Authors: Marie Mason
The men left, tails tucked between their legs, mumbling threats that Rafe didn’t even bother to register. It didn’t mean a damn thing. From this moment forward, he would be here to protect Julie. He followed the men out, locking the door and turning around the sign to indicate the diner was now closed. The wolves had been the only occupants and he couldn’t wait any longer to tell Julie what he’d come to say. He’d never mentioned the family curse to her. She thought he had just been another demon—another male—out for a good time.
She stood by one of the old-fashioned booths, her hands gripping the back of the vinyl-covered seat. Her hair was scraped back from her face in what had once been a tidy bun. He knew that the long strands fell almost to her waist and was the color of milk chocolate. A strange way to describe a woman’s hair but it was spot on. Deep, rich, and creamy smooth.
She wore glasses that made her matching brown eyes pop. Some might have considered her on the plain side, but her features were perfect to him. A heart-shaped face, a cute nose, and lips so full and red they made a man want to beg to have them wrapped around his cock. He shuddered remembering the first time she’d done just that. Sucked him until he’d come down her throat. Today, she was wearing a white buttoned down blouse and black pants covered by a green apron that hid her curvaceous figure. He knew she was anything but prim and proper.
“Is anyone else here?”
“The cook is in the back.”
He strode to the swinging door that divided the front from the back. Sure enough, a man stood beside a large stainless steel table, white earbuds in place, preparing food for the evening crowd. Two large pots sat on the stove, the smell of chili and soup coming from beneath their glass lids.
He backed out without making a sound, letting the door swing shut quietly behind him. The man was obviously oblivious to his surroundings. Rafe wanted to keep it that way for a little while longer.
“What are you doing here?”
He smiled as she rounded on him, fire in her eyes. He was surprised it had taken her this long to tear into him. The memory of his last night with her rose up to torment him. He remembered the hurt in her eyes, wide and wounded, her hair tumbling around her shoulders in a wild, dark tangle as she’d held the rough hotel comforter against her naked body and stared at him in shock. He’d left, letting her think the time with her had meant absolutely nothing to him. When in fact, it had saved his soul. Saved his family. For without his need to claim her, be with her forever, he would never have gone in search of the key to breaking the curse.
How he had treated her stirred his gut, filled him with regret. He prayed he could make it up to her. Bridge the distance between them.
“I think the better question is what were they doing here?” Hadn’t Remington taught both him and Roark the best defense was a good offense? Throw the enemy off balance. Not that Julie was the enemy. Far, far from it.
“It’s a diner; I assume they were here to eat.”
He smiled at her sarcasm. Oh, how he had missed her. He stepped forward, until he was right in front of her. “You don’t give an inch, do you?”
She tilted her chin at a stubborn angle he hadn’t seen before. Oh, he’d known it was there, he’d caught glimpses of it but he apparently hadn’t pushed those buttons when he’d been with her before. He’d been too busy pushing the buttons that turned her on.
Rafe had tried to stay away. Tried to be the man that Julie deserved—one that was ready, willing and able to commit. He had fulfilled the first two requirements, but not the third. Until now. Now… well, look out Julie Evans because Rafe was a demon on the hunt.
Julie tried to control her erratic breathing as Rafe came to a stop before her. She had only to raise her hand and she would be touching those muscles she knew were hiding just out of sight beneath the flannel shirt he wore.
Flannel, she huffed to herself. He was so not the flannel type.
A lock of his thick black hair fell across his forehead. She wanted to reach out and smooth it back. She wanted to do so many things to him. She’d start by placing kisses along his jaw that had just the barest hint of whiskers. She imagined him dragging that stubble across the puckered peaks of her breasts. The remembered sensation made her pussy weep with want.
All those months… and she would still crawl into his bed if he so much as crooked his little finger and smiled that devilish smile.
she reminded herself.
All those weeks ago when he’d first walked into the diner, something raw and wild she’d sensed inside him had called to her on a fundamental level. She’d been accepting of her life, her mundane existence—until him with his cobalt blue eyes and sexy smile. Rafe had been all she could have ever wished for in a lover, unlike the one and only other man she’d had sex with. Rafe had been so attentive, strong, and tender—and so freaking hot, he’d made her toes curl and her blood heat. Still did.
