Authors: Marie Mason
Rafe Conroy was one determined demon—determined to get back to the woman he’d left behind as he’d searched for a way to break the Conroy family curse. A curse that kept him bound in servitude to the Prince of Darkness. But Rafe wasn’t the only one searching for Julie Evans. When he escapes from hell for what he hopes is the last time, he finds her surrounded by shifters determined to take her.
Like hell. She. Was. His.
Julie’s life had been turned upside down when the handsome and carefree demon had strolled into the diner where she worked late one night. He’d ordered a piece of apple pie and left—with her. Eager to shed her good-girl persona, Julie went willingly into the demon’s arms—and his bed.
Two months later, abandoned and alone, she almost regretted her decision as paranormals swarmed around her, determined to take her with them—or worse.
When Rafe steps in to save the day, Julie must decide if she can trust the demon to protect her—and not break her heart again.
One Month Earlier…
RAFE HAD KNOWN that escaping from hell would not be easy. He no longer had the powers the Prince of Darkness had bestowed upon him in order to perform his job as a bounty hunter for hell. He could no longer open a portal at will. No longer step past the barrier between the human realm and the underground without suffering grave pain.
But there were other ways. As much as he despised witches—a haggle-toothed bitch being the source of his family’s trouble—he’d had no choice but to bargain with one. A drop of his blood in exchange for a spell to open a portal. She couldn’t, so she said, provide an incantation that would prevent his skin from igniting as he crawled his way from the fiery depths. Portals between realms resembled nothing as portrayed in the movies. No stepping through a water-like substance from one dimension to another. Nope. You had to crawl up a jagged granite wall infested with vermin, snakes and goblins—while your skin slowly ignited. Now, as he left the pit of hell for what he hoped was the last time, the scent of his burning flesh filled his nostrils.
Rafe saw the top of the pit and put on a burst of speed. With one leap, he made it out.
Now all he had to do was find
JULIE SIGHED AS the bell on the diner door jangled. It was three in the afternoon. Too late for the lunch crowd and too early for the dinner rush. She sighed again, pushing to her feet. Lately, she’d been using this time to rest, something she needed to do more than usual. Grabbing two menus, she greeted the men who had entered. Julie didn’t recognize them as locals. No doubt, they were just passing through.
was located right off the interstate, near the town of Redford Falls, Montana.
She wished she had acquired this divine power of observation a few months ago when
had sauntered into town.
She plastered on a fake smile and laid the menus on the worn tabletop. Most of the furnishings and equipment in the diner had seen better days. That didn’t keep the customers away. Business from both the local residents and motorists pulling off for a restroom break and bite to eat made the diner very successful. Something for which Julie was eternally grateful. Especially now when she needed her job so desperately. Between the tips and the hourly wage the restaurant paid, she was able to keep a roof over her head and even put some aside for later, when she would be unable to work.
“What can I get you gentlemen to drink?” She stood beside the table, resisting the urge to shift her weight from one leg to the other. Her feet hurt, her hips hurt, her back hurt. Today was no different from any other day though. She’d been on her feet since five o’clock this morning and wouldn’t leave until ten o’clock tonight.
She’d worked in the diner since she’d turned sixteen and needed to earn extra money to buy a used car. She’d had such plans back then. Now… She shook her head, telling herself everything would turn out for the best. It had to. She had to have something to hold onto. Some hope.
Just like now, hoping the two men already knew what they wanted. And preferably wanted it to go. If they left, she could go in the back and rest before the dinner crowd. Both men ignored the menus and turned their attention her way. Instead of relief, she felt a chill run up her spine. Her instincts were telling her to turn around and run as fast as she could. They’d been telling her that a lot lately.
“I’ll just come back when you’re ready.” She eased backward, halfway afraid to turn her back on them.
“We’re plenty ready, baby, aren’t we Roy?” The one nearest to her grabbed her forearm, stopping her retreat.
“Oh, yeah, I’m ready.” The one named Roy leaned back in his chair and grabbed his dick, rubbing it as he smiled.
Throughout her years as a waitress, Julie had dealt with her share of men who thought they were the universe’s gift to women. Usually that type had been indulging a little too much and were easy to divert. These men were not drunk. More like their hormones had been shoved into overdrive.
