April 2021 Newsletter
Available August 31, 2021!
It wasn’t until the hand persistently tapping him on his bare back turned into a paw and swiped him across the spine that Finn Malone knew for sure it was his mother attempting to wake him up. That’s when he grudgingly turned over and glared at her.
“We have vermin in our home,” she informed him.
“‘Our’?” he asked.
Finn knew it had been a mistake, inviting his family to move into his house all those years ago when he’d gotten his first payout after being drafted. Sure, the NFL draft got all the ESPN coverage but in his mind the shifter football league was a much bigger deal. He’d been up against guys who’d been born in Alaska and had nothing to do all day but grow big and ram into stuff with their giant bodies. One time he’d rammed into the side of a bodega and the next thing he knew, his mother had to come down to the police station and talk them out of charging him for property damage. They kept insisting he must have done the damage with a car or something, but nope. Shay had just bet him ten bucks he wouldn’t run directly into the side of the building and . . . ya know . . . he did. Left a real healthy indent in the brick there, too.
Those full-human kids couldn’t do that. Not sober anyway. And not without breaking a bone or two.
All fourteen-year-old Finn did was knock himself out for a few minutes.
It was good to get the new house, though. His family needed a fresh start and the old house held too many memories. But everybody thought they had some kind of financial stake in his house and it was annoying. Sure, Keane and Shay paid part of the mortgage and had tossed in part of the down payment, and according to his grumpy wolf lawyer, because his brothers had their names on the deed, they actually owned the house along with him, but he wasn’t sure he agreed with that.
“It’s the law,” his lawyer had insisted.
“You have proof of that?” Finn had asked.
His lawyer had done that thing dogs do when asked a question that seems to confuse them: the head tilt to the side, eyes staring, expression quizzical. The dog’s confusion at such a straightforward query made Finn wonder if the man really had graduated from Columbia Law as he had said.
And his mother also thought she had some investment in his home because, according to her, “I gave your ass life. That’s why.”
But was that reason enough to allow her to stay here when she insisted on waking him up every time there was the slightest issue in his home?
“If there’s rats, Ma,” he grumbled into his pillow, “let those dogs you insisted on buying take care of them. Isn’t that their job?”
“They’re hiding in the backyard.”
Finn finally opened his eyes and rolled onto his back again. He stared up at his mother. “By our blessed ancestors . . . the aunts are here, aren’t they?”
“Yes. My sisters are here to visit for a few days.”
“How many months does ‘a few days’ translate into this time?”
His mother’s eyes narrowed a bit and he could almost see the wheels turning inside her head as she debated how to handle her son. She finally went with guilt.
“The pain and suffering I went through to have you children . . . and this is how you treat me. Like garbage. On the street! What did I do to deserve such awful children?”
“Guilt them whenever you want something?”
She began slapping at him, forcing Finn to cover his head with his arms while he laughed.
“All right! All right! I’ll deal with it!”
“Thank you!” She headed toward his bedroom door. “My sisters already think I’m weak for letting all of you boys still live in my house.”
“It’s not your house!” But his mother was already gone.
Growling, Finn tossed off the covers and got out of bed. He already had on loose long shorts but grabbed a T-shirt to cover any bruises or scratches left over from the previous night. He wasn’t in the mood to field questions from his mother and her sisters. His mother worried enough about her three oldest.
Walking barefoot, he stomped out of his room and past his brothers’ rooms, not caring if he woke them up.
“You better be studying,” he snarled at the closed bedroom door of his baby brother.
“Stop harassing me!” the kid yelled back.
“You don’t know harassment yet,” he warned.
They had plans for their baby brother and his future didn’t involve guns or tracking down scumbags or being involved in shoot-outs. It involved him being a respectable Malone. There weren’t a lot of those. A few priests, maybe a nun or two, and there was at least one librarian who still lived in Ireland, but that was it. The rest of them were . . . well . . . Malones.
Dale Malone would do better even if it meant Finn, Keane, and Shay had to ride him like a pony straight through until he got his PhD and a respectable job.
Finn continued down the stairs to the first floor and, assuming the vermin was in the kitchen, headed down the hallway toward the large room necessary to feed a family of this size and a family of their size. They were Amur tigers, after all. A bucket of chicken from the local KFC was not going to feed them. It would barely feed Dale, and that poor kid was skinny and weak. He was barely even six-one. Not even two hundred pounds. Among some other cat families, he would have been abandoned to the elements as a runt and left to die.
