Guys! Check out this excerpt from Conspiracy of Ravens by J.C. McKenzie!

Raven Crawford knows better than to venture into the seductive world of the dark fae or agree to any of their salacious promises. She plans to pay off her debts so she can get on with her life and stay far away from the denizens of the Underworld.

Unfortunately, her numbskull twin steals from the most tempting and lethal fae of them all. Now, Raven must help the Lord of Shadows get back what her idiot brother stole. Her only weapons? Just a little ingenuity and a whole lot of snark. It’s suicide for sure, but she’ll do anything to protect her twin.

 

KEEP READING TO SEE AN EXCERPT!

 

 

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

 

“The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

~Lily Tomlin

The bell above the entrance door chimed and Raven’s impending doom walked into Dan’s Diner. She froze with a coffee carafe in one hand and an empty mug in the other.

The cool night air washed into the twenty-four-hour restaurant in North Burnaby. Anywhere else the breeze would be welcomed, bringing in subtle hints of late summer, like the honeyed perfume of fragrant night-blooming flowers. Not here. Instead, gasoline and gloom from the neglected division of the city accompanied the oily scent of Dan’s Diner with the arrival of their newest customer. Victim was more accurate. But neither customer nor victim described the latest patron.

Tall, dark and dangerous. TDD.

A shiver ran along Raven’s spine as she took in the late-night patron. Well over six feet, with broad shoulders, his presence commanded attention. The sweater’s hood covered most of his face, but dark jeans and a hoodie failed to hide his powerful build or how he moved with the confidence of a well-trained fighter.

The lights flickered and the music playing over the speaker faltered briefly before the static cleared and the low voice continued serenading the customers.

“My coffee?” The surly customer at the table in front of Raven scowled. He wore a stained wool sweater and smelled of sawdust and old coffee grounds. This particular regular never tipped and always looked at her as if everything he hated about his life was somehow her fault.

She plunked his mug on the table and straightened to greet the newcomer. “Grab a seat anywhere and I’ll be right with you.”

TDD nodded and stalked past the counter, his black boots meeting the cheap tile without a sound. His silent progress mesmerized her. She got the impression he’d take care of everything and anything. If mountain trolls attacked the diner at this very moment, he’d eliminate the threat with cold, quick efficiency.

“Waitress.” The surly regular lifted his empty coffee mug and waved it in the air.

OopsRaven flipped her long ponytail out of her way, the dull black hair trailed greasy strands along her neck. Her mane’s lustre disappeared a while ago, along with hope. She turned back to the customer and his potent glower and forced a smile on her face.

Snatching the customer’s ring-lined mug, she filled it. If only she could wave a magic wand and look her best. Her power didn’t work like that, though, so instead, her forearm shone under the artificial light with a thin layer of grease from working close to the kitchen. She smelled like vat fat even when she wasn’t working.

She needed to drop off the carafe and pick up a menu for the new customer. And perhaps deliver a better greeting than staring at him with wide eyes and an open mouth.

“Miss?” A woman snapped her fingers a few booths over.

Raven clamped her mouth shut and turned to the middle-aged woman and her miserable husband. She’d drawn the short straw for customers tonight—and every night—but she needed this job and the potential tips that came with it. She repeated her “be nice” mantra in her head and smiled at the customers.

The woman raised both hands and mimed writing on paper. There should be a degree in waitressing sign language—probably the only qualification Raven could now afford. She’d given up her dreams of getting an actual degree years ago. Now, she busted her ass to pay off someone else’s debt.

“I’ll bring the cheque right over,” Raven told the woman. She returned the coffee carafe, printed the cheque and slipped a menu under her arm. Her skin prickled with unease as the tiny hairs on her arms stood. Was TDD watching her every move?

Get a gripHe wanted a menu.

TDD took the small booth on the far end of the restaurant. Table Fifteen, used mostly by late-night lovers for tonsil hockey or loners for brooding. She gulped and resisted the urge to look at him. Act normal.

