Leopard's Fury(10)

By: Christine Feehan

“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.

“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.