RAVEN FIRST CHAPTERS

PROLOGUE

Boy - 1859

 

I have lived in the haunted house on the hill my whole life. Today I will be leaving it for perhaps the last time.

 

I am nine years old.

 

‘Are you listening to me boy?’ my father demands with a fierce scowl on his face. He punctuates each word with a tap of the tip of his wand on his desk; a veiled threat that has kept me in a state of terror throughout my short life.

 

‘Yes sir,’ I reply, shaking in my shoes, but that doesn’t stop me poking my tongue out at him when he turns away to stare out of the window. He clasps his hands behind his back in a familiar gesture of forbearance.

 

‘I have given you everything, taught you much, even when you have seemed determined not to learn,’ he sneers. I can feel his energy building as he turns his mind to my failures and my small rebellions, and I shiver at the thinly veiled threat in his voice. Reflexively I glance down at the fork-lightning scars that run in long silver tracks across my small hands. I move, for a moment unnoticing that I am mirroring my father’s pose, moving my hands to rest in the small of my back. It helps me to control the tremor, to hide my fear, and I wonder for the briefest of moments if he learned the gesture from his own father, my grandfather, who had himself been a powerful wizard, perhaps more powerful than the man who stands before me, the Grand Wizard of the Americas.

‘From this day forward, I expect you to be a credit to me and to the Westwood name. Do you understand?’ he asks as he turns back to face me, pinning me with a heavy gaze.

 

‘Yes sir,’ I reply, wishing this interview was over. Wishing I had time to go and visit Sarah in the nursery one last time before I leave. But my trunk stands coffin-like in the open doorway and I can hear the coach and horses drawing around to the front of the house.

 

‘I am sending you halfway around the world, to the greatest wizarding school there has ever been, or ever will be. A place at Thaumaturge College is a great honour, and you will make the most of that privilege. What you accomplish there, reflects on me. I will not have you humiliate me. Do you understand?’ he asks again, and I nod in acquiescence.

 

‘I will have the words,’ his voice booms and echoes around the rosewood walls. Hazard Westwood, man of the people, the most popular Grand Wizard in living memory, does not hesitate to show his true colors within these rosewood walls. It is not only his enemies who quake in their boots at the sound of his voice.

 

‘Yes, sir,’ I croak, before he continues speaking.

 

‘And remember this. While you are at the Thaumaturge, Sarah will be here with me. Every time you fail, she will suffer. Every time you show weakness, she will receive the punishment in your stead. I have not put the degree of effort into your training that I have, only to see you fail. I expect great things young man, and I will countenance nothing less.’

 

With that, he turns back to the window. I am dismissed.

 

I walk through the grand entrance hall, out of the front door and climb up into the carriage. A footman brings my trunk and we are away. It will take weeks to reach my destination, just as it has taken years to get me to this point in my life.

I have mixed emotions. I am gripped with a gut-deep sense of relief to be leaving this place, perhaps for all time. I am filled with excitement for the adventure on which I now embark. But my heart aches in my chest at the thought of leaving Sarah behind.

 

To ensure her safety, I will strive to meet all my father’s expectations. Once again, I glance at the silver scars and pray with all my heart that Sarah’s frail body is not decorated with similar ones when I see her next. I will do everything I can to make it so. I will excel, I will grow strong, and I will come back for her.

 

She is my heart – my reason to live. And because of that my father holds all the cards; has all the power he needs to keep me in line.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Black - 1998

 

‘How are you planning to fund the purchase, sir?’ the shapely blond on the other side of the desk asked. A false smile was plastered across her lovely face and a condescending tone tainted her words.

 

She’d been treating him like something you scraped off your shoe ever since he’d walked into her office. It was the same look given him by both the bored-looking teenage receptionist and the sharp-dressed-for-Banks grey-haired man in the adjoining office, as he walked through the lobby. Black didn’t like it. No, he didn’t like it at all.

 

‘Cash,’ he growled, brows slanting into an irritated frown at her wide-eyed, slack-jawed reaction to his statement. He was running out of patience. The woman was pushing all his buttons and he was in danger of losing it before he had a chance to finalize his transaction. He jerked his chin upwards in silent warning. Don’t push me, it said. She held her tongue, just as he knew she would, just as they all had, every single one of them, ever since he’d turned fourteen and grew big enough and ugly enough to make them tread carefully in his presence.

 

He was a giant of a man, six-four and built heavy. He wore his tell-tale straight black hair long, only pulling it back into a pony-tail when he rode his Harley, which he did often. He was proud of his native heritage, saw no reason to hide it, even though he knew it meant he would be faced with the kind of prejudice sitting in front of him right now. That coupled with the fact that lawyers didn’t tend to rub shoulders with bikers, at least not his kind of biker.

 

Black knew from the look on the woman’s face that, in her eyes, his Native American heritage meant hopeless drunk, or total waster. Maybe even hopeless drunk and total waster. Of course, that’s exactly what his daddy had been, as had his daddy before him. But this woman didn’t know shit about them, and Black wasn’t about to spew out his life story to a total stranger with judgement written all over her pretty face.

