ASHE hadn't expected to sleep.

Even when she'd stripped off her clothes and crawled beneath the sheets buck-naked, she'd assumed she was too worried to actually relax enough to rest.

But the emotional upheaval of the day, combined with the hormonal changes that were already affecting her body, soon had her tumbling into a welcomed darkness.

Not that her rest was peaceful.

She'd barely fallen asleep when her dreams were filled with the memories of a hard, hot body pressing her into the mattress.

She moaned, her head twisting on the pillow as seeking lips trailed a line of kisses down the column of her neck. Her hands ran a restless path over the wide back, savoring the feel of rippling muscles beneath the silken skin.


Her legs parted as he settled between them, the steel-hard length of his erection pressing against her inner thigh. Her entire body was on fire, shaking with the need to feel him deep inside her.

It'd never been like this.

Never before had she experienced this savage...hunger.

She felt the head of his cock penetrate her, but while her hands moved to clasp his hard ass, he refused to deepen the thrust. Instead his lips blazed a path of devastation along the line of her collarbone, kissing and sucking the sensitive skin.

Her hips lifted in a silent plea, her breath wrenched from her lungs as his mouth traveled over the soft globe of her breast and latched onto her nipple.

She whimpered.


It was good. So good.

His teeth closed over the aching tip, biting hard enough to send a jolt of sizzling excitement through her.


What do you want?


Only me. Do you understand? You're mine.


Say it.

Only you.

She heard a rumble of satisfaction deep in his chest, the intoxicating musk filling her senses. Oh, hell. How had she ever thought sex an overrated pastime?

This was mind-blowingly fantastic.

The inane thought was shattered as he pressed his hips forward, entering her with a slow, ruthless slide that stretched her with a delicious friction.

He was huge.

A gasp of pleasure was ripped from her lips as his hands gripped her hips, tilting her so he could sink even deeper, invading her with the promise of paradise.


I'm here.

Jerked out of her dream, Ashe lifted a hand to her ear, feeling the lingering warmth. As if lips had just brushed the delicate shell.


Slowly sitting up, she tugged the sheet over her breasts as she impatiently brushed her tangled hair out of her face.

"Hello?" Her eyes searched the darkness, sensing a presence even though she couldn't see the intruder. A chill inched down her spine. "I know there's someone here."

"You smell so sweet." The male voice was low, whiskey-smooth. And terrifyingly familiar. "Like night-blooming jasmine."

She didn't scream. Instinctively she knew that he would pounce before she could be heard.

Her hand fumbled for her cell phone.

Where the hell was it? She'd left it on the nightstand, hadn't she?

"I have a gun," she tried to bluff.

She heard a soft footfall, but the intruder remained in the shadows while she was bathed in the moonlight that slanted through the window.

The open window.

No need to ask how he managed to get in.

"That's what first caught my attention," he continued, ignoring her threat. "That scent..." She heard him suck in a deep breath. "It intoxicates me."

"I'll shoot," she tried again, even knowing it was futile. "I swear I will."

"And then I caught sight of you." His words seemed to brush over her skin, creating tiny sparks of awareness. "The exquisite lines of your profile. The sexy tumble of ebony curls. The ivory satin of your skin. The elegant lines of your body." There was a low rumble. Did it come from the man? "You were a purebred, all pride and nervous energy."

Her mouth went dry and she forgot her search for her missing phone. Instead her fingers went toward the lamp.

"Who are you?"

"No, don't turn on the light."

She shivered at the command in his voice. "Then answer the question."


So, she hadn't imagined knowing his name.

Christ. Did that mean the rest was true as well?

The thought should terrify her. Or at least infuriate her.

It sure the hell shouldn't cause a treacherous heat to bloom between her legs.

"Just Raphael?" she rasped.

"Just Raphael."

"Why are you in my room?"

There was a beat of silence, as if he was startled by the question.

"You know why."

A sudden premonition stole her breath. "No."

