Heart of the Raven

By: Susan Crosby

One




Cassie Miranda shivered as she maneuvered her car up a steep, bumpy driveway on Wolfback Ridge. She hunched over the steering wheel to study her surroundings through the windshield. Downright eerie, she thought, slowing to a crawl. What happened to the blue sky and balmy weather that had followed her across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito?

Until a minute ago the gorgeous September day would’ve had photographers racing around the city to take postcard-perfect pictures and businessmen ditching work for the Giants’ game. Then, without warning, gloom had blanketed the sky, as if a thundercloud hovered over just this piece of property. She glanced at her rearview mirror. Sure enough, still an azure sky behind her and a slice of San Francisco Bay.

The house came into view, a soaring glass-and-wood structure with a spectacular view of the San Francisco skyline and the world’s most famous bridge—if only the view hadn’t been blocked by the untended forest surrounding the property. She swore no ray of sunshine could penetrate the foliage. Her new client obviously required an abnormal amount of privacy.

She didn’t mind eccentric—to a point. If she’d wanted everyday-run-of-the-mill all the time, she wouldn’t have chosen to be a private investigator.

Cassie parked under a gnarly tree that looked to be a century old. A city girl all her life, she guessed it was an oak, but the only thing she knew about oaks was that acorns grew on them. She didn’t see any acorns.

She grabbed her briefcase and leather jacket from the passenger seat and climbed out of the car. It was quiet. Too quiet. As if birds were afraid to be there.

Cassie made a slow sweep of the terrain with her gaze as she slipped into her jacket. Chills tiptoed down her spine. Someone was watching her.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” she muttered, figuring if she spoke the hackneyed phrase aloud it would make her laugh. It didn’t.

She pulled her braid free of the jacket and let it fall against her spine. The lack of birdsong made her wonder if a wild animal was crouched nearby, watching her. Stalking her. That would scare the birds into silence, wouldn’t it? A wolf, perhaps? Is that why this place was named Wolfback Ridge—because wolves ran free?

She scanned the property again, admired the hand-carved sign that said Raven’s View, then lifted her gaze to the house. Tinted windows. Was it the client watching her? He even sounded gothic—Heath Raven. The name alone gave her an image of him. Dark and mysterious, maybe even disfigured. Tormented.

Cassie shook off her overactive imagination. One of her Los Angeles bosses had assigned her the case, a missing person. She’d called the client immediately and set up an appointment to see him, even though it was lunchtime. He’d sounded normal. A quick Internet search yielded the information that he was an architect, a highly acclaimed one. How bizarre could he be?

She walked toward the house, her boots crunching gravel along the rustic path leading to the building. The sky turned inky as the structure itself blocked the only remaining hope of sun creeping in.

Cassie trusted her instincts, and her instincts were screaming at her to turn tail and run, that the man who lived in this dreary setting was going to make her personal demons surface, ones she’d buried deep and long ago. But just then the big wooden door opened and a man stood framed in the doorway.

He wasn’t disfigured. Other than that, she’d nailed him. Dark brown hair overdue for a trim, angular features, clear green eyes, assessing and, yes, tormented. A too-thin body, but solid, too.

“Ms. Miranda?” he asked in that perfectly normal voice but without the slightest smile in his eyes.

“Yes. Good afternoon.” She passed him her business card, which identified her as Cassie Miranda of ARC Security & Investigations.

“I’m Heath Raven,” he said, taking a step back. “Please come in.”

He wore blue jeans and a red polo shirt, more normalcy.

Yet nothing seemed normal at all.

The house was as silent as a padded cell. The sleek furnishings of the living room they stepped into looked unused, as did the fireplace, which showed no signs of ever having been lit. The huge windows should’ve allowed light to flood in. Instead it was dim. Dismal. And sad—especially sad, as if the house was in mourning.

Cassie pulled a notebook and pen from her pocket as she sat on the sofa. He stood a distance away.

“Who’s missing, Mr. Raven?” she asked.

His jaw hardened. “My child. My child is missing.”

His words hit hard, a blow to the stomach. This wasn’t a case for her firm, but for the P.D. She closed her notebook. “What do the police say?”

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