This was going to be a newsletter issued on the 1st of the month and with details on everything due to happen this month etc, but it’s now 1:52am tomorrow morning, so I’m just going to do today’s news and come back and do other days on other days.
It will release officially on August 12th – at which time it will also go up on Barnes & Noble. (At the moment only big publishers have the ability to list books for pre-order there.)
So here we go – as I said before, this is the second edition of Duck! It has been tweaked and re-edited, but the plot hasn’t altered.
Duck! has a new cover for the new edition, and it’s made by Kris Norris.
Raised among humans, Ori Jones only discovered he was an avian shifter six months ago. Unable to complete a full shift until he reaches his avian maturity, he still can’t be sure of his exact species.
But with species comes rank, and rank is everything to the avians. When a partial shift allows the elders to announce that they believe Ori to be a rather ugly little duckling, he drops straight to the bottom rung of their hierarchy.
Life isn’t easy for Ori until he comes to the attention of a high ranking hawk shifter. Then the only question is, is Ori really a duck—and what will his new master think when the truth eventually comes out?
The Goodreads link is here. (The reviews are for the first edition. Your mileage may vary with the second edition on some points.)
A print edition is in the works.
And, finally, here’s the first chapter…
Instinct took over. Ori dropped to his knees, taking cover behind the waist-high partition that separated the dining area from the adjacent corridor. A plate smashed against the wall to his right—just where his head would have been, if his reactions hadn’t been so quick.
Ori’s grip on his tray of dirty plates faltered as he hunched over them in an effort to stay low and out of range. They slid forward. Scrabbling at the china, he desperately tried to catch more than a dozen fragile pieces of crockery at the same time.
Two hands were never going to be enough. The dishes and glasses spilled leftover food and wine across the floor as they tumbled out of his grasp. Ori made one last attempt to catch a wine glass. Success! His fingers wrapped tightly around the delicate stem as the rest of the plates and silverware plummeted toward the dark oak floorboards.
As the clatter peaked, then faded away, Ori’s attention flickered from one piece of expensive china to another, from one lead crystal glass to the next. Each item stared back at him, miraculously unscathed.
“What the hell…?” Highly polished black shoes stopped at the edge of the debris.
“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll clean it up immediately,” Ori rushed out, scrambling to pick up the mess of scattered crockery and utensils, and move them out of the man’s way.
Clearing one side of the hallway first, Ori quickly made a path through the wreckage for the higher-ranking man. As soon as he was sure the man could walk by without soiling his shoes, Ori paused and politely waited for the man to pass.
The shoes didn’t move.
Ori sprung back into action, working even more frantically, as he realised the man had no intention of taking another step until every scrap vanished from his sight.
Ori didn’t waste precious time peering up at the stranger who loomed over him. It didn’t matter who he was. He outranked Ori by default, and every second that passed probably added another lash to the whipping Ori’s clumsiness must have already earned him.
Damn it, just a few more steps and he’d have reached the safety of the full height section of wall that still kept the stranger out of sight of the dining room. He’d have been out of range then—at least until he had to venture back into the dining room to clear another table. Ori pressed his lips together and kept his curses to himself. It was too late to wish he’d walked quicker now.
Placing the last shard of the plate that had smashed against the wall on the tray next to the surviving dishes, Ori set it to one side of the corridor and knelt neatly behind it, waiting for the other shifter to finally step past him. The shoes remained exactly where they were. Uncertain what else was required, Ori risked a glance up as far as the man’s knees.
A hand appeared alongside the neatly tailored trousers. Ori’s eyes went to the tattoo on the inside of the man’s wrist.
Ori knew he still had a lot to learn about the marks that distinguished each species of avian from the others, but the harsh black lines that decorated the stranger’s skin were impossible to mistake.
Ori’s stomach turned over as he imagined what angering such a high-ranking man could mean for him.
