Read an Excerpt
If not for the bustling noise of the crowd, anyone standing within five feet of Mason Dillinger would have easily heard the two halting, roughly drawled words that slipped slowly past the tightening line of his mouth.
Perhaps not the most erudite of phrases, but what it lacked in eloquence it more than made up for in conviction. In fact, in Mason's opinion it summed the situation up to perfection.
After all, it wasn't every day that one of his kind found his life mate in a throng of jacked-up caffeine addicts. Five seconds ago he'd have sworn that it could never happenthat a woman who had been created as his perfect match, the other half of his self, even existedbut there was no denying what that scent was doing to his head, not to mention his quickly thickening body parts.
"Hell," he muttered under his breath, reaching down with one hand to rearrange himself, pulling the edge of his flannel shirttail in front of his bulging fly. "I'm screwed."
The second he'd stepped through the doorway into the bustling interior of The Coffee and Croissant, the smell of her had hit him like a fist upside the head, rolling across his tongue like the sweetest sin, the most wicked of temptations. It was something he wanted to sink his teeth into and swallow. Something creamy and entirely his. The erotic promise of damp, pink flesh that would be slippery and warm to the lap of his tongue, rich and succulent like a treasure.
He wanted to eat her alive and he didn't even know who she was.
But he knew where she was. She was somewhere in this crowded, pain-in-the-ass, prepped-out joint that his Bloodrunning partner, Jeremy Burns, had insisted they duck into beforethe entire day had passed them by without eating. With their accelerated metabolisms, it was unhealthy to go too long without sustenance, not to mention dangerous as hell to the general population at large.
Yeah, he knew where she was.And he knew what she was, too.
She was his.
Mason's narrowed eyes quickly scanned his surroundings, taking everything in, and then his head tilted back and he allowed inhuman senses so much sharper than mere sight to take over and read the room. Hot, fresh-baked croissants were just being taken from an industrial oven in the kitchen. To his left, a small, distinct clatter of metal against crockery as a businessman added sugar to his double cappuccino. A toddler fussed in the corner, beside a belligerent, kohl-eyed teenager in black who scowled at her father as he lectured her on the importance of grades. The myriad of sounds and scents assailed him, chaotic and full, and yet she burned through sharp and crisp like a radiant beam of light. Vibrant, breathtaking sunshine on a bone-chilling, cloud-smothered day. Something warm and comforting like home.
Hunger clawed its way up his spine, ripping through his system with such force that he expected to look down and see blood seeping through the thin cotton of his navy T-shirt and dark gray flannel, spreading like death down to the ragged denim of his jeans. Ripping him open quicker than teeth or claws ever could.
His nostrils flared as another soft drift of mouthwatering scent crashed through him. Yes, it was right there lingering on the air, and a hard shudder racked the long length of his body, his skin going hot and damp as a low, unfamiliar burn began in his belly. An animal lust but different. The unmistakable hunger for hard, grinding, gritty sex, and yet utterly foreign from the driving need he'd known in the past. He'd had his share of women in his lifetime, leaving them quickly, yet always with their well-used bodies heavy with pleasure, steeped in satisfactionbut this was more. Harder. Deeper. A sharp-edged, driving need unlike anything he'd ever experienced, raging and explosive.
He didn't just want to bury himself inside herhe had to.
But first he had to find her. "You're growling." The deep voice came low and lazy from just behind him, sounding almost bored, though Mason knew his friend well enough to sense that Jeremy had picked up on his tension, even without the telltale growl rumbling up from his chest.
"Shut up," he muttered silkily, and Jeremy snorted in return, nudging him over as he forced his way in through the door, leaving the bitter wind behind them as the glass monstrosity pulled automatically to a close. A few customers turned their heads to look at them, doing double takes as they took in the sight of two hard, well-muscled men who stood over six feet, their casual clothes in no way disguising the brute strength of their battle-honed bodies. The two Bloodrunners reacted to the attention the same way they always didthey ignored it.
Focused on finding the woman, Mason's nostrils flared, the sound of his heart all but filling his ears as it began a hard, purposeful beat like the pulsing chords of a Goth song. "Don't you smell it?"
"What I smell," Jeremy said, exhaustion weighing his words,
"is food, which reminds me we skipped breakfast in order to get a head start on our hunt and we still haven't had lunch. Are we going to stand here in the entrance all day, or actually order something before I have to gnaw someone's arm off?"
"You're not scenting her?" he questioned again, ignoring Jeremy's crude sense of humor, and recognizing the increasing gruffness of his own voice as a clear sign that he was losing control.
Bad timing, considering they were surrounded by the flesh and blood of other customers, but there didn't seem to be a damn thing he could do about it. He wasn't leaving until he found her.
"Which one?" Jeremy muttered, scrubbing one sun-darkened hand over the golden stubble covering his chin as he jerked his hazel gaze left to right, scanning the crowded café. "With all the soaps and lotions women drown themselves in nowadays, flowers are all I can smell in this place, other than the food."
