"Damn it, Evangeline, you need to come back home."
Evangeline Tregre shook her head and took a slow look around the bakery. It wasn't exactly thriving, but it was still afloat and becoming more popular every day. The walls were painted a soft blue. She'd done that herself. Every cupboard, every placement of the display cases, every single thing from the lettering to the floor-she'd done it. The dusty old, torn-up space had been renovated by her. It was now cozy and inviting with the tables and chairs. She loved the way the bakery smelled. Every single morning when she got up to bake, she looked forward to the day. Back "home" she detested her very existence.
"This is home, Robert. I love it here and I'm stayin'. It's more home to me than that place ever was." She kept her voice quiet. Low. She was used to being silent. She didn't argue, nor did she like arguments. She especially didn't like Robert Lenoux coming to her hard-won business and insisting she return. "In any case, I thought you were travelin', going to the Borneo rain forest."
She knew all about Robert, although she'd never actually met him until he'd walked into her bake shop. He had been sent away in disgrace, had served a brief jail stint, but got out of a real sentence from the law by turning evidence against his friends. Murderers. He'd participated in beating and robbing the elderly in their homes, in raping exotic dancers. He had committed countless crimes against his lair, and looking at him, she knew he didn't care about anyone but himself. Especially women.
"Fuck that," Robert spat. "I'm not goin' to be sent away from my home by some outsider who thinks he can order me around. The entire point of goin' to Borneo is to bring home a woman. You'll do just fine. I don' care that you aren' a shifter."
Her stomach lurched and then tied into knots. She took a deep calming breath. She'd left that world behind. She wasn't about to allow a bad-tempered, evil male leopard, one who no doubt didn't mind hitting a woman, into her life.
"The answer is no. I am never goin' back there."
"You have a duty to the rest of us." Robert reached out, settled hard fingers around her upper arm and yanked her close to him.
Alarm skittered down her spine. She took a step back but his fingers only tightened into an iron band. "Let go of me, Robert. Now." She hissed the word, letting him see she wouldn't stand for being pushed around by him. By anyone. Not ever again. "I want you to leave. This is my shop and I'm askin' you politely to leave."
The bell over the bakery door tinkled merrily, at odds with the tension in the room. Both turned their heads toward the sound. Evangeline's breath caught in her throat. She'd grown up around dangerous men. Criminals. Horrible, cunning, viciously cruel men. She knew criminals. She had a radar for them. No one needed radar to know without a single doubt that the man walking through the door of her bakery was dangerous. Terrifyingly so.
He glanced around her beautiful little shop and saw every single detail, yet he didn't see it because there could be no appreciation. None. There was no emotion on his face or in his flat, cold, dead eyes. Beautiful eyes. Gorgeous eyes. A shocking blue. Like the blue ice of a glacier. His lashes were long and as black as night, framing those icy blue eyes. But there was not a single hint of emotion, not even when his gaze settled on Robert's hand on her arm. Absolutely nothing. He walked. He breathed. He probably killed people. But if he did, he did it with absolutely no emotion. And he'd heard them arguing. She could tell by the way he looked at Robert's fingers wrapped around her.
He was very tall, ruggedly built, all roped muscle, and he looked absolutely invincible. She was used to men with muscle, but he was a fighter, through and through. The way he moved-the control, the containment, smooth, fluid, easy, as if he glided or flowed across the floor rather than walked. He did that in absolute silence too, as if his very expensive Italian leather shoes didn't actually touch the floor.
His suit looked as if it had cost as much as the renovations on the bakery space and been custom made for him-which it probably had been. His icy gaze remained on Robert's fingers digging into her bicep. She'd all but forgotten he was gripping her so hard until fear sent a chill arrowing through her.
Robert must have felt it too. He was leopard. A shifter. She knew from gossip he had a nasty temper and was as strong as an ox. Like most shifters, he didn't fear much. His leopard would shred an enemy in seconds if he were threatened. Still, he let her go and stepped back away from her. Away from the newcomer. Subtly putting her between them.
"Can I help you?" Evangeline asked. Her voice sounded different, even to her. Her accent was deeper, a soft sultry lure she hadn't meant to throw, but really? Every single cell in her body was aware of him. The bayou came out in her voice more than it ever had before, and it sounded like an invitation to spend the night floating down a lazy canal together under a starlit night.
She wasn't the type of woman to flirt with a man, let alone speak to him in a voice like that. She knew better. She knew danger when she saw it, but she came alive the moment he entered her bakery. Her body had been asleep but now it was wide awake and very aware of every inch of the Iceman. She'd already nicknamed him and thought of him as her Iceman, even if it was just in her fantasies.
His eyes focused on her. He looked at her through a blue glacier without once blinking. "Coffee. Black. A piece of your cinnamon cake."
His voice was deep. Dark. As cold as his eyes. As cold as Siberia-the dead of winter in Siberia. At the same time, it was low and sensual. She couldn't stop the little shiver that ran through her body at the sound of it. Heat pooled low and wicked, and something wild and feral deep inside her stirred. She had an unexpected urge to take all of that molten heat spreading through her and see if she could unthaw the Iceman's cold.
He spoke with a heavy Italian accent. For some reason that shocked her. She didn't expect Italian. More . . . Russian. Maybe because she associated him with Siberia. She couldn't get that out of her mind. To her, he would always be her Russian Iceman.
Evangeline nodded and turned away from his male potency. He was definitely out of her league. Out of her world. Her universe. This was not a man any sane person would want in their life. Her hands trembled as she poured the coffee-her special all-natural brew customers raved about. The pieces of the cinnamon cake were generous and she arranged one on one of the oblong-shaped plates with her fancy gold logo on it. The E for Evangeline running through the center of it.