Normal? What in the Underworld was that? Stale coffee coated her tongue. She popped another mint in her mouth and walked like a drunk lumberjack toward the table with the demanding wife. The loose change in her apron jingled with each step.

The longer Raven served the general public, the more she hated people in general. The drunken frat boys at table six yelled at each other over the static speaker crooning oldies. Their excessive banter appeared to impress the young women hanging off them but did little to endear them to Raven.

“Here you go.” She placed the cheque down on the table along with two mints in front of the middle-aged couple, and left before the woman could demand anything else. Taking a deep breath did little to quell Raven’s nerves. She pulled the menu from under her arm and turned in slow motion to the booth across the diner. With a pace closer to a shuffle than a hustle, she made her way over to the new customer’s booth. Her black pants grew tight and her white work blouse suddenly felt frumpy.

Instead of staring her down, as she expected, the man’s gaze focused on the window to take in the nightlife of North Burnaby. The corner of his full lips tugged up in a slight smirk as if he found something amusing. Raven found nothing about working at this crappy restaurant amusing.

Unfortunately, any decent job these days required a bachelor’s degree at minimum. Dan’s Diner required the ability to speak passable English and had flexible hours that allowed her to work for the family business on the side.

Raven clutched the plastic menu tightly and closed the distance. One of the drunken frat boys spoke as she walked by. Something about her ass. Her step faltered. It wasn’t the first time, nor the last, a customer commented on her body. Positive or negative, it was always unwanted, but she needed the tip, so she let it slide. The size of her ass had never prevented her from taking orders or delivering food. Fitting into certain clothes, maybe. Avoiding table corners that seemingly jutted out of nowhere, certainly. But never waitressing.

The others at the table snickered.

Screw them.

TDD stiffened and his gaze flicked first to her and then to the rambunctious, entitled group of wealthy students behind her. His face darkened and an eerie sense of foreboding filled the diner—as if rage itself flowed from his pores and radiated through the grease-laden air. The lights flickered and the room dimmed. The music stopped.

The table behind her went quiet.

Raven shuddered and completed the final steps to stand at the man’s table. She slipped the menu in front of him and smoothed down her thick cotton apron. The entire time, his focus remained trained on the now-silent, mini-frat party.

Raven cleared her throat.

Nothing.

“Welcome to Dan’s Diner. Our special tonight is—”

The man turned his attention to her, and the music and lighting returned. His Otherness rolled over her in a sweet, dangerous wave. His skin shone like smooth porcelain, contrasting sharply with his dark features and ink-black hair. His gaze enthralled her—piercing eyes, pools of black, as if the pupil bled into the iris, leaving only a sliver of silver along the edges. She could easily fall into the murky depths and not care if she ever resurfaced.

Eyes of the Underworld. Like hers.

Raven’s scalp prickled as if all the hair on her head decided to stand up and say, “Take me!” Mom had kept her and her brother away from anything remotely connected to the Underworld, and all the realms within its domain, going as far as making them wear contacts to hide their nature. Raven and her brother grew up pretending to be fox shifters like the rest of the family.

The man’s black brows rose. “You were saying?”

His deep gravelly voice danced along her skin.

Oh, sweet baby Odin. No. The low rumbling timbre made her want to do all sorts of things. Dirty things. Naughty things. She squeezed her thighs together.

Within five minutes, not even, this man turned her into a mewling kitten with three words. Raven mentally cursed. Instead of what? A bitter, late-twenty-something waitress with a mountain of debt? Ugh.

Grandma Lu always said Crawford women had strong backbones, not wishbones. She’d throw punches in her casket if she saw her granddaughter now.

Raven smoothed her apron. “The special is—”

“I’ll have a coffee, black.”

“Like your soul?” The thought slipped through her lips before she could stop it.

He blinked.

“Any food?” Good save.

He narrowed his eyes and shook his head.

“One black coffee, coming right up.” Cheap ass. She snatched back the menu and walked away to get his order. The weight of his gaze pressed against her skin like a strong wind.

