Chapter One

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.

“Oh shit.”

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 happen—that a woman who had been created as his perfect match, the other half of his self, even
existed—but 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 before the 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. Hell, he’d screwed his share of women in his lifetime, leaving them quickly and yet, always with their well-used bodies heavy
with pleasure, steeped in satisfaction—but 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 her—he 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-foot, 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 did—
they 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 sighed, 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 goddamn 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 different—deeper…earthier…and it was getting

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 heaven—the most dangerous kind of pleasure.

His keen eyesight scanned the immediate area again, falling on a lush blond 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, tortoise-shell 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, and 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 illegal—hell, 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 she shivered, wrenching herself free of the
potent visual hold. Her eyes closed for a moment, and then 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 ba—shins.”

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 weightless—while 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!”

From the book:  LAST WOLF STANDING by Rhyannon Byrd
Copyright © 2008
® and ™  are trademarks of the publisher.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
For more romance information go to:
An Unedited Excerpt from Rhyannon Byrd’s