Seeking the distraction of talking with a friend, Dante headed toward him.
"Ash," he said as he drew near. "You seem remarkably relaxed." Which was true. In all the centuries he’d known the man, Dante had never seen him so at ease.
Acheron looked up from his comic and inclined his head in greeting. "What can I say? This is one of the few places I can take Simi where she doesn’t stand out. Hell, she actually looks normal here."
Dante laughed at that. Ash’s pixielike demon seldom blended in anywhere. "Where is she?"
"Shopping like a demon."
Dante shook his head at the bad pun; knowing Simi, he figured it was probably quite true. "I tried to call your cell phone when we got in to see if you made it."
Ash immediately tensed as he put his comic down and pulled out another issue. "I turned it off on the day I got here."
"Really?" Dante asked, stunned by Ash’s confession. It wasn’t like him to be out of touch with his Dark-Hunter charges. "What if one of the Dark-Hunters needed you?"
Ash shrugged. "If they can’t survive alone for four days once a year, they deserve to die."
Dante frowned. "That’s harsh, for you."
He looked at him dryly. "Harsh? Tell you what, you take my phone and skim through the three thousand phone calls I get every day and night and see how harsh I am. I truly hate modern technology and phones in particular. I haven’t had a full four hours of sleep in over fifty years. ‘Ash, I broke a toenail, help me.
Ash, my head hurts, what should I do?’ "
Ash curled his lip in repugnance. "You know, I’ve never understood it. They make a deal with the devil herself and then expect me to bail them out of every minor scrape. Then when I show up to help them, they cop an attitude and tell me to blow. So if I’m selfish for wanting four days a year to be left alone, then I’m just a selfish bastard. Sue me."
Wow, someone was cranky.
Dante took a step away from the Atlantean. "Well then, I’ll make sure I don’t bug you."
Ash pulled out another plastic-covered comic from the long white box on the table. "You’re not bothering me, Dante. Really. I’m just trying to zen myself out of a bad mood. I made the mistake of turning on my phone ten minutes ago and I had four hundred and eighty-two messages waiting on voice mail. I had it on all of three seconds before it started ringing again. All I want is a little break and no damn phone for a few days." He let out an aggravated breath. "Besides, I’m the one who told you to come."
"Yeah, thanks. This is"he hesitated as a centaur pranced by on what appeared to be modified ski boots that looked eerily like hooves"interesting."
Ash smiled. "Yeah, just wait until you see the Ms. Klingon Beauty Pageant. It’s something else."
Dante laughed. "I’ll bet. So what good bands should I check out for my club?"
Ash grabbed three Dark Horse Tales of the Vampires comics and added them to his growing pile. "Last Dance is really good. They’re playing tonight, and Ghoultown too. But the one band you have to see is the Cruxshadows. They’re right up your alley and rule the Darkwave scene. The lead singer Rogue’ll be over in the Hyatt later signing autographs at their booth. If you want, I can introduce you."
"That’d be great." The only reason Dante had come to Atlanta was because Acheron had assured him Dragon*Con was one of the best places to see several alternative bands so that he could hire them for gigs at his club in Minnesota.
Simi came running up to them with two male "Klingons" trailing behind her. "Akri? Can I go to the Klingon homeworld?"
Ash smiled at his demon. "Sure, just don’t eat any of them."
The demon pouted. "But why not?"
"Because, Simi, they’re not really Klingons. They’re people pretending to be Klingons."
"Well, pooh, fine then. No eats. But I’m going to go now. Bye bye." She dashed off with the two young men.
Ash handed the comics to the vendor, then pulled out his wallet.
"Shouldn’t you go do a head count on the homeworld population?" Dante asked.
"Nah. She’ll do what I said" Ash paused as if something occurred to him. "Then again, I didn’t tell her not to eat a Bajoran or Romulan. Damn." He paid for the comics. "You’re right, I better go count."
Ash took a step away, then stopped. "By the way, you might want to head upstairs right now and check out your room."
He shrugged. "Make sure it meets with your needs."
Dante frowned. "I’ve already been there."
"Go there again."
The animal in Dante picked up a weird scent from Acheron, but he wasn’t sure what it was.
But as the Atlantean headed off, he felt an inexplicable pull to do what Acheron had suggested.
Dante headed out of the vendors’ area, toward the escalator. He’d barely reached it when he smelled the pantheress again. He turned sharply to the left, expecting to see her.
She wasn’t there.
Still, he was hard for her. Ready. The animal inside was growling for a taste of her body.
He headed up the escalator to escape the scent.
It seemed to grow stronger.
His head low, he scanned the crowd intently, but none of his people was there.
Closing his eyes, he sniffed the air. Her fragrance was subtle now. And it was He whirled around.
There was no woman there, only Romeo, and he reeked of the pantheress. Dante couldn’t stop himself from sniffing Romeo, who immediately shoved him away.
"Man, you skeeve me when you do that. And don’t do it in public. Someone might get the wrong idea about us."
He ignored his brother’s reprimanding tone. "Where is she?" Dante demanded.
"Out of reach."
Her scent washed over him, even stronger than before. His body was raw. Needful. Every part of him craved her.
And it wasn’t taking no for an answer.
"Where?" he growled.
Romeo shook his head.
But he didn’t have to be told. Every hormone in his body sensed her. Against his will, Dante took off at a run as he cut through the crowd toward the elevator.
Without thought, he flashed himself from the lobby to the sixteenth floor.
The scent was even stronger here.
Dante stalked his way down the hall until he found her door. He couldn’t breathe as her scent filled his entire being. Leaning his head against the wood, he closed his eyes and fought the sudden urge to kick the door in.
