Stroke of Midnight (Page 2)

Stroke of Midnight (Nightcreature #1.5)(2)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"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 straggled 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 to see one of the men she’d seen 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 Katagariathe animal branch of then-specieswhile 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?"

He nodded.

"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.

"Yes, why?"

"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."

He nodded.

Damn.

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 youlike 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 at the 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 nearasvirgin females who were crestingand allowed every unmated male of the pack to have sex with her to see if she was the mate to one of them.

They would use her without mercy until all their males were fully sated.

Her sister Sefia had been one of the lucky ones. On the night they had deflowered her, Sefia had been mated to a Katagari panther who had then decided to keep her more as a pet than a mate.

Katagaria females left their mates once they were out of heat, and only returned whenever they were in season. If a male tried to mate with a Katagari female when she wasn’t in heat, she would attack and possibly kill him.

Once their season passed, the Katagaria females left their males and stayed with their sisters to travel about until their next fertile cycle. If the female became pregnant, she’d birth her young among her sisters, and as soon as the cubs were weaned, she would take them to the father to raise.

Arcadian pantheresses were much more coveted since they were ruled by human hearts that wouldn’t allow them to abandon their children until adulthood. Unlike their Katagaria cousins, the Arcadians stayed with their young and their mates. The male panthers didn’t have to wait for an Arcadian female to go into heat. She would be receptive to her mate at any time.

The worst part was that a panther male couldn’t rape a panther female when she was in heat. All he had to do was come near her and she would willingly accept him. It was nature and a pantheress had no control over her body at such times. It wouldn’t listen to any reason or rationale.

She would beg him to fill her.

The shame of that would come later, after the mating was done. Then, the Arcadian pantheress would feel embarrassed that she had acted like an animal and not a human.

Pandora moaned low in her throat as her desire sparked again and coiled through her. Her br**sts were heavy, her body hot and alive with need.

Go

The command was overwhelming, but she refused to heed it. She was a human, not an animal.

The Katagari male would return with Acheron and she would be among her own kind again.

Then everything would be normal.

Dante couldn’t get the fire out of his blood. The animal in him was awake and craving.

Needing.

One whiff should not have affected him this much, and yet as he drifted through the dense crowd of people pretending to be aliens and paranormal entities, he couldn’t stop himself from trying to find her scent again.

It was all he could do to stay in human form and not revert to his true animal body.

The hunter wasn’t listening to him.

Damn it!

He caught a glimpse of Acheron Parthenopaeus across the vendor booths. Oblivious to the humans who paused to gawk at his seven feet of height, the Atlantean Dark-Hunter was reading a Dark Horse Grendel comic book.