Dariel's World

Hi. I'm Dariel Raye, an interracial/multi-cultural paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and psy/suspense author, and every day of this journey is a learning experience. I'm also a counselor, musician, and animal lover. My stories are about all-conquering love and romance, and I enjoy hosting other authors as well. Enter a world where werewolves, vampires, multi-shifters, vamp-like Nephilim, Vodouin Fey, and all things paranormal capture our hearts...

You might also like to visit my website.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"Dark Opius" is a Reader's Favorite Finalist!

Dark Opius is a finalist and award medal winner in the FAPA 2019 Book Award Contest in the Category of Sci/Fi,Fantasy. Yay!
From Angelina Assanti, President of Florida Authors and Publishers Association
Congratulations to these medal winners! We are working to get this posted on our website this weekend. 
Congratulations to all these medal winners!
FAPA 2019 President’s Book Award Medalists
5) Adult Fiction – Sci-Fi/Fantasy
The Savage War by Esther Wallace
Dark Opius: Watchtower by Muffy Wilson and Dariel Raye Author
Fortitude Rising: Vol. 1 Magical Bond by Angelique Bochnak
Ansgar: The Struggle of a People by Kimberlee Benart

One passionate decision can be hell for an archangel
Gabriel’s mission from God was simple. At least that’s what he thought, until Helen Warner, his charge, loses her husband in the cataclysmic disaster perpetuated by Asmodeus, the ruthless demon of lust. Unable to stand by and watch while Helen plummets, losing her faith and her will to live, Gabriel defies the rules that have governed his entire existence and plunges to earth with no regard for the consequences.
Problem? Intervening without God’s permission sets him on a dangerous course rife with deadly distractions and pitfalls, and now, his immortal soul hangs in the balance. His life becomes even more complicated when he befriends Narsaé, a beautiful, powerful, yet untrained force in her own right.
Pitted against Asmodeus and his army of demons, unexpected human emotions—jealousy, doubt, even love—threaten his most basic beliefs. Gabriel must protect those he has come to love and unite the warring factions against their common enemy, Asmodeus, while controlling the foreign, often debilitating emotions that torment him.
Can Gabriel save their home, all the besieged residents, and Watchtower 11, sending Asmodeus and his army of demons to a fiery Hell? Failure means certain death for all.
But Gabriel must face an even more difficult challenge than war and death—will he risk Heaven, immortality, and his very soul for the love of Narsaé?

Monday, May 13, 2019

BAD MOMMIES Mother's Day Contest Winner

I hope you had a fabulous mother's day. I decided to do something a little different this year to celebrate, so I hosted a bad mommies contest via my newsletter (book club) and Facebook. More about the contest in a moment. I enjoyed spending a little down time with my family, and my mom and I talked about her mom while we celebrated the day. Even though her mother (my grandmother) has passed on, she says the day is a joyous occasion for her because she has so many beautiful memories. She had an exceptional mother who supported and encouraged her to pursue her dreams.

My grandmother moved in with us after my grandfather passed. I was still very young, less than 2-years-old, so I grew up in an extended family. The additional support of having my grandmother in the same household helped shape my perspective, my sense of value, and offered wisdom that only comes with age and experience.  She extended to us the same support and encouragement she showed my mother, and I know that I wouldn't be the same person if it had not been for her love.

That said, not all mothers are shining stars, to say the least. Thus, the bad mommies mother's day contest:

Original Facebook post:
In honor of Mother's Day, I'm hosting a BAD MOMMIES contest! Winner will receive a signed paperback of "Devil's Claim," "Death's Shadow," or "Calm Assurance," winner's choice. To enter, comment below with the name of a movie that depicts a terrible mother, i.e., one of my favorites, "Serial Mom." Winner will be chosen on Monday, 5/13/19. Facebook is not affiliated with or responsible for this giveaway. https://www.amazon.com/Dariel-Raye/e/B008NRCZ0K

The winner is Bonnie Hometchko! Bonnie has already been notified via email, and I will also post her name on Facebook. Congratulations, Bonnie :-)

Join my VIP Book Club newsletter to make sure you don't miss future giveaways.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Cover Reveal - "A Darker Shade of Evil: Demon and Devil Anthology"

In a world of devils and demons, you can’t always tell the hunted from the hunter.