The rest of them, though—Finn, Keane, and Shay—all played pro ball on shifter teams. They were constantly eating. Their kitchen had three refrigerators and two standing freezers, and in their garage were three chest freezers. All to supply their weekly and monthly food needs. Because their kind ate a lot. Even the females. Finn was always hungry. He traveled with a lot of treats. He wasn’t really an omnivore but it was less terrifying to fellow passengers to break out the nuts on a subway than it was to break out the big chunks of freshly roasted meats.
He didn’t know why he got such stares. It wasn’t as if the meat was raw. They were shifters, not barbarians!
As Finn neared his kitchen, he heard music coming from the TV and . . . chatter.
Not his mother and her sisters. They were chatty but they enjoyed chatting in the language of their Mongolian tribe. Something they didn’t get a chance to do unless they went to visit, but that could be a challenge. Those who’d spent their entire lives on the steppes tended to mock the cousins’ American accents, so his mother and aunts were less confident there. But in each other’s kitchens, they were nothing but confident. Besides, he’d just passed them sitting in the living room.
He even walked back to make sure. And the four women were silently perched on the family couches, backs straight, claws out, restlessly tapping their crossed legs. He didn’t really find their claws concerning. It was their silence that had Finn heading toward the kitchen with more speed than he had before.
He pushed open the swinging door and froze.
The “vermin” sat in his chairs and on his counters and on his kitchen table. One was painting her toenails, another was eating his cheddar cheese and crackers, a third was writing quickly in a notebook with a pencil, and a fourth changing channels on his TV until she found some reality show that involved people dating and marrying others recently released from prison.
There should be a fifth, but he didn’t see her.
It didn’t matter either way.
Taking a moment to calm himself down, Finn loudly asked, “Why are you in my kitchen?”
“Hey!” Max jumped off the table to greet him with a big smile. “Look at you . . . mister! First one up.”
Finn narrowed his eyes at the middle MacKilligan sister. “You don’t know which one I am . . . do you?”
“You’re one of the three,” she said with a shrug. “Your mother was here with three old ladies.”
“Please don’t call them old.”
“They were friendly.”
“No, they weren’t.”
“Hope we didn’t scare them, though. Because they just turned around and walked right out.”
Finn couldn’t help himself. He snorted a laugh. “Yeahhhh. I don’t think that’s an issue.”
“Great!” She gestured at the table. “We brought Danish. We couldn’t agree on what you guys would like, though, so we brought Italian, French, and pastries from that Jewish bakery about two miles from here.”
“That was my idea,” one of the badgers noted without lifting her head from the notebook in which she was writing copious notes.
Max rolled her eyes. “We know, Tock.”
“They weren’t even going to go to a Jewish bakery.”
“Let it go, Tock.”
“Just going to bypass it altogether.”
“Give it up already!”
“I even made sure it was kosher . . . just in case.”
“Yes, because the name Malone makes it obvious these guys are so very kosher.”
“You don’t know.” The one named Tock lifted her head and looked at her friend. “I’ve actually lived on a kibbutz.”
“Weren’t you asked to leave?”
“That was not my fault. Was it, Nelle?”
The one painting her toenails abruptly glanced up. “Need I remind you I was not even there?” she said in what sounded almost like a British accent. “I was in Rome that summer with Streep’s family. Having a delightful, innocent time, I might add.”
“Innocent? Really? Let’s ask the Pope if it was so innocent.”
“They proved nothing,” another badger announced, pointing a finger. “Nothing!”
“See?” Nelle said sweetly, going back to her toenails. “Streep says they proved nothing.”
Rolling her eyes, Max explained, “What Tock is really doing is pointing out that she’s half Black and half Israeli. But it’s New York, so no one actually gives a shit. Anyway,” Max continued, “we bring breakfast and good cheer for you and your brothers.”
Finn took a moment to rub his eyes and let out a breath. Because, wow, the honey badgers were a lot to take this early in the morning.
Or, quite honestly, any time during the day . . . or night.
“Why?” he finally asked.
“As part of our thank-you.”
Oh, no. “Part?”
“Yeah. We owe you. For last night. You could have paddled your giant paws off into the night, but you didn’t. You came and saved our asses. And we pay our debts. Or, at the very least, we’re starting to try.”
Finn shook his head. “No, no. You don’t owe us anything. So you can leave.” He blinked. “What are you doing?”
The one who’d been painting her toenails had suddenly jumped up and, being careful of the fresh enamel, waddled over to his side, and lifted her phone up.
“I’m taking our picture. I’m Nelle, by the way.”
“Yes. I figured that out. Now why are you taking my picture?”
