Raven's Embrace

Raven's Embrace

by Steven Sterup


Publisher Steven Sterup

Published in Romance/Fantasy, Romance, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

F R E E!

Fawn, although most people know her by her code name Raven, is one of the best assassins in the world. When she takes on a very lucrative job to kidnap, then kill the prince, she realizes that the bumbling fool isn’t the cruel womanizer she’s been led to believe. She thought assassins were deceptive, nobles and royals are worse. Can she find her way through this web of lies before it is too late? Despite his roguish charm and possible innocence, she has a job to do and Raven always kills her mark.

Sample Chapter

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 with it.

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 retired.

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 done right.

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 deadly.

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 suitable exit.

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 one said.

“You didn’t say you didn’t?” the pristine specimen of manhood replied.

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 click.

“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 supported it.

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 useful.

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 herself.

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 preferable.

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 her.

“Did you get it?” the queen asked spitefully. “You weren’t gone very long.”

“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 hand.

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 die.

“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 cringing.

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.
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Author Profile

Steven Sterup

Steven Sterup

I am the author of the Lascaria, Morven's Legacy, Demonic Temptations, Raven's Embrace and the Asuune series of books. I love reading and writing fantasy themed books, including romance novels.

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