Deadly demons, diabolical devils, and other creatures of the night keep you spellbound in a world of dark delights as they trifle in forbidden passions, suspense, and kick-ass battles. It’s all right here for you in this captivating urban fantasy and paranormal romance anthology!

Brought to you by USA Today and international bestselling authors, these 10 stories of sexy, alpha heroes and heroines will keep you turning the pages as devils, demons, hunters and other dark delights draw you into their conquests, twisted power plays, deception, scorching heat, and yes, even love.

Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind anthology. One-click now and claim your copy!

* Heat Rating: Spicy to Erotic Romance
* No Cliffhangers
* Happily-Ever-After or Happy-For-Now

Updates coming soon!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

"Three Days From Hell: Kushiel's Assassin"

Originally published in the Mystic Realms boxed-set, "Three Days From Hell: Kushiel's Assassin" is now available for pre-order at your favorite retailers! This edition contains additional scenes.

Three Days From Hell: Kushiel's Assassin

A gift, a posh bed and breakfast, and a one-night-stand with a hesitant demon on leave from Hell could be just what she needs to save her life.

Can a punishing angel, a magical matchmaker, and a few moments of passion break the chains of Hell?

Kushiel, one of three punishing angels, and warden of a special league of assassins, has many secrets. One of his best kept secrets is an assassin called Hunter.

Deemed too dangerous to live among other wards of third Hell, let alone the general population of humans, Hunter resides in an isolated corridor of Hell. Unlike most of his cellmates, Hunter is allowed short periods above-ground, three-days, to be exact, each time to rectify a horrible wrong, meting out Kushiel’s justice.

Orphaned in her teens, Anitra just wants a normal life - to feel safe - but when dark secrets rise from her past, she escapes to an exclusive resort to get away from it all.
Anitra’s inhibitions take a vacation when she meets Hunter, but can a permanent resident of third Hell be trusted?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

"Devil's Claim" is Available for Pre-order

Generations ago, he died for her. Now, it’s her turn.

Pride kept them from looking at one another, but their bodies could not lie. Recognition lived in their souls, rekindling memories of passion, love, betrayal….and death.

Apache Elder Aidan Stringfellow, V, is a very wealthy man with one wish – to free his only son, the brilliant, yet abrasive David, from the curse that has plagued his family for generations.  When his controversial plan for a cure is revealed, shock and disbelief are only the beginning, for David has deadly, yet beguiling secrets of his own.

Choosing to honor Aidan’s wishes, David and Katala unwittingly awaken an ancient evil desperate to lay claim to the last-born Stringfellow – David. The tumultuous consequences of a vengeful pact spanning generations, defies time, tradition, and death itself.

Katala finds herself falling in love with a man whose gaze and touch ignite long-forgotten passion, propelling her to fight for his life. She unearths one devastating clue after another on her winding journey toward the truth, but unseen forces escalate their attack as truth collides with myth. Clinging desperately to her own sanity, she must find a way to reconcile the two, for even her own identity comes into question. Trust no one. Not even David.

Time is running out. Promises will be kept, and if the devil has his way, souls will be claimed.

Will the witch who cursed him become his savior?

Friday, March 1, 2019

"Death's Shadow" Excerpt

How far would you go to bring your twin’s killer to justice?

No one notices when Brianna Denton goes missing every weekend. With no immediate family or close friends left, being alone is something with which she has become well-acquainted, but when her sister is murdered, she finds herself on a lone mission to identify the killer.

According to the authorities, ‘no body, no case.’ Brianna’s quest to find her sister’s murderer despite the police department’s refusal to help, draws her into a life of drugs, alcohol, and prostitutionthe very elements that led her twin to the shadows and rat holes of the underbelly of North Beach.

Drawn into the dark underground society to face Tatianna’s killer, Brianna is about to come face-to-face with her own shocking destiny. As she unearths long-buried secrets, the tight edge of reality comes to light, challenging her tenuous grip on life as she knows it. Finding the answers she seeks could lead her to an even darker place.

She lost sight of her purpose as she fell, tumbled—out of control—into the depths of her own personal Hell. There would be no sleep tonight, restless or otherwise. Brianna stepped out onto the fire escape. Tabby curled around her feet as usual while she sat, gazing and thinking back to her arrival in the city. It seemed so long ago now. So much had happened.

