Leopard's Fury

By: Christine Feehan


Timur immediately rose and wandered to the other side of the room, pretending great interest in the baked goods in the display cases, but all the while watching the streets.

Evangeline looked down at his fingers wrapped around her wrist. She had a small wrist and his hands were large, nearly swallowing not only her wrist but a good part of her forearm. She sighed and put the coffeepot on the table.

“I can’t do this with you,” she said softly. “You’re not bein’ fair.”

Her accent got to him every time. “Sit down for a minute, Evangeline. You have a few minutes with no customers. The big crowd will be coming in soon.”

She hesitated, but he didn’t release her. He couldn’t have even if he wanted to. Once he had her close to him, he didn’t want to give that up. Such close proximity had his leopard rolling around amorously. The crazy cat stretched and unsheathed claws but only to try to push Alonzo to stake his claim legitimately. Impossible in her shop, but he knew soon he would have no choice, not the way his leopard was acting and not the way his body, heart and soul responded to her.

Evangeline slipped into the chair beside him. “I thought we’d agreed this was a bad idea. Was I reading you wrong?”

He kept possession of her wrist, looking down at her hands. She didn’t wear paint on her nails. They were cut short and very clean, but completely bare. Her hands were small, but they’d seen work. His heart tripped a little looking at them. No rings. No sign there had ever been a ring, but then she was young. No more than twenty or twenty-one. Young to own a shop.

“You weren’t wrong.” It came out clipped. Frozen. He didn’t know how to be any different than he was so he didn’t try to be.

She tried to get her hand back, tugging. He didn’t have to tighten his hold, she wasn’t going anywhere.

“I’m not a good man.” Hell. He wasn’t even a man. How did he say that to her? My life is killing. It doesn’t matter what form I take, human or leopard; that’s who I am. Not what; who. He’d been born into a lair of killers. Of vicious, cruel, cunning killers. He’d been bred for that purpose deliberately. Raised to be what his father and the lair needed. Even in the brotherhood, his family was feared above all others.

“I get that.”

He didn’t want her to get it or agree with him. He wanted a protest. She didn’t give him one, but she didn’t stare at the table like most women would have. She didn’t cry or look sad. She looked him right in the eye. His Evangeline. His woman. She was quiet and accepting. She didn’t even look as if she blamed him.

“I’m protecting you from my life. From me.” He tried again. Maybe he needed her to continue looking at him the way she did. He needed her to see him as noble when he was anything but. This wasn’t going to end well for her. He tried, for her sake, but he was so far gone. So empty. So alone. So fucking tired of killing. He couldn’t fight his leopard forever. He realized that without her, his leopard was going to go insane. He could try to protect her from who and what he was, but if he wanted to survive with his soul intact, he needed her. Sooner or later he’d get too tired, he’d slip up and his leopard would slip his leash.

“I get that.” No judgment. Just acceptance.

“You don’t,” he said, bringing her hand to his mouth. “You don’t get it and I don’t know how to tell you.” He couldn’t help himself. His teeth scraped over the pads of her fingers and then he sucked one into his mouth.

“Zashchitit’ yeye.”

That was the only warning Alonzo got, but it was all he needed. He surged to his feet, jerking her up with him and turned, pushing her face and the front of her body into the wall, covering her with his own. He was big, surrounding her, his arms protecting her head while his body sheltered the rest of her.

There was the sound of brakes locking up. The terrible smash of glass as a truck jumped the sidewalk and hit the front of the store. It came to a shuddering halt with just the bumper and a small part of the hood inside the store. Glass rained down. The truck had taken out the glass door and both picture windows. The aim couldn’t have been better. Timur was already striding through the glass to berate the driver.

Very slowly, Alonzo released Evangeline. She turned reluctantly to survey the damage. All color leeched from her face, leaving her shockingly pale, so much so that he locked his arm around her belly and pulled her back against him for support.

“It is only glass, amore. No one was hurt. Timur will get the necessary information and I’ll make certain this is repaired today.”

People were crowding in, gawking. The driver shook his head, apologizing over and over, handing over his license and insurance and showing Timur the gas pedal had stuck. Timur glanced back at Alonzo. Alonzo scowled at his brother. Of course his brother had arranged the accident. His fault for insisting on frequenting the bakery. He’d made it clear he would continue to go there on a regular basis, even though it wasn’t safe. He knew exactly what Timur was up to, and his brother would get the lecture of a lifetime—not that it would do any good.

A little shudder ran through Evangeline’s body. She breathed deep and pressed her fingers to her eyes for a moment before her chin went up. “No one can get glass installed that fast. It has to be special ordered and . . .”

“Evangeline.” Just her name. A reprimand. He didn’t need to say anything else. No matter what, if he said he’d take care of it, he would. She should at least know who she was dealing with. In any case, Timur would have made the order already for bulletproof glass. The workmen would show up very soon. She would lose business today, but he would find a way to make that up to her.

“You can’t take care of this for me,” she said decisively.

She hadn’t made a move to pull out of his arms yet, still so shocked he doubted she was aware that she leaned heavily into him. His leopard was happy, his body, not so much.

“It is done. Timur is already arranging it.”

“I don’ have the money,” she admitted. “The insurance has to be called, and they’ll come out and determine what they can do and—”

“It is done.” He made that decisive. “Come sit down.” He steered her toward the small table again, the one far from the mess.

She glanced at Gorya as she allowed Alonzo to seat her. He calmly finished his coffee, saluting her with the mug. “Nothing seems to throw your friend.”

“He likes to eat and drink, that one,” Alonzo agreed.

“I at least should be sweeping up the glass,” she protested.

“It will be taken care of.” He didn’t want her anywhere near the glass. If she cut herself, he’d have to give Timur a beating and Timur wasn’t all that easy to put the smackdown on.





3





EVERYTHING had changed—yet nothing had changed. Evangeline wasn’t certain exactly what to do about Alonzo. He came to the bakery on average about four days a week now. Two months had gone by since the accident with the truck. He’d had her bakery cleaned up and new glass in by ten that evening, refusing to even consider allowing her to pay him back—and then they were back to normal—except—he talked to her now. Not much, because he still seemed a man of few words, but at least he spoke to her.

Timur and Gorya, his two bodyguards, always accompanied him. They teased her a little bit, at least Gorya did. Timur was very much like Alonzo, quieter and not quick to smile. She’d never actually seen Alonzo smile and he’d been coming to her shop for a year now.

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