People pushed and shoved, trying to get in out of the sudden summer storm. She felt a tug at her shoulder and then a sudden lightness. She gasped and shouted, trying to pursue the thief.
“Stop! Thief!” she called to no avail.
But he was too fast and her pretty sandals weren’t made for running.
She cursed under her breath. At least she’d had the foresight to keep most of her money and her identification in a money belt. Trudging back toward the building, she squeezed past several people who were nearly as wet as she. Rain pelted the pavement. She looked around a corner of a stone wall and gasped to witness a struggle, the orange burst of gunfire as lightning cracked overhead, and a man collapse onto wet flagstone. Another shot rang out, that time not obscured by the sounds of the storm. Screams erupted and people pushed and shoved—their good-natured jostling for a dry spot vanished—to flee.
She flattened herself against the stone wall in an effort to avoid being trampled. Her lungs heaved wet air scented with cordite, ozone, and panic. She yelped when a hand wrapped around her upper arm.
“My apologies for startling you,” said the man attached to that hand grasping her arm. His voice was charmingly accented. Dimly, she realized he spoke English. “You are American, yes?”
“Er, yes,” she said, wondering how he could know.
“You saw the shooting?”
She cocked her head, glanced at his hand on her arm. He obligingly removed it. She wrapped her arms around herself as though to contain her shivering.
“And you are?” she prompted.
He flashed a badge at her and said, “I am a detective with the city police.” He gave her a short bow and his name, “Detective Atlas Leonidus.”
She nodded curtly and replied in a trembling voice, “Yes, I saw the shooting. My name is Chloe Gardner.”
“You are cold,” he observed as she trembled. “Come, we will get some coffee and you will tell me what you saw.”
He saw the wariness in her eyes, but she accompanied him without balking. They dashed from overhang to awning to doorway and into a small shop redolent with the rich aroma of coffee. The detective guided her to a small table and bade her take a seat. She did and he walked to the counter to purchase their beverages. She took the opportunity to observe him: taller than the average Italian with tawny blonde hair worn long and caught at the nape of his neck in a short ponytail. His broad shoulders narrowed to a trim waist and taut ass. He moved with coiled strength, like an athlete or big cat.
Leonidus, she remembered his last name. Yes, there was definitely something lion-like about him. He had that air of being king of all he surveyed. She pursed her lips. Arrogance sat ill with her.
He returned shortly, a little smirk gracing his mouth. He knew she’d been looking him over and her appreciation of his masculine beauty pleased him. His gaze flickered over her wet dress, the way the light cotton clung to her skin and outlined her full breasts, nipples pebbled with chill, the indent of her waist, the lush flare of hip and thigh. He frowned, noticing that the fabric dripped onto the tile floor.
“Cappuccino,” he said, pushing a frothy mug across the table toward her.
“Thank you,” she said politely through chattering teeth. She lifted the cup with both hands, warming her palms against the heated pottery. She inhaled the fragrant steam and took a tentative sip.
“You are cold,” he said again and took a sip from his own cup.
She nodded. It would have done no good to deny it.
“Tell me what you saw,” he said, pulling a small notepad and pen from the inside pocket of his blazer.
She spoke hesitantly between sips of the warming beverage. Several minutes later a woozy sensation hit her.
“Is there alcohol in this?” she asked, her tongue feeling curiously slow and clumsy, even as her brain shrieked belated warnings. She’d read of this and, in sudden terror, she lurched away from the table.
Leonidus leaped from his chair to catch her as she stumbled and her legs buckled.
“You drugged me,” she accused, her voice slurring.
“I am sorry, but it was necessary,” he murmured.
Book Of The Month