Dazzling rays of sunlight filtered through the branches of tall oak and maple trees. Brown and red leaves rustled overhead. A few fell at Evangeline's feet. She stopped to pick up a few. Fall was her favorite time of year. Nature produced a vivid array of colors, reminding her that she was just a small part of a large universe.
She released the leaves and watched them filter to the ground. The walk through the park had been a tactic in procrastination. Layla's latest mistake left her stunned. How did her younger sister get into these things? Sure, the girl was headstrong and impulsive, but Layla didn't lack common sense. Their parents gave them a solid foundation. Getting drunk and marrying a stranger made a mockery of everything their parents worked so hard for.
"Hey. Evangeline Williamson?"
The tall, dark-haired man stared at her with warm intensity. Despite a year away, she recognized him immediately. "Hello, doctor. I'm surprised you remember me."
"I have a great memory for beautiful women," Michael McBain said. "Please tell me you're back in Llanview to stay."
His obvious interest brought a smile to her face. "I'm sorry."
"That's too bad. Llanview hasn't been the same without you."
She laughed. "I had no idea you were so aware of me."
"You're hard to miss. A beautiful attorney with a killer track record. You got my brother out of jail. I'll remember you until I die."
"John," she murmured. "It's not like he was guilty."
"The prisons are filled with innocent men and women. John could have been one of them. I should have thanked you a long time ago."
He took her hand and squeezed. His fingers felt warm and strong. Their eyes met. His eyes danced. A ready smile parted his lips. Again, his warmth overwhelmed her. His personality drew her in. If she had stayed, she had the strongest feeling they would have been good friends.
With obvious reluctance, he released her hand. "How long are you staying?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe through the weekend. I don't know."
"If you don't already have plans, will you have dinner with me tomorrow night?"
Her eyes widened. "Dinner?"
"You know. It's the last meal of the day," he joked. "Sometimes, it's casual. Sometimes, it's formal. I promise it will be fun. Will you? I probably shouldn't give you a chance to say no."
She found herself returning her smile. "I don't want to. I accept."
"Where can I pick you up?"
"I'm staying at the Palace."
A loud beeping prevented her from saying more. He blushed and removed his beeper from the waistband of his jeans. He glanced at the number. "It's the hospital. I have to go."
He grinned at her slow response. "Don't worry. I won't be on duty tomorrow. My rotation ends in the morning. I'll leave my number for you at the front desk. Call me when you get in tonight." He backed up a step, never taking his eyes from her. "It's really good to see you again, lady lawyer. Talk to you soon!"
* * *
Eventually, Layla located her bra. The red one with the cups about so big. It was strategically hidden right underneath Cristian's pillow. A tiny smile of satisfaction played at her mouth as she recalled what transpired before she got it back. Her body still tingled from head to toe. Cristian Vega was one artist whose hands were wonderfully skilled.
She sighed. Slipping into the back entrance at Capricorn, her thoughts returned to her sexy new husband. He didn't want her to leave. Their honeymoon demanded attention, he claimed. Somehow, she found the strength to escape his clutches. But the look in his beautiful eyes made her want to hurry back.
The thought stopped her in her tracks. "What the hell is that?"
"A better question is why the hell are you late?" Antonio stood in the hallway between the back office and the bar. "What's your excuse this time?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." She ducked into the office and tossed her purse into her locker. She heard him move in behind her. The spicy scent of his cologne drifted into the close confines. A ripple of forbidden excitement coursed through her. She frowned. This couldn't be happening.
"Try me." He closed his hand around her shoulder and turned her to face him. "It had better be good."
His dark eyes glinted dangerously. That's what drew her to him in the first place. The hint of danger lurking around him was a challenge that few women could ignore. The same aura surrounded Cristian, but his was wild and sexy. Antonio crept around like a dark, brooding panther. The effect was stronger than it had a right to be.
"Well?" He glanced at his watch. "You've already wasted enough of my time."
She stiffened. "It's not your time until I clock in."
"You have a point." He smirked. "I need your excuse before you clock in."
Layla hesitated. Her employer's volatile temper was legendary. How would he react knowing that she was now a Vega, too? He acted like he hated her guts, but there were times a spark lit up his eyes when he looked at her. The line between love and hate was very thin. She and Antonio walked it and just barely made it without tipping over. She didn't want to risk the silent truce they formed. Her job at Capricorn was fun and paid the bills until her big break came.
"Time is ticking away," he said, folding his arms across his chest.
"What's going on?" Cristian appeared at the door. He held Layla's rhinestone-studded denim jacket. "You forgot this."
"Oh, yeah." On wooden legs, she sidestepped Antonio to get her jacket from his brother. "Thanks."
"You can do better than that." He snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her hard against him. "Or do I need to remind you?"
"Cristian!" Antonio's voice snapped like a whip. "What are you doing?"
"I'm stopping you from harassing my wife," he said. "Do you have a problem with that?"