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By Sherrilyn Kenyon
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Sherrilyn Kenyon
All rights reserved.
Dante Pontis wasn't the most patient of creatures. And his patience was quickly running out.
He'd been trapped in a limo from Hartsfield Airport to the hotel with his brothers, Mike and Leo, as they bitched and moaned over the fact that Dante had forced the two young panthers to fly coach from Minnesota to Atlanta while he and Romeo had simply "flashed" themselves here.
And all because the last time he and Romeo had psychically transported the twins somewhere, they had caused such a scene on arrival that they'd almost gotten busted by the humans.
Dragon*Con was far too crowded to take a chance on the four of them "appearing" before so many witnesses.
The key to Were-Hunter survival was to blend in with the humans, not scare the shit out of them.
"You know," Romeo said to them, "you're both lucky I wouldn't let Dante trank you and send you over in a cage. It's what he wanted to do."
"You dick," Leo snarled at Dante as he raked him with a repugnant glare. At six feet four, the panther was still growing and would probably equal Dante's height of six feet six in the next decade or so.
Leo and Mike were identical twins whom Dante had raised after their mother had abandoned them on their father's doorstep. It was typical Were-Panther behavior. The women would mate with the men, get pregnant, then leave the cubs for the men to raise while the women prowled around unfettered.
If the cubs were daughters, they would remain in the male-dominated pack until puberty, which struck them around the age of twenty-four. Then all the "seasoning" female cubs would form their own group and leave to search for mates.
In the last two hundred years, Dante and Romeo had raised a large number of cubs, since their father was famous for dumping his litters on them and heading for the hills.
Like Dante, the twins had wavy black hair and tawny Italian skin when in human form.
Unlike him, they were only sixty years old, which in their life span made them practically children.
And they acted it.
It was time to either kill them or get away from them. Since Romeo was still rather bent over the fact that Dante had killed off their brother Salvatore for betraying them, Dante decided it would be best to get to his room before Leo and Mike joined Salvatore as skins on the wall at his club.
"I don't understand why I have to share a room with Leo," Mike snarled. "He snores."
"I do not. Besides, you whistle when you sleep."
"No, I don't."
Dante passed an irritated look at Romeo. "Why are they here?"
"To get women," Mike said.
Romeo ignored him. "You were afraid to leave them alone at the Inferno without me. The last time you did that, they damn near burned the place down."
Dante expelled a disgusted breath. "And why can't I kill them again?"
"You would miss them."
Yeah, right. Dante snorted at that as he handed off the card key to Leo and Mike.
"Wait, wait, wait, wait," Leo said as he examined it. "These aren't concierge level."
Dante gave him a bored stare.
"Are you concierge?" Leo asked Romeo.
"Why aren't we concierge?" Mike asked Dante.
Dante crossed his arms over his chest. "Because you're unworthy."
Mike opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, a trace of a scent washed over all three of them instantaneously.
Dante went rigid as every hormone in his body suddenly became activated and sizzled. Against his will, he found himself turning around and scanning the crowd in the hotel lobby.
He smelled a virgin pantheress in heat.
They all did.
The scent was unmistakable. It was warm and sweet. Feminine and innocent. Succulent. Inviting. And it made him salivate for a taste of her. His panther sight dimmed as it scanned the females present and detected none of his kind.
"Where is she?" Leo said, his voice ragged as if he were having a hard time holding himself back.
"Too many humans here to tell," Mike said as he tilted his head back to sniff the air. "They have her scent moving in multiple directions."
Dante passed a look to Romeo, who was staring up at the elevator. He turned to stare as well, and saw no one but Darth Vader.
"Did you see her?" he asked.
Romeo shook his head. "Sorry. I was mesmerized by the naked green alien."
"Arrr," Mike snarled. "You're worthless, Romeo. What kind of panther gets fixed on an alien when there's a virgin pantheress in heat?"
"A mated one," Romeo shot back. "Unlike you losers, my hormones are contained."
Dante sniffed and shook his head to clear it of her scent before his animal hormones relegated him to the same childish antics as his twin brothers. "Yeah, and I want to keep mine that way. Frick and Frack, you're on panther patrol. Find her and keep her far away from me."
Mike and Leo exchanged evil grins before they bolted into the crowd.
Dante rolled his eyes at their haste. There were times when they really were losers.
"Aren't you the least bit interested?" Romeo asked as they headed for the elevators. "It's not every day we run across a virgin panther."
