Shamus & Shifter preview: Prologue

Shamus & Shifter comes out next Friday and is available for preorder on Amazon now!

James must go undercover in a shifter cult at a beautiful lakeside resort full of old enemies and new ones. Without being able to rely on his usual dragon backup (and the dragon in question is not happy about it), his closest available ally is Aliette—who not so long ago wanted to kill him herself.

Keep reading for a preview!


The sun was setting above the rooftops and treetops of Grand Bluffs. From above, the city’s residential neighborhoods were a patchwork of suburban developments mixed with older neighborhoods dense with trees and vivid green splashes of parks. The river winding through downtown was a sheet of silver fire.

With swift wingbeats, Aliette Kowalczyk darted over the city’s sprawling outskirts until subdivisions yielded to the railyards and warehouses of the docks. She swooped low across the rolling brown river, headed for the housing developments upstream. 

Her shift form was a crested auklet, a pigeon-sized gray bird with a curling tuft of feathers over one eye and a bright orange bill. In the wild, these birds spent months of the year at sea, coming to land only in nesting season; they were equally at home above or below the water. Even now, Aliette felt the urge to dive into the river below her, where her football-shaped avian body took on a dolphin’s sleek grace. But the fishing was poor here around the docks, the river’s current interrupted with breakwaters and bridge supports, tainted with oil and industrial byproducts. 

She winged on upstream. The water grew less tainted, and limestone bluffs closed in. This stretch of the river used to be relatively undeveloped, a mix of orchards, scrub, and old milling operations gone gradually to seed. All of this had changed in the last forty years, as the scenic bluffside property had become an attractive target for upscale housing developers.

It was toward one of these subdivisions, a scattering of McMansions clinging precariously to the cliffside, that Aliette tipped her wings. She swooped over the peaked roofs of the house where she used to live with Brandon, her ex. He had been a lousy excuse for a husband even before she was stuck as an auklet for the better part of a year—during which he went and got himself arrested and the house repossessed by the bank. Somewhere along the way, he’d tried to have her declared legally dead. Now she had no house, no deadbeat Brandon, and was tied up in red tape while both the divorce and her own very much not dead status worked their way through the legal system.

She dropped down the hill, past the steep tree-covered slopes that were just asking to become a landslide one of these days, and swept across the gabled outcrop of a multi-story rambling house perched on a flattened piece of land overlooking the river. This was the Kowalczyk family home, previously bought by big brother Adrian with his dot-com money. The lawn was more overgrown than Adrian ever would have permitted back when he was still alive. A FOR SALE sign had been planted beside the gently curving driveway.

Aliette shifted as she landed, dropping to the driveway in her usual working attire of jeans, boots, and a black leather jacket. She looked at the sign for a moment before climbing the stairs to the deck. The lights were on behind the bank of windows, so someone was home, and the door opened easily when she tried it.

She stepped into the broad expanse of the open-plan living room and kitchen. Here again, there were signs of declining standards. No one had been coming in to clean, and the kitchen’s once-gleaming marble island was splattered with stains and cluttered with dirty dishes.

Being here hurt. Once she would have stepped inside casually, assured of her welcome; she wouldn’t even have had to think about it. Now she entered like a thief, moving quietly. She had already begun to wonder why she’d come. She glided soft-footed into the kitchen, where she found the sink full of unwashed coffee cups.

“What are you doing here?”

Aliette managed not to jump, wheeling around to find her brother Adric leaning against the wall in the hallway to the media room. He was an older, slightly darker blond echo of herself. His rumpled T-shirt had also seen cleaner days.

“It’s my house too. Doesn’t anyone ever tidy up in here?”

“Since when did you turn into Mrs. Clean?” Adric asked nastily. “Since you started palling around with that private dick who destroyed our family?”

