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.
Ignoring the stitch in her side, Bailey Knox ran as fast as she could, struggling to get enough air into her lungs. Stumbling yet again, she managed to catch herself and jumped over one of the large roots that, in the dimming light, seemed to reach out for her, like gnarled fingers curling into the damp ground.
She choked back sobs, hardly able to believe this could really be happening. He’d actually shot at her, the shot hitting the tree in front of her and sending shards of bark flying.
The farther she ran, the denser the trees got, making running more dangerous by the second.
Concentrating on just staying on her feet, she raced through the woods, dodging tree limbs as she ran for her life.
But, no matter how fast she ran, the footsteps pounding into the damp earth behind her got closer and closer. She braced for him to shoot again and for the pain that would slam into her if he didn’t miss this time.
The muscles in her legs felt rubbery, making her clumsy, but she knew if she tripped, he would be on her. Her breath came out in short, sobbing pants as she raced on, almost falling several times. Her hands burned from the countless times she’d had to grab on to tree trunks to stay upright.
“You’re pissing me off! How long do you think you can run from me, bitch?”
His voice came from directly behind her. He was too close and seemed to be gaining no matter how fast she ran.
Choking back sobs, she fought her panic and ran on, digging deep for the burst of speed she needed to put some distance between them. The muscles in her legs burned as she raced up an incline, another panicked sob escaping when she stumbled, almost losing her balance.
The heavy tread of running footsteps behind her seemed to get closer every second, increasing her panic until it felt as if her heart would burst from her chest.
Small branches slapped at her, but she barely felt the sting, too intent on getting away from the evil closing in on her from behind.
The reality of her situation hit her hard.
She was in the middle of nowhere with a psychopath chasing her through woods that grew darker by the minute and that were completely unfamiliar to her. He kept gaining on her, and she knew it was only a matter of time before he caught her.
She couldn’t get enough air. She couldn’t run fast enough.
She couldn’t believe that her life may actually end in the next few minutes.
This couldn’t be happening.
The inner voice inside her screamed at her to run faster, but with all the roots, trees and brush, she couldn’t gain any speed.
Making a sharp turn, she cut between two trees in a vain attempt to lose him, hoping that if she could for even a few precious seconds, she’d be able to hide in the darkness until he gave up or she could get some help.
Inwardly cursing that she couldn’t seem to gain even an inch of distance between them, she choked back another sob.
The pain in her scalp caught her by surprise as he grabbed a handful of hair, the sharp pull unbalancing her and jerking her neck backward. She screamed, a scream she knew no one would hear. In desperation she grabbed at a tree trunk to keep him from pulling her to the ground. Ignoring the pain, she held strong and somehow managed to get her legs under her again.
Oh, God! She couldn’t let him win. She had to fight and keep fighting.
If she gave up, she would die.
She screamed again, struggling to keep from sliding on the slick leaves. Flailing her arms for balance, she somehow managed to hit his arm and miraculously loosened his hold just enough for her to shake off his grip.
She heard a curse and a dull thud and realized she’d somehow also managed to knock the gun away from him.
It gave her hope and with it, renewed strength.
Thankful that she’d managed to get rid of the threat of being shot, she made a break for it, but her sudden burst of speed cost her.
Her foot hit one of the large roots and turned sideways, her ankle twisting painfully, and then went numb, collapsing under her. Screaming in pain and horror, she fell hard, facedown on the damp ground. Terrified, she screamed and tried to scramble to her feet again, but he landed hard on top of her, knocking the breath from her and effectively cutting off her screams.
Desperately grabbing for something solid, she tried to dig her knees into the ground, but the large, hard roots under her made it impossible to get any leverage.
After several long seconds, she finally managed to gulp precious air into her lungs. On her second breath, she tried to scream.
“Get the fuck off of me, you piece of shit. Ow!”
Even though her voice came out low and breathless, she was proud of the anger she managed to inject into it.
He yanked her long ponytail, and she just managed to turn her face to the side before he slammed her head into the damp earth.
She tried to scream again, using her arms as leverage to lift herself in an attempt to ease the pressure on her chest, but the heavy weight covering her made it impossible. She used the little bit of air she had left to curse at him again.
His hands came around her neck and tightened, cutting her air off altogether.
“Shut the fuck up.”
His fingers squeezed into her throat in a bruising, punishing hold, and although she clawed at them, she couldn’t manage to loosen it at all.
Adjusting his position, he held her down with a hard arm in the middle of her back, pressing her face into the dank earth and making it almost impossible to get even the smallest amount of air anymore.
He moved to her side, holding her face against the ground, and grabbed her hip, ripping her shirt as he forced her to her back.
Grabbing desperately at the hand at her throat, she fought to get free, terrified because she couldn’t get any air at all. Her mind screamed in horror at what was happening, and everything seemed to be moving in slow motion.
His silence and the evil intent in his eyes as he stared down at her would be the last thing she would ever experience.
No! No! No!
Oh, God! He was killing her.
Her vision blurred and darkness began to close in, but as hard as she fought him, she couldn’t get any air.
Deprived of air, she panicked and fought with everything she had, but her struggles grew weaker and weaker until they became almost nonexistent. Desperate, she tried to kick at him but couldn’t reach. She dug her nails into the hands around her neck, trying to pull at them until she had no strength left to fight him at all. Looking up into the face of her killer, the man whose features she could barely discern now, she felt the rest of the strength fade away. No matter how much her mind screamed at her to fight, her fingers lost their grip on his hands at her throat and dropped to her sides.
Her vision dimmed, the faint slice of moonlight penetrating the thick trees becoming smaller and smaller.
It was then that her mind started playing tricks on her.
The vicious growling she heard sent cold chills of terror through her already horrified system.
Growls of a wild, tortured beast.
Then everything went black.