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Raine McCandless never really thought about dying-until she moved back to Randolph, Texas. It wasn't just a sleepy little town, it was comatose. Funny, she always figured a bullet would get her; she'd never considered boredom.
Old Red's front tire suddenly dipped into a pothole and threw Raine against the door of the pickup.
"Damn," she muttered as a stab of pain shot down her arm. She gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and dodged the next one. That was what she got for not paying attention.
You shouldn't even be here, the voice inside her head complained. Your life is in Fort Worth, Texas, patrolling the streets on the north side where the landscape is skid-row bars and gang graffiti.
Remember what it was like to roll on a call when your life was in danger, the adrenaline flowing through your veins? The rush, the excitement?
She drew in a deep, calming breath, trying to still the warring emotions between regret and her duty to family. The problem was that she did remember and guilt was tearing her up inside.
Her father told her being in law enforcement was in her blood. He'd been the sheriff of Randolph back then and he taught her everything he knew. After becoming a police officer, Raine moved away because she wanted to experience more than what the small sheriff's office in Randolph could give her.
Now she was back. She'd come full circle. Not that she had a choice. Grandpa needed her and he was family. So what if she had to make a few sacrifices? As far as she was concerned, he always came first. She topped the small rise, then stepped on the clutch and brake, surveying the land and buildings before her. This was home. The tightness inside her began to ease.
She'd been on McCandless land for the last quarter mile. Every rut, every pothole, every scraggly bush belonged to her grandfather and would someday belong to her. That is, if they didn't lose it to the creditors. If that happened, it would destroy Grandpa. All he ever talked about was the ranch. There were a lot of memories here. It didn't matter the old two-story house needed a new roof, or the barn leaned a little too far to the right, or both needed painting.
"So much needs to be done." She slumped back against the brown leather seat that was almost silver from the duct tape patches and took it all in. The plumbing was shot and the electrical system was a joke. Then there were the fences. Her brain ached worrying about all the holes from downed barbed wire, and posts that were rotting.
Fixing fences gave a man time to think, Grandpa always told her. She smiled wryly. With so much fence that needed mending on the one hundred and twenty-two acres, Grandpa had plenty of thinking time.
Maybe that was his problem. Thinking always got him into trouble. He'd rescued a starving horse, and the owner filed charges for horse stealing. The owner got a hefty fine for animal abuse and the horse was taken away. Grandpa had still committed a crime and was put on probation. Someone suggested she sell the place and put him in a nursing home.
She gripped the stick shift and shoved it into first gear as a surge of anger rushed through her. No one would be putting Grandpa in a nursing home. He was not senile. Forgetful at times, maybe, but everyone forgot things. No one, not one damn redneck son of a bitch was going to tell her what she needed to do. She let off the clutch and brake, and started forward again.
It didn't matter she was stuck in this little podunk town where people still remembered that Sheriff McCandless's wife ran off with a traveling salesman and the sheriff proceeded to drink himself into an early grave, unmindful he still had a daughter to raise. Her heart squeezed painfully. Yeah, well, life sucked sometimes. There were only two certainties: taxes and long memories for scandal, especially in a small town.
Nothing ever changed, except now she was so exhausted she could barely put one foot in front of the other. Working nights patrolling the streets, then coming home and taking care of the ranch and Grandpa was draining her energy. The way her life was going, she'd probably die here.
Without him, Raine was going to die tonight.
She was going to be pissed when she discovered a stranger in her home, too. Dillon's plan was to warn her, then get out-fast. He'd be lucky if she didn't shoot him, and bullets stung like a son of a bitch.
"You're an idiot," he muttered. "A fool to even care."
The closer she got, the louder the pickup rumbled. Raine needed a new muffler. The rusty-red hunk of scrap metal swerved to miss the deep ruts like a drunk trying to walk a straight line. Baling wire kept the right side of the bumper tied on and a dirty rag served as a gas cap.
Raine finally managed to pull the pickup to a jarring stop near the gate in front of the weatherworn ranch house. Dillon braced himself. He hadn't been involved in anyone's life in a long time, but Sock McCandless was a persistent old coot. Dillon frowned. More like a pain in the ass. Yeah, that was closer to the mark.
Raine shut off the engine. The pickup rattled to a coughing, sputtering death as if someone had their hands tight around the engine choking out any life that might still be left.
