The Raven’s Kill: Chapter One

Chapter One
It had taken some maneuvering, but the raven eventually found a spot on the side of the building—a church decorated by gargoyles around the towers—where he could see her. He made it a habit to study his targets.
The beautiful blonde-haired woman brought a piece of strawberry to her lips and bit into it, a laugh escaping her as juice dripped down her chin. A man sitting at the same table watched her with rapt attention. He wished he were the one across from her, maybe tasting the juice dripping from her lips. The feeling took him by surprise, the need to do anything, but the task he’d been hired to do. She brought a napkin to her chin, dabbing at the red liquid and he caught the hint of a blush. There was something about her, the mass of curls and her lilac eyes gave her the look of a startled wood nymph.
Why would anyone want her dead? Why am I even questioning it? The stray thoughts threatened to break his usual ironclad resolve. Her smile was shy and small, maybe embarrassed by her blunder. There was no way she knew Raven watched her, contemplating her death. Her life ticked down like the sands in an hourglass. Raven pulled his attention away from her and spread his wings to aid his descent to a lower perch on the building. The need for her to see him as a man, not as a bird, guided his steps. As soon as he was close enough to the top of the alleyway separating the church from a Chinese restaurant, he dropped the rest of the way down, his wings spread. Magic swept over him, a tingle travelled to every nerve ending, and instead of his claws, he landed on the soles of his boots. The black feathers made up a black T-shirt with matching jeans, and a leather jacket completed
the look. His feathers could take the shape and feel of any piece of clothing he could imagine, but he took in mind his surroundings. He needed to blend into the background, but still catch her attention.
As he stepped out of the alleyway, he shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun. He blinked a few times and settled his gaze on her, travelling the line of her neck, noting her full lips. As if she felt his intense gaze, she glanced up. The second their eyes met, his heart flipped in his chest. A connection bound them together,
almost tangible and one he didn’t want to ignore. Her lilac stare pinned him to the spot. She paused in mid-motion, another strawberry halfway to her lips. The man moved in his chair, until his eyes connected with Raven. There was fear in his eyes and blackness, before he quickly spun around, breaking the connection before it could fully form. Raven didn’t pay the odd man any attention, after all he wasn’t the focus of his curiosity, she was. The man reached out and touched her arm, bringing her focus back to him. A few whispered words and they both stood. Raven wanted to follow them; to stop her, but common sense glued him to the floor. There would be time to meet her later. He smiled as she darted another look at him. The blush never left her cheeks and his smile widened; she was intrigued as much as he was. He let his eyes travel over her body taking in every detail, committing it to memory. Her simple blue dress was a picture of innocence. There was no darkness in her eyes. There wasn’t any black mark that hinted at a terrible secret. The ability to gaze into someone else and know his or her darkest secret made him a talented assassin. If she was an innocent, why did someone want her dead?

