Part 24

"I'm sorry I missed the dinner."

"It's fine. They're open to lunch tomorrow before they head back to Pine Valley."

"So, why the silence?"

"You should have called me the moment you arrested RJ!" Evangeline pushed John's bruised hand into a bowl of ice.

He started at the sudden cold and glanced at her handiwork on his other cuts and bruises. Pretty good. The antiseptic didn't hurt nearly as much when she applied it.

"I wanted to be there." She fixed him with flashing brown eyes. "I had every right to be there."

"You didn't need to be there," he said quietly. "It wasn't a nice collar. He resisted arrest, and I had to get a firm hold on things. I wouldn't have been able to do that with you there."

"Resisted arrest, huh?" Her eyebrow arched with disbelief. "What does he look like?"

"Worse. His jaw is still swollen from when you clocked him." John's mouth tightened as he took stock of RJ's misdeeds. Beating the man's ass simply wasn't good enough. "He'll be fine in a few days."

"I hear he's under guard at the hospital."

John shrugged. "Just for observation. He'll be fine."

"Will you lose your shield for this?" She gently cupped his face, just missing the cut on his cheek.

His eyes held hers. "No, my job is intact. I had witnesses. Good witnesses. RJ put up a fight. I'm glad you weren't there to see that."

"What did he say about me?"

He clenched his jaw, remembering. Whore. Slut. Liar. Cheat. Then, he shook his head. He smiled at the tenderness she showed in tending his wounds. Her thoughtfulness and beauty inside and out warmed him and erased RJ's nastiness from his mind. "Nothing I can remember."

She nodded once and rose from the bed. Her gaze drifted toward the closet and then down at his boots and shirt that lay in a heap on the floor. He shifted uncomfortably.

"Now that he and his pal have been arrested, you don't need a bodyguard anymore. I can move my things and be on my way--"

"Don't you even think about it." She turned to face him. "I don't want you to go."

"You're inviting me to move in?"

A faint smile came to her lips. "Not exactly."

"Maybe we should talk about what exactly will happen now." He beckoned to her with his forefinger. Slowly, she came to him and joined him on the bed. "Since Puerto Rico, we've been playing it by ear. Not setting anything in stone, but enjoying the moment. I have enjoyed every moment spent with you, but… You don't want me to go. Does that mean you want me to stay?"

"I think so," she said, a troubled frown darkened her brow. "I've never been to where we are. My past relationships weren't based on deep emotions. I liked them and they liked me. But with you…Geez, I am emotional. I don't know what that means. My first instinct is to run--"

"I don't buy that." With his uninjured hand, he brushed a fat curl from her cheek. "You never back down from a challenge. You're too bullheaded. Too stubborn."

"What do you want then?"

"Me?" His eyebrows rose. "Are you sure you're ready to hear my answer?"

She only hesitated a moment. "Yeah. I need to know."

"I've wanted to have this conversation, but I didn't think we would," he answered honestly. "After I processed RJ's arrest and typed my report for the charges against him, I realized that this was it. You'd send me on my way and we'd occasionally meet in passing. At a restaurant or in court. We'd pretend that the last few weeks never happened and my life would be empty because of it. Well, that's what I saw as the future."

"And then?"

"I walked through your front door. The look on your face as you counted my bruises and then glared at me… Then, I knew I wouldn't sit back and pretend I don't care about you. Dammit. Pretend that I'm not in love with you."

Her sharp intake of breath didn't surprise him.

He caressed her cheek. "Having been there before, I knew the signs. And I knew you weren't ready to hear it."

"Do you think I'm ready now?"

"No." He laughed and she did, too. "Yeah, actually, I think you're more ready than you realize."

"This emotion--love--is not rational," she said.

He shook his head. "No."

"Or logical or sane."

"Right, Counselor, on all of the above."

"But it's nothing to be scared of either," she said, staring into his eyes for the truth. "I can say that I love you, too and not be terrified. Right?"

His heart pounded his chest. He willed himself to breathe. "Right, Angel. You have nothing to fear. We're no cowards. We can face this love thing together."

"Good. That's settled." Joy radiated in her eyes. "Now, will you just shut up and kiss me?"

"Happy to oblige, ma'am."


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