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Authors: Susan Crosby

Heart of the Raven

BOOK: Heart of the Raven
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“The Next Time The Baby Wakes Up, You Can Hold Him. Even If I'm Up.”

“You figure we're going to come to fists over him?” Cassie whispered, a smile in her voice as they both leaned over the crib.

She was barely a foot away. A sliver of light from the hall illuminated her face. He inched closer. Her gaze dropped to his mouth and lingered. He wanted to put his palms along her face, bring her close, touch his lips to hers. Slip his hands under her pajama top, feel her skin—

She straightened abruptly. “I don't— I mean…”

He pulled back. “Right. Yes. Of course.” What the hell was he doing?

“I'll see you later,” she said, then hurried off ahead of him.

When he went to bed a few minutes later, he noticed her bedroom light was still on. He stood outside her door for a few seconds in case she called out to him.

She didn't, and he went into his increasingly lonely bedroom, wondering at all the changes in his life and what would come next. He was ready for the next adventure.

 

Dear Reader,

This May, Silhouette Desire's sensational lineup starts with Nalini Singh's
Awaken the Senses
. This DYNASTIES: THE ASHTONS title is a tale of sexual awakening starring one seductive Frenchman. (Can you say ooh-la-la?) Also for your enjoyment this month is the launch of Maureen Child's trilogy. The THREE-WAY WAGER series focuses on the Reilly brothers, triplets who bet each other they can stay celibate for ninety days. But wait until brother number one is reunited with
The Tempting Mrs. Reilly.

Susan Crosby's BEHIND CLOSED DOORS series continues with
Heart of the Raven,
a gothic-toned story of a man whose self-imposed seclusion has cut him off from love…until a sultry woman, and a beautiful baby, open up his heart. Brenda Jackson is back this month with a new Westmoreland story, in
Jared's Counterfeit Fiancée,
the tale of a fake engagement that leads to real passion. Don't miss Cathleen Galitz's
Only Skin Deep,
a delightful transformation story in which a shy girl finally falls into bed with the man she's always dreamed about. And rounding out the month is
Bedroom Secrets
by Michelle Celmer, featuring a hero to die for.

Thanks for choosing Silhouette Desire, where we strive to bring you the best in smart, sensual romances. And in the months to come look for a new installment of our TEXAS CATTLEMAN'S CLUB continuity and a brand-new TANNERS OF TEXAS title from the incomparable Peggy Moreland.

Happy reading!

Melissa Jeglinski

Senior Editor

Silhouette Books

HEART OF THE RAVEN
SUSAN CROSBY

Books by Susan Crosby

Silhouette Desire

The Mating Game
#888

Almost a Honeymoon
#952

Baby Fever
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Wedding Fever
#1061

Marriage on His Mind
#1108

Bride Candidate #9
#1131

*
His Most Scandalous Secret
#1158

*
His Seductive Revenge
#1162

*
His Ultimate Temptation
#1186

The Groom's Revenge
#1214

The Baby Gift
#1301

†
Christmas Bonus, Strings Attached
#1554

†
Private Indiscretions
#1570

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Hot Contact
#1590

†
Rules of Attraction
#1647

†
Heart of the Raven
#1653

SUSAN CROSBY

believes in the value of setting goals, but also in the magic of making wishes. A longtime reader of romance novels, Susan earned a B.A. in English while raising her sons. She lives in the central valley of California, the land of wine grapes, asparagus and almonds. Her checkered past includes jobs as a synchronized swimming instructor, personnel interviewer at a toy factory and trucking company manager, but her current occupation as a writer is her all-time favorite.

Susan enjoys writing about people who take a chance on love, sometimes against all odds. She loves warm, strong heroes; good-hearted, self-reliant heroines…and happy endings.

Susan loves to hear from readers. You can visit her at her Web site, www.susancrosby.com.

To Linda Pomeroy, a favorite fan and a great lady.
You're MY star. And to Robin Burcell,
an extraordinary writer and critique partner. Never die!

One

C
assie 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?”

He shook his head.

“I don't understand. A child who disappears—”

“The woman who is carrying my child disappeared. She left a note. The police won't get involved because she went voluntarily.”

Anger coated his words—at the woman or the police? Understandable, either way.

“May I see the note?” she asked.

He left the room, giving her a chance to catch her breath. If she'd known there was a child involved… No. She would've met with him regardless. She just wished she'd been prepared. Any case involving a child kept her up at night, drove her to exhaustion. She pushed
harder for answers, demanded more of herself and everyone around her.

“Here,” he said, handing her a single sheet of pink stationery.

Dear Heath,

I need to figure things out. Don't try to find me. I'll be in touch later.

Eva

Not exactly a love letter, Cassie thought. “When did you receive this?”

“It came in the mail this morning.”

“Is she your wife?”

“No. We had a one-night stand over eight months ago. I offered to marry her, several times, but she said no. Several times.” He walked away from her.

“Why would she leave?”

He looked back sharply. “I didn't abuse her, if that's what you're thinking.”

“I'm gathering facts. That's what I do.”

Impatience surfacing, he dragged his hands down his face. “Here's the story,” he said. “I don't get out much. Most of the time people come to me when I need something. Eva works as a clerk in my lawyer's office, and she was assigned to bring me paperwork to read and sign. After almost a year of seeing her once a week or so, we slept together. Once. She got pregnant.”

“When is she due?”

“In three weeks.” He moved around the room again, not stopping to touch anything, just moving, pacing. Prowling.

“Are you sure the child is yours?”

He hesitated a fraction of a second. “I have no reason to believe otherwise.”

She measured his response and decided if he'd questioned the issue before, it was settled in his mind—or almost so. He'd be a fool not to have some doubt, based on what he'd told her. “Okay. Were there any clues that she was about to take off?”