Even now, a whip of fire and tendrils of desire swept through her body making her knees grow weak. She realized suddenly that the appearance of him back into her life wasn’t the only thing causing that sensation. No, there was another reason she started to shake and her stomach began to roll. Slapping her hand across her mouth, she turned and ran into the bathroom.
Julie bent over the toilet, the food she’d had for breakfast emptying from her stomach fast. Thankfully, the sickness didn’t last long. After a few moments it was over, her stomach, empty. Flushing the toilet, she walked the two steps to the white porcelain sink and turned on the water faucet. Forming a cup with her hands, she splashed cold water on her face. She hadn’t bothered with makeup for weeks. Even waterproof mascara tended to streak when one puked. A quick glance in the mirror revealed her complexion remained as pale as when she’d woken up that morning.
Cupping her hands again, she rinsed her mouth out as best she could. She’d learned to carry some gum in her pocket for such occasions when her stomach decided to rebel against her. But what she wouldn’t give for a giant swig of mouthwash right now.
With a flick of her wrist, she shut off the water, snatched a coarse paper towel from the dispenser, and blotted her face dry. Taking a deep breath, she walked back out into the diner to face her nemesis. A demon named Rafe.
RAFE WATCHED AS Julie came out of the restroom. He’d heard her being sick and had wanted to rush in and ask her what was wrong. He’d controlled himself, controlled his demon. His inner self was giving him – pardon the pun – hell, for leaving this woman alone for so damn long. There were dark circles under her eyes as if she hadn’t been sleeping well, and if he wasn’t mistaken she’d lost weight. He didn’t like that. His demon loved the cushion her curvy body provided. Had his reappearance merely upset her or was there something else wrong? Was she ill?
Her face was damp and she’d hadn’t taken time to redo her hair where tendrils had escaped and now curled around her face and neck.
He remembered that sweet spot on the back of her nape. As he’d mounted her from behind, he’s sucked on it, wanting to mark her in the same way a shifter would. His chest rumbled as he remembered the shifters who had threatened her.
“Come sit down.” He reached for her, but she ignored his outstretched hand. She skirted around him and took a seat at the counter. He thought he should be grateful for small victories with her. At least she was staying in the same room. “Can I get you something?”
The side of her mouth lifted in a mocking smile. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
She must have known not to push him too far. She folded her hands on top of the counter and said, “I’d like some water, please.”
“Sure.” He saw her bite her lip to keep from smiling. Neither lost the irony of a demon serving her ice water.
Julie’s gaze tracked Rafe as he walked behind the counter and poured her something to drink. He took a paper cup and filled it with ice and water, topping it with a lid like a pro. He grabbed a straw as he walked back to her, the look on his face one of concern.
Beneath the counter, she smoothed her hand over the curve of her belly. No one else, she was positive, knew what was wrong with her. She was a curvy girl whose stomach had never been flat. There was no way he could tell, was there? She knew shifters had an increased sense of smell. Had those two goons been able to tell? She frowned, thinking of their frightening behavior. She’d always thought shifters, and many other supernatural beings, were overly protective of women and children. And uber protective of a pregnant woman. Was it because she had no mate?
She didn’t know much about demons, but she’d learned the hard way that they didn’t mate and very few married.
Oh, and they were damn yummy and dominating in bed. A shiver ran through her remembering the nights in Rafe’s arms. She still got wet thinking about them. But wasn’t that why she’d let her guard down with him? Thrown off her good-girl persona and gone demon wild?
She took the cup thrust her way, taking a long sip. It did nothing to settle her nerves or her stomach. “Why are you here?” No time like the present to cut to the chase she thought.
“Why do you think I’m here?” He’d taken a seat at the table previously occupied by the assholes so she had to turn around to face him. He leaned the chair on its two back legs, balancing himself with no effort, his arms folded against his chest, his legs spread wide.
Because you thought I was an easy fuck?
Julie kept the question-answer to herself. She didn’t want to think of him and fucking in the same sentence.
Or maybe she did, anger rising inside her. “How the fuck should I know?”
