like grumpy cat.’
‘It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Cindy, it’s just …’
‘She has the personality of a bathroom tile. A bathroom tile with bleached blonde hair, breast implants, a good four layers of fake tan and what I suspect might be a nose job. If the girl could hold up a conversation then maybe I could overlook the Playboy Bunny shtick. Maybe.’
‘Please, don’t hold back.’
‘She’s a Celtic supporter!’ I pleaded.
‘Speak of the she-devil,’ muttered Poc, gesturing to the incoming Cindy. ‘Come on.’
He linked his hand in mine and I let him pull me away to the dance floor. I barely had enough time to grab my Corona off the table before our hips were falling into the steady rhythm of the Young Fathers song playing through the speakers. Poc and I were strictly a casual thing. I had been clear from the start I was not a relationship person. I wasn’t built that way. What Poc and I had was as perfect as it could be. We were friends and free agents who happened to have no-strings-attached sex when we wanted. We enjoyed each other’s company, but it wasn’t exclusive.
I had my back to him and we were moving in time from behind. It was kind of cheating because he got all of me and the only part of him I got to feel was his chest muscles against my back. One of his hands was secured to my hip while the other had moved from my thigh to stroking the skin of my midriff under my top. His hands were warm and I could tell from his heavy breathing in my ear that he was getting turned on. Sweaty bodies bumped into and against us and I spun around to face Poc. I lightly grabbed the neck of his shirt, pulling his lips to mine. We were all fire, and his kiss was long and deep. I could feel myself getting carried away as we found each others natural rhythm.
‘Stop,’ I said, slowly pushing him away.
‘What?’ he mumbled against my neck, moving lower towards my collarbone.
‘Public displays of intercourse on the dance floor are unbecoming.’
‘It’s dark, it’s packed, no one can see us.’
I chuckled, pushing him further off me. ‘Take a walk, cool off.’
‘I might need to,’ he said, letting out a deep breath before kissing me on the cheek.
We parted ways and I weaved my way back to Joss, passing Cindy sitting on the lap of some guy with a Celtic tattoo.
‘That was quick,’ I said, looking between Joss and Cindy. He shrugged it off, but I could tell the dafty had hurt his feelings.
‘What did you do with Poc?’ he asked.
One scowl from me was enough to silence him on the subject and he smirked into his Irn-Bru.
‘Am I still staying?’
This was very Dawson’s Creek of us, but Joss and I regularly had sleepovers.
‘’Course,’ I said, making a puzzled face.
‘Cool, I just know how you and Poc …’
‘Screw?’ supplied Mari
‘I prefer bonk, but I’ll give you that,’ I replied.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ said Joss, ‘I just thought he might be—’
‘Hun, we organised for you to stay. I’m not kicking you out of my bed for some guy.’
‘Bevvies,’ I said. ‘I’m going for more bevvies. Kane, rum and Coke?’
‘Ow, we on to the hard shit now?’
‘Hell yes. Irn-Bru on the rocks for you, My Sister’s Keeper?’ I asked, pointing squarely at Joss and he nodded. I left them chatting amongst each other and made for the bar. On my way, I watched Kane and Mari together, hands linked, swaying at the edge of the dance floor. Tonight we would party. Get drunk. Be jolly. Tomorrow, I’d set out for New Zealand to find my father.
‘Make it stop,’ groaned the person next to me.
I laughed. It was 10 a.m. on Saturday morning and I’d decided to subtly wake Joss by playing Dead Man’s Bones. He hated it. I loved it.
‘It’s too early for zombie music, Tommi, please.’ He pushed a pillow over his head.
‘It’s not too early for sunlight,’ I said, pulling up my blind.
A guttural sound was his only response. I crawled to the edge of the bed and sat there in an oversized Wednesday Addams T-shirt for a moment, letting the being-awake sensation roll over me. My room wasn’t small, but it wasn’t huge, either.
At its centre was my double bed covered in a dark purple blanket and lilac pillows. Multicoloured mini Chinese lanterns were strung up around the walls.
I believed blank walls were meant to be covered and mine were plastered with everything from band and movie posters, to art prints and paintings I’d done myself. The rest of my room was taken up with an overflowing bookshelf, my easel with a canvas-in-progress balanced on it, a vintage orange phone table I’d picked up from a second-hand store, a worn chest of drawers, an aqua stool and my stereo, which I now bent down to and skipped to my favourite track on the album.
‘Oh great, the one about flowers growing out of my grave. You know I nearly died right? This is too morbid.’
I smiled and made my way to the shower. An hour later I had my bags at the door and was eating eggs Benedict on the balcony with Mari and Kane.
‘You got everything?’ she asked.
‘Aye,’ I said, through a mouthful of eggs.
‘Passport? Warm clothes?’
‘New Zealand’s climate is warmer than ours, babe,’ said Kane.
‘Right, sorry. I’m just nervous. For you. Do we need to go over the plan again?’
Kane went to get up to leave.
‘Kane, no, you can stay,’ I said.. . .
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