“You’re being strangely accommodating for a selfish panther Romeo said held no interest in a mate.”
Dante paused at that. It was true. He’d never wanted to be bound by anything, especially not a mate. Yet for some reason, he didn’t mind Pandora in the least.
“The Fates didn’t ask me who or what I wanted for my own.” He held her marked palm up for both of them to see. “But they have chosen you as mine and I take care of what belongs to me.”
“And if I don’t want to belong to you?”
“I can’t force you to mate with me, Pandora, you know that. You are free to leave my protection at any time and go wherever you want.”
Pandora swallowed at the thought. Yes, she could. But where would she go? The journey to Atlanta had been scary and fraught with the fear of having a pack find her and abuse her or the humans learning that she was a Were-Panther and locking her up.
Many ordinary things had baffled her.
How to buy a bus ticket. How to order food. Those things were all different in her time period. Everything there was done with universal credits. There was no money in her world. No fuel-burning vehicles.
The transports in her century were more akin to monorails and you paid your way with your palm print. Everything at home was automated and clinical.
She didn’t know how to survive in the current human world. Didn’t know how to use her powers.
It was terrifying here.
Except for Dante. He offered her more than anyone ever had. Protection and education.
He was her safety.
And he was her designated mate. Mating with a male was a physical act. It was the bonding ceremony that was emotional. She could easily mate and then have his protection.
Her heart would still belong solely to herself.
But if she refused to mate with Dante, he would have no reason to protect or educate her. And why would he? Her refusal would leave him impotent. Something she was sure wouldn’t endear her to him.
“You will give me total freedom without any limitations on it?” she asked.
“I know no other way.”
In that moment, she realized that she could learn to love this panther standing in front of her. He didn’t have to give her anything. He could theoretically take anything from her that he wanted. The other panthers did.
If a woman wasn’t mated to one of the Katagaria pack, they kept her anyway and used her as a whore for all of them.
But Dante offered her the world and asked for nothing in return. Nothing except a few words that would unite their physical bodies.
“And our children?” she asked him.
“We have a large nursery for them in Minnesota.”
She cocked her head. “You realize they’ll most likely be human and not cubs.”
He looked perplexed by that. “Then I’ll read Mr. Spock.”
Pandora laughed. “He’s the character from Star Trek, not the child expert. No wonder you’re here.”
He brushed the hair back from her face and gave her a sincere, heated look that melted her. “I will do whatever I have to to take care of them. I promise you. Human or cub, they will be protected as my offspring and they will have whatever they need to grow strong and healthy.”
She pressed her marked palm against his. “Then I will mate with you, Dante Pontis.”
Dante couldn’t breathe as he stared down at her and those blessed words rang in his ears. He should be running for the door. But if he did that, he’d never have sex again.
Sex with only one woman. He was really paying the piper for all the years he’d been tormenting Romeo about being mated.
And yet he couldn’t quite muster up true fear. Some hidden part of him liked the idea of Pandora being his.
Lacing his fingers with hers, he walked backward toward the bed, pulling her with him.
He used his powers to turn down the bed and strip their clothes from them before he lay on his back and pulled her over him.
The mating ritual was older than time. It was instinctive to their species and it would bind them for the rest of their lives. The only way to break it would be for one of them to die. Whoever survived the union would then be free to try and find another mate… if there was another one out there.
It was extremely rare for any Were-Hunter, Katagaria or Arcadian, to find a second mate.
Pandora bit her lip in nervous trepidation. All her life, her thoughts and energy had been spent on worrying about the actual act of sex. Since she was promised to a Katagaria pack, she’d never really thought much about ritual mating.
Now she was almost scared as she tried to take Dante into her body. This was a lot more difficult than she would have guessed. Every time she tried to straddle him, his c**k went astray.
Dante smiled gently. “Can I help?”
He shifted his hips, then guided her onto him. They both moaned in pleasure as her body took him in all the way to his hilt.
This was it. A man who ought to terrify and repulse her was about to become her mate.
She would have children with him and somehow they would bridge the differences between their cultures and personalities and become the sole physical comfort for each other.
If she had to have a Katagari lover, she couldn’t imagine a better panther to have as her own than Dante.
Pandora could barely think as she felt heat coming from their joined hands that held the mating mark. She moved against him slowly, then spoke the words that would unite them. “I accept you as you are, and I will always hold you close in my heart. I will walk beside you forever.”
Dante watched her intently as he felt every inch of her body with his. He’d never thought to have a mate at all and had relegated himself to a future bereft of children. Now the thought of having his own cubs warmed him.
She was his.
A hot, demanding possessiveness unlike anything he’d ever known before tore through him as he watched her ride him slow and easy. Not feral like a pantheress.
Human and yet not. Who would have thought that Dante Pontis could be tamed by such a small creature? And yet her tender touch seared him with a humanity he wouldn’t have thought possible.
The beast inside him was calm. No longer searching, it lay at peace as if she fit some part of him he’d never known was missing.
Smiling up at her, he cupped her face with his free hand and repeated the vow back to her.
Pandora moaned at the deepness of his voice until an unexpected pain sliced through her as her canine teeth started to grow.
Pandora hissed. This was the thirio, a need inside both their races that wanted them to bite each other and combine their life forces so that if one died, they both did.
Like the mating ritual itself, the choice of bonding was hers alone to make. Dante could never force it on her.