Dillon drew in a deep breath, then exhaled.
Raine sat in the truck, staring straight ahead.
Why wasn't she getting out? He wanted this over and done.
Her shoulders suddenly sagged and she leaned forward, resting her forehead against the steering wheel. Weariness rolled off her in waves, coming closer and closer to him. He took an involuntary step back. Dillon wasn't about to get caught up in a lot of emotional baggage. He'd been through that once before and it was more than enough to last several lifetimes.
Raine pushed away from the steering wheel, then squared her shoulders as though attempting to gather enough energy to climb out and trudge the short distance to the front door.
She didn't look strong. Not a bit. Sock said she was capable, but needed help. He didn't mention vulnerable. Dillon had a sinking feeling his plan wasn't going to work. His timing was off; nothing new there. He should come back later, when she was rested. When she was...
He jerked the black Stetson off his head and raked his fingers through his hair. His life had been okay up until the point the old man started badgering him. Damned persistent prayers! The man would not stop.
Answering mortals' prayers was a lamebrained idea. Dillon wondered which one of his three friends came up with that one. He was thoughtful for a moment, vaguely remembering one of them bringing up the subject and how he'd argued the point they were nephilim, half angel, half man, so they should be answering prayers.
"A dumbass idea," Dillon muttered. They weren't real angels, if anyone wanted to get specific. Their fathers were angels who mated with mortal women. The women had children and a new race was born, the nephilim. Some said they were demigods. Yeah right, if they only knew. There wasn't an angelic bone in his body. He had all the vices of man. If there were rules to break, he broke them, then invented new ones as he went along.
But someone in the group thought their life would be less boring if they answered prayers. His eyebrows drew together. Chance had always been sort of their leader. He might have suggested they help mortals. He doubted it was Hunter. Hunter would rather spend all day watching reruns of Survivor or with his animals. It was eerie the way he could communicate with them. Ryder probably started the whole business. He'd always wanted to be like real people, as he called them. What the hell did that make them? Yeah, it was probably Ryder.
Dillon liked fighting demons a hell of a lot better than answering prayers, but the demons were laying low because Chance killed one of their leaders a few months ago. Since there were no demons to fight, Dillon's day-to-day routine had gotten a little boring.
A little boring? If he was honest, his life was a whole lot boring. But it was safe, uncomplicated. There had to be a trade off.
The pickup door creaked open. He moved closer to the window and pulled back a corner of the dingy lace curtain, dislodging a wisp of dust. The tiny speck danced about in front of his face before he waved it away.
His gut churned as Raine stepped out of the truck, tugging on the bill of her dark brown hat. She couldn't have been much more than five feet four and a half inches. He'd thought she would be taller, heavier, sturdier. From everything Sock told him, she carried a heavy load. From this distance, she looked fragile. Fragile wasn't good. Fragile almost killed him once, but that had been a long time ago. But not long enough that he'd forgotten.
This wasn't his only option, he reminded himself. He could leave. There was still time. Raine would never know he'd been there. He could send her a note.
He snorted. What the hell would he say? Heads up, you're going to die tonight. Dillon quickly dismissed that idea.
As much as he wanted to forget the whole thing, he couldn't. He'd made a promise. A stupid one in a moment of weakness. But it was still a promise. He'd do what he had to do, then disappear. Quick and easy. He settled his hat back on his head with renewed determination. She was just a female. Nothing more.
Not quite what he expected after everything Sock told him. Dillon imagined a big-boned female who tossed bales of hay onto a trailer as if they were ten pound bags of potatoes.
One booted foot rested on the running board as she leaned back in to grab the key from the ignition. His gaze moved over her gently rounded backside. She stretched farther, and the material tightened. Her ass wiggled.
"Aw, hell," he muttered. The hairs on the back of his neck tingled. His bad feeling grew stronger. This wasn't going to be quick or easy.
When Dillon had first made the decision to help, he figured the job might take five minutes at most. Then he could blink himself back to the ranch and enjoy a little peace and quiet with his friends again. The sprawling ranch was his sanctuary. The four nephilim bought the land together a few decades ago. It was their idea of normalcy, he supposed.
Until Sock's prayers found him.
Dillon refocused his attention when Raine closed the pickup door and made her way across the uneven ground toward the house. The sun was just breaking through night's fading shadows and the early morning patches of fog that clung to the air.
