Avoiding Hell’s Gate Preview

1

“All right, you guys, we all know the drill,” I reminded my team of four. “We go in, grab the soul we came to collect, and get out before anyone sees us.” I looked around at my crew as they nodded their affirmation before we all started to undress. When we were done, the air around us vibrated as we shifted.

“Let’s hurry this up, I have a date tonight,” Jared demanded through the team’s mental connection. I would have rolled my eyes if I could have, but it wasn’t going to happen in dog form. And we weren’t just dogs—we were the hounds of Hell. Not the motorcycle gang, the actual hounds of Hell that dragged evil souls to Satan’s gate.

I looked around at the men of my team. Most men in our situation would have considered each other brothers, but we really were. The five of us were born of the same bitch of Hell, the same litter, and growing up we were inseparable. We all had the same dark hair, bright blue eyes, and were built like linebackers. In hound form, we looked more like very large, black German shepherds.

As we started to run towards the target’s house, I tried to swallow the guilt that always ate at me. It really wasn’t our fault. Hounds of Hell didn’t choose this life, we were born into it. The repo guy couldn’t be blamed when people didn’t pay their bills.

The same principle applied to us. Hounds weren’t evil, we just worked for the Devil. It wasn’t as if we picked the job ourselves.

“We’re within a block, Stryker,” Tristan informed us. “I suggest we switch to cloaked.”

“Good call, Tristan. Do it, guys,” I agreed. Cloaked for us meant we were more than just invisible, we changed into something closer to spirits. We could go through walls, unseen, but still heard. No one knew why, and since we had to ask the Devil to find anything out, no one asked. I had yet to meet the Devil in my hundred and twenty years, and I desperately wanted to keep it that way.

When we arrived to the house of one Rafe Damas, we walked right through the front door. Quite literally, actually. Another gift we had as hounds was the ability to see the souls of people. It helped us in our work to see whose soul was stained or who had a good one.

Leading my group forward, I started to realize this wouldn’t be a typical assignment. As we walked into the same room as Rafe, I could see his soul was clean.

“Boss, you seeing what I’m seeing?” Jared hedged, confusion apparent in his tone. “This is the guy from the file, but I’m not seeing any tarnish on his soul. I mean seriously, the guy couldn’t be any cleaner.”

“Yeah, I see it,” I agreed before adding to myself—and we’re so fucked.

Just then, Rafe must have heard us because he started frantically looking around the room. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

I closed my eyes and swallowed audibly. This was just the icing on the cake. Not only was the soul we were sent to collect not tarnished, it was my mate. Unlike other shifters, hounds couldn’t tell their mates until they heard the person speak. The second I heard Rafe talk, every nerve in my body went on high alert.

“Boss, you good?” Tristan checked, moving up next to me so I caught him in my visual. “We have a plan?”

“Yeah, get my mate the fuck out of here before another team comes along to collect him when we don’t bring him to the gates.” I could hear the mental gasps and groans as it sunk in how deep of shit we were in. I was too distracted by the angel in front of me to pay attention. Rafe couldn’t have been more than five-seven, a hundred and forty pounds. He had a crown of curly blond hair that was a mess from sleep and gorgeous sea green eyes.

“I know someone’s there,” Rafe squeaked a little louder as he stood from his chair. Taking a few slow steps, he moved in front of the fireplace and grabbed one of the iron pokers. “Just come out, and you can leave. I won’t hurt you if you mean no harm.”

“Rafe, what is going on in here?” another man demanded as he walked into the room. I looked over the older gentleman and immediately decided it was Rafe’s father. That and the man was evil down to his very core. Good or clean souls showed as white, the better the soul the purer the white light that surrounded them. The more tarnished a soul, the darker the person looked around the edges. Some might have called it an aura, but I knew it was their actual soul.

“Un-cloak, guys, I’m going to shift to human form and find out what the fuck is going on,” I instructed my team. Quickly shifting before I had to listen to them tell me it was a bad idea, I made sure I was behind a chair to hide most of my nakedness. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw that my brothers did as instructed.

It almost made me smile. Here we were, ass deep in alligators, and I never had to doubt their loyalty.