Was there a super-slash-harvest-slash-blue moon on the horizon or something? All of a sudden, she was a man magnet. This was the second set of jerks in the last two weeks who had come into the diner and hit on her, or more accurately, crudely propositioned her. Or maybe men in general were devolving and exhibiting the jackass qualities every woman knew were buried deep inside even the most cultivated of males.
Take Rafe. When she’d met the handsome demon, she’d thought he was the best thing since chocolate. Last time she’d seen him, he could have won the ass of the year award hands down.
She quickly went over her options on how to deal with her latest troublemaker customers. The owner of the diner had chased the last set off after they’d taken offense to Julie dumping ice water on their overheated crotches.
She could scream, and hope Joe, the cook, didn’t have on his headphones and heard her cry for help. She could try to twist out of the man’s hold and run to the counter where there were a number of items she could use as a weapon. Her third option was to try and get away and run out of the restaurant. She was certain none of those scenarios would end well for her. Or Joe for that matter.
She stood still, trying to show no fear. She’d grown tough during the last few months. She’d gone head-to-head with a demon and came out the other side, only slightly bruised if she didn’t count her broken heart. Surely, she could handle these two males.
“Look, I don’t want any trouble. You tell me what you want and I’ll have Joe get it ready. No charge if you just walk away.” She hoped the knowledge that she wasn’t alone in the diner and the lure of free food would be enough to keep them from behaving like animals.
“Not likely, wench.” Both men stood. The man holding her arm pushed his straight-backed metal chair away. It fell to the floor with a clang.
Oh, shit, Julie thought as the man rose above her. He was tall and broad but not the least bit attractive she observed in a disconnected way. She decided distraction was the best option to get her out of this jam. If Joe hadn’t heard the chair fall, he wouldn’t hear her yell for help. “Wench? Who the heck uses the word wench anymore? What are you? Wanna-be pirates?” She tried to twist her arm free, but the man laughed at her efforts. The other man just stood there smiling.
“We’re your worst nightmare, baby.”
“Right, not pirates, Freddie wanna-bes. I get it, but Halloween was months ago.” Shit, she thought again, seeing the other-worldly gleam in their eyes, they were paranormals. Some kind of shifter, she realized, their earthy—and not so clean smelling—scent rolling over her and causing her stomach to heave. She needed to get away. Even though it would do nothing but bruise her flesh, she continued to pull at her arm.
“She’s got a smart mouth on her, no wonder Rafe liked her.”
Julie stilled. “What did you say?”
“Rafe. He’s why we’re here. Said you were worth the trip out of hell.” The man licked his lips.
Something told her that Rafe hadn’t shared any intimate details of their time together with anyone, especially these two animals. Seeing the intent in her captors’ evil eyes, Julie did the only thing she knew to do. She screamed to high heavens, hoping someone, somewhere would hear her.
Rafe stood on the side of the road where the truck had dropped him, his hands tucked in the front pockets of his jeans. He wore only a long-sleeved flannel shirt that did little to keep the cold out, but he didn’t care. After a lifetime spent in hell, a demon could appreciate some cool spring weather. And the beautiful landscape. Mountains, streams, and trees surrounded him. The mountain range behind him was the same one he and his brother had stood on, not so long ago, discussing the Conroy family curse and Rafe’s need to break it.
He’d wanted his brothers to have a full and healthy life, but he’d done what he’d had to do for purely selfish reasons.
He’d done it for
. The reason he was standing here freezing his balls off.
On the other side of the road was a diner constructed of whitewashed cement blocks and a green metal roof. The parking lot was paved and the building looked to be in good shape for its age. None of that really mattered. What mattered to Roark was what—or should he say who—was inside.
Inside was the woman who haunted him.
Inside was the reason he’d searched far and wide for a way to break the Conroy family curse.
Inside was the reason he’d escaped from hell.
Inside was his mate. His second half. The woman who held his soul in the palm of her hand.
Inside was a woman, who, last time he’d seen her had cursed him to hell and back. Luckily, she wasn’t a witch. Just a curvy human who set his soul on fire. Not like the woman his great-great-great something grandfather had scorned and whose curse had held the family in servitude to the devil for generations.
Rafe’s brothers hadn’t understood his obsession for the human. When any of the Conroy brothers wanted a woman, they had no problem finding one. They were players. Manwhores, if you would.
And why not? They’d made a vow long ago not to take a wife. To end the family line now, before another generation of demons had the pay the price for an ancestor’s lapse in judgment.
