With unwanted lands thrust upon him by King George III, Alessandro Pantera feels caged. His nightly ritual of pacing the castle walls in panther form leads him into a fight to save a beautiful woman from harm. The moment he first sees her, first touches her, a raw, primal desire to claim her ignites within him. But a man such as he, the Black Knight, deserves no woman of his own.
Rescued from bandits, Rose Smythe lands in the arms of a male shapeshifter. As black panther and as man, he’s fierce and intimidating to all who cross his path. But not to Rose. His presence initiates her inner white panther’s need to mate—and her heart is set on Alessandro.
A heated night of passion neither can resist bonds them as eternal mates. A macabre twist of fate places Alessandro in the battle of his life. Kill or be killed in the fight to save his mate from the demon Mephistopheles, the creator of the darkness within his soul—the Black Knight.
Publisher’s Note: This story was previously published elsewhere and has been revised for Ellora’s Cave.
When she did not answer his knock, Alessandro stood outside the door to his room for several moments, debating whether or not to enter. Ear pressed to the door, he heard nothing. The beauty on the other side had to be asleep. Silently, he cracked open the door and slipped inside. He needed to see for himself that she was all right, though Joseph relayed her condition of health to him earlier.
The subtle sweet scent of the vesper flower lingered in the air, causing a slight smile to tug at his lips. His favorite—the night flower, the vesper. Since finding this out, Ilene made him soap containing its oils, thus the soap retained its scent. Knowing Rose used a cake of his private stock to wash made him wish he’d shared the scented suds with her, that his hands soaped and cleansed her body instead of hers.
Alessandro stopped in his tracks. Where had that come from? He did not know her, and yet he hungered for her touch and to caress her in return. He only knew of the beauty of her face. The beauty of her body he imagined to be exotic, frail and alluring. That was the vision his overactive need conjured. With a shake of his head, he tried to flush the image of her naked beneath him from his mind. That would never happen. Men like him deserved no woman like her.
He paused, reminding himself the main reason he entered the room. See to her safety, her health condition and leave. Nothing more. Nothing less. He tried desperately to convince himself, though the hardness in his trousers hinted otherwise. Alessandro vowed to ignore his cock and stepped closer to the bed.
Odd, no one lay within the covers. His brow bunched. Quietly he moved to the privacy curtain. If she had fallen asleep in the tub… He held his breath. A decent man would leave and send a maid in to check on her.
His eyebrow arched. No one ever called the Black Knight decent.
Though he knew he should not, Alessandro lifted the edge of the curtain with the tip of one finger. Duty mandated that he keep her safe, he reasoned. Asleep in a tub full of water on the verge of drowning did not equal a safe scenario in his book. At least, that was what he told himself to relieve a smidgeon of the guilt brewing in his conscience.
Anticipation tightened his chest. Though he knew to peek at a woman unaware didn’t fit the gentleman’s agenda, he couldn’t stop. Inwardly, he claimed his actions were purely for her safety. Inch by inch, he lifted the privacy curtain. At first he saw the rim of the tub closest to him, and then a little more, until the entire tub came into view. He hated to admit disappointment captured his soul at the sight of an empty tub. No naked Rose soaked within.
He straightened, dropping the curtain. Where was she? Had she left the castle?
Alessandro spun and froze as he caught sight of a form curled up on the rug in front of the low-burning fire. Why had she chosen the floor instead of the bed? Her decision baffled him until the words of her father echoed in his head. He thought himself unworthy of such luxury and asked to be moved to the stable. Did she feel the same? Unworthy? As he got closer, her position reminded him of a cat curled into a ball for a nap. Her legs were bent and tucked tight to her chest as she lay on her side facing the fire. Both hands nestled under her cheek.
Washed and combed, he saw her hair’s true color. Honey gold lay cascading down the length of her body to her hips. Absently, his fingers twitched to test its softness. He wagered his purse it outmatched the finest silk.
The cotton sleeping gown she wore hid nothing from his already overactive senses. In her curled position the fabric fit snug to her bottom and detailed the elegant length of her thigh. Sprawled like a cloak over her shoulder, her hair hid her face from his view. Kneeling behind her, he reached across her shoulder and gently smoothed the hair from her cheek. It amazed him how soundly she slept until he noticed an empty cup on the floor beside her. He lifted it and immediately knew from the minute scent mixed in the tea leaves that Ilene had given her something to ease her stress so she could rest.
