Ok, so for those of you who haven’t read the first two books of the Ravensblood series, we’re in a very alternate version of the Pacific Northwest. Magic is real and openly acknowledged.
Raven’s Heart is the third full novel in the series—there’s a novella as well that just came out as part of the Here Be Magic anthology.
Forgive the spoilers , by the way, for those of you who haven’t read the first two books yet, but I want to set the stage. As we begin this story, Cass and Raven are engaged. Cass works for Guardian International Investigations. GII handles the complicated cases that are beyond the scope and abilities of the local Guardians.
Several nights ago, while Cass was away on GII business, Raven went out to the opera with his friend Josiah the bookseller, and on the way home encountered an abandoned kitten getting soaked in the rain. It was a case of powerful former dark mage v. scrawny stray kitten in a battle of wills. As you might expect, the kitten won.
As this section begins, Cass is just getting home from her trip.
Though it was nearly noon, she found the paper on the porch and Raven at the breakfast table. Her lover had never been one for early mornings. He wore a deep blue velvet smoking jacket that would have looked utterly ridiculous on most men, but seemed perfectly right on Raven, especially here in the breakfast room of the house that his ancestors had built. The color complimented his black hair and dark eyes, and the style revealed a bare chest beneath. There was so much to her lover—keen intelligence, dry humor, complicated and difficult past—that it was easy to forget that he was also a stunningly beautiful man.
She paused for a moment in the doorway, admiring his cheekbones and the strong, raptor-like nose that gave his face character and kept it from the realm of too-pretty. He noticed her scrutiny and looked up, asking with his eyes what she was studying. Even as she smiled and shook her head, she started to consider how best to persuade him back to bed and whether or not she would let him finish his breakfast first.
As she crossed the room to kiss him hello, something small and white skittered across the floor, and she jumped back with a start.
“How did a cat get in—oh,” she finished, looking down the hall to the kitchen, from where the kitten had come. Two small stainless-steel bowls lined up neatly next to the evercool box. One contained water, the other dried cat food.
“This is sudden,” she ventured, sitting across from him at the table and stealing a slice of his toast. “I never knew you wanted a pet. What’s its name?”
“Nuisance,” he said without looking up from buttering the remaining slice of toast.
“I brought the paper in,” she said, handing it to him before scooping up the kitten, which was scaling her jeans, and settling it on her lap.
As he unfolded the paper, she started to get acquainted with the kitten. It was an odd little thing with mismatched irregular blotches of color on its coat and a strange, angular face. Possibly a Siamese had had something to do with its genetics way back, but it lacked any semblance of Siamese elegance. Funny, she would have imagined him with a sleek purebred, a Burmese or a Bombay, if she imagined him with any kind of cat at all.
There was more to the story, there had to be, but she knew from experience that patience would bring it out soonest. Undoubtedly, the tale would be worth the wait.
Raven dropped both the paper and his toast. “Oh, gods.” He’d gone white.
Cold washed over her. “What is it?”
Wordlessly, he handed her the unfolded paper so she could read the full headline. Burned Body found in Bookseller’s Shop in Uptown Shopping District—Dark Magic Suspected.
The picture showed Josiah’s Books cordoned off with police tape.
Out of the corner of her eye, Cass saw a light flashing red in the living room. Her message crystal, and red meant urgent. She returned the paper to the table and tapped the crystal to activate it.
“Cass, have you and Raven seen the papers?”
Sherlock, Cass’s boss. Given name Abigail Andrews. Her crisp Anglan accent always became more pronounced when she was stressed. By the sound of it, something big was going down.
“Just now. We haven’t made it much past the headline.”
“It wasn’t Josiah,” she said. “The local Guardians managed to reach him. He thinks it must be the clerk who closed for him Saturday, but they won’t know for sure until the dental records come back.”
Cass breathed a little easier. The news was still horrible, but her job called for a certain objectivity about death. Had the victim been the quiet, little Mundane bookseller who had stood by them through the whole recent debacle with the Archmage, she would have lost that objectivity. As it was, the murder of one of Josiah’s employees in the bookstore where Raven spent so much time hit a little close to home.
“Anyway, the locals asked for you specifically. You and Raven. If this was William or one of his people, there’s a chance Raven might recognize the magical signature from the old days.”