She remembered feeling compelled to come down from grad school. When she came to the city, she came to bury her sister. Images of her sister’s face flashed before her, scarred and bloody, a reminder of her mission, her purpose. When she arrived at the apartment, the first thing she did was shower and taxi to the hospital to make arrangements for her sister, but no one knew anything about her twin, nothing about Tatianna Denton.

Admitting had no records. Nothing in the ER. The ambulance service knew nothing. She had checked everywhere, unable to shake a strange feeling of déjà vu. Tatianna hadn’t been dropped at the doors to the ER, so where was she? She had no doubt her sister had been killed. She felt it, a deep hollow inside her, and yet there was no body. Even now, no body had been found, and Brianna was starting to believe it never would. Horror movies were too often based on true stories, and the ways to get rid of bodies were endless.

She remembered feeling exhausted. She had raced down from Davis, scared, panicked, three o’clock in the morning so anything could have been truth, she’d thought at the time, but there was one thing she knew for sure, even then – she would have to come to terms with her sister’s death, and the only way to find closure was to find her killer and make him pay.

New Cover, New Format: "Calm Assurance"

Two hearts, two different worlds, uncompromising love.
A straight-laced Nephilim-descendant and a human trouble-magnet? In his world, the ratio of men to women is 500 to 1, and the last time he visited Earth, he destroyed an entire city.
When Asriel - Orlosian Warrior, descendant of Nephilim, law enforcer – is sent to guard Malina, a human with a penchant for drawing trouble like a tornado, she becomes his obsession.
With no hope of finding love in his dimension, he breaks the cardinal rule, leaving his home to protect her, but she has also drawn the attention of his enemies, and he is forced to face demons from his past. If Asriel chooses to stay with Malina, not only does he risk forfeiting his right to ever return to his dimension, but he will need her blood to survive.

"Calm Assurance: Orlosian Warriors Bk. 1" has a new cover and a new format! It's now available in paperback.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

New Release! "Death's Shadow," My First Psychological Suspense/Mystery

My first published psychological suspense/mystery is available now! Co-authored with my sister author, Muffy Wilson, "Death's Shadow" is based on characters from one of Muffy's romance stories. We changed the storyline rather drastically and added a very important transitional character, Priestess Erzulie, and Voila!

"Everyone gets what they deserve. Everybody knows that."
These are the first words we hear from Brianna, a kind, tender-hearted young graduate student who steps into the life of her twin when she finds out the darker half of herself has been murdered.

How far would you go to bring your twin’s killer to justice?

No one notices when Brianna Denton goes missing every weekend. With no immediate family or close friends left, being alone is something with which she has become well-acquainted, but when her sister is murdered, she finds herself on a lone mission to identify the killer.

According to the authorities, ‘no body, no case.’ Brianna’s quest to find her sister’s murderer despite the police department’s refusal to help, draws her into a life of drugs, alcohol, and prostitutionthe very elements that led her twin to the shadows and rat holes of the underbelly of North Beach.

Drawn into the dark underground society to face Tatianna’s killer, Brianna is about to come face-to-face with her own shocking destiny. As she unearths long-buried secrets, the tight edge of reality comes to light, challenging her tenuous grip on life as she knows it. Finding the answers she seeks could lead her to an even darker place.

Friday, February 15, 2019

2 Giveaways, Over 50 Prizes

This one ends tonight! Each follow enters your name to win one of over 50 prizes! Follow me at this link for more information about the hop: http://www.instagram.com/darielraye/

It's not too late to enter my Valentine's Day giveaway! Visit this post to enter, or comment below after following me at as many places as you're so inclined:
1. Follow me on Bookbub: http://www.bookbub.com/authors/dariel-raye/
2. Like my Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/authordarielraye/
3. Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/pendarielraye/
4. Follow me on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/darielraye/
Winners will be announced on Saturday.
Don't forget to comment below so I know you've followed. If you're already following, just let me know and you're still eligible to win.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Valentine's gift set giveaway. The response was so good, I chose a third winner! The three winners have been notified: Ashley Lagneau, Pauline Brown, and Shelly Hammett. Congratulations!!
The Instagram Valentine's Hop winner is @Jean60212. Congratulations!!

