The woman caught Ryland Graham’s eye the moment she’d walked into the bar. She was dressed casually in jeans, a black turtleneck, and a jacket, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail that hung halfway down her back.
When she’d turned to the waitress, he’d gotten a look at her face and the impact had sent a shockwave through his chest. He hadn’t experienced moonlust, but Ry recognized the physical sign of need so intense he had to suppress the urge to shift and howl a mating call.
Long ago his father had explained there was a difference between lust beneath the moon and the moonlust one felt for one’s true mate. Ry was feeling it now -- for a human. Was that possible?
He’d believed that moonlust was a shared werewolf experience. But how did he deny the physical evidence? His blood was on fire and his heart was racing. He picked up his Scotch on the rocks and walked toward her table.
He was unattached, alone in a hotel, the moon was full, and she was so damn beautiful Ry was mesmerized. He was in San Francisco to testify at the trial of a man he’d busted three years ago, a religious zealot who believed killing shifters served God’s greater plan, but a bomb threat had forced the evacuation of the court building. Ry’d been forced to stay in town another day.
Had fate guided him to her? He’d planned to order room service, drink a beer, and watch a game. But as he passed the bar, he decided he wanted a Scotch. He’d picked up the glass to take his first sip, then she’d walked in. Ry forgot about the game, the trial, and the exorbitant price he’d paid for the Scotch.
She sat in the corner, watching the door and the street as if she expected trouble.
Ry didn’t need trouble, especially the female human kind, but fate had changed his plans and her smile was like a tractor beam drawing him to her. She was so utterly feminine and so fragile looking, walking away wasn’t an option. “I’m Ryland Graham. Mind if I sit down?”
Her gaze searched his face, assessing him, and she smiled. “Please do, Mr. Graham.”
“My friends call me Ry.” He pulled out a chair and took a seat.
She stuck out her hand. “I’m Mary Smith.”
Her hand was cold, her touch brief, and she was lying. The scent of fear clung to her and her hand trembled as she picked up her glass and took a drink.
“I know we just met, but would you have dinner with me? The hotel has a great restaurant. Or there’s an Italian place down the block.”
Her gaze flicked to the window, then back to meet his.
Ry smiled. “I’m only in town for the night and I’d really like to have dinner with you.”
“Are you staying at this hotel?” Her come-hither smile slammed through him. Ry would have liked to think she was as captivated by him as he was by her, but he knew better. His training and his years on the job told him she was playing him, using him to get out of the bar and out of sight.
Mary was human and up to her ass in trouble. As a sworn officer of the Federal Paranormal Criminal Unit it was his duty to direct her to SFPD and walk away. But that wasn’t going to happen. If she had dragons to slay, Ry was buying a sword. “I’m on the sixth floor.”
“I’m starved. Let’s order room service.”
He stood and pulled back her chair. When he held out his hand, she took it, her grip so tight her nails dug into his palm. Hand-in-hand, they walked to the elevator. Ry pushed the call button. Mary’s sharp intake of breath put Ry on alert. She dropped her head and leaned against him, her actions more defensive than affectionate.
Ryland shielded her with his body and looked around for what had upset her. A blond man in a dark suit stood near the entrance of the bar.
If this was the guy Mary was afraid of, Ry wanted to remember him. His hair was dark blond, trimmed short. His face was lean, his eyes blue, and his nose blade thin. He was clean shaven and had no visible scars or tattoos. He was about six feet tall and of average build.
The blond man caught Ry’s intense stare and turned away. The elevator car arrived. Using the exiting guests as cover, Ry put his arm around Mary and ushered her into the empty car.
The doors closed, but instead of extricating herself, Mary clung to him. Ry put his arms around her, felt her shaking. “You’re safe with me.”
She lifted her head. Her eyes were brown with hints of amber and framed with long lashes. Her lips trembled and Ry ached to kiss away her fear.
But Mary made the first move. She reached up and placed her hand on the back of his neck, then pulled his face down to hers.
Ry didn’t hesitate. He pressed his lips to hers and pulled her close. Her lips were soft and lush. Her response was hesitant at first, but slowly her mouth melded and moved with his. The ding of the bell and the opening of the doors pulled Ry back to Earth. They had arrived at the fourth floor.
A gray-haired man stepped in the car. “Sorry,” he said, pushing the button for the ninth floor.
Ry took Mary’s hand, holding it until they reached his room. He wondered if Mary intended to offer sex in exchange for a place to hide. He wanted her, more than he’d wanted any female, wolf or human, in a long time, but Ry didn’t want sex on those terms, not ever, and never with her. Once inside, he drew her back into his arms for one more kiss before he sat her down to find out what the hell was going on.
Her mouth opened beneath his and Ry slipped his tongue inside to deepen the kiss. The full moon phase already had his blood running, and kissing Mary was like throwing gas on hot embers.
His blood was laser hot. A tremor, one commonly felt while shifting, ran along his spine. Fur sprang out, like a ribbon of hair running from his neck to his tailbone.
Mary moaned and burrowed against his chest, making Ry aware of the layers of clothing preventing skin-to-skin contact.
The need to strip her naked and take her here flashed through him. He pushed her jacket off her shoulders.
She shrugged out of the garment, letting it fall to the floor. Ry’s jacket followed hers.
The softness of her breasts pushing against his chest set off his sexual receptors. Fire flared inside him. He picked her up and pushed her back against the wall.
Shifting tremors rolled through him and fur sprang out on his legs and arms.
Ry grabbed mental control and the fur receded. If they’d been naked, he’d likely have scared her half to death. He broke the kiss and sucked in a slow breath. He was hard as stone. His heart was thundering and his blood racing.
Her chest rose and fell with each ragged breath she took.
What the hell had just happened?
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