Tender Beasts

Tender Beasts

by Liselle Sambury
Tender Beasts

Tender Beasts

by Liselle Sambury


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Notes From Your Bookseller

After her family is torn apart by the death of her mother and her brother’s pending murder charge, Sunny finds that the secrets keep piling up. This is a supernatural suspense that is sure to resonate with fans of Delicious Monsters and Blood Like Fate.

After her private school is rocked by a gruesome murder, a teen tries to find the real killer and clear her brother’s name in this “creepily potent story of a family legacy that gives terrifying shape to monsters real and imagined” (Kirkus Reviews) perfect for fans of The Taking of Jake Livingston and Ace of Spades.

Sunny Behre has four siblings, but only one is a murderer.

With the death of Sunny’s mother, matriarch of the wealthy Behre family, Sunny’s once picture-perfect life is thrown into turmoil. Her mother had groomed her to be the family’s next leader, so Sunny is confused when the only instructions her mother leaves is a mysterious note: “Take care of Dom.”

The problem is, her youngest brother, Dom, has always been a near-stranger to Sunny...and seemingly a dangerous one, if found guilty of his second-degree murder charge. Still, Sunny is determined to fulfill her mother’s dying wish. But when a classmate is gruesomely murdered, and Sunny finds her brother with blood on his hands, her mother’s simple request becomes a lot more complicated. Dom swears he’s innocent, and although Sunny isn’t sure she believes him, she takes it upon herself to look into the murder—made all the more urgent by the discovery of another body. And another.

As Sunny and Dom work together to track down the culprit, Sunny realizes her other siblings have their own dark secrets. Soon she may have to choose: preserve the family she’s always loved or protect the brother she barely knows—and risk losing everything her mother worked so hard to build.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781665903523
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 02/27/2024
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 30,382
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

About The Author
Liselle Sambury is the Trinidadian Canadian author of the Governor General’s Literary Awards Finalist Blood Like Magic, Blood Like Fate, Tender Beasts, and A Mastery of Monsters. Her work spans multiple genres, from fantasy to sci-fi, horror, and more. In her free time, she shares helpful tips for upcoming writers and details of her publishing journey through a YouTube channel dedicated to demystifying the sometimes complicated business of being an author.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It took Mom dying for me to realize that she had an excessive obsession with bears.

The tiny wooden carved bear on her key chain that they found in her frozen hand. The bear-shaped air freshener in her empty Escalade, just a few feet away from her. And the dozens of teddy bears that people brought to her funeral, that small detail being the most that the average person knew about her. The funeral we’d had all because of a patch of invisible black ice at the bottom of a staircase. One little slip and Mom was gone.

Now I looked to the handmade bowl on the coffee table with tiny bear ears on either side. The family was together on the main floor of our three-story lakeshore home. It was boxy and modern, and its design had been meticulously overseen by Mom. Every detail she’d insisted on had been carried out, from the open-concept main area, to the glass-enclosed pool attached to it that you could see into from the basement observation hall, to the precisely ten balconies—two of which were technically inaccessible but were needed for symmetry.

I tucked my feet up under me on the couch while our lawyer, Paris, explained to Dad how everything would go down today. She was a seemingly constant presence in our lives lately. A dark-skinned Black woman who I imagined white women might like to call strong. She looked at us out of the corner of her eye while she talked to Dad. Our living area included a giant U-shaped sectional, and yet we were all piled together in the middle.

I kept staring at the bear bowl. Now that I had time to think about it, it was wild how many things there were in our lives that fit the theme. Murals in our childhood bedrooms that ranged from cartoonish Winnie the Pooh–type designs to paintings so realistic that they reminded us of the real thing, which we often feared running into at our family-owned ranch in Oro. Our monogrammed towels in the washrooms with tiny bears embroidered beside the initials.

And then there were the songs she would sing to us.

She loved “Five Bear Cubs” the most.

One bear cub

Feeling so blue

She would point to Karter, the oldest, who would roll her eyes but have a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. Now Karter had on no makeup and stared intensely at Paris, her face looking oddly pale without her foundation.

Begged for a brother

Now mama has two

That was Mom’s cue to point to Darren, who’d come next, kicking and screaming, though the song didn’t mention that. He was the epitome of middle child syndrome before he even became the middle child. Now his eyes seemed hollowed out, and he picked at the chipping polish on his nails.

Two bear cubs

On adventures at sea

Wished for a third mate

Now mama has three

Kiley was next. The beauty of the family, which was so obvious that the rest of us couldn’t even get mad about it. People of multiple genders had literally fought over her before. A lot of bad love poems had been delivered to our house over the years. She’d even incorporated them into a sculpture for a competition. She’d won it too. Now was the first time I’d ever seen her perfect skin dull.