“There’s a running thing me and my friends have about guys who look good when they just wake up, and you definitely fit the bill.”
“He does, doesn’t he?” Streep agreed.
“Eh,” Tock muttered, her focus now back on her notebook.
Finn covered the phone with his hand. “Do not take my picture.”
“Seriously? But I’ll totally win with you. My other friends are mostly full-human. The late-night partying, extreme dieting, and exhaustive drug use of their supermodel boyfriends almost ensure a lock on this month’s contest.”
His hand still over the phone, Finn simply turned his head and glowered at her.
“Got it,” she finally said, lowering the device and returning to her seat and nail-painting.
“Right,” Max said, gleefully clapping her hands together. “Now, what do you need from us? A painting you’d like to have but can’t get your hands on? Like a Matisse or a Warhol? Although I find his work pretentious.”
“I’m not having this argument with you again,” Nelle sang while changing nail polish colors.
“Perhaps an extremely rare bottle of wine.”
“There’s that billionaire Internet guy in Connecticut who just purchased a case of those bottles from the time of George Washington,” Streep noted. “We can grab a few bottles from him for ya.”
“Oh, wouldn’t that be nice?” Max said, grinning at him.
“Grab a few bottles?” Finn asked, confused.
“She means steal, sweetie,” Tock clarified. “Max always means steal.”
“Well, I’m not made of money!” Max snapped before plastering on that disturbing smile again. “Or maybe you’d like us to deal with someone you and your brothers find annoying?” She wiggled her eyebrows. “We’re really good at that.”
“No girls, though,” Tock said. “We don’t handle girls.”
Max frowned. “Since when?”
“Let me rephrase. We don’t handle girls for guys. It’s called loyalty to the pussy and we honor it.”
Max nodded and looked back at Finn. “She’s right. We do have loyalty to the pussy. We don’t beat up girls unless they come at us first.”
Dearest ancestors in heaven, how could he end this conversation?
Finn cleared his throat. “Look, this is all great but . . . we don’t want anything. Could you just go?”
“What about a car?” Streep offered. “Some of us . . . ” And she let that “us” linger out there for a moment before she continued. “ . . . are very good at obtaining vehicles.”
“Streep is right,” Max said. “We can get you a brand-new Bugatti in about a week.”
“You want us to have a three-million-dollar car just sitting in front of our house with no explanation?” Finn had to ask. “Don’t you think the neighbors will find that odd?”
“Three million?” Max said with a short laugh. “That’s for the basic package. I’ve met your mother. She’d want that bitch flexed out, so we’d get her the works.”
Finn raised his arms, palms facing out. “I’m going to stop you right there. We don’t want a car of any price. Nor any paintings, statues, or anything else you’ve stolen. Nor do we want you to kill anyone for us. But thanks for the offer. Instead, I’d really prefer that you just left. There’s the door . . . head for it.”
“Why are you being so difficult?”
“I’m not being difficult. I’m just trying to get you out of here before—”
Finn cringed. The heavy, damning thud from upstairs shook the entire house.
“Too late,” he muttered seconds before Keane stormed down the stairs and into the kitchen, with Shay right behind him.
“Keane, I’m handling—” was all Finn got out before his eldest brother grabbed the back of his neck and shoved him into Shay so he could stand right in front of the females and unleash the Malone tiger roar with all the subtlety of a rampaging elephant herd.
“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”
The badgers should have reacted. They should have jumped up in panic. They should have dropped things, fallen over. At least one should have bolted for the door. Finn had used that bellow before himself, and it was always the reaction he’d gotten from shifters and full-humans alike. Except, of course, lions. They just roared back. And grizzlies. You never wanted to use that roar on unsuspecting grizzlies. Because they were startled all right . . . but that just led to maulings. Shay still had the scars from a startled grizzly mauling on his shoulder and back, and you never really knew who’d come out on the winning end of that particular matchup.
But these guys? These honey badgers? They were one of the smallest of shifters while Amur tigers were biggest among cats and only second and third among grizzlies and polar bears. What did these tiny badgers do when faced with the Malone roar?
Nothing. They did nothing.
Well, to clarify, they did do something but it wasn’t anything meaningful. It definitely wasn’t what Finn would call a “normal” reaction. Not by full-human or shifter standards. Not by anyone’s standards, really.
Max held up a plate of Danish with a smile. She didn’t say anything, though, because she already had one treat stuffed into her mouth. Raspberry filling smeared her nose and, somehow, her forehead. Finn didn’t want to know how that happened.
