Tough Girls Don't Cry
Christmas with its bright lights, cinnamon scents and selfless giving had always been one of Evangeline Williamson's favorite holidays. She remembered spending the holiday with her parents. The joy of waking up on Christmas morning with a blanket of snow outside and an impromptu snowball fight with her dad and cousins. Inside, her mother and aunts sampled fresh baked sweet potato pies and created their famous cornbread dressing. Evangeline missed those times but with John in her life, she was certain of making new, special memories.
She finished tossing sparkling tinsel onto the tree. John promised to help with the decorations. He called earlier telling her to start without him. She didn't bother to question the reason for his delay. Trusting him had to be second nature otherwise they had nothing.
A knock sounded just as she plugged the lights in. She admired the beautiful, glowing display for a moment. Then, she turned to welcome her visitor.
A broad smile parted her lips. Of course, it was John on the other side. No one else had a reason to come to her home at this late hour.
"Merry Christmas!" She swung the door open. Her smile faltered. "Hi, Antonio."
"Evangeline, I'm sorry for coming by so late. I should have called first."
"Yeah." Curiosity got the better of her. "What's going on?"
"Is John here?" He glanced past her into the open door. "We can talk another time if he is."
"He's not here." She gestured for him to come inside. When he did, she closed the door and folded her arms across her chest. "Okay, the curiosity is killing me."
"I need representation as in an attorney and I need the best. And that's you."
She frowned at his intense stare. "Why? Is this about the Tico Santi investigation? Have you been charged?"
"Not yet, but it's leaning that way." He rubbed his hands together. "I wanted to be prepared just in case. Can you be my attorney? Will you?"
She sighed and turned away. Her mind had been all set on spreading a little joy for the holidays. Work had been stored away for later. She and John were in desperate need for special time alone. Yet, John wasn't here. And Antonio was. A headache threatened to flare. She rubbed her temples and perched on the arm of her sofa. She nodded for Antonio to sit.
"Is the case against you strong?"
He released a short laugh. "Does it matter?"
"Look, the evidence against me is circumstantial at best. I didn't do it."
She gave him a tight smile. "Thanks. You didn't have to tell me that, but I'm glad you did. I'll represent you."
He pulled out his wallet. "How much is your retainer?"
"It's Christmas. We can make it a dollar."
"Wow, that's easy." He removed the money and handed it to her.
As they stood and headed to the door, it opened. John stood on the threshold. He barely acknowledged Antonio as the other man said goodnight and left. Evangeline watched the heated, silent exchange in surprise. The two men had been good friends prior to Augustico Santi's arrival. She'd hoped with the other man's death that they would be able to reclaim what they'd lost.
John entered and closed the door. "What did he want?"
"Business," she answered.
He gave her a strange look. "He hired you. You're representing him in case he's charged with Tico's murder. Bingo, the first time, right?"
"You know I'm getting a weird vibe from you." She swallowed the emotions that rose to the surface. Allowing herself to care for this man went against everything inside her. She held off on truly caring for someone for numerous reasons, but the main one was fear. Now, she wondered if she'd made a mistake in letting him in.
She continued, willing her professional training to see her through. "And it's not the first time. I'm a defense attorney. That's what I do. I defend people. And yes, I am representing Antonio."
"Great," he muttered. He ran a hand through his hair. "Why can't you just stay out of it, Evangeline? I'm knee deep in this investigation. I don't need you a part of it, too."
"What happened to leaving the work outside our relationship?" she fired back to hide the hurt of his words. "You were okay with it when I was defending Natalie. Why not now? Once upon a time, Antonio was your friend."
"When you were defending Natalie, it was different--"
"What?" She stared at him in wonder. Who was this man? "How was it different? What makes Natalie so damned special?"
"See!" He jabbed the air with his index finger. "You're making this about Natalie."
"Everything's about Natalie because you can't let things go. Did you think I didn't notice the looks she gave you at Todd and Blair's non-wedding and with Cristian standing right beside her no less? Do you think I'm blind and clueless? I see what's going on. I thought it was guilt, but that's not it." She paced the floor as her argument gained strength. "You've been using work as an excuse to flake on me…on us--"
"Yes," she snapped. "Flake! That's what I said and what you've been doing. I thought it was guilt. You made me believe it was guilt. You made me think we could be together and that strings attached could work."
"Wait a minute. You're the one who said that certain things would be banned from our vocabulary. You said you wanted strings attached but that's not what you meant. You just didn't want Natalie and me to be friends."
Shock rippled through her body. Her mouth dropped open. "I don't believe you," she said in a hoarse whisper. "I can't believe you're saying this. You've taken everything out of context to justify hur-- You said that talking about relationships made you edgy so I suggested we ban that word from our vocabulary. Maybe I'm not ready for it. Maybe it scares me to death. A month ago, I laughed at my fears. Today, I see that I was right to have them."
