Mating Season (Box Set)
by Anne Kane
eBook ISBN: 07072-02278
Three Imperial Were-Panthers find their true bond-mates in the most unlikely of places…
When a flitter-craft crash lands near Gregory’s lair, the Imperial Were-Panther doesn’t expect to find an unconscious female dangling from the captain’s harness. Gregory’s life is about to get interesting…
Bryony fled her bond-mate after one weekend of incredible sex. Six long years later Tanner found her, and he’s not about to let her out of his sight again.
Caitlin knows how to get in and out of a house without detection, but Kyran’s not only caught her red-handed, he also seems to think they have some kind of bond-mate thing going… What’s a girl to do when the mark you’re after turns out to be an Imperial Were-Panther who thinks you’re his mate?
Publisher’s Note: Mating Season (Box Set) contains the previously published novellas Imperial Command, Imperial Temptation, and Imperial Haven.
Note: Prologue omitted.
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Gregory circled the downed ship, his blaster held at the ready. The pilot had managed to drop it neatly into the clearing, but an overhanging branch snagged the starboard stabilizer at the last moment and flipped the ship over just before it hit the ground.
Gregory didn’t like the looks of that lazy curl of smoke drifting up from the belly of the machine. The thought of a fire this close to his lair made him nervous. The pilot and passengers needed to get out in case those fuel tanks exploded.
There were no territorial markings on the hull, and the scorch marks on the belly indicated a rough passage through the upper atmosphere. He shook his head. What type of idiot would use a flitter shuttle for interplanetary travel? Thumbing the safety on, he holstered the blaster and studied the ship, looking for a way in. The access port to the left looked like his best bet, and he pushed aside the heavy underbrush to make his way toward it.
Grasping the outer handle, he threw his considerable weight against the access port. Slowly, metal screaming in protest, the door began to slide. The recycled air of the shuttle rushed out of the opening, and the scent it carried hit him square in the gut.
A female Were-Panther. Young and in heat.
Hot blood rushed to his groin, stiffening his cock painfully within the tight material of his suit. Ignoring his discomfort, he wrenched the metal hatch cover aside and peered inside. The ship design was simple, and he could see a female form hanging upside down from the safety netting over the pilot’s seat. Experience born of too many covert missions caused him to hesitate a few minutes, probing the dark shadows in the corners to make sure there were no other occupants waiting to ambush him.
A low groan drew his attention back to the female. Climbing onto the sloped metal ceiling, he made his way to the center of the bridge, carefully avoiding the debris strewn about during the crash. The woman’s lashes fluttered up, and he caught a glimpse of her gorgeous amber eyes. One arm flailed weakly before she lapsed back into unconsciousness.
Gregory ran his hands over her, ignoring the call of her heat cycle while he checked to make sure she hadn’t sustained any serious injuries during the rough landing. When he was satisfied it was safe to move her, he wrapped one arm around to hold her steady while he cut away the safety netting. Another groan escaped her lips, and he shifted her to a more comfortable position in his arms. Her full breasts pressed enticingly against his chest, and he gritted his teeth at his body’s eager response.
Where had she come from? He didn’t recognize her from any of his recent trips to Capital, the were-panther community on the far side of the planet. And why had she been flying so low over his territory?
Another groan dragged his attention back to the female. Turning, he made his way back to the airlock, the trip more awkward with the woman’s weight on his shoulder. Stepping out of the ruined flitter, he paced across the clearing and laid his burden down gently on a soft patch of undergrowth. Her eyes remained closed, and he couldn’t help staring at her body, every inch outlined in mouthwatering detail beneath the tight space suit.
She was short, he’d guess barely up to his shoulder, with a thick mane of dark hair restrained in a single braid that fell to her waist. Her scent identified her as one of his own, an Imperial Were-Panther, but that led to the question of where she had come from and why she was flying around alone while in heat. Her parents should be keeping her safe from the inevitable pack of males that would hone in on the irresistible aroma. Even now, females weren’t numerous and were never found running around the Black Planet in an ill-equipped flitter. He doubted the flitter had been sturdy enough to handle flights through the untamed jungle regions of the planet, let alone interstellar flight.
He snapped a couple of saplings off at ground level and laid them on the ground beside the unconscious woman. Selecting some sturdy vines, he wove them around the poles to build a travois. Primitive, but it would be more comfortable for the female than traveling on his shoulders. She didn’t wake when he transferred her to the makeshift sled, and that worried him. Grasping the edges of the poles, he headed for his lair, dragging the woman behind him.
