Shadow Keeper Page 1

Author: Christine Feehan

Series: Shadow Riders #3

Genres: Fantasy , Romance


"Did you really think you were falling in love with her?" Giovanni Ferraro asked his cousin. "Seriously, Salvatore?" He pulled his gaze from the little cocktail waitress winding her way through the VIP tables on the second tier. He'd been watching her for most of the night. Each time something captured his attention, he found his gaze straying back to her.

It was her smile. She could light up the room despite the darkness of the nightclub. There was something innocent and wholesome about her, even wearing the club uniform. She was just the type of woman he would never ever get near, but he couldn't stop watching her until the hurt in his cousin's voice dragged his attention back to those around the table.

Salvatore Ferraro shrugged. He was from New York and had a slight accent his Chicago cousin didn't have. "I wanted the chance at least. I've given up thinking I'm going to find the perfect one, the one my family wants."

There was an edge of bitterness in his voice Giovanni had never heard before, but he understood it. They were shadow riders, and unlike anyone else in their families, their lives were not their own. They meted out justice and protected their people. They were required to begin training at the age of two, so they didn't have childhoods or friendships outside their families. They were assigned bodyguards because, although they were lethal by the time they were in their teens, they were considered too valuable to their families to risk. They also weren't allowed to fall in love with just anyone.

"We don't have that luxury and you know it," Geno, Salvatore's brother, pointed out.

"She was just like every other woman I've met," Salvatore said.

Giovanni hated the underlying hurt in his voice. "What happened?" H

e already knew because it had happened to all of them. A woman professed undying love when in reality she was after their money. The Ferraros owned international banks, hotels, nightclubs and casinos as well as many other businesses. They lived life in the fast lane, and that drew a certain type of woman.

"She used the 'I'll take the condom to the bathroom for you' ploy. Of course, she had a syringe. Then it was she loved me so much she would do anything for a baby." Salvatore pushed the heel of his hand against his forehead. "Dio, this life is fucked."

"Stefano found someone," Taviano, Giovanni's youngest brother, pointed out. "It could happen. Francesca just walked into his life, right there off the street. You never know."

"I know I won't find her here," Salvatore said bitterly, looking around the club at the women flashing smiles at them and trying to get their attention by shifting in their seats and opening their legs to show they wore no panties under their club clothing.

"I've got something that might cheer you up," Giovanni said. "And you could make a little money. We all have to agree to the payout."

Salvatore looked up, interested. Vittorio, Giovanni's brother, groaned. "Not again."

"We need to cheer him up," Giovanni insisted.

"I'm all for getting drunk if we're betting on shots," Salvatore said.

"Something a little more interesting," Taviano said. "It's a game with a point system. Each point is worth a thousand dollars from each of us. Well, not the first point, that's only worth a hundred just to make life better."

"I have to keep track of points?" Salvatore asked, groaning.

"A thousand dollars from each of you?" Geno grinned at them. "I'm in."

"The point system is easy, Salvatore," Giovanni said, leaning across the table toward his cousin. He had to raise his voice a little to be heard above the music. "It's an honor system. One point when a woman asks to dance with you. You can't ask her, she has to ask you. Every single thing has to be the woman's idea. Two points if she lets you feel her breasts on the dance floor. She has to initiate it by giving you the signal, rubbing herself all over you or guiding your hands to her. Three for feeling her breasts under her clothes, skin to skin. Again, she has to be the one to expose herself to you. Undo her buttons, take your hand and put it on her, anything like that. Four is hands on her ass or pussy over panties. Five, the goal is under the panties. It has to be on the dance floor or it doesn't count. She absolutely has to initiate every step at all times. There's no going into the dark, because just about any little fortune hunter will let you feel her up if she knows who you are."

Salvatore sank back in his chair, shaking his head, his white teeth flashing as he grinned at Giovanni, Vittorio, Taviano, and his brother. "I should have known you'd invent a game out of this. You're so competitive."

"Had to do something or I would have gone out of my mind." Giovanni looked around him at the crowd of writhing bodies. "Easy pickings. They're all out to trap you, so have fun turning the tables."

"What if we manage a blow job?" Salvatore asked.

"Seven points," Giovanni said.

"Only seven?" Geno asked. "I'm guessing she still has to initiate."

"It has to be her idea. You're getting a blow job, and the possibility of a whole hell of a lot of money from the rest of us," Giovanni said. "It's ten if you manage to nab one that will go all the way, but you have to be willing to be out in the open. No bathroom stalls. A thousand a point from everyone playing. Put your names in the pot, and happy hunting because I assure you, gentlemen, you are being hunted right now." Giovanni leaned back in his chair, smirking.

"Should be easy enough," Geno said. "There's a lot of women who are on the hunt to land a big fish and I'm always willing to oblige them, but somehow they slip right off that hook."

Another round of laughter went up. Giovanni felt eyes on him and glanced up, across the table, to the waitress standing there with her tray of drinks. It was the one he'd been watching all night. She didn't blush when he winked at her, if anything she gave him a look of pure disgust. She'd heard every word. He didn't change expression. Who cared if she heard? She worked for him. He stared her right in the eye.

