"Explain," Evangeline said after John left and Layla took his seat. "Where's Cristian?"
Layla pointed over her shoulder. "In the back with Antonio. They're having it out. Antonio isn't happy about the latest addition to the Vega family."
"Well, isn't that what you wanted?"
She frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You wanted Antonio to react."
"I didn't ask you here to lecture me. I need help, Evangeline. I don't need you playing Mom." Layla stood and stormed to the bar.
She should have expected this from Evangeline. Her big sister couldn't save the day without spouting out her two cents. If Layla wanted psychoanalysis, there was a cute psychiatrist at the hospital. But she didn't want a shrink. She needed an attorney and a way out of the biggest mistake of her life.
Erik, the bartender, filled her tray with an order. Layla welcomed the distraction. She flirted with the guys who ordered the whiskey and beer. They gave her a sizable tip. Then she moved on to the next order. A few minutes later, she had a short lull in her section and wandered back to her sister's table.
"I was wondering if you forgot about me." Evangeline folded her hands in her lap and leaned back.
Layla couldn't get over her older sister. Stunningly beautiful with a voice to match, Evangeline wasted her talents inside a courtroom. She could have been a runway model or a famous singer.
Acting came naturally to Layla, but unlike Evangeline, she lacked the constant encouragement from their parents. They wanted Layla to study at Columbia instead of the Academy of Dramatic Arts. Considering the lack of roles that had come her way, Layla often wondered if she should have listened to them.
"I could never forget about you," Layla said. "I have to make up for the time I missed."
"The bartender said you were late."
"Cristian didn't want me to leave."
Evangeline's eyes widened. "Oh."
Layla smiled. "Yeah. Oh." She sat down. "He's going to fight the annulment."
"Are you sure that's what you want?"
"I don't love him," Layla said. "I like him."
"This could get messy." Evangeline pulled out a small notepad. "I'll start the paperwork if you're sure this is what you want." She scribbled a number on the paper. "This is my room number at the Palace. I made plans to stay the weekend."
Layla's hopes sunk. "That's all. You might as well go back to DC."
"I may be able to extend my stay if need be." Evangeline handed her the paper. "I'm leaving before you get into anymore trouble with Antonio. He's behind the bar glaring at us."
Layla shoved the paper into her front pocket. Grumbling, she stood. "Great. Do you see Cris?"
"Nope." Evangeline stood and pulled Layla into a quick hug. "Everything will work out. I promise. Try not to piss him off. He looks like he's ready to explode."
Layla rolled her eyes. "When isn't he?"
Evangeline left. Layla checked on her customers and took orders. She wanted Antonio gone by the time she reached the bar. No such luck. He was relieving Erik for the bartender's break and was waiting for her. He took her orders without a word and quickly mixed the drinks and poured the wine.
"Was that Evangeline?" he asked.
"You know my sister."
"She was a defense attorney. I used to be a cop. We crossed paths."
"She told me you worked undercover as a stripper for her once."
He shrugged. "We crossed paths."
Encouraged by his softened demeanor, she sat on a stool and leaned toward him. "Antonio, I don't want what happened with Cristian to interfere with our work relationship. I'm a good waitress and I like my job."
"I love my brother," he said. He placed the filled order on her tray. "He's been hurt enough."
"I don't want to hurt him."
"I wish I could believe you."
* * *
"Evangeline, wait!" Cristian half-jogged after his sister-in-law. She waited for him near the taxi stand. Her eyes looked tired and her shoulders drooped. He noticed a slight resemblance to his new wife. The Williamson sisters certainly carried an overabundance of beauty genes.
"Do you need a ride?"
"I was thinking about getting a taxi."
"I'll drive you," he said. "Besides, we need to talk. This is a good time to do it."
"Oh, boy," she mumbled under her breath. "Like your brother, you don't pull any punches."
"The direct approach works best," he said. He lightly cupped her elbow. "Come with me. I parked on the street."
They walked in a companionable silence to his car. He helped her inside. After they were both buckled in, he started the car. "Where are you staying?"
"That's what I thought," he said. "It's a nice place. Probably the best Llanview has to offer."
"Probably so," she agreed. "Well, now that the small talk is out of the way, what's on your mind?"
"Layla called you, didn't she? She wants out. Am I right?"
"You're not wrong," she said. "What do you want?"
"I don't want out."
"Why not? You barely know my sister. Marriage is a serious commitment. I'm surprised you married her. You haven't been divorced long."
"It's been six months. Layla is not getting me on the rebound. I know what I'm doing."
Evangeline sighed loudly. "I don't want to insult you, but I find that hard to believe. You and Layla haven't even been on a date. How can you possibly know what you're doing? Are you sure this isn't your way at getting back at your ex-wife?"
"Natalie is not a part of my life anymore."
"Do you want her back?" Evangeline asked.
"No. That part of my life is over."
"Why Layla? She's just now getting her life back on track. Why not be friends first or date? Marriage is a huge step."
"Where's your trust in your sister's judgment?"
"She was drunk."
He laughed. "That's what she told you."
"She wasn't?" Evangeline asked, clutching his arm.
"I'm not getting into that. Neither of us was completely sober, but we weren't falling down drunk either. I went in with a clear head. I believe Layla did, too."