Authors: Leah Brooke
Black Panthers 1
Bailey Knox knew the good price she paid for her new bar came with consequences, but she didn’t count on nearly getting killed before she could even move into the place, which was also her new home.
Waking up to the two complete strangers who have saved her, she’s alarmed at her overwhelming response to both of them. Marcus Brand and James Archer are different from any men she’s ever met, but she didn’t realize how different.
Shape-shifters don’t exist.
Then they tell her something even more remarkable. She is their mate.
She fights the emotional pull, even while reveling in the passion that only seems to grow stronger, passion that just can’t be ignored. Neither can the attacks. When black panthers save her life once again, the trio must hide the truth from the rest of the world while struggling to come to grips with their own destiny—and overcoming the danger surrounding them.
Ménage a Trois/Quatre, Paranormal, Shape-shifter
Black Panthers 1
Siren Publishing, Inc.
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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK
IMPRINT: Ménage Everlasting
Copyright © 2012 by Leah Brooke
E-book ISBN: 1-61926-383-1
First E-book Publication: February 2012
Cover design by Les Byerley
All art and logo copyright © 2012 by Siren Publishing, Inc.
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To my husband, for fighting the brave fight.
Black Panthers 1
Copyright © 2012
Marcus Brand took another sip of beer he didn’t taste. Unnerved at the oppressive threat in the air, he ran his hand through his hair, grimacing that it had gotten too long again. He would have to tie it back when he started his new piece, one that he should have started hours ago.
He was dying to get back to work again, his fingers itching to stroke the smooth wood, but he knew he had to settle some before he could even try. The image in his mind lingered just out of focus, an image he knew would sharpen as he carved away the excess, but right now his hands shook too much to even attempt it.
Tomorrow was soon enough. Tonight the air held something else.
Scanning the woods behind his house and the snow-capped mountains in the distance, he took a deep breath, sniffing the air.
Something was out there
He caught a scent on a breeze, an unfamiliar, sweet scent, one that somehow seemed as familiar to him as his own. Frowning, he sniffed again, trying to place it, but couldn’t.
Odd, since it seemed almost a part of him.
The strange restlessness that had plagued him ever since he’d come home that afternoon grew stronger by the minute. He needed to shift. He needed to run, but something held him back.
Whatever caused this unrest inside him was out there and carried a scent with it that tightened his body and heightened his awareness to a level that just screamed danger.
Something else was out there. Something powerful and enticing came to him with every breeze. It knotted his stomach and made his body burn with a hunger that roused something dark and primitive inside him.
He didn’t need to turn his head to feel the attention of his friend, who’d been unusually quiet for the last several minutes.
The urge to shift grew until his skin felt too tight for his body. Fighting it back, he took another sip of beer to ease his dry throat and stared into the distance. He didn’t want to take the chance of shifting and being seen, something that could endanger the others in his pack. The combination of threat in the air and irresistible draw made him nearly crawling out of his skin.
It could be an ambush from the cop who had been hounding him and scouring his woods lately, obviously searching for something.
Marc suspected Brown had somehow figured out the truth.
Sensing the growing restlessness coming from the man who’d been his best friend ever since he could remember, he glanced over and made an attempt to distract himself.
“So what did you think of the get-together this time?”
James Archer shrugged, scanning the mountains in the distance while tapping a beat with the tips of his fingers on the table in a rare show of restlessness.
“It’s always great to see everyone again, but it just seemed…I don’t know. Off, somehow. A little depressing this time.”
He glanced at Marc, smiling faintly. His gaze sharpened as it slid back to the mountains, silent proof that Marc hadn’t managed to distract either one of them.
“And still not a woman in sight. I guess that’s something we’re going to have to learn to live with. Maybe that’s why I still feel uneasy. Everyone was talking about it. Why the hell was everyone so obsessed with wives and families this time?” Scrubbing his jaw, he blew out a breath. “Christ, maybe that’s what’s making me so jumpy.”
Too restless to sit, Marc came to his feet and moved to the railing, his body tense with an alertness he hadn’t felt in a long time.
“No, I feel it, too. Something’s out there—something…disturbing.”
Clenching his jaw, he set his beer on the railing, knowing the emptiness inside him couldn’t be filled with alcohol.
“As to the other, women don’t care much for men who need their solitude as much as we do. We’re loners, James. We can’t stand being boxed in. No women in their right minds would put up with any of us.” His stomach clenched as it did each time he thought about the limitations imposed on him at birth.
“We’re too different. Primitive.”
James took another sip of his beer and sighed. “One-night stands are getting old. Do you ever get the feeling there’s a piece of the puzzle missing somewhere? If any of us knew our parents, maybe we’d have the answer to that. They had to make it work somehow, didn’t they?”
The knot in Marc’s stomach tightened and turned cold.
“Since they’re all dead, it doesn’t appear they figured it out either, now does it?”
Marc grabbed the beer off the railing, downed the remainder, and fought the almost overwhelming impulse to hurl the bottle against the side of his stone house.
Smashing it would be rewarding, but the reward wouldn’t last long enough to make up for having to clean up the mess afterward.
Setting the bottle on the table with careful deliberation, he rolled his shoulders to ease some of the tension that had settled there. The beast inside him fought to get free, and it surprised him to discover that it took more effort than usual to hold it back.
