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

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

Chapter One

Twenty-six dollars.

Twenty. Six.

It might sound better if Avery Foley imagined her dwindled life savings in pennies instead of dollars. Twenty-six hundred pennies.

She frowned as she shoved the dollar bills and change into her wallet and relaxed back into the booth of Alana’s Coffee & Sweets. Since it was the only place open this early, the newspapers were delivered to this shop first. She knew because she had woken up early every Sunday for the past five weeks and watched the delivery van make the rounds on sleepy Main Street. The weekly newspaper meant new job listings. It meant maybe she could keep her freedom for a little while longer because Bryson City was her haven.

The Bloodrunner Crew kept her safe, and they didn’t even know she existed.

Avery perked up at the white delivery van headed this way. In the back of it, there was a stack of newspapers with hope written between the lines of the classified section. A buck fifty for the newspaper just to see the job listings, and there was her breakfast money right there. But if she could find a job, all her troubles would be over. Well, until the council found out what she’d done.

When the stink of fur and dominance hit her nose, Avery gasped and slammed herself against the booth wall. Don’t look it in the eyes. She clenched her shaking hands under the table and averted her gaze when the curvy woman with the soft brown eyes and the scar on her lip poured a cup of coffee in front of Avery.

“I-I don’t want any,” she stammered. “Anything. Don’t want it. I’m fine.”

“Now, miss, I’ve seen you come in here every Sunday for three weeks, and I’ve never pushed you to buy anything. I’m not starting now.” The woman pitched her voice low. “I saw you counting your money. Breakfast is on me.”

Avery’s words were clogged in her throat as she panted and pressed her cheek against the cold glass. “You’re one of those…those…”

“Shifters?” There was a deep frown in the woman’s tone. “My name is Alana. I won’t hurt you.”

Liar. Liar. She is a liar. She was too dominant to be a lesser shifter like Avery. Alana was a big cat, at least. “W-what animal?”

“It’s not polite to ask that,” Alana said softly.

Avery’s breath came too shallow, too fast. She would pass out if the monster didn’t leave soon. How had she not smelled her before? True, Alana had always stayed behind the counter when she’d come in, and it was across the shop. And true, Raven senses weren’t as heightened as other shifters. And true, the scent of vanilla overpowered everything in here, but Avery had made a grave mistake in letting her guard down.

Avery dared a glance at the woman. She was pretty with skin the color of smooth, rich chocolate, and petal-pink lipstick painted her full lips. Her hair was in curls, and the front waves that framed her face were highlighted the color of honey. Too bad this was just a pretty shell that hid a terrifying beast. “Are you a Bloodrunner?”

“Yes.” The woman’s dark, delicate eyebrows were furrowed, as though she couldn’t figure Avery out. And she wouldn’t either. That was one advantage to being a flight shifter. Feathers didn’t carry a smell like fur did.

A freaking Bloodrunner! It was one thing to use their presence as safety. It was another to cross paths with them. They would kill her if they knew what she was. That’s what predator shifters did. They were violent and unreasonable and snuffed out anything less dominant than them. It was their way.

The porcelain of the plate Alana pushed toward her made a grating sound against the bright green table. On it sat a bear-shaped pastry. She should’ve known. A freaking grizzly bear. Avery closed her eyes so she could pretend she wasn’t under the stare of one of the most terrifying of the shifters right now.

“If you need anything else, you just ask, okay, sugar?” Alana asked.

Avery whimpered and nodded once, hard. Alana’s dominance pressed heavily on her shoulders as the woman stood there staring a few moments more, probably deciding whether to eat her or not.

But then she left. Just like that. Alana was polite as she poured coffee for the seven seniors across the café, and she was double polite to the newspaper delivery guy, whose nametag read Trevor. And she had given Avery free coffee and a pastry. And said pastry did smell mouth-wateringly delicious.

Perhaps it was poisoned. Predator shifters were very good hunters.

Avery poked it. Still warm, and the frosting coated her finger. Carefully, Avery lifted the pastry to her nose and sniffed it, but it didn’t smell of anything other than dough and cherry filling—her favorite. When she nibbled a crumb off the corner, it was like heaven in her mouth.

Eyes on the delivery man filling the newspaper dispenser, Avery bit into the breakfast carefully. It tasted as good as it smelled. She hadn’t eaten a thing since the dollar quesadillas at five o’clock yesterday at Drat’s Boozehouse.

“Keep one out for me?” Alana asked Trevor.

“Sure thing,” he said with an easy smile.

Everyone seemed so nice here. Nicer than the community Avery had come from, but that was because she was a low ranking member. Low ranking members were scorned, punished, and pushed to marry up to lift their family’s station. She wasn’t angry about it. That was just how raven shifters worked.

Which was why she was here, avoiding the hell out of Benjamin and pretending to be something she was not.

Her phone vibrated against the table, the device clattering toward the ledge. Avery picked it up and answered right away. “Hi, Mom.”

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