The stranger’s hand stayed exactly where it was until Ori reached up and offered his own wrist up in return. His fingers were still smeared with the food he’d cleaned from the floor. His unmarked wrist looked even barer when held next to the one that properly signalled a man’s species.
Ori looked farther up and into a pair of startling amber eyes.
“There’s a reason you’re not marked?”
“They’re waiting until they’re sure what I am, sir,” Ori blurted out.
“Have you completed a partial shift?”
The hawk looked at Ori’s wrist again. “What was the elder’s best guess?”
“A rather ugly little duckling, sir.”
It was an exact quote. It was also four words longer than his answer needed to be. Such things mattered when speaking to a man whose species endowed him with a rank as high as a hawk’s—Ori had learnt that the hard way. He dropped his gaze and waited for the worst.
“Is there a name you’re certain of?”
The question was so unexpected, it took Ori a moment to find an answer. “Ori Jones, sir.”
“Up on your feet, Ori.”
Picking up the tray, Ori rose to his full height without considering anything but the hawk’s order.
Ori dropped heavily to the floor as laughter echoed out of the dining room. His tray spilled from his hands once more. The plates weren’t destined to survive two equally spectacular demonstrations of his clumsiness in such quick succession. Fragments of shattering chinaware skidded along the floorboards, colliding with the hawk’s shoes and Ori’s bare legs.
He looked up just in time to see the hawk step out from behind the wall and into view of the crowd of crows who’d been drinking in the dining room for most of the day.
“All of you—over here. Now!”
Ori started collecting up the fragments of smashed crockery, his hands shaking as he imagined the look that would flash in the chef’s eyes when he saw the mess Ori had made of the nest’s fine dining service.
Shadows fell across his skin as the crows crossed the room in response to the hawk’s command.
“Clean that up.”
Ori kept his head down, his eyes on his task. “Yes, sir.”
Ori looked up. “Sir?”
“You heard me. On your feet.”
All Ori could do was stare up at him in horror. “I can—”
“You’ll do as you’re told. Stand up.”
Ori’s body obeyed without consulting his brain. Some sort of mental process clicked into operation when he was half way to his feet. “I could—”
The hawk didn’t appear impressed. He pointed to an area of clear floor, just beyond the fallout from the tray. “Take care that you step over the glass.”
Ori gave in. Keeping his gaze lowered, not daring to look toward the crows, he took up position where he’d been commanded.
“You expect us to—” one of the crows began.
“I expect you to do what you’re told, too,” the hawk snapped, as if a crow was no different from a duckling in his eyes.
Ori swallowed rapidly. Perhaps to a man with a hawk’s rank, the rungs at the bottom end of the social ladder were very close together. But Ori was well aware that the crows all knew the difference between their station in the nest and his own precarious and unofficial position.
The crows’ glares skittered over his skin as they stooped to collect the broken pieces of crockery and pile them on the tray. They didn’t have to say a word. Ori knew they all intended to remind him exactly how far above him they were as soon as the hawk stepped out of sight.
“And the rest,” the hawk commanded.
Ori looked up. The second plate that the crows had pitched at him hadn’t been empty. Food streaked across the wall in a vivid mess of browns and greens.
The hawk caught his eye.
“I’ll fetch—” Ori began.
“They can find whatever they need. Just tell them where.”
“There’s a storeroom behind the kitchens, sir.”
A nod from the hawk dismissed one of the crows in that direction.
Ori closed his eyes. His toes clenched against the floorboards as he fought against an almost overwhelming urge to run. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to race away from the crows or from the hawk. The crows were going to give him hell, but the hawk was…
The moment Ori opened his eyes, his gaze went to the bird of prey. He was far larger than either him or the crows; tall and broad across the shoulders. His well-tailored shirt did nothing to hide the muscles beneath the fabric. The dark material only succeeded in making him look more dominant, more aristocratic.
It was only supposed to be a glance, but Ori found himself incapable of looking away. He’d seen a hawk at the nest a few months before, but he had been a much older man whose hair had faded to grey as his back had bent with age.