From the old days, when Raven was William’s right hand.
“Raven’s here, too,” Cass said, feeling rather than seeing her lover moving to stand behind her. “Do they have reason to suspect William’s involvement?”
“The corpse was standing behind the counter, posed by stasis magic.”
William’s calling card. Raven swore softly.
“Who’s on the case from the locals?” Cass asked.
Though it made sense to bring Raven in, Guardians were seldom sensible when it came to Raven. Too much history. Nor were they particularly fond of bringing Guardian International Investigations in on what they considered to be their turf. She had not forgotten the time they had called Raven in, only to set him up for an arrest. She swore that would never happen to him again, not if she had anything to do with it.
“Rafe Ramirez,” Sherlock said.
Behind her, Raven let out the breath he’d been holding.
Not too long ago, Ramirez on the case would only have made them worry more. He was, after all, the one who had tried to arrest Raven at the Council building, and for a crime he knew Raven hadn’t committed. But he was one of those rare men who could admit when he’d made a mistake. He and Raven would never be friends, but they’d come to an understanding.
Ramirez was the only one beside the two of them who knew that Raven held the Ravensblood. Knew it because he had, of his own initiative, smuggled the thing out of the evidence room and given it to Raven. She’d been in the hospital at the time, and Raven hadn’t talked about the circumstances beyond the barest of facts.
He’d also not mentioned the legal bills on his desk, the ones for Ramirez’s defense against corruption charges stemming from the Archmage affair. She knew them both well enough to know that, whatever had passed between them, it had not been quid pro quo.
“We’ll be there,” Raven said. “Give me a minute to dress.”
It wouldn’t take him much more than that. While Raven normally tended toward slow, indolent mornings, he could be as quick and efficient as any Guardian when the situation demanded.
They teleported to the scene. Raven spent enough time in the bookstore to take himself to its doors as easily as to his own home, and Cass used him as an anchor to follow.
Rafe stood outside the shop, collar of his fashionably cut black leather jacket turned up against the wind.
“Ravenscroft,” he greeted as Raven approached.
Her lover stiffened for a moment, then smiled with false sweetness.
Rafe Ramirez hated his full first name as much as Raven hated being addressed by his surname. Ramirez’s eyes narrowed a moment, but then he nodded in rueful acknowledgement of the touché.
Cass shook her head. Boys.
“You know what we have?’ Rafe asked both of them.
“Sherlock briefed us,” Cass said.
“Best get to it, then,” the Guardian said. “It’s pretty grim, but I know you’ve both seen a lot.”
He raised the yellow police tape for them to duck under and opened the door to the shop.
The bell on the shop door jangled merrily, a sound Raven had heard so many times before. The unmistakable smell of burnt flesh hit him like a wall. Perhaps he should have been prepared for the scent, but nothing could have prepared him for his body’s visceral reaction to it. His stomach lurched, and he had to grab a nearby bookshelf for support.
Gods, what was wrong with him? It was hardly his first time to face a corpse immolated by magic. Times past, he’d been present for the deaths, heard the screams. Had he shown this sort of weakness before William, he’d have been the next victim.
“It can hit you like that,” Ramirez said from beside him, his sympathy a surprise. “Especially when it’s closer to home.”
And that was it, he realized. The juxtaposition of the worst of his old life with a place he associated with the contentment and safety of the new.
He nodded acknowledgement of Ramirez’s statement. Cassandra’s hand was on his arm in mute support.
“All right,” he said after a moment. “Let’s get this bastard.”
Ramirez led him forward, and he saw it. Horribly burned, flesh a mass of charred black and red. Posed by stasis magic behind the counter as if waiting to serve the next customer.
Raven shut down the thought that he might well have bought books from this very clerk on one of those rare days when Josiah had been away from the store. He focused instead on the reason he had been called in. The MO was very much William’s, but another had used it before to throw the Guardians off the track. He closed his eyes and felt for the magical signature. It was one he was well-familiar with.
“Bloody Eric,” he told Cassandra and Ramirez.
William’s cousin, and, with Raven’s defection, probably his right-hand man.
There would be only one reason for them to target a small, independent bookseller in the Nob Hill district.
They knew about Josiah’s friendship with him.
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