Authors: Lola Dodge
Tags: #Superhero;super hero;panther;cat shifter;Manhattan Ten;M10;romance;super powers;wedding;free read
Meet the family? Try surviving the family.
The Manhattan Ten, Book 3.5
Since that fateful airline flight where Ivory met her mate, she has struggled to control her ice powers. But on her wedding day, she has it all: an adoring panther-shifter husband, a pack of superhero friends, and a level of happiness she never imagined was possible.
Until she meets her mother-in-law.
Instead of waking up from a blissful wedding night at Panther’s side, Ivory wakes from a drug-induced haze, alone in the middle of a strange jungle. Mommy dearest has dropped her in South America, forcing Ivory into a twisted test of her worth. If she doesn’t measure up to the tribe’s standards, the marriage won’t be acknowledged.
Although Ivory loves a fight, she’s not into war games. Especially when victory might entail killing her new brother-in-law in an honor duel. But with her future on the line, holding back isn’t an option.
Warning: Contains one tribe of sexy panther-shifters in steamy jungle climates and the unforgivable torture of a Vera Wang wedding gown.
For Sharonda and Melissa, who demanded more panthers. Two bloggers + two sexy shifters = no more fighting over book boyfriends!
wedding day was the first time I truly felt warm. Ice was part of me; I surrounded myself with it, and it lived in my veins. Joining the Manhattan Ten had only heightened my powers, and I’d always feared that losing control meant losing myself to the ice.
Panther changed everything.
As I walked down the aisle, the other members of the Manhattan Ten—our friends and the only family I cared to acknowledge—beamed. Although the weight of their love was palpable, my gaze glossed over them as if superheroes were nothing special. I’d grown used to them since I’d become one. I was marrying one.
The Midtown cathedral was decked in cascades of icicles and frost roses, and a misty chill hung in the air—as if the day was a dream or a fantasy. Even I was covered in ice diamonds. My conjured jewels matched the lacy pattern of my gown and the reams fabric that waterfalled to the floor. My heart seemed to thump against the bodice as I moved.
So many emotions whirled through my heart. So much happiness.
I passed my bouquet of blue and white orchids to Angel at the altar. Tears gathered in the corners of her dark eyes. No doubt her super-mind was recording every detail of this moment. I returned her smile, but I couldn’t keep myself from turning to Balam.
He usually grinned with his teeth, flashing the brilliant white canines that so contrasted with his dark, delicious skin. As he gazed down at me, only the corners of his lips tilted upward.
Today, his joy was in his eyes. I raked him with my gaze—his skin glowed against the fabric of a perfectly tailored tuxedo that flaunted his muscular frame and deadly lines. A dangerous hunter, who’d captured my heart.
And he’s all mine.
Panther grasped my hands, and his heat stirred my blood. I hadn’t known any form of warmth until I met him. Though the church dripped with icicles, I may as well have been in the jungle.
Although I wasn’t able to cry, icy crystals of joy formed in my lashes. I wiped them away as I turned toward the shaman officiating the ceremony.
He was one of my tribesmen, with platinum blonde hair and blue eyes nearly identical to my own. He began the ceremony in our tribal language.
I’d summoned him to Manhattan as a neutral envoy and would send him back to the tundra with a message for my mother. I would not succeed her as queen. Instead, I was marrying the panther her men once tried to kill, and if she tried to harm him, her blood would stain the snow red.
Panther squeezed my hand. His lantern-yellow eyes blazed and I knew we shared the same thought.
We will never be parted.
The priest formed a block of ice over our joined hands, sealing our union in the way of my people—representing an eternal bond, frozen in time. Even then, Panther cut through the chill.
“Lady Valdís, now known as the heroine Ivory.” The priest switched to English for the crucial question. He’d changed the content as well, eliminating the portion where the couple battled to draw blood. “Do you take this man as your lifelong partner, vowing to battle beside him until the last day?”
“I do.” And my heart would soon burst in my chest.
“Balam, known as the hero Panther. Do you take this woman as your lifelong partner, vowing to battle beside her until the last day?”
My joy at his words exploded in a puff of snowflakes that rained down from the rafters. As flurries dusted the shoulders of Pan’s tux, he smiled through glowing, slightly glassy eyes, as moved as I was by this beautiful day and pure, blissful amazement. He was my perfect match, and knowing that Panther felt the same…
For the first time in my life, I could have melted.
“Then you are joined before the gods. Do honor unto each other.” The priest bowed before us.