She had gorgeous eyes. Blue. Not just any blue, but sapphire blue. Like the gems. Her eyes were framed with impossibly long lashes, and right now the contempt in them wasn't working for him at all. She lowered her gaze to the table as she put the drinks there. She turned away without picking up the money for her tip. All five men at the table had thrown in bills, so it was a fair amount of money. There was no running tab at their table, so the tips for their server had to be cash.

She felt so much contempt for them she walked away from her tip--one Giovanni instinctively knew she needed. Who the hell was she to judge him? She didn't know the first thing about his life. And why did he care what she thought? What did he care that she didn't know why he was sent over and over into the clubs so he could cause enough of a thrill ride for the paparazzi to photograph his cousins with him. None knew that the third cousin, Salvatore and Geno's brother, had also come. Lucca was riding the shadows there in Chicago, meting out justice. They were the alibis.

"Fuck," he hissed under his breath, and then he raised his voice, not loud, just pitched to carry. "Stop." He made it an order. A command in a low tone.

She had her back to them, and he watched her stiffen. She had a fantastic ass. Exceptional. Giovanni sat up straighter. The table went quiet as his brothers and cousins realized Giovanni was doing something completely out of character.

She turned slowly back to them. She was wearing the standard uniform of the waitresses at his nightclub. They were all required to wear them. Hers fit her body like a glove. The swell of her breasts could barely be contained in the tight corset. The skirt was short, a little black swingy thing, the corset red, laced up the front. She wore the fishnet stockings, black, of course, held up by a red garter. The heels were red. He'd always liked the uniform, somewhere between classy and sexy, but on her ...

He pointed to his left side, forcing her to walk around the table to him. He was being a first-class dick. He knew it, too, but that look of contempt on her face, all that soft skin and the wealth of blond curls just barely contained by something red, made him lose all sense of propriety. He wanted to jerk that red thing right out of her hair to send it tumbling down so he could bury his fingers in all those curls. Or maybe it was her mouth. Fuck. That mouth. She wore red lipstick, and she had a perfect mouth. Full lower lip. Full upper lip.

His cock reacted, and there was no stopping it once she stood close and he caught a whiff of her scent. She smelled like cinnamon candy. A cinnamon candy-covered apple. Hot and sweet. Her lashes really were her own, and so were those luscious breasts. He hadn't been so aroused by a woman in a very long time.

She was angry, holding her temper by a thread. She looked straight through him. He didn't say a word. If she had been one of the servers trained to deal with the top two tiers, celebrities who often had a sense of entitlement, she would have known exactly what to do. And where the hell was security? The moment she looked uncomfortable, they should have been at the table regardless of who he was. The rule was absolute. No woman--or man for that matter--was sexually or otherwise harassed in their club. He was going to go on the warpath over this incident.

Still, he couldn't exactly pretend to himself that he was testing their policies, as much as he wanted to. He didn't understand his own feelings. It had never mattered to him what others thought. His family was secretive, and they only had one another. They all knew it from the time they were toddlers and had already begun preparing for their lives. Others thought they were a crime family, criminals, maybe mafia, but no one could prove anything because they were too careful. There was no way for investigators to find the money they laundered through their many businesses.

Playing a game with the women in the club was a dick move, pure and simple, even if they deserved it. She had every right to feel contempt. He was in every gossip rag there

was, purposefully. He courted the paparazzi, and he was a favorite. Any member of his famous family was sought after. Everything they did was photographed. They often partied with their cousins out of town or when their cousins flew in to see them. Everything they did had a purpose.

They were handsome men with too much money and far too much charm. They liked to live dangerously and thought nothing of gambling insane amounts of money. They had different women on their arms every night, and the stories of their exploits were in every tabloid. She might blame him all she wanted, but it was the women who threw themselves at the Ferraro brothers and cousins. Not because they cared. Not even for the sex, and if he did say so himself, it was exceptional. Women threw themselves at them for the money.

Should he respect women like that? Essentially, they were trading their bodies for money. They didn't care which brother or cousin they got, they cared about what they could get out of them at the end of their journey. It was like that day after day, year after year.

The waitress held out a long time, but finally--finally--she shifted her gaze to his. The jolt hit him right in his cock. It jerked. Pulsed. It was so hard it hurt. He was grateful the table hid the thick length straining against the material of his suit. It felt as though nothing could contain that very healthy erection. He knew better than to continue with what he was doing, but he couldn't stop himself. By now, he should have called security himself and demanded to know why they weren't there, pulling a Ferraro server out of the situation if she couldn't get out herself.

"What is it I can do for you?" She waited a heartbeat. Two. "Sir."

The tone, sweet, musical, pushed right through his chest, shifting something hard and tight inside of him. That note in her voice spoke to something in him, a key to unlock a part of him that was protecting his true identity. He felt as if something inside him ripped apart, leaving him exposed and vulnerable. The feeling was so acute he put his hand over his chest to try to stop the persistent ache.

"I'm Giovanni Ferraro, and you are?"

Like all the waitresses, she wore her name tag on her waistband, right side, but he didn't drop his gaze to look. He forced her to stare right into his eyes. It was like looking at two blue flames, she was that angry--and that beautiful.

She narrowed her eyes at him, and he almost pulled her into his lap. Almost. He had some discipline left. What the hell was wrong with him? He was intentionally taunting his own employee. There was just something about her little flair of temper that got to him right in his gut--or maybe it was his cock again.