Since she’d sat down ten minutes ago, Pandora had counted nine Gandalfs, and if she didn’t miss her guess, there were at least two dozen elves, fairies, orcs, goblins, and assorted others gathered around, talking on cell phones, or smoking just outside the hotel doors.
And one mustn’t forget the entire cabal of vampires and demons walking around handing out fliers for people to come to their room for a “blood party” and Buffy film fest.
Not to mention she’d already been invited twice to the Klingon Homeworld in Room 316 at the Hyatt Regency across the street. Meanwhile a group of supposedly androgynous Borg men had tried to “assimilate” her as soon as she entered the lobby of the Marriott Marquis.
This had to be the strangest gathering she’d ever seen, and when given the fact that she was a Were-Panther who up until three days ago had lived solely among her own preternatural kind, that said something.
“I’m never going to find him,” she murmured to herself as an extremely tall, gorgeous Goth man stopped in front of her.
Good glory, the man was sinfully delectable!
And he was the last thing she needed to be staring at, yet she couldn’t seem to help herself. He was utterly compelling.
He wore a pair of dark sunglasses even inside the hotel while he scanned the motley crowd as if looking for someone. Something about the man commanded attention and respect. Of course, it didn’t help that her hormones were currently elevated by the change going on inside her as she came into full womanhood. Her entire body was humming from hormonal overload which, up until his appearance, she’d been keeping under very careful control.
Now she sizzled for a taste of him and it was all she could do to stay seated.
He had to be at least seven feet tall, augmented by the flame biker boots that added at least three inches to his height. He had long black hair that flowed around his broad shoulders, and wore an old, faded motorcycle jacket with a skull and crossbones painted on the back. The worst part was that he wore nothing underneath that jacket and every time he moved, she glimpsed more of his tanned, ripped body.
His black leather pants hugged a perfect bottom that would rival any of her Were brethren. Every part of her wanted to stand up, cross the small distance between them, and pull his tall, lean body against hers until the vicious, needful hunger in her blood was fully sated. But even as she felt that primal sexual hunger, the animal part of herself sensed an air of lethal danger from him.
He wasn’t the kind of man a woman approached without an invitation.
The man turned as a woman around his age came running up to him. Cute as she could be, she was dressed like a demon, complete with a set of black wings that looked spookily real as they twitched and flapped. Her skin was red and black, and her hair matched his. She even sported a pair of glowing red horns on her head. Her short purple skirt was flared and she wore a black leather bustier with three large silver buckles on the front. Black and purple striped leggings and a pair of six-inch platform combat boots completed her odd outfit.
The tall “demon” handed the man a credit card. “It’s broke again, akri,” she said, pouting around a pair of vampirelike fangs. “The man downstairs done said that the Simi can’t charge nothing else until I’m not over my limit no more. I don’t know what that means, but I don’t like it. Fix it, akri, or else I might eat him. The Simi gots needs and I needs my plastic to work.”
The man laughed as he took it from her and pulled out his wallet. He handed her three more credit cards.
The “demon” squealed in delight and pulled him into a hug. She put the credit cards into her coffin-shaped purse, then handed him a small shiny red nylon bag. “By the way, I boughts those for you before I broke my plastic. Since you don’t got your real hornays, these are some fake ones to tide you over until we go home.”
“Thanks, Sim,” he said in an incredibly deep, evocative voice as he took the bag from her.
She smiled, kissed his cheek, then dashed off into the crowd with her wings flapping behind her.
The man looked at Pandora then and gave her a half-grin that could only be called wicked, and yet it seemed somehow knowing. He inclined his head to her, then headed off after the woman who’d just left him.
Every instinct in her body told her to follow him, but she didn’t listen.
She was here to find the legendary Acheron Parthenopaeus – an ancient, immortal Atlantean her sister had hoped would help hide Pandora from those who were hunting her. Not chase after some hot, young human who looked stunning in leather.
Acheron was her last hope.
Unfortunately, neither she nor her sister had any idea what he looked like. All they knew was that he came to Dragon*Con every year with his daughter.
He was older than time and more powerful than any other of his kind. She scanned the older men in the crowd who were dressed as wizards, warriors, or other creatures, but none of them seemed to be particularly wise or powerful, nor were they with a daughter.
Just what would an eleven-thousand-year-old man look like anyway?
Sighing, Pandora stood up and went to the bannister so that she could look down to the lower levels of the hotel and scan the crowd.
He had to be here.
But where? How could she find anyone in this thronging mass of people… er, aliens.
Chewing her lip, she debated where to go look for him. Suddenly, a tall man in an elegant black suit caught her eye. He wasn’t particularly old, probably in his mid-thirties, but she sensed an unmistakable air of power from him.
Maybe he was the mysterious Acheron. And he was heading for the bank of elevators.
Pandora rushed after him, and barely made it before the door closed them inside the small compartment with a Renaissance drummer, a green-fleshed alien, and Darth Vader.
But that wasn’t what made her heart stop. As she glanced out through the glass wall of the elevator, she saw four things that terrified her.
It was a group of devastatingly gorgeous men. The two shortest of the group were identical in looks and they had to be at least six feet four. They all had jet-black hair and were dressed in black Goth clothes.
The four men stood in a specific formation that she knew all too well, with their backs to each other as they scanned the crowd hungrily, intently, as if seeking something in particular. They were fierce. Animalistic.
It was as if they had literally caught wind of something, and in one heartbeat she knew what that something was.
“Oh no,” she said under her breath. By their build and beauty and actions, she would know their breed anywhere. No group of humans could be that handsome or that intense. Nor would any other species be so alerted by her scent.
They, like her, were Were-Panthers, and by the look of them, they were young and virile.
And she was in heat…
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 nak*d 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.