As usual, she and Darren were huddled close together. They’d changed since Mom died. All of us had, I guess. But somehow I’d expected them to be less affected. Or maybe to bounce back faster. I always used to know they were home because of all their shouting and laughing and talking into the night. Now their rooms were quiet. They were the middles. That title felt like it should be some sort of armor. They were the ones who brought parties to life, even if they sometimes went too far. Though technically, they weren’t the only middle children. I was too. Maybe I should have been mad to be left out. But I knew it wasn’t me who they were ignoring.

Three bear cubs

Practicing their roars

They wanted to be louder

Now mama has four

That was my cue. I would pop up from wherever I was sitting and strike some sort of pose that would make Mom laugh and my siblings scoff. According to my parents, I’d come straight out the womb with a tiny, gummy smile on my face. It was why they’d abandoned their K and D naming pattern to call me Sunny. Because I came to them as a bright ray of sunshine. Now... well, now I look the same. I always do. A smile pasted on my face as I pretend to listen to Paris, feeling far away from the emotion that my expression would suggest.

Four bear cubs

Practicing their dives

Needed bigger splashes

Now mama has five

The song ended there, which I always thought was fitting. Dom didn’t get his own verse, and when Mom finished the song, she wouldn’t point at him. She’d just hold up five fingers and laugh, and we’d cheer and clap. Dom wouldn’t say anything. He’d just sit in the corner, watching us.

The four of us were born in a row, one after the other. But Dom was born two years later. They’d broken their naming pattern with me, but when Dom came, they went back to it. Maybe that should have made him feel more like he belonged.

But it didn’t.

I knew the middles weren’t the middles because I didn’t count.

They were the middles because we left out Dom.

And then he went and killed that girl.

Allegedly, anyway.

Now he was as separate from us as he could ever be.

I didn’t think any of us really thought he did it. But at the same time, I also wasn’t sure that any of us could say with complete confidence that he hadn’t.

“That’s everything. We’re ready to go,” Paris declared, apparently done with what she had to tell Dad, though I knew he hadn’t actually taken it in. Paris talked to Dad because he was the “real” adult, but he was like a phone. He had the ability to do a lot of things, but he needed input. He needed someone to tell him exactly how to work his many functions.

That used to be Mom.

Now it was Karter.

But it should have been me.

It was our little secret, Mom and me. That I would be the one to lead our family when she was gone. But as it turned out, she’d hid this secret too well because I was the only person who seemed to know. Karter had just swept in like the controlling bitch she was, and what was I supposed to do now?

I had lived through things. I had perspective that Karter didn’t. And I prioritized the family above all. I knew them better than anyone. That was what Mom had told me. She wanted me to lead, and I wanted to do that for her, so why hadn’t it happened the way it was supposed to? Why was I sitting here like a spectator while Karter took the wheel?

I sucked in a deep, calming breath and disguised it as a “glad to have that all sorted out!” contented sigh, then stood up with a grin. “We should grab some McDonald’s or something on the way. Dom would like that.” He might. I knew he went there sometimes with his friend. I also knew that none of us wanted to endure a two- to three-hour sit-down meal with him.

I had that sort of attention to detail and understanding of the family. Karter didn’t. And yet here we were.

My grin forced Dad to smile too. “Sure.”

That was the point. I smiled when no one else wanted to, and it helped them do it. That was the Sunny effect. Even when I couldn’t look at my oldest sister without wanting to glower at her, and despite the fact that Mom had promised me something she’d now failed to deliver and couldn’t correct. I couldn’t fix it either without breaking character. I did not create discord within the family. I soothed it. Accusing Karter of taking a role that didn’t belong to her without proof was not very Sunny.

And I always lived up to my name.

The SUV stank of McDonald’s.

We were packed into the Escalade and each had our own paper takeout bags in our laps. Probably, we should have waited for Dom and eaten together, but as usual, by the time we got him, he would be eating alone.

“She’s not going to be there, right?” Karter asked. She was driving, seated next to Paris in the front seat while Dad sat in the second row with me and the middles were in the far back, dipping their fries into an Oreo McFlurry they were sharing.

Paris shook her head. “She’d better not be. She wasn’t even supposed to know he was the one charged, but we can’t do anything about that now. Either way, she’s not going to talk, and no news source would publish his name even if she did, which she won’t. Dom is a youth offender. Exposing his charge in any way would land her in serious shit. She could never pay back those fines. That’s not even getting into the fact that she’s got two boys at the academy. Ms. Allen will behave.”

I remembered the courtroom from Dom’s bail hearing. Remembered how we sat in those seats behind Dom and Paris, filling up an entire row. Dom had worn a perfectly tailored suit. It had fit him like a glove, but he’d still looked like a kid playing dress-up. The Crown had been on the other side—a plain-looking guy in his early forties who would be trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that our younger brother had murdered his girlfriend.

