Kevin slowly released the comforting touch of Layla's hands and turned to face the officer. "Yes? Did you find them?"
The officer shook his head. "I'm not sure. An unidentified couple was taken to the hospital."
"What condition were they in?" That sickening sensation returned to the pit of Kevin's stomach.
"They were unconscious. The rescue team found them underneath the rubble in the rectory—"
"In the rectory?" Kevin ran a hand over his face. The memory of pulling his engagement ring from Kelly's hand burned fresh in his mind. He had slammed out of the rectory with the conviction that he was slamming her out of his life. He ordered her to make a child with his son. And now they'd been found together. Was Fate mocking him?
Layla clutched his upper arm. "What is it?"
"I know it's them," he said quietly. He took her hand. "Will you come with me to the hospital?"
"Yeah. Of course."
Kevin's hands shook as he pulled his car keys from his pocket. She gently took the keys from him. "I'll drive."
- - -
Silence stretched like an invisible cord between them. The look on Evangeline's face when Cristian mentioned John's condition filled with unjustified anguish. Before he could think twice, the question came rushing out. Cristian instantly regretted the accusation. He had no right to ask, yet, he desperately needed to know. Was Evangeline still in love with McBain?
"How can you ask me that when you're still in love with Natalie?"
The undercurrent of venom in her voice surprised him. Cristian's first reaction was to lash back with denial. But once again, the look on the attorney's beautiful face forced him to look below the surface. Was that jealousy flashing in her bright eyes? Was he wrong to hope that the green-eyed monster caused her to go on the defensive?
"I told you that Natalie and I are over."
A glimmer of hurt flashed across her face. "That's what you said, but that didn't stop you from kissing her."
"I explained that!" He folded his arms across his chest. "We were saying goodbye."
"With a long, deep kiss."
"It wasn't long and it wasn't deep."
She rolled her eyes. "That's not how it looked from where I was standing."
"You were either too far away to see it clearly or you don't know what a long, deep kiss looks like."
She jutted her chin in that defensive gesture he found so adorable. "I know about long, deep kisses."
"Oh, yeah?" He couldn't resist throwing the challenge out there.
"Hmpfh." He shrugged. "Sure, Evangeline, whatever you say."
"I'm a great kisser."
With great strength, he resisted the urge to smile. "I guess I'll just have to take your word for that."
"You don't have to—"
His eyes widened just as her mouth snapped shut. Too late. The invitation sounded like music to his ears. Without missing a beat, he closed the distance between them. He wound one arm around her back while he placed his other hand against her cheek. Like a moth to flame, his mouth claimed hers.
Long and deep, the kiss unlocked his heart and soul. He'd lived an entire lifetime and had never felt anything like this. The taste of Evangeline's soft mouth was sweet nectar and he was a man, dying of thirst. When she pressed against him, eagerly returning his embrace, his heart pounded his chest. The erratic beat of passion thudded wildly in his veins. He never wanted a woman as much as he wanted her.
Yet, this wasn't the right time. Neither of them was truly ready for the powerful hunger that burned in their kiss. A loud voice in the back of his head nagged the warning that he had no choice but to heed. Slowly, he dragged his mouth from hers. Her responding low moan of disappointment nearly undid him. He closed his eyes and rested his forehead on hers.
Their ragged breaths echoed in the stillness of the room. After awhile, their breathing returned to normal. She edged out of his arms and turned her back to him. Once again silence descended upon them. He held his breath, waiting for her to order him from her home and out of her life.
"Wow." She slowly turned to face him. "I...um..." She touched her mouth as she met his stare. "You didn't kiss Natalie like that."
"No," he said, his voice hoarse with desire. "I've never kissed her like that."
"Cristian." She placed her hand over her heart. "I don't know what to say."
He gave her a faint smile. "That's gotta be a first."
Her soft laughter relaxed them both. "Probably."
"You don't have to say anything."
She frowned. "But there's this...thing..."
"We both feel it," he said quietly. "We don't have to analyze it to death and back."
"But doesn't this feel awkward? Even a little bit?"
"No." He shrugged. "I enjoyed kissing you. It felt like you enjoyed it, too."