He shoved his hands in his pockets and entered the kitchen. Aliette couldn’t help being aware that he was bigger and more experienced. She had been scrapping with her siblings for her entire life, but that was all it was—kid games, play-wrestling, maybe a black eye or two. Now she wondered if they were playing for keeps these days. She no longer knew the rules of the fight. All she knew was that everyone in her family knew how to deal physical damage.

“You’re selling the house?” She put her back to the sink, keeping her eyes on Adric, and prepared to shift if she had to.

“What business is it of yours?”

Because you’re my family. But she didn’t want to say it aloud. She couldn’t bear the thought that they might disagree. “Because it’s my home as much as yours, that’s why.”

“Oh, we’ll make sure you get your check,” said Ada’s voice from the far side of the room.

Her older sister moved in on the opposite side from Adric, the twins working smoothly as a team, the way they always had. Aliette felt cornered.

“I didn’t know you were leaving town,” she said.

“Maybe we just want a change of scenery.”

“Maybe, “Aliette suggested, “this is something to do with your new friends at Morphos.”

Ada muscled into the kitchen, crowding Aliette’s space in a way that was far from friendly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What’s it sound like? First you’re hanging around with that pack of troublemakers, next thing I know, the house is up for sale and no one consulted me about it. And word’s out on the street that other shifters are—ow!” she said, startled, as Adric shoved her bodily into the edge of the sink.

“There are a lot of lies circulating about Zeus and his crew,” Adric said grimly. “We’d better not hear you repeating any of them.”

“Oh really? Is it a lie, then, that people sometimes start hanging around Zeus’s bunch and go missing? Because that’s what I’ve—erk!”

It came out as an inelegant, half-avian squawk. They were both crowding her now, pushing her toward the door.

“We’ve always made people disappear, sis,” Ada said. “It’s what we do. It’s what you do. Or have you gone straight now that you’ve decided a human is better company than your own flock?”

“You know I haven’t,” Aliette said. Having no choice, she backed up. “I’m still taking jobs. I have to take jobs. It’s not like I have a lot of marketable work skills that don’t involve beating people up. If you sell the house, do you plan to keep it all, or will I get a share?”

“I told you,” Ada said. “We’ll send you a check.”

“For how much? You know, I’ve heard other things.” Aliette’s back was at the door now. “I’ve heard about shifters deciding to fork over their entire life savings to Zeus’s crew. Sometimes it’s the price of admission. Where’s your money going?”

“You could have been part of all this,” Adric snarled. “We invited you in at the start. You’re the one who decided to turn your back.”

“I don’t want any part of whatever that cult-leading con artist—”

Ada strong-armed her into the door with a bruising impact. Aliette stumbled, clumsy with pained surprise. She had come prepared for violence—or at least she thought she had. But on some level she had never thought they would really attack her.

“Get out,” Adric said.

Aliette fumbled for the doorknob behind her. “What did Zeus promise you two?”

Ada made a threatening hissing sound. Aliette pushed open the door and stumbled out onto the deck, nearly losing her balance when Adric gave her a push. She shifted semi-instinctively and flapped to land heavily on the railing.

Adric casually picked up a baseball bat leaning beside the door. Ada shifted also, and flew to the rail beside Aliette, then started to peck her.

Aliette squawked in protest and dismay. She leaped off the railing, beating her wings frantically to lift her round body into the air. Barely clearing the fence at the edge of the lawn, she sped across the ornamental hedge before the cliffside dropped away and she was soaring a hundred feet above the river.

Dusk had fallen while she was inside; shadows cloaked the river canyon. Aliette circled to pass over the house again. Adric stood on the deck, looking up at her, one hand resting on the bat. She had no illusions about what her family was, but it was shockingly painful to have their thuggish violence directed at her.

Instincts warred within her, the urge to flee combined with the desire to wing back toward her flock, her family. It annoyed her to find that there was a new question inside her as well. What would James do?

He wouldn’t run from a fight, she decided. And neither would she.

But the fight wasn’t going to be won today. Not now. This was more like a temporary retreat.

Flock is flock. I’ll do whatever it takes.