Chapter 11

Evangeline had just pulled back the covers and crawled between the crisp, cool sheets when someone knocked on her hotel door. She glanced at the bedside clock. It was close to midnight. She and Michael spent hours on the dance floor and having a great time until the hospital paged him. He dropped her off with a chaste kiss on her cheek and a promise to call her in the morning. She wondered if he had come back or if someone had found the wrong room.

The knock came again. She stood, slipped into the silk and lace dressing robe and padded to the floor. One peek into the peephole surprised her. A pair of haunting blue eyes stared back at her. The look on John's face was serious and intent. She hesitated to invite him inside. She was never one to play games with men.

"Evangeline?" His raspy voice sounded hollow and worn. "Are you awake?"

God forbid he should wake up the entire floor of the hotel. She removed the chain and unbolted the door. When she opened the door, he looked as if he was ready to walk away.

"You are awake," he said, a faint smile curving his mouth. "I know it's late and I probably shouldn't be here."

"No, you probably shouldn't," she agreed. "Why are you here?"

"May I come in?"

She stepped aside and he came in. "It's late," she said. "So say whatever you need to say."

"I don't know where to start." He glanced toward the bed. "You were already in bed."

"Yes." She suddenly became aware of their surroundings. The last time they were in close confines, they exploded with passion. She didn't dare risk that happening again. She moved to one of the two chairs at the table and sat. John took the hint and joined her. "I have a busy day tomorrow, so just go ahead and say what's on your mind."

"What's going on between you and my brother?" he asked without the slightest hesitation.

"I don't think that's any of your business." His curiosity annoyed her. What right did he have to question her relationship with Michael? A one-night stand over a year ago left him with no rights at all!

"He's my brother."

"Michael told me that the McBains didn't fight each other's battles."

"I don't consider you a battle," John said.

"So what's the point of this?"

"After what happened in the basement, we said there'd be no regrets," he said.

She started to feel sick. "Do you regret it? What does it matter? It happened so long ago. I didn't come back here because of you."

"Maybe you left because of me. Because you were scared of what could happen between us."

"John, if we were meant to be, we would have been. You never once called or tried to contact me after I left. Don't come after me now because of Michael. I don't appreciate that and it's not fair to your brother."

"So basically, I had my chance and now it's Michael's turn."

Anger filled her from head to toe. She stood and stormed to the door. "Get out, John."

He slowly rose from the chair and followed her. "I didn't mean it that way."

"I don't believe you." She opened the door.

"Would it helped if I apologized?" he asked. "I'm sorry. When I saw you with him tonight, I got jealous. I wished I had asked you out instead of Michael."

Looking at the floor, she shook her head. "I don't want to hear this right now."

"Can we talk again later? Let me make it up to you. I can be a jackass, but I didn't mean to be one with you. The words came out wrong."

"I'm leaving tomorrow. I don't see the point in trying to make amends. Do you?"

He opened his mouth, but no words came. He walked out the door and she promptly closed it behind him.

* - * - * -

"Did you enjoy yourself tonight?" Cristian fell into bed beside Layla. She'd been so quiet since returning home that he couldn't read her mind. He hoped the night out would strengthen their relationship. Now he wasn't so sure if he achieved that goal.

"It was nice." She pulled her hair into a ponytail and curled onto her side to face him.

"Just nice?" He winced. "I was hoping for more than nice."

"What exactly were you hoping for?"

He took her hand and laced their fingers together. Hers were long and slender. The contrast of his bronze colored skin against her darker tones enticed him. She was nothing like his former lovers. Not just in skin color but in personality. She sizzled with fire. But not the destructive kind like Natalie. Layla's passion fueled her soul and breathed life into everything she touched. He never felt more alive until he started spending more time with her.

"That you'd change your mind about wanting an annulment."

"Why are you so determined to stay married to me?" she asked. An unreadable mask covered her eyes. "Is it because you don't want to hear Antonio or Natalie to say 'I told you so'?"

"I don't give a damn about what they think or say," he said. "There's something magical about you, Layla. You make me feel things I never thought I would again. We can be so good together. Just give us a chance."

"I don't know," she hedged.

"What are you afraid of? Is it your family or something else?"

"All my life I've been the black sheep of the family, the underachiever. I guess this is something I don't want to fail at. If I have to see disappointment in my mom's eyes, one more time... I guess I'm afraid of taking a big chance like this. Marriage is not a joke in my family."

"It isn't in mine either."

"But we were drunk," she argued. "How can we build something lasting based on that?"

"Layla, we had a few drinks but neither of us was out of our heads."

She sighed. "All that tequila."

"What will it take for you to believe that I'm sincere? Should I propose completely sober?" He left the bed and knelt beside her. After taking her hand, he said, "Layla, will you marry me again?"


"I'm sober as a judge and I mean every word of it."

"But I'm scared."

He raised her hand to his lips. "You don't have to be afraid of me. I'll take care of you and all your fears. I can be the man you need. I can make you happy."

"But can you love me?"

He nodded once. "Yes. I already do."