Mason shook his head in frustration. No, not flowers. The evocative scent was differentdeeper earthier and it was getting stronger.
The smell alone had him tied in knots, his body feeling tight and hot and swollen. It was something succulent and rich that sat on the tip of his tongue like a warm drop of honey. He wanted to roll it around for a deeper taste. Draw it into the cavern of his mouth and bite down on it. Hold it. Keep it and fight for it.
Harsh, lust-thick images in blazing ambers and reds flashed through his hunt-tired mind, revitalizing him, jamming his system, jacking him up and taking him to a bigger high than any substance he'd ever used. Like most cross-breeds, he'd spent his youth searching for a way to fit in and find a measure of peace, but it hadn't taken him long to learn that life held enough chaos without him screwing with it. By the time he was a man, his innocence had long since vanished. He knew what sin tasted like and this was it. Wicked and yet as sweet as heaventhe most dangerous kind of pleasure.
His keen eyesight scanned the immediate area again, falling on a lush blonde in a skintight spandex workout suit sucking down a coral-colored smoothie, before quickly moving on. Not her. No this one was different. Something sharp and uncomfortable in his gut, an uneasy trepidation, told him far different than anything he was prepared for.
Give him blood and battle and he was right at home. Give him easy and loose, and he could make a woman scream without even trying. But give him a complicated female and he shut down. Too much work and he didn't have the time, the patience or the inclination. Women had always come too easily for him, so why the hell should he work for one?
And this one smelled complicated.
"Seriously, man," Jeremy growled. "If you don't want me turning to the dark side, we need to get in line and order. I'm hungry enough to do something that we'll both regret."
"You're sick, you know that."
Heaving an exaggerated sigh, Jeremy placed his hand over his heart. "Keep saying things like that and I'll start thinking you don't love me anymore."
Mason opened his mouth, a smart-ass comeback ready to slip free, suitably biting and caustic, when her scent slammed into him so hard he nearly reeled. He spun toward the line that paralleled the one he now stood in, where customers were picking up their stylishly brown-bagged orders. He knew the instant he set eyes on her, though he never would have guessed she'd be the one, had that intoxicating scent not wrapped around him like a vise. But it was her. The innocent-looking little waif with the long auburn braid, her lunch tray tucked up in front of her and a bulky paperback wedged under her right arm, tortoiseshell glasses perched smartly on the bridge of her small nose. She was wearing a deliciously tight white polo shirt with faded blue jeans, a dark red jacket tied around her waist and braided bracelets circling one delicately boned wrist, a slender silver watch on the other. A simple outfit, nothing too provocative, but on her it looked downright sinful, the way it hugged her delicate curves.
A fierce, possessive wave of heat poured through his veins while his mouth watered, and it was only with a conscious effort that Mason controlled the urge to pant like a randy dog. A nice long howl would have felt damn good at the moment, but hardly appropriate, considering their surroundings. Left with no other choice, the animal inside him grumbled its agitation, curling around itself and settling down to quietly seethe, while his human half struggled against the intense need to grab her and run, as far and fast as he could, until he had her all to himself. Not a bad idea, either, except that he'd probably scare her half to death before they got there.
Left with no other option, he waited.
Time seemed to stand still as she walked toward him, his lungs burning while the top of his head felt about ready to come off. Within seconds she was in front of him, without even having glanced in his direction. With an utterly foreign sense of desperation, he did something that he'd never, in all his thirty-three years, thought he would do.
He tripped her.
One moment she was walking past, minding her own business, and in the next his strategically placed scuffed brown hiking boot had her sprawled over the stylish Italian tiled floor, sputtering and cursing quietly under her breath as she came to her knees and struggled to wipe tomato soup off her lenses.
"Are you okay?" he asked, crouching down beside her, wincing at the gruffness of his tone as she turned to him, the biggest pair of dark green eyes he'd ever seen blinking at him in owlish surprise.
"Um, yeah, I think so," she said slowly, then a spark of mischief began to burn in the deep green of her gaze and she laughed a low, throaty sound that slipped down his spine like a woman's mouth, damn near making his eyes cross. "I've never heard of anyone drowning in soup before, so I think I'm safe," she drawled, still laughing, and he felt himself grinning in return, until something seemed to burst into awareness between them and their gazes locked in a powerfully raw, smoldering stare, both of them caught in its hold.
