So, I was challenged to write something about when one of my protagonists and his love interests first met. I decided to cheat just a little. Ravensblood is the first book in my award-winning and best-selling urban fantasy series of the same name. In this excerpt from near the beginning of the book, readers have already been introduced to Cassandra, who is a Guardian (magical law enforcement), and learned that she is struggling to live down her past. But her past is, quite literally, about to find her again.
She stepped out of the noisy, too-warm bar and into the cool autumn night. Soft, warm rain misted her face, welcome on her flushed skin. White-trimmed brick houses lined the street, bouncing echoes from each step of her boots. A slight breeze rustled the leaves scattered along the sidewalk. Cass breathed deep, filling her lungs with the wild, sweet scent of fall. She could hear the hum of the Mundanes’ cars on the distant highway.
It was only a block to her flat, too close to waste the energy of teleporting after the night she’d had.
It was late to be a woman walking alone through an empty street, but she lived in a good neighborhood. And as she told Zack, she could take care of herself.
She had been more cautious the first year after she left Raven, afraid William would target her. Or that Raven would, although she could not quite make herself believe he’d do that, even then. But they had not come after her.
She didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted.
She reached the Victorian façade of her own building and turned down the narrow alley to the side door that led to her flat. She dug in her purse for the keys to the exterior security door.
“Cassandra.” The black velvet voice came out of the shadows; for a moment she thought that it had come from her memory.
What was that old story they’d told each other as girls to scare each other at slumber parties? The one about the demon that appeared when you spoke his name? Except she hadn’t said it out loud.
Corwyn Ravenscroft. Raven.
He glided forward. She stood, frozen in place. He looked much the same as he had when she’d last seen him, collar-length hair framing his face in long, black waves, a face that might have seemed too delicate were not the high, fragile cheekbones set off by a long, raptor’s nose and onyx eyes. He stood close enough now that she could catch the scent on his fine-cut black clothes, the long wool coat, unbuttoned, that would swirl if he turned sharply, the loosely pleated poet’s shirt that might look feminine on another man.
The scent was familiar: smoky-musky and spicy-sweet with hints of sandalwood and myrrh, the scent of the incense they had used as a focus when they worked together. Her breath caught in her throat. She had forgotten how elegant he was, how handsome. She hated him now for her body’s visceral reaction to his voice, his presence.
“A moment of your time, if I may.”
Polite, Raven was always polite, but then so was William, his master. Chillingly polite.
“I gave you three years of my life,” she said. “I would think that was more than enough.”
She stepped closer to the door, but she still did not have her keys to hand, and she would not take her eyes off him to look for them. Not that she really feared him, but she knew that she should.
Her heart pounded wildly but not in fear. She could not put a name to the stomach-churning whirl of confused adrenalin that gripped her, but it wasn’t fear.
“You are bitter, my Firecat. You have every reason to be.”
“Don’t call me that,” she snapped. “You have no right.”
A better Guardian might have attempted an arrest, but she knew too well their relative strengths. At the least, she should leave.
She had fought for three years to live down her past. If she were seen with Raven, any headway she’d made would be destroyed. The wind gusted, and now that she was no longer walking, the rain felt less pleasant. She shivered.
Though she was exhausted, teleportation was a simple enough magic if one was as familiar with the end point as she was her flat. And he’d never been there, so he would not be able to follow unless she willingly let him use her as an anchor. Still she stayed, held by his eyes, his voice, her memories.
“I’ve wronged you.” He took a deep breath. “And I’ve done worse to so many, in William’s name.”
Ye gods. She could count on one hand the number of times he’d ever admitted he was wrong about something— one hand, with fingers left over.
“I want out, Cassandra,” he continued. “I need your help.”
The tension of the moment combined with the ridiculousness of hearing these words from Corwyn Ravenscroft. Laughter bubbled up from her chest, and escaped her pressed lips.
Clearly, this was not the reaction he expected. His shoulders stiffened, and he drew himself up.
“I’m sorry,” she choked out. “I don’t mean to laugh at you. But really,” she continued, trying to keep her voice steady. “Was this William’s idea, or yours? Because I honestly thought you had at least some respect for my intelligence.”
He frowned. “You don’t believe me.”
“Did you expect me to?”
She glanced down the alley. Still empty, except for mist, and two dumpsters, one for garbage, one for recycling, fresh-painted and neatly labeled by the building super. In the quiet night she would have heard anyone approaching, but she still had to check. Cass couldn’t say what she was checking for. A trap from his side? Someone from her side, to see her talking to Raven? Either would be dangerous in different ways.
“If you were telling the truth— and I don’t for a minute think you are— why come to me?”
He took a step toward her. “Because you are the only Guardian whose integrity I trust. And because you were the only one who believed that I could be other than my father’s son.”
“The more fool I.” Her aunt had believed, too, but Cass would not impugn Ana by mentioning it.
Raven held out a hand, like a drowning man begging for a lifeline. “You believed in me once. I need you to believe in me again.”
“I need to forget I ever met you. Looks like neither of us is going to get what we need.”
