Authors: J.L. Weil
A Raven Novel
by J.L. Weil
All rights reserved.
First Edition 2016
Edited by Kelly Hashway
Cover Design by J.L. Weil
Kindle Edition, License Notes
This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then return it to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblances to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Also by J.L. Weil
THE DIVISA SERIES
Losing Emma: A Divisa novella
Breaking Emma: A Divisa novella
Darkmist: A Luminescence novella
For my grandma, whose light, sparkle, class, and creativity will never be forgotten. This was a hard year, and I will miss you every day.
Other books by J
Mists spiraled up from the water like the ocean breathing life into the air. The moon shed pale, cool light as it woke, setting the crickets to their nightly summer chorus. A crow squawked, so arrogant and powerful.
None of it was familiar, not the sounds or the sights, but this was now my home. No matter how beautiful or what ties bound me to Raven Hallow, it would never be the home I wanted or wished for.
Home made me think of Mom, and of Parker. An ache started deep in my bones, a longing to see his familiar face. Home was supposed to make you feel safe and secure, not scared out of your wits. Home wasn’t about size or quality; it was about the emotion it enticed.
But under the wishing, aching, and longing, fear bubbled inside me, scorching the back of my throat. My life was in danger, putting those around me at risk. TJ was the only family I had left, and it was now my job to make sure he was protected, even if it meant hurting me.
I was no stranger to pain.
It was peculiar how a journey could change you and how much you could learn from it. Coming to Raven Hallow had been a journey I’d been reluctant to take, but the knowledge I’d gained was life-altering. I learned my father was a coward, and my mother wasn’t who I thought she was. That my grandmother wasn’t even human. I learned I had an ancient power, passed down to me upon my grandmother’s death, a power that frightened me and I had yet to control.
I thought it all over and over again. Every choice, every mistake, every sacrifice, wondering if I could do it all again, would things have turned out differently. If my mom had been given a second chance, would she have told me what I was? Would she have let me make my own choice when it came to love?
Some nights I dreamed of home, of my small condo in the city where I knew every building and bend in the roads. But more nights I dreamed of Zane Hunter.
I could hear his voice, the soft lilt of an ancient Celtic. The scent of him so potent and tantalizing, it gave me a sensory-gasm. If there was such a thing, Zane could induce it. These were my favorite nights, because in my dreams, Zane and I were free to do the things I really wanted to do to him. Like play tonsil hockey. A ton.
There were other dreams, dreams that brought sharp fear rather than longing or desire. Nightmares of the dead, of reapers, and the murders of two women who’d been completely different kinds of important to me. It was their deaths that haunted my subconscious mind. Both in their own way had tried to protect me, but in doing so, had left me utterly alone. And clueless.
I stared straight ahead, avoiding sleep. In the distance, the heart of the island shone brightly. The lighthouse, of course. What offshore New England island would be without? This one was a dazzling pure white, rising above the craggy cliff. Directly above, the crow squawked again, perched on the balcony railing.
Everyone had a ghost in their past, but whether it was Casper or the Blair Witch was what made the difference. I had both.
The ocean, the quietness of the evening, and the call of the crow reminded me who I was destined to be…
The White Raven.
I only hoped I could live up to the task. And survive.
Life could be perfect one day and in shambles the next.
I’d had more than my share. And I suspected more to come, sort of inevitable when you were a banshee.
I was a reaper. It had taken me time to come to terms with this, and even now it was hard to believe I was anything but human, that I had powers. I wasn’t just any reaper—I was the last White Raven, and the pressure to fill this role was mounting.
My beloved mother had been murdered in a heartbeat. The grandmother I’d just barely begun to accept and understand had sacrificed herself to save me. My father was off gallivanting around the globe, probably drowning his misery in booze and spending the little money we had left. But I guess money wasn’t a problem anymore, now that I’d inherited a fortune—well, I would on my eighteen birthday in two weeks. I’d rather be dirt poor than without the two most vital females a girl could have.
Wrapping my arms around my middle, I stared out the window, overlooking the lush grounds. Except since the passing of Rose, the atmosphere on Raven Hallow had taken a dip. I got this sense the island was mourning the loss of their queen along with me. The sun hadn’t shone in days, the exotic flowers stayed closed and withdrawn, petals withering, and the waters were turbulent, rolling and hissing in a sad song.
The last few days had been a blurry whirlwind. Closed off in Raven Manor, I hadn’t left the grounds, avoiding the world. But I’d hardly had five minutes to myself. The rest of the island might not know that the eccentric Rose was gone, but the staff and Zane’s family did. They had banded together to make sure my safety wasn’t in jeopardy. And that meant more security, including a shadow that more or less followed my every move. I swear, I couldn’t even go to the bathroom alone.
All I wanted was five minutes of peace and quiet, and now that I had it, I wanted the noise back. At least then my mind wasn’t wandering off in a hundred different directions—and doubting everything.
Should I stay on the island? Could I be the White Raven? Would I be doomed to a loveless marriage? Did I have it in me to do all of the above?
