Chapter 7

The delicious aromas of fresh coffee, maple syrup, bacon and eggs woke Layla from a sound sleep. Yawning and stretching, she rolled onto her back. As she opened her eyes, she expected to see Cristian there beside her. To her dismay, his side of the bed was empty. The distant drone of the shower hinted at his whereabouts.

She grabbed a robe and padded into the kitchen area. Breakfast warmed on the stove. The small kitchen table was set with plates, eating utensils and a single red rose in a vase. Careful of the thorn, she brought the flower to her nose and inhaled. Its fragrance was sweet and heady. A soft smile curved her mouth at his thoughtfulness. She'd had a few men in her life but not many prepared breakfast and set a beautiful table.

"Good morning." Cristian closed his arms around her from behind. His damp curls brushed her cheek as he kissed her ear. "I know you slept well. Your snoring kept me up most of the night."

"If I was sleeping at my place, my snoring wouldn't bother you." She tugged free of his hold and plucked a strip of bacon from the platter. The bacon was fried crisp, just the way she liked it.

He brushed past her as he turned on the waffle maker and pulled a bowl of batter from the fridge. "It doesn't bother me. I can get used to it. I think it's kind of cute."

"Cute?" She rolled her eyes. He wasn't fooling her. His skills of seduction would have been obvious to Stevie Wonder.

"You heard me." He poured the batter onto the sizzling hot griddle and closed the lid. "You keep coming up with excuses. Each one is worst than the last, Layla. I didn't force you into marrying me. You knew exactly what was happening and you could have stopped it. You didn't because you want this as much as I do."

Her jaw dropped. His logic made no sense. Gesturing wildly with the remaining uneaten strip of bacon, she said, "I can't even remember how many shots of tequila I had!"

"I can." He fixed her with his dark piercing eyes. "It wasn't enough to cause memory loss. Stop playing, Layla. It doesn't become you."

"Now, I know you're used to women who like to play games, but I'm not one of them."

"You're different. I'll give you that." He flipped two waffles onto their plates. "Breakfast is served, Mrs. Vega."

"Mrs. Vega," she murmured, taking the plates from him and setting them on the table. "What will your mother say?"

"She likes you."

Layla laughed. "You have a weird way of looking at a situation. She tolerates me."

"She will like you once she gets to know you." He set the syrup on the table. "Milk, orange juice or coffee?"

"None of the above." Her mouth watered in anticipation of the delicious meal. "I'll fill up on these calories and pay for it later."

"It's not like you have anything to worry about." His eyes bore an appreciative gleam. "Your figure is great."

"And I plan to make sure it stays that way."

"You worry too much. Eat." He poured coffee into his mug before claiming the seat opposite her. "What do you have planned today?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"I'm going by the diner to talk to Mamí. I want you to come with me."

* * *

City Hall hadn't changed much in the year since she'd been away. A few faces had changed, and with Daniel Coulson serving time for murder, someone new resided in the DA's office. When the news first broke, Evangeline wanted to return and help Nora deal with the fallout. Nora encouraged her to stay far away, but Evangeline still wondered if that was the right decision.

She tapped on Nora's office door. Her friend called out. "Come in."

Evangeline entered with a smile. It had been far too long since she'd seen her good friend. "Nora!"

"Evangeline!" Nora rushed from her desk and wrapped her arms tight around Evangeline. "It's been too long. Please, tell me you're moving back."

"I can't tell you that." Evangeline returned the embrace with equal intensity. "I've missed you. How are you? How have you been? How's Matthew? Has Rachel moved back, yet?"

"So many questions!" Nora took her friend's hand. "I can't answer them all at once. I'll need at least six months."

"You'll say anything to get me to say I'll stay."

"You can't blame me for trying." Nora squeezed her hand. "I miss you."

"I'm here right now. Let's start from there."

For the first hour, they giggled and chatted like teenagers. Evangeline had never had a loss of friends, but her relationship with Nora was different, special. On one hand, they connected like sisters. On the other, Nora had a strong maternal streak and Evangeline didn't mind having a second mom.

"So, tell why are you working on the weekend?" Evangeline munched on a cinnamon roll while she waited for her friend's answer.

"I'll tell if you tell me the real reason why you're here."

"That has more to do with someone else." Evangeline frowned. "It has to stay between us, but I'm pretty sure in the end, it won't matter."

"You're talking in so much code, I'm hanging off the end of my seat!"

Evangeline laughed. "Sorry. It's Layla. She married Cristian Vega in Atlantic City. She blames it on the alcohol. He says they weren't that drunk. Anyway, she wants me to use my legal skills to free her. He's determined to fight it."

Nora's mouth tightened. Her eyes clouded over with recent pain. "Marriage shouldn't be taken lightly."

"I agree," Evangeline said, nodding.

Nora put the remainder of her cinnamon roll aside. "What was she thinking?" She paced back in forth in front of her desk. "Marrying a man she hardly knows! Cristian has been through a lot. She has no idea what he's capable of and how that will affect her life."

Evangeline wiped her hands on a napkin then quickly went to Nora's side. "Cristian isn't Daniel."

Nora stopped in her tracks. "Who said anything about Daniel? I'm talking about your sister and Cristian."

"Yeah, and you're also talking about yourself." Evangeline rubbed Nora's arm. "You have to stop blaming yourself for what happened. He fooled everybody. Not just you. If you want to blame anyone, blame me. You had second thoughts, but I convinced you to ignore them. Since then, I've learned to listen to my intuition."

"What happened with Daniel is not your faultó"

"It's not yours either." Evangeline smiled. "And it's not the end of the world. You have two beautiful kids who adore you, a friend who thinks the world of you, and hundreds of secret admirers."

Rolling her eyes, Nora returned Evangeline's smile. "You're laying it on a little thick."

"The thicker the better."

They returned to their seats and the sweet cinnamon rolls, digging in with gusto. The conversation returned to lighter fare until Nora said, "So have you seen John?"

Evangeline stiffened. "We ran into each other."

"And?"

"I wish I never told you what happened."

"I'm glad you did." Nora grinned. "It sizzled. Believe me, things like that never happen to me."

"Well, it only happened once!" Heat filled Evangeline's cheeks. The passionate encounter in Mary Barnes' basement was never far from her mind. A year later, it should have lost its importance. The fact was, she never surrendered like that. Blaming it on the wine and close confines didn't work. So that left only her and John.

"And you left town because you were afraid it would happen again."

"That's not true," she denied. "The opportunity in DC was too good to pass up."

"Perhaps." Nora shrugged, but Evangeline knew her friend didn't totally buy her excuse. "What happened when you saw John?"

"We talked a little." Evangeline looked away as she smoothed the wrinkles on her skirt. "No big deal."

"The spark is still there." Nora's tone was all-knowing.

Evangeline sputtered. "I didn't say that!"

"You didn't have to."