* * *
Danika opened her eyes and found herself looking up at an Imperial Were-Panther. A soft sleeping platform cradled her body, and for a moment she stared in confusion at her surroundings. She flared her nostrils, inhaling deeply as she tried to identify where she was. Natural smells, rock, water, woods and plants mingled together in a pleasing aroma. This was no space flitter, but she couldn’t remember how she got here. The last thing she remembered was the flitter running out of fuel, its flight path destabilizing.
She moved her head, and the smell of aroused adult male wafted past her nose. She gasped. Naked lust flashed through her veins. The mystery of her surroundings became unimportant as she turned her attention to the male.
Dark as sin, his crisp short hair invited her to run her fingers through it, and she lifted one hand to touch it. Heat flared in his eyes. Amber streaks swirled in the depths of his eyes. He lowered his head, his mouth searing across hers in a kiss that sent caution fleeing.
Hunger. Need. Want. Feelings flashed through her, one following the other in rapid succession while his lips moved on hers. Danika felt herself drowning in the unfamiliar feelings running rampant through her body. She opened her mouth wide, sliding her tongue along the side of his in an erotic caress.
He groaned, and the kiss deepened, became more demanding. He ran a finger down her cheek, tracing a line of fire down to her throat. His tongue dueled with hers, sending lust spiking through her.
Danika stirred, turning her head toward him to let him take full advantage of her. She wound her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, her body craving the feel of his skin against her. The crisp hair on his arms brushed against the bare skin of her breast, and she jerked away, the realization that she was naked sinking into her consciousness. “Where are my clothes?”
The male stretched out an arm to hold her still. “I had to remove your suit to make sure you weren’t injured in the crash.” The amber streaks in his eyes swirled dangerously.
Danika surged up, swinging her feet over the side of the platform. “Who are you? Where am I and how did I get here?” The call of her heat cycle temporarily quashed, she glared at the male.
Unperturbed, he let her go. “I’m Gregory Anatolia of the Seething Pride, and this is my home. I pulled you from the wreck of the flitter that you crash landed in my territory and brought you here.” He raised his brows, his eyes narrowing. “And now you can tell me who you are and what the hell you thought you were doing using a flitter shuttle for interplanetary flight.”
Danika felt a knot forming in her stomach. Seething Pride was known for their ruthlessness and cunning. Of all the prides she might have thrown herself on for mercy, it wasn’t even on the list. She tried to keep the fear from her eyes as she judged the distance to the entrance. If she could distract him for just a moment, she could shift and be out of here before he realized what was going on.
“My name is Danika.” No point in lying. Her mother would mobilize every resource she could find in this sector of the galaxy when she realized Danika had escaped. “I came to beg asylum from the ruling junta. My mother arranged to sell me into a marriage I didn’t agree to, so I ran.” She shrugged sheepishly. “The flitter was the only craft available, so I took my chances.”
Gregory cocked his head. “This marriage — why do you object? You are definitely in need of a protector.”
Danika snorted inelegantly. “Protector maybe, but the man my mother chose to foist me on is the worst kind of male. He isn’t even a shifter himself; he’s a mere human. He wants to use me to breed his heirs, use my were-panther blood to strengthen his bloodline and improve his offspring’s strength and intelligence.” She snapped her teeth together, she’d already said more than she intended to.
“I don’t recognize you, and I thought I knew all the were-panthers in this sector.” Gregory studied her intently. “What pride are you from?”
Just then, a loud boom echoed across the jungle, most likely her ship exploding. Danika didn’t care what caused it, only that it took Gregory’s attention away from her long enough for her to sink to the floor and will the shift to come. She felt the familiar tingle of magic sweep through her, and then she was up on all four paws, streaking toward the exit.
“What the hell… Get your ass back here, you could have a concussion!”
Nice try. Like he was worried about her health. She darted out the doorway, and found herself in what appeared to be the entrance to a cave. Ahead, the smooth rock floor sloped upward toward a beam of light, and she headed in that direction.
Behind her she saw a flash of magic that told her Gregory had shifted, and a shiver of fear lent her the speed to make it out of the cave entrance to the jungle before he emerged from his lair. If she managed to stay ahead of him, she should be able to lose him in the dense canopy.
