Wild Cat(8)

By: Christine Feehan

There were rumors, of course. Her grandfather was Italian. He’d actually emigrated from Italy with his wife to raise his family in the United States. He’d worked hard for his winery and, although he made his money legitimately, the rumors persisted. They did about Elijah’s family as well. His family was Spanish and had come from somewhere in South America. Because she knew her grandfather was a good man who had worked hard all of his life for his family, she didn’t judge Elijah or the whispers surrounding him.

The high wrought-iron gates to his ranch were closed, and she leaned over to look into the camera and state her business. There was a moment of silence while her heart pounded. She twirled a thick strand of hair from her ponytail around her finger, which she often did when she was nervous, but couldn’t help it. The gates swung inward. Heart pounding, she drove through and up the long, winding driveway to his house.

She knew this wasn’t the family home, the huge one Elijah’s father had owned before he’d been murdered. Rumor had it that his own uncle had ordered the hit on his father and then his uncle had been killed, leaving Elijah the head of his family business. No, this was the house Elijah bought to entertain his women in. His tall, thin, blond, beautiful women. She sighed, knowing she spent far too much time at school where she had developed low self-esteem for a variety of reasons. It hadn’t helped living in her grandfather’s house with all the men coming and going.

She’d always felt like an outsider. Not always, she corrected herself. Not when her grandmother was alive, but she could barely remember those days anymore. She’d spent her school years fairly isolated. There was no having friends at school, her grandfather’s men saw to that. Having two hulks go with her everywhere made her seem pretentious. Even some of her professors balked at them entering the classrooms. It had left her without many social skills. She didn’t exactly relate well to others and kept to herself most of the time, even at home, although she did go dancing because she loved to dance.

The drive up to Elijah’s house was very long and winding. It was paved, but on either side, the land rolled away, wild and filled with trees and brush as far as the eye could see. This wasn’t at all like her grandfather’s manicured estate. The only flowers growing were wildflowers. She glimpsed a couple of oil wells as she drove along the fence line of his property, and she wasn’t surprised. Bannaconni, his closest neighbor, was noted for finding oil, even in the most obscure places.

She slowed her car and pulled to a stop to stare out over the wild land. A part of her longed to leap out of her seat and just start running, lose herself there, in the middle of all that rough terrain. She sat there a long time, feeling tears on her face. She was lonely. Lonely at school. Lonely at home. Just plain lonely. She didn’t have girlfriends to go out clubbing with. She didn’t have boyfriends to take her to dinner or sit and watch movies with.

She had her grandfather, who these days seemed far away, cut off from her, more under the thumb of Paolo and Alonzo. She rarely saw her grandfather without one or the other of them close. In fact, her last three visits, she’d never really been alone with him. They were continually at his side. Alonzo was ice-cold. Paolo stared at her hungrily, like an animal scenting something weak and ready to pounce.

She didn’t consider herself weak. Just lost. She had no real direction. She had just finished school and had no more excuses to stay away. She’d spent most of her summers and vacations gaining hands-on experience in the vineyards, learning to care for the grapes. She stood to inherit everything. The vineyards and the winery. All of her grandfather’s businesses. She had no other living relative. None.

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