Friday, January 11, 2019

"Wings of the Wicked" Book Blitz Hosted by Expresso Tours

Wings of the Wicked: A Limited Edition Urban Fantasy Collection 

Publication date: January 8th 2019
Genres: Adult, Urban Fantasy
Boxed Set Blurb:

Wickedly Dangerous and Sinfully Seductive.

Indulge in 25 breathtaking adventures of dangerous worlds where the lines blur between saints and sinners.

Come meet the creatures that fuel your every lust filled nightmare, where angels are not always encased in a light of righteousness and demons are not always dealing in all manner of debauchery. Where you might just end up rooting for the bad guy…

Warning: If you like demonic games, angelic interventions, and thrilling temptations, you’ll love this urban fantasy and paranormal romance collection of twisted proportions in Wings of the Wicked.
Secure your Limited Edition 99c copy today!
Price increases on Monday to $2.99 

★✩★Authors Featured in this Collection★✩★

Rebecca Hamilton
Charlene A. Wilson
Dariel Raye
Muffy Wilson
Carolyn Reilly
Kim Carmichael
J.R. Thorn
Lynda Kaye Frazier
Lexi C. Foss
Ravenna Tate
Maddie Wade
LaVerne Thompson
Shereen Vedam
Colleen S. Myers
Ditter Kellen
RS McCoy
K.B. Everyly
Amara Kent
Erin Lee
Erica Gerald Mason
Zachary Paul Chopchinski
Drea Shane
Nichole Riley
N.K. Stackhouse
Amy Cissell
Leona Bushman
Betty Shreffler
Khardine Gray
Anita Hunter


Devil’s Claim
Dariel Raye and Muffy Wilson
USA Today Bestselling Authors
@pendarielraye and @SexyMuffyWilson

Available from All your Favorite Retailers



David hit the button to start his playlist, then turned to face Katala. His speech was halting, but deliberate. “What do you need me to do before we move forward with this agreement?”
“Where did that come from all of a sudden? A moment ago, we were talking about work.”
Following the wedding, they used most of their extra time moving into a new free-standing flat. Katala had actually taken a six-week leave from work, but cried the night before she had to return. Now, she sat barefoot on the sofa in a long pink cotton gown.
“David, I don’t want to talk about that right now. I hate the way you change the subject in midstream like that. I – I’d just like to know you better. You know, feel more comfortable with you. I don’t want to just have sex because we’re supposed to.”
David’s gaze followed her as she moved closer to him. “What do you need to know?” he asked.
She gave a short laugh. She had to admit, she liked his straightforward manner. Despite her initial distrust, she was beginning to change her mind. One thing she realized she did not have to worry about with him was lies. He was so used to getting his way there was absolutely no guile in him. He simply said ‘I want this or that’, and people did whatever he wanted. She never doubted she would be any different. Honestly, he lit a fire inside her she’d never felt before, but she refused to give in just yet.
“David, I want to know how you feel, what you think, what’s important to you. You know – things that I’m sure most married couples know about each other. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
He smiled. “How about I don’t like waiting. Is that enough about how I feel and what I think?”

Son of Chaos
Lexi C. Foss

Available from All your Favorite Retailers


“How are you feeling?”
“Irritated,” she replied, her blue eyes flaring.
I cocked a brow. “Irritated?”
“Yes.” She stared me down. “I’m naked, Xai.”
“I see that, Evangeline.”
“Do something about it.”
My lips twitched in amusement. “I would offer you my shirt, but I’m not wearing one.” That seemed to be my constant state these days—bare feet, jeans, and shirtless. Oddly, I didn’t miss my suits.
Her gaze narrowed. “You know that’s not what I want.”
I cocked my head to the side playfully. “What do you want, love?”
“Right now? To kill you.”
“An entertaining proposition,” I mused. “Try and maybe I’ll reward you.” It would serve as a dose of foreplay shrouded in a test of her strength. I refused to push her until I knew she could take it.
We didn’t make love. We fucked. Hard.
I widened my stance and taunted her with a doubtful look.
Her resulting growl went straight to my groin. Coupled with her lack of clothes, well, my pants were suddenly feeling a bit tight.

“Having second thoughts, darling?” I took a step toward her. “Worried you might be out of practice?”

