Leopard's FuryBy: Christine Feehan
“Yes, Evangeline, like you. I’ve never seen a more beautiful woman in my life. This isn’t a bad part of town, but it’s near enough. You come here at three in the morning and work alone until you close. You need a man.”
He wasn’t volunteering, that was for certain. But he’d said she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. That was something. Of course he’d said it in his cold, devoid-of-all-feeling voice, but he had at least thought it to say it. Again, even though there was no emotion in his voice, she still felt that little bite, as if he were annoyed beyond all endurance that she was single.
She lifted her chin at him. “Some women prefer to be single.”
He was silent, studying her face. Slowly he shook his head. “Some women shouldn’t ever be single.” He let go of her hand. “They won’t come back. They know they will answer to me if they do.”
She dared to lay her hand on his arm as he turned away from her. “Alonzo, I don’ mind payin’ the money. I don’ want you to get in trouble with anyone. Those men made it sound like someone was goin’ to be upset with you for interferin’. I’d rather pay the money than have you get into trouble.”
He halted and looked down at her hand. Her fingers didn’t even curl halfway around his forearm. As a deterrent her hand seemed rather absurd to try to stop him. Still, he remained there, towering over her. “Don’t worry about me, Evangeline.”
“I think when you said if there was a problem, you’d take care of it yourself, you meant you’d pay the money. I’m not going to let you do that.”
He removed her hand very gently and stepped away, toward the door. “You don’t really have a choice one way or the other.” He walked out like he always did—without looking back.
Evangeline waited for him for the next two weeks. She had the envelope filled with cash waiting for him or for the two men who came to collect each week. Neither showed up and that worried her. Had something happened to him because he’d stood up for her? There was no way to get in touch with him. She didn’t know his last name or where he worked.
The other customers, the ones in their suits that she was certain Alonzo had sent, suddenly stopped coming in as well. She’d heard on the news that Antonio Arnotto, famous for his wines, had been murdered. It was rumored he was actually a crime boss, and his territory was wide open for takeover. Speculation of a war began with various faces being flashed on the television screen. She watched carefully, but none of those faces belonged to Alonzo.
Another week went by and still he didn’t come. She was fairly certain he wouldn’t now, and she went over every single thing she’d said and done. She’d touched him. She knew better. He was a man alone. He was frozen. Dead inside. Without emotion—and she’d crossed a line.
She wasn’t able to sleep very well, dreaming he’d been shot and killed. Beaten and stabbed. Buried alive in cement. She was afraid to close her eyes. The shop was thriving, but it didn’t seem the same, not without him in it. She kept the news playing at home and work. On week five, she saw a picture of him on the television. He was standing beside another known crime boss, Elijah Lospostos, and his wife, Siena. Siena was the granddaughter of Antonio Arnotto. Alonzo Massi had been a soldier for her grandfather and was now her soldier. The news anchor asked if Alonzo Massi was the new crime boss rising out of the ranks to become the newest don, taking over Arnotto territory.
At least she knew he was alive. Still, she knew he wouldn’t be coming back. And Siena Arnotto Lospostos was gorgeous. She couldn’t hope to hold a candle to her, whether or not her Iceman had declared Evangeline the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Siena might be married, but how could Alonzo possibly think Evangeline was beautiful next to Siena? Was he taking care of Siena? Her soldier. What did that mean? That he wasn’t coming back. That was what it meant.
“NOT a good idea, Fyodor. This is the kind of thing that will get you killed.”
Fyodor Amurov stopped abruptly on the sidewalk in front of the bakery, his long coat swirling around his ankles. Glaring at his brother, he shook his head. “Never use that name. I am Italian. I was born Italian. My name is Alonzo Massi. You have to remember that at all times, Timur. It was foolish of you to keep your name.” His gaze swept the other man flanking him. “Both of you should have known better.”
“I’m tired of hiding, Alonzo.” Timur emphasized the name, disgust in his tone. “But I’m not the point. We take great care with your route, never going the same way twice. We change vehicles. We watch over you and yet you insist on coming back to this place. The other men said you used to come here all the time. I’m beginning to think your sweet tooth has nothing to do with the goods in the cases and more to do with the goods behind the counter.”
Alonzo didn’t smile. He rarely, if ever, smiled. His gaze was restless, scanning the streets, the sidewalks, and most of all, looking through the plate-glass windows of the Small Sweet Shoppe. She was there, just as she always was. Working. Beautiful. Breathtaking. He shouldn’t be there. He was the last man that should ever go into that bakery and put his gaze on that woman, but he couldn’t stop himself. Timur was right. She was his Achilles’ heel.
He sighed and put his hand to the door, shoving it open because he couldn’t stop himself. He was a disciplined man in every area of his life, he had to be, yet for eight months he’d come to the bakery at least three times a week. That was him being disciplined. He’d wanted to go every damn day. He’d stayed away over a month, nearly two. He could count the weeks, days, hours and minutes since he’d last seen her.
“Bad idea, boss,” Timur muttered. He was deadly serious and when he pushed past Alonzo to take a sweep of the small interior, his body in front of his brother’s, he scowled at the woman behind the counter—the one who eventually was going to be the death of his brother if Fyodor kept this madness up.
Alonzo paused inside the door, taking a moment to drink her in. Savor her. Just for that moment before she looked up. He found he was holding his breath. A part of him almost wished she had a man. That she wouldn’t look up, see him and smile that innocent, shy smile that told him she was interested in a monster. On the other hand, if she didn’t smile at him that way, he’d be crushed. Shattered. It had been so damned long since he’d laid eyes on her, and he couldn’t take it one more minute. More, if she was smiling that way for another man, he might commit murder and it would have nothing to do with his leopard.
Her name was Evangeline Bouvier. She was small and curvy with beautiful breasts that called to him. Her hair was a thick, dark silky mass that cascaded over her shoulders nearly to her waist. She wore it pulled back from her face in a thick, intricate braid that always made him want to run his hand down it to the very end, where it rested in the sweet curve of her ass. And she had a very nice ass. He spent far too much time thinking about it, just as he did every single part of her.
Evangeline glanced up, and instantly it was there. That smile she reserved solely for him. He’d seen countless customers come in over the last few months. She always smiled at them, but not like that. That smile was reserved for him alone and that told him she didn’t have a man. No one had come in and tried to steal her out from under him.