The only thing Cassandra Stirling could hear was the beat of her heart. Patrick might have said something, but she couldn’t hear him over the heavy thudding in her chest. Fear welled up inside of her, tainted with desire. The way the man looked at her, a smile that made her body tight with need. It had been instant and it vibrated in every part of her. The more unpleasant feelings threatened to overwhelm her, hinted at the beginning of an attack. They’d become more regular since her parent’s death. Patrick’s cold hand on her arm brought her out of the impending spiral into helplessness. He guided her away from the coffee table, their lunch forgotten. She cast one more look over her shoulder at the strange man. He watched her with dark eyes, ones that were full
of secrets. Desire spiked through her, leaving her breathless at their intensity, her reaction absolute and undeniable.He inspired darkness and passion in an otherworldly package. Dark hair, rough and unkempt looked like he’d brushed his fingers through it. That lazy grin of his made parts of her ache. The heat between her legs spread like wildfire all over her body and her face warmed. He was mesmerizing and it definitely wasn’t easy to pull her gaze away from him. She wanted to touch him, he couldn’t be real, nobody like him existed anywhere, but
in someone’s dark dreams. “Cassandra, I better take you home.” Her fiancé’s voice managed to break through her fantasy and guilt hit her hard.
“Thanks, I don’t know what came over me.”
He smiled, as he gently rubbed her lower back. Usually the touch would have calmed her, but today it didn’t. Cassandra couldn’t pull her thoughts away from the man who stepped out of the shadows.
“It’s okay. I know these spells come over you without warning. It’ll be best if I drop you back off home, do you want me to call the doctor?”
They hadn’t had a long engagement, they met at her parent’s funeral, but Patrick had become a part of her life, offering a stability she needed. She shook her head. “I’m fine, I just need to rest.”
They drove to hers mostly in silence. Patrick had tried to talk to her, but Cassandra glanced out of the window, watching the world pass by in a whirl. Had it been the mysterious man who’d triggered the attack? She might have suffered from them her entire life, but it was only after her parent’s death that the attacks started to become more terrifying. She’d never mentioned one particular thing to the doctors, the one thing that would end with
her being strapped in a straitjacket. Bad things happened after them. It took a while for her to make the connection. In the beginning, it had been small things, the boiler packing up, and her friend falling out of a tree and breaking her arm, until her parents died in a car crash. Patrick turned the corner and drove up the road leading to Ravenwood. The mansion where she’d grown up had been in the family for years. Originally built by Lord Ravenwood; it resembled something out of a gothic novel. There were even catacombs under it. The history of the building was amazing, but Cassandra hadn’t been allowed to explore them when she’d been little. Even
now, since she’d moved back into the mansion it hadn’t been high on her list of priorities. It was all hers now, not that she wanted it. The place held too many memories and it was too big for her and Patrick, though he seemed keen on keeping it. Patrick dropped her off near the front door and brushed a kiss against her cheek.
“Would you like me to come in?”
She smiled at him, tired. “No, I’ll be fine, honest. I just want to get some sleep. The rehearsal is the day after tomorrow so, I’ll meet you at the church?”
“I’ll be there at six, as soon as I’m finished at work.” She opened the car door and stepped out, waving as Patrick’s car disappeared down the driveway. Her body felt heavy as exhaustion seeped into her bones. The doctors she’d seen had no explanation for the attacks and she stopped talking about them. She had no desire to end up locked up in a padded cell. As soon as she unlocked the door, Jasper, a beautiful Labrador her parents bought when she was a little girl, ran up to her, nearly knocking her over. She ran her hands over his soft fur and buried her face into it. After a moment, she pulled away and smiled. At least with him there, the mansion didn’t feel as empty.
“Hey boy, let’s go get you some food.”

Raven would never understand how people survived walking on two feet or driving in a steel box. He spent the majority of his time in his bird form, the wind currents under his wings as they carried him in their wake. There was something incredibly natural about flying as simple as breathing for humans. He kept a reasonable distance from the car, caught up in an air pocket. Even if they caught sight of him in the rear-view mirror, they wouldn’t be able to guess a more calculated mind worked inside the fragile body of a bird, underneath the feathers.
He’d seen civilization rise and fall. In all that time, he’d never laid eyes on someone like Cassandra, someone who shook his resolve. Raven perched on one of the trees surrounding the estate. Cassandra stood on the doorstep for a few seconds; the wind caught her hair as she dug into her purse for a key, unlocked the door and vanished inside. According to the information Nicolai had gathered, she lived alone. Her life was completely isolated,
the thought of her so utterly alone called to him on a primal level. Another connection forged between them. Neither of them had someone close like family. Originally, she’d lived in the city but after the crash killed her parents, she’d moved back into the family home, probably to sort out the things her parents left behind.
There were memories in there she handled by herself, a strength under all that purity. As she entered the house, he moved from his perch and flew to the top of the mansion. The sky was already turning dark and there were plenty of hiding places on the roof. He shifted back into his human form. Scanning out the area, he noted several
skylights; he made his way across the flat surface. They certainly didn’t make places like this anymore; a metal grate enclosed the space. Near the center was a door, allowing access from the house. He brushed his fingers against the handle, but it didn’t turn under his hand. Well, that would have been too easy, he thought
wryly. He glanced back at the skylights; it would be simple enough to pop one of them open and slip in, complete the job and get out again. He crept closer and peered down, about a twelve foot drop, he estimated. Easy for someone who could shift into a bird. If anyone human tried to attempt it, they’d break a leg. It would be so easy to drop through now, track her through the dark hallways and break her neck. Sickness welled in the pit of
his stomach; the reaction stayed his hand in shock. He couldn’t do it. Somehow, she’d already gotten under his skin. Her lilac stare haunted him whenever he closed his eyes. Could he really kill her when she’d had such an immediate effect on him? He half collapsed onto the roof, his back against the door leading down. He dropped his head into his hands. If he didn’t follow through on his assignment, there would be repercussions. Thankfully, he had time, a few hours at least to figure out his next move.

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