Fawn didn’t think of herself as a small woman, she preferred to refer
to herself as petite. At five foot four, she wasn’t tall but she also
wasn’t short. She was very average and that is exactly what she wanted
to be. The mask she wore hid her face quite well and Fawn’s shoulder
length, brunette hair was neatly pulled back in a small pony tail which
she had tucked underneath her cap. She needed no distractions, this
stupid test must go off without a hitch.
Fawn looked down at her feet on the narrow decorative ledge that traced
the castle walls. It was, at most, four inches wide. How had the
designers of this place not realized that someone might be able to use
this to gain access to the royal bedrooms? The question came and went as
more pressing matters filled her mind. One of them being her frustration
with herself. This would have been much easier if she had remembered her
wrist hooks. She had made them herself. A simple strap of leather that
fastened to her wrist with a hook that could be used to hoist herself up
when her fingers couldn’t find a hold. The metal for the hook and the
leather for the strap were strong enough to hold her weight. She was,
after all, petite.
Fawn laughed at herself silently. What kind of assassin thinks about
such things at a time like this? At least she was wearing her leather
shoes. These particular shoes were made for stealth. Instead of a hard
sole they had a quarter inch thick sole made out of suede. Not the best
thing for situations that required her to have waterproof shoes but for
climbing and silent movement, they were perfect.
She laughed again in her head, this time at her previous thoughts as she
turned a narrow corner. The designers hadn’t considered this as a
potential security breech because most assassins were men and there was
no way a man could get into the prince’s room like this. Fawn
stretched her legs until she was almost doing the splits to get across a
gap in the ledge. Fawn’s foot slipped and she looked down at the
ground. Three stories was a long way to fall, even she couldn’t
survive that. She chastised herself again for forgetting her wrist
hooks. To be fair with herself, she hadn’t realized that there would
be a test before the actual job. The more she thought about it the more
she realized that a try-out was a more accurate term for what this was.
The queen insisted that all the potential assassins be able to sneak
into the prince’s room and steal one silver coin the queen had placed
on the prince’s nightstand. She didn’t care how the assassin got the
coin but the prince was not to be harmed and he couldn’t catch them.
The prince’s death inside the castle would cause the queen many
uncomfortable questions as well as dangerous accusations. Since the king
had died nearly six years ago everyone in the kingdom, from lowly
peasants to the royal advisors, suspected the queen had something to do
Fawn didn’t care about the politics, nor the queen’s problems, she
only cared about the money and there was a lot of money on the line
here. Twenty gold coins as a retainer with more to come as the job went
on. This wasn’t going to be an easy stab and run. This had to be
planned meticulously so the queen was free from fault and even removed
as a suspect in her husband’s death. There would be a patsy and a
foreign conspiracy once it was all said and done. The pieces were laid
out like a chessboard and Fawn was a rook. At least she wasn’t a pawn.
Her safety was not guaranteed but, at least, neither was her death. The
poor sucker that was going to take the fall for this would suffer dearly
at the hands of the royal court.
Fawn neared the window and checked it quietly. It was unlocked, just as
the queen had promised. Not that she wouldn’t have been able to unlock
it. She was quite possibly the fourth best assassin in the whole
kingdom. This was saying something, the kingdom of Selenthal was very
large. In fact, it was by far the largest in the world. Even the three
assassins that were considered better than her wouldn’t have been able
to pull off this stunt. Ok, well, to be fair, Cat probably could have
but she was either dead or retired, no one knew for sure. Fawn hoped for
retired but in this line of work it was a pipe dream. Assassins never
Fawn laughed quietly outside the window and quickly covered her mouth.
What kind of narcissist names a whole kingdom after themselves? And what
kind of name is Selenthal? The king who had named this place was long
dead and the current rulers were not his descendants. The current ruling
family name was Kurts. Not a particularly ominous sounding name but
people don’t get to choose their names, not unless they were an orphan
like she was. Truth be told, Smith was not her real last name. She
didn’t have one. It was just the one she was using this month. She was
raised by two very loving people but these were not her parents. The
loving couple that had adopted her died over ten years ago. Being an old
couple there was nothing outrageous nor devious about it. They had
simply been too old to keep struggling with this rough world. Her
adopted father died first, what seemed like a heart attack, while he was
out plowing their one field. Her adopted mother died a week later. Fawn
thought her mother might have died of a broken heart. These two loved
each other very much. Her mother simply had no reason to keep living
once her husband had passed.
