“I could tell it was you the minute you turned onto River Road.”
Max Savoie had a way of saying strange, impossible things like that as if they were true.
“Gonna to ask us in or keep us out here in the rain like we were trying to sell you something you didn’t need?”
His voice was deep and smooth with just a subtle ripple, like rich cognac in a warm glass. “Where are my manners? You know it’s always a pleasure to see you, no matter what you’re selling.”
When he crossed between her and the front door, she got a look at Savoie. Dark, tall, bold. Jimmy Legere’s right hand. His silent enforcer. An always frustrating enigma. No one knew anything about him other than the name he used, a name that led to nothing but dead ends through any of their systems. No birth certificate, no Social Security number, no driver’s license, health insurance, tax records, nothing. His past was as inaccessible as the expression on his face when he turned toward her with the door held wide.
She and Babineau entered the dark cavernous foyer, Savoie bringing up the rear. She heard him say soft and low to someone unseen, “Wake up Jimmy. The police are here.” Then he preceded them into one of the high-ceilinged parlors and turned up the lights, unmasking himself from the shadows with a dramatic flare.
Cee Cee didn’t spend a lot of time admiring men for their looks. But something about Max Savoie’s face arrested her each time she saw him.
He wasn’t handsome, not pretty, not even attractive in the traditional sense. He was rugged strength cut into sharp planes and rough angles. There wasn’t a rounded curve to be found in those uncompromising features. Confident without being cocky, powerful without aggression, he exuded complete control over what he’d allow the world to see, and usually that was damned little. The fact that he could seem so forceful behind such a calm, immobile front impressed her. Not much did. A man who wasted no unnecessary words or movements, his unblinking stare took in everything without revealing anything through eyes the color of wet verdigris, beneath lids heavy with a guarded disdain.
Or amusement. She often got the feeling that he was laughing at her on some private level. That irritated her. But the odd way he sensed things not apparent to others made her nervous. Sounds, smells, movements. He was alert to them like a mastiff on a short chain. And he missed nothing when it came to her, not the slightest nuance, every tiny alteration, in a way that she’d find alarmingly obsessive if he ever acted on it with more than slightly flirtatious words. Who the hell noticed a new perfume applied modestly to pulse points almost a full day ago? Wondering, made those pulse points flutter.
A slight smile touched Savoie’s lips. “We weren’t exactly expecting company.”
“This isn’t exactly a social call,” Cee Cee corrected.
That cool stare held hers. “Too bad.” Then, without glancing down, he asked, “Who’s that on your shoes? Anyone I know?”
She held to her surprise, drawling, “You tell me.”
“DNA isn’t exactly my specialty.”
“What is, Max?”
The smile remained. He didn’t answer.
He was probably a killer. He was probably one of the most dangerous and deadly men she knew. Which was why Jimmy Legere kept him so close at hand.
“Is our unnamed friend the reason for your visit?”
This time, she didn’t answer. She was noting the way he was dressed, quite nicely for almost four in the morning in a crisp white shirt and black pants. And his inevitable red Converse gym shoes. All fresh and spotless. “Mind telling me what has you up so early?”
“Still up. Playing games of chance.”
“Here in the house?”
“I’d rather not give her name, unless you need to know it.” A pause. Then he leaned in close. “I’d rather it was you.”
Her insides tightened up slightly, unexpectedly, and she was about to tell him with a curt frostiness that she had no interest in his sexual escapades when the shock of his nearness hit home.
That small movement brought him up to intrude into the personal space she held sternly, sometimes even with excessive physical force, as strictly off limits. She didn’t like being crowded or handled and wasn’t shy about letting those preferences be known. Most didn’t need to be told more than once. But for some reason, Savoie never seemed to get the message. Maybe it was because she let him get away with it.
She let him get close.
He was the only man she allowed to move in on her without snapping to a quick Back-the-f***-off-me defensiveness. She didn’t know why. She’d never felt threatened by him, this big man who was most likely a ruthless murderer.
She could feel his heat without actual contact, and though that was unsettling, it didn’t set off the expected alarm bells. Because it wasn’t alarm that unsettled her. It was something else, something quiet, something deep, like a secret her soul knew but selfishly wouldn’t share with her mind. What was it about him that tugged a blanket of calm over instinctive agitation?
He didn’t touch her, not even a casual brush of his hand or unintentional bump of his body. Not ever. And sometimes, perversely, she found herself wondering what it would be like, that touch, that contact he withheld so purposefully.
He’d leaned in, until he was near enough for her to see her own reflection in the dark centers of his eyes, to say that one thing, softly, almost intimately.
I’d rather it was you.
Though her heart slammed against her ribs in response, her reply was defensively cold. “That’s not going to happen, Max.”
He eased back. “I know. I can dream, can’t I?”
Meet Cee Cee . . .
