Leopard's FuryBy: Christine Feehan
“Coffee and a piece of the cinnamon cake.”
He had always known his cat calmed when he went to the bakery, but he hadn’t realized his leopard was as enamored with Evangeline as he was. His leopard had settled down in the bakery, but his reaction wasn’t just about the place, the scent of baked goods, the peaceful atmosphere; this was about the woman. He studied her carefully as she poured his coffee and arranged the cake on the plate.
What did he really know about her? Deliberately, he hadn’t investigated her. He didn’t want to know more than he already did about her. She worked hard. She loved what she did and it showed. Her bakery was immaculate, the baked goods superb. She was beautiful, far beyond his imagination. He liked the way she dealt with problem customers. He’d seen her hang on to her smile when a customer had raged at her about something minor. She easily defused the situation, speaking in her warm, low tone. He loved her voice. She always spoke softly, giving him the impression of an intimacy they didn’t have.
He couldn’t deny the connection between them. He took the coffee from her in the way he always did, one gloved finger brushing along the back of her hand. He didn’t dare allow himself the pleasure of skin to skin. He took the plate as well and went to his table to contemplate the situation.
He hadn’t been able to be with a woman without that woman being in extreme danger. Not once. Not ever. His leopard’s fierce, killing nature had gotten so bad he hadn’t bothered to try in a very long time. Controlling his cat was difficult enough on a day-to-day basis, without tempting the beast. His leopard raged at him, and he’d seen the result of his kind of animal and never wanted to witness it again. He stayed disciplined. He didn’t tempt fate.
He glanced at her. She wasn’t looking at him, but he’d already seen the hurt in her eyes. She’d tried to mask it, but it had been there. He’d done that. Acting as if she didn’t matter when she did. Acting cold because that was the only way to save both of them. He had been secretly happy that she’d left his table in place, as if waiting for him. She’d admitted she’d missed him.
But . . . He risked another glance at her. If she soothed his leopard and the hideous man who had confronted her months earlier had been leopard—could she be one? He needed to find out.
Gorya seated himself across the room where he could easily defend both men if trouble came in, but Timur dragged a chair to the left side of the table so he could scowl at Evangeline. “She’s gorgeous. What the hell’s wrong with the men around here?”
Alonzo’s gut knotted and his leopard roared, leaping to the surface so fast he could barely contain the beast. His knuckles ached. His skull felt too tight. The itch of fur rushed over his body beneath his immaculate suit. “Vai a fan culo,” he swore, remembering at the last minute to use Italian and not Russian.
Timur leaned back in his chair. “Oh, yeah. You aren’t going to walk away from her. You’re well and truly caught and you’d better get to a point where you acknowledge it, before something bad happens.” The taunting smile faded and Timur leaned close. “She’s beautiful, Alonzo.” He clearly hated calling his brother by that name. “Some man is going to come in eventually or follow her home or steal her away from you . . .”
“Get the fuck away from me before something bad happens right here,” Alonzo snapped, meaning it. “You know what I have to put up with day and night. Why the hell are you making it more difficult? I can barely contain him and the more you stir him up, the worse it gets.”
Genuine shock crossed Timur’s face. “Your leopard is reacting to what I’m saying? About . . .” He turned his head and looked at Evangeline as she served two women who had come in. “Her?”
Alonzo nodded. “This is the only place he’s quiet. He’s gotten crazy lately. I let him out every night and run him until we’re both exhausted, but it doesn’t seem to get any better. I figured, sooner or later, I was going to have to . . .” He trailed off, shaking his head. He would rather be dead than to fulfill the legacy of his father.
“You’re certain it’s her? She soothes him?”
“It’s Evangeline. She does the same thing for me. She’s quiet. Calm. Watch how she is with everyone, it’s genuine, that peace she has. She knows who she is and what she wants. She doesn’t get ruffled over anything. I’ve seen her handle difficult customers. They end up smiling and go away happy. She’s just peaceful to be around and for someone like me, someone living in hell, that’s a gift.”
Timur got up, shoving his chair back, and stalked over to the counter without a word. He stood waiting for his turn, his entire focus on the woman behind the counter. Alonzo didn’t like it, but not only was Timur his brother, he was his bodyguard. Anything unusual in Alonzo’s world had to be checked out. He understood that, but he didn’t have to like it.
Evangeline looked up, saw the look on Timur’s face and glanced at Alonzo. His eyes met hers. He stared at her, trying to feel nothing. Knowing she thought he didn’t feel a single emotion, and he hadn’t—until he’d walked into the bakery all those months ago and met her. Hurt flashed in her eyes for a brief moment and then she turned her entire attention on Timur.
Her smile. The way she tipped her head slightly to the side and tendrils of her thick, glossy hair curled around her face giving her a sexy, take-me-to-bed kind of look. Alonzo wanted to pound his brother into the ground.
“What can I get for you?”
Her voice. Sin and sex. Alonzo tried not to listen. Tried not to hear or look as his brother ordered and she moved from the counter to the espresso machine to get Timur’s drink for him. He couldn’t help but watch the sway of her hips. She was wearing soft blue jeans. Nothing special, but they cupped her ass in a way that made his palms itch. He needed to run his hands possessively over her curves. Claim them. She belonged to him, not his brother and not any other male walking into the bakery. She half turned toward Timur when he told her what he wanted from the display case. The movement pulled the thin material of her black-and-white sweater across her full breasts. There was no hiding the fact that she had curves, the kind a man wanted to feel when he took her to bed. Soft. Inviting. All the fuck his.
It took every ounce of discipline he possessed to stay in his seat and watch his brother engage her in conversation when she handed him his coffee and reached into the case for his macaroons.
“I’m Timur, Timur Amurov. And you are?” Timur lifted the drink to his mouth and sipped cautiously.
Alonzo watched him take that first drink and get the look on his face that most of her customers did. The woman knew how to make coffee and drinks. On the other hand, she knew his brother’s real name, and his was a fake. When she talked to him, she thought of him as Alonzo, an Italian. He was Fyodor Amurov, from Russia. He was an Amur leopard shifter, and that made him a rarity even among rare shifters. It also made him a member of the bratya. In fact, he was from one of the most lucrative and cruel families involved. His legacy was one of blood and death. Of patricide. Of mass murder.
“I’m Evangeline. It’s nice to meet you.”
Her voice went right through him. Wrapped around his heart. Fisted his fucking cock until he thought he might scream with need. All the while his leopard purred. Rubbed. Needed like he needed. Alonzo’s breath stilled in his body. His leopard only needed one thing—to hunt. He lived for the hunt. He loved the freedom, and he saw everything and everyone as prey. Not Evangeline. He looked at her amorously. That was new.