"You carry my child."


The panic that should have hit the minute she woke with a strange man in her hotel room belatedly thundered through Ashe. Without conscious thought she was shoving aside the sheet and preparing to leap off the bed.

She didn't know where she intended to go.

She was naked, broke and currently homeless.

But anywhere had to be better than locked in a room with a lunatic.

There was no warning.

One minute she was struggling to untangle her feet from the covers and the next she was flat on her back, a heavy body pressing her into the mattress.


This was it.

Her dream.

Except in her dreams he was naked. Now his denims scraped against her upper thighs and a soft tee brushed the aching tips of her breasts.

Unbelievably the sensations were almost as erotic as the feel of his bare skin.

Or maybe not so unbelievably.

Even with a layer of clothing between them she could feel the searing heat of his body seeping into her, stirring her blood. And that musk...

How was a woman supposed to think clearly?

Her lips parted-whether to scream or moan she would never know-as his head swooped down and her mouth was taken in a savage kiss.

She gasped, shocked by the jolts of sheer pleasure that ravaged her body.

It was like being struck by lightning.

Dazzling. Electric. Stunning her with an instant need that made her pussy clench with anticipation.

She squirmed beneath him, pressing the aching tips of her breasts against the heat of his chest. Oh god. It felt so good.

With a groan, Raphael ripped his mouth from hers to bury his face in the curve of her throat.

"That smell," he muttered, his nose lingered against her thundering pulse as his hands pinned her arms over her head.

His heavy legs held the bottom half of her body motionless, but even with her mind clouded by lust she realized that he was taking great care not to press any weight against her stomach.

The knowledge sent an odd flare of tenderness through her. A sensation that was far more disturbing than the desire pulsing through her blood.

Instinctively, she tried to put some distance between them.

"No." A warning growl rumbled deep in his chest as he lifted his head. "Don't move."

Her hair rose at the prickles of heat that filled the air. "Are you going to hurt me?"

"No. But your struggles..." His golden eyes suddenly seemed to shimmer with a luminosity in the darkness. "Excite my animal."

Those eyes.

Those magnificent golden eyes that had glowed with hunger as he'd ridden her with a rough urgency.

"Oh god, it was you," she breathed.


A surge of anger merged with her lust, forming a combustible combination.

"You're right, you are an animal," she snapped. "What kind of man drugs and rapes a helpless woman?"

He hissed in genuine outrage. "There were no drugs and there sure as hell was no rape." He lowered his head until they were nose to nose, his breath a warm caress against her face. "You begged, ma chere."

"A lie," she muttered.

He brushed his lips over her cheek until he could whisper directly in her ear, his tone pitched high as he mimicked her words.

"Please don't stop," he breathed. "Please, please. I need your cock deep inside me."

Her lips parted, but the protest died as she could hear the words in her own voice echoing through a dark room.

She had begged.

She'd even grabbed the steel-hard length of his cock to try and steer him to her sweet spot.

"It was the drugs," she muttered.

He nipped her earlobe. "No drugs."

A violent shudder racked her body, her legs spreading as he settled between them, the ridge of his erection pressing against her inner thigh.

"There had to be," she insisted. "I don't have sex with strangers. And even if I did I wouldn't forget-"

Her words faltered as he did something with his hips that aligned his cock directly against her throbbing clit.

"Mind-shattering climaxes that left us both gasping for air?"

Her breath was wrenched from her lungs even as she dug her nails into the hands that gripped her wrists above her head.

"Stop it," she moaned, wanting nothing more than to wrap her legs around his waist and rub herself to climax. This wasn't her. She didn't become hot and bothered just because some guy wanted to have sex with her. Even if he was a gorgeous stud who was built like a freaking Greek god. "You did something to me."

"No, we did something to each other." He caught her bottom lip between his teeth, giving it a sensual tug before nibbling at the corner of her mouth. "Something that shouldn't be possible."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"And that's the problem."

