Part 5

"I'm okay."

Her words were meant to soothe him, but they had the opposite effect. Guilt consumed John from head to toe. Evangeline's accident was the result of his conversation with Tico. Instead of antagonizing the arrogant bastard, John should have had enough evidence to arrest the man then and there.

He took in the bandages wrapped around her beautiful head and the cast around her left arm and realized the outcome could have been worse. Around the same time as Evangeline's accident, Judge Hernandez met a fiery death in a car crash. The news kept John locked to his lover's bedside. Tico Santi wouldn't get another chance at Evangeline.

"John?"

"Ssh." He carefully held her right hand between both of his. "You're supposed to be resting."

"I'd rather do that at home. I hate hospitals. I hate the white walls and the smell of disinfectant. I don't know why I can't go home now."

"Because they need to keep you in for observation," he said in a husky voice. "Maybe tomorrow."

"I don't like it here." A pout settled on her full, delectable mouth.

"I know."

"And the food is terrible--"

"Evangeline," he said, a faint trace of humor in his voice, "you should have warned me."

She frowned. "About what?"

"You're not a very good patient." He freed one hand to lightly brush hair from her cheek.

She sighed against his hand. "What can I say? I'm not perfect."

"I'm glad. It's highly over-rated."

"I don't expect you to be perfect either."

He had no words for that. The expectations he had for himself went beyond perfect. After Caitlyn's death, he strove to set things right. To prevent himself from feeling too much and doing too little. Now, here's Evangeline. She made no demands and had an uncanny ability to read him almost better than he read himself. What would he have done if he'd lost her? He didn't want to imagine it.

Silence weighed heavy in the air for several moments. Then, in a slightly incredulous voice, she said, "My accident was no accident. I was run off the road on purpose."

"Did you see the driv--"

"John, I'm not telling you this to go after who tried to hurt me," she said, stronger than he expected. "Retire the cape and the tights. I don't want you to play superhero."

He released her and rested his hands at his waist. "You can't tell me something like this and expect me to not to do my job. If you saw the driver, tell me. I can get a sketch artist in and get the bastard's photo out there. We can have him."

She turned her head toward the drawn window. A single tear rolled down her cheek. All thoughts of using the driver to nail Tico flew from his mind. John sat carefully on the edge of her bed. He wiped the tear away with the pad of his thumb. God, he hated tears. Accepting her sobs during a particularly emotional movie was one thing. But this was much different.

"What is it?" he finally asked.

"Someone tried to kill me…"

"I will protect you. I won't let anyone hurt you. Never again."

"That's not what I'm worried about." She turned her head. Her tear-filled brown eyes locked on him. "I don't want you in danger. If you were hurt…or worse because of me… John, please, let Bo assign someone else to look into what happened. Don't make this your personal vendetta. Can you promise me?"

He ran a hand along his chin. She had no idea what she was asking of him. It went against everything that made him John McBain. Attaching strings to their relationship changed him and changed everything. Resolving not to lie to her, he heaved a loud breath.

"I can't."

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