That would probably scare her, and besides, he didn’t want to have an audience for what he intended to do with her.
He knocked on the door with a clenched fist and waited until a small, petite brunette opened it. She had large, lavender eyes and long hair that curled around an oval face.
His breathing ragged, he stared at her, wanting her with every piece of him.
But for all his sexual hunger, he knew that it was now her move CHAPTER 2
Pandora couldn’t breathe as she stared at the tall, sexy panther in her doorway. He embodied everything that was primal and male. His hands were braced on each side of the frame as he looked at her with an intensity so raw, it shook her. Masculine power and lethal grace bled from every pore of his magnificent body.
He had long black hair pulled back into a queue. His eyes were a clear blue that appeared almost colorless against his tanned skin and long midnight lashes. His face was elegantly carved and yet had a rugged quality that kept him from being pretty.
He was dressed in black jeans and a black poet’s shirt. There was something timeless and old about him. Something that reached out to her and set her entire body on fire.
Without her invitation, he stepped into the room and bent his head so that he could rub his face against her hair.
Pandora gasped as that simple action sent chills all through her. His breath scorched her extra-sensitive skin, which wanted only to be touched by him. Her ni**les hardened in expectation of what was to come.
"Gataki." He murmured the Greek word for "kitten" as he took a deep breath in her hair.
The human half of her wanted to shove him away from her. The animal part refused. It wanted only to cuddle with him. To rip his clothes off and know once and for all what it would be like to have sex with a male.
The door to her room slammed shut of its own volition.
Pandora circled around him, rubbing her body against his as she fought the urge to cry out in pleasure.
"Do you accept me?" he asked rhetorically. It was technically the woman who chose her lover, but when a female was this sexually aware of the male, there was really no way out.
All Pandora could do was nod. Her body would never allow her to deny him. He was too virile. Too consuming.
Too much of what she needed.
He turned on her with a fierce growl as he seized her for a scintillating kiss. Pandora moaned at the taste of him. No one had ever kissed her before. It was forbidden until her first cycle for any male to touch a female not related to him.
Ever since she’d been a teenager, she and her girlfriends had whispered about what they wanted for their first matings and who they would choose.
Pandora had expected Lucas to be her first. Almost four hundred years old, he was legendary among her people for his prowess and ability to teach a young pantheress her passion.
But his handsomeness paled in comparison to the dark stranger before her. This male tasted of wine and decadence. Of mystical, exotic power and knowledge.
His tongue swept against hers as her body heated to a fever pitch.
"Are you Dante?" she asked him as she nibbled his firm lips.
Good. At least he wouldn’t share her. It was a small relief to know that.
"What is your name, gataki?"
He pulled back to smile at her.
"Pandora," he purred as he buried his hands in her hair before inhaling the sensitive flesh of her neck, then licking it slowly. Teasingly. "And what surprises are you hiding from the world in your box, Pandora?"
She couldn’t answer as he continued to lick her skin. Her knees buckled. Only the strength of his arms around her kept her from falling.
Dante knew he should leave. He should flash himself into a cold shower somewhere.
But he couldn’t.
She was too hypnotic. Too tempting. The animal in him refused to leave until he’d tasted her.
And he would be her first. He could smell her innocent state.
That knowledge alone was enough to make him roar. He’d never taken a virgin before. For that matter, he’d rarely taken any woman of his own species. A pantheress was violent by nature. She had to be held down, and if a male wasn’t fast enough, he could be maimed or killed during mating.
Once an orgasm seized a pantheress, the ferocity of it would make her feral. She would turn on her lover with claws and teeth bared. In the case of a Katagari female, she’d turn immediately to her animal form and attack her lover.
The male had to be ready to pull back and flash to his animal form or he wouldn’t be able to defend himself from her surging hormonal and psychic overload.
It was a sobering thought.
Dante had never cared much for violent mating. He preferred to take his time pleasing his lover. To sample every single inch of her body at his leisure.
He’d always loved the taste of a woman. The scent of her. The feel of her soft limbs rubbing against his rougher ones. Always liked to hear the sounds of her ecstasy echoing in his ears as he brought her to cli**x over and over again.
She would be unlike any lover he’d ever known. His first Arcadian.
His first virgin.
Kissing her deeply, he dissolved the clothes from their bodies so that there was nothing between his hands and her sweet, succulent flesh.
She shivered in his arms.
"It’s okay, gataki," he said as he skimmed his hand down her supple back. "I won’t hurt you."
His words seemed to make her panic. "You’re a Katagari male."
He nibbled her shoulder, reveling in the taste of her soft, salty-sweet skin. She was truly decadent. A mouthwatering treat to sate the beast inside him.
"And I won’t hurt you," he reiterated as he nibbled his way around her shoulder blade, down her back, and then around front so that he could taste her breast.
Pandora cried out the instant his mouth closed around her hard, sensitive nipple. Her body jerked and sizzled.
What was this? All she could think of was having him inside her. Of having all that hard, tawny skin lying over her as he showed her exactly what it meant to be loved by a man.
He was all sinewy muscle.
All strength. Power.
And for the moment, he was all hers
He pulled back from her with a growl before he scooped her up in his arms and carried her to the bed.
She felt so dainty in his arms, so coveted.
The covers pulled themselves back so that he could set her in the center of it. Pandora’s nervousness returned as the chill of the covers brushed her fevered skin.
She’d waited a lifetime for this moment. What would happen to her? Would she be changed?
Dante gave her a fierce, ragged kiss as he spread her arms out above her head. Two seconds later, something wrapped itself around her wrists and held them there.
"What are you doing?" she asked, even more nervous than before.