Hell, there were a whole lot of problems.

And this man making her go up in flames was the cause of all of them.

"Could you please get off me?" she demanded, lifting her hips as if she could actually buck him off.

His hands tightened on her wrists, his breath hissing between his clenched teeth.

"Stay. Still."

Her heart halted as something seemed to shift behind his glowing eyes. An...awareness that was watching her with a feral hunger.


He sucked in a deep breath, a muscle clenching in his jaw. "Listen, ma chere, we need to talk. But if you keep moving, I'm going to forget everything except my instinct to fuck you."

Moisture gathered between her legs, a raw craving clawing through her.

"Don't...don't say things like that."

"Does it excite you?"

Yes. God, yes.

She wanted to be fucked.

Here. Now.

She swallowed a moan.

"It disgusts me," she forced herself to lie. "You disgust me."

His low chuckle brushed over her heated face. "Is that why you're wet?" he teased. "Why you've got your nails dug into my hands as if you're terrified I might leave before I satisfy that ache inside you?"

She shuddered. He was right.

It would be unbearable to be left to suffer the overwhelming lust that was spiking ever higher.


"Shh." He brushed a gentle kiss over her lips. "Right now I just want to talk."

She refused to be comforted. "Before or after you drug me?"

"Dammit." The austere beauty of his face tightened with annoyance. Then, with an obvious effort, he struggled to keep his temper. "Have you heard of the Pantera?"

She blinked.

Of all the questions she'd been expecting, that had to be at the bottom of the list.

"The beast-men who roam the swamps?" she asked in confusion.

His lips twisted. "I suppose that's one way of describing them. What do you know?"

She shrugged. Like every child who grew up near the swamps she'd heard the stories of the strange beasts who were part man, part animal, who roamed the darkness.

Her own grandmother had sworn the mysterious race had openly interacted with the townsfolk when she'd been young, but the old woman had often been confused. Hell, she'd all but implied that Ashe's father had been some sort of magical shaman instead of a lazy jackass who'd bolted the minute he discovered her mother was pregnant.

"I know they're about as real as Rougarou and Bigfoot," she said.

"They're real." There was a deliberate pause. "I'm real."

Her mouth went dry, a sharp-edged fear slicing through her heart.

"You're saying you're a beast-man?"

The beautiful face was set in a grim expression. "I'm Pantera."

She tried to laugh, only to have it come out as a shaky moan. "Yeah, right."

"Look at me, Ashe." The eyes glowed brighter, as if there were a fire burning deep inside them with flecks of jade. They were...magnificent. Stunning. But they sure as hell weren't human. "You know I speak the truth. You've sensed I was different from the moment we met."

Of course she'd sensed he was different.

No mere man could move with such graceful speed, or hold a woman captive with one hand.

And then there was that enticing musk that clouded her mind and made it impossible to think.

"I didn't know you were a freaking animal," she rasped.

He flinched, his nose flaring with irritation. "Careful, ma chere, the child you carry is Pantera."

Abruptly she squeezed her eyes shut. It was too much.

Too. Damned. Much.

"God, please let this be a nightmare."

"Do you intend to act like you're five and hope you can close your eyes and wish away the monster?" he chastised. "Or are you going to look at me and discuss this like an adult?"

Her eyes snapped open.

Did he think a child of a raging drunk had ever been allowed to pretend she could wish away monsters?

"I was an adult at five," she said, coldly.

Something that might have been regret softened his aquiline features.

"Then you understand that we have to face the consequences of our actions."

"Easy for you to say. I don't even remember our...actions." She narrowed her gaze. "You did something to me to make me forget, didn't you? Is it a power you have?"

He shrugged. "One of many."

So she hadn't blacked out that night.

She didn't know if his confession made her feel better or not.

Actually, she didn't know what she felt.

She licked her lips, shivering as his glowing gaze lowered to study her mouth with an unsettling intensity.

"Are you-"


"Part beast?"

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