He couldn't see much of her face under the hat. The loose beige shirt and black pants of her uniform managed to hide all traces of feminine curves. She also had a 9mm Glock holstered snugly on her hip. The gun would be enough to scare off most men. Dillon wished he could've been most men because he really didn't want to be there.
He could close his eyes and think about Mount Everest. He'd be so high up, Sock's infernal prayers couldn't reach him! Only sweet, blissful silence.
He frowned. She did have a nice ass, though.
Nice ass or not, Raine would cause him more problems than he needed. She was female, and all women meant trouble.
Like right now. She was a cop, and she didn't survey the area to make sure anything hadn't changed from when she'd left for work. Raine thought she was safe. She wasn't.
She stepped from his line of vision. Keys rattled right before the door creaked open. He grimaced. A little oil would fix the noise. Why alert an intruder? People thought they were protected once they closed the front door. That wasn't always the case.
When she flipped a switch, light flooded the hall. Dillon stepped back into the shadows. The light didn't quite reach his corner. He'd give her a few minutes, then gradually let her know he was in the house. He shook his head. That didn't sound like a good plan either. No matter what he said, she was going to be pissed.
What possessed him to promise Sock McCandless anything? He was a crazy old man. Dillon dismissed that notion as quickly as it popped into his head. No, Raine's grandfather was a sly old codger. He knew exactly what to ask and when to ask it. The old man had caught Dillon in a moment of weakness.
He heard her keys drop on top of the entry table, followed by a deep sigh before something else landed on the scarred surface. The heels of Raine's black cowboy boots made a dull thud on the hardwood floor. He thought she would walk past the doorway, but she suddenly stopped. Had he inadvertently made a noise? He didn't think so, but just the same her body stiffened as her senses went on high alert.
Raine scanned the space, as though sensing something wasn't right. Her gaze swept past where he stood, then jerked back. Her hand moved to the gun on her hip. In one smooth motion, she flipped the snap and pulled the weapon from the holster, pointing the gun in his general direction. "Step out of the shadows. One wrong move and I'll shoot."
She'd taken off her hat. He studied her, regretting his promise more and more as he watched the silver lights dance in her pale green eyes. Her full sensual lips would be a temptation for any man, mortal or immortal. Heat began to spread over him. No, no, no. She was supposed to be a big husky woman with a straw of hay hanging out one side of her mouth. The kind of woman who would think nothing about chewing tobacco and spitting out the juice while laughing over an off-color joke. Raine wasn't at all like that.
Sock had told him she took care of the few animals left on the ranch. She fixed fence. He bragged his granddaughter could outride and outshoot any person he knew, and if someone really made her mad, she could throw a punch just right and knock a grown man to his knees.
Dillon's gaze swept over her again. This little thing? Nah, Sock had fed him a line of bull. Raine didn't look as though she could fight her way out of a wet paper bag, even if she did carry a big gun.
But she did have some things going in her favor. Like a sexy ass... and pouty lips. The kind of lips made for kissing. It had been too long since he slowly undressed a woman, revealing each hidden secret. What did Raine hide under that uniform?
Flames sparked inside him, spiraling quickly downward. He shook his head. Chance was right: he needed to get laid. That had to be it. She wasn't his type. He liked tall curvy women with porcelain skin. Raine was tiny and tanned. Not as big as a minute.
Her scent drifted over to him. He inhaled. A taunting fragrance of oils and spices-jasmine, clover, and sweet honey-curled around him, tempting him to step nearer and lose himself in her essence. Some nephilim could be more susceptible to the pheromones mortals released. It rarely happened, but it wasn't unheard of.
"Step into the light," Raine ordered. When he didn't move, she added, "I won't tell you again."
He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. Yeah, it could be her scent throwing him off guard. Or the way she stood with her knees slightly bent, both hands firmly holding the gun. He shouldn't be turned on that Raine had him at gunpoint, but he was. He hadn't expected her voice to be raspy, sultry, and tempting as hell either. Its resonance rippled over him like a warm massage.
Chance would have a field day with this one. Dillon was on the brink of salivating over a female who should have zero sex appeal for him. The fact that she had a gun pointed at him would only make Chance laugh harder. His friend had an odd sense of humor. Dillon's gut feeling was right. He should've kept his distance.