“Holy shit, you’re real!” Rafe’s father, Mr. Damas, exclaimed. “I knew this day would come—the demon said the hounds of Hell were real. But, who really believes that?”

“You know what we are?” I blanched, recovering quickly and trying to hide my momentary expression of shock. “But how can you know if you aren’t the one who made the deal.”

“I did make the deal,” Mr. Damas answered, looking at his feet, almost seeming ashamed. Or ready to piss his pants. It was a fifty-fifty shot. “I just didn’t deal with my own soul.”

“You can’t trade someone else’s soul,” Jared growled in their group link.

I nodded slightly, knowing Jared would see it. “You cannot make deals with demons for anyone’s soul but your own.”

“You made a deal with a real demon?” Rafe gasped, seeming ready to faint. I hadn’t forgotten he was there, but everyone else turned to look at the man. And the attention made Rafe start to shake uncontrollably. “Dad, how could you do that?”

“It wasn’t my soul I was selling,” his father taunted with a raised eyebrow. It was only then the pieces fell into place for me. Without even thinking, I moved out from behind the chair and stormed over to Mr. Damas.

“You sold your own son’s soul? What could possibly have been worth selling your own child out to the Devil and all eternity in hell?”

Mr. Damas rolled his eyes. “Don’t be such a drama queen. What do most people sell their souls for?”

“We get varied reasons,” I answered, folding my arms over my chest. Mr. Damas seemed very uncomfortable being in close proximity to me, and slowly, he made his way over to Rafe. I let out a deep growl. “Don’t hide behind him!”

“You’re taking him anyways!” Mr. Damas tried to push Rafe in front of him like an offering.

My heart just about broke as it all seemed to finally sink in for Rafe. The look on the young man’s face was one of pure torture. “You sold my soul? How could you do that?”

“You weren’t even born yet,” Mr. Damas snapped at Rafe. Though Rafe had to be at least twenty, he still shrank away from his father. That was all the confirmation I needed to know that Mr. Damas was more than a bastard—he was an abusive monster. “The demon was the one who told me your mother was pregnant. He explained to me that since you were still a part of me until you were born and received your own soul, I could promise your soul to him.”

I felt an evil smile come over my face as I made my way between father and son. “That doesn’t save your soul when you die, Mr. Damas. It’s as black as my hair. You still will spend all eternity in the fires of hell for your crimes.”

“That’s not what the demon said,” Mr. Damas yelled, moving towards me. He backed down quickly as my brothers started growling and moving towards him.

“He may have told you that your soul wasn’t on the line for whatever you sold your son for,” I answered. “But that doesn’t save your soul from hell because of the life you’ve lived.”

“I have a plan in place for that,” Mr. Damas snorted. “I will seek absolution from a priest before I die and all the money I traded Rafe’s soul for will be donated to the poor. It’s not like I’ll have a living heir anyways.”

“Of all the bastards we’ve seen over the years, this guy takes the cake,” Jared sneered in our heads. “Can we just scare him to death and take his soul now instead?”

“I think that’s a great plan,” I drawled with a big grin.

Mr. Damas’s smile told me he thought I was talking about his plan for absolution. He was in for a big surprise.

“Boys, take Mr. Damas away. Rafe doesn’t need to see this,” I ordered. Just as the hounds started to move in, Rafe stepped around me in front of his father.

“No, you can’t take my dad.”

Mr. Damas gave me a smirk over his son’s shoulder. “Rafe, your father sold your soul and yet you’re trying to protect him.”

“He’s my dad.” Rafe shrugged as if that explained it all.

“You’re protected now, little one,” I coaxed as I moved closer towards my gorgeous mate. I reached out to touch the man, but froze when Rafe shrunk back away from me. “Don’t be scared of me, I’m not going to hurt you.”

“You’re still evil,” he whispered as he started shaking. “It’s all in the name, isn’t it? You’re a minion of hell.”

“We’re not evil,” I argued, my heart twisting at his accusation. I was used to this reaction, but I never thought I would have to experience it with my own mate. “I can explain everything later, but right now, we’re on a deadline.”

“A deadline?” Rafe asked, obviously confused.

