Shadow keeper, p.29
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       Shadow Keeper, p.29
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         Part #3 of Shadow series by Christine Feehan

  "Hurry up, Doc, just get it out," Giovanni said. He gripped Sasha's hand. "I'm good, baby. Really." He glanced up at the detective. "I can't tell you very much. Sasha was reading to Sandlin. I was talking to Nolan Rockman, Sandlin's bodyguard. He told me about the broken windows and that the repairmen had checked out, but he still kept Sandlin on the other side of the Center until they were gone. I think he was saying something about how childlike or innocent Sandlin was, and I turned to look at him with Sasha. I noticed the plaster swirling around in the rays of light shining down. At first it didn't register and then I just dove to cover them."

  He stayed as close to the truth and what he knew Rockman would tell the detective. He could give a word-for-word account of what was said, but witnesses usually couldn't do that. He also had incredible speed, which Rockman would probably mention, but he was deliberately vague in his own account, not mentioning distance or how he'd gotten there in time.

  "You really could use a couple of stitches," the doctor announced.

  "Just use glue or whatever you do now," Giovanni said. He was done being at a disadvantage and growing impatient with all the questions.

  "We need everyone out of this room." Goodman was there, worried the rest of the roof would cave in and his Center would be liable. "Please go into the other room."

  "Doc." Stefano ignored everyone. He was a law unto himself and it showed in everything about him. "Put in the stitches right here. It's the only chance you're going to get. You don't do it, it won't get done."

  "Infection could set in," the doctor warned. "I have everything I need with me." He was already setting up a small tray to get it done. "But I'm warning you, with all the dust in here, this could get septic."

  "You say that every time you have to sew one of us," Giovanni griped.

  "That's because I find you in the worst circumstances."

  It took forever to get out of there. Giovanni had to answer more unnecessary questions, as did Rockman and Sasha. Several staff members and the volunteer who had served chocolate and cookies were detained for more questions. Giovanni repeatedly told the detectives no one saw or heard anything because the others hadn't. Rockman was upset with himself, but really, he couldn't have done much, either. Their enemy was a man who was cunning and bold. He was also very well trained.

  Sasha insisted on going to work. Goodman had made noises about removing Sandlin from his Center, and she panicked. Giovanni made the mistake of telling her it was a ploy often used to get more money. She was associated with the Ferraro family. No one minded price gouging them, so of course Goodman would expect them to pay to keep Sandlin there. It wouldn't occur to him that Sasha was paying the bill herself after their engagement.

  In the end, even Stefano stopped arguing with her when Giovanni gave a slight shake of his head. She was becoming more and more agitated. There was no way to resolve the situation. The Ferraros would negotiate terms with Goodman without Sasha and then they'd continue to look for better places and other doctors. They had the means and they'd use whatever it took to give Sandlin the best care possible.

  Giovanni knew Sasha loved her brother and she would put aside pride in order to make certain he got the best care. Right now, she was feeling raw and possessive and definitely protective. He knew she needed space and he was going to give her whatever was necessary to make her feel in control. If that meant she needed to go to work, to be in her normal routine, then it wasn't a big deal to sit at a table all night and watch her. Of course, he was doubling the guards, and she would have one of the experienced ones moving around with her, that was nonnegotiable.

  Giovanni hadn't counted on how tired he was, or how much a petty thing like a few stitches in his calf was going to hurt. He felt like a whiny baby, although he hadn't complained, nor had he taken pain pills. He did, however, have a shot of whiskey halfway through the night. He told himself it had everything to do with pain and not with the fact that Aaron Anderson had come in with an even larger number of his friends than before.

  Mixed martial arts fighters trained all the time. They didn't frequent nightclubs, and they didn't pay for the top tier of a club like the Ferraros'. That table cost Aaron thousands of dollars. He was normally a man very careful with his money, but all of sudden, he was spending cash as if he had it to throw away, and judging from the cash tips at the table and the amount he would add in to his tab at the end of the night, he was doing it to show off for Sasha.