Fawn, however, was her real name, as far as she was concerned. Her
adopted mother and father had named her and told her the story of it as
often as they could. She was named Fawn because her father had taken one
look at her and made a comment about how she looked like a newborn fawn.
She was so thin and frail, hardly making a sound as she sat on their
doorstep wrapped in a blanket. Someone had left her at the old
couple’s house, presumably her real parents. Fawn’s new mother
decided then and there that her name would be Fawn. Her adopted parents
never gave her a last name and they didn’t force theirs on her either.
They told her that if she ever found her real parents she could decide
if she wanted to take theirs, until then she was just Fawn.
Fawn pulled back from the window. A shadow moved across the dimly lit
room and then she heard the door open. Two men stood inside, one a
striking man with broad shoulders and a breathtaking face. This was the
kind of man she could have a wonderful night with. His blond hair and
blue eyes were almost mesmerizing, not to mention that body. The single
candle in the room lit his face and his gorgeous body, making every
ripple of his muscles stand out against his tight fitting shirt.
“Quit it Fawn,” she chastised herself quietly. “There will be
plenty of time for pleasure later. After you have the gold.”
The second man looked rather ordinary. He wasn’t large, he was
somewhat muscular but he looked more like a stable hand than a prince.
He was shorter than the man she assumed must be the prince by a good
four inches. This man had brown hair that was neatly trimmed and brown
eyes to match. He had a kind face that looked soft and caring. This was
the type of man you wanted for a father or a best friend not a one night
stand. A sharp contrast from the beautiful man who had to be the prince.
Fawn stifled another laugh, she was having way too much fun with this
job. Not having to kill someone filled her with a sense of relaxation.
If only thieves made better money she might have been one of those but
that was not the case, at least not in this kingdom. A thief would be
lucky to get one job a month, barely enough to put food on the table but
assassins worked non-stop. There was always someone wanting someone else
to end up dead and they were willing to pay through the nose to have it
Fawn felt a little warm staring at this specimen of male perfection. He
was absolutely kissable, though that was not what she wanted to do to
him. She thought for a moment and adjusted the cloth that was wrapped
tightly around her breasts. Perhaps it wasn’t the man making her warm
after all, maybe it was just the cloth she used to hide the fact that
she was a woman. She giggled quietly as she looked back into the room.
No, it was definitely him!
Fawn was a master of disguise or so her mentor, Wolf, had told her. She
was also good at manipulating people and ‘out conning the conmen’ as
Wolf put it. She never went on a job unprepared, the one exception being
this try-out. Often times Wolf made the joke that if she wouldn’t over
prepare she would be able to take on more jobs. These were the
reason’s her code name was Raven. The epitome of death, its dark
outline stalking you, just waiting for its chance to steal your life.
Most people didn’t realize it but Ravens were also very intelligent
and cunning. Fawn loved her code name, it made her feel smart and
Each assassin had a code name to protect their identity. It was hard to
get a job without a name but using your real name could get you killed.
Cat was the woman considered to be the best assassin in the world, let
alone this kingdom, despite the fact that she had been missing for ten
years now. Wolf, currently second to Cat, was Fawn’s mentor and
occasional lover. She sometimes thought of Wolf as a friend but as Wolf
always said, ‘Assassins have no friends other than their blades.’
Then there was Stallion, number three. This blustering buffoon loved his
codename, probably because he thought it meant he was some kind of stud.
In reality he was given this name partly due to his womanizing but
mostly because he couldn’t sneak up on a passed out drunk. He was
heavy footed, almost like he had hooves but damn the man could fight and
he was strong as a horse. One on one, no one stood a chance against him.
None of the assassins knew the other’s real names. In fact, the only
time their real name was used was when they took a contract with a
client. This was the first and most important rule of being an assassin.
Well, after the ‘Don’t get dead’ rule but that one went without
saying. Giving the client their real name meant there was no backing out
of the deal by either party. Knowing an assassin’s real name and going
back on the deal or even trying to short the payment was a death
sentence. After the job was over the client had their name but there was
rarely an occurrence of them using it. The few times a client had been
stupid enough to use an assassin’s real name outside of the contract
ended very quickly and very badly for the client.