I rubbed my hand over the back of my neck, beyond frustrated with the situation already. “Yeah, when we’re sent to collect a soul, we only have a few hours before they send in another team.”

“There are more of you?” His eyes practically bugged out of his head, and I debated smacking my skull against the nearest wall.

“I promise you, Rafe, I’ll explain everything later,” I swore gently as I moved forward and pushed a blond curl off Rafe’s forehead. “We need to get you to safety until this all gets resolved.”

Rafe didn’t shrink away this time. The blush that covered his face when I touched him made me hard. I also noticed Rafe staring at my cock before looking down at the ground. I tried not to smile at the idea that my mate was attracted to me.

I failed miserably.

“The deal was for his soul, not mine,” Mr. Damas sneered. “You can’t protect him.”

“I can, and I will,” I snarled at the man as I turned and pushed Rafe behind me at the same time. “We can’t take a clean soul to hell, no matter the deal you made. I’m not even sure that deal can be made. I will do what you failed to do as a father—keep your son safe. But you, you son-of-a-bitch, you’re going with my crew to hell.”

“I wasn’t part of the deal, and I’m not dead!”

“That can be fixed quite easily,” I chuckled, but stopped when I heard Rafe gasp behind me. I turned so that only Rafe could see me and winked at my little mate. Rafe raised an eyebrow, but still seemed concerned over the situation. “Jackson and Braedan, take him away. Jared and Tristan, you’re staying with us until we can talk with Dante and fill him in on what’s going on.”

“You got it, Stryker,” Jackson agreed as they moved forward on Mr. Damas.

“No, you can’t do this,” Mr. Damas yelled, looking around the room frantically to find some means of escape. “This wasn’t the deal! Don’t take me, take my son.”

“And you wanted to save that bastard?” I asked gently as I turned and leaned over to look into Rafe’s face as Mr. Damas was being dragged away still screaming. “I can’t imagine how you are this pure after growing up with that madman.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” Rafe replied as he kept trying to see around me, which was difficult. I was almost a foot taller and so much broader than Rafe. “He pretty much just ignored me. I always wondered why it didn’t seem like he wanted me. So this actually explains a lot.”

“Why were you still willing to go in his place now that you knew?”

“He’s the only family I have left,” Rafe whispered as tears formed in his eyes. “If my family doesn’t even love me or want me, what’s there to live for?”

“I want you,” I answered, kneeling in front him. With our height difference, I wasn’t much shorter than Rafe. That way I could look into his eyes even as he hung his head. “It’s taking all my control not to touch you, strip you naked, and have hot monkey sex with you right now.”

“Monkey sex?” Rafe snickered as he wiped away the tears in his eyes. “I don’t understand any of this. Well, I guess I understand part of it, but this is really, really confusing.”

“I know, little one, and I promise to explain everything to you. But for right now, I need you to trust me. We need to get out of here.”

Rafe searched my face for a few moments before nodding. “Okay. I mean what could you possibly do or have planned for me that’s worse than eternity in hell?”

“Wow, that’s the most convoluted reasoning to trust someone I’ve ever heard,” I drawled, getting to my feet. “It’s not because I just saved you from hell or am trying to right this wrong? Or fuck, that you want me too? No, it’s because there’s nothing worse than hell.”

“I’m sorry, but what do you expect from me?” Rafe rasped as he shook his head.

I reached out to wipe away the leftover tears, not stopping this time when Rafe flinched from me. “You’re right, I’m sorry, Rafe.”

“It’s okay.” Rafe leaned forward to touch my face, and I froze, not wanting to startle my little mate.

“Dude, this is wonderful chick flick shit, but we’ve gotta bounce,” Jared said in my head. “I know I’m being a dick, but seriously, this situation will get a hundred times worse if another team shows up!”

“Right, good point,” I agreed, almost laughing at Rafe’s confused face. “I’ll explain later, Rafe. How quickly can you pack a couple of bags?”

“Five minutes,” Rafe replied, but then paused before continuing. “I’m never coming back here again, am I?”

“I’m not sure, so err on the side of thinking you won’t and maybe you will one day.”

“Fair enough.” He nodded, a little woozy on his feet before rushing out of the room.