He came to an abrupt halt. “None.” The harshly uttered word conveyed all of his brimming emotions. “She stops by every few days. She gives me an update from her latest doctor's appointment, we talk a little, and that's it. I've never done anything to make her run away. She agreed to shared custody as soon as the child was weaned. We have an amicable relationship.”

An amicable relationship? Cassie thought it was an odd description, implying they were not friends but merely acquaintances.

“Do you give her money?” she asked.

“Yes.”

She waited. He didn't expand on his answer.

“I'm going to need more detail than that.”

“Ms. Miranda. Eva is carrying my child. I want my child well taken care of. That starts in the womb. Short of Eva moving in here, which she refused to do, I thought that making her life easier with some extra money would only help. I will show you the accounting of my payments to her, but what does it matter?”

“It matters because it establishes a pattern. Maybe she ran off and is holding your unborn child hostage because she wants more money.” Cassie tapped her pen against the pad she'd opened again. “She says she'll be
in touch. Why aren't you just waiting her out? If you trusted her, you would do what she asked.”

He looked away, his hands clenching and unclenching, shoulders stiff. The barely contained emotion fascinated her. Still waters ran very deep.

“Three years ago my son died. My only child,” he said, then faced her again. “I won't lose this child, too.”

His pain pierced the room like a siren's wail. Cassie's heart opened wide with sympathy. She was twenty-nine years old, and she'd seen suffering and endured a lot in her own life, but nothing like losing a child.

Her suffering— No, she wouldn't dwell. “I'll help you,” she said to Heath finally.

His relief brought quiet back into the room. “Thank you.”

“What do you think she meant in her note when she said she needed to figure things out?”

He straightened, focusing on her, on the new direction of questioning, as she had intended.

“I have no idea.”

“Did she have a boyfriend?”

“Not that I'm aware of.”

“What about family?”

“She was vague about it. She spoke of her parents and that they live ‘back east,' but that was all.”

“Okay. It's something to start with. I'll need more information. Her last name, address. Anything else you can give me.”

He nodded. “Let's go to my office.”

She followed him up a massive staircase and into a large workroom. Her gaze didn't linger on the two substantial tables with blueprints spread on them, or on the
unusual pieces of oversize computer equipment she guessed were necessary to being an architect.

Her attention fixed on the fact the entire outside wall of the room was windows. And every window was covered by blinds. And every blind was closed.

 

Heath appreciated the efficiency with which Cassie worked. Even before she'd started asking questions he'd guessed she was detail oriented. Her starched-and-pressed white shirt and crisp Wranglers told him she was meticulous and that the little things mattered.

She was also a jumble of energy. She moved fast, thought fast, yet was deliberate. He couldn't give himself credit for choosing the right investigator, because he'd actually been referred to her boss, Quinn Gerard. Gerard was out of town when Heath called. Cassie was at her desk. Simple as that.

She had presence. Her pointed-toe cowboy boots brought her within a few inches of his six foot one. Her golden-brown hair hung in a thick braid to her waist. Her dark blue eyes could be penetrating or sympathetic. She already seemed to know when to divert him, to make him stop focusing on his anger—his fury—that Eva had taken off. He figured he could work fine with Cassie.

At the moment she was writing in her notebook. She'd taken off her old and apparently cherished leather jacket and hung it neatly on the back of a chair. At her waist was a holstered gun. He hadn't expected that. He didn't know why he was surprised, but he acknowledged it as sexist. If Quinn Gerard had shown up for the job, Heath wouldn't have been surprised at the weapon.

“What kind of gun is that?” he asked.

She didn't look up. “Sig Sauer. Forty caliber.”

“Are you good with it?”

“Is San Francisco foggy?” She smiled at him, her confidence more than a little appealing to him.

“I don't always carry, but I didn't know what I was walking into today. Okay—” she tapped her pen on her notebook “—you said Eva works at your lawyer's office.”

“She did. She went on maternity leave starting last week.”

She frowned. “That's early, isn't it? It seems like women work until their water breaks these days.”

“I wouldn't know.” His ex-wife had stopped working the day they were married, which had been fine with him.

“Is it a big firm?”

“Torrance and Torrance.”

“That's a big firm,” she stated. “I worked for Oberman, Steele and Jenkins for five years as an in-house investigator, so I know a lot of the law firms. OSJ does criminal work, and T and T does corporate, but they must operate alike. She would have friends at work—other clerks and paralegals. In a company with that many employees, there would be at least one or two she would go to lunch with. I'll check it out.”

Heath braced his legs. “You can't,” he said to her back.

“I can't what?”

“Talk to anyone at the office.”

She looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. “I have to.”

“You can't.”

“Why?”

“Because our relationship was secret. They have a strict no-fraternization-with-the-clients rule. She would be fired.”

“No one knows you're the father?”

“No one at her work, at least.”

“I wonder how she managed that.” Her toe tapped the floor. “It would be very hard to keep that sort of thing to yourself.”

“She likes her job. She wants to hold on to it.”

“Hmm.” After a few seconds she flipped a page. “We'll skip that for now. Current residence?”

He passed her a card he'd pulled from his Rolodex file.

She wrote down the address.

“She has a roommate,” he said. “Darcy. I don't know her last name.”

“Have you been to the apartment?”

“No.”

“So, the one-night-stand thing really was all there was to it? You never went on a date?”

“Never.” Admitting it out loud made it seem sordid. It hadn't been sordid. He hadn't taken advantage of Eva. She'd been willing. More than willing. If anything, she'd come after him.

Cassie looked at the Rolodex card again. “Is this her current phone number?”

“Yes. It's a cell.”

“I take it you've tried to reach her.”

“It's turned off.”

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