Chapter 5

"Hey, Vange—"

Evangeline bolted upright as she pressed the phone against her ear. "Where are you? I left a million messages on your cell phone."

"I know," Layla said. "I just deleted over half of them. I'm at the hospital with Kevin. Duke's been in surgery, and..."

The sadness in her sister's voice raised the hairs on the back of Evangeline's neck. The tornado left a lot of tragedy in its wake. Llanview would need awhile to recover. "What is it?"

"Kelly is dead."

"Oh, my." Evangeline ran a hand through her hair. "How's Kevin?"

"He's focusing on Duke, but I know he's hurting. He ended his engagement with Kelly a little before the storm hit. I'm not sure if he's angry with himself or not."

"You don't sound too great yourself," she said. "Why don't you come home?"

"I'm not ready to," Layla said. "Kevin needs me. I'll be home in a little while. I promise."

"Sure you will."

After the call ended, Evangeline wasted no time in bathing and getting dressed. Despite what Layla said, Evangeline didn't trust her sister to come home. Something about Layla's tone of voice reawakened the sadness of suddenly losing their father. Evangeline couldn't ignore the feeling that her younger sister needed her.

On a whim, Evangeline stuffed her research into her purse and headed out the door. Focusing on Layla should get her mind off Cristian Vega. Thoughts of the sexy artist's passionate kiss kept her up most of the night. She had to get her brain back on track. Todd needed her to save him from execution.

She punched in the number to her private investigator as she steered her car toward the hospital.

"Hunt Investigations."

"Hi, Carole, is Jude there?"

"Hi, Evangeline. He's here. Hold on."

Evangeline paused at stop light while she waited for Jude to come on the line. He was the best investigator on the East Coast. She had faith in his abilities and knew that the only reason he hadn't uncovered the truth about Margaret's death was because Spencer covered his tracks. But the surgeon was too cocky. He messed up somewhere along the lines. That would be the key to set Todd free.

"Ms. Williamson, I'm glad to hear you're safe and sound," Jude's Southern drawl rolled with smooth undertones. "What can I do for you?"

"Did you suffer any damage from the tornado?" she asked.

"Nothing my insurance can't cover," he said. "Enough about me. What's going on?"

"I need you to locate David Vickers."

"The former editor of Crave?"

"That's him," Evangeline said. "No one's seen him in days and I can't get him to return my calls."

"I'll find him," Jude assured her. "Anything else?"

"Hold that thought and I'll get back to you," she said.

He laughed. "I know you will. I'll call you in a few days if not sooner."

Their called ended just as she found a parking space near the hospital's entrance. She tucked her phone inside her pocket, grabbed her briefcase and jogged inside.

Locating Layla was easy. Her sister stood watch over Kevin like an angel, protecting her charge. Evangeline stood back and stared at her younger sibling in awe. When had Layla become a woman? Sure, she knew about her younger sister's many exploits, but all of that tapped into Layla's wild, adventurous side. The poised young woman who listened calmly as Kevin spoke to her was not the little sister Evangeline remembered. Amazing.

Heels tapping on the linoleum floor signaled Evangeline's arrival. Layla and Kevin acknowledged her with a faint smile.

"Hi, Evangeline," Kevin said in a hoarse voice. "I'm glad to see you're okay."

"Thanks. I'm sorry about Kelly. How's Duke?"

"He's in recovery," he said. "Spencer says I can see him in an hour."

Layla stood and went to Evangeline. "You didn't have to come."

"I know that now." She squeezed her sister's shoulder. "How are you?"

"I'm doing okay. Kevin's parents are with Jessica...or is it Tess? They should be back soon. I don't want to leave him until they return."

"Of course not. I can give you a ride home whenever."

"Thanks." Layla pointed at Evangeline's briefcase. "You brought work with you?"

"Actually, I wanted to visit John for a minute. He was hurt last night."

Layla shook her head. "Vange, he's not worth your time."

"Don't start. We're friends now. That's it."

"I hope you're right about that."

Remembering the sweetness of Cristian's lips, she pressed a finger to her mouth and nodded. "I am."

- - -

"I guess I should thank you." Natalie's cheeks reddened to almost the same shade of her hair. The hospital's glaring fluorescent lights cast an unhealthy glow to the rest of her face.

Cristian understood that showing gratitude to him went against everything inside her. Maybe if another person had found her and McBain in the church's remains, her gracious side wouldn't fight to reveal itself. But heaven help her when it came to him.

"If it hurts, don't do it," he said with a small trace of humor. "Seriously, