"Rex Balsom is weird." Layla scooted across the booth to sit closer to Cristian.
"Why do you say that?" He fixed her with a curious stare. "Not that I'd argue with you."
"He's just strange. There are mini pictures of your cousin at every table."
"She was on the cover of the last issue of Craze." He frowned at the picture. "She doesn't look like the Catholic schoolgirl I remember."
"She's not a kid anymore." Layla toyed with the tiny umbrella in her drink. "Rex used to be your brother-in-law."
"Yep." Cris swallowed some beer. "What about it?"
"You never talk about Natalie. Not even in passing. You never mention her."
He cocked an eyebrow. "You want me to talk about my ex-wife. Emphasis on ex. That part of my life is over."
"But you can't totally disregard it."
"I don't. It just doesn't matter to me anymore."
"But you loved her," Layla said.
"I used to," he said, "but if you're asking if I still do, the answer is no. You don't have to worry about the past creeping in on us."
"Who's worried?" She shrugged with her response. Maybe she was a little concerned. This marriage thing started on a whim. As the days progressed, she became more drawn to him. She didn't want to go through the heartache of losing him.
A dim shadow fell across their table. Layla looked away from Cristian's intoxicating smile to meet the icy glare of his ex-wife.
"Natalie," he greeted. The lack of emotion in his voice spoke volumes.
"I didn't expect to see you here," she said. Contempt and hurt laced her words.
"It's a free country. My wife and I can go wherever we want, whenever we want."
Natalie's face turned five shades of red. "Your wife?"
"Yes. You hadn't heard?" Cristian smiled at Layla. "Sweetheart, this is Natalie Buchanan. Natalie, this is Layla Vega."
"I didn't know you were dating."
"Should you have?" Layla asked.
Natalie's eyes narrowed to slits. Her mouth opened to spew venom, but Layla responded before Natalie could collect her thoughts.
"Cristian and I were just talking about you. It's good to see you're doing well. Cris, let's dance."
"You're reading my mind." He took her hand and they moved to the dance floor, leaving Natalie to stare after them.
* * *
"Oh, boy," Evangeline mumbled under her breath. "Did you see that?"
"See what?" Michael squeezed her hand as they left the dance floor and returned to their table on the second floor landing. "I was too busy admiring your rhythm."
She couldn't help but smile at his obvious flirtation. "Did you see my sister, her new husband and his former wife? For a moment there, I considered jumping in."
"Why?" He glanced in the direction of Layla and Cristian bumping and grinding. "She's a big girl. I bet she can take care of herself."
"She's my sister."
"John's my brother but I don't run in to fight his battles."
"You're the youngest," Evangeline said after taking a sip of water. "You wouldn't understand."
He laughed. "Birth order doesn't work like that in my family. McBains don't adhere to that psycho babble stuff."
"Psycho babble? This coming from a physician?" She laughed. "I'm shocked."
"Okay, you got me." He shrugged. "Of course, there's some merit to it. The truth is I've never tried to apply it to my family. Things changed when my dad died. John tried to be my father."
"What did your mother think about that?"
"She didn't stop him," Michael confided. "I think she was just relieved not to have to deal with responsibility. We all took my dad's death hard. I guess we always feared it could happen and when it did, we were shocked."
"My dad was sick for a long time. When he died, I wasn't really prepared for it."
He smiled. "He'd be proud of you."
She rested her hand on the table beside her glass. He quickly moved to lay his hand over hers. "I'm really glad you came back."
"You don't believe in playing coy, do you?" She laughed a little self-consciously.
"What's the point? You could leave tomorrow. At least you'd know that I enjoyed the time we shared tonight."
She stared at him surprise. "Most guys aren't like you."
"That's a relief. I like being unique."
"Hey, Mikey. You didn't mention having a date."
Michael shrugged as he grinned at his brother. "I'm not in the habit of telling you everything. Evangeline, you know my nosy brother, John."
"Lieutenant McBain." An uneasy ripple of excitement ran through her as awareness of her situation hit her full in the stomach. She never imagined having to live through this moment. Was this just rotten luck or was fate playing with her? "Yes, I am know him. We worked a few cases together. Hi."
"Hello." John gave her a slow smile. "Having fun?"
Michael swung at his brother. "What kind of question is that? Of course, we're having a great time and when you leave, it'll get even better."
"Whoa" John laughed and took a step back. "I know a dismissal when I hear one. Sorry for intruding."
John saluted once and left. Evangeline breathed a sigh of relief. Those few seconds felt tense. If Michael sensed anything, he didn't show it. But she felt something strong and unspoken happening between her and John. Hadn't there time already come and gone?
Michael squeezed her hand. His thumb slipped underneath her palm and drew tiny circles. Unease gave way to anticipation. What could possibly happen between her and Michael?
"Sorry about that. Like to dance?"
"Yes." She rose from her chair and extended her hand. "Come on, doc. Let's dance."