"Is anybody hurt?"
Michael's shout sent a jolt through Cristian. He automatically reached for the woman beside him. "Evangeline, are you okay?"
When the winds reached a deafening roar, they both dove under the nearest table. Somehow, Cristian resisted the urge to draw her within the circle of his arms. He doubted if she was ready to accept what he wanted to offer. Hell, he wasn't a hundred percent sure about what he wanted to lay on the table himself. It's just that energy vibrated inside him whenever the beautiful attorney was around. She awakened him in ways he never dreamed possible. So many nights, he'd lain awake with thoughts of her invading his mind. Tightly wound and single-minded, she was nothing like him. Maybe it was that old saying about opposites attracting that drew him to her. Whatever the reason, he couldn't bear the thought of anything or anyone hurting her. Especially him.
"I think so," she said. "Is it really dark in here or is it me?"
He squeezed her hand. "It's not you. The storm knocked the power out. I heard someone say something about a generator."
"My cell phone lights up like a flashlight." She released his hand and shifted beside him. "Okay, here it is."
Light suddenly flared and beamed into his face. He blinked at the bright glare. "Hey!"
"Sorry. I was just making sure you're okay. You look fine."
"My turn." He took the phone and shone its light over her. "You do, too, but why are you rubbing the back of your head?"
"I think I hit it when we leapt under here."
"Michael should look at you." He started to crawl from under the table.
She grabbed his shoulder. "No! I'm fine. It's just a little bump. My head has survived worse. I'm okay."
"If you insist," he said, unable to resist the urge to tease her a little bit. "Maybe we could use your cell as light until the generator kicks in. I'd use mine, but it doesn't shine as brightly."
"Good save, Vega."
He moved to his feet and then took her hand to help her stand. The reception lost its festive spirit the minute the tornado blew into Llanview. Nervous energy filled the room. Dark forms moved around in a daze. Lights flickered once or twice before the generator finally blared to life. Cristian wasted no time inspecting the back of Evangeline's head.
"Hey," she said, trying to dodge him.
"Hold still. Just let me look."
The silken strands of her ebony tresses felt incredible beneath his fingertips. He sucked in air as he forced himself to concentrate. "So soft," he murmured.
"What?" she said, laughter softening her tone. "You think I have a soft head?"
"No." His responding laugh was born of embarrassment at having been caught. "No, your hair is soft and beautiful."
Her bare shoulders trembled. "Um...what about my head?" she asked in a husky voice.
Her prompt reminded him of his task. He parted her hair until he found the small bump. His finger gently rubbed the spot. Her responding shiver made him bite his lip. "Does that hurt?"
"Not really. It's not open or anything."
"No, but you should still get someone to look at it."
"Hey! Was anyone left at the church?" Marcie's brother, Ron asked. He stood at the window. A worried frown darkened his face.
"Why?" Marcie asked.
"There's not much left of it," Ron said. "If anyone was still there..."
"Where's John?" Michael asked.
Evangeline moved to her newly married friend's side. "The last time I saw him, he and Natalie were still in the sanctuary. Surely, they got out in time."
All the color drained from Michael's face. "What if they didn't?"
"I'll go look for them." Cristian gave Evangeline her phone back. "If you leave, call me. I need to know where you are."
To his surprise, she didn't argue. "I'll come with you—"
"No, it could be dangerous and you're not dressed for that." He briefly touched her face. "It might be better if you and Layla went home."
Cristian looked around. "Listen up! There may be people left at the church. It may take awhile for the search and rescue people to get here. I'm going over to see what I can do. If anyone's able to help, I'd appreciate the extra hands."
Father Gregory, Michael, Ron and others quickly stepped up. The hotel personnel provided blankets and flashlights. As soon as they organized their supplies, the impromptu rescue team headed to the church.
- - -
"Where are you?"
Layla sat on the hotel room floor with her back against the wall. A few minutes before the tornado came, she convinced Kevin to get a room and sleep off the agony. Without much convincing, he agreed but only if she'd come with him to talk some more. He was enjoying their conversation. Her philosophy on life gave him food for thought and kept his mind off things. At least that was his explanation and she accepted it.
"Layla!" Evangeline's voice screeched from the phone.
"I'm here, Vange," Layla said. "Tone it down. I'm okay. How are you?"
"I'm fine. I'm still at the reception or what's left of it. I thought you were here, too."
Layla sighed. "You heard me, but it's not what you think so get your head out of the gutter. I'm helping a friend."
"Do you need some help?" Evangeline asked.
"No, I have it covered. Go home. I'll meet you there soon."
"Are you sure? I don't feel right about leaving you."
"I'm fine, Vange. Honest."
The call ended. As Layla tucked her cell back inside her purse, she noticed movement on the bed. Kevin had risen to sit on the edge. He stared at her openly. Suddenly self-conscious, she smoothed her hair back to hide her discomfort. "You're okay, right?"
He nodded. "I'm fine. You rescued me in the nick of time."
"I wouldn't call it a rescue," she said. "Do you have your phone?"
He nodded toward his jacket draped across the back of a chair. "It should be in the inside pocket."
She rose from the floor and headed toward the chair. When she grabbed his jacket and reached inside, he said, "What are you doing?"
"Getting your phone. Don't you want to check on Duke and Kelly?"
He looked away from her to stare at his hands. His face tightened with anguish. "Would you think less of me if I couldn't give you a straight answer?"
"You're upset and that's understandable. No one's asking you to forgive anyone," she said softly. "If you want, I can call."
He waved his hand in acceptance. "Go ahead."
She used her phone to call Duke. The phone rang several times until his voicemail came on. She left a message.
"No answer, huh?" Kevin asked when silence filled the room. "I wonder what that means."
"It could mean nothing."
"Shit!" He stood and stormed across the room to his jacket. "That storm was pretty close. I can't sit here and not know if they're okay."
"I'll come with you."
"What about Evangeline?" he asked.
"She's fine. You're not. At least not totally." She shrugged. "Besides, I don't think you should look for them alone."
He frowned. "I'm not that drunk."
"You're not that sober either." She hooked her arm through his. "Don't argue. It only wastes time."
"I didn't know you were such a go-getter." Admiration flickered in his brown eyes.
"There are a lot of things you don't know about me."
"I like mysteries."
Her resolve cracked. A smile slipped out before she could stop it. Don't confuse the situation, she warned herself. Falling for another man in love with another woman wasn't smart. She might not be a genius like her sister, but she wasn't a moron either. She was only helping Kevin through a tough moment. Nothing more.