Part 22

"Thanks for the necklace."

Evangeline noted the wary look in her cousin's eyes as Keesha glanced at Evangeline's bandaged hand and then back at the squad car at the curb. The tall man beside her seemed just as cautious.

The cousins hugged.

"You didn't have to drive the necklace back," Evangeline said. She pointed to her sofa as a silent invitation. "You must be Ryan Lavery. I'm Keesha's cousin."

"I was getting to it," Keesha said. "Evangeline meet Ryan. Ryan, this is my other attorney cousin, Evangeline Williamson."

She extended her left hand, which Ryan shook.

"It's nice to meet you," he said. "You've just as beautiful as Keesha told me. Obviously, beauty runs in the family."

Heat flooded Evangeline's cheeks. She pressed her uninjured hand to her chest. "Oh, my. Very smooth. I like that. How was your party?"

"Very interesting," Keesha said. "Zach Slater hosted a fundraiser. You'd be surprised by the attendees."

"Was it a who's who of who's who?" Evangeline settled on the adjacent love seat. She placed a pillow on her lap and rested her hand on top. Two days later and her hand still throbbed. No bones were broken, but that didn't lessen the pain.

"Basically," Keesha said. She jutted her chin at Evangeline's hand. "What happened?"

"A minor altercation."

"One of your cases has taken a dangerous turn?" Ryan asked. "We couldn't help but notice the police car outside. Are you in danger?"

"You should have said something," Keesha added. "Justus would help."

"It's not a case. It's personal and the police are handling it. Don't worry."

"You're hurt. I can't help but worry." Keesha stood and gently tugged on Evangeline's ponytail. "I can see you're tired. Ryan and I are staying at the Llanview Inn for a few days. I'll call you with our room number after we check-in."

Evangeline frowned. "You don't have to stay on my account. I'm fine. Really."

"Sure you are."

*/*

Silence filled the dining room. John made another delicious dinner, which Evangeline wanted to enjoy but was unable to consume. He seemed to be a quiet man by nature. She'd grown used to the companionable serenity of their days and nights together. Yet, tonight felt unusually so. She searched her mind for ways to shatter the weird mood into pieces.

"My cousin and her friend are staying at the Llanview Inn. She wants to meet you."

The corner of his mouth quirked into a half smile. "Does she."

Two words, she thought. That's a start. "Yeah. Is that a problem?"

"Not at all." He began stacking their plates and gathering the silverware. "When?"

"I don't know. She says they'll be here for a few days. I think the sooner the better." She stood and reached for their glasses.

He waved her hand away. "Leave it. I got it."

"You don't want me to help?"

He gave her injured hand a pointed look. "You don't have to. For once, let me handle it."

With a grand gesture, she released the glasses. "Okay, fine. Now, we're getting somewhere."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You've been giving me the silent treatment. Now, I know why. You're upset that I confronted RJ."

"Someone give this lady a gold star," he said, his voice husky with sarcasm. "She nails it the first time."

"John, come on."

"No, Evangeline, you could have come away with more than a bandaged hand. He's not the man you thought you knew."

Her heart felt heavy. She closed her eyes and inhaled a ragged breath. "I know," she said in quiet voice. "You're not saying anything I haven't realized."

A loud sigh came from him. She heard the plates clatter on the table and then his footsteps come toward her. A moment later, she felt his heat surrounding her and his hand raking through her hair. The stubble of his beard grazed her forehead. His breath warmed her cheeks.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to upset you. It's just that… Angel, the last thing I want is for you to get hurt, yet, here you are with a bandage on your hand. I don't have a savior complex. I know that there'll be hits and misses, but I can't… I've lost someone before and it was the hardest thing I ever had to face. I got through it, but it wasn't easy. Still, here I am on the other side of that kind of pain. And everyday, I'm realizing that you're the most important person in my life."

Her eyes fluttered open. Breathing came in ragged spurts. "John… I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything." He lightly brushed her lips with his. "It won't take long to clean up. Go relax." He kissed her again before disappearing into the kitchen.

She stared sightlessly at the swinging kitchen door. Eventually, her breathing returned to normal. Yet, her thoughts continued to spin.

Is John in love with me?

Another question whirled just as wildly inside her mind.

Am I in love with him?

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