Part 17

Be the best.

Plan ahead.

Don't underestimate anyone.

Expect the unexpected and counterattack.

Evangeline went through each of her father's words of advice and caution. He had a rule for every possible scenario. Her success was his ultimate goal. He didn't want her to repeat his mistakes. His daughter was smart enough to have it all.

Daddy, I don't know where I went wrong.

The freak meeting with RJ tilted Evangeline's world off its axis. Believing he had put their failed relationship behind him gave her a false sense of security. But the anger in his eyes told her that her beliefs were only wishful thinking.

Sloppy seconds weren't his style.

She stood at the window of her office. The view of Llanview was quite impressive from One Buchanan Plaza. Hers wasn't the corner office, but being an associate, she still had a view. She squeezed her arms around her waist, but the movement wasn't enough to hold her emotions deep inside, unchecked.

"So stupid," she muttered under her breath. And if John's investigation of RJ proved her wrong, she'd be an utter fool.

What in the world possessed her to engage in a relationship with RJ Gannon? Was it because he stood for everything her father was against? Was she rebelling now at this late stage?

It wasn't like she hadn't been warned. His reputation preceded him. And he certainly didn't try to hide his views. He opposed the truths she believed in. Why the hell did she ever allow him into her bed?

Geez, girl, what were you thinking?

Her cell phone buzzed at her hip. She unclipped the tiny phone and answered, "Yes."

"What's wrong?"

Despite the dark places her mind had traveled, the sound of John's voice still brought a smile to her face. She sighed. "Nothing. What's up?"

"I have to work late tonight so I'll pick you up in a few minutes if that's okay."

She glanced at her watch. It was a little after five. She had met with a potential new client that morning and hadn't finished reviewing his files. "Actually, I have a little more work to do here. I can wait for you or someone else can escort me home."

"You don't mind?" His tone softened, as if he sensed her edginess.

"It's fine, John. You have a job and so do I. I'll be okay."

Silence hummed a dull roar on the line. Then, he asked, "Are you sure you're okay? You sound...tense. I can come over now."

"I appreciate that, but there's nothing you can do and it's nothing you've done," she said. She went to her desk and began sorting through her new client's paperwork. "It's head stuff."

"Okay. Officer Hall will pick you up in an hour."

"Thanks. I'll see you later…tonight, right?"

"Of course. Call me if you need me."

"Pinky swear."

*/*

"Thanks," Evangeline said after Officer Hall made sure her home was safe. She saw him to the door. "Anytime you need a break or something feel free to ring the bell."

The young officer nodded. "Yes, ma'am. I'll do random perimeter checks, so don't become alarmed if you see a shadow in your backyard. It will be me."

She closed and locked the door after him. Looking through the front window, she watched him cut around her house. He seemed efficient and very serious. John said Edwin came from a family of cops and that his great uncle Ed Hall had been a major force at LPD. The older man retired to Florida but came to visit on occasion. John promised that if she played her cards right he'd make an introduction.

After awhile, she left the window and wandered into the kitchen. She hated to admit it, but her home felt less welcoming without John. He filled up the four walls without much effort. They talked about cases and discussed their childhood. And then, there were the passionate escapades. She hoped his late night wouldn't last too long. She missed having him there.

A peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich didn't quite compare to one of John's dinners, but the food did the trick. She made quick work of cleaning the kitchen and settled down to review notes for a hearing. Just as she became deeply engrossed, the telephone rang.

"Hello."

"Hey, cuz! What's up?" asked a very happy feminine voice on the other end.

"Not much," Evangeline said with a smile. "Long time no hear, Miz Keesha Ward. You move to Pine Valley and forget all about the rest of us."

"That's not true." Keesha's laughter mirrored her merry tone. "I've been busy with adjusting to my new job and…"

"And your new man," Evangeline finished for her. "Faith told me all about him. Ryan Lavery. Getting busy with the boss. Tsk, tsk, tsk."

"No! It's not like that."

Evangeline put aside her work, tucked her legs underneath her and sunk into the sofa cushions. "Tell me what it's like."

"Well, I don't know. One day we're working to make a deadline and the next, we're trying to deny our mutual attraction. He's really unlike any man I've ever known. He has a really good heart and it sucked me in."

Evangeline nodded. She recognized the situation. The same happened with her and John. "So, you're really digging this guy."

"In a big way," Keesha confided. "Which is why I'm calling."

"Oh, my God! You want me to be a bridesmaid! Keesha, I'm all for love, but this is too soon for a lifetime commitment."

"Wow, how you jump to conclusions! I'm calling for a favor. I want to borrow Grandma Alice's pearl necklace. Ryan invited me to go with him to one of those ritzy parties. Faith designed an amazing gown. The earrings Grandma Alice left me go perfectly with the dress and so would the necklace, but she left that to you. Would you mind? I promise to hand deliver them to you personally as soon as the party ends."

"Keesha, please. I hardly ever wear them. I've been saving the pearls for a special occasion. I'll FedEx the necklace to you first thing in the morning."

"Thanks!"

The two cousins quickly caught up on the latest family gossip. Their mothers were sisters and like their mothers, they had plenty to discuss. Then, Keesha asked, "So how's your love life?"

Evangeline swallowed a delighted giggle. "Why do you ask?"

"I can hear it your voice. What's his name? What does he do?"

Just then, she realized despite their many conversations, she'd never once mentioned RJ to Keesha. Her family had no idea that he even existed in her life, yet she was all ready to gush about John. Very telling.

"His name is John. He's a cop and that's all I'm gonna say."

"Okay," Keesha said. "I can respect that. I hate to do this, but Ryan is knocking at the door. We're having a late supper. When I return the necklace, I want to hear all about John and if it's possible, I want to meet him."

"Keesha…"

"I'm not like Justus. I'll be nice," her cousin promised. "Love you, Vangie. Talk to you later. And thanks!"

"No problem. Bye."

A whirlwind described Keesha Ward in a nutshell. Hearing her cousin's happiness made Evangeline reconsider her earlier despondency. Sitting around berating herself wouldn't solve a damn thing. She never allowed herself any mistakes, but maybe that was wrong. Well, she wouldn't know for sure until John checked RJ out. In the meantime, she'd better get those pearls.

*/*

"John!" Standing in the middle of her bedroom, Evangeline clutched the phone and tried not to scream. "Someone's been here."

"What? Been where? Where are you? Where's Hall?"

Her heart raced so quickly she could barely speak. "I'm at home. He's outside. I didn't think to call him. I just grabbed the phone and called you. I didn't know what else to do."

"I'm on my way--"

"Don't hang up!"

"Angel, I'm right here," he said, his tone coaxing. "Are you alone?"

"Yes, Hall checked out the house before he left me alone."

"Tell me what happened. How do you know someone was there?"

"My things have been moved. I was looking for some jewelry for my cousin when I noticed the changes." She stared at the bookshelf. If Keesha hadn't called, she never would have seen the difference. "It's not obvious, but my things have been rearranged. A stranger has been in my bedroom, John!"

He muttered a powerful expletive. Then, he said, "I want you to go into the living room and wait. I'll be there in less than five minutes. And Evangeline?"

"Yeah?" Tears clung to her eyelashes. In her hand, she clutched her grandmother's necklace. Inside, she was a bundle of nerves. She just wanted him home.

"I will catch the bastard who did this."

She leaned against the wall adjacent to the front door. Staring through the curtains, she waited for his arrival. "I know. Just hurry home."

"I'm almost there."

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