Soul Collectors
LaVerne Thompson

Available from All your Favorite Retailers


    He didn’t know what he’d looked like to the mortal men but his rage burnt bright. He could see a red hue before him. The soldiers straightened, their mouths opened in shock and their eyes held a hint of fear, at the appearance of this seemingly young boy. One who radiated fire.

   The men soon learned he was anything but human. No need to hide what he was any longer. He placed Angelique on the ground and drew the sword from the sheath he carried between the obsidian colored wings at his back. No need to hide at all. His hands glowed bright orange, the pain almost more than he could bear. Blood seeped from his palms, he used the power in his blood as he used his blade to channel powers born of hell. Red flame raced down the blade and shot hellfire, coursing unerringly toward the beating hearts of the men. Spreading the stench of burning flesh as they fell, leaving nothing but a pile of ash.

Unsuitable Companions
Erin Lee
International Bestselling Author

Available from All your Favorite Retailers


Eve smirked, reaching out her hand for Adam. Pulling on his thick arm with her other hand, she couldn’t resist, “Come on Adam. This is just too much. Tell me what it is! All this waiting is making me crazy.”
   She’d tossed the next step right back at him, ignoring his suggestion to bring her glass. He knew she was wondering why they were headed for the studio as they'd promised no working today and the gallery wasn’t even open. Mortal man of the flesh or not, Adam wasn’t stupid. He picked up her glass, balancing it between the Chateau Lafite bottle and servant-made card in his one free hand.
   “I won't Eva—he liked calling her that when it came to serious matters simply because he could, and it made her twist her hair at the ends—you'll just have to wait until I show you.” They walked in giddy anticipation to the entrance of the studio before Adam finally stopped. “Here, let's fill up our glasses for the coming toast, shall we?” he asked, finally holding out the bottle and handing Eve her glass.
   When the red juice was spilled perfectly into their glasses, they continued on toward the painting. Adam could almost feel the heat coming off Eve’s body and certainly his own. It was time.
   “No way. Adam, no way,” she said, her mouth hanging open. 
   “Yes Eva, I'm going to break my own rule and show you. It’s time for you to meet yourself―the way I see you,” he left a dramatic pause to linger before continuing and motioning toward the veiled painting. And then, “I'll show you...an angel.”
   With that, he pulled the sheet off the unfinished painting.
Eve sucked in a sharp stream of air. She held it as she sipped at the myriad of colors on the thick canvas. She had no words as Adam watched for her reaction. He could not resist soaking up every nuance of her reaction: Her pink tongue wetting her lips, the way she moved with exaggerated steps to get closer to it, how she tilted her head just enough to tell him she was trying to make sense of it. Her blue eyes were wider than he’d ever seen them.
    Finally, she released her breath with an audible gush.
    “Oh. My. God.” Eve’s free hand came up with delicate a fingertip which she placed against her peach, lush lips. Now rooted in a small “O,” she tilted her head again, before repeating her words. “Oh. My. God.”
   He had no idea what this moment would ultimately do to her - changing their destinies forever. He did not know that angels and demons both have free will...

