Part 18

The Mustang's power failed to get John home fast enough. The flashing lights on his dashboard helped. Traffic parted and gave him a clear path down the road. Still, he didn't get there fast enough.

The powerful sports car screeched to halt on the sidewalk. Hall jumped from the squad car just as John made a mad dash to Evangeline's front door.

"I've been here the entire time," Hall said as he and John reached the porch. "I don't understand. What happened?"

"Someone broke in," John said. Then, the door opened and Evangeline was in his arms. He didn't know who moved first. All that mattered was holding her close and reassuring both of them that she was safe.

Still holding her tight, he guided her inside the house. He heard Hall follow them and close the door.

"Ms. Williamson, what happened? I didn't see anyone come in. I've checked the entire grounds more than once."

She slowly pulled away from John's embrace. He watched in admiration as she visibly pulled herself together. She graced the officer a faint smile. "It happened before we got here. I didn't notice it until after you went outside. Don't blame yourself. You've done a great job."

"Yes, ma'am." Hall looked at John. "What do you want me to do? I can radio for the crime scene unit."

"Go ahead and call them, but tell them to wait outside until they hear from me. You can wait for them out there, too."

"Yes, sir." The young officer quickly made his exit.

Evangeline touched John's arm. "Don't take it out on him. It's not his fault."

A cold knot formed in his stomach when he answered Evangeline's call. Stark terror filled her voice. Her fear reached out and terrified him. There he was miles away working on the Santi case and the woman he lo--cared about was shaking in fright. He didn't blame Edwin Hall for what happened, but he expected the officer to be thorough.

Instead of voicing his thoughts, he took her hand. "Show me."

Their fingers laced together automatically. Sensing her apprehension, John led the way into her bedroom. He glanced around the room and frowned. "Did you straighten up?"

"No, I left it alone." She headed to the bookshelf near the window. "See, that's why I said you shouldn't blame Officer Hall. I was here for hours before I noticed it. In fact, I wouldn't have if Keesha hadn't called--"

"Keesha? Keesha who?" John flipped out his notepad and jotted the name.

"Keesha Ward is my cousin." Evangeline waved her hand at his pad. "You can put that away. She's not a suspect. Keesha called about a necklace she wants to borrow. After we hung up, I came in here to get it and that's when I noticed that my books had been rearranged."

"Books? A necklace. I don't follow."

"I…um, I have a strange way of hiding my special pieces of jewelry. I hollow out old books and that's where I keep my grandmother's pearl necklace. Anyway, the books are out of order. I don't keep them in alphabetical order and now they are. That's how I knew. Someone's been here."

"Who else knows about your unique method?"

She frowned. "No one. I saw a special on a news program years ago. I never told a soul. I just did it."

He squatted in front of the shelf. His eyes scanned the rows of books. If he were a burglar, he'd never suspect her system. "Is anything missing?"

"I haven't really checked. I began frantic and searched for the pearls, which I found. Then, I called you. Just knowing that someone was here… I couldn't think straight." She rubbed his shoulder. "John, I'm sorry about that phone call. I lost it and I'm not usually that…um that unhinged--"

"Ssh." He stood and pressed his fingers against her soft, full lips. "You had every right to be upset. I'm sorry I wasn't here. I should have been. So no more apologies. I don't want to hear them." He glanced at his watch. "CSU should be here by now. I want to know if anything's missing, but I'd rather you didn't touch anything."

"Okay."

"They'll dust for prints and take pictures. Things could get a little messy. We don't have to stay here tonight if you don't want to."

Her angelic face hardened with determination. "I will not be driven from my home."

"Tough broad." He forced himself to smile.

"And proud of it." Her lips curved into an adorable gesture of pride. "After CSU finishes, you'll help me clean up."

"Oh, okay." He trailed a finger along her cheek. His voice lowered. "And then what?"

"Not so fast, Detective."

The doorbell rang. He caught her wrist as she moved to answer it.

"Are you sure you're not upset? You don't have to pretend." He forced flashes of Caitlin's tragic death from his mind. On the beaches of San Juan, he decided to put the past behind him. He couldn't save Caitlin, but he would be damned if he lost Evangeline.

"I'm not pretending." She gently cupped his cheek. "I was okay the moment you walked through that door. Let's get CSU in here so they can do their work."

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