Server Pet Peeve Number One, Campers. Raven hated customers who ordered one of the cheapest items on the menu and nursed it through her whole shift—essentially taking away a perfectly good table where other, potentially higher tipping customers could’ve sat. Campers pitched a tent, laid claim to their campsite and stayed for a relaxing, extended vacation.

Raven slapped the useless menu back on the pile. Making numbered lists helped soothe her and the restless dark energy she harboured inside. It was an old habit. She wrote down all sorts of lists in her notebook at home, and if she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, she could see the lined page containing all her Server Pet Peeves as if it lay in front of her. Raven lacked many skills, but memory wasn’t one of them.

Raven’s gaze scanned the near-empty diner and sighed. One good-looking, if not ominous, camper wouldn’t destroy her already-dismal tip prospects tonight.

Or any night.

Raven grimaced. At this rate, she’d never pay her way out of the hot mess money hole her useless sack of an ex dumped her in.

Hot coffee spilled over the mug’s edge and burned her hand.

“Odin’s balls!” She sucked in a breath and pulled her arm back. Flapping her hand in the air didn’t help. The skin stopped screaming and settled to a dull ache while the surface bloomed a lovely shade of red. Raven slammed the coffee pot back on the burner.

After sopping up the mess with a rag and delivering the cheque to the now mute party table, she made her way back to TDD.

Behind her, the frat guys and their groupies slapped money on the table and cleared out of the diner in under a minute flat. No jeers, leers or otherwise typical behaviour of the early-twenty-somethings trying to use alcohol to find themselves.

“Here you go.” She placed the mug on the table.

This time, she managed not to flinch when he looked up.

“Can I get you anything else?” she asked.

He continued to study her unblinking.

She turned to walk away.

“Yes.”

She froze.

“As a matter of fact, you can.” His voice rolled over her like a slow-moving thunderstorm, offering all kinds of dark secrets and salacious promises.

She pivoted toward him.

“A moment of your time?” He waved his hand, palm up, at the bench across from him.

Raven hesitated. She didn’t need to look over her shoulder to know they were alone. Even Mr. Grumpy Pants from table ten had left. At least Mike was in the kitchen.

Right. Like her pimple-faced brother, who weighed maybe a buck fifty soaking wet, would stop the barely contained hurricane in front of her.

“Uh…”

He raised a brow and his gaze briefly swept the empty diner behind her. His kissable lips twisted into another grin. “Unless you’re busy?”

Ass.

She pursed her lips and crossed her arms. Her cheap blouse pulled at her shoulders. She took a deep breath and instantly regretted it. This close, his scent cut through the grimy stench unique to Dan’s Diner and wound around her. He smelled like a mysterious forest, laden with magic, before the sun slipped away and the shadows took over, when light started to play tricks on the mind and made up monsters from errant branches.

Raven shivered.

“Will you sit with me?” Something in his chiselled face dared her to object.

She slipped into the booth. Her polyester pants slid smoothly along the synthetic leather seat. “If you’re looking to hook up, you’re looking in the wrong place.”

His eyebrows shot up.

Why did she say that? Heat flooded her cheeks. Grandma Lu would be proud, but from his amused expression, not quite the right thing to say.

“You mistake me.” His gaze sparkled with silent laughter. “I’m not looking to hook upI’m looking for your brother.”

Raven leaned back. “My brother?”

“Yes.”

“You want to see Mike? Why didn’t you say so earlier? He’s in the kitchen.” Raven scooted to the end of the booth. “Go bother him.”

The sparkle and interest drained from his face. “I’m not looking for Mike.”

And then she knew without any uncertainty. Even if she had more than two brothers, she’d know exactly who this man sought. She slumped in the booth. Just as she knew this wasn’t a social call. Dread swamped her, coating her skin. The twisted emotion sank into her flesh. Her heart slowed and beat heavy. Her skin prickled.

This dark fae wanted her brother, which meant one thing.

He was in trouble.

As if the stranger sensed her inner dread, he nodded. “I’m looking for Bear.”

 

CONTINUE READING…

 

 

 

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