"Your wife?" Antonio stared at them as if they'd lost their minds. "If this is supposed to be a joke, it's not funny."
Cristian's jaw tightened. "I'm not laughing."
Antonio grunted. "Who are you trying to get back at? Me or Natalie?"
"Our marriage has nothing to do with either of you," Cristian said. "This is about Layla and me."
"You've known her all of thirty secondsó"
"Hey!" She extricated herself from Cristian's tight hold. "Don't talk about me like I'm not here."
"Stay out of this," Antonio said, his voice cold and void of emotion.
Cristian balled his hands into fists. His brother's menacing attitude made him mad. Of course, he didn't expect Antonio to be happy for him, but he didn't expect this judgmental attitude. He'd been through far too much to put up with anyone's bullshit now.
"Don't talk to her like that." Cristian's voice was just above a whisper. "Not ever."
"You'll let her come between us."
"No, you're doing that."
Antonio rolled his eyes. "I'm trying to protect you."
"I don't need it or want it."
"So you're in love with her."
Layla gave Cristian a pointed look. They'd already had this argument. He had to admit the following make-up session made the heated exchange worth it.
"That's none of your business."
Antonio threw up his hands. "You can't even say it. Marriage is a sacred! You know that. It's not a game to play around with."
"I think I know that by now."
Layla tossed her jacket onto a chair and edged toward the door. "While you brothers duke it out, I have work to do. Check ya later."
She stormed from the room before Cristian could stop her. He glanced at his brother and saw how Antonio's eyes followed the sway of her slim hips. Cristian's gut tightened. No, he wasn't in love with her, but something was happening to him. Layla Williamson-Vega reignited his passion in a way he never imagined. He'd be damned if he let anyone, including his brother, come between them.
"Cris, you have to listenó"
"No, you have to accept," he said. "She's my wife now, a Vega. Treat her with respect or answer to me. Are we clear?"
A muscle moved at Antonio's jaw. "Very."
Antonio's acceptance didn't match the anger in his eyes. Cristian knew this was only the first battle. A war was doomed to follow.
* * *
Evangeline chose the center booth at Capricorn. The bartender told her that Layla was running late for her shift. While she waited, Evangeline sipped a dirty martini and reacquainted herself to a former hangout.
Capricorn vibrated with energy. The sensual sound of Jazz played from the speakers. She gave up people watching to lose herself to the music. She leaned back and closed her eyes. It wasn't long before she felt someone watching her.
"Evangeline." The husky voice matched the intense flame in John McBain's blue eyes.
She hitched a sharp breath. She knew that running into him was inevitable. But not this soon! "Hi, John." With trembling fingers, she raised the glass to her lips and sipped.
He nodded toward the empty space across from her. "Mind if I join you?"
"No." She shook her head. "Of course not."
A waiter appeared and took his order for beer. John slid onto the seat opposite her. "It's been awhile."
He rested his forearms on the table's edge. For a moment, he glanced at his laced fingers. "I thought you'd come back sooner."
"I didn't think you noticed."
He gave her a half smile. "I noticed."
The waiter returned with John's beer. John created a tab and leaned back, openly appraising her.
Evangeline felt flustered under his unwavering stare. The detective was often closed mouthed. She chalked his lack of communication to the job. As a lawman, he had to protect himself. What better way than to cover his emotions?
But there was one time when his emotions exploded.
Behind the locked doors of Mary Barnes' basement, a burning inferno of passion erupted between them. Evangeline had a few skilled lovers in her past. None had ever taken her to the heights John did that night. She abandoned her sensibilities and surrendered them to the ecstasy she found in his arms.
Since leaving Llanview, she dated a few men but had taken no lovers. Sitting across from John, the familiar need for fulfillment rose inside her. Desire stirred in her veins. She crossed her legs under the table. Opting for indifference, she took another sip of her martini.
"Are you back to stay?" he asked.
"I hope so." Layla stopped at their table. Her bright smile was a sight for sore eyes. "She's my link to sanity. Welcome back, sis."