“Who the hell knows? Maybe we’re supposed to be alone.” He turned back to the mountains, swallowing down the loneliness that he thought he’d overcome years earlier when he’d realized that, although he loved women, he couldn’t develop relationships with them.
The intimacy involved in sleeping next to a woman he’d just taken never materialized, making him anxious to leave and go home to his own bed. He protected his thoughts and feelings, keeping them carefully locked behind an invisible barrier that he’d never once been able to lower.
If only the pack had more guidance from others who suffered the same affliction, they all might have been able to overcome this need for solitude, but life didn’t always provide all the answers.
Not many of them even remembered their parents. Some of the older ones remembered being gathered together one dark, snowy night by Ed and Alice Tremaine in a truck loaded with blankets. Huddled together, they’d been taken to a farm the older couple owned, a farm that Leland and Joe kept as their home base even now.
Many remembered the sounds of gunshots ringing out through the woods that night.
Even more remembered Alice had been crying.
Marc didn’t remember either.
The couple had raised them on their large farm close to the mountains of North Carolina and, once they got older, tried to help them to understand how different they were from others.
The older couple stressed the importance of keeping their true selves hidden and trusting no outsiders, a lesson that had saved them on more than one occasion. The Tremaines had passed away years ago, but what they’d taught the young group of misfits stuck.
They trusted no one but each other.
Rolling his neck again, he tried not to imagine having a wife to sit out here on the deck with him, one who would understand the needs inside him.
One who would accept everything he was.
“Maybe everyone was right. Maybe it’s our fate to be the last of our kind. It doesn’t seem that any one of us can find a woman we can be around for more than a couple of hours between the sheets. Hell, I can’t even fall asleep with one. It just never feels right. It’s like being suffocated.”
James came to his feet and joined him at the railing, looking out over the property Marc had purchased almost ten years earlier, his eyes constantly in motion.
“And yet we’re blessed with libidos that make abstinence nearly impossible. Highly sexed, solitary creatures. Makes you wonder if Mother Nature is having a little fun at our expense.”
Marc thought about the number of women who’d passed through his life, beautiful, smart women, none of whom had even come close to easing the emptiness inside him.
None that he would ever have dreamed of trusting enough to let down his guard and sleep next to.
Gritting his teeth, he looked out over the large yard and into the woods.
After a pregnant pause, James sighed.
“It’s nice here. Private. I’ve always liked this place.” Looking out over the yard, he moved to the other end of the large deck and leaned back against the railing. Just as quickly, he straightened and started tapping his fingers again, his own restlessness apparent.
“I thought I’d like living in a small town. The problem with that is that in small towns everyone knows everyone else’s business.”
Crossing one leg over the other, James allowed a small smile.
“The more I avoided everyone, the more curious they got. So, I moved to the city where I was surrounded by strangers, thinking I’d be anonymous.”
Inwardly cringing, Marc stretched in another attempt to loosen the tight muscles in his neck and shoulders.
“I still don’t know how you stayed as long as you did. I’d go fucking nuts.”
“I did. That’s why I left.” Shaking his head, James chuckled softly. “I can almost hear Alice clicking her tongue.” Sighing, he looked back out at the mountains and frowned. “I’ve got to buy my own place around here. I appreciate the invitation to stay here until I do.”
Amused, Marc shot his childhood friend a glance. “You don’t get on my nerves.”
James lifted a brow and smiled. “High praise from you.”
Turning away again, Marc went back to his seat, propping his feet on the railing, determined to shake this restlessness and relax. He’d been gone for a week, attending the yearly get-together, one that Leland insisted on, with the only family he had. He loved them, but after a week of them, he was glad to be home and wanted to get back to work.
The object for his next piece, however, lingered just out of focus, frustrating him immensely.
Several minutes of tense silence followed, with both he and James scanning the area behind the house. Marc knew he wouldn’t be able to stand much more of it, but he prided himself on his ability to control the beast inside him.
He wouldn’t shift until he was damned good and ready, no matter how fiercely the beast clamored to be free.
James ran his hands through his hair and sat forward, his agitation apparent.
“I don’t remember this place ever feeling like this. Or is it just us? I must still be antsy after all that talk about
Mates? Really? And that two of us can share the same one? I think Leland’s lost his mind. Christ, if what he was saying is true, it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Talk about depressing. And how the hell are we supposed to know who this magical woman is? How the hell do we know who’s supposed to share her? Why would I want to share my woman with anyone?”
Marc shrugged. “Mitch said that Leland met a woman who he thought was his mate. He wasn’t sure what the hell the signs were, but he said Leland fell head over heels. He let her go because he wasn’t going to let his cock rule his life, so he pushed her away. Apparently, her other mate was Joe Diablo, who fought with Leland about it. By the time the two of them came to terms with sharing her, she was gone.”
James grimaced, his eyes widening. “So that’s what was wrong with them.”
With a sigh, Marc dropped his feet to the wood deck, unable to sit still.
“Yeah. Mitch said Leland and Joe have been like bears with sore paws ever since.” Coming to his feet, he stripped out of his shirt, tossing it aside. “Face it, this is not going away. I usually check the place over when I come home, and I haven’t done it yet. I don’t know what it is, but something’s off. I just hope it’s not an ambush set up by Brown.”