Ditter Kellen

Available from All your Favorite Retailers


Chapter 1

Exodus stepped from his cabin and climbed behind the wheel of his shiny black Jeep. He didn’t need the vehicle to get where he wanted to go, but he couldn’t simply appear out of thin air in the middle of Hazel’s Diner either.
He inserted the key in the ignition, loving the feel of the power vibrating beneath him as the engine sparked to life.
Humans were amazing creatures, with their cool inventions and mouth-watering foods, he thought, putting the Jeep in gear and easing out of his driveway. Yet, they weren’t immortal. Their lives were a mere blip on the radar of time…and then they died.
Of course, some of them were destined to have wings in the afterlife. Some…but not all.
If they had any idea an angel lived in their midst, there would be hell to pay for Exodus. Not everyone believed in angels, and the few that actually did would likely fear the unknown.
Exodus thought about the billions of humans walking the face of the Earth, with their thousands of different religions and beliefs. Most of them rarely prayed anymore, and when they did, it was usually when someone became sick.
“And where might you be going on this fine Saturday morning?”
Exodus didn’t need to look to know who had appeared in the seat next to him. He would recognize the voice of Leviticus anywhere. “Hello, Levi. You do realize you’re going to get caught one of these days, showing up here as you do? This is the third time you’ve been here this month.”
“Keeping count, are we?” The other angel lifted his hand to study his fingernails. “I only came to warn you of Delia’s presence in the area.”
Stepping on the brake, Exodus brought the Jeep to a stop and cranked his head in Levi’s direction. “Delia’s here in Helen?”
“Not in Helen, per se, but she is definitely on Earth. And I’d be willing to wager that she’ll be heading this way as soon as she has her ducks in a proverbial row.”
Exodus turned his head to stare at the mountains in the distance, his stomach tight with anger. “When was she released?”
“A little over a week ago.”
“Of course she would be released near the time I’m due to be judged.” Exodus kept his gaze on those mountains. “Well, if she shows up here, I’ll send her back to Hell without her pretty little head.”
 Exodus had been forced to spend a thousand years on Earth for his sins— sins that Delia had tempted him into. She’d seduced him with her beauty and charm. And like an idiot, he’d fallen for her, taking her to his bed without a thought for the consequences.
Naturally, his fornication had been discovered soon thereafter, and he was cast from Heaven. He’d been sent to Earth for a thousand years, where he would then be judged to determine his eternal fate. He would either return to paradise completely forgiven, or he would spend eternity in Hell alongside Delia.
Delia, of course, had been ordered back to Hell from whence she’d come, to be chained there for a thousand years.
“Why has Delia been released?” Exodus met Levi’s gaze. “I mean, I have less than a month left until I am to be judged. She was sentenced the same amount of time as me.”
Leviticus shrugged. “My guess is she most likely bargained her way to freedom. Probably with the promise of bringing ole Lucy your soul. You are one heck of a prize, you realize.”
Exodus shook his head. “It makes no sense. Why now? Why not a year ago? She’s cuttin’ it kind of close, isn’t she? And Lucifer will never get my soul.”
“I hear you, but we are talking about Delia. If she can tempt you to fall while you are still on Earth, perhaps she feels that you would be sentenced to Hell and she would win her freedom by being the one to make that happen.”
“Hell,” Exodus repeated, his stomach clenching. “I have remained celibate for nearly a millennium. And in that time, I have seen more change than I care to remember. But I have yet to be tempted. No matter how beautiful they are or how alluring, no one has come close to crawling into my bed. Nor will they.”
Levi touched him on the shoulder. “Lust is a powerful emotion, X. Especially when fueled by the powers of Hell. Delia has had nearly a thousand years to plan your demise. Just be on your guard.”
Nausea rolled through Exodus. He couldn’t imagine what Delia had in store for him. She’d already caused him to fall from grace, to be cast out. “You’d better get back before you are missed, my friend. Else you might find yourself building a cabin next to mine on this mountain.”
“Not a chance.” Levi chuckled a second before he vanished from view.