He’d never seen a hawk like this one. The man was glorious, all strength and certainty.
Ori was still helplessly staring at the hawk when the crows finished their task. The hawk nodded to the tray, finally dismissing Ori from the corridor. Ori stepped forward, making his way between the crows.
The flock’s eyes followed him, sending a shiver down his spine. The tiny pair of shorts he’d been provided with when he started serving at the nest had never felt smaller.
He scurried back into the heat and chaos of the kitchens as quickly as possible. A few of the other servants cast glances in his direction as he rushed to his station at the farthest end of the room. Word always travelled quickly through the nest. They would all know what had happened by now. And, no doubt, they knew just as well as he did what would happen next.
Ori took a deep breath as he stared down at the tray full of broken dishes. The crows might not have dared to disobey a hawk, but the hawk would leave at some point, and then…
He let the breath out as a sigh. Perhaps, if he’d already been a fully-fledged shifter, he might have had a chance. Maybe he could have spoken to whoever represented his species and asked him to take his concerns to the nest’s elders. But, as it was, Ori knew that he didn’t really exist in the eyes of any of the avians who ran the nest. No one would step in and stop whatever the crows had planned for him.
While his mind rushed in circles, Ori automatically resumed the duties that had occupied his time for the last six months. Broken pieces of crockery disposed of, he took up his position in front of two huge Belfast sinks and started working his way through all the trays of dirty dishes that had made it back to the kitchens intact.
Each second dragged out until time stood still around him. His heart raced faster and faster. His hands shook with nerves, making him clumsier than ever. It was almost a relief when the atmosphere in the kitchen changed and he knew his wait was over.
Still facing the sinks, Ori heard the other servants scurrying out of the room, leaving their duties without a word. Even the chef’s domineering presence faded from the kitchens as he temporarily relinquished his domain to the flock of crows. Ori stayed very still, his eyes closed tightly, knowing the order didn’t apply to him.
Footsteps sounded on the uneven flagstone floor as the flock made its way toward him. A rough hand grabbed Ori’s arm, spinning him around to face his long-standing tormentors. Every crow who had been in the dining room was there, fanning out around him, blocking any chance of escape.
Ori’s stomach clenched, tying itself in knots around his nerves as his hands formed into fists at his sides.
“Did you really think you’d get away with that?” Jermaine, the somewhat unofficial leader of the ragged flock, demanded.
Ori stayed silent.
The back of Jermaine’s hand slammed into Ori’s cheek, sending him stumbling toward the countertop adjacent to the sinks. Pain flared through the side of his face. His mind reeled. He fumbled at the edge of the granite in the vain hope that holding onto it might make the world stop weaving in front of his eyes before the next blow landed.
“I asked you a question,” Jermaine spat out. “Did you really think you could carry tales back to the hawk and not pay for it?”
“No, sir,” Ori whispered.
Another crow grabbed his right arm and pulled him around again. Before Ori could even get his balance, the crow had caught his left arm in an equally painful grip. He dragged Ori back to stand in front of him, his arms wrenched behind him, leaving his torso exposed and vulnerable.
Ori risked another brief glance up from the floor. The crows were looking around the kitchen with interest. Suddenly, it was impossible to see the objects that surrounded him as a simple collection of cooking utensils. It was a room full of sharp blades and scalding liquids.
Ori’s gaze flickered over knives, ranges, boiling saucepans, and a dozen other things that would hurt like hell when thrown in his direction.
Survival instinct tried to take over. He pulled at the crow’s hold on him. The crow tightened his grip around his arms. Part of Ori knew he was stronger than the man trying to hold him in place, but as the crow’s fingers dug into his skin, an even more powerful instinct took over. Ori felt something inside himself willingly yield to the higher-ranking man’s wishes. He fell still within the crow’s grasp.
“Apologize,” Jermaine demanded.
“I’m sorry, sir.”
