Arianne Leone, a mountain lion shapeshifter, owns an art gallery in Deep Ellum, a popular tourist attraction and haven for musicians for decades.
Together, they are charged with guarding the one who bears the Hermit’s Stone, an ancient artifact that has held worlds together—and kept them separate—for eons.
Possession of the stone falls to Ari’s friend and art student, nineteen-year-old Nico Garcia. When Nico’s parents are killed in an attempt to destroy him, Ari and Mac must set aside their differences and work together, protecting Nico at all costs…
About the Book
by Connie Suttle
Lion and Raven
October 26, 2019
RAVEN, RED EXCERPT
A Lion and Raven Novel
© 2019 Connie Suttle
Costa de la Muerte
Fierce winds screamed across the sand, blowing spray off the Atlantic and drenching anyone foolish enough to tread the beaches during such a storm.
Locals blamed the winds for nightmares and other unnatural occurrences, while oscillating stones in the area rocked and rumbled, giving life to ancient tales.
Had anyone from the nearby village of Mordomo ventured out, perhaps they would recall their encounter with the et Inpaenitens, thinking they’d met the Santa Compaña instead.
This night, these spirits were especially agitated.
It is gone.
Those words passed silently from one to another, as they found themselves able to break formation.
Then our chance to destroy it has come, whispered throughout the company.
First, we must find it. Belhar, eldest, strongest, and the one who’d enthralled his companions, insisted. No matter where it travels. It holds us only while it is here.
Might we travel then, to find it?
Only the strongest among us, Belhar admonished. I will choose who may go, and who must stay. Remember, your duty is to open the gate, should the opportunity arise.
The winds whipped into a higher-pitched scream as the et Inpaenitens resolved to act accordingly and free themselves forever.
Dispersing completely for the first time in centuries, they left no footprints behind for the winds to erase.
May, the Following Year
Arianne Leone looked up from her painting when the bell over her art gallery door jangled, announcing a visitor. She’d bent low to paint the red and yellow colors of the Indian Blanket wildflowers found in Palo Duro Canyon.
Paintings of the canyon were some of her best sellers, so she straightened her spine and stepped back to survey her work. The focus of the painting was a well-known rock formation, called the Lighthouse.
“Ari, it’s me,” Nico Garcia called from the front of the gallery.
“I’m back here,” she replied.
“Oh, that’s really good,” Nico breathed a sigh as he caught sight of her latest work. “I wish my final project was half as good.”
“It was great—you’ll get an A.”
“Thanks for letting me work on it here—that made a lot of difference. Too many distractions at home,” he admitted. “College is harder than I thought.”
“At least the semester’s over—when will your grades be out?”
“Maybe next week,” Nico shrugged. He was worried, Ari could tell.
“You’ll do fine,” she reassured him. “I just know it.”
“The raven came back again yesterday,” Nico said.
“Because you’re feeding him,” Ari teased. “Did you ever figure out what the red patch is under his beak?”
“I still can’t tell, and I can’t really ask him, can I? He does like tamales, though.”
“You working the night shift?” Ari asked.
Nico’s parents owned Blue Taco, the Mexican restaurant across the street from Ari’s gallery. It was a popular restaurant for standard Tex-Mex as well as authentic regional Mexican dishes offered as daily specials.
“Yeah. Gotta go in at six,” Nico answered Ari’s question. “Thought I’d come early and see you, first.”
“Want to use the studio during the summer?”
“Yes.” By the breathless tone of his voice and the way his dark eyes lit up, Ari understood Nico’s true purpose in paying her a visit.
“You’re welcome to use it anytime. I’ll get you a key so you can come and go.”
“All right,” Nico’s enthusiasm spread with his grin.
“I may come to the restaurant for dinner tonight—all this talk of tamales is making me hungry.”
“We can go together—you know Papa will not let you pay.”
“He needs to let me pay,” she said. “He has to cover his bills, just like everybody else.”
“The restaurant is doing really well,” Nico argued. “Besides, you let me paint here.”
“I’m still paying for my dinner. I’m just letting a friend paint in my studio—there are no strings attached. I remember art school, and how much it would have helped me to have an artist’s space to do my work. Instead, I had two roommates who couldn’t stop talking about guys and getting drunk.”