Using my powers, I evaporated the block of ice until only a frozen ring remained on each of our fingers. Mine would be permanent, but Panther’s would require refreezing. I planned to keep him close enough that it wouldn’t cause much difficulty.
Panther lifted me from my feet. I looped my arms over his shoulders, crushing our mouths together. His heat bled into me, filling me with impossible delight.
The crowd—small, but loyal—cheered. The Manhattan Ten were decked in their finest, and their sincere smiles were everything I’d never had before I joined the crew.
Acceptance. Friendship. Love.
I brushed away another dusting of crystals at the corners of my eyes. No more perfect moment could exist in this world.
Panther pressed me close. “Race you to the honeymoon suite?”
A passionate whisper and the thrill of a competition; the man knew all of my soft spots. “The party is first…” I could’ve been persuaded to skip, but Angel glowed. I couldn’t waste her efforts, even if I needed to be alone with my gorgeous husband as soon as possible.
Just thinking the word sparked a bout of flurries.
“Soon enough.” Pan took my hand and I shivered.
We stepped off the altar together and Panther’s mother, Poya, approached. She was half her son’s size, with orange-tinged brown eyes and the hint of panther whiskers. I hadn’t thought through in-laws when I agreed to marry, but no one could be worse than my own mother.
At least she hadn’t tried to kill me yet.
.” She hugged Panther tight, letting loose a rapid burst of something older than Spanish.
He responded firmly, then kissed the top of her head. “It’s already done.”
She didn’t look disappointed per se, but I would have to enroll in language classes as soon as possible if I wanted to avoid being talked about. “I’m happy you could come.”
“But of course. We will speak together at the party.” Poya looked me up and down with her appraising panther eyes. “We must become more familiar.”
I could stare down a polar bear and smile, but facing my husband’s mother was more stressful than stalking a predator. “I look forward to that.”
Somehow, I’d have to win her over. Panther would be in my life for as long as I lived, and his family was mine now.
A gowned figure slipped into my sight line, and Angel captured me in a hug.
Angel’s timing was as perfect as ever. If I had to bear much more scrutiny, the indoor snowflakes would become a blizzard. I couldn’t help but admire my friend, for both her abilities and beauty—her ice-blue bridesmaid gown hugged her curves perfectly and she’d picked the dresses, flowers and even the location to match my tastes. “Thank you. Everything is flawless.”
“Are you sure?” Angel pulled me a bit to the side, eying Panther’s mother. “I overheard something about a ‘more traditional ceremony’?”
Panther met my gaze, sparking a flash of joy. “Everything will be fine.” Although I wanted our family relations to be as strong as possible, Panther’s mother lived somewhere in South America. Panther and I had no plans to separate or stray from New York, so we wouldn’t be likely to see her again soon.
The rest of the Manhattan Ten crowded near, offering their congratulations one by one. It was Jenny—Temptress—who finally shivered in the icy cathedral. “I heard something about a party?”
“Onward to the venue.” Angel stepped between Jet and Nil, tugging the long-haired pretty boy and hulking mountain toward the door as if they were children. “And no one harass the press.” Camera flashes bloomed as the door opened and closed.
I plucked Steel’s sleeve when he moved to follow. “Can you entertain my mother-in-law?” I wanted Pan to myself, and Steel loved to flirt. The billboard-modeling blond might be charismatic enough to keep her distracted.
“I love an older woman.” He winked and moved to Panther for an introduction.
Incorrigible, but not irredeemable.
As everyone began to filter out, a wide-eyed Christian priest popped out from one of the alcoves. “Before you leave, could someone…?” His gaze flicked from the icicles on the ceiling to the floor of glittering frozen roses. He’d allowed us to rent the space on short notice, but likely hadn’t expected such a scene.
Although I may have overdone the decorations.
I focused my mind on the offending ice, pulling it back inside me until I flushed with chill. The frigid flowers disappeared in puffs of condensation and the cathedral returned to normal, if a few degrees colder.
The temperature would warm, but I’d never forget my memories of this day, and I couldn’t wait to start making a new history with the man at my side. After Steel exited, escorting Panther’s mother, Panther and I were finally alone.
“Did you just set up my mom?” He slipped his arm around my waist.
“I may have.” And I’d do the same again. Jet was even prettier than Steel. “Are you sure she approves?”
.” Pan trailed his nose along the line of my neck. “I approve. She is a lovable but stubborn panther lady who’s only slightly miffed that we wouldn’t hold the ceremony in the jungle.”