She fell to the sofa and covered her face with her hands. I will not cry. The words repeated inside her head like a mantra. No matter what, Evangeline Williamson refused to succumb to tears. Tough girls didn't cry. Her Daddy taught her that. She believed him.
"What are we doing?" he asked after a lengthy silence. "What is this? Is it over?"
She slowly removed her hands. Squaring her shoulders, she met his eyes. They looked as tormented as she felt. "If you have to ask."
A moment later, the door clicked shut behind him.
"I will not cry."
She didn't know how long she sat on the sofa. Finally, the urge to move struck her hard. The apartment had too many memories. She had to get out, to breakaway.
Calling Nora crossed her mind. The two women could commiserate over drinks. Evangeline's hand paused over the telephone. She loved Nora, but she didn't want to cry in a mug of beer. She needed action without thought or consequences. She needed to unleash.
After changing into jeans, a vibrant red turtleneck sweater and matching red leather boots, she grabbed her coat and purse and left. The cell phone was intentionally left on the end table. Tonight, she wanted to be unreachable, unattainable and so very free.
Rodi's, The Palace and The Country Club were off limits. Exorcising those memories of time spent with John would come later. She was all about taking care of Evangeline tonight. Ignoring the possibility of running into RJ, she pulled into Capricorn. A Christmas Jazz concert was underway. Maybe the tunes would renew her holiday spirit.
Heads turned as she entered the darkened establishment. She flashed an empty, meaningless smile as she searched for an empty table or stool. From the corner of her eye, she saw a hand beckon. She turned her head, meeting the offer head on. Kevin Buchanan shrugged and gestured for her to join him.
Curiosity hit her like a ton of bricks. She slid onto the seat opposite him and graciously accepted his offer of a dirty martini.
"I'm surprised to see you here alone. Are you meeting John?"
His eyebrows shot up. Brown eyes glistened with interest. "That was rather emphatic. Is he a thing of the past?"
"What's it to you?"
He shrugged. "Not much, but I consider you to be a smart woman. He's been spending a lot of time with my sister. You deserve better."
"Thanks," she said, completely void of gratitude.
"Whoa." He laughed outright, sounding distinctly masculine and highly amused.
"Look, I'm here for the Jazz and while I do appreciate the drink, I'm not on the rebound."
"Understood." He backed off and directed his attention to the stage.
Evangeline tried to concentrate on the music. The band was playing an interesting version of "Winter Wonderland." She always loved the lyrics. As a child, she imagined falling in love and standing before a parson and having a winter wedding.
"Later on, we'll conspire…as we dream by the fire…to face unafraid, the plans we made…"
Sudden, salty tears stung her eyes. She muttered a curse and wiped her eyes.
"Let's go for a walk." Kevin stood and reached for her hand. "We can talk or not. It doesn't matter."
Half a dozen reasons to reject his invitation came to mind. Her mouth refused to voice a single one. She accepted his hand and stood. He dropped bills on the table and they left.
For the first block, they moved in silence. The quiet gave her time to collect herself. She glanced at him, acutely aware that he wasn't immune to her mood.
"He's an idiot, you know," Kevin said quietly. "My sister is a bright, spirited girl, but she's just that…a girl. You're a woman. If John McBain can't see that, he's a fool."
"I didn't realize you were so insightful. You're saying everything I needed to hear."
He released a good-natured chuckle. "I'm just telling the truth. Everyone has this warped view of me. I'm not a complete jackass."
"Although you do have moments," she said without malice.
"Doesn't everyone?" His footsteps paused at the Angel in the Square. He looked at the angel as he spoke. "You were pissed off about crying. There's nothing wrong with it. You're tough even with a few tears in your eyes."
"How did you…?" She hugged her arms around herself. "Thank you, Kevin."
He gave her a faint smile. "I can't imagine what I did, but you're welcome."
They stood before the angel until snow began to fall. Kevin escorted her to her car and waited for her to start the engine. Then, he waved and headed toward his SUV. They headed in different directions at the intersection. When she pulled into the perfect space in front of her apartment building, she was surprised to see John's car on the other side of the street.
She clenched her keys in her hand as she left the car. He called out to her.
She neither moved nor said a word. He jogged across the street and met her on the sidewalk.
"I'm sorry," he said in his trademark husky tone. "Can we talk?"
"You have to be honest with me."
"I know." He nodded. "You deserve that…even if I don't deserve you."
She shook her head. "I don't want pretty words, John. I just want the truth."
"That's why I'm here." He cupped her elbow and led her to the door.
They entered and had the first real conversation in weeks. John admitted his fears and was honest about his friendship with Natalie. Evangeline confessed feeling less than appreciated and concerned about their future. He promised to be more committed to their relationship and to always respect her. Judging by the sincerity in his eyes, she believed him. When the sun rose the next morning, Evangeline realized this could be the best Christmas, yet.