  He didn't want his woman anywhere near Aaron, just in case, and he'd tried to get Sasha to change tiers with Nancy, but she was so damned stubborn he wanted to shake her. He found himself glaring at her as she served drinks to Aaron's table. He wanted Aaron banned from the club, but he had no real reason; the investigators hadn't handed in their final reports. Yes, he had military training. Yes, he was capable of setting charges, but then so were a number of the men at his table and the two cameramen who were giving the Ferraros trouble.

  Giovanni realized why the rules were in place regarding bringing in other riders to serve justice close to home, especially if it was personal. He wanted to break a few necks, do whatever it took to keep his woman safe. He thought cavemen had it right, throw his woman over his shoulder and carry her off where no danger could get to her, but he lived in modern times and his woman believed in carrying her own weight.

  The thing was, and he couldn't find the right words to tell her, she was a miracle to him. Everything to him. His world, the way Francesca was Stefano's world and Mariko was Ricco's. They'd been raised to believe having children was their duty and they had to find the right women to give them shadow riders for babies, but in the end, when they found the right women, it wasn't about that at all.

  He knew Stefano wanted children with Francesca, but not because they would be shadow riders. He also knew, if Francesca couldn't have children, Stefano would never give her up and never go to another woman to provide those children. Ricco felt exactly the same about Mariko. Giovanni knew, because more than once Ricco had told him if Mariko chose not to have children, he wouldn't push her, no matter what Eloisa or the council said. Fortunately, Mariko wanted children. Giovanni knew he should have that conversation with Sasha, but it didn't matter to him anymore. He wanted children with her, but not if she was unhappy.

  He watched Sasha go up to Aaron's table. Instantly all attention was on her. Aaron spoke at great length to her. Tom Mariland was there, along with James Corlege. Both men looked as if they were apologizing to her. She gave them a small nod and brief smile. Giovanni knew her now, and that smile was in no way genuine.

  He willed her to look up at him, but she didn't. She was withdrawing, pulling in to protect herself. He couldn't blame her. She had to be scared. She didn't understand what was happening or why. Her stalker hadn't made demands. The threats to Sandlin were very real, and her brother's health was fragile. If the heavy rod had come down on his head, it could have easily killed him.

  Taviano and Vittorio had come with him in an effort to help protect Sasha. He was grateful to them. Taviano was distracted and danced more than usual. Vittorio seemed more introspective, as if he had something on his mind but wasn't sharing. Each time Giovanni thought he would try to pry it out of his brother, either Taviano returned to the table or Sasha was serving a table full of rowdy celebrities.

  The paparazzi was present in full force. To his dismay, the two cameramen he'd hoped wouldn't be allowed back were there as well. Apparently, the deal made with them when their film was taken was that they could return in a couple of days. Chesney Reynolds was a man who was extremely aggressive at getting his shots. In spite of the fact that the Ferraros were considered cooperative and usually worked well with the photographers, he still tried to jump out at them and followed them relentlessly. Instead of being of use to them, the man was a constant threat to them.

  He was more surprised at Sid Larsen. He was, as a rule, extremely cooperative. At the time the shots had been taken, Sasha was a cocktail waitress at the Ferraro Club; ot
herwise, she wasn't affiliated with them in any way. Larsen had had no way of knowing that Giovanni would ask her to marry him. Why had he been so adamant about keeping his photographs of a waitress when giving them up meant a shitload of money and a favor owed by the Ferraro family? He'd added both photographers to the list of suspects, and their investigators were working to uncover everything they could about both men.

  Giovanni couldn't stop himself from looking toward Aaron's table again. There was a part of him that wanted to walk up to the man he'd called his friend and smash him right in the face. He didn't like the fact that Aaron had lied to Sasha. He'd sparred with Aaron to help him out. He'd never competed with him for a woman. He didn't do that kind of thing. He was already ashamed of the stupid game he'd thought up to play with his family to get back at the women so blatantly trying to use them, but that wasn't competing for the same woman. That wasn't making a woman feel special or trying to take her away from a friend or brother and then dropping her. The idea turned his stomach.