“Cassandra, you are the only chance I have. Please, I have something to help your side, if you will but speak for me.”
She had never heard this tone of entreaty from him. Could she believe his voice, his words? She tightened her jaw. This was too close to her long-forgotten dreams of reconciliation to be real. He knew her too well, was all. He knew how to play her like he knew how to play the baby grand that stood in the sitting room of his manor.
“Speak for you?” Old pain sharpened her words. “I am not the starry-eyed fool that you seduced fresh from General Academy.”
“I regret that I hurt you. I regret a lot of things.” His lips twisted briefly. “I have discovered, too late, that I do actually have a conscience. It’s rather hard to live with.”
“Cassandra, please.” He laid a hand on her shoulder, slid it down her arm in a familiar caress.
It took everything she had to step away from his touch. “If you mean what you say, then turn yourself in to the Guardians.”
He shook his head. “I will not subject myself to that. Quite aside from my distaste for the Guardians and their self-righteous arrogance—”
“You wanted to be a Guardian, once.”
His lips ghosted that brief half-smile she once loved. “The folly of youth. And I believe you know how well that turned out.”
“You can’t blame the Guardians—”
“Can’t I?” She got a full smile this time, one that challenged an apprentice’s ill-considered assumptions.
She glanced down to study the wet pavement, the toes of her boots.
“Do you know what happened to the last dark mage who tried to turn evidence against William?” Raven asked.
She only wished she could forget. “I saw the photos. Of the scene. Where the. . .where what was left of the body was found.”
“I watched him die,” he said. “It took more than two days. William was most creative. He has agents everywhere. How do you think poor Davide was found out? Are you truly naive enough to believe that your precious Guardians have not been infiltrated?”
There had been rumors, suspicions. Raven, as a member of William’s inner circle, would know the truth of it, might even know who the turncoats were.
But she could not trust a word that he said.
“No one has ever succeeded in leaving William’s fold,” Raven said. “Not even the lowliest apprentice who gets scared and decides he doesn’t want to be a dark mage, after all.”
Cass raised her chin proudly. “I left.”
“But you were never sworn to William. We never let you know what the real agenda was, or you would have never apprenticed to me. For those who have knelt before him and taken an oath, those who are close enough to him that the external wards are keyed to allow their entry, not one has left him and survived. William goes mad at the slightest hint of betrayal. The Guardians have only found the bodies he wanted them to find.”
The thought of countless murders gone undiscovered horrified Cass’s Guardian soul.
“I have been keeping something from William, something that would make him more dangerous than he already is,” Raven said. “Something that could help defeat him.”
Oh, he was still good. She held his dark stare. He knew exactly how to bait the trap. She hated the man he served, the man for whose interests he had betrayed her. Hated the man who threatened the peace her parents had died for.
“He doesn’t suspect me.” Raven frowned now. “At least, not any more than he suspects anyone. But when he finds out I’ve defected, he’s going to wonder what else I’ve been hiding. As a prisoner, I’d have no escape when his interrogator comes. And I am sure you know how effective William’s agents can be.”
Her mind flooded with pictures of the interrogators’ work, mutilated bodies, disemboweled, flayed, and her imagination put Raven’s face to each of them. No matter what he’d done to her and to others, she could not wish that fate on him.
He stared past her into the mist and darkness. “I will, if I must, accept death as a just consequence of the mistakes I’ve made, but I will not subject myself to a slow, painful death.” He gave her the dark, ironic smile she’d seen on a hundred tabloid covers. “Even if it would please you no end.”
Still lost in past horrors she shook her head. Realized too late she’d given herself away.
“No?” His eyes flickered. “I am sure there are many who would. But much as I hate to disappoint them, even if I had no . . .personal aversion to such a fate, I would not risk it.”
From anyone else, this calm discourse on his own potential death-by-torture would seem too studied, but she knew Raven too well to be surprised.
“I have seen brave men, strong men, betray all they held sacred.” His lips curved in a sour smile. “I am not quite arrogant enough to believe that I, who hold nothing sacred, could stand firm where they could not.”
Something crashed in the alley.
She jumped and turned, letting out a most un-Guardian yelp. Then she saw the culprit— her neighbor’s fluffy white cat, skittering out of the alley and away into the darkness, having no doubt executed its normal dive from the second-floor balcony to the lid of the garbage dumpster and from the dumpster to the smaller recycling bin, and then to the ground.
Her heart beat wildly for a few more moments, until her body accepted the all-clear from her brain. The startle had broken through the old, familiar spell of his presence, and she remembered all the reasons she shouldn’t trust him, didn’t dare trust him.
“You shouldn’t be here.” She pitched her voice low, warning. “And I shouldn’t be here listening to you. Find yourself another stupid young apprentice. This one grew up a long time ago.”
“I see.” He stepped back into the shadows; his shoulders slumped, and he seemed to diminish. “I will not trouble you again.”
You can find the rest of the novel, and the rest of the series, on Amazon.
Find out more about this authorand her other works at www.Shawna-Reppert.com