Chapter One (Runaway)
My combat boots squeaked over the uneven lime-green linoleum as I crossed the kitchen floor for the third time.
“Any luck finding them?” I groaned impatiently.
My cell phone was pressed hard against my ear, making the lobe tingle with numbness as Dominik Gianno grumbled under his breath on the other end of the line. The shady, money-hungry private investigator had been dodging my calls for almost a week and I was getting desperate. My little brother was still missing. The culprits had vanished into the wind, along with any sign of Oliver.
“Not so far… but about the pay—” The phone clicked as I mashed the End Call button furiously before he could finish and stared down at the screen in frustration. I knew I was being hasty, but I’d waited so long already.
I had been patient for months - so unfathomably, freakishly patient - with the absolute positivity that I would free my brothers from their curse. I’d pull it all together, get all the pieces I needed for their cure, and the nightmare we’d endured for so long would finally be over.
All for what? Time wasted needlessly by Leena’s lies.
My eyes narrowed over the small rectangle of plastic and metal in accusation while my boots continued creaking over the sticky floor in Graham’s safe-house apartment. The kitchen was little more than a narrow hallway - stove, sink and fridge all lined up neatly against the wall all the way down to the window at the end.
Julian watched me curiously from his perch above the microwave that rested on the small square of counter space near the stove. His black beady eyes darted back and forth as I paced.
I heaved a resentful sigh, my fingers curling around the cell phone in my palm before I swung my arm out like pitching a fastball and hurled it across the room. I immediately cringed with regret as the phone crunched and cracked loudly against the far wall.
I’d lost my temper again.
Julian narrowed his dark eyes disapprovingly as he watched me bend low over the shattered screen. The glass was cracked from end to end, a spider-web of broken shards obscuring the glowing numbers underneath.
My body tensed with surprise as I heard Felix’s insistent tapping against the windowpane behind me. I’d sent him out searching for signs of Oliver earlier that morning. After weeks in hiding at Graham’s safe-house, searching everywhere we could think of, we still didn’t know if our youngest brother was even alive or dead.
As I slid open the cloudy glass to let him in, a late-spring rain pelting my cheeks from outside, my heart sank. Felix hopped over the sill into the kitchen, avoiding my gaze as he flapped the clinging droplets from his wings and soared off into the next room.
“No luck either, huh?” I followed him out into the large area that made up the rest of the apartment, my broken phone still clutched carefully in the palm of my hand.
He settled himself on top of our father’s leather briefcase. It was resting on the end of the milk-crate coffee table which was basically just two plastic boxes holding up a rectangular plank of brittle plywood. Despite all the new and expensive furniture Graham and Conner had purchased for their Williamsburg loft, Graham’s safe-house up in the Bronx was sparse and falling to pieces. The only other furniture in the room was a queen-sized bed with flannel bedsheets and a folding lawn-chair placed next to the make-shift table. Since my arrival a few weeks prior I had decorated the peeling gray wallpaper with every note, connection, and clue I had come across since my three brothers had been cursed into the useless bodies of crows.
I was starting to feel like one of those psychos from the movies who obsessed over a mystery to the point of compulsion. The walls of the safe-house apartment were evidence of my manic state. Pictures of lost loved ones, names and dates, theories and connections scrawled on yellow sticky notes with crudely drawn arrows pointing between them covered every inch.
My brainstorming had come to nothing. I still couldn’t figure out who’d placed the curse on my brothers or why? Who would have wanted to kill my childhood friend and make it look like a suicide? Or the most important question - how was it all connected?
I had my suspicions.
Leena was certainly pulling the strings.
Her father, the mind-reading creep Eustace McFinney had discovered my brother Felix and my best friend Marisol’s secret relationship. What’s more, he’d known about the child they’d made together growing inside Mari’s belly before she died.
Then there was Vicky, my Great Aunt’s live-in nurse. Her betrayal stung worse than a thousand needles jabbed into my chest all at once. Vicky’d been like family my entire life, more kind and affectionate an Aunt than the old bitter woman who actually held that title. Despite how much I hated Vicky for her part in all of it, I still couldn’t shake the affection I held for her.
The three of them had been plotting together, manipulating us all in some elaborate scheme that I still couldn’t wrap my head around. We were just naive kids, completely sheltered from our magical heritage and abilities. What danger did we pose for them to ruin us so thoroughly?
Felix was staring at the picture of Marisol that I’d taped to the wall. He squawked angrily, stomping his taloned feet over the soft leather briefcase until I was forced to shoo him off of it.
“You’re going to scratch it, Dumb-ass.” I grumbled, lifting and pressing it protectively into my chest. Felix fixed me with a frustrated glare and pecked insistently at the leather with his beak.
My hands smoothed over the surface as I held the briefcase closer. It felt strange without the bulk of my mother’s journal concealed inside, a faint depression marking its absence.
Felix was practically screaming it with his eyes.
“You always were the smartest one in the family.” I reached out with one hand and gently rubbed my fingers down the soft feathers on his back. He nuzzled his face into my palm and I sighed, the gesture reminded me of my cat Sienna who I hadn’t seen in weeks.
Chaos followed the Vernal Equinox celebration after our haphazard plan to steal Silas away from Leena, then returning home to find that Vicky had poisoned my Great Aunt Henriette in retaliation.
Was it really such a shock that I completely panicked? My youngest brother Oliver had been taken. Henriette was weak, heartbroken by Vicky’s betrayal and knocking on Death’s door. Add to that the fact that Silas was a useless mess, trying to remember all the horrible things that Leena had forced him to do while under her control. It was all a fucking disaster. I could see the people I loved being ripped away - one by one - and I was determined to put an end to it the only way I knew how…