A light appeared in the crow’s eyes, and some of Ori’s panic eased. He’d become almost used to the flock’s casual sadism. Being made to jump through painful hoops for the crows’ amusement wasn’t new. Getting screwed by one or more of them wasn’t such an unusual occurrence either. The idea that the situation might be survivable in spite of the crows’ fury began to spread through Ori’s mind.
“Again,” Jermaine demanded. “Look me in the eye when you say it.”
Ori lifted his gaze, but the words died on his tongue as he glanced past the crows and realised they were no longer alone in the kitchen.
Please, not in front of him.
The words flashed up in the forefront of Ori’s mind, vivid and desperate. It was a stupid thing to think. Having an audience wasn’t so rare a thing. He should have been used to it. It shouldn’t have made any difference, but it did—with the new hawk standing there, it did.
Then, he saw the anger in the hawk’s eyes.
“Let him go.”
All the crows’ attention transferred to the hawk.
The hands holding Ori in place jerked away as if the words had turned his skin as hot as any range, as sharp as any knife in the kitchens. The crows fled, colliding with each other in fear as they rushed along the far edges of the kitchen, skirting around out of range of the hawk.
All Ori could do was remain where he was, staring at the hawk. They held each other’s gaze as the crows hurried from the room, and Ori couldn’t even bring himself to care that they would no doubt be back at some point in the future.
The hawk was right there, and, in some stupid way, that was all that mattered. Ori stared helplessly up at the bird of prey as he realised just how much he’d hoped he might catch another glimpse of him.
The hawk stepped forward, closing the gap between them.
Ori watched him approach, not sure what to do—what the hawk might want him to do. Stopping directly in front of him, the man ran his thumb along Ori’s bottom lip.
All confusion disappeared. Lowering himself quickly to his knees, Ori reached for the hawk’s fly. It wasn’t until the hawk pushed his hand away, that Ori noticed the blood on the man’s fingertips.
Ori’s lip was bleeding. The sharp metallic taste hadn’t really registered until then. Snatching a cloth off the countertop, Ori carefully cleaned the hawk’s hand.
That task accomplished, Ori swiped at his own bottom lip. More blood smeared onto the fabric. For a few silent seconds, Ori stared down at the vivid red smudge. It was silly to hope the hawk might want to use his mouth regardless.
“Shall I fetch one of the other servants for you, sir?” he asked, trying to hide his disappointment.
Ori quickly stumbled to his feet.
“How long have you been serving here?”
“A few months, sir,” Ori whispered. When he glanced up, the hawk was still staring at him, a serious expression lingering in the amber eyes.
The silence went on and on.
“Mr. Hamilton offered me a place here.”
“He said it would keep me out of trouble until I can complete a full shift, and everything can be sorted out properly,” Ori added.
“And how old are you now?”
“Twenty, sir. I’ll turn twenty-one in June.” Ori swallowed. He knew the math. Part of him had been counting down the days ever since he’d stumbled upon the nest and found out how things were arranged among the shifters. It would be another six months before he’d reach his avian maturity and be able to complete a full shift into his avian form—six months before he had any chance of becoming a true part of the shifter community.
The hawk looked him up and down. Without another word, he turned and walked out of the kitchen. All Ori could do was watch him go.
Except, the hawk didn’t actually go. He paused in the doorway, looking both ways along the corridor outside the kitchens.
The hawk remained in the doorway until a younger man, a raven who Ori had spotted in the nest a few times over the previous six months, joined him. “Watch him.”
The raven looked into the kitchen. His eyes locked on to Ori. He nodded his acceptance of the order. When the hawk strode away, Everet came closer.
For the third time that day, Ori found himself standing in his usual corner of the kitchen, waiting for a higher-ranking man to reach him. He had no idea what was going on anymore. Any instinct he might have had for fight or flight was too confused to even suggest a course of action.
“Your lip’s bleeding.”
Ori reached up and touched his mouth.