Fawn watched the two men with interest, mostly the one she was positive
was the prince. They needed to leave the room. It was getting cold out
here. The wind had picked up and soon this entrance would not be a
The two men finally moved to the doorway. Her curiosity got the better
of her and she cracked the window to hear what was being said.
“I didn’t say I slept with your sister,” the short brown haired
“You didn’t say you didn’t?” the pristine specimen of manhood
Wait, the prince didn’t have a sister. Was the unimpressive and boring
man the prince?
The larger man smacked the shorter one on the shoulder and he tripped
backward then fell flat on his ass.
“Are you alright, my prince?” the large man asked with concern.
Damn it, he was the prince!
“I’m fine, Gregory. If I had a silver for every time I fell down
I’d be rich.” The prince picked himself up and dusted off his pants.
“Sir, you are rich,” Gregory replied confused.
The prince smacked the large man on the chest and laughed.
“See, I told you so.” The prince put his hand on Gregory’s
shoulder, then ushered him out of the room.
“Did you really sleep with Mina?” Gregory asked again. Gregory
didn’t sound overly concerned, just curious.
“Why don’t you ask her,” the prince replied with a laugh. “I’m
sure she will tell you all about it at dinner.”
The door to the prince’s room slowly closed and then Fawn heard a
“Finally!” Fawn exclaimed, frustrated with the imbecilic prince.
Knowing he was the prince instead of the gorgeous man made her even more
frustrated with the inept fool. How could that delicious specimen be a
body guard? Men that looked like him were supposed to be princes.
Fawn pushed the window open angrily and silently slipped inside, the
single candle blew out. The room was now completely dark, just the way
she liked it. Before she could even look for the coin the door came
flying open. Luckily the prince was facing away from the room. Fawn
quickly slid under the bed and pulled herself up using the boards that
Great, the first place any sensible person looks for an intruder is
under the bed. What the hell was she thinking? She could have chosen the
closet. Even a dark corner was better than under the damn bed. She hated
jobs where she couldn’t properly prepare but the queen had said it was
part of the test. No wonder she never became a thief, she really sucked
at it. Improvisation was not her strong suit. There were times she
wished she sucked as an assassin. She hated the jobs where she was
required to kill innocent people. These jobs made Fawn hate herself a
little but what else could she be? She was good at killing people and
getting away with it. There were not many jobs where that skill was
The prince turned and looked into the room puzzled.
“I could swear I left the candle burning. Gregory, I think I’m
getting senile as well as clumsy,” the prince laughed then turned back
the way he had come. The door slowly closed again.
Fawn breathed a sigh of relief when the door clicked shut and scolded
herself again. Never, never hide under the damn bed. Her easy, nonlethal
job had become complicated and frustrating thanks to him. What a
complete moron and who sleeps with their bodyguard’s sister? That’s
a sure fire way to get yourself killed. Gregory would have every right
to look the other way while someone killed the halfwit prince.
Fawn eased her way back onto the floor, rolled out and looked around the
room. She had been too busy to notice the room when the two men had been
in it. It was far too much fun to imagine herself with Gregory. Even the
name elicited heat in places she’d rather not think about right now.
She shook her head and chastised herself again.
“Get the coin and get out, you horny schoolgirl,” she whispered to
It was no wonder she couldn’t stop thinking about Gregory. She had
just come from a job for the queen right before starting this one. She
had spent a month tracking down a man who beat his wife to death,
leaving their son an orphan. The man got what he deserved and Fawn
enjoyed every minute of his torture and eventual death. However,
traipsing around the woods for a whole month didn’t exactly give her
time to indulge her womanly desires. Hell, at this point she might even
consider sleeping with the dimwit. It would at least be a warm body
beside her. Well, hopefully not beside her. Inside her would be
Fawn covered her mouth when she realized her giggle was a little too
loud this time.
“Enough, I need to find that coin,” Fawn whispered to herself.
The petite assassin scoured the room. She was surprised at how messy it
was. This dolt of a man had clothes everywhere. She doubted that she had
ever even had this many clothes. A slob, a clumsy oaf and his sense of
timing was absolutely horrible. What else could she find to loathe about
this prince who looked more like a stable hand?
Finally, she found the coin on the end table, just where the queen had
said it would be. She picked it up and started toward the window. When
she had almost reached it she heard voices getting closer.
