Part 23

"It's over." Antonio handed John a file folder. "All the dots have been connected in the Santi case."

John jutted his chin toward a chair as he flipped open the folder. Protecting Evangeline claimed top priority in his mind, but other cases beckoned. In the years after Caitlin's death, only the job mattered. Not so anymore. He glanced over Antonio's report and nodded.

"Well, done." He closed the folder and set it aside for further review. "Bo's pleased with your work. I am, too."

"Thanks." Antonio frowned. "Since my return to Llanview, I've heard some buzz about RJ Gannon. Is everything okay? If you need help handling him…"

John ran a hand over his beard. Keeping his emotions in check wasn't easy. At the mention of the man's name, he saw red. "First, what have you heard?"

The detective shrugged. "RJ hasn't taken your relationship with Evangeline well."

"My relationship?"

"Yeah," Antonio said softly. "Is that wrong?"

"Depends on who you ask," John mumbled. Louder, he added, "Anything else?"

"RJ fights dirty and he hasn't shown restraint in this. There's been a little talk about what happened at Capricorn the other day and something about a nanny-cam--"

"Shit." John pushed from his chair and headed to the coffeepot. "The words 'low key investigation' obviously have no meaning."

"There was nothing specific." Antonio joined John and accepted the cup that John poured for him. "Thanks. Listen, there's been more speculation than actual fact. If you need help, I'm here. I know him better than I want to and unfortunately, I know how his mind works."

The fax phone rang and then paper rolled out. John had been expecting a fax from the FBI all morning. They had narrowed down the frequency of the nanny cam. If his gut proved correct, the feed would point right back to RJ. Either at his home or one of his clubs.

He ripped the paper from the machine and searched for the information he needed.

"We'll talk later--"

"Don't leave," he instructed Antonio. Still reading, his mouth twisted into a satisfied smirk. "This is it. I've got him. All I need is a warrant." He folded the paper and put it inside his jacket pocket. "You up for taking a little ride? If he resists arrest, I want a good witness."

"Here I am."

The judge wasted no time in giving John the documents he needed to bust RJ. With the appropriate paperwork in hand, John stormed Capricorn. Antonio stood right beside him as he burst inside RJ's office.

"This is beyond harassment," RJ said from behind his desk. "I'll have your badge and yours, too, Antonio. I'll burn them into scrap metal, of course. But I'll have them."

"You'll have nothing," John said. His hands flexed at his sides. The need to rip Gannon's throat out burned inside him. He inhaled shallow breaths to keep his compulsion at bay. "Get up. You're under arrest."

RJ laughed, but he didn't move. "Sure, McDuff. You want to take a bite out of crime. Get the hell out of my office before I call my lawyer and have your badge and your pension."

"Sounds like he's resisting arrest," Antonio murmured.

John and his friend locked eyes. John's voice lowered to a deathly growl. "Yeah, I heard it, too."

*/*

Evangeline waited for Keesha at the hotel bar. The cousins had agreed to meet for drinks before they sat down to dinner with Ryan and John. Most of the day, Evangeline felt jumpy and out of sorts. The thought of love shook her up. How could she be sure this was it when she had no real idea what it was? John's answer was nice, but it wasn't comforting. In fact, his thoughts on the subject blew her mind. So much energy spent to one person, because of one person. Was she capable of giving that much back?

"Sorry, I'm late." Keesha gave her a quick hug then claimed the empty stool beside her. "Actually, I'm not sorry." She giggled. "Nope. Not sorry at all."

Evangeline playfully rolled her eyes. "Oh, spare me the details."

"I never kiss and tell." Then, Keesha's eyes widened. She pressed a hand to her mouth. "Oops!"

"Keesha!" Evangeline's laughter came from a good place inside her soul. Man, she missed this woman. "You're silly."

"It's all a part of falling in love with the right man."

The bartender chose that precise moment to interrupt. After he poured their drinks and left, Evangeline found the courage to resume their conversation where it left off. Her brow scrunched into a frown. "Love. That's what you and Ryan have?"

Her cousin nodded. Her mocha complexion glowed from within. Happiness painted Keesha's mouth with a permanent smile. "Definitely. It wasn't easy in the beginning. His past and my past were major obstacles. We had a lot of stuff to process."

"How did you do it?"

Keesha took a sip of white wine before answering. "Facing a future without him seemed worse than facing my past. I haven't had the best of luck when it's come to men. Jason…AJ… There were high moments with both, but the lows are what stayed with me. The truth is I was terrified of letting someone that close to me again. But I couldn't be in a room with Ryan without feeling something. He broke through the bullshit, cuz. In the end, I couldn't deny what I felt and quite honestly, I didn't want to."

She reached out and patted Evangeline's hand. "This isn't idle chit chat, is it? I haven't met John, but I have a feeling that he's important to you."

"Do I wear it like a bag over my head?" Evangeline sighed. "I don't know what's going on. I considered calling Mother, but that's territory I dread going in to."

"Talk to me," Keesha offered. "I don't bite. I'm not saying I'm an expert, but I recognized the signs over the phone and again yesterday. You're terrified of all this love stuff."

"I've never backed down from anything in my life." Evangeline gestured toward her recovering left hand. "I hit a guy. A left hook to his jaw. I'd do it again, too. But this thing with John… I want to be with him. I think about him. All the time. He thrills me in ways I never imagined and I'm not just talking about sex. Being with him seems more than the physical anyway. Keesha, you're right. I am in fear of this…thing…I have with him. I have goals. Youngest partner at the firm. A corner office. These are things I want."

"Those are just things and they're easy for you," Keesha said with quiet compassion. "And they have a place. Hell, they've been your life purpose for as long as I can remember. But Evangeline, life has so much more to offer."

"I like my life the way it is."

"Are you sure about that?" Keesha asked. "Nothing in life is guaranteed. I learned that when I lost Granny Mae and Jason. I loved them with all my heart and I don't regret a minute I shared with them. You've never lost sight of your goals and that’s admirable. But I don't want you to ever once look back and wonder what might have been if you'd pursued this."

Evangeline's throat constricted. Her voice sounded husky with unleashed emotion. "I'm scared, Keesha."

She smiled and shrugged. "Who isn't? Love can be a very good thing. Believe me, it's worth the hassle."

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