Nelle, who’d been painting her toenails, closed another bottle of polish and put it in a leather bag. Then she proceeded to take pictures. Of her toenails. She didn’t even seem to notice that Keane was in the room . . . or on the planet.
Streep had been on her phone when the roar happened and never stopped scrolling.
Tock, still writing in her notebook, casually gestured at a duffel bag by her feet with a tilt of her head and calmly noted, “Wouldn’t do all that screaming. Have some sensitive stuff in here.”
That comment seemed to garner more of a reaction from the females than anything Finn’s brothers had done because the badgers immediately went wide-eyed and Max demanded of Tock, “Are you walking around with explosives in there?”
“Of course not.”
“Then what do you have that’s so sensitive?”
“Oh.” Max blinked, thought a moment. “Why are you walking around with a kitten in a duffel bag?”
“You with so many questions.”
“Oh, my God, Tock!” Streep demanded. “Are you going to blow up that kitten?”
Tock rolled her eyes. “Of course not.”
The women stared at her, seemingly unwilling to accept that answer.
“It’ll be fine,” she insisted.
Still didn’t seem good enough for her friends.
“I promised you guys I’d never try that again. You know . . . for moral reasons.”
Try that again?
“I can’t believe you’re still holding that against me! I was fourteen! It was for science!”
Now she simply stared back at the others. The standoff lasted a solid two minutes until she could no longer maintain eye contact and turned her gaze to Finn and his brothers. “You guys want a cat?”
“No,” Finn immediately replied.
“Fine,” Tock snapped. “I’ll throw it in the backyard.”
“We have dogs in the backyard,” Shay pointed out.
Streep frowned. “Why do cats have dogs in the backyard?”
Keane locked gazes with Max. “To deal with all the vermin.”
Max blinked, startled. “Why are you looking at me? I’ll have you know that honey badgers are an important part of the ecosystem or whatever.”
Tock winced a little at that wording but she shook it off like a champ.
“And,” Max continued happily, “we came here today with pastry and to thank you.”
“We don’t need anything from you. Not your nasty pastries”—Max gasped at that insult but considering Shay was on his fourth Danish, she shouldn’t have taken it so personally—“not your annoying presence, not your weird badger smell!”
“That weird badger smell, as you call it, is the latest French perfume from that designer I can’t pronounce—”
“She really can’t,” Nelle muttered.
“—that costs seven hundred and eighty-nine dollars an ounce and that I managed to steal from their Fifth Avenue boutique without getting caught just last week!”
“Oh, my God!” Keane exploded. “You’re a walking felony and you’re in my house! Get out! Now!”
Max stood against Keane’s rage in a way that Finn had absolutely never seen before: by simply gazing at him, appearing a little shocked and confused.
After a few seconds of silence, she reminded Keane, “But . . . I brought you Danish.”
“I don’t care.”
“I’m being nice.”
“Still don’t care.”
“I offered the services of myself and my teammates to kill your enemies or to steal you cool stuff. Do you have any idea how hard it is to steal a tricked-out Bugatti? It’s super hard! And now you come down here and you . . . ” She glanced at the floor, the ceiling, then Keane. “You’re mean to me? When I, Max MacKilligan was nice. To you?”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I did,” Keane told her. “Now do you get it?”
And that’s when Max went for Finn’s elder brother. Not with fang and claw but a giant hunting knife that she pulled out of somewhere on her person. She charged him with such speed and intent that the three of them just stood there, not doing anything. Not fighting back or protecting Keane or even jumping out of the way.
Finn could only assume they were just too shocked by the sudden brutal attack. Over Danish?
Thankfully, her three friends were fast and didn’t seem nearly as shocked by the move. Nelle caught Max’s knife-holding arm while Tock and Streep grabbed her around the waist. With much effort, they dragged her back toward the door.
“Just let it go!” Tock ordered Max.
“Fuck him!” Max screamed. “Fuck all of them! Kill ’em all!”
“Don’t forget!” Streep reminded her. “He’s the half-brother of your half-sister!”
They were by the door and suddenly Max MacKilligan stopped fighting. The change was so abrupt that Finn and his brothers lowered their arms and braced their legs apart, waiting for another random attack. A more vicious one. And they were right to expect it. Because MacKilligan went for the jugular as only a MacKilligan could and would.
Her smile this time was not the off-putting faux-friendly grin that scared so many. This was a smile that Finn was guessing was the last thing on earth many full-humans saw before MacKilligan finished them off.
