Hungry Eyes [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Raven Willow-Wood
eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
eBook Description: A closely guarded secret for generations--even the royals whom they protect do not know that their beloved panthers have the ability to shapeshift at will. When the evil wizard, Balthazar, attacks, Ruggero sacrifices himself to protect the princess, Bredamante, allowing her to escape the wizard's clutches. Even as she flees into hiding, though, she knows it is only a matter of time before he captures her. Knowing she is still in danger, driven by his need to protect his beloved Bredamante, Ruggero sets out to find his princess despite his injuries from the fall that should have killed him. For the first time in his life, however, his appearance in itself is a threat to her safety and he must do something none of the royal panthers have done in generations. He must shapeshift into his human form. Rating: Carnal-Contains adult language and explicit sexual content.
eBook Publisher: New Concepts Publishing, Published: 2007
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2007
77 Reader Ratings:
The thick black hair all over Ruggero's body stood at attention as he stared fixedly at the full moon outside the arrow slit window of the castle's northwest turret, its light reflecting off the thick jewel-encrusted collar that hung loosely around his neck. An ominous sense of foreboding seeped into his every pore as he studied the blood red ring that encircled the moon. The Palatines, the educated ancients that had come before his time, had believed that the blood red ring was an ominous omen, a portent of evil, a sign of trouble to come.
He had not needed the omen, however. His own senses had warned him, the sense of foreboding growing more and more pronounced in the past weeks. Even without his gift, he had the acute, finely honed keenness of his senses--his ears to hear, his eyes to see, his mind to fit the puzzle pieces together as he gathered them to himself one by one. He had had no doubt that there was trouble on the horizon even before the portent appeared in the night sky. But then he had long known that Balthazar had not been defeated and that he would not stop. Eventually, Balthazar would regain his full strength and come bearing down upon the castle once more with the magical army that he had spent so many years creating.
His father had died in vain, he thought with a mixture of fury and pain, bought them only a little more time. If only his father had succeeded in killing Balthazar the kingdom would be at peace without the constant worry of the Evil One taking control, but fate had not seen fit to deal them that hand. Instead, he had sacrificed his life's energy to only come close to inflicting a mortal wound. He had died only to buy them time to wait for the next storm, time to wonder if they would weather it and prevail or if this time, when Balthazar struck, it would be the end of them all!
A chill swept over Ruggero at the prospect of what might happen to his princess at the hands of the Evil One. A sense of urgency followed on its heals. She needed him, needed his protection.
He needed to be near her, to stand between her and the storm he sensed approaching. He could not waste another minute staring at the moon and wondering how much faith he could place in the portent, could not stand idly by, dwelling on the possibility of trouble to come.
He needed to see her. He needed to hear her kind voice, to see her sweet, beautiful face and assure himself that she was safe. He never truly felt at ease unless he was with her, protecting her. Gathering himself, uttering a rumbling growl from deep in chest, he padded toward the stairs and bounded swiftly down the curving stone steps of the turret guard room. His feline eyes adjusted without difficulty to the faint moonlight filtering down the stairwell. Once he reached the lower floor, he moved faster still, covering the distance that separated him from his princess at a ground eating lope until at last he reached the thick, heavy oak door that protected the princess's chambers. Flexing, his claws on his right front paw, he scratched on his usual spot on the bottom edge of the door a few times, now worn from years of his scratching demand for entry, uttering a low growl of impatience as he waited uneasily for the princess to acknowledge his presence and let him in.
"Just a minute Ruggero," Bredamante called from within, her voice threaded with both amusement and irritation at his impatience.
Relief flooded him as she opened the door and moved to the side to allow him to enter. Rushing into the room, Ruggero surveyed it quickly for anything he deemed offensive, jumping on and off of her bed, peering beneath it, searching the dark corners for even the faintest scent of danger. Finally satisfied, he made his way over to where she still stood. Having closed the door, she leaned back against the oak panel, watching her companion's behavior with a mixture of amused indulgence and uneasiness.
He stared up at her face for a long moment, regretting the uncertainty that flickered in her eyes. Uttering a rumbling purr to soothe her, he butted his head affectionately against her belly, reassuring himself with her scent and marking her with his own as he rubbed his face against her and then his body.
