He’s perfection in a tuxedo—more so out of it—and on a mission to protect his Alabama gal from the mysterious mayhem intent on her destruction. But the bride is a spunky steel magnolia with special powers of her own, determined to drop-kick evil forces across the state line and give her slayer a run for his money.
Note: This novella has previously been published in the anthology So I Married a Demon Slayer.
Read an Excerpt
Bunny’s wedding was perfect—until her husband tried to kill the photographer.
Her strapless, white tulle gown with the silk taffeta sash fit her like a dream. The bridal bouquet of white roses and calla lilies screamed simple elegance. And the quaint old church by the river provided the perfect setting, with its heart pine floors mellowed and warped with age, bead board wainscoting and hand-stenciled blue and white ceiling.
Even the weather cooperated, gracing them with a cloudless sky, a gentle breeze and temperatures in the low eighties, an unusual occurrence for late September in the Deep South.
Her daddy walked her down the aisle between rows of smiling friends and family to the altar where he waited for her. Rafe Dalvahni, six-foot-four inches of hard-muscled masculine perfection in a black tuxedo, a man so mouth-wateringly gorgeous half the females in the church came just looking at him. His handsome features were schooled in his usual expressionless mask, but the look he gave her as she floated toward him could have melted concrete. It made her feel shivery and weak. He made her weak.
Hard to believe this beautiful, sexy man with the stern manner and the hot mouth and gentle, roving hands that drove her wild would soon belong to her, Bunny Nicole Raines, small town librarian with the double stripper name.
The past few weeks were a blur. First, she was attacked at the library late one night. Bunny remembered little of what happened, only searing pain and blackness. Then waking in Rafe’s arms and knowing, knowing this was the man she’d waited for her whole life. A dizzying, whirlwind courtship followed . . .
Culminating in this the Big Day.
The vows were spoken and they were married. Bunny felt a surge of giddy happiness. She was his and he was hers, husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Rafe Dalvahni, forever and ever amen. Now they could begin their happily ever after.
Arm in arm, Bunny and Rafe stood at the foot of the steps and greeted their guests as they left the chapel. After directing everyone to the white tents down by the river for the reception, they slipped into the rose garden at the back of the church to take a few more pictures.
And that’s when Bunny’s perfect wedding morphed into a nightmare and her dreams of a quiet, ordinary life with the man she loved went up in smoke.
Or demon dust, to be more exact.
“Oh, darn, my battery’s dead,” Spence Hardy, the photographer said after the first few shots. “I’ve got some extras in my car. You two lovebirds stay here. I’ll be right back.”
He hurried off, leaving Bunny and Rafe alone in the rose garden.
Rafe pulled her into his arms and kissed her. Bunny caught an intoxicating whiff of his cologne, something green and spicy and earthy. God, he even smelled beautiful.
He nuzzled her neck. “I missed you.”
“It was only one night,” Bunny protested, shivering in response. Lord help her, she was a goner for this man. Rafe touched her and she went up like a Roman candle. It had been like this from the moment they met. “How was the big bachelor party? Did you get drunk?”
“The Dalvahni do not get drunk. We are not affected by alcohol and other drugs.”
She smothered a giggle. She thought it was cute the way he referred to himself and his brother Brand in the plural. ‘The Dalvahni’ this and ‘the Dalvahni’ that, like they were a breed unto themselves or something.
And maybe they were. Bunny had never seen anything like the Dalvahni brothers. Tall, green-eyed, stacked with muscles and inhumanly handsome, although Brand had dark hair and Rafe’s was the blood red color of garnets.
Bunny found Rafe’s older brother grim and intimidating, but her friend, Addy Corwin, seemed to like him just fine. They were a hot item. Bunny thought there was something lethal and predatory about Brand, but she kept her thoughts to herself. After all, Rafe put up with her older brothers, Cam and Coop, and they were an acquired taste.
“Your brothers drank a large quantity of ale. I took them home,” Rafe continued. “I do not understand the human affinity for substances that make them lose control.”
She smiled up at him. “What about you, Rafe? Do you ever lose control?”
“Only with you, cara,” he said, kissing her.
