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He'd come to Texas to find a healer, not a mate.
Appalled and shocked, Lucaine Herrick stared at the beautiful woman who might or might not be able to save his best friend's dying little girl.
Samantha Warren. Potential healer.
He wanted to howl. To change, right then and there. To shed his human skin and feel the damp earth beneath his paws, the coiled power in his limbs; to give himself over to nothing but muscle and sinew. To run, his strength pushing him faster, harder.
Instead, he met her gaze and smiled. Smiled as though his heart wasn't pounding. As though he didn't recognize her.
If she was what his Pack suggested, a healer, then she was rarest of rare, the stuff of legends. A human woman, half shifter; a Halfling who couldn't change, who was unable to become wolf. One look at her told him she had no idea of that. She didn't know the power she had, the potential for great good residing within her.
Worse, in that first second when their gazes met, he'd known what else she was.
She was his mate.
No.Yet how could even a man who'd sworn never to marry deny the one woman created only for him?
Easily, he told himself. He had to be mistaken. Kyle's death and the subsequent illness of three-year-old Lucy had combined to rob him of reason and common sense. After all, his doctorate in psy-chology had taught him there were deep-seated reasons for most delusions. True love ranked up there with the worst of them as far as he was concerned.
Thus armed, he moved closer to the unsuspect-ing woman. Even here, in this crowded café, the lure of her pulled at him. How could this be? She was a redhead, while he preferred brunettes. Tall and slender and willowy, while he favored petite and curvy. The exotic tilt of her caramel-colored eyes might be lovely, though in the past he'd always liked blue eyes.
Samantha Warren was the antithesis of every-thing he found desirable in a woman, yet he could not deny her beauty. He took a deep breath, striving for steadiness, for calm. Her beauty was normal. After all, most Halflings were blessed with extraordinary good looks.
Yet never had a Halfling appealed to him as much as this one did. Hell, no woman had ever made him shake with the need to touch her. All because she was his mate, destined to be with him always.
Superstitious nonsense. Giving himself a stern talking-to, he took the stool next to her at the crowded café counter. He inhaled again and managed to give her a nonchalant nod before pre-tending to turn his attention to the breakfast menu. This close, he could taste her scent, sweet like honey, exotically tinged with citrus. Sexy. Again he battled the desire to touch her, to learn if her creamy skin felt as soft as it looked.
Hell hounds. He'd come to this small Texas town on a mission. He couldn't afford to let a pretty face distract him.
Scowling, he forced himself to remember the grief-stricken expression his best friend, Carson, had worn when he'd given Luc the news about Lucy, Luc's godchild and the daughter Carson had named after him.
Painful. "Hey, surely the menu isn't that bad, is it?" Even her voice affected him, sending chills down the length of his spine. Looking up, he met her gaze, bracing himself against the onslaught of sen-sation, the fierce rush of need and want and longing.
She smiled, the effect of which had him clench-ing his fists to keep from reaching for her. "You were giving the menu such a black look, I thought I'd offer you my breakfast recommendation. I eat here all the time, so I promise I'm well qualified to suggest something good."
Struck dumb for the first time in his life, Luc swallowed, trying to gather his thoughts. "What do you recommend?" he asked, his voice sounded more like a growl than he'd intended.
Her lovely eyes widened, but she bravely leaned close, pointing to an item on the menu labeled "King's Breakfast." Luc barely suppressed a shudder when her long hair brushed over his arm.
Soft. So soft. "This one is excellent. Lots of meatprotein. Of course, if you're not a meat eater"
"I am." Was it his imagination, or had her voice softened, becoming breathless? Again, sharp desire stabbed him, waking his wolf.
Not good. Not good at all.
Ruthlessly, he forced away his need. He had a short time frame to learn the truth about this woman, or Lucy would die. He couldn't allow lust to come between him and his quest. And lust had to be all this was. Finding his mate had no place in the scheme of things. Finding a healer did.
When the waitress came, he placed an order for the King's Breakfast. Samantha did the same, chatting easily with the stocky woman in the pink, polyester uniform. When the woman moved off, Samantha turned her attention back to Luc. He felt the full force of her amber gaze like a punch to the gut.
"What brings you to Anniversary?" Smiling pleasantly, she seemed completely unaware of her effect on him. "Are you just passing through, or, ?"
Now came the part he'd been dreadinghis cover story. Luc hated lies, hated liars even worse. If he'd been allowed to choose, he would have barged in, confronted Samantha and hauled her back to Leaning Tree, NewYork, on the first available flight. Even if the rumors proved false, if there was the remotest chance she could help Lucy, he'd take it.
His plan had been voted down. Though the Pack council felt otherwise, it wasn't until they'd pointed out that healers couldn't ever be forced to heal that Luc had reluctantly acceded to their wishes.
"I'm here to investigate the werewolf sightings," he said, watching her eyes widen. "I've a meeting with a Samantha Warren at the library in" he made a show of consulting his watch "one hour."
"You're Dr. Herrick?"
At his nod, she held out her hand, laughing slightly, inviting him to share in the joke. "What an odd coincidence, running into you here. I'm Samantha Warren. Looks like our meeting just got moved up."
Unable to tear his gaze away from her face, he slid his fingers around hers. Her skin was as smooth as he'd imagined, and he tightened his grip. With a puzzled tilt of her head, she stiffened, as if his touch had shocked her.
Despite that, he kept her hand securely in his. Color bloomed in her face, her pale skin suffus-ing with rose. The urge to kiss her seized himhe actually tugged on her hand to pull her to him before realizing he was about to make a serious mistake, a fatal error.
Instead, he released her, forcing what he hoped was a pleasant smile on his face. "Wonderful. I'm so glad to meet you. I can't tell you how grateful I am for your kind offer of help."
She regarded him gravely, an unsettled expres-sion flitting across her beautiful face. "No thanks are necessarythat's what I do. Librarians and authors are always a good fit."
Fascinated, he watched her blush deepen, as she realized the possible meaning of her words. They would be a good fit, if they were true mates, he thought. She'd sheath him as tightly as a stantly hardened.
Damn. "More coffee?" The waitress returned, refilling their cups without waiting for an answer. "Your breakfasts should be out shortly."
Unable to tear his gaze from Samantha, he nodded, and the woman moved away.
Blinking, Samantha shook her head as if awak-ening from a dream. "What were we talking about?"
"Your help with my research for this book." "Oh, yes. You'll be glad to know I carry all of your books in our library here. The one on the Loch Ness Monster is a particular favorite with middle-schoolers."
He barely registered her words. The only thought that consumed him was the need to cover her mouth with his and taste her lips. And more.
Breathing raggedly, he felt absurdly grateful when the waitress slid their breakfast platters in front of them with much clinking of silverware and china.
Samantha, too, appeared relieved, focusing on the meal in front of her.
For the next several minutes, Luc concentrated The intensity of his reaction to her was far outside the realm of his experience.
The only family member who'd already found his mate was Savagely, he bit off the thought. He missed Kyle. His younger half brother had married young, announcing to the entire Pack that Shannon was his mate. The two had been one of the happiest couples Luc had ever seen, until the illness claimed Kyle's life. Now Shannon barely existed, a shadow of her formerly vibrant self.
Luc could identify. His biggest regret was his inability to help his beloved brother, despite his doctoral degree. Instead, he'd been forced to slowly watch him die.
If Samantha Warren was truly a healer, discov-ery of her abilities had come too late to help Kyle.