"Now what is all the fuss about Ruggero?" Bredamante asked playfully as she bent down on one knee to give him a warm welcoming hug around his neck. Burrowing her face against his thick fur, she breathed in the pleasant aroma that was only his as she held him for a moment, and then pressed her head against his hard shoulder, listening to the comforting beat of his heart. After a moment, she pulled away from him to survey his face, and he head-butted her affectionately.
"Ow! That hurt Ruggero." She rubbed the spot where he had connected with her head. "If I did not know any better, I would think that you missed me," she said, playfully tapping his nose with one finger. "And you should," she added scoldingly. "I have been waiting nigh an hour for you."
Ruggero rubbed his long body forcefully against her shoulder at her comment, his heavy weight almost pushing her off balance. She caught herself with one hand and stood up, brushing at the debris her plain red muslin dress had picked up off the stone floor. She ruffled the soft black fur on his head when she was done, smiling down at him affectionately.
Chuckling at his antics, Bredamante shook her head at herself for scolding him as if he could actually understand. Her panther was unusually intelligent as far as cats went, but it would be silly to think that he had actually missed her or could understand her scolding. She could not deny that she had missed him, though. Truth be told, she had been fighting the pull of slumber for hours, had been waiting for Ruggero to return from his nightly survey of the castle grounds before she let the full effects of sleep take her.
She did not sleep nearly as well as she used to. As far back as she could remember, Ruggero had shared her bed at night and snuggled against her, until just recently. He had just stopped one day, for no apparent reason at all. She missed the familiar comfort of his heavy weight behind her, his warm body, his soft fur, the pleasantly soothing sound of his purring as she drifted off into slumber. She really could not fathom why he had taken to sleeping on the floor. It was stone, cold. She could not think it was at all comfortable, and yet he had resisted all her efforts to coax him into bed with her.
She had already settled on the edge of the bed when a noise erupted outside in the courtyard interrupting her reverie. For a moment, she froze, listening intently, trying to convince herself that the cries of alarm could not be what she thought it was. As Ruggero charged toward the window, however, she leapt from the bed to follow him and see what was happening outside. As she looked out the arrow slit, her face became ashen and gooseflesh erupted all over her body. By the light of the full moon, she could make out a horde of shapes in the darkness, some of them holding torches. Her heart clenched painfully in fear as her shocked mind finally accepted what it could not deny. The castle was under attack!
It was that bastard Balthazar!
Bredamante turned away from the horrifying images outside her window and ran as quickly as she could to the door of her bedroom chamber as an alarm sounded outside on the castle wall. Reaching up, she grabbed the wooden bolt and dropped it into place in front of the door and stepped away as she heard the sounds of life and death fighting erupt on the castle floor below her chambers. The intruders had caught them off guard and had already entered the castle! The sickeningly distinct sound of metal upon metal, multiplied by hundreds of blows, rang through the castle corridors, and men screamed in agony while others bellowed blood curdling war cries.
Bredamante knew that if the fighting had already advanced to the lower level, it would not be long before it reached the stairs and then her chambers. She quickly scanned her room for something to use as a weapon, but she already knew there was nothing, nothing she could lift off the floor. Since the first onslaught of Balthazar's attacks many years prior, in which her father had been slain by that bastard's hands, she had been forced to sell everything that would fetch a price to fortify the castle, make new weaponry, and hire new guards. But all her preparation had been for naught. Balthazar had easily broken through into the inner sanctum of the castle.
If only her father and the sacred panthers were still here to protect her! She felt desperation overwhelm her, and then her gaze focused on Ruggero. Her father had told her stories when she was a little girl about the panthers that had protected their family for generations. She had not really believed him then. She had thought that it was a sweet fanciful story he had told her to amuse her on cold winter nights when she was forced to stay inside the castle. Right now she prayed that it was not all just fancy. He was a particularly large panther, as far as the breed went, but she knew he would not be able to fend off the entire magical army of Balthazar's creation. Perhaps, if he could just distract them....