“Mama keeps asking me about a girlfriend. I have girl friends, but those are two separate words for now.”
“I hear that.” Ari and Nico bumped fists. “Want a soda or some water?”
“Water. It’s hot outside.” Nico followed Ari to the small fridge she kept in her workspace. “Something weird happened last night, though. Papa thought it was a burglar outside. The police came, but they didn’t find anything.”
“They may have been scared off. Don’t let your guard down,” Ari warned. “People seem to get crazier during the summer heat.”
“Gonna paint some more after dinner?”
“I think I’ll go home. This is almost finished, and I have a crick in my back from bending down to do the flowers.”
“Is it already sold?”
“Yeah. Somebody in Virginia wants it.”
“Cha-ching,” Nico laughed.
“Hey, that’s rent,” Ari poked his shoulder. “Do not diss the rent.”
Ari found herself flinging her arms around Nico as a deafening explosion sent them flying across her studio. Time slowed as she reflexively covered him as well as she could before their bodies hit the concrete floor.
Across the street, fire and screams erupted; Blue Taco had been reduced to little more than rubble. The bomb that leveled the restaurant had shaken the gallery and blown out its plate glass windows.
Ari came to her senses first, lifting her head—and her weight off Nico. Her back felt as if it were on fire. “Nico?” she whispered desperately. His eyes were closed and his hair was covered in dust and debris that continued to fall around them.
She’d covered the rest of him, so his clothing was relatively clean. “Nico?” Ari stretched out a shaking hand; temporarily deaf, she couldn’t hear his breaths or his heartbeat, and she didn’t trust her eyes to tell her whether Nico was alive. Touch was the only sense she had left.
There—a pulse. Ari found herself wiping tears away. Reaching for her cell phone in a back pocket, Ari groaned in pain. Her back felt as if a thousand needles were stabbing her relentlessly.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?” the voice on the other end of her call answered.
“Explosion. Injury. Seven-nine-nine Durrance Street in Deep Ellum.”
“We have several units on the way to that area. Stay on the phone; someone will arrive soon.”
Nico escaped with minor injuries. A paramedic was forced to pick glass and splinters from Ari’s back once the dust settled and first responders arrived.
Everyone inside the restaurant perished.
“He’s nineteen and his parents just died,” Ari hissed at Detective Norm Little, who’d arrived to ask questions. She’d disliked him on sight, and when he asked if Nico were in the country legally, she almost slapped him.
Another detective joined the first; Ari wanted to snarl at him before he opened his mouth. “Norm,” Lance Elliott frowned at Detective Little, “I think you’re needed outside.”
“But,” Little began to argue.
“Out. Side.” Detective Elliott jerked his head toward the open space that used to be a door into Ari’s gallery.
Ari studied Detective Elliott with a critical eye. Forties, a little bit of gray, no paunch, single or divorced, she decided. Elliott didn’t budge when it looked as if Detective Little wanted to argue again. She watched with satisfaction as Little turned and walked stiffly toward the entrance.
Once Little left the scene, Lance visibly relaxed. “Sorry about that,” he apologized to Ari. “I’ll take it from here. I don’t suppose you have a security camera outside?”
“Yeah. I can send you whatever it captured—before things blew up.”
“Can we do that now? How’s the kid?” Lance’s voice had gone soft when he asked about Nico, causing Ari to lift an eyebrow.
Bad cop, good cop, she thought to herself, before leading Lance to the back, where Nico shivered on Ari’s sofa.
Shock, Ari pulled in a weary breath. “Nico, I have a blanket. I’ll get it for you.” Detective Elliott could wait—Nico was more important.
“The back of your shirt is bloody,” Lance Elliott called after her.
“Damn. And I just changed shirts,” she cursed.
Lance hated this part of his job. “I’m sorry, Nico,” he handed Nico’s driver’s license back to him. “But we have to find out who did this. Right now, you’re the best source of information we’ve got.”
“Nothing is different,” Nico stuttered his reply. Ari had draped a blanket over Nico’s shoulders, but the kid was still shivering.