The raven stood a few feet away from him, watching him, just as the hawk commanded. His curiosity was obvious. “Did Raynard do that to you?”
Ori blinked. The hawk’s name was Raynard. Eventually, something more than the knowledge of the hawk’s surname sank in. Ori shook his head as he dabbed at his lip with the cloth again. “It was one of the crows, sir.”
The raven said nothing more; he merely looked Ori over as if wondering why the hell a hawk would take any sort of interest in him.
Ori looked down. He should have already asked himself the same question. Now that the query was in his head, the answer wasn’t far behind it. Raynard was a hawk and he was an ugly little duckling. Ori might not have been raised among shifters, but since he’d found his way into their company, he’d learnt enough to know that species was rank, and rank was everything to the avians. The only reason a hawk would ask Ori his name, was so he could suggest his dismissal.
Even knowing his position in the nest was about to be snatched away from him, Ori found himself looking back to the dishes. “Shall I…?”
The raven looked to the sinks and the plates piled high around them. He shrugged, causing highly defined muscles to jostle beneath his tight black t-shirt. “Raynard didn’t say you couldn’t.”
Ori silently returned to his duties. The work might not have been enthralling, but there was a certain simplicity to it that he’d learnt to appreciate. There was something comforting about knowing exactly what was expected of him, exactly where his place in the world was.
The raven leaned back against one of the huge cabinets to Ori’s right, arms folded across his chest as he stared vacantly into the middle distance. He was so still, so silent, Ori almost forgot he was there. Picking up a stack of the plates, he turned toward the cabinet and only just stopped short of walking into him.
Everet straightened up and opened the cabinet door for Ori.
“Thank you, sir.”
Not meeting Everet’s eyes, Ori turned back to the sinks. Filling them with fresh water, he looked over his shoulder. The other servants had filed back into the kitchen at some point, but they were giving both him and the raven a wide berth. One of them, a rather bedraggled pigeon, offered Ori a sympathetic smile as their eyes chanced to meet. Ori managed to return the expression, but nothing was said. Even the chef was keeping his orders and tantrums more muted than usual.
For a moment, Ori thought it might have been Raynard’s voice that had echoed through the kitchens, but it wasn’t. The hawk hadn’t come back. Ori stayed very still as he waited for the message to be relayed, but whatever it was, it must have been communicated in nothing more than a look.
Everet stepped away from the cabinet. “Follow me.”
Turning off the taps and hastily drying his hands, Ori trailed after the raven. The messenger mumbled something to Everet when he reached the kitchen door, but the words were too hushed for Ori to catch.
“Come on.” The raven set off again, occasionally glancing over his shoulder to make sure his charge hadn’t fallen too far behind.
Everet led him out of the communal areas of the club that all the species had access to and up a grand staircase toward the more exclusive sections of the establishment. It took more courage than Ori had known he possessed to keep going, to keep wading even farther into increasingly unfamiliar and luxurious territory.
The dining rooms and meeting rooms on the ground floor had taken his breath away when he’d first visited the nest. He wasn’t sure what he’d have made of these higher corridors if he’d seen them on that initial visit. On each side of him, portraits stared down. Back then, he’d probably have thought they were of wealthy aristocrats, their tamed birds of prey flying in the background.
Now, it was obvious that each portrait merely showed two sides of the same man, and there was nothing tame about the birds of prey who filled the topmost perches of the shifter hierarchy.
Ori took a deep breath and pushed forward, his bare feet making no sound on the thick carpeting. Everet reached a mahogany door at the far end of the corridor and knocked firmly on the dark panelling.
Everet pushed the door open and nodded for Ori to step inside. A moment later, the raven pulled the door closed without joining Ori in the room. Ori found himself in what looked like some sort of office, albeit an incredibly expensive one.
Mr. Hamilton sat behind a huge desk on the other side of the room. He glanced across at Ori. Sharp blue eyes pinned him in place until Mr. Hamilton lost interest in him and turned his attention back to where Raynard sat on the opposite side of the desk. The hawk didn’t even look over his shoulder to see who had entered the room.
