Part 10

"Use me as bait."

Since arriving at LPD, Evangeline listened as John barked orders and made decisions on behalf of her well being. She appreciated his tenacity. His tireless passion for her safety touched her heart. Yet, that didn't negate her independence. She hated the thought of being cooped up in a safehouse. Freedom meant the world to her. She refused to relinquish it when she could be just as active in protecting herself.

"Excuse me?" His voice hardened with barely restrained control. "I thought you said you wanted to put yourself in danger. But that couldn't be right. You're smarter than that."

"I'm smart enough to know that you won't catch him if I'm locked away in some tower."

John instructed his team of officers to leave. Then, he slammed the door shut. He stormed to stand just inches from her. His eyes blazed. A vein throbbed at his temple. "Mary Barnes is in a safehouse. You had no problem with that."

"The Santi family ordered a hit on her boyfriend. Carlos Rosa was following her! If you hadn't caught him… Look, John, she needed to be safe. My situation is completely different."

"We don't know the Santi family isn't behind this."

They stared at each other across a sudden ringing silence.

She drew in ragged breaths while she faced his burning glare. Finally, she asked, "What did the Lincoln driver have to say?"

"He's playing innocent."

"Playing?" She planted her hands on her hips. "Or is?"

"Don't go there with that criminal defense attorney crap, Evangeline," John countered. "He could be after you or he could know who is! There have been too many accidents and enough death. I won't let you do this."

"You don't have a choice."

"Oh, no?"

"What can you do? Arrest me?" She ran a hand through her hair. "Just listen to me. That's all I ask."

He brushed past her and perched on the edge of his desk. With his arms folded and looking anything but understanding, he dipped his head once. "Okay. I'm listening. Before you start, let me tell you…make it good. This has to be the best argument of your life."

Evangeline stared at him. Once again, he reminded her of an immovable statue. Determination reflected in his eyes and marked the firm set of his jaw. She'd never seen him fully enraged, but imagined his present stance wouldn't be too far off the mark. Treading carefully and presenting a strong case were the only way he'd agree to her suggestion.

One hand rested on her hip while she gestured with the other. "The facts: no one's broken into my home or accosted me in any way. Someone has followed me on two occasions--"

"To your home," he cut in.

She gave him a tight smile. "I was getting to that. Thank you. I was followed to my home and from my home. Maybe on the latter. So far, the culprit isn't talking and we cannot assume he was after me. There was nothing in his vehicle or on his person to say that he was. It's possible the whole thing was a mere coincidence."

John snorted "Yeah, right."

She paused to indulge in the joy of simply looking at him. He was one helluva attractive man. Regardless of mood, John McBain appealed to her on far too many levels to count. Too bad his stubbornness matched hers.

"Finally, we don't know who's following me or why. We won't get this information if I'm not out in the open. Please, John. I need to do this."

He leapt from his desk. His hands grasped her upper arms, pulling her close. His eyes searched hers, frowning and sad. "Why? What are you trying to prove? If this is about your father… I know he'd be proud of you. Don't become bait in order to live up to impossible standards."

"My father's standards aren't impossible." She placed her hands on his chest. The rapid pounding of his heart surprised her. Her idea truly shook him. She sighed. Causing him this much distress wasn't her intention. Subconsciously, she began to stroke him. He trembled. Her heart skipped a beat. "John…"

"Don't you understand?" he whispered "Agreeing to this goes against my best judgment."

"I know and that's why I'm asking you to provide back up." She paused, allowing him time to digest her words.

"There's only one way I can do that."

She didn't hesitate. "Fine."

"Wow, that was easy. Are you sure?"

She eased herself from his hold and retrieved her purse and case from a chair. "We're two mature adults. I'm sure we can handle you staying at my place for a few days. Can you have an officer drive me to my office?"

"No."

"I have to work!"

His sudden laughter eased the tension. "Of course, you do. I'll drive you myself."

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it."

He opened the door and Evangeline walked through. Mere inches separated their bodies, but that wasn't enough for her to ignore the heat of him. She realized with full certainty the next few days would be the sweetest torture she'd ever known.

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