Leopard's FuryBy: Christine Feehan
She had a fantasy mouth—one he’d dreamt of many times. He’d woken up every one of those times with his fist on his cock and the dream of her mouth tight around him. Her eyes were a true emerald, startling green, rich and warm, and he wanted her looking up at him when he fucked her mouth. He always dreamt of her that way. If she had any idea of the dirty things he wanted to do to her, she’d order him out and lock the door behind him. Yeah, and if any other man ever had the same thoughts about her and he knew it, that man would be dead within the hour.
“Alonzo, I haven’t seen you in a while.”
Even her voice got to him. Low. Sexy. So damned sweet he wanted to take a bite out of her. He stepped up to the counter. Behind him, Timur prowled to the restroom, yanked open the door and looked inside and then moved back to the storefront windows to peer out. Alonzo thought about pulling out a gun and shooting him. He didn’t need Timur acting like his bodyguard, even though that was what he was.
Gorya was worse. His cousin was a ladies’ man. Handsome. Charming. He had that lean, lithe build women seemed to go for. He was everything Alonzo wasn’t. Alonzo was all corded muscle. Ropes of it. Rugged. He always looked like he had a two-day growth on his jaw, no matter how many times he shaved. He was tall, towering over Evangeline and probably intimidating the hell out of her. If he didn’t, he should. He had scars on his face and neck. More on his body. He didn’t smile, nor did he know how to make clever conversation. He was rough-looking by any standard, and next to his cousin, he would come up short every time.
Evangeline’s gaze left his face and moved to Gorya’s. She flashed a smile at him and for a moment Alonzo stiffened, his fingers curling into a tight fist inside his thin leather gloves. He had the fists of a fighter and he’d never lost a fight yet. He hoped like hell Gorya remembered that fact. He hoped he was aware of just what the tattoos covering his body meant as well.
He realized she had given his cousin her low-watt smile. Polite. Sweet, but impersonal. She still reserved the real one for him. His gut, tied up in knots, relaxed a little.
“Good morning. Can I get something for you?” That was directed at Gorya.
Her voice stroked caresses over Alonzo’s skin. Men like Alonzo didn’t have a woman of their own. Not ever. It was far too dangerous. He didn’t live in Evangeline’s world. He stayed in the underbelly, where it was dark and ugly and everyone existing there was dark and ugly as well. He knew the business inside and out, smuggling, gunrunning, prostitutes, gambling, money laundering, the list went on and on. He knew them all. He’d been born into that ugly world—on the other side of the world in Russia, but still the same everywhere. He’d never left it. Never gotten out of it. Not even when he’d come to the States.
Gorya winked at Evangeline. “I had no idea the women were so beautiful in this city or I would have come sooner.”
“Gorya.” It was a warning. No one could mistake it for anything else. Alonzo wasn’t about to have his cousin flirt with his woman. Okay. She wasn’t his. Not yet. She never would be, because along with taking over the Arnotto territory when Antonio Arnotto had been murdered, Alonzo was a shifter with the worst leopard imaginable.
His leopard, an Amur leopard, was a killer. Vicious. Cunning. Fast as hell. Ready to fight at the drop of a hat. Prodding, raking and clawing Alonzo every moment of every day. The cat hated everyone equally. Women were in danger. Alonzo could fuck them but then he had to get them the hell out of his sight because his leopard was so savage after, he was never certain he could control the beast. There were no cozy dates and romantic interludes. He’d never had that. The only place his cat subsided and gave him a respite was here, in this bakery. Even at night, when he slept, his cat wanted to hunt and often challenged him. He’d had to put up metal bars on the windows and steel plating on the doors to ensure his cat remained indoors while he slept. What man could ask a woman to share that kind of life?
Evangeline was a woman a man kept. He wanted her in his bed. He wanted to wake up to her, go to sleep with her. Have those fucking romantic dates with her. He didn’t realize he was scowling at Gorya until his cousin moved nervously away from the counter.
“I’ll have a cup of coffee and one of your famous cinnamon cakes Alonzo is always going on about,” Gorya said as he backed away. He glanced at Timur, who was talking into his cell phone, still staring out the window. No help there.
Satisfied, Alonzo watched patiently as Evangeline got the coffee and cake for Gorya. Alonzo enjoyed watching her work. She was very efficient, her movements mesmerizing. He’d spent countless hours watching her, just enjoying the way her breasts swayed temptingly and her hips had a sexy little swing to them. He had memorized her body and knew he would know her blindfolded, and he hadn’t even touched her yet.
Her gaze jumped to his and she blushed. That was the other thing he loved about her. She didn’t look at other men. Only him. He knew better. It wasn’t safe. She would never have the things she deserved if she was with him. Things like neighbors who came over to borrow sugar and leaned over a fence to talk. She would never be able to be alone in her bakery. Hell, if she would even have her bakery, and he could tell it meant the world to her. He didn’t look away, holding her gaze deliberately. He should have looked away, made it clear it was never going to happen between them. He was the last man on earth she should ever be with, but it didn’t matter how many times, how many ways, he told himself that, he kept coming back.
“I missed you, Alonzo.” She whispered her confession for him alone.
He knew his brother and cousin would hear. They were leopard. Of course they’d hear, and he hated that too. That should have been for him alone. Intimate. Just between the two of them. Deep inside, his leopard snarled, catching his mood, and he realized the beast didn’t like the other males close to Evangeline any more than he did.
She might have said such a thing to any customer returning after a lengthy disappearance, but he was not just any customer and they both knew it. His body stirred in spite of every effort not to allow it. Worse, she got to him somewhere deeper. He’d lost everything. His family. His home. His self-respect. Everything important. He’d lost so much he’d placed himself in an untenable position, setting himself up as a target for police and criminals alike.
He knew better. He knew better than to risk her. An innocent. Sweet. Beautiful. He nearly groaned with his need of her, but someone had to protect her. She’d be a weakness his enemies could exploit. He wasn’t a gentle man. He was a killer, born and bred. Worse, he had a leopard . . .
“You shouldn’t.” His warning dripped with ice. He wasn’t strong enough to stay away from her, but he could make it so she wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him.
Evangeline didn’t flinch. She nodded, her gaze never wavering from his. “I know.”
She did know. He saw knowledge in her eyes. Of who he was. What he was. And now it was worse. Back home, he’d been a ruthless enforcer. Here, when he’d first met her, he’d become a bodyguard, a soldier, nothing else. Now, he was the boss. A target. A man who was forced to make ugly decisions.
“And still you missed me.”
“Yes. Coffee? Cinnamon-apple cookies?”
He should turn his back on her, walk right out, but he wasn’t that strong. He almost did. He turned away from her, looking toward the door, wishing he were a better man. When he turned, his fierce cat leapt toward the surface, raking and clawing in protest. Everything in him stilled. He turned slowly back toward Evangeline and his cat settled instantly. Nearly purred. Stretched leisurely.