The cave opened to a clearing surrounded by tall trees. Danika ignored the well-worn path leading into the bush at the left, and instead leapt to a low-hanging branch of one of the massive trees, using her long claws to steady herself as she raced along it to the safety of the canopy above.
The sun filtered through the dense branches of the canopy, feeling warm on her fur. She stretched out, racing at full speed through the treetops while she let the kinks work out of her muscles. She didn’t dare stop to see if Gregory had managed to follow her. Ducking under an overhanging branch, she leapt for the next tree.
It had been ages since she’d been free to run at will, to let her panther’s body stretch out and enjoy the challenge of leaping from branch to branch. She’d hidden her ability to shift from her mother all her life, only changing when she knew no one would observe her. That secrecy had paid off.
She raced through the canopy, instinct telling her when to extend her claws and when to leap to the next branch. The fear gradually left her. A slight breeze ruffled her fur and she turned her head in that direction, reading the movements of the jungle inhabitants in its warm flow. She felt a kinship with the birds and mammals that hid from her approach. They were wild and free, and she wanted that for herself, wanted the right to choose her own mate and her own destiny.
She could hear Gregory in the distance, moving slower while he pursued her with a relentless patience. She caught a glimpse of him from time to time through the dense foliage. His panther moved through the jungle as if he belonged there, the large pads on his feet making no sound on the soft dirt. He swung his massive head from side to side as he searched, his nostrils flaring wide to read her progress on the wind. Danika knew he would catch her. It was only a matter of time.
She spotted a clearing below, an open space with a floor of soft moss bisected by a slow-moving stream. She made her way down from the canopy and paced the perimeter of the clearing. The birds continued to sing in the treetops above, unconcerned with the large predator in their midst.
A loud snarl sounded from above, and she took the time to sprawl out on the soft moss before looking up. Gregory descended from the treetops, tension in every line of his sleek body. The golds and browns of his eyes were almost entirely hidden by the amber swirls that betrayed his arousal. He dropped to the jungle floor and stalked toward her, his ears laid back while he snarled out a rebuke.
Danika got to her feet slowly, her ears pricked forward as she watched him approach. Arching her back she danced sideways, her tail swishing to and fro in an enticing show of readiness. He was so large. So arrogant. So male. Liquid heat flooded her belly. She wanted him. Now. On the floor of the jungle. She pranced toward him, letting the sun play across her sleek black fur.
Gregory slowed his approach and turned to stretch up against one of the giant trees ringing the clearing. The muscles under his dark fur rippled temptingly as he extended his claws, dragging them through the rough bark until it hung in tatters from the trunk of the tree. Dropping to the ground, he lifted his head and snarled loudly, the sound both a challenge and a warning. This female was his. Completely his.
She was under his protection now, and he wanted every creature in the jungle to know it. He strutted around her, ears proudly erect and ropes of muscle sliding under his thick pelt. Every step, every movement proclaimed his arrogance, his dominant nature.
Danika purred, the sound loud in the stillness of the jungle. Unconcerned with his show of aggression, she danced over to him, sliding her body along his side so her scent overlaid his. She wanted him in the most elemental way that a female wants a male. She chose him. Every nerve in her body ached to feel him deep inside her. She rubbed her head beneath his immense chin, acknowledging his dominance while asserting her right to choose her own mate.
He stood still for a long moment, allowing her to touch him, to mark him as her own. Then, growling low in his throat, he knocked her gently to the ground and stood over her. She rolled and tried to get to her feet, snarling her displeasure at his rough treatment, but he refused to back down. Staring at her, his eyes held a darkly swirling mixture of lust and aggression.
She knew what he wanted, but she resisted. She didn’t want to shift back to her human form and give up the amazing freedom she felt as a panther. He lowered his head to within inches of her muzzle and snarled again. Danika hissed and spit, but he didn’t budge. Every line of his magnificent body radiated steely determination. He wanted her to shift.
She considered ignoring him, forcing him to mate with her panther. The scent of his arousal hung heavy in the air, and although unusual, she knew Imperial Were-Panthers sometimes mated in their shifted forms.
Gregory butted her with his head, and she bared her fangs, snarling her annoyance even as she prepared to do what he demanded. Calling her magic, she felt the change sweeping over her, returning her to her vulnerable human form.
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