Nor did he ask it of her now.
True to his words, he left it entirely up to her and only watched her as she rode him.
Pandora kissed the hand that held his mark, then led it to her breast as her orgasm pierced her.
Dante couldn’t breathe as his own cli**x blazed. He roared in satisfaction as his teeth finally began to recede.
It was done now. There was no going back.
They were joined, but not bonded.
Still, she was his.
He reached up to touch the necklace he’d bought for her. She looked beautiful nak*d in his arms. Her spent body was still wrapped around his.
“Pandora Pontis,” he breathed. “Welcome to my pack.” With that thought in mind, he pulled the small signet ring off his little finger, wished a spell onto it, then handed it to her.
Pandora studied the antique piece. It was beautiful, with gold filigree surrounding a large sapphire stone where an ornate “DP” was engraved. “What is this?”
“A homing beacon so that wherever you find yourself, you can always come back to me simply by thinking of me.”
She scowled at his words. “I don’t have those powers.”
“I know. It’s why I’m giving you the ring. The spell works from my powers and it’s unbreakable.”
Her lips trembled at his kindness. He’d really meant it when he said she had her freedom. Swallowing against the lump in her throat, she slid the ring onto her left hand. It was a perfect fit. “Thank you.”
He inclined his head to her, then pulled her lips to his so that he could give her a passionate kiss.
A bright flash filled the room.
Pandora pulled back with a cry as someone grabbed her from behind.
Two seconds later, all hell broke loose.
Pandora cried out as she realized that eight panthers from the pack that had originally snatched her from her time period had suddenly appeared in Dante’s suite.
“How dare you run from us!” their tessera leader snarled as he slung her away from the bed and Dante, into the arms of two of his cronies.
Pandora fought their hold as Dante threw his hand out and blasted the man who had grabbed her. The leader recoiled into the wall, but came right back on his feet.
Dante crouched low, ready to pounce on them. “Don’t you dare touch her.”
The leader straightened to give Dante a murderous glare. “Stay out of this, panthiras. She belongs to us.”
Dante came off the bed with a snarl. “The hell you say.” He turned to panther form as he attacked.
With the exception of the two holding her, all the men in the room transformed into panthers to fight. Pandora cringed at the growls and roars as the animals slashed and clawed each other in a primal battle.
Terrified that they might hurt Dante, she bit the man to her right, then stomped the foot of the one to her left. They let go of her, then reached for her again.
She spun away from them. Clothes appeared instantly on her body.
“Run, gataki,” Dante said in her mind. “They won’t be able to find you in the crowd.”
The next thing she knew, she was downstairs in a women’s bathroom stall.
“Dammit, Dante!” she snarled as she left the stall and almost ran into a human woman dressed in an ornate burgundy and gold Renaissance gown who appeared to have just left the stall before her.
The woman gave her a fierce scowl that Pandora ignored as she brushed past her.
She had to get back upstairs with some reinforcements.
Dante couldn’t fight that many panthers on his own. They’d kill him.
Her heart hammering, she ran out of the bathroom to find herself inside a roomful of dealers. She scanned the booths hoping to find one of Dante’s brothers.
Instead her gaze landed on a medieval weapons booth that was lined with every kind of weapon imaginable.
Pandora headed for it. She skimmed through the weapons. They had poleaxes and swords, which would be too awkward for her. She had no idea how to skillfully wield one, and the daggers would force her to get too close to the panthers.
But the double-sided handaxe…
She seized it without hesitation, then closed her eyes, conjured up an image of Dante, and prayed his spell actually worked. Her head swam as she was whirled back into the room in the middle of the fight.
Pandora tightened her grip on the axe, then realized she wasn’t sure which panther was Dante.
Not until one attacked her. Assuming her mate wouldn’t do such a thing, she swung the axe with every ounce of strength she possessed.
It made contact with the beast’s shoulder.
The panther howled as he limped away.
“Pandora!” Dante snapped in her mind. “What are you doing?”
“I’m saving my mate,” she said between clenched teeth as she went after another panther. “You’re not Dante, are you?”
“I’m behind you.”
“Good.” She swung at the panther in front of her who dodged her first blow but was caught by her second one.
Before she could swing again, she found herself back in the handicapped bathroom stall, this time with two women who were trying to unlace a female Klingon costume.
They both gaped at her as they stared at her bloodied axe.
Too worried over her mate, Pandora paid them no attention.
“I’m getting tired of this!” she growled, then wished herself back to Dante.
Dante cursed in her head as she reappeared in his room. “I’m going to take that damned ring from you.”
A panther leaped at her.
Pandora started to swing, but caught herself as the panther flashed to Dante’s nak*d, human form. He wrapped his arms around her and flashed her into her hotel room.
“Dante?” she breathed, her voice shaking as she realized he was covered in blood from the fighting. He looked terrible. There were bite wounds and scratches all over him.
Dante wanted to speak, but in truth it was taking way too much of his powers to assume human form while injured. His human body ached and throbbed.
He had to protect Pandora.
Closing his eyes, he summoned Romeo.
But no sooner had he sent out the call, than his human legs buckled.
“Dante?” Pandora asked as she pulled him into her arms.
He had no choice except to return to his panther’s body.
To his surprise, she didn’t release him or flee in fear of his animal form. She held him tight and stroked his fur.