“Gregory, come on. She’s fibbing to you. I didn’t kiss her.
She’s embellishing. Come on Greg,” the halfwit was pleading.
Fawn slipped out the window and gently pushed the window until it was
almost closed. She left it open just a crack because this conversation
was just too good to miss. The halfwit deserved to get his licks. Who
sleeps with their bodyguard’s sister? A moron, that’s who.
In came Gregory holding the dimwit up by his shirt collar. The prince
struggled to touch his toes to the floor. Gregory threw the prince onto
the bed and the prince laughed. The moron thought it was amusing. She
was almost hoping to see Gregory strangle the buffoon but he didn’t.
He just slammed the door with enough force that the window beside her
was blown open.
“Gregory, listen to me,” the prince called after his guard. Then the
prince noticed the open window. “I am getting senile. I don’t even
remember opening this.
Fawn slid her foot away from the window and adeptly did a cartwheel,
gracefully landing across the gap she had traversed before. She pulled
herself tight against the wall, making use of the shadow that was cast
in this corner of the wall.
The prince opened the window the rest of the way and looked out. He
looked back and forth then pulled his head back inside.
“Man it’s cold out there. Why would I leave the window open?” The
prince shut the window and Fawn sighed.
The stupid, oaf had almost caught her. At least he was stupid or he
would have noticed the white skin above her mask. Was the prince also
nearsighted or just that stupid? Anyone with half a brain could have
seen her. In her line of work it was not really possible to get a tan,
her skin was as white as the moon above.
“What a twit,” Fawn said quietly as she continued her return journey
to the queen’s chamber window.
The petite assassin slipped back into the queen’s chambers.
Truthfully, this was the king’s chambers but because of the king’s
untimely death and the prince’s obvious inability to lead a herd of
lemmings off the side of a cliff, the queen was in charge of the whole
kingdom. Fawn liked that a woman was in charge for once but she didn’t
like this queen. This queen came off as cruel and vindictive. It was no
wonder people thought she had killed her husband. She was kind to no
one, at least not from what Fawn had seen.
Fawn straightened out her clothes and was startled by a voice behind
“Did you get it?” the queen asked spitefully. “You weren’t gone
“Yes, ma’am, I have it.” Fawn forced her voice to a lower octave.
She didn’t want to give away the fact that she was a woman. At least
not until she was actually hired. Fawn reached inside her jacket pocket
and pulled out the coin before dropping it into the queen’s impatient
It was funny that the queen didn’t already know her name nor that she
was a woman, even though she had done one job for the queen already. The
reason for this was that Fawn hadn’t directly accepted the previous
job from the queen. Some servant had approached her with a bag of gold
and a story about a man that beat a woman to death. This was all Fawn
needed. She bent the rules a little and accepted the job without giving
her name. The money was already in hand and the client couldn’t very
well back out now. It was strange that the queen didn’t require any
assurances nor did she even want to meet the assassin but then again
this queen was nothing if not strange.
“I’m pleased.” The queen turned from Fawn and looked at the older
man beside her. This man must have been in his late sixties. The queen
was probably in her early forties maybe late thirties. Then Fawn did the
math in her head. The prince was going to be thirty and the queen had
him when she was thirty one. She added it up in her head and realized
that the queen was actually much older than she looked. Damn, that made
her sixty one. She didn’t look a day over forty.
The queen had braided dark brown hair and a complexion that most women
would kill for. Her cheekbones were high and the makeup made them look
even more striking. Despite her youthful appearance she had a hard look
to her. Perhaps it was intentional, perhaps not, but every time the
queen looked at Fawn it was like she wanted nothing more than to see her
“Put this back in my son’s room for the next applicant,” the queen
said cruelly to the kind looking old man.
“Are you sure? I think we have found our man,” the elderly man said
Fawn quickly learned the reason for the man’s demeanor as the queen
slapped the old man hard enough to send him stumbling backward.
“I said put it in my son’s room!” the queen yelled then turned to
Fawn. In a moment she returned her gaze to the recovering servant.
“Wait, I think you might be right Jensen. I’m sorry I struck you.”
Jensen straightened his clothes and stood facing the queen again.
Excerpted from "Raven's Embrace" by Steven Sterup. Copyright © 2016 by Steven Sterup. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.