Chapter 2

Niki Stanton stared up in dismay at Randal Johnson, the main cook at Hazel’s Diner. “What do you mean the refrigerator is out?”
Randal shrugged a beefy shoulder. “I mean it ain’t workin’. As in, it’s tore up.”
“Customers are starting to come in.” Niki’s voice grew in volume with the panic that began to set in. “The refrigerator can’t be broken.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I know it’s not what you wanted to hear first thing this mornin’, but it ain’t the end of the world. I put a call in to Carl up at Dover’s Appliances. He’ll be down here directly. He already knows what the problem is, seeing how he’s fixed it a bunch of times before. That fridge should have been replaced years ago.”
Niki pushed her glasses up on her nose. “I’ll go turn the Closed sign on and let the customers that have recently arrived know we won’t be feeding them today.”
Randal’s eyes grew round in surprise. “There ain’t no need in doing all that, ma’am. The food is still cold. My guess is that the fridge went out about an hour before I got here. If Carl can get it up and running fairly soon, we probably won’t lose anything in it.”
A spark of hope flickered to life inside Niki. “I pray so, Randal. I really do.”
“I told your granny a few years ago that we needed a new fridge,” Randal confessed. “But she was bound and determined to hang on to this old thing.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the double-glass-door cooling unit. “I reckon she couldn’t really afford to get a new one.”
Niki could relate. She couldn’t afford a new one either. “Yes, well let me know when Carl arrives. I’m going to run upstairs for a few minutes and take my medications.”
Worry sparked to life in Randal’s eyes. “You okay, ma’am?”
“I’m fine,” Niki hedged, glancing away from the pity she saw swimming in his gaze.
Everyone that worked at Hazel’s seemed to be privy to Niki’s health problems. Hazel had never made it a secret that her only granddaughter suffered from a debilitating heart condition known as Atrial Septal Defect. Though it was fixable in some, Niki hadn’t had such luck.
Niki had never been allowed to play like other children, and she’d struggled through school due to the numerous days she missed after her open-heart surgery.
She’d suffered another heart surgery during her senior year in high school. The long pink scar down her chest was a constant reminder of how close she’d come to losing her life.
“All right,” Randal murmured, turning back to flip the sausage patties on the grill. “If you need anything, just give a holler. I’ll let you know when Carl gets here.”
Niki nodded her thanks and left the kitchen through the back door. She gripped the railing to the stairs that led to her apartment above the diner and slowly ascended them.
She found herself stopping about halfway up to catch her breath. Dizziness overtook her, and spots began to dance through her vision.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Niki leaned heavily against the railing, holding tightly to the weather-damaged wood.
“Are you all right, miss?”
The deep voice coming from the bottom of the stairs could barely be heard over the rapid pulse pounding in Niki’s ears.
She attempted to answer, but her mouth didn’t seem to work. Her knees grew weaker the longer she stood there fighting to breathe, until they eventually buckled beneath her.
Niki cried out as her hands slipped helplessly from the railing and her body began to topple over backward.
I’m going to die, she thought in panic, unable to stop the inevitable catastrophe.
Strong arms came around her, sweeping her off her feet and holding her tight.
“Easy there, little one. I’ve got you.”
That deep voice again. As much as Niki wanted to lift her head and thank the stranger for his quick intervention, she couldn’t seem to do so.
“Do you live up here?”
Niki nodded against his chest, unable to do much else. “I have…a…dog.”
Warmth and muscle moved beneath her cheek where she rested against his shoulder. Even in her weakened state, Niki couldn’t help but notice how clean the man smelled. “My…dog… He…”
“Shhhhh,” the man responded as if he weren’t the least bit concerned about the threat of a dog. “It’ll be okay.”
The sound of her apartment door creaking open reached her ears a moment before her savior stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind him.
She could hear his shoes trailing across her hardwood floor, yet no barking from her dog ensued.
That’s odd, Niki thought, swallowing back a bout of nausea. Why wasn’t Lucky going berserk over the stranger in her home?
And then her body slowly descended until the soft mattress of her bed touched her back.
“Where is your phone? I’ll call 911.”
“No,” Niki moaned, nausea still rolling through her gut. “My pills…medicine cabinet…bathroom…”
Over the sound of her rapid heartbeat, she could hear the man hurrying across the room.
He was back in less than a minute. “I wasn’t sure which ones you needed, so I grabbed them all.” He eased his arm behind her neck and gently lifted her head from the pillow. “Here, have some water.”
The cool temperature of the water made some of Niki’s nausea ebb. She reached for her pills.
“I’ll get them,” the stranger rumbled, removing his arm and propping some pillows behind her head. “Tell me which ones.”
Niki swallowed, taking deep, calming breaths. Breathing techniques had always worked to hold back the blackouts.
She somehow managed to instruct the man on proper dosages, accepted the pills he handed her, and then washed them down with the water she held.