“Tsk,tsk, tsk, such language. Where’s my good girl?” He seemed to purr the words.
“Down the road in a sleazy hotel room.”
Crying her eyes out.
Julie refused to go there. Refused to revisit the feeling of abandonment that had washed over her when she’d woken up that morning and realized Rafe had left.
Without a word.
Oh, who was she trying to kid? She couldn’t hold back the flood of memories. Memories of him poised above her, telling her how beautiful she was, how much he wanted her raced across her mind.
But whatever they’d had, whatever emotions had filled her during that night together… she couldn’t allow them to resurface. He could get down on his knees and she wouldn’t agree to see him again. Julie Evans didn’t court misery. She’d learned her lesson fast and furiously—stay away from demons.
She pushed her half-empty glass away and stood. “You need to leave.”
“We need to leave.” He let the legs of the chair fall back to the floor.
She shook her head, and started for the door. “I have to work.”
He trailed behind her. She unlocked the door and turned the sign back around. They stood staring at each other.
Rafe tried to keep the clawing hunger under control but he just wasn’t strong enough.
“Julie.” Her name was a whisper of need on his lips as he cupped the back of her head and drew her close. As gently as he could considering his state of arousal, he touched his mouth to hers. Once, twice. The soft, almost non-existent sigh from between her lips gave him hope. He pressed harder. She felt so good, smelled so good. The scent of jasmine and orange blossom bloomed beneath his nostrils. How he had missed her. And he’d had her for such a short time. What if he couldn’t convince her that they should be together? Even free from his servitude, he’d still spend an eternity in hell without her. She was softness and femininity. One would assume that hell was hot but he’d been frozen inside all those years. Frozen until this woman.
He could feel her shaking and he wound his arms around her tightly, bringing her into direct contact with his lower body—with his cock. The demon part of him sighed in relief, something that had never happened before. He wanted to be closer. As close as humanly possible. So close they were one.
Damn it to hell, he needed her. Needed to fuck her until they were both gasping for breath.
Rafe’s mouth was hard and warm on Julie’s, and it tasted like sin itself. Oh, how she remembered that taste. She opened her mouth to his, wanting to devour him the way he was devouring her. His flannel shirt was soft and the pad of muscle beneath it, big and thick, and warm. All she could feel now was his body, hard and heavy against her. His scent wafted up. She’d once teased him he should have smelled of brimstone and ashes. Instead, he smelled of oceans and forests, rain and sunshine all at once. She’d craved his touch every day since he’d been gone. A need flooded through her, so primal and physical and somehow necessary. As necessary as her next breath.
Her arms came up to clasp around his neck, pulling him closer. She was the one deepening the kiss now, the one searching for answers. Awareness. Her soul seemed to splinter with the awareness of how right this was. How right they were together. She shimmied her hips against him and ate up the involuntary groan he gave as she brushed against his groin. Touching each other didn’t feel wrong or bad. But it was. So, so very bad.
Rafe ran his finger down the slope of her neck, nibbled on her earlobe, and threaded his hand through her hair. He seemed to be touching her everywhere, all at once. His breath was hot upon her skin, his beard stubble rough upon her cheek. She couldn’t think while he did these things.
But she had to.
“No, no, no.” She pulled back, covering her red and swollen lips with her hand. “What are you doing?”
His arms tightened around her waist, forcing her to feel once again the steely evidence of his arousal that made her want to throw all her common sense into the wind.
“I thought I was showing you how much I want you.”
He bent his head to kiss her again but she turned hers away. This wasn’t right. This… this interaction with this demon would only lead to heartache, then heartbreak. She touched the mound beneath her apron. She had something—someone—other than herself that she had to think about now.
Just as she was about to tell him to leave—again, the door to the diner opened, the light tinkling of the bell totally at odds with the tension radiating between her and Rafe. She turned away, greeting the couple who had entered and leading them to a table. It didn’t matter where they sat, she was the only waitress on duty.
Taking the pen and pad from her apron pocket, she took their order. In minutes, the door opened again and the dinner rush had begun.