And, with that slow spreading smile, she said, “One day . . . your baby sister is going to come to me and ask me a question about men and dating”—she leaned away from her friends and toward the brothers—“and I’m going to tell her every. fucking. thing.”
Keane was nearly across the room, his hands around MacKilligan’s throat when Finn and Shay caught him and tackled him to the ground like they’d just sacked a quarterback.
“You bitch!” Keane roared from the floor.
“You don’t deserve that Danish, you ungrateful prick!” Max screeched back.
“Your Danish looks dry!”
MacKilligan gasped. “You motherfucker!”
The honey badgers dragged their hysterical friend out the side door and Finn and Shay kept Keane pinned to the ground until he finally threw them off in a burst of tiger strength.
“Get off me!”
The three brothers jumped to their feet and now squared off against each other.
“I was handling that!” Finn told Keane.
“Yeah, I saw how you were handling that. In your usual mealymouthed way. Letting those rats walk all over you!”
“But you did such a great fucking job dealing with it yourself!”
“They’re out, aren’t they?”
There was no point in talking to Keane when he was like this. So Finn didn’t bother. He just watched his brother storm toward the hallway, turn around, return to the kitchen table, grab a box of Danish, then storm back to the hallway and upstairs to his room. When Finn heard Keane’s bedroom door slam closed, he let out a breath.
“Can you believe—”
Shay held up a hand, another Danish already in his mouth. “I’m not getting in the middle of—”
The rest of Shay’s statement was lost to his chewing.
“How did you even get that Danish?” They weren’t standing close to the table.
He swallowed. “I was holding it the whole time.”
Disgusted, pissed, and a lot of other things, Finn was about to go to his room and try to get some more sleep. But he’d barely taken a few steps when he heard his brother’s low whistle.
He turned around and Shay jabbed his thumb toward one of the overhead cabinets.
Finn walked across the kitchen and opened the cabinet door.
That’s where he found her. Sound asleep on her right side. A pillow from the couch under her head; one hand tucked under her cheek, the other curled into a fist and pressed against her upper chest. Her hair was still in the two braids she’d worn the night before. He didn’t know any honey badgers with blond hair but maybe she dyed hers. The bruises on her face had turned black and blue but the open wounds on her neck that he’d noticed had already healed.
Fascinated, Finn leaned close to see how big this woman was. He remembered this She-badger from the night before and he recalled her being, you know . . . normal sized. Definitely bigger than Max MacKilligan, who could easily fit into this cabinet space. But she didn’t seem uncomfortable. In fact, she was snoring a little.
“Huh,” Finn said softly when he saw that the badger’s legs were tucked up and around all his mother’s seasoning jars.
How could she possibly be comfortable like that? She looked like a pretzel.
Finn began to pull back when he realized that he was being watched. He lifted his gaze to see that the She-badger was no longer asleep but was now wide awake and studying him closely.
“What’cha doing?” she asked.
“I was just curious to see how you got yourself in there.”
“I swear it wasn’t weird.”
“Your friends already left, by the way.”
“Friends?” she asked with a confused frown, but then just as quickly she said, “Oh! My teammates. They left?” She lifted her wrist and glanced at her fitness watch. “That was fast.”
“You didn’t hear any of what went on out here?”
She snorted. “I grew up in a family of hyenas.” She untangled herself from the cabinet with ease, forcing Finn to move back so she could get out. “There was never a quiet moment in my house at any time. Either I learned to sleep through anything or I would have died of sleep deprivation by the time I was three.”
She jumped from the cabinet and down to the floor.
“So how did it go?” she asked.
“How did what go?”
“Our Danish-covered thank-you? For saving us last night.”
Finn shook his head. “Not too well, I’m afraid.”
“Really? That’s too bad. Having MacKilligans on my team has always worked out for me.”
“You have great need for a stolen Bugatti in your driveway?”
“I can steal my own Bugatti. It was one of the first things my family made sure I knew how to do, whether I wanted to know it or not,” she said. “But when you need to get rid of that Bugatti because you can hear the police sirens thirty seconds away and you’re bleeding from the leg because your cousin just stabbed you to make sure you couldn’t run and your aunts have blocked the door so you can’t get back into the house and your own mother won’t give you bail even though you know you’re not responsible for this particular felony and you’re at that awkward age where you can be tried as an adult but you can’t move out of your home because you can’t legally sign a lease yet . . . Max MacKilligan is the one you want on your side.”
She shrugged, lifting her arms up and letting them drop.
“But, ya know . . . you do you.”
And with that, the She-badger walked out.
Finn faced his still-feeding brother and said the only thing he could think of saying in that particular moment . . .