The connection burned like pure energy, crackling and sharp, as if the air between their bodies had been electrically charged, and he all but expected to see sparks skittering on the strange current. As he gazed upon her fey face, unique details began imprinting themselves upon his memory like the timeless grooves worn into stone by the rushing currents of the sea, washing away the women of his past until there was nothing but her. Nothing but the delicate curve of her jaw. The tiny beauty mark perched impishly on the arc of her right cheekbone; the darker green that rimmed the softer shade of her gaze. And then there was that mouth, with sensual lips that looked velvety soft and sweetly shy, their color a natural, blushing rose that no cosmetic could duplicate. The carnal things he wanted to do to that kissable little mouth should have been illegalhell, in some states they probably were. And on top of everything, all the erotic little details that made his head feel thick and his groin feel thicker, there was that provocative scent, earthy and addictive, drugging him with lust and oddly enough tenderness.
Her breath quivered, twin spots of color cresting across her beautiful cheekbones, and then she shivered, wrenching herself free of the potent visual hold. She cast a quick glance down at the soup-splattered mess she had made of the floor as her soft pink mouth twisted into a wry smile. "And lucky for me, being a klutz isn't a crime in Maryland, so I don't think they'll kick me outta here."
A low laugh rumbled in his chest. "If they tried, I'd knock their heads together and you could kick them in the bashins."
Joining his laughter, she reached for her overturned tray at the same time he made a grab for it, and their heads nearly collided. They both pulled back, chuckling softly, the growing sensual connection between them all but sizzling on the air, enveloping them in their own little world. It was something hazy and soft, wrapping them in an oddly comforting warmth cloudlike and weightlesswhile the desire twisting through them took on a sharp, dangerous edge, like an animal hunger demanding to be fed. She licked her lower lip in what he strongly suspected was a nervous gesture, though it hit him like a practiced seduction, it was so impossibly sexy. Mason swallowed hard as he tried not to choke on the growl he was fighting down, and then Jeremy, his deep voice rough with surprise, suddenly blurted out, "You tripped her!"
Mason closed his eyes and counted to ten, reminding himself the entire time that he couldn't dismember one of his closest friends, not to mention his Bloodrunning partner, at least not in the middle of a restaurant. The urge to do so was so powerful, however, that he actually felt the tips of his fingers burning as razor-sharp claws pricked impatiently beneath the surface of his skin.
Trying not to snarl, he cut a dark look up at Jeremy, all the while wondering if lightning would strike when he delivered the outright lie. "I think you know me well enough, Burns, to agree that it'd be a cold day in hell before I ever did anything like that." Ten minutes ago that would have been the honest truth, but Mason figured he was smart enough to realize things were rapidly changing on him, and the reason was deliciously wrapped up in white cotton and denim at his side.
"Then hell just froze over," Jeremy snorted, grinning as if he thought it was one of the funniest things he'd ever seen,
"because you just did."
"Cut the crap, Jeremy." He gritted through his teeth, not wanting to look at her, wondering with an awful pressure in his chest if she would believe him when he denied it. No way was he actually admitting what he'd done!
"I mean, you normally have women falling all over themselves trying to catch your attention, but I never thought I'd see the day that you actually tripped one to get her on her knees in front of you."
Daring a quick look in her direction, Mason watched as that sparkling laughter faded from her eyes, replaced by a guarded, questioning look. "It was an accident," he muttered, knowing she didn't believe him as she reluctantly let him help her to her feet.
"Yeah, sure," she murmured, looking at the floor, then bending back down for her book.
He wondered if she noticed that he'd copped a feel of one firm, deliciously round breast, letting his hand slide up her side while helping her up the second time, then decided she had when she glared up at him, looking like a pissed-off little librarian with those damn glasses and that braid. That affronted image was all wrong for the molten, fiery passion he could feel bubbling just beneath her smooth surface.
"I swear you smell good enough to eat," he blurted out in a raw, gritty voice, the harsh words all but ripped out of his throat.
He silently cursed, feeling his face go conspicuously hot while she just stared at him in shock. Where the hell did that come from?
Jeremy gave him a sharp look, then threw back his head and burst out laughing. "Oh, damn, this is priceless." He wheezed, all but bent over as he struggled to hold in the laughter. "God, Mase, you should see the look on your face."
"Shut. Up. Burns."
"In all the years I've known you, I've never seen you make such an ass of yourself over a broad."
"She isn't a broad," he rasped, his voice sounding husky and thick even to his own ears.
As if a light switch had suddenly been flipped in his head, the humor vanished from Jeremy's face. He cursed roughly under his breath, then cut his sharp hazel gaze from her to him, and back to her again, letting his eyes travel over her in a slow, thorough search from the top of her head down to her cute little sneaker-covered feet. His stunned gaze swung back to Mason, hot with accusation. "I don't friggin' believe it. You can't be serious."
"Leave it alone," he warned, not wanting to have this conversation here, in front of her. God only knew what Jeremy would say.
"She doesn't deserve this," Jeremy argued in a low voice, stepping closer. "Not the kind of crap you'll bring down on her head, and all because you wanna get laid."
Wishing he could gag the son of a bitch before he said anything more, Mason growled, "Last warning, Jeremy. Shut up."
Jeremy stepped closer, unwilling to back down. "Don't mess with her, Mason."