Shifter Wars (Werewolf Dens #1) - Kelly St. Clare

1

Dressed in black, I watched the phone ring.

It was the first sound in days—now my mother’s laboured breaths had stopped. Somehow, after returning from collecting her ashes, the silence was heavier.

I leaned forward on the kitchen stool and answered.

“Hello?” My whisper echoed in the empty house.

A woman chirped, “Good morning, I’m calling from Eastway Bank. My name is Sarah. Miss Booker, I presume?”

“Yes.”

She sighed in response. The kind of salesperson sigh people did when empathy was required but, really, the person was wondering about what to feed their kids for dinner.

“My condolences on the recent passing of your mother.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Where did you say you’re from?”

A pause. “Eastway Bank. There’s never a good time for these calls, so I won’t keep you long. It has to do with the debt your mother held with us.”

That pierced the numbness. “My mother doesn’t have any debt. Her treatments were covered by insurance.” I’d know, seeing as I’d paid the outrageous bills since seventeen.

The woman’s voice firmed. “This isn’t in regard to her treatments, Miss Booker.”

“Well, we don’t have any credit cards.” I paid and closed them off long ago.

“Your mother reopened a mortgage against her property. However, she stopped paying monthly payments on this some time ago. It appears the loaned funds went to a gambling app called WinEasy.”

I stared at the half-filled cardboard boxes littering the benchtops.

“Miss Booker?”

“There must be some mistake. My mother hasn’t gambled in years.”

“The transactions date back eighteen months. The last deduction was two weeks ago, the 7th of May at 2:00 p.m.”

The 7th of May. I worked an afternoon shift that day. She opened the app as soon as I walked out the door. My chest tightened to painful levels. Closing my eyes, I listened to the silence on the other end. “How much?”

The woman’s tone was genuinely empathetic this time. “Four hundred and ten thousand dollars.”

My mouth dried. “That can’t be right. That’s—”

That’s a fortune.

“We’ll need to discuss repayment options with you at your earliest convenience, Miss Booker.”

Eighteen months. She’d gambled for eighteen months as I broke my back caring for her around my full-time job and study.

“I can’t pay,” Panic closed my throat.

My savings were a speck on that. Saving just two thousand dollars took me four years. I already had three years’ worth of student loans from my business and communications degree to worry about.

The bank woman typed in the background. “The property 373A Belgrave Close is listed against the mortgage of course. I understand you’re now the owner of that property?”

The floor fell out from beneath me. “Y-Yes.”

“If that property was sold at rateable value, it would cover the repayment,” she said brightly.

Sell the house.

I’d intended to anyway. So I could downsize and—for the first time in my life—not worry about an emergency pushing me to the brim of homelessness.

Fresh tears stung my scratchy eyes. How could Mum keep this from me?

Eighteen fucking months.

My breath struggled past the lump in my throat. “I can’t talk about this right now.”

“I understand you’re in mourning. How about we schedule a time for you to come into the branch next week and—”

I hung up, feeling the phone tumble from my cold grip to the tiled floor.

One dead mother.

No family to invite to the funeral.

And a four-hundred-and-ten-thousand-dollar debt.

Dragging another box of chipped picture frames closer, I sneezed through the dust in the attic for the umpteenth time. I rubbed my dripping nose on my sleeve. Gross, but the outfit was ruined by now and manners could get fucked today.

Two years had passed since I had time to get up here to clean. Mum wasn’t so sick back then, and I’d even gone out with friends and acted like a nineteen-year-old sometimes.

Those were the days.

I worked the age-faded pictures free, placing them on one pile and the wooden frames in another. People paid good coin for those.

Picking up the last frame, I studied the picture of my mother. She stood next to a man I didn’t recognise—he wasn’t the asshole who abandoned us when I was three. This man had dark auburn hair like my mother and me. A cousin of hers, perhaps? She didn’t have any siblings.

In my life, I’d seen three pictures of my mother before my birth. Three, including this one.

I traced my finger over the man. “Who are you?”

Working the photo free, I placed it on the picture pile, then rolled my neck and shoulders to relieve the ache from days of packing and cleaning.

This was the last room to clear.

Ugh, I