It was a lovely thing to say, Bunny thought wistfully, although she suspected it wasn’t true. Rafe always seemed to be in perfect control. Sometimes his perpetual calm bothered her. He was so disciplined and she was all over the place with her emotions, especially lately.
Rafe deepened the kiss and Bunny forgot everything but the heated joy of his touch. His tongue brushed hers and she tasted honey and spices. The taste of him, the heat radiating off his big-muscled body and his special, masculine scent made her lightheaded with longing. A delicious ache started in her breasts, spread to her belly and between her thighs. She wanted him now. Heck, with a little encouragement, she’d do him right here in the rose bushes behind the Mount Carmel Methodist Church, with half the town and her entire family within shouting distance.
Not exactly the ‘spread’ she’d envisioned in the Hannah Herald.
The crunch of approaching footsteps brought her to her senses; Mr. Hardy, returning with the fresh batteries. Blushing, she slipped out of Rafe’s embrace and turned to face the older man with a welcoming smile.
Her smile quickly faded. A pleasant, round-faced man with thinning silver hair, Spence Hardy was Hannah’s unofficial photographer, even though his business was thirty miles away in Paulsberg. He took her baby pictures and the gap-toothed photograph of her in the first grade. The formal portrait of her in a white dress at sixteen that hung over her parents’ mantel was a Hardy original. He was there when she and her classmates graduated high school, taking snapshots of them in their caps and gowns. But the person walking toward them was nothing like the man she’d known all her life. His skin was sickly gray, his facial features stretched and rubbery.
And his eyes . . .
His eyes were blank, dark pools above his grinning slash of a mouth.
“Mr. Hardy?” Bunny squeaked.
To her shock and surprise, Rafe produced a lethal-looking battle axe out of nowhere and stepped in front of her. He twirled the battle axe, and the thing wearing Spence Hardy’s skin hissed.
“Did you think to find me unprepared, fiend?” her new husband asked Mr. Hardy in a cold, dangerous voice she’d never heard before. “I protect what is mine.”
Fiend? Unprepared? What on Earth was he talking about?
She peeked around Rafe. Mr. Hardy looked bad, really bad, like something out of a horror movie. But monsters don’t exist, so he must be sick. Yeah, that was it. Mr. Hardy was ill. Maybe he was coming down with the flu.
Or he had something worse like the plague, the nasty, flesh-eating kind that made random body parts fall off.
Oh, good Lord, she’d hired a plague-infested photographer. Everybody at her wedding was going to die of a pernicious, infectious disease, and there would be dead bodies and stray body parts everywhere.
The caterer would be pissed. Probably she’d lose her deposit.
She tapped Rafe on one broad shoulder. “Rafe, what are you doing?”
“Anon, Bunny. Stay back. I will deal with this foul creature.”
Anon and foul creature. His speech was always formal and proper, a bit stiff and old-fashioned, and he never used contractions. He reminded her of something out of one of her books, a knight errant of old. Usually, she found it charming, but not in the face of an honest-to-goodness, bona fide wedding emergency.
Bunny stepped around Rafe. “Mr. Hardy, you obviously aren’t feeling well. Why don’t you go ho—”
Mr. Hardy rushed at her with a horrible gobbling noise.
Rafe waved his hand, and Bunny shrieked as she was tossed into the air and turned end over end. She lost a shoe on the third rotation. When she stopped spinning, she was hanging upside down. The voluminous skirts of her wedding dress and petticoat fell down, covering her head in a suffocating swathe of tulle and netting. It was hard to think with the blood pounding in her temples. What was happening?
A cool breeze fanned her nether regions. Good Lord, she realized with a spasm of mortification, I’m mooning half of Behr County.
She wasn’t wearing much. A scrap of lace here, a couple of bows there, held together by a narrow strip of ribbon and not much else. She’d spent a great deal of time picking out this particular pair of panties and imagining Rafe’s reaction to them on their wedding night. This was not the ‘reveal’ she’d planned. But who could plan for a thing like this?
“Rafe,” she said, equal parts terrified and humiliated.
If she hadn’t been so scared and confused, she would have cringed at the shrill sound of her voice. She sounded like a squeaky toy in the jaws of a frustrated Boxer.