“Do you wish we’d done it her way?” Angel had planned everything and all I’d contributed were the decorations. It hadn’t seemed important as long Pan and I could be united. Now that I’d experienced it, I was impossibly grateful to her for making it such a special occasion. Not even Poya’s disapproval could tarnish that.
“The amenities are embarrassing out there.” He gently bit my ear, waking a wave of shivers that had nothing to do with the cold. “Besides, the wedding was for our friends. I only care about you…” His hands roved downward, pulling me against his body. “And the honeymoon.”
My response was instinctive. Our lips met and I fell into him, basking in his heat as the kiss deepened, and deepened—
The priest cleared his throat.
Panther saluted him. “Don’t mind us,
I warmed from Pan rather than embarrassment. Cathedral or not, I couldn’t be shamed by our bond. “Let’s make an appearance at the party.” A brief appearance.
“Ready for this?” He took my hand. Together, we pushed open the doors.
A barrage of camera flashes hit us like a wall of white ice. Photographers leaned over the barrier that cordoned the path between the church and our car. Television anchors shouted with their microphones, and beyond the line of news vans, a crowd of fans roared.
“Race?” I practically had to shout, but Panther heard.
“You can’t win in those heels.” So he said, but his grin told me the challenge was accepted.
“In three, two, one!”
Both of us dashed. I wobbled slightly and he gained a step on me.
Oh no you don’t.
Letting the ice spill from me was as easy as breathing. Icy blades grew on the bottom of my heels as runners of frost slicked the carpet.
The crowd exploded and I smiled. On skates, I couldn’t lose. My fingertips touched the car a fraction before Pan’s did.
“Cheater.” He grinned, already opening the door and shielding me from the cameras.
“I didn’t put ice on your side of the carpet.” That would’ve negated the whole competition.
He helped jam my skirts into the car and dove in behind me, slamming the door. “That’s why I love you.” As he pushed aside the fabric, his yellow hunter’s eyes glowed. “One reason, at least.”
Pan fell on top of me. If it was him, I didn’t mind being hunted.
ter steak dinner at Del Frisco’s, our party relocated to a posh nightclub. Angel had bought out the VIP section for the evening, and New York already knew—the line stretched to the end of the block and out of sight. Even in the street, bass thumped.
I glanced at Panther’s mother. “Maybe this isn’t…”
“It’s quieter inside.” Angel tugged me through the doors. The entrance split. Rather than entering the writhing dance club, we took the elevator up to a cushy lounge. It was insulated enough that the pounding music sounded like a normal volume inside.
Waiters handed us champagne flutes as we entered. The room had a private bar, plush seats and the odd stripper pole. Thunder wore his blond hair slicked back and an impeccably tailored suit. He nudged Steel toward a raised platform. “You’re the entertainment, right?”
Steel gave his best cover model smile as he looked Thunder up and down. “If you’re buying my drinks.”
“If only.” Thunder straightened his lapels. “I know you don’t put out.”
Tank—our mind-reading leader—rubbed his head, undoubtedly trying to block someone’s mental pictures. “Let’s not rehash the bachelor party.”
Jenny lifted her hands. “I’m behaving.” Although, in a red dress
low-cut, one could argue otherwise.
“For now.” Tank swept her into his arms and his knotted brow smoothed.
He’d mellowed since meeting Jenny, and the love shone in both their gazes. I twined my fingers through Panther’s. “What exactly were you boys doing at that bachelor party?” Not that I begrudged them their fun. “I hope the groom behaved, at least?”
Pan grinned. “What do you think?”
“I’ll vouch,” Jenny said. “He was comparatively tame, especially when you consider Cyclone.”
Thunder lifted his champagne flute. “Let’s all raise our glasses to our departed hero, Cyclone. May he find his mermaid.”
“To Cyclone.” I drained my glass. He could be a crass one, but someday he’d find balance. “Socialize?” I asked Pan.
“If we have to.” He ran a hand down my arm. “But not for long.”
I met his stare, showing him how much I agreed.
Pan leaned to kiss my cheek, leaving me with a whisper. “I can’t wait to peel that dress off of you.”
I couldn’t wait to let him.
We divided to spread our thanks through the room. Tank and Jenny. Ruin and Belle. Angel, Steel, Nil, Thunder and Jet.
I couldn’t ask for a better family than the Manhattan Ten.
Panther and I constantly crossed gazes. Both our stares filled with thoughts of the evening to come.
I never thought to have a life like this. I’d pictured myself forever running across an endless white space, trying to escape, to control and to hide. None of that mattered now.
I leaned against the bar, taking in the life I’d somehow built.