"Hell, no. I'll stick to humans. The last thing I want is a mate who'll cruise into my life once a year, screw my brains out for two days, then run off until she delivers my litter to me to raise without her. No offense, being you and Dad sucks and I've raised enough siblings to never want to raise my own young without the benefit of a mate."
Romeo laughed. "Yeah, but for the record, it's one helluva two days."
Dante shook his head at him. "You can have it. I'd rather take my pleasure where and when I find it."
He entered the elevator, then paused as he realized Romeo wasn't joining him.
"I'll catch you later," he said.
"All right." Dante got in and pushed the button for his floor. He stepped back against the glass and did his best to bring his body back under control.
But it was hard.
Every animal instinct he possessed demanded that he stalk this hotel until he located the female.
Since he was a Katagari Were-Hunter, the need to copulate with her was almost overwhelming. Katagaria were animals who could take human form, but at the end of the day, they were animals and not humans. Their animal half ran roughshod over their human sensibilities and it was the animal heart inside them that ruled them and their actions.
What he needed was some time in his room where he could take his animal form and put the female out of his mind.
He was old enough to be able to curtail his nature. To control it. He wasn't about to let any woman have control over him.
Especially not a pantheress.
* * *
Pandora fumbled with her key card as she struggled to open her door.
What was she going to do? The man in her elevator wasn't Acheron. And those had been panther males down there. If they caught another whiff of her ...
She was doomed. There was no way the animal inside her would refuse a virile male. She was in heat and the need to mate reigned supreme inside her. If any male came near her who her animal self sensed could possibly impregnate her, she would throw herself at him.
Around humans, that impulse was controllable. The chances of a human male being her mate were almost impossible. So the animal inside her might be curious and enticed, but it would stand down to her human rationale.
Around a Were-Panther, that animal need wouldn't listen to reason. It would pounce for a taste of the male.
She would have no control.
A shadow fell over her.
Pandora squeaked and jumped back as she looked up and saw one of the men from downstairs. This close to him, she couldn't mistake his Panthiras attributes.
His scent was undeniable.
He was lean and powerful in human form. Deadly. His handsomeness would guarantee him any female who caught his interest ... even her own feminine senses reacted to him, but not so much that she couldn't fight him.
Even more frightening than his innate feral masculinity, his scent was Katagaria — the animal branch of their species — while she was Arcadian, the human branch.
Letting go of her room card, she crouched to attack and was amazed that the animal inside her wasn't leaping out to mate with him.
"It's okay," he said quickly. "I've got good news and bad news for you."
"And that is?"
He held his hand up so that she could see the geometric mark on his palm. At least that explained why she could resist the urge to copulate with him. "I'm mated so you're completely safe from me."
Pandora still wasn't ready to trust him, but at least as a mated panther, he wouldn't be able to have sex with her. Once a Were-Panther male was mated, he was impotent around any female other than his "wife." "I take it that's the good news?"
"And the bad?"
"I'm here with three brothers who aren't."
She started to bolt.
"No, no," he said, reaching out to take her hand. He pulled back before he did. "Don't be afraid of me. I really mean you no harm, okay? I have ten daughters myself and I understand your fear."
She still wasn't ready to trust that he wouldn't take her to his brothers for their enjoyment. That was what the ones seeking her would do and she had no intention of becoming a community toy for every unmated male in their pack. "What do you want?"
"Believe it or not, I'm going to help you."
She chose not to believe that. At least not yet. "Why would you do that?"
"Because of my daughters," he said sincerely. "You're just a baby and I don't trust Leo or Mike not to hurt you. They wouldn't do it on purpose, but they're young too and not real good at holding back. No doubt they'd both pounce on you at once and who knows what they might inadvertently do."
And that was exactly what she was afraid of. "That's only two brothers. What of the third?"
"Dante's different. Honestly, you'd be lucky to find someone like him for your first. He's a selfish bastard who doesn't like to share much of anything with anyone and he'd make sure no one else touched you while you were with him."
But his brother was still an animal and she had no interest in taking a Katagari lover.
"Is that supposed to comfort me?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No, but don't worry. Dante's a lot older than they are and, lucky for you, he doesn't want a mate. He plans to stay far away from you so I can keep him off you by simply telling him where you are."
Pandora calmed a degree. He was telling her the truth, she could sense it. One of the good things about being part animal was that she knew whenever someone was lying to her.
"Okay," she said slowly. "Thank you for your offer to help. I don't want a Katagari to touch me."
His nostrils flared at that.