Despite how confident Paris had been going into it, bail was denied on the grounds of the seriousness of the crime. Dom’s shoulders had slumped, but he hadn’t said a word. Just quietly got up and followed the police out to where he would be transported to a juvenile facility.

When we’d walked outside, there she was. Ms. Allen. I only knew because Karter had let out this hiss between her teeth, and Paris had immediately turned to the Crown to snap at him that she shouldn’t have been there.

But she was. Marsha Allen had stood next to a run-down red Honda Civic with her dark hair cut into a distinctly uneven bob. I’d looked over at her, and her face had twisted into this expression of perfect fury. Lips peeled back, crow’s feet at maximum crease, eyes narrowed so hard they were watering.

Then Karter had snapped at me to keep moving, so I’d turned away and headed for the SUV with my family. Ignoring, as usual, my instinct to snap back at her.

We left together, knowing that we would see Dom soon enough, assuming that Paris would come through like she was supposed to.

Ms. Allen stood alone.

I could feel her eyes on my back even when I was inside the vehicle. They’d followed us as we drove away. And when I’d lain in bed that night, I’d thought about them.

Now we pulled into the parking lot of the juvenile detention center where Dom had spent the last couple months, and Dad went inside with Paris. I smothered the smile that my lips attempted to peel into when Paris told Karter that they only needed his legal guardian and she should stay in the car. That wouldn’t have been the right sort of smile for me to have on my face.

“Well, Paris came through,” Darren said from the third row, pitching forward, playing with his septum piercing. “She got him out.”

Karter frowned at him. “Of course she did. Aside from the obvious, he’s got a clean record. People accused of worse have been able to go back to their normal lives until trial.”

“What’s worse than murder?”

“Uh, serial murder. And first-degree murder. Premeditated shit. Which would be obvious if you used your own brain for two seconds.”

“Even Paris said the evidence was largely circumstantial,” I added. Most of the details had been kept from us between Mom, Dad, Paris, and Karter. And it’s not like I casually talked with Dom to ask him about it. But that was the line our lawyer kept using, so I assumed it held some weight.

“But should he be out?” Kiley mumbled. We all looked at her, but she was staring at where Dad and Paris had disappeared, chewing on the same fry for so long that it must have turned to mush in her mouth by now.

“Dom is innocent,” Karter insisted, her voice firm. “And I don’t care if you have a dissenting opinion, but keep it inside.”

I could have rolled my eyes. Jesus. She really couldn’t find a way to put everyone at ease instead of just telling us to keep our mouths shut?

Darren actually rolled his eyes. “We know that.”

Kiley chose to stay quiet.

Before Mom died, I would have said we were close. All of us. Not Dom. But the rest of us. Now there was something fractured. Split and cracked like the ice that’d taken her from us.

“We’re getting our brother back,” I said. “That’s what matters. That’s what’s the most important. We’ll be together again.”

Even if we’re together without Mom.

Dad, Paris, and Dom walked out of the building toward us a while later.

It was a shock briefly to see my younger brother. He seemed older even though it had only been a couple months. Not a man, though the Crown had at every turn referred to him that way. Like he was grown. But he wasn’t.

I forced myself to get out of the car and slapped on a smile for him. I opened my mouth but couldn’t quite figure out what to say, so I settled for launching myself at my brother and tugging him into a hug. He smelled like antiseptic. Like they didn’t have detergent in the center, only bleach.

“We’re so happy to have you back,” I gushed as I held him.

He snorted. “Are you?”

I froze for a moment and resisted digging my nails into his shoulders. No, that wouldn’t be very nice, would it? I laughed and stepped back. “Of course we are.”

His expression was blank. Like he wasn’t even remotely happy about getting out of juvie.

His locs were gone. He looked so much like Darren now. The same dark skin and shaved head. But he was different from our older brother. I hugged Darren and felt happy. Comforted. Hugging Dom was a chore. And I felt like he knew it.

Ms. Allen and Dom were both familiar with being alone. It was what I felt when she glared at me. The heat of her eyes that followed me home. They were like my brother’s. A deep sense of solitude that was catching. Like an infection. I suppressed a shudder.

I thought of Mom’s note, handed to me by Paris in a private meeting after the will reading. We all had one because of things she wanted to say to us. Instructions left. At mine, Paris had just handed me a sticky note that read, Take care of Dom.

It was a slap in the face.

After everything she’d told me, all the time we’d spent preparing me for this role, and her promise that she would leave something that made it clear that I was to take over, all I’d gotten was a pink Post-it note.

About Dom of all people.

He stared back at me, his face devoid of anything.

Exactly how I remembered him.

Take care of Dom.

I didn’t often feel anything about Dom. But in that moment, I wanted to strangle him. Instead, I held up the greasy paper bag in my hand. “We got you McDonald’s!”

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