Rafe sat at the counter, growing angrier by the minute. It was almost eight o’clock and he had been here at least four hours. He had no fucking clue how long Julie had been here. All he knew was that with each passing moment, her steps grew slower and her energy waned. No one had come to relieve her. No one had come to help her. She’d handled the steady stream of customers on her own, with some help from the cook bussing tables.
When he’d gotten up to help, she’d shut him down with a look he’d seen all too often on his mother’s face when she’d looked at his father.
Help me and die
. Women, especially strong, independent women took contrariness to such an extreme it made males want to bend them over their knees and slap their asses until they were bright red. His cock hardened behind the zipper in his jeans. Julie’s dark brown eyes met his and he read the stubbornness in them, in her. His heart kicked up a beat and the demon inside him rose to the surface. Here was a woman worthy of being his he thought with all the arrogance of his kind—which was a demon male.
Thankfully, no more shifters came in. He wondered again, what that had been about. Taking his phone from the pocket, he texted his brother Remington. If anyone knew what was going on, it would be him. All three Conroy brothers were bounty hunters like their father before them and his father before him. Not exactly an honorable profession, dragging escaped souls back to hell, but then, being cursed to spend eternity in hell—while still living—kind of skewed your whole outlook on right and wrong.
Finally, almost two hours later it was time for the diner to close. As soon as the last customer left, Rafe was on his feet, locking the door. There were still tables to bus and dishes to wash. He strode to the kitchen. Minutes later, he was taking the wet cloth from Julie’s hand as she bent over, cleaning off a table. “Let’s go.”
“I can’t leave yet.” She tugged at the cloth, but he wouldn’t give it back. She gave a sigh of exasperation, let go of the wet rag and picked up the plastic bin loaded with dirty dishes, and moved to another table.
Rafe followed right behind her. “I’m not telling you again.”
Well, that got her attention, he thought with a smile. She turned around slowly, her eyes flashing fire that would have done any female demon proud. “That’s right, you aren’t telling me anything, buster.” She poked her finger in his chest, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t mind how Julie touched him, just as long as she did.
The kitchen door swung open and the cook, whose name Rafe had discovered was Joe, strolled out, another large plastic tub in his hands and the ever present ear buds in place.
When she caught Joe’s eye, he gave her a nod and a thumb’s up. “What did you do?” Her question flew at Rafe.
Rafe straightened to his full height and flexed his shoulders, hoping to intimidate her. She leaned closer instead of away and he had to smother a smile. They stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. When it looked as if she wouldn’t back down he said, “Damn it, woman, quit being so stubborn. I’m the one making the decisions here.”
He could almost hear his brothers and his father laughing at him as the words spilled from his mouth. A man did not make such a statement to a woman and expect to exit the conversation with his balls intact.
Watching her eyes narrow had his cock hardening again in anticipation of showing her exactly who was more dominant. Him.
“Fine,” Julie huffed in exasperation when she realized Rafe wasn’t backing down—or leaving. She didn’t want to have the conversation they needed to have in the middle of the diner, even if it was closed. She walked past the counter to the employee lounge in the back, ignoring his knowing smile. What else was she supposed to do? There was no way she could throw him out on his ass. Which was what she really wanted to do.
Taking off her apron, she pulled her blouse from the waist of her pants. She needed to make sure there were no telltale signs of the larger than normal bulge of her belly that her apron had managed to hide. Thankfully, she could still wear her regular clothes and hadn’t had the added expense of buying new clothes. Her budget didn’t need a hit like that. She took her purse and coat from her locker, and drew in a deep, fortifying breath. Walking to the front door, she twisted the lock and held the door open for Rafe. She shivered under her lightweight coat as she locked the door behind them. The night had grown colder just as the weatherman had predicted. Too bad, he hadn’t told her there would be a chance of demon tonight. She was so tired she couldn’t even smile at her half-hearted joke.
“My car’s over here.” She pointed to the far corner of the lot. It was dark since almost none of the lights worked. She’d complained to the owners but they hadn’t done anything about the situation yet. She didn’t think they ever would. “Did you drive?”
As they walked toward her car, two shadows separated from the building. “Damn it,” Rafe cursed when he saw the two males.