  Gritting his teeth, he turned his head toward the sudden, overpowering scent of roses. Meredith Benson, a powerful actress who had won her share of awards, stood far too close. She'd made a million overtures toward him. He'd made one very bad mistake a few months earlier. He'd been in Los Angeles and had been angry with Stefano for insisting he play the role of playboy yet again. The doctors had made it clear he was sidelined for at least six more months. He'd drank too much. He'd known Meredith was a predator, just like he was, and he'd spent the night with her.

  He forced a smile. "Meredith. Good to see you." He was already feeling as guilty as hell, he didn't need Meredith making him feel worse. She was a shark, a woman who enjoyed men and got off on dumping them as publicly as possible. She liked her reputation as a femme fatale, and she wanted as much publicity as possible.

  Meredith was the kind of woman who constantly schemed to use the paparazzi, just as his family did. He could respect her for that. He respected her business sense, but she didn't have one-night stands, she developed relationships with men. Those relationships sometimes lasted as long as six months. That, Giovanni didn't like or agree with. Inevitably, she dumped a man who cared about her and it often shattered her partner. Once, a few years back, one man had committed suicide. She'd gotten a lot of publicity out of that, playing the part of the regretful, mourning young woman. Even then, Giovanni had known her emotions weren't real.

  She put her hand very possessively on the nape of his neck, her fingers dancing a seductive massage. "I was told you'd be here tonight. I'm so glad my sources were right. Come dance with me, Giovanni. I want to hear all about your engagement."

  "Take a seat. I can tell you right here." He patted the chair next to him, the one Taviano had vacated to take the dance floor.

  Meredith smirked a little, using the expression she was so famous for. Half seduction and all secrecy, she wiggled until her tight dress slid up her thighs as she sank into the seat. "I couldn't believe it when I heard. I kept expecting you to call me right up until I realized our little tryst meant nothing to you."

  "It didn't mean a damn thing to you, either, Meredith, so don't pretend it did."

  Her smile stayed intact, but her face got hard. "There's a right way and a wrong way to end things, Giovanni. You're a big boy, you know that, and you knew it going into it."

  "I drank too much and we hooked up. It wasn't a long-term affair and you knew that going into it. That's why you took advantage."

  She tilted her chin and then put her elbow on the table and her chin into the heel of her palm so she could smirk at him. "How so?"

  "I didn't like the publicity you got out of it."

  Her eyes widened and one hand went defensively to her throat. "Did you think I arranged for those photographers to be at my gate at that hour? They're always there."

  He rolled his eyes. "You aren't playing with someone who's wet behind the ears, Meredith. I was born in the game. It wasn't that hard to bribe one of them to tell me how they all came to be there. You had them called. It was a great shot, the two of us kissing, you in a short robe, nothing else and me still buttoning my shirt."

  "Compromising," she said.

  She almost purred the word, and just the way she said it bothered him. He knew she was someone who knew the score. She went through men the way others went through candy, of course she was always the one caught cheating, not her partner. He didn't think she felt very much in the way of emotions. In fact, he didn't think Meredith was capable of true feeling.

  No one had ever thrown her over. She had tried calling him dozens of times. She'd issued even more invitations. He'd stuck to the ways of his family, seeing a woman just once. That way there could be no emotional ties. Her ego hadn't allowed her to drop it.

  "I had no idea they were going to be there or I'd have been more discreet," he said.

  "Dance with me and make up for it. I'm sure your little waitress won't mind."

  "Don't call her that." He sounded harsher than he intended and glanced toward Sasha. She was back at the bar talking to Alan the bartender and not looking his way. He would have felt better if he could have caught her eye, maybe introduced Meredith to her. "Her name is Sasha."

  "I'm sorry, Giovanni. I don't want us to be awkward when we meet. I value your friendship, and I'm trying to do damage control, but I seem to be failing miserably. Is she the jealous type? Should I just go? Aren't you allowed women friends?"