He took it without a word. He simply nodded at her, those icy blue eyes never lighting up, never registering life in them at all. No emotion. No nothing. He certainly wasn't feeling the electrical attraction she was. He turned away and moved across the room. He pulled a chair around so that his back would be to the wall facing the plate-glass entry. He dragged a small table in front of him, put the coffee and the plate on the table and then went to the small stand where the napkins and silverware were.
Evangeline took a deep breath and let it out. She couldn't-wouldn't-stare at him. Robert stepped close again, leaning into her, so that his breath puffed into her ear, an intrusion that annoyed her. She'd been so aware of the Iceman that she'd all but forgotten Robert.
"We aren' finished, Evangeline. I'm takin' you back with me."
"I asked you to leave," she said equally as quiet. "And please don' come back."
Robert hissed at her, his eyes going sheer cat, his temper rising at her defiance. She stood her ground, her heart suddenly pounding. She didn't want to be afraid of him, but it was impossible with him standing so close, scowling fiercely at her. He was deliberately trying to intimidate her. She barely knew him, only what her friend Saria Boudreux-now Donovan-had told her about him, and none of it was good. Saria knew everyone, and Robert Lenoux was from one of the seven shifter families leasing thousands of acres in the swamp.
Robert stepped even closer, deliberately towering over her smaller figure. Once again his fingers bit into her arm, this time hard enough to leave bruises. There was the softest of rustlings and they both turned to see the Iceman standing a few feet from them, one great big fist encased in a very expensive leather glove, shoving a napkin into the trash can. His eyes were on Robert's face and they were colder than ever. The blue in them appeared to be glowing, a flame beneath all that ice.
Evangeline's breath caught in her lungs and everything in her stilled. He was leopard. A shifter. It seemed impossible there in San Antonio, a place far from where she grew up. Shifters were rare and to find one in a city . . . Impossible, but there was no mistaking those eyes. Exotic. Terrifying. Totally focused on Robert.
"Let. Her. Go." Each word was soft. Spoken in a low tone. Ice dripped from the voice. The Iceman didn't look at Evangeline, his entire focus on the man hurting her.
Robert couldn't fail to see those eyes, read death in them and know what the Iceman was. He hissed a curse word, let go of Evangeline, turned and stormed out, slamming the door. The Iceman turned back toward his table.
"Thank you," Evangeline said softly. Meaning it. She'd left all that behind her and she never wanted to go back. It didn't matter that this man clearly was a criminal. Or far more dangerous than Robert could ever be. Or that Robert ran like a rabbit from him when his leopard had to have been raking and clawing for a fight. He'd stepped in when he didn't have to, and she was grateful. He deserved to know it.
The Iceman turned slightly, looking at her over one broad shoulder. His glacier-blue eyes swept over her and then he nodded slightly before turning away.
Evangeline let out her breath slowly and turned back to straightening the baked goods in the case. She got up at three A.M. every morning and baked the day's goods so they were fresh. She couldn't afford to hire anyone else to work in her shop, so she did it all. The baking, the coffee, the dishes, the cleaning of the shop, all of it, and she took pride in her work. She was getting by, managing to pay the bills each month, and that meant she could keep her independence. She was determined to make it on her own.
She snuck another quick look at her Iceman. He wasn't paying her the slightest bit of attention. Not. At. All. She knew she was easy on the eyes. Since coming to San Antonio, men had flirted outrageously with her. She had no idea what to do with their attention, nor did she want it, but she'd come to realize all the things Saria had tried to convince her about her looks might actually be true.
She wasn't quite five foot four, so she didn't have those long legs that attracted men, but she had generous curves and a small waist to emphasize them. Her hair was long and very dark, her eyes a true green, like emeralds, a startling color surrounded by long, thick, black lashes. She had great skin, a luscious mouth and a small, straight nose. All in all, she wasn't hard to look at. But he wasn't looking.
Fortunately, so she didn't make a complete fool of herself, customers began to trickle in. She knew when he got up and left that he didn't look back.
Over the next week, her Iceman came in three more times. He tried something different each time by pointing or jerking his chin, not speaking. She noticed he preferred things with cinnamon and he liked apples. He always took his coffee black and all three times he indicated he wanted a refill. Each time he came in he rearranged her tables so he could sit with his back against the wall. After the third time, she moved the table herself and left it there permanently for him. He didn't acknowledge that she'd done it, and in a way she was glad. She needed the business, but she didn't want a relationship with him.
She'd thought with time he would become less scary, less intimidating, but she was wrong. He was more so. An aura of danger clung to him like a second skin. He never laughed. He never smiled. He barely acknowledged her, yet he was aware of everything, every movement, in her shop and on the street. She was certain he was armed to the teeth and sometimes she was afraid the few cops who frequented her shop would come in at the same time and there would be a shoot-out or something equally as awful.
Two months passed and he came in three times a week, sometimes four, but he never spoke beyond placing his order. She found herself watching for him. Smiling at him when he came in. He never smiled back, but he did stay longer. At least a half an hour longer than he had before.
A few others dressed in Italian suits came in over the third month, never at the same time as her Iceman, but she knew he'd sent them her way. Business seemed to pick up even more after that, as if seeing people in her shop brought in even more customers. That meant she had to work harder, baking more goods, but she didn't mind; she was finally making it.
She'd all but forgotten Robert. He was waiting for her to open on a Thursday morning, a day her Iceman rarely came in. That told her Robert had been watching the store, probably looking for a pattern. Her heart stuttered when she saw him come through the door. He casually reached over and turned her sign from open to closed.
Copyright © 2016 by Christine Feehan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.