 

On that ugly thought, he reached down to scoop his brown leather messenger bag up of the floor and proceeded to hand over enough cash to settle the entire purchase, thus finalizing his dealings with Little Miss Prejudice. It was about time he went to find his brother, Sam.

 

It seemed fitting to Black that just as he was meeting blondie to finalize the purchase of what would soon be the coolest tattoo parlor on the East Coast, Sam was busy in another law office, finalizing the purchase of the local biker-bar.

 

It felt good – settling down at last. They’d been drifting for too long, more than fifteen years, and you couldn’t exactly call their lives stable before that. Sam and Black grew up on a no-hope reservation in Arizona, a world apart from the quiet Florida town they’d decided to make their home.

 

You grew up fast on the Res, especially when your ma and pa were wasters who couldn’t give a shit about you or anyone that didn’t bear the name Jim Beam. In fact, Black reckoned that’s why they’d named him Jim instead of after one of their own parents, or one of the tribal elders.

 

By that time, they’d sunk so low, were so beaten down by their demons, Jim was no doubt the only name they could come up with, or at least it was the one at the forefront of their addled minds. Black just counted himself lucky they weren’t big Wild Turkey drinkers.

 

Anyhow, it was all good because he’d had – would always have – his big brother Sam, who had been calling him Black ever since they were kids. The way he told it, he’d chosen the name because of his black hair, his black eyes and his black heart. Of course, Sam could have been describing himself, other than the black heart, which was Black’s alone.

 

On that thought, Black strode across the street, passing a few of the townsfolk without acknowledgement, and through the doors to Sam’s bar. God knew they were going to have to rename the place, no way was he willing to hang his hat on a permanent basis in any place named Ned’s. Sam had been musing on it for a while now, and Black was certain he’d come up with a good one.

 

The place was a real dive but that’s how they liked it. None of the tables or chairs matched because they got broken so often in biker-brawls that the previous owner, Ned, had taken to replacing them one at a time, when needed. Sam wasn’t about to replace the whole lot either, since they’d no-doubt get that way again soon enough. And the décor was, well, you couldn’t exactly call it décor. That they would change. You see, Sam and Black had a plan for the bar to double as a clubhouse for their new motorcycle club. 

 

‘Hope,’ Black called in greeting, giving the pretty chestnut-haired bartender a chin-lift as he passed. ‘Sam in?’

 

‘He just got back himself. Congratulations by the way. I’m happy for you,’ she said with a bright smile.

 

Black slowed up when he saw what she was watching on the TV hanging high on the wall behind the bar. The same clip of that same story that had been running non-stop on the news for the past twenty-four hours. He’d seen it many times already, but there was something about the scene that stopped him in his tracks every time it came on the news. Black felt like he was missing something - something even more unexpected than an attack on a presidential candidate, a Senator in his own right - he just couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was.

 

‘It’s weird isn’t it?’ Hope said, as if reading his mind. ‘I’ve watched it, feels like a thousand times, and I think I’ve worked out what’s wrong.’

 

‘What’s wrong is that someone tried to assassinate that Senator guy,’ Raven grunted, not yet willing to admit he hadn’t worked out what was wrong.

 

‘Yeah, sure. Love him or hate him - and if you haven’t already guessed, I hate him - Lyric Westwood was elected fair and square. And I’ll add, you won’t find any look of shock on my face the day he stands on that podium and swears the oath at his inauguration,’ she grinned wide and Black grunted out a short bark of laughter from deep in his chest. ‘That’s what they call democracy, and some guy with flames shooting out of his hands has no right to try and change it. But anyhow, that’s not what’s wrong with that goddamn scene; some guy trying to burn him to a crisp—’

 

‘Must have been rigged up with a gas tank on his back or something,’ Black interrupted. It hadn’t looked like he had any gas bottle, but what else would allow someone to shoot fire out of his finger-tips?

 

‘Maybe,’ she said with a quizzical little tilt of her head, ‘but he ducked.’

 

‘Course he ducked, what man wouldn’t duck when he’s being attacked by a raving lunatic armed with a flamethrower?’

 

‘You got me there,’ she grinned again. ‘But Lyric Westwood ducked before there were any flames in sight. I’ve watched that news footage from every angle, seen it on every channel, and I’m convinced he knew it was coming. So how’d he know?’

 

Black didn’t know the answer to that, and he thought that maybe that what was bothering him about the footage too. Maybe. With a nod to Hope he started moving again, toward the back office, and his brother.

***

 

As Black walked down the filthy corridor, he did something he seldom did, he smiled wide as he thought about the wild ride he and Sam had taken after their parents were killed all those years ago.

 

Foster care wasn’t much better than their home on the Res had been, but Black always knew he was lucky to have Sam. His brother had never let him down and he didn’t do it that time either. While Black cooled his heels in the system, Sam found a job in a local bar, sticking close until Black was old enough for them to get the hell out of Dodge.