Stepping to one side of the door, Ori waited patiently, inconspicuous and out of everyone’s way, until one of the birds of prey had some use for him.
“He’s obviously not suited to the position as things stand,” Raynard bit out, each word clipped and angry.
Ori had never heard anyone speak to Mr. Hamilton that way. The eagle who ran the club was years older than Raynard, his hair already greying around his temples where Raynard’s was still deep brown, but their ranks obviously made them equals.
Then Raynard’s actual words sunk in to Ori’s mind. Not suited to the position. He lowered his gaze to the patch of carpet directly in front of his feet. He had been right then, he was going to be dismissed?
Thoughts tumbled through his head as he tried to work out where he might go. If they paid him off, he could probably find somewhere. But there was no reason to believe they would. They hadn’t paid him up to this point, when they’d seemed to find his service at least vaguely acceptable.
“Do you really think he’d do better in your house?” Mr. Hamilton asked, each word tinged with his rich Scottish burr.
Ori’s gaze snapped up. He stared unbelieving at the back of Raynard’s head.
“Yes.” No explanation. No justification. Just the answer. Raynard had made his decision, and he obviously didn’t expect anyone to argue with him—not even an eagle.
Mr. Hamilton smiled slightly. “Your time away from this nest hasn’t changed you in the faintest, has it?”
“Is there any reason why it should have?” Raynard asked.
Mr. Hamilton shook his head at him, but the slight twist of his lips still lingered. It died only when he moved his attention to Ori. “Come here.”
Raynard glanced over his shoulder as Ori stepped forward to stand a pace behind the hawk’s chair, and two feet to his right.
“Mr. Raynard is offering you a position in his house. You’d be his personal servant, answerable to him in all matters,” the eagle informed him.
“You’d remain under his care until you come back to us to complete your first full shift when you come of age.”
“Yes, sir,” Ori repeated.
Mr. Hamilton glanced at Raynard before he went on, his accent thickening a little as his tone turned even more serious.
“This isn’t an easy position—you’ll be expected to work just as hard for Mr. Raynard as you do here—more so, probably. And there would be no limits put upon what Mr. Raynard could expect from you or on the ways he could discipline you if your service is not up to the standard he requires. You’d belong to him completely.”
“Yes, sir,” Ori managed again.
Mr. Hamilton looked him over one more time. “Your answer, then—you accept the position?”
“Yes, sir.” The words were out so quickly, Ori didn’t have time for any second thoughts.
Mr. Hamilton nodded, just once. “The paperwork will be drawn up. Go to your quarters. Change out of your uniform and gather your belongings before returning here.”
The two birds of prey turned their attention back to each other, neither bothering to actually dismiss him. Ori backed away as unobtrusively as possible, before turning and walking silently from the room.
Everet still stood outside the door in his seemingly habitual pose—his arms crossed and his back resting against any convenient surface. He stopped staring into the middle distance when he noticed Ori.
Ori hesitated. “I’m to go to my quarters and change my clothes, sir.”
The raven nodded and strode off down the corridor. He paused when he realised Ori wasn’t following him.
“They didn’t say you had to come with me, sir.”
“Raynard said to watch you. He hasn’t told me to stop.”
Ori looked down. Arguing with a raven wouldn’t do him any good. The truth was his only option. “I don’t have official quarters. I’ve been staying in the servants’ area behind the kitchens, sir.”
Everet’s expression remained impassive. He stepped to one side of the corridor and nodded for Ori to pass him. “Lead the way.”
They soon left the luxury of the upper floors behind. With every step Ori took, his heart raced a little faster, until he was sure it would explode from his chest, no doubt making another mess that would need to be cleaned up before his duties were finished for the day.
“Raynard’s taking you with him?” Everet asked as they headed down a white washed corridor behind the kitchens.
