Home > Novak Raven (Harper's Mountains #4)(2)

Novak Raven (Harper's Mountains #4)(2)
Author: T.S. Joyce

“Hey sweetie,” Mom whispered, which meant Dad was still in the house. Why wasn’t she calling when he was out?

“Are you okay?” Avery asked, lowering her voice to match her mother’s. The last thing she needed was the Bloodrunner overhearing anything personal about her.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” Mom murmured. “I need to tell you something, though. The council…”

Dread blasted through her chest. “Yeah?”

“They are talking about paying you a visit to make sure your courtship is going ahead according to plan.”

According to plan? “No, no, no. Mom!” Avery glanced over at Alana, who was walking back into the kitchen. She cupped her hand over the speaker and whispered, “He wouldn’t know me anymore, and he wouldn’t understand. He was raised with predator shifters. He’s the son of Beaston! I don’t actually plan on meeting the Novak Raven.”

“You mean your fiancé?” Mom whisper screamed.

“What else was I supposed to tell the council? They weren’t going to let me go, Mom. And Benjamin is…” Terrifying. “I can’t make a nest with him, can’t build a life. I won’t survive it.”

Mom’s deep sigh tapered into a helpless noise that said she was crying again. “I know. I just wanted to warn you. Get your story straight, honey. They’re coming sooner rather than later, and your father will back them up.” Because Benjamin’s name would raise their station, and that was the most important thing to Dad.

A good daughter would’ve done her duty. A good daughter would’ve dug her family out of their hole. A good daughter would’ve married up the second she came of breeding age, but what had Avery done? Lied about a courtship with a raven shifter she’d only met once, years ago.

“Should I just come home, Mom?”

“No. Benjamin will have you if you come back.”

“But the backlash will fall on you and Dad.”

“Then convince the council you are really in a relationship with the Novak Raven. They’re scared of his family. Scared of his crew. Scared of his father. As long as he doesn’t marry another and register her to his crew, the council won’t dig too deeply.”

“And what do I say when they get here and the Novak Raven isn’t with me?”

“Tell them he is out of town, or busy with work, or anything. Baby, it would be different if it was anyone other than Benjamin who asked to court you, but I’ve heard things. Awful things, and he was so mean to you when you were kids. I want you safe.”

“But our rank—”

“Fuck our family rank if it means you get hurt.”

Avery drew up like she’d been slapped. Wow. She’d never heard Mom say “fuck” before. She was timid like all female raven shifters, but there had been a shift lately. Mom had become stronger-willed, more outspoken, and that change had come about the day Benjamin had come into their home uninvited and demanded Avery’s hand. Dad had been all for it. Mom had sat there quietly with this horrified look on her face as Dad promised him Avery would give her newly betrothed as many children as he wanted and Avery would be a good, submissive, and doting mate to a man with empty eyes.

Bile crept up the back of Avery’s throat at the thought of how happy Dad had been to give her away to a brute.

“I’ll figure it out, Mom, don’t worry,” Avery promised.

“Hannah!” Dad yelled in the background.

“I love you, honey. I have to go,” Mom rushed out in a whisper. And then the line went dead.

Avery sighed miserably as she watched the glow of her phone fade to black.

Alana slapped a newspaper onto the edge of her table so hard Avery startled and dropped the phone onto the seat beside her.

“I’ve circled the jobs that haven’t been filled, and here is a list of a few more that my friends in town have said will go in next week’s newspaper.” She jammed a red-painted claw at the purple sticky note stuck on the classifieds section. “Maybe you can get lucky and sneak in there before the jobs are posted.”

For some reason Avery couldn’t explain, her response to Alana’s abrupt arrival had caused her to grab her own boobs in fear. Fantastic. Cheeks on fire and heart hammering against her sternum, she released the fondle-hold on herself and rasped out, “Th-thank you.”

Alana nodded and strode off.

“Why are you being so nice to me?” Avery asked in a rush.

Alana turned at the counter and gave her a crooked smile, the deep scar on her lip stretching with it. “Because it sucks being the new girl in town. Maybe this can make it easier.”

Stunned, Avery dragged her gaze away from the bear shifter and studied the jobs she had circled. Slowly, she plucked the sticky note off the newspaper.

Alana’s Coffee & Sweets (barista, part-time)

Sugar’s Ice Cream Parlor (cashier, part-time)

Dante’s Traditional Pizza Pies (dishwasher, part-time)

Big Flight ATV Tours (scheduling manager, full-time)

Chills blasted across Avery’s forearms when she read the last one. She was a firm believer in signs, and every instinct in her body said this was a big one. Big Flight? How fitting for a raven shifter to work at a place with such a name. Working in a tourist town for an ATV tour company sounded fun, and it was the only full-time position, which she desperately needed if she was going to secure a rental cabin around here.

This could work. She could stay out of the Bloodrunners’ path of destruction while maintaining her independence and securing a job, a house, all of it. She could have the life she’d always wanted.

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