She stiffened. "You said it yourself. You get carried away and you hurt us. My older sister was killed by a pack of Katagaria males who snapped her neck while attempting to mate with her when she was my age. I'm barely twenty-four. I don't want to die. Not like that."
That seemed to calm him down. He bent over and retrieved her card from the floor. "Get me something with your scent on it so I can spread it around and keep Leo and Mike away from you."
Pandora nodded, then opened the door to her room. She went to her suitcase and pulled out the T-shirt she slept in.
"Do you know Acheron Parthenopaeus?" she asked as she handed it to him.
"I was told to find him. My surviving sister said that he could help me get home again."
The panther frowned at her. "I don't understand. Why didn't you go home on your own?"
She sighed as frustration filled her. How she wished it were that simple. If she were an older pantheress, she could easily find her own way home, but her kind didn't get all their psychic abilities until after their first mating.
Even then her powers would have to be trained and honed so that she could wield them. That was something that could take decades, if not centuries, to master.
"I was kidnapped from the future by a group of Katagaria panthers and brought to this time period against my will. Unfortunately, my powers are just starting and I have no control over them or any way home on my own until I master them. The last thing I want is to overshoot my time period or end up with the dinosaurs."
He looked at her suspiciously. "I still don't understand why they took you. Why go to the future for a mate when there are plenty of packs here?"
She clenched her fists at that. "It's some stupid pact my pack made with theirs. Since we seem to have an abundance of females, my pack agreed to sacrifice a number of females every generation from certain families so that the Katagaria panthers would leave the rest of the pack alone. Every time one of the winter born females in the chosen families starts to season, the same pack comes to our home and brings us to their time period to mate with them. They don't want Katagaria females since they won't stay and raise their young. They keep us instead and use us as slaves. My one surviving sister helped me to escape after they brought me here before they could induct me into their pack. She sent me to Atlanta to find Acheron. She said he could return me to my time period."
"How does she know Acheron?"
Pandora ached at the thought that she would benefit from her sister's misery. "Before she was mated to one of their males and had her own children, she was trying to escape their pack. One night, she overheard some of the Katagaria talking about a Dark-Hunter named Acheron, and after they went to sleep, she searched for him online. By the time she found out enough information to locate him, she was pregnant and couldn't leave her children behind, so she gave her information to me once they brought me over."
"Hell of a sister you have there."
"Yes," Pandora agreed. "She's the best sister in the world and I would give anything if I could help her, too."
The panther stepped back with a sigh, then started for the door.
She took his arm to keep him from leaving as another thought occurred to her. "Could you help me get home?"
He shook his head. "My powers aren't quite that strong. If I wanted to take anyone other than myself across time, I would have to wait for the full moon. The only one in my pack who could do it without waiting is Dante and if you get near him —"
"I'll attack him for sex."
At least all wasn't lost though. "But you do know Acheron, right? Will he help me?"
"I don't know. He's strange sometimes and no one ever knows how he's going to react or what he's going to do or say. But you can always ask. The best thing is for you to stay here in your room where Mike and Leo hopefully can't find you — like I said, they're young and aren't as experienced at tracking prey. I'll spread your scent around to keep them off you. Once I've got them occupied, I'll bring Ash to you. Okay?"
It was more than okay. It was great. She'd never thought to find a Katagari male who could be so kind.
"Thank you." As he moved away, Pandora stopped him again. "Really, thank you."
He offered her a kind, fatherly smile and patted her hand. "Animals protect their own. I'm doing this to help my brothers as much as I'm doing it to help you. If they were to hurt you, they'd never forgive themselves, and I'd have to listen to them lament for eternity."
Releasing her, he moved to the door and left the room.
Pandora took a deep breath, and for the first time since she'd been stolen from her people, she began to relax a little.
Now all she had to do was stay put until he returned.
But that wasn't as easy as it would normally be. The female in her that was just entering womanhood was all too aware of the fact that there were three unmated panthers in this hotel.
That alien and new part of her wanted with a vengeance the mating ritual that would induct her into adulthood.
It craved it.
For an Arcadian, the ritual was simple. Had she stayed at home, she would have chosen an elder panther from her pack to gently introduce her to the animal side of herself. Once he unlocked her full powers by copulating with her, he would have taught her how to shift from human to panther and how to protect herself and use her newborn powers.
The Katagaria were completely different. She'd heard the horror stories directly from her sister Sefia. They took their nearas — virgin females who were cresting — and allowed every unmated male of the pack to have sex with her to see if she was the mate to one of them.
Excerpted from Winter Born by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Copyright © 2016 Sherrilyn Kenyon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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