She looked like an angel sleeping at his hearth. Swallowing hard, he leaned forward and drew in a hearty dose of her scent. Though masked by the sweet scent of vesper, it contained a heady, wild earthiness. A mysterious scent hovered in the strange mix of her essence, a scent that teased him and aroused his inner beast. For some strange reason, he felt he recognized the delicious odor, but it eluded him.
A whisper of a noise caught his ear. Concentrating on the sound, it confused him. Was she purring? Lowering closer to her face, he realized a soft mewing melody escaped on each exhale. Did all women snore this way? Baffled, he decided he would ask his sister when she returned. For in his limited experiences with the weaker sex, he remembered no such noise.
In his opinion, Rose deserved a soft, fresh bed. Unwilling to wake her, Alessandro gathered her as gently as possible and stood. He didn’t release the breath he held until he tucked her in under the blankets and she had not wakened. He figured she slept so soundly due to Ilene’s concoction. It took a great effort to turn from the temptation in his bed and return to the fire. As he stoked and banked it for the night, thoughts of curling up next to her added to his already painfully erect condition. Each glance across his shoulder whet his appetite more. A vision of beauty and innocence lay in his bed driving his inner beast crazy with lust.
Without thinking, he stood beside the bed, staring down at her. The strange mewing sound made him smile and touched something primal deep inside of him. It tugged at his soul and begged him to take her, mark her as his and his alone. He wanted nothing more than to stretch her with his cock, take command of her body and pleasure her until he filled her with his seed, tasted her essence and claimed her as the black panther’s woman.
Alessandro ran a shaky hand through his hair. Desire seized his system, yet he battled it for control. No one deserved to be shackled to him for life. Not now. Not ever. With his fists balled tightly at his sides, he forced himself to turn and not touch her. The erotic sight snuggled in his covers etched itself in his memories forever. Rose was a prize he could not touch. On weakened legs, he strode to the door and prayed he did not wake her.
The moment he touched the door he stalled, unable to open it. A rush of something raw and unfamiliar roared through his system, causing him to tremble. What was wrong with him? Never had he experienced such at the mere thought of a woman. Thinking back, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d spent wrapped within a woman’s warmth. Since their arrival at Pantera Manor, he’d not taken a lover. Come to think of it, he sighed, it’d been longer than that since even a feminine hand held his cock.
He sighed heavily. Had the thrill of battle demolished his need for primal release? Alessandro paused, letting the vision of Rose wash over him. The strain of his cock against his trousers let him know the hunger for companionship lived within his veins. If only he were more like the deadly being the legends spoken of him made him out to be. He bit back a low growl. According to them, he was a terrifying beast who took what he wanted and to hell with the consequences. On a heavy snort he shook his head. He battled a man until death, but he never took from a woman what was not willingly offered.
And Rose…she was not in any condition to offer herself to him. He turned and leaned against the door, staring at the sleeping wonder in his bed.
No woman gave of herself to him. Not once they knew his past. The Black Knight of Death, the right hand of the Devil. The name and the legend followed him, no matter how far he traveled. In all his years he never let a woman know of his second nature, his inner beast the panther. If they ever saw him in that form, he knew he would become nothing but a deadly monster and not a man as far as they were concerned.
Alessandro closed his eyes. If he listened hard enough, he heard her breathe. The melodic music of her mewing snore encapsulated his soul. On every intake of air, her phenomenal scent filled his senses, increasing his hunger for her. If he didn’t leave right now, he wasn’t sure if he wouldn’t take advantage of her alluring attributes and live up to the dreadful legends.
A sudden gust of wind whipped the wooden shutters open on the window. Quick and soundless, he raced to the window and sealed them closed. But not before a putrid scent slapped his senses.
Danger stood the hairs on the back of his neck on end. Something lingered out there. Not near, but just close enough for him to retrieve a hint of its scent upon the wind. His gaze narrowed. What did it want? He couldn’t be sure, but his gut instinct suspected it was Rose.
No comments available.