Ori nodded. “He’s offered me a position in his house, sir.” He opened the door to a store cupboard at the end of the corridor. The clothes he’d been wearing when he arrived at the nest had been tossed in there, but there was no sign of them now.
He rifled through what was there, trying to find something that might fit. It wasn’t easy. The clothes were a jumble of bits and pieces and there was no order to the way they’d been stored.
He felt Everet’s eyes run up and down his back and guessed he should just be grateful that he wasn’t going to be led out of the nest just wearing the tiny black shorts.
A pair of dark blue jeans that looked about the right size finally emerged from the chaos. Ori discovered a light green T-shirt a few minutes later. There was no sign of anything resembling a coat or underwear. Once he’d unearthed a battered pair of trainers from the very back of the disordered space, his wardrobe seemed to be as complete as it was destined to become.
The shorts were part of the uniform that marked him out as a servant belonging to club. He didn’t belong to the club anymore. He belonged to Raynard. Ori took off the shorts.
Everet remained in the doorway. Ori kept his back to him, hoping that he wouldn’t notice that the idea of becoming Raynard’s personal servant was already having an effect on him.
His cock was half hard at the very thought of servicing Raynard the way he had so many of the men in the nest. At the same time, his stomach re-knotted itself with nerves. Taking a deep breath, Ori pulled on the jeans.
It had been months since he’d worn anything more than those miniscule shorts. The crumpled denim tubes felt strange around his legs. The material in the T-shirt was softer, but Ori still shrugged uncomfortably as the garment settled around him, clinging and suffocating every time he moved.
The trainers were a size too big. Ori wasn’t sure if that made them more or less comfortable now that his feet had become accustomed to being bare all day. Laces tied, Ori rose to his full height, such as it was. With the image of the hawk fresh in his mind, he felt far too small to be of any use to anyone.
“Raynard’s not a bad guy; he’s better than most of the birds of prey. Do as he tells you, and you’ll be fine,” Everet offered.
Ori nodded, wrapping the hope Everet’s words gave him around him as best he could. “Thank you, sir.”
As he heard the raven step back, Ori forced himself to turn and walk out of the little storeroom too. Long before he was ready for it, he found himself back in Mr. Hamilton’s office, once more standing to one side of the door as he waited for the other men to recognise his presence.
If Mr. Hamilton had seen him return, he made no mention of it. Ori had no idea if Raynard had sensed anyone enter the room behind him.
The birds of prey stood up and shook hands. Raynard turned around. He didn’t look surprised to see him. Ori got the distinct impression that there was very little that escaped the hawk’s attention, even if he didn’t choose to turn around and stare at it.
Raynard walked out of the room without a word, leaving Ori to trail along behind him, scurrying to keep up with the taller man’s longer stride as best he could. They were out of the building and standing in the car park before Ori had quite caught up with events. He hesitated as the chill winter air whipped against him.
Closing his eyes, he relished the way the sunlight caressed his face. It had been months since he felt the sun on him. When he looked up, the world above him seemed impossibly big; the wide expanse of sky above him was both immense and terrifying. He instinctively took a half-step back toward the safety of the building.
“When was the last time you left the nest?”
Ori turned his eyes toward the hawk. Raynard stood next to a sleek black sports car, keys already in his hand. Ori blinked at him, unable to make his mind work quickly.
“A few months, sir.” That was no excuse for keeping Raynard waiting. Standing on the threshold to the outside world, he waited to be told if he had displeased Raynard so badly he’d be sent back before he had even truly left.
Ori stepped forward. Eyes lowered, he stood before his new employer, waiting for his verdict.
Raynard nodded to the passenger side door. Ori obeyed, fumbling his way into the seat and pulling the door closed after him. The hawk moved around the car and slid behind the wheel, folding his tall frame into the low-slung space as if it were the easiest thing in the world.
A moment later, the engine roared into action. Without another glance at his new servant, Raynard drove them both away from the nest.