It had been two months since he’d seen her, held her in his arms. Told her—
told her shit. He’d left in the early hours of the morning without a word. He knew that had been a colossal mistake, but what could he have done differently? At that point, the chance of undoing the curse had been just a dream.
He couldn’t help the grin that formed on his lips as he remembered the unexpected surprise that had greeted him upon his arrival last time he’d come to this dimension. A spitfire witch. Who was now his brother’s mate. Who had lifted the curse.
And made it possible for Rafe to claim
When an eighteen-wheeler flew past him, kicking up a bone-chilling breeze, Rafe knew it was time to make his move. Huh. His move consisted of marching inside the diner and throwing her over his shoulder. Or, throwing her onto the nearest flat surface and surging inside her. Her warm pussy sheathing him as he—
He had to stop that line of thought or he wouldn’t be able to walk. Already his dick was a hard piece of wood in his jeans.
Striding across the parking lot, he tried to think of a way to connect with her again. She probably thought he was lower than pond scum, and he was, walking away from her without a word. He had no excuse for his behavior except he was a horn dog demon. At least he had been that first time they’d hooked-up. After one night in her arms, something had changed inside him. And the last time… The last time, he’d been a demon filled with despair.
He barely registered the tinkle of the bell as he entered the diner. All he saw was the swirl of brown hair as Julie turned her head toward the sound of the door opening. Then the flash of relief in the dark depths of her eyes when she realized he was there. Not exactly the expression he’d hoped for but he’d take it. What he could not take was the scenario playing out in front of him. Inside he felt an emotion surface that he’d never felt before—pure, unadulterated hatred. Hatred for the men who were holding his woman in their grubby hands.
“Let her go.” His voice was low, sharper than the granite rocks that made up the halls of hell. The scent of her fear overwhelmed everything else, even the smell of coffee and bacon that had permanently permeated the air.
The two shifters turned to face him. One still held her arm in a vice-like grip.
Dead, he thought to himself. The shifter was dead.
“Who’s going to make us, you?” The man scoffed. “Luke took all your powers. You’re nothing.”
Apparently, his escape from hell, and the ramifications of his actions, had traveled far and wide on the supernatural grapevine.
“He may have taken my powers, but who the hell gave you shit for brains?” What the shifter said was true, Rafe had lost all the powers that Luke had given him when he’d been
as a bounty hunter. Not that the males of the Conroy family had ever been given much of a say in their choice of careers.
That did not, however, leave Rafe defenseless—or any less capable of kicking some animal ass. Most forgot that Rafe and his brothers had inherited powers from both their father and their mother, separate and apart from those given to them by the Prince of Darkness to fulfil their duties as bounty hunters. A job Rafe had taken great delight in quitting. “Not gonna tell you again. Right now, you have a chance of walking out of here with your mangy wolf pelts intact. Now, let her go!”
The words left his mouth in a roar worthy of a bear or lion shifter.
The man holding Julie let go and shoved her aside. She caught the edge of the booth behind her before she fell. If she had fallen, Rafe wouldn’t have been able to keep his promise to let the males walk out of here in one piece, much less live.
They charged him as a pair, coming at him with more brawn than brains. Rafe braced himself. It was not the first time he’d found himself on the receiving end of a shifter’s anger. Most shifters didn’t do well in the confines of hell and tried to escape more than once. Those types of jobs had kept the last century from being too dull. Plus, Rafe had been raised with two crazy-assed demon brothers. He was ready for just about anything.
Charging forward, he met them halfway, kicking out with his leg to drop one quickly. Wrapping his arms around the one who had gut slammed him, he picked him up and tossed him to the side. A large crack formed in the wall where he landed. The one who had fallen thanks to the kick was already back on his feet. Rafe’s arm flew out, his fist smashing him in the jaw. Damn, he swore silently as his knuckles started to throb, the man’s jaw was hard as steel.
When the other one stalked toward him again, he thought to hell with this shit. Lifting his hands, he called forth two fireballs. Just a little talent his father had bestowed upon him. With a flick of his wrists, they hurtled toward the men who had partially shifted. Even with their lightning fast reflexes, the shifters weren’t able to completely avoid the whirling orbs of fire.
The stench of burning fur and flesh filled the air. Rafe really, really hated that smell.
“Do not come near her again,” he warned. “She’s mine.”