Shadow Rider (Shadow #1) by Christine Feehan

CHAPTER ONE

Stefano Ferraro pulled on soft leather driving gloves, his dark blue eyes taking a long, slow scan around the neighborhood. His neighborhood. His family knew everything that happened there. It was a good place to live, the people loyal. A close-knit community. It was safe because his family kept it safe. Women could walk the streets alone at night. Children could play outside without parents fearing for them.

He knew every shop owner, every homeowner by name. The Ferraro family territory started just on the edge of Little Italy. He knew every inch of Little Italy as well, and those residing and working there knew him and his family. Crime stopped at the edge of the Ferraro territory. That invisible line was known by even the most hardened of criminals and no one dared to cross it because retaliation was always swift and brutal.

He glanced at his watch, knowing he didn’t have a lot of time. The jet was fueled and waiting for his arrival. He needed to get into his car and get the hell to the airport, but something held him there. Whatever it was, the feeling he had was disturbing. The compulsion to stay was strong, and anytime that happened, every Ferraro knew there was trouble coming. He carefully and very quietly shut the door to his Maserati, rounding the hood, and then retreating to the sidewalk.

Urgency was always about work, and nothing ever interfered with the Ferraro family business. Nothing. He played hard when he played, but work was important and dangerous and he kept his head in the game when it was time to get down to business. He needed to get his ass moving, but he still couldn’t force himself, in spite of all the years of discipline, to get into his car and get to the airport. The compulsion in him was strong, not to be ignored, and he had no choice but to give in to it.

A voice drifted to him above the normal sounds of the street. Elusive. Mysterious. Musical. He turned his head as two women rounded the corner just at the very edge of his territory and began walking deeper into it. He recognized Joanna Masci immediately. Her uncle, Pietro Masci, was a longtime resident in Ferraro territory, born and raised there. He owned the local deli, a very popular place for residents to buy their produce and meats. A good man, everyone in the neighborhood liked Pietro and respected him. Pietro had taken Joanna in when his brother died years earlier.

It wasn’t Joanna who caught his interest. The woman walking beside her was dressed totally inappropriately for the weather. No coat. No sweater. There were rips in her blue jeans, which clung lovingly to her body. And she had a figure. She wasn’t thin like most girls preferred; she actually had curves. Her hair was wild. Thick. Very shiny. She wore part of it pulled back from her face in an intricate thick braid, but the rest tumbled down her back in waves. The color was rich. Vibrant. A true black. He couldn’t see her eyes from that distance, but she was shivering in the cold Chicago weather and for some reason, he had an entirely primal reaction to her constant shivering. His gut knotted and a slow burn of rage began in his belly.

It wasn’t her looks that caught his interest or made him stand utterly still. It was her shadow. The sun was throwing light perfectly to create tall, full shadows. Hers leaked long tentacles. Thin. Like streaks reaching out toward the shadows around her. Everywhere there was a shadow, hers connected to it with the long feelers—with long tubes. His breath hitched. His lungs seized.

She was the last thing he’d ever expected to happen because . . . frankly . . . a woman like her was so rare. He didn’t know how to feel about it, but suddenly there was nothing else more important, not even Ferraro family business.

He had his cell phone out and punched in numbers without taking his gaze off of her. “Franco, I’m going to need to take the helicopter this morning. I have business to attend to before I can leave. Half an hour. Yeah. I’ll meet you.” He ended the call, still watching the two women and the strange shadow the stranger cast as he punched in another number. “Henry. I’m not going to use the car after all. Please return it to the garage for me.” The Ferraro family had a temperature-controlled garage with a fleet of various cars and motorcycles. They all liked them fast. Henry took care of all the vehicles and kept them in top running order.

Stefano snapped the phone shut and stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street. He held up his hand imperiously and of course the cars stopped for him. Everything stopped for him when he demanded it.

* * *

Francesca Capello prayed she wouldn’t pass out as she walked with Joanna toward the deli. She’d never felt so weak in her life. She was hungry. She’d made tomato soup using ketchup and water, but that was all she’d had to eat for the last two days. If she didn’t get this job she was going to have to do something desperate, like ask the homeless woman she’d given her coat to where the nearest soup kitchen was.