He took the glass from her fingers and placed it on the nightstand. “Are you sure you don’t want me to call an ambulance?”
Niki shook her head, forcing her eyes open a crack. There, sitting on the side of her bed was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen in her lifetime. And Lucky sat near his feet, calm and relaxed like he’d known the man all his life.
“No,” she croaked, instantly embarrassed to be caught in such a state by someone as perfect as the man perched next to her.
Not only was she sick and weak, but her hair was twisted on top of her head, and her forehead had broken out into a sweat with the presence of the nausea. “I just need a minute.”
“Are you sure? You look awfully pale.”
A knock sounded on the door before Niki could form a response.
Her beautiful savior lifted his eyebrows in question. “Want me to get that?”
Niki wanted to tell him no, but she couldn’t. Randal had put in a call to Carl, and he was due to arrive at any moment. “Please,” was all she said.
The man got up, sauntered toward the door with Lucky tight on his heels, and opened the door.
Ellen Martin’s voice floated into the room, full of surprise and more than a little flirtation. “Well, hello, Mr. Brooks. What are you doing up here?”
Lucky growled low in his throat.
“Oh goodness,” Ellen gasped. “Does that thing bite?”
The deep voice of Niki’s savior reverberated throughout the room. “I’m not sure, Miss Martin. May I help you with something?”
It wasn’t lost on Niki that Ellen knew the tall man’s name or that he knew hers as well. Of course, it wasn’t surprising. Ellen was a beautiful girl, after all. A bit too flirtatious in Niki’s opinion, but beautiful nonetheless.
Where Niki had brown curly hair, green eyes, and a stick-thin body, Ellen had platinum-blonde hair, luminous blue eyes, and a figure any woman would envy.
On more than one occasion, Niki had heard the blonde bragging about being homecoming queen, prom queen, and winning several pageants, including Miss Helen two years in a row.
Niki had never even attended a prom. Not that she wouldn’t have loved to, but no one had asked her. She couldn’t blame them, really. She’d been sickly all through school and spent most of her senior year being tutored at home due to her second open-heart surgery.
Ellen cleared her throat, bringing Niki out of her musing. “I just came to let Miss Stanton know that Carl is here to fix the refrigerator. And he ain’t one for waiting.”
Niki took another drink of the water, then set the glass on her nightstand, eased her feet over the side of the bed, and glanced in Ellen’s direction. “Tell Carl that I’ll be right down.”
Ellen nodded, quickly dismissed Niki, and smiled up at Mr. Brooks. “Will you be eating with us this morning then?”
“We’ll see,” he murmured, closing the door without further explanation.
He then turned to face Niki. “Perhaps you shouldn’t get up so soon. You nearly took a spill down the stairs a few minutes ago.”
More than a little embarrassed that he’d witnessed her near-fall, Niki adjusted her glasses and pushed to her feet. “I’ll be fine in a moment. Dizzy spells are nothing new to me.”
Speaking of dizzy spells, another one washed over her just then, forcing her to grab on to the headboard for support.
Mr. Brooks was instantly at her side. “Easy there, Miss Stanton. Maybe you should lie back down. The refrigerator can wait.”
“It can’t wait. And please call me Niki.” Where had that come from?
His whiskey-colored gaze softened. “Okay, Niki. My name is Exodus, but my friends call me X.”
Niki blinked. “Exodus, as in the biblical Exodus?”
His lips twitched. “I get that a lot. Which is why I prefer to be called X.”
“Yeah, like that has less shock factor.”
His mouth broke into a full-on smile, nearly buckling Niki’s knees. If she thought him beautiful before, he was downright breathtaking when he smiled. And that wonderful scent she’d noticed when he’d carried her reached her nose once again. God, but he smelled good.
His dark brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail at the base of his neck. Even with the shades pulled in her apartment, Niki could see the auburn streaks running through its length.
Her gaze lowered to the black T-shirt stretched across his muscular chest and further still to his faded jeans and shit-kicker boots before returning to his whiskey-colored eyes. “Thank you for your help, X. I don’t know what I would’ve done had you not shown up when you did.”
Then a thought struck her. “What were you doing behind the diner?”
He shrugged a broad shoulder. “I normally park around back. It’s a lot less congested on that side of the building. Especially in the mornings.”
“Makes sense.” She could feel her heart rate slowing to normal as the medication began to kick in. “I appreciate your help, Mister—”
“X, please.”
“Yes, well, I appreciate everything, X, but my medication is beginning to work. I can take it from here.”
His eyes twinkled. “Are you throwing me out?”
“I guess I am,” Niki returned with a nervous chuckle. “There’s only one man in town that can fix that refrigerator, and that’s Carl. If he leaves before I get down there, I’m up the creek without a paddle.”
X nodded and moved toward the door. “I don’t mind waiting. I feel like I should at least walk you down.”
If there was one thing Niki hated more than anything in the world, it was pity. She’d dealt with people feeling sorry for her her entire life. “I can manage,” she shot back a bit stiffer than she’d intended.
His head tilted slightly, and a strange look skated across his face. “If you’re sure.”
“I am.”
“Very well then.” He departed without another word.

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