I turned back to my two brothers still in hound form. “Run back, get the car, and our clothes. I’ll hurry and help Rafe. We meet out front in five minutes.”

“Watch your twenty, boss, we’re kind of fond of you,” Tristan snarked through our shared link. I could tell he was trying to sound like a smart-ass, but he was worried.

“Watch your own asses, guys,” I ordered, looking at them each before turning and following after Rafe. Trailing my mate’s scent, I stopped in the doorway of Rafe’s room. I just stood there, leaning against the doorframe, and watched my mate rush around. Just as Rafe zipped up the first bag, he realized someone else was in the room and looked up.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Rafe’s squeak had me swallowing a groan.

“How old are you, Rafe?”

“Twenty,” Rafe answered then squished his eyebrows together and looked at the clock. “No, it’s after midnight, I’m twenty-one.”

“It’s your birthday, that makes sense,” I muttered, rubbing my chin. While the legal age for an adult might be eighteen, according to Hell, a person wasn’t an adult whose soul could end up there until they were twenty-one. “Have you never had anyone look at you like that before?”

“I don’t think so.” Rafe shrugged, obviously confused. “It looks like you want to eat me.”

I felt a wicked smile crossing my lips. “I do want to eat you up. But not in the way I think you mean, Rafe. I want you.”

“You want me to do what?”

“No, baby,” I chuckled as I moved towards him. “I want you. I want to be inside you. I’m dying to kiss you.”

“Then no. No one’s ever looked at me like that before,” Rafe whispered as I pulled him against me. “My dad never let me out of the house, I had tutors and was home schooled. I’m a virgin.”

“Oh god, you’re killing me,” I moaned as I leaned down to claim Rafe’s mouth.

“Please don’t,” Rafe whimpered before I could kiss him. I pulled back and looked into his mate’s wide eyes. “I don’t even know your name.”

“Stryker. Stryker Magnus,” I murmured as I studied his lips with my eyes. “Does it matter?”

“I think I should know your name before you kiss me,” Rafe stated as his little body shook in my arms. “It seems the polite thing to do.”

“Well now you know. May I kiss you now?”

“Oh, yes please,” Rafe breathed, tilting his head up in anticipation. I gently brushed my lips against his, and when he gasped, I took advantage of the moment to slide my tongue into Rafe’s mouth. I moaned as I deepened the kiss. My mate tasted every bit as good as I always imagined.

I just about lost my sanity when Rafe reached out and wrapped his arms around my neck. I grabbed his ass and yanked him up, wrapping his legs around my waist. In that moment, I felt a bliss like I never had in my hundred twenty plus years.

“Oh, god, I don’t know what’s—” Rafe hissed, humping his hips against me when we broke the kiss. I opened my eyes to stare into Rafe’s wide, green ones. It took me a few moments to realize that he was in the throes of his first orgasm.

“Let go,” I cooed, reaching in between us to rub Rafe’s hard cock through his pants. “Ride the feelings, Rafe. I’ve got you, baby, I won’t let you fall.”

“I feel like I’m going to explode,” Rafe moaned, pushing his dick harder into my hand. I tried to focus solely on his pleasure, but I started to shake at the desire to claim Rafe. In over a century of life, I’d never seen anything more exquisite than watching the man in my arms go wild.

“Come for me, my little mate,” I hissed, leaning over to lick and suck the side of his neck. That was all it took. Rafe screamed out his release, thrusting his hips forward a few more times, before slumping against me. Completely and utterly sated. “I’ve got you, baby. It’s okay, I promise.”

I said it over and over again, stroking Rafe’s back the entire time… Until I realized that he had passed out in my arms. Thankfully, Rafe weighed about as much as a loaf of bread, and I was more than strong enough to handle him. Chuckling to myself, I wrapped one arm around Rafe and grabbed the two bags. As I headed out the bedroom door, I paused and backed up a few feet.

I saw an older looking picture of a woman who had to be Rafe’s mother, so I reached over and grabbed it off the wall. It was the only thing hanging on his wall. It had to be important to him. Smiling at the feel of Rafe in my arms, I headed outside to meet up with my brothers. I knew as Rafe slept in my arms, I’d never willingly give the man up and do anything to keep him safe.