  Dio, he detested this bullshit. He glanced up at Vittorio. So far, his brother had been silent. Vittorio had never cared for Meredith. Vittorio shrugged. He didn't know what to do, either.

  Giovanni rose, trying not to feel the way his stomach lurched. His calf hurt like a son of a bitch in spite of the whiskey, but he could take it for one lousy dance. A part of him was certain Meredith was playing him again. She couldn't possibly have been hurt that he hadn't called her, but there was that tiny little bit of doubt. "Of course, I'll dance with you, Meredith." He held out his hand. "Sasha definitely isn't the jealous type." He hoped Vittorio got the message and would apprise Sasha of what was happening.

  Meredith beamed at him. She took his hand and, as they moved around the tables to the top of the stairs, she slid right under his shoulder, her arm curving around his waist. She was tall with long legs that went on forever--she looked good and knew it. She leaned into him, pressing her lips against his ear so she could be heard above the loud music. He inclined his head just enough to let her so he could catch what she was saying.

  "I'd really like to meet her. Your Sasha must be very special."

  He smiled, because hell yes, Sasha was special. He had to turn his head to press his lips against her ear so she could hear as they continued down the stairs. "I'd like for you to meet her. She'll be on a break in a few minutes. You'll have to come back to the table with me and meet her." He didn't want to give up one minute of his time alone with Sasha, especially now, when he knew she was upset over her brother, but keeping Meredith from trying to sink her teeth into his woman was wise. Giving up a few more minutes wouldn't kill him.

  The music was slow, so he swung her into his arms. Every Ferraro knew how to dance. That was one of the thousands of requirements put on them from the time they were very young. He was good at it, although Vittorio was the best. Still, Giovanni could make his partner float across the floor in perfect sync with him.

  He realized, as he pulled her in close, that he didn't like her body sliding over his. That was for Sasha. Only his woman. He kept his frame perfect, but Meredith's body melded to his and she kept looking up at him, smiling into his face with a look of near adoration. That made him uncomfortable.

  "I'm very much in love with Sasha," he felt compelled to say.

  "What?" She went up on tiptoe, in spite of her height and heels. Her arms slid around his neck and she leaned her body right into his. "I couldn't hear you." Her lips were against his neck, close to his ear.

  He turned his head toward hers. "I'm very much in
love with Sasha." He proclaimed it a second time, wanting her to understand.

  His mouth was a breath away from hers and she pressed her red lips to his, holding his neck like a boa constrictor, giving the performance of her life as she kissed him. Flashes went off from every direction. He caught both arms and dragged her away from him as he jerked his head back, his heart sinking. He'd underestimated Meredith once again.

  She smirked at him. "Now, we're even. You're going to be all over the tabloids as a two-timing asshole, Giovanni, and you deserve it."

  Everything in him stilled. "Did you once think how Sasha might feel?"

  "Who gives a damn? She's going to have to get used to seeing you in the tabloids accused of screwing everything in skirts that comes near you. Fuck her. You didn't think how I might feel when the tabloids speculated that you dumped me."

  He regarded her for a long time, and something in his expression wiped the smirk from her face. "The problem you have right now, Meredith, is that I won't forgive a hurt to my woman. Me? Yeah. That's part of the game, but you knew before you did this that you were going to hurt her and you didn't give a damn. Money talks. It always has. It doesn't matter how big a star you are, your career can be ended in a heartbeat." He snapped his fingers. "Consider that the heartbeat."

  He turned to walk away, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, despising her. Despising all the women like her. They were ruthless and greedy and willing to hurt innocents to get what they wanted. Sasha had enough to contend with without having to deal with what was going to be in the papers the next morning. There was no way to stop it. Even Meredith couldn't stop it now. She'd set the paparazzi on him and even made certain to bring in Reynolds and Larsen. Both would be more than happy to take on the Ferraros.

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Comments 1

DEESTA WILEY 10 January 2019 09:13
Love this the Shadow Rider series. Look forward to seeing more from Ms Feehan
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