“I have a note here that says your father called Plano PD last night,” he said, trying to keep his voice even.
“We thought it was a burglar—Mama heard somebody running beside the house, so Papa called the police. They didn’t find anything. I’m not sure they looked very hard.”
“He told me the same thing earlier—that they had to call the police,” Ari spoke up.
“I’ll send somebody out to check again.” Pulling his phone from a pocket, Lance excused himself and walked toward the gallery door to place a call.
“I’ll call Plano PD,” Captain Belwether told Lance over the phone. “Can’t hurt to check. Now, what’s this beef between you and Norm?”
Lance forced himself not to curse. “The kid just lost both parents,” he growled a reply. “Norm decided to air his racism and asked if the kid was here legally.”
“Of course he did,” Belwether sounded grim. “I’ll expect you to file a report on the incident when you get back to the station.”
“I’m sure Norm already has his complaint written about me overstepping my authority,” Lance grumbled.
“I’ll talk to him when he gets back. We don’t need this blowing up on the news—that we’re this cold-hearted.”
“Except Norm is exactly that.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. He’s close to retirement. He and I will have a talk and he’ll choose his words more wisely next time.”
“Right. I may have camera footage from a security camera across the street. I’ll let you know if there’s anything useful.”
“Body count is at twenty-nine and expected to go higher,” Belwether said.
“Damn. Look, I need to go. I don’t know how long the kid can hold up, and I still have questions to ask.” After ending the call, Lance walked back to the studio behind the gallery. His phone rang again before he reached his destination.
“House in Plano just destroyed,” Belwether barked. “Homes on both sides damaged. We have to get the kid someplace safe. Somebody’s after the whole family.”
“I’ll bring him to the station. We can go from there,” Lance studied Ari and Nico, who were now huddled together on the sofa. Ari’s arms were around Nico, as if she knew something else had gone wrong already.
Ari followed the detective to his car; Nico walked beside her, still wrapped in the blanket she’d given him. At first, Lance intended to take Nico to the police station, but Nico refused to go without Ari, as if she were his only remaining lifeline in a world gone off the rails.
“We’ll get through this, Nico,” she spoke softly to him as Lance opened the back door of his vehicle. Ari stifled a scream when a raven, bearing a small patch of red feathers at his throat, landed on top of the car with a concerned kraw!
“Don’t,” Nico begged as Lance waved an arm to shoo the bird away. “He’s my friend.”
“We can’t take him with us,” Lance began.
“Come. With. Nico,” the bird croaked, sending a shiver through Lance. Ari gasped softly but didn’t say anything.
“He said my name,” Nico turned to Ari, his eyes wide. “He’s my friend,” he turned back to Lance.
“Right. Get in the car. Bird, if you’re coming, get in and don’t make a mess.” Lance only said what he did for Nico’s benefit—no way would that bird get in the car.
Except he did, lifting off the car’s roof and flapping to Nico’s shoulder.
“Damn,” Ari breathed. “Nico, get in the car. We should go.”
“Go now,” the bird insisted.
“Right,” Lance repeated and slid into the driver’s seat.
“I’ve hauled a lot of things in my car, but I don’t think I’ve ever driven a raven across town,” Detective Elliott shook his head as he stopped the car at a red light. Ari sat up front with him; Nico and the unnamed raven were in the backseat.
“I’ve never seen a raven with red feathers under his chin,” Ari sighed. “No idea about this one, or why he showed up now. Nico’s been feeding him tamales behind the restaurant, but I’ve never seen a wild bird settle for riding in a car, even if it is with the guy who keeps him in Mexican food.”
“I can’t figure that out, either, but then nothing about this case makes sense. Why not include a raven who likes tamales and can talk?”
“Most people would freak out,” Ari pointed out. “About a talking raven.”
“I think I’m past that now.” Lance moved the car forward when the light turned green. “I can’t wait to see what happens when we take the bird into the station.”
“I-umm right heere,” the Raven squawked, making both jerk in their seats.
Ari and Nico were led to Lance’s office, where Lance offered them drinks and a place to sit. Ari watched as Lance considered his questions carefully.
“Nico, I know this is hard, but can you tell me whether your parents have acted different lately—anything out of the ordinary?” Lance asked.