Before Bredamante had time to formulate a plan of action, she heard some of the intruders that had broken into the castle shouting something at each other as they began beating at her door. It sounded as if they were using a battering ram to get inside. It was not going to be long before the integrity of the door was compromised.
Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, Bredamante took several calming breaths, praying for the goddess to aid her in her time of need. And then an idea came to her through the chaos. She could hide behind the door, and, while Ruggero pounced on the attackers, she could slip out, hopefully unnoticed. It was grasping at straws, but she did not have any options. By the sounds of her door groaning, this was her only choice, she just hoped that Ruggero would not get hurt in the melee.
Running over to the door, Bredamante leaned against the stone wall by the hinges and waited for the door to give way, holding her hands in front of her in case, when they broke through, the door tried to slam against the wall she was leaning on.
She was not going to have to wait much longer. She looked over at Ruggero, only a few feet in front of the door. He was growling low in his throat, moving his large front paws back and forth on the stone floor, his green eyes sparkling with the lust of battle, all too ready to leap on the intruders once they broke through.
With the thundering sound of splintering wood, the door finally gave way, falling in pieces on the floor as three of Balthazar's men came flooding into the room. They stopped just short of entering all the way into the princess's chamber when they spotted with some alarm the huge black panther's dark, hungry green eyes glaring at them. They stood frozen in horror, each waiting for one of their cohorts to make the first move toward the dangerous animal, all having entirely forgotten their main goal in kidnapping the princess.
Ruggero seized the element of surprise and lunged swiftly at the portly man that unfortunately made up the front of the cowardly trio of trespassers. The portly man screamed in sheer terror and ducked to the floor with amazing speed for a man of his size, just before the Ruggero's claws could sink into the flesh of his upper torso, leaving the now enraged panther to land unceremoniously on the two stunned men that had been standing behind him.
Ruggero lashed out at the men in his outrage, ripping one man's fingers clean off of his hand with his large sharp teeth. Blood began to spurt furiously in every direction as the man stood gaping at the wound, holding what was left of his hand protectively against his chest. He realized belatedly that the panther was after more than just his hand and turned to make a run for it when he ran straight into the princess as she tried to quietly sneak around the door and exit the room without alerting the trespassers to her presence. He tumbled into her, and they both fell into a bloody heap on the floor, both of them screaming at the top of their lungs.
Ruggero growled ferociously behind them, furious that the cowardly knave had dared to touch his princess. He leapt into the air and snatched a hold of the skin on the back of the man's neck, wrenching the man completely off of the princess, eliciting a horrible, almost feminine, shriek and a healthy flow of urine from the man.
Bredamante took the opportunity to regain her footing. Before she could run, though, the portly man that had eluded the panther in the beginning of the struggle grabbed her by her thick, waist length blonde hair and pulled her to an abrupt stop, twisting her hair painfully in his chubby hand. Bredamante screamed out loud at first in shock and then in frustration as she realized that she had been caught.
Ruggero turned at the sound of her scream, having ripped out the throat of the small man beneath him that had stumbled over the princess in his haste to get away. He licked his lips with his thick, pink tongue and made ready to pounce on the man that held his princess captive when the last man of the trio, previously forgotten until now, threw a small glass vial in front of him. The strange glass vial broke into a thousand little pieces on the stone floor in front of Ruggero and a strange, hypnotic green vapor began to float sinuously into the air.
Ruggero snarled viciously at the nefarious odor that assaulted him immediately when the vial broke, trying to move away and turn his head, hold his breath, but it was too late. He had already inhaled some of the debilitating vapor. His vision became blurry as he desperately tried to look within himself and find the strength past the strong pull of the drug that was taking over his body and make a line for the portly man that held the princess captive, a menacing grin deepening the folds in his filthy round face.
Uttering a snarl of rage, Ruggero leapt at the man, but the drug had affected his equilibrium, distorted his senses. He discovered even as he leapt to the princess' defense that he had miscalculated where they were standing. Unable to alter course or slow his momentum, he slammed into the stained glass of the large window that was behind them. The glass shattered into fragments. The world started to tilt. He felt himself falling and falling, for what seemed like forever. His mind became numb. The last sound he heard before his body finally landed and everything went black was Bredamante's desperate, sobbing cry. "Ruggero!"