Without warning, she turned right side up. Slapping her skirts back into place, she swatted the gauzy folds of her wedding veil out of her face. Her stomach did a queasy flip flop. She was suspended high in the air with a bird’s eye view of the river and their wedding guests milling around the white tents.
Bunny hated heights. It was all she could do to climb a ladder to reshelve books in the stacks. She always sat on the bottom row of the bleachers, she avoided balconies and she never had dreams of flying.
“Oh God oh God oh God,” she said, flailing her arms and legs about in panic.
To her surprise and relief, her clumsy movements propelled her forward. She floundered weightlessly through the air until she reached the church steeple. She grabbed it and held on. Looking down, she saw her family and friends mingling around the champagne fountain. A line of live oaks separated the church from the river. No one at the reception could see the drama unfolding several hundred yards away. The orchestra was playing. The party had started, but the bride was stuck on the roof like an abandoned Frisbee, and the groom . . .
The groom and The Thing That Was Mr. Hardy were engaged in a death match in the rose garden. Or what was left of it. Rose bushes, statuary, great clumps of dirt and sidewalk pavers exploded as Rafe and the possessed photographer hurled lightning bolts at one another.
“Rafe,” Bunny screamed, terrified for him.
Terrified of him, this godlike creature with the blazing eyes who hurled death from his fingertips.
The ornate, three-tiered fountain at the center of the garden flew through the air and crashed to the ground at his feet, narrowly missing him.
He’s going to be killed. He’s going to be killed. The singsong litany ran through her mind.
Rafe threw his double-headed axe. It sailed across the garden toward his opponent. Bloop, Mr. Hardy disappeared from sight with a high-pitched giggle. With a metallic whine, the axe made a wide circle and returned to Rafe’s outstretched hand. Bloop, Rafe disappeared, too. Bloop, bloop, he and Mr. Hardy reappeared on the other side of the garden.
This was a nightmare. It couldn’t be real. Spence Hardy was a gentle man who carried a pocket full of Tootsie Rolls and Smarties for the kids. At Christmas, he set up a backdrop outside the hardware store and took pictures of people in a sleigh pulled by eight Basset Hound reindeer wearing jingle bells and felt antlers.
This was not the Spence Hardy she knew.
This was not the Rafe Dalvahni she knew either, this hard-faced man with the glowing eyes and the supernatural powers.
He was unrecognizable, a stranger, and that frightened her most of all.
Brand materialized on the roof beside her. As Rafe’s only family, he was a member of the wedding party. He looked sinfully handsome in his tuxedo—in a dark and deadly I’ll-kill-you-if-you-so-much-as-look-at-me-cross-eyed kind of way. His long, dark hair gleamed in the sunlight.
“I heard a noise over the obnoxious clamor that passes for music here.” He briefly observed the mini-war being waged below them in the devastated garden. “I see my brother has things well in hand.”
To her astonishment, he vanished. Left her on the roof with no explanation and without offering to help her or Rafe. Like possessed photographers and fireball-wielding grooms and people popping in and out of thin air were everyday occurrences. They were so not.
To add insult to injury, he dissed her wedding band.
“Obnoxious clamor?” She shook her fist at the empty spot where he’d been standing a moment ago. “Do you have any idea how lucky we were to get a band at all on such short notice?”
Brand was long gone, but yelling made her feel better.
Her relief was temporary. Clinging to the steeple, she returned her attention to the fight below. Super Rafe was stalking his enemy. Bloop, he popped into view near the rear entrance of the church. Bloop, the Hardy monster materialized in the far corner of the garden. The monster was outmatched and his powers seemed to be waning. His arms hung limply at his sides, and he no longer threw fiery orbs of energy. His gray mouth hung open and he was heaving from exertion. Some of Bunny’s terror for Rafe eased. It was going to be okay. It was all going to be okay.
Rafe blinked from sight and reappeared next to Hardy. He swung his axe. The blade whistled through the air in a shining, silver arc.
It was soooo not going to be okay.
Her husband was about to commit murder on their wedding day. Not an auspicious beginning for a marriage, any way you sliced it.