Nico was seated on Lance’s desk chair while the raven clung to its high back, hovering above Nico’s right shoulder. The detective leaned casually against the desk to ask his questions, attempting to put Nico at ease while they talked.
“No. Everything was the same,” Nico denied. “School ended last Friday, so I was scheduled to work full evening shifts since then. I usually work weekends when I’m in school unless I have a project to finish and need the time.”
One of Nico’s feet bounced beneath him, making his entire leg shake—a sign of anxiety. He was doing his best to hold it together, when he’d become an orphan in the time it took to blink. Ari understood his fear and confusion.
“Have they taken any unusual trips? Been somewhere they wouldn’t normally go?”
“They took a trip to Spain last September. Ever since Mama had us take a family DNA test and she found out she had connections to Garcias in Spain, well, she wanted to go. Papa took her.”
“What part of Spain?” Lance scribbled on his yellow notepad.
“Well, they went to Madrid, of course. Went to see lots of things. Ended up at Santiago de Compostela, before going back to Madrid and flying home. Mama had pictures on her phone. She sent me some of them.”
“Actual connections—as in relatives?” Lance lifted an eyebrow. He was following a trail Ari hadn’t yet considered.
“Distant cousins,” Nico’s shaking leg ramped up a notch. “They didn’t meet any of them—Mama only wanted to see where our Spanish ancestors came from.”
“You’re saying it was just a tourist trip, then?”
“Yes. They had fun. Came back tired and full of stories.” Nico choked on his words. Ari jerked her purse open to dig for tissues—she had some, somewhere. Nico drew his sleeve across his face, eliminating the need. The raven croaked softly and began preening Nico’s hair.
Nico sniffled and then chuckled at the attention he was getting.
“Was there anything they brought home besides pictures? Did they have an itinerary—anything on a computer?” Lance asked as the raven inspected his work, then preened more hair, giving Nico a nice lift to his bangs.
“If they did, it’s on Papa’s computer at home. Mama uses her phone. She hates the computer.”
“Nico, we can’t get to that computer,” Lance said.
“Why not?” Nico raised reddened eyes to the detective.
“I didn’t want to break the news like this, but your house was destroyed not long ago. Looks like that call to the police last night should have been investigated better. Do you have anything we can use on your phone? By the way, you shouldn’t answer it if anyone calls. We think someone may be looking for you, too.”
“Here’s my phone,” Nico pulled it from his pocket. “Why would anybody want to kill us? We didn’t do anything.”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out. Is there anything on here that you don’t want us to see? I’ll have somebody look through those pictures your mother sent.”
“No.” Nico shrugged helplessly. “I’ll give you my password so you won’t have to break into it.”
“Lance, a word?” Ari’s head jerked around as someone appeared in the doorway.
“I’ll be right back,” Lance said, straightening and walking swiftly from the office.
“Norm’s dead.” Belwether didn’t waste any time giving Lance the bad news. “Went to ask questions at a business across the alley from the restaurant. He was killed inside, along with both store employees. Their security system was ripped out and stolen. I’ve got uniforms all over the place, and forensics checking for evidence.”
“We need to look at the recordings Ari Leone sent to my phone,” Lance growled. “Damn. Norm wasn’t a friend by any stretch, but this really pisses me off.”
“We’ve blocked off half the street, and that won’t go well with tourists and visitors in Deep Ellum tonight.”
“Maybe it’s for the best—we don’t need a crowd getting killed if these assholes are still around.”
“I was hoping they’d died in the restaurant. Unless there are two teams, they hit the house after the restaurant.”
“Yeah, or maybe they planted those bombs at the house last night and detonated remotely.”
“I think the Plano cops are getting questioned about their visit to the house last night,” Belwether grimaced. “If there were any evidence to find, it’s probably obliterated by now. Bomb squad is investigating. I asked for cooperation from the Plano PD. They couldn’t say yes fast enough. Get Mona on those security recordings ASAP,” Belwether added. “I want to know who or what went into that restaurant and killed thirty-four people.”
“How high will the death toll climb?” Lance asked, after wincing at the updated number.