He glanced up from the bar and saw her standing beneath a hot spot light, wreathed in cigarette smoke. The sight of her almost knocked him to his knees.
The dress. It took him a long moment to exhale, then the sound shivered noisily.
He’d always thought she was a stunning woman, tall, powerful like some Amazonian queen. With her coffee-with-lots-of-cream Creole coloring, wide slash of lips painted a bold crimson, stare as black and jagged-edged as her short hair, she was impossible to ignore. Bold, savage, black widow devour-your-mate sexy, she probably scared the hell out of most men. On purpose. But he wasn’t most men. And he’d seen her when she wasn’t so brave, wasn’t so tough and was scared as hell, herself. But he’d never seen her looking the way she did tonight. For him.
The dress was a shiny metallic bronze, textured like chain mail. Thin straps displayed beautifully bronze and sleekly muscled shoulders. The gown was gathered down the center in shape hugging puckers from its low neckline to the minimum of decency where the skirt split and curved around sweetly like an oyster shell to just below the backs of her knees. When she walked, a tease of firm, toned thighs, trim knees and smooth calves led his gaze to a pair of wicked high heeled shoes, open in front and laced like an S&M dream about her ankles.
She saw him looking and waited, waited for him to come to her. She held his stare, drawing him across the room with her carefully shielded gaze. There was no fear in those dark eyes. No welcome, either.
“Is this the kind of dress you had in mind?”
His gaze never left hers. “I want to lick your toes.”
“Can we discuss that later? I’m hungry.”
He held up two fingers to the maitre’d. The man may not have known who he was but knew from the way he carried himself that he was someone. The prissy fellow plucked up two menus and waved them to follow. Max let her go first, not touching her, giving her plenty of space. Enough room for him to appreciate the way her hips worked the dress without having her shove his lusting down his throat. He could hear her chastising voice. Step back, Savoie. As if he were some harmlessly naughty street kid instead of one of the most feared men in the Crescent City. Thinking she could control him that easily.
She was right. She could.
They sat on opposite sides of the table, looking fabulous, smelling good, well groomed and well mannered strangers and all Max could think of was when will that other shoe drop?
What are you?
The way she was tiptoeing around it made the change in their relationship all the more unbearable. One thing he liked so much about her was her no holds barred honesty. He sat silent and withdrawn, listening to her talk about the food, about those she recognized in the posh establishment, without really saying anything. Things she might share with a casual acquaintance, but not with someone who only hours before had been dying, his blood pumping out beneath her palm.
“Charlotte, look at me.”
Her dark eyes lifted, now cautious, carefully masked.
“What do you see?”
A slight flicker. Not enough to tell him what she was thinking. Then she smiled. “I see a really nice suit. You clean up good, Max.”
His expression locked down tight. “You see a thug in a silk tie, a monster in Armani. This was a mistake.” He shoved up from the table. She stilled him with the touch of her hand on his. So warm. So soft.
“You said there’d be dancing.”
She rose from her chair, dropping her napkin over the remains of her meal. In the spiky heels, she could almost look him right in the eye. Who was he kidding? He wanted to put his hands on her in the worst way. Better it be here in public, with all these people around, where he wouldn’t be quite so tempted. Her fingers curled around his. She tugged, he followed, out onto the dance area in the bar.
Aaron Neville was crooning, “Tell it like it is,” as he fit his palm to the curve of her waist. Though the seductive song implied intimate entanglement, they moved together at a cautious distance, close enough to feel each other’s heat but far enough apart to retain eye contact. He wondered what Cee Cee would do if he pulled her up tight against him, tucked her head down on his shoulder and let his palm prowl over the sweet curve of her rump for a squeeze. Dangerous business, sneaking up on any kind of intimacy with her. Kind of like mating with a porcupine. But worth the risk of those painful barbs? Oh, yes. She scowled suspiciously when he chuckled.
He continued to smile. “You’re easy to dance with.”
“I do have some social graces.” Very prickly.
“Do you mind if I look for them?”
“Depends on where you plan to look.”
He grinned wide and a bit wolfishly and coaxed her in just a bit closer so that their knees brushed and their hips bumped. “You can put your head on my shoulder if you like.”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
“I seem to remember you kinda liked it before.”
Her eyes narrowed at the reference and he cursed himself for bringing it up. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Max?” she began after a long silence.
“We need to talk.”
“Ah, that conversation.” Oddly, he felt himself relax. This was good. Even if that other high heeled shoe was going to drop down hard on the back of his neck, it was better than all this waltzing around with a stranger. “Best it should be in private. Your place is probably closer.”
“Will you behave?”
Because there was the slightest catch in that flirty question, he smiled, showing his teeth. “I’ll be whatever you want me to be, sha.”
She gave him a long look that said the chances of him getting laid out cold were greater than getting laid. His smile settled into a small repentant curve.