By that time, Sam was pretty much fixed on staying a bartender and Black just wanted to get away from bad memories of a violent old man and a weak woman who didn’t do squat to protect her sons. Sam didn’t care that his brother needed to get the stench out of his nostrils, he liked the open road as much as Black did, so they started their drifting ways, and somehow forgot to stop, until now.

 

They’d landed here in Banks around a year ago, and somehow, without even realizing it, they began putting down roots. Enough that when the owner of the local biker-bar where Sam worked decided to retire, he offered to sell it to Sam.

 

At the time Black was working at a rundown tattoo studio in Miami, making quite a name for himself as an artist with a difference, but once they’d decided to take Ned up on his offer and stay put, he made moves to find his own place.

 

He’d begun practising his tattooing on Sam when he was still in his teens, and when they began drifting – two motorcycle hobos – he had managed to pick up work here or there when they ran out of cash. How did they live, and how were they buying up real estate in small-town Florida?

 

Well, they weren’t good guys and they weren’t particular about the type of work they did to make money. That’s how.

 

Black strolled into Sam’s office, calling, ‘Bro,’ as he entered. ‘Did you get it done?’ he asked as soon as he caught sight of Sam seated behind his battered old desk. Not waiting for a reply, he collapsed into the chair across from his brother and huffed out a sigh. At last, he could relax. Unlike Black’s recent meeting, the look he got from this person across the desk held no judgement, and this one knew what the hell he was capable of.

 

‘Yeah. You?’

 

‘All good,’ Black answered. ‘Feel like celebrating?’

 

Sam shot him an easy grin, slid open the drawer of his antiquated desk and pulled out a bottle.

 

‘Thought you’d never ask,’ he said, still grinning and pouring out two drinks.

***

 

Even when it was Ned’s bar, they’d mostly used the back room to play poker and socialize in private with their motorcycle buddies. Now it would be the venue for club meetings.

 

Ned and his crew had started a motorcycle club years ago but until this moment, Sam and Black hadn’t bothered joining it, not knowing whether they were staying or whether the urge would take them to up sticks and move on. However, what they had made certain to do ever since they rode into town, was start making connections of their own.

First, there was Jace, who was a mechanic that specialized in Harley Davidsons, who would no doubt be working on Black and Sam’s bikes now they would be busy with their own businesses. Then there was Nathan. Black had no clue what he did, but he was never short on cash, and since no one around Banks was born with a silver spoon in their mouth, Black doubted it was anything legal.

 

The last of their self-styled pack was Hope of the Sweet Smile. She was Nathan’s girl, pretty as a picture, and the hardest biker bitch Black had ever clapped eyes on. Whoever named her did a piss poor job. They all now sat at the table for the first time, joining what Ned and his buddies loosely termed a club.

 

‘Order!’ Ned yelled and banged on the table with a gavel. Black and Sam shared a humor-filled look at the sight of a gavel. Who did he think he was? Up until now, like a bunch of girls in a sorority, the president’s gavel had been passed back and forth between Joseph and Ned. Black thought it was ridiculous but never got a chance to say that, as soon after that, the meeting proceeded to descend into chaos.

It was all Black’s fault.

 

His and Sam’s pack had been voted into the club, no problem. The problems arose when Black had suggested they wear a patch. Close to half the club, including the current president Joseph, had flown off the handle. There were real back-patch clubs nearby who would skin them alive if they wore a patch, Ned explained as if they didn’t already know that. Black didn’t much care, he could handle himself, and his pack were one-hundred-per cent behind him. The club was split but not quite down the middle. One of Ned and Joseph’s original crew had apparently been pushing for this move for years and now he had the backing he needed to get the job done.

 

‘Vote!’ Max, the rebel member of Ned’s crew, shouted over the cacophony of gruff voices all clamoring to be heard. ‘All those in favour of wearing the patch?’

‘Aye!’ Came six answering voices.

 

‘Against?’ Only four voices including Joseph’s and Ned’s, rang out this time.

‘Vote carried,’ Ned sighed with a worried look. The man had lived long enough in these parts to know the club’s decision would likely cause havoc. Black knew it too, but he didn’t give a damn.

 

‘I’ve already designed a patch,’ he announced, and a rare grin passing across his face. Looking around the faces of each of the members of his new club, he pulled out his design. ‘We just need to come up with a name.’

 

Coming up with names was going to be something of a chore around here, what with the club and the bar still needing good ones. Black didn’t need to worry about his new tattoo studio though, he’d already settled on a name – had begun dreaming one up even before they’d decided to settle permanently in Banks. It would be called Innocent Ink. It was irony, you see. There was nothing remotely innocent about Black, his parents had seen to that, followed by the people in foster care, and finally by the way he had chosen to live his life. And Black didn’t have one single regret about the fact.

Long ago he had decided to make the most of what he had and take whatever he didn’t. He was sucking the marrow right out of this carcass of a life he’d been given, and he wasn’t about to apologize for it.