Then there was my younger brother. As luck would have it, TJ spent most of his days locked inside his room, burying his pain the only way a fifteen-year-old boy knew how—in video games. I knew he was confused and angry, and how could I blame him? There was so much I couldn’t tell him, for his own wellbeing.
Even with a full staff at the manor and people coming and going, I was lonely.
Alone to deal with death, a power I didn’t begin to understand, a world I couldn’t comprehend, and life-threatening danger.
Who am I kidding?
Sometimes it was just me against the world, and there were no easy answers. People were depending on me, three sectors of reapers to be exact, but a huge part of me wanted to run away from it all. Yet another part of me knew that no matter where I ran, death would follow. It was my curse and my gift, depending on my mood.
The price I paid for being a harbinger of death.
Today was the day I’d been dreading. Rose’s funeral. Mother Nature must have been dreading it too because the sky opened up in a torrential downpour. Against almost everyone’s counsel, I made my first executive decision as the White Raven to have a small funeral for Rose. Family and friends only. Very hush-hush. Not just for me, but for TJ, who had no idea how seriously seven different circles of messed up his family really was.
Zander, my future husband, was propped in my doorway, looking sharp in an all black suit. His blue eyes radiated a slight purplish tint. “You ready for this?”
Each time I thought about marrying Zander, I got green in the face, like now. I sat on the edge of my bed, hands folded neatly in my lap, and sighed. “Does it matter?” These days little did. To say I was in a rut was an understatement. My wants and needs were lower than the scum on Death’s boots.
Zander stepped into the room, his expression softened by lamplight. “It does to me.”
I glanced up. He had a quality about him that would make most girls swoon. I’d already proven to be unlike most girls. “I just want this day to be over with.”
It had been decided Zander should escort me to Rose’s funeral. As with most decisions regarding my life lately, I didn’t have much of a say. Zane and Zander’s father, Roarke, who also happened to be Death, had sort of stepped in as my guardian, since my father was conveniently absent. Roarke believed we needed to set a precedent among the sectors, effective immediately. Zander and I were to be seen together as much as possible. And not a word about Rose’s absence was to be uttered.
I didn’t know what I thought about any of this. My brain had taken a vacation, leaving my body to move through the motions with no real thought as to why.
“You don’t have to worry, you know,” Zander said.” We’ve secured the area, and I’ll be by your side the whole time.”
I nibbled on my lower lip. If Zander had been Zane, he would have known my trepidation wasn’t only about safety, but my general dislike for funerals. “I know.”
Plip. Plip. Plop.
Rain pelted against the roof and the windowpanes. Standing, I walked over to the full-length mirror to take one last glimpse at my appearance. My skin was washed out, emphasized by the flaxen color of my hair and the dark hue of my outfit. Black was becoming my signature color. I straightened the invisible wrinkles on my skirt. My large, sleep-deprived eyes were dry and would stay that way.
I’d shed all the tears I could.
Slipping a headband over my head, I adjusted the black lacy veil. It was a tribute to Rose, and her love for finer things. She’d been classy, and today I tried to have a fraction of her poise. With a stiff chin, I spun around, grabbing my clutch from the polished white dresser. “Let the spectacle begin.”
Zander’s lips curved in a small, sad smile. “It will surely be the most secretive, elaborate funeral to date.”
That was Rose. Elaborate didn’t begin to describe the woman. I didn’t know another soul who planned their own funeral, down to what color roses. I’m surprised she didn’t have a dress picked out for me to wear. With her, everything had been orderly and larger-than-life. She was the kind of person who demanded attention and obedience. There was still so much I’d never gotten the chance to learn about her and her world. The important stuff like how to be a banshee, how to command an entire race of supernaturals, or how to keep the hallows from destroying everything. I couldn’t help but feel cheated.
My frown deepened in the mirror.
“Ready?” Zander asked, holding out his hand.
I didn’t think anyone was ever ready for death. This was my second funeral in a little over a year. “As ready as I’ll ever be,” I mumbled, putting my hand in his. He lacked the chill I’d grown to look forward to whenever Zane touched me.
I prayed I wasn’t doomed to compare every detail to his brother, for both our sakes.
Zander led us through the long halls and down the winding stairs until we got to the main foyer. “You’ve done this before,” I commented as we rounded the corner. He maneuvered through the grand-scale house like a pro. I’d been here weeks and still couldn’t find my way from one end to the other without getting lost.
“Raven Manor used to be the hub for all reapers. Zane and I spent many weekends exploring every inch of this place.”
I couldn’t help but think how awkward that must have been for Roarke, Ivy, and Rose, knowing that Rose and Roarke’s souls were a perfect match. “Great, maybe you can draw me a map.”
He let out a low laugh. “Better yet, I could show you all the hiding spots we found.”
This is what we were supposed to be doing, getting to know each other. Then why was I so reluctant to spend time with Zander? “Sure, why not.”
He grabbed a long stem black umbrella propped on the wall before stepping outside and opening it. Such a gentleman, he waited to escort me through the rain. I was sure Zane would have just made a mad dash assuming I would follow, and honestly, I wouldn’t have minded getting a little wet.
A town car waited for us on the circular driveway with its engine idling as we traipsed out of the house. I stepped over a puddle and failed, my feet splashing water on my bare legs.
“Where’s TJ?” I asked when we were tucked in the back seat.
“He went in the car ahead of ours. My dad thought it would be wise to keep you separated in case…”
In case I was attacked. “Oh.” I’d been kind of hoping TJ would be with us, the perfect buffer between Zander and me.
Not going to lie. There was an awkwardness we both tried to pretend wasn’t there, making it all that more weird. In the not so distant future, we were going to have to
and about more than just the weather.
I was dreading it almost as much as the funeral.
We didn’t say much on the way to the ceremony. I stared out the window, tracing the waterdrops with my fingertips, deep in thought, selfishly thinking about my life. He didn’t know what to say, and neither did I. We were still very much strangers.
When the car stopped, I gathered myself by having one of my famous Piper pep talks in my head. They rarely work, but it didn’t stop me from trying.
You can do this. You’re practically a funeral expert…mostly because everyone around you dies
, I added sarcastically.
Nice, Piper. Don’t think about that now.
I wanted to thump my head on the car.
The self-pity and psychoanalysis was going to have to wait for later, because I needed to be something I wasn’t. Dignified. A leader. Resilient.
Miraculously, the rain ceased before we arrived at the memorial, and the first peek of sun in a week snuck out from behind the gloomy clouds. I reached for the handle, but the door opened and I stopped breathing.
Tall. Dark. And annoying. His expression was eerily closed off, eyes so dark they were black orbs. He cleaned up well, I had to admit. Too well, uncharacteristically wearing a dark gray shirt and tie.
I drank in the sight of him, forgetting everything. Where I was. Who I was with. None of it mattered for those first few seconds our eyes collided. Time ceased. Then the noises around me came rushing to the surface, like I was swimming and just broke through the water.
Zander was suddenly standing beside Zane, both reapers waiting for me to exit the car. Extending a leg, I pushed out of the seat, glancing forward and seeing TJ unfold his long, lanky legs from the vehicle in front of mine.
I exhaled, taking comfort at seeing my irritating kid brother.
Then I was moving, one foot in front of the other, heels sinking into the mushy ground, but I felt nothing, my body numb. Zane and Zander flanked me on either side, escorting me down the brick path.
“It’s going to be okay,” a voice murmured in my ear.
Zane’s touch, even a simple hand on the small of my back, brought me comfort, easing some of my anxiety. I didn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything. It was enough he was here.
I took a seat but couldn’t take my eyes off his. A thousand unsaid words transpired between us.
How are you doing? When am I going to see you…alone? Why do you have to be so good-looking?
We might have stayed spellbound if Ivy hadn’t stepped between us, breaking our gaze. Death stood at her side, strong, dependable, and authoritative. Ivy’s sable hair fell straight and sleek down her back. She placed a kiss on each of my cheeks before framing my face with her slender hands. “If there is anything I can do for you, Piper, don’t hesitate to ask. You’re family.”
I gave a short nod, a lump of emotion clogging my throat.
After that I made sure to look anywhere but in the direction where Zane stood. I recognized a few faces among the small group. Zach and Zoe were there. Zach caught my eye, giving me a wink. He looked as he always did, like he was up to no good.
The funeral procedures for the White Raven were supposed to be extravagant. In a sense, she had been their queen, and her ceremony should have been fit for royalty with an abundance of flowers, live music, and a precession a mile long, not this simple, small gathering done in secret.
I glanced down at the inside of my wrist, and there lay the proof of who I was. Glowing softly in white, a raven with his wings spread in flight.
Our small group gathered in a semicircle around Raven Hallow cemetery. TJ squirmed in the seat beside me, and I understood. Too many eyes. Too many memories. Too many old feelings drudged up.
I surveyed my surroundings, thinking about my life, anything but death. Off to either side of the extensive grounds were two giant statues of an ancient king and queen, reaper monarchs no doubt. The stone statues loomed vigilantly, like they were protecting the dead. It was a comforting thought.
My eyes lingered on the statues for a long time before I turned back to Roarke, who was finishing his final words. The sun had started sinking down over the horizon, but the day’s heat still hung in the air. It was a short and sweet tribute and gave both TJ and me a chance to say our good-byes. I stood, legs shaky, clutching a long stem white rose between my fingers.
I approached her casket, donned in jewels and an inscription, words I didn’t understand. I ran a finger over the smooth surface, unsure of myself. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” I whispered, feeling foolish for talking to her casket, but I knew she was here. Her body might not longer breath life, but her spirit lived, and knowing Rose, she was probably listening. Or I hoped. “But I’m willing to learn now, I think.” I nibbled on my lip for a moment. “I’m just sorry we didn’t get more time, Grandma.” I dropped the single rose on top of her resting place, my chest heaving as I fought to control the mess of emotions overwhelming me.