"I did." She quickly covered her mouth. "I can't believe I said that out loud."
He grinned. "Honesty is always the best policy."
"Yes, it is." She moved to her chair and sat on the ottoman. "Since we're being honest, I should just say what's on my mind."
"This won't be a first, Evangeline." He sat on the floor at her feet. "We're attracted to each other. I don't see why either of us should feel awkward about that."
"What about our exes?"
"What about them?" His voice hardened with intensity. "Natalie doesn't run my life and you shouldn't let John run yours. They've moved on and there's no reason why we shouldn't."
"Together?" She shook her head. "With each other? What will people think—"
"I don't give a damn what anyone thinks. Other people aren't on my mind when I'm with you. I care about you, Evangeline. You once accused me of dangling you like a biscuit in front of Natalie to make her jealous. That wasn't true then and it isn't now. I've never lived my life concerned about what others think. What happens between you and me stays between you and me. Natalie and McBain have nothing to do with us."
"Us," she whispered, almost longingly. "You say that with such finality."
"I'm not about to assume anything. I can't make you want to be with me or even admit to it. Hell, I'm not even sure what's going on inside of me. All I know is, you're important to me. I like seeing you smile and hearing you laugh and knowing that I caused it. I want to keep you safe even if it means risking our friendship by carrying you over my shoulder like a sack of flour." He paused as she laughed softly. "I'll do anything to help you because I can't imagine doing nothing. I care about you because of the woman you are. What I feel has nothing to do with Natalie or John, but you, Evangeline Williamson. It's all about you."
"Wow," she murmured.
"It's a lot." He took her hand and raised it to his lips. "You've been through a lot today, and maybe I just added more to your full plate." He stood and headed to the door. "Take care of yourself, okay?"
"Where are you going?" She followed him to the door. "You tell me all that and then you leave?"
"You need to digest it and so do I." He wrapped his arms around her in a hug that ended too quickly for his taste. "Have a good night. If you need anything, just call, okay?"
She nodded. "Okay."
- - -
"Your son is in surgery. Dr. Truman had no choice but to operate without your consent."
Layla watched Kevin's reaction as Michael explained the situation. She knew that he hadn't delivered his bombshell, yet. The doctor's tone warned that something bad had already happened. Instinctively, she took Kevin's hand. He roared like a lion when angry, but underneath that loud exterior lived a man who followed his heart more than he wanted others to know.
"What about Kelly? Was she brought in, too?"
Michael nodded. His complexion visibly paled. He straightened his shoulders and looked Kevin in the eyes. "Her heart stopped. We tried to resuscitate but our efforts... I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Kelly Cramer died soon after she was brought into the ER."
"Oh, my God." Kevin rubbed his hands over his face. "Why? Why couldn't you save her?"
"Her injuries were too extensive. The roof collapsed on them and left them with severe internal injuries. Duke's age and physical health rendered him a little stronger and better able to handle the damage to his body."
Kevin shook his head. "I don't understand any of this."
"Father Gregory is also the hospital's chaplain. I can have him paged—"
"I don't want to talk to him. I can't hear him tell me this was God's will." Kevin walked away.
"How long will Duke be in surgery?" Layla asked.
"It's a five hour surgery," Michael explained.
"Is there anywhere we can wait? In private?" She glanced at Kevin. He looked on the verge of collapse. "It's so busy out here."
"The staff lounge is at the end of the hall. It won't be a problem if you sit there for awhile."
Layla nodded. "Thanks."
Michael spoke quietly so that only she heard him. "His parents are here. I can have them paged to meet you there."
"Thanks again," she said. "He shouldn't be alone right now."
"Losing a loved one is hard."
She remembered the pain of her father's death. While she wasn't the apple of his eye like Evangeline, he loved her dearly and she him. "Hard doesn't quite define it. I'll stay with him until they come."
Michael moved on to the next patient and Layla went to Kevin. She took his arm and led him inside the empty lounge. In the quiet solitude, Kevin buried his face in his hands and cried. Knowing words of comfort wouldn't help, Layla sat beside him and rubbed his back in gentle strokes. Tears of sympathy flowed unchecked down her cheeks.