“Restaurant had a max capacity of ninety-five, plus staff and owners. I doubt it was full, but it could be close.”
“I think I want to have a conversation with the Plano officers who went to Nico’s house last night.”
“So do I. We can have a sit-down later. How’s the kid?”
“Not the best. Still in shock, but that could crack any minute. He doesn’t have any family in the States and doesn’t want to go anywhere without Ms. Leone.”
“Is she willing to stay with him—at least temporarily?”
“That’s the feeling I get. There’s something else, too.”
“A talking raven, who refuses to leave the kid’s side.”
“This isn’t the time for jokes, Lance.”
“I’m not joking. Didn’t you notice the bird on the back of my chair when you pulled me away?”
“Wasn’t looking for one. Damn, must be slipping,” Belwether mumbled.
“Come back with me. See for yourself.”
“I think I will.”
Belwether followed Lance back to his office. Just as he’d said, the raven perched on the back of Lance’s chair while Nico, arms crossed tightly over his chest and head down, studied his shoes.
Work shoes, Lance realized. Black leather athletic shoes, suitable for employment in a restaurant. The rest of Nico’s clothing was black, too, with the Blue Taco emblem on the left shoulder of his black polo.
Everything else the kid owned had been blown apart. All he had was his phone and a backpack he’d carried to the gallery before going to work.
“I’ll be damned,” Belwether whispered, jerking Lance away from his thoughts. Belwether was looking at the bird instead of the kid. “Does he have a name?” Belwether stepped into Lance’s office to ask Nico. Lance, wearing a frown, followed him in.
“I don’t know.” Nico’s arms tightened around himself.
“Mac,” the raven croaked.
“Your name is Mac?” Belwether sounded incredulous.
“Cor-mac. Flynn. Call. Me. Mac.” There was a frown in the raven’s croak, since his beak couldn’t transform to convey the message.
“Fucking hell,” Belwether swore softly.
“I think you should ask your questions later,” Ari stood abruptly. “Nico’s had enough for the day.”
“What. She. Said,” the raven agreed.
“We can put Nico in a safe house with guards,” Lance suggested.
“He can come home with me, Detective.” Lance understood that Ari didn’t like Belwether’s intrusion nor his words. She was right, though. Nico looked as if he were barely hanging on.
“Take them to her place,” Belwether snapped at Lance. “Ms. Leone, don’t leave town. I’ll have a unit outside for your protection tonight. Tomorrow, Detective Elliott will call and set up another interview.”
“Thanks for all the warmth and hospitality,” Ari’s eyes and voice had gone so cold Lance wanted to shiver. “We’ll be fine.”
Nico was up and out of the chair fast. Mac flapped to his shoulder and held on. Ari swept out of the office first, followed by Nico.
“What. She. Said,” the raven repeated on the way out.
Ari fumed while Lance drove her and Nico to her house in North Dallas. She knew Lance kept looking her way, hoping to find a way to apologize for the Captain’s gaffe, but she refused to allow an opening.
Besides, it didn’t take a genius—just someone with sensitive hearing—to know Nico was holding back tears while he stroked Mac’s feathers in the back seat. The occasional sniff let her know exactly how things were.
“I’ll call tomorrow,” Lance said as he saw them to Ari’s back door. He waited while she unlocked it and turned off the alarm.
“Thank you, Detective,” Ari said before shutting the door in his face. She was grateful to be stronger than she looked as Nico fell into her arms and sobbed. Mac hopped to a nearby kitchen counter and spoke soft mumblings only a raven might understand.
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the tour for RAVEN RED by Connie Suttle, we’re giving away a paperback copy of the book to one lucky winner!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Raven Red by Connie Suttle. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Connie Suttle. Giveaway ends 3/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About the Author
CONNIE SUTTLE is the author of the Blood Destiny series, the Legend of the Ir’Indicti series, the High Demon Series, the God Wars series and the Saa Thalarr series. Other titles are scheduled for release very soon.
Connie earned her MFA from the University of Oklahoma and has taught courses at the university level. Reading (and writing) have been a constant throughout her life.
The author lives in Oklahoma with her patient, long-suffering husband and three cats. Obviously, the cats are not so long-suffering and are certainly not patient.