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Hunter's Heart

Alpha Pack 4

by

J D Tyler

To Kierin “KK” Stevens, my biggest fan and softball catcher phenomenon. Good luck as you begin college, not that you’ll need it. You’re going to set the world on its ear and achieve all of your dreams, and you’ll do it your way. You’re an awesome, special young lady and I’m proud to know you.

Ryon’s story is for you.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

As always, special thanks to:

My wonderful family for always being there to support and encourage me. I love you all.

The Foxes and my best friend, Debra Stevens, for saving my sanity with impromptu lunches and refreshing spiked beverages, and always being there when I need a shoulder to cry on.

My friend Mary Anne Rocha for making sure I take a “gamble” on life and unleash my inner wild child from time to time.

My agent, Roberta Brown, for always being my cheerleader and my guide.

My editor, Tracy Bernstein, for endless support, patience, and words of wisdom.

All of the crew at New American Library, including the other editors and copy editors, art department, marketing team, and publicists. You guys are awesome!

And the readers, for your enthusiasm for the Alpha Pack that ensures they live on. You rock!

One

“The guy bringing up the rear is always the one who gets eaten, you know.”

Ryon Hunter made a face at Aric Savage’s back as their team of shifters, the Alpha Pack, crept stealthily in human form down the garbage-strewn alley. Or half of them, anyway.

The other half were elsewhere in the Big Apple, quickly and quietly searching the night for a gang of rogue vampires reported to be on the hunt, killing humans by draining them and leaving their corpses to be found by puzzled and alarmed citizens. The Pack’s commander, Nick Westfall, had given them a simple mandate: find the bastards and neutralize every last damned one of them. Otherwise the public would have questions, ones that had answers the Pack and the very few authorities in the know didn’t want them getting hold of.

Vampires in New York City. Sounded like an apocalypse movie.

If people only knew of the very real paranormal world that lurked in the shadows, there would be mass panic. The Alpha Pack’s job was to make sure that never happened. They hunted the most dangerous creatures in the world, taking them out before humans had a clue they were there. The less dangerous ones were brought in for possible rehabilitation, and integration into their world.

Peering into the gloom, Ryon forced himself to concentrate. Spirits beckoned to him from every corner, their ghostly forms fading in and out as they entreated him to listen to pleas he couldn’t hear. Didn’t want to hear. As the Pack’s Channeler/Telepath, this was his gift—or rather, his curse.

As a Telepath, Ryon was capable of pushing his direct thoughts into other people’s heads. He could also catch a reply from one of his teammates if they pushed back hard enough, even though none of the rest of them shared his gift. But his oh so wonderful abilities didn’t stop there. Being a Channeler meant that Ryon could also communicate with the dead, if he really tried. Which he rarely wanted to do, but the ghosts just wouldn’t leave him alone. Lost souls were drawn to him like metal shavings to a magnet, and New York City held so many of them it was like wading through pea soup.

Even worse, the ghosts seriously pissed off his wolf, who snapped and snarled inside him every time one got too close. Which was constantly.

Nobody, not even his Pack brothers, knew how very close to the breaking point the spirits had driven him.

A slight scuffing sound came from behind him, like a shoe on concrete, and Ryon whirled. His enhanced eyesight scanned the darkness, but all was still. Quiet. So quiet that it took him a couple of seconds to figure out why that bothered him.

The spirits had vanished.

“Shit,” he breathed, spinning around to catch up with his group. “Guys—”

The alley exploded in a flurry of dark figures, rushing them from all sides. He just had time to see Aric and Hammer engage in battle with four rogue vampires when a fifth tackled him from the side, slamming him into the wall of a building.

Grunting in pain, he shoved at the vamp, grimacing at the stench of fetid breath wafting over his face. The rogue had him pinned and bared his fangs, going for Ryon’s jugular. Twisting, Ryon managed to get enough leverage to put his back to the wall and shove the thing off him. The vamp stumbled backward and Ryon grabbed for the silver knife strapped to his thigh, cursing himself for not already having it in his hand.

He took the snarling vamp to the ground, and in one swift movement, thrust the blade under the breastbone, burying it deep into the monster’s black heart. The vamp’s squeal joined the others as Aric and Hammer took out their opponents. But they weren’t out of the woods.

Another wave of the rogues emerged from the shadows, intent on destroying their adversaries and feasting on their blood. Before Ryon could stand up, two vamps leapt on him, slamming him to the dirty concrete. He’d fought greater numbers than this before and won, but they had him off-balance. They got him facedown, one sitting on his legs, twisting an arm behind him and taking the knife, while the other grabbed a fistful of his hair and pulled his head back to expose this throat.

“Get off me, you fucker!” His wolf, enraged, demanded release as he bucked. Tried in vain to throw them off. Knowing he could fight them much better on four legs, with his own set of sharp teeth, he gathered his concentration for the shift.

“Uh-uh,” the one sitting on his legs sang. “We can’t let the puppy come out to play.”

How do they know—

A hard punch landed in his side. Hot, agonizing fire spread through his torso, seized his lungs. His cry came out as a hoarse wheeze as he realized the vamp had stabbed him with his own silver knife, buried it to the hilt between his ribs. He renewed his struggle to throw them off, but it was no use.

“Hold still, pup,” the other crooned in his ear. “This will be over soon.”

Then the creature’s fangs sank deep into Ryon’s throat, silencing his shout. The agony was indescribable, drowning out even the burn in his ribs. The sickening slurp of the thing feeding at his neck made him want to vomit, but he couldn’t move. Could do nothing as his sight began to dim, his brain spinning with dizziness.

The one who’d been feeding raised his head, and spoke with reverent wonder. “It’s true! Shifter blood is like the purest cocaine! So good . . .”

“Let me try,” the other insisted.

“No! This kill is mine!”

Their argument saved him. That, and his Pack brothers rushing to his rescue after taking care of the other rogues. Distantly, Ryon heard the sounds of a fierce but brief fight as the vampires turned to meet the new threat. Then sudden silence, broken by harsh breathing. Boots, jogging toward him. Cursing.

“Motherfucking hell,” Aric snapped. “Help me turn him over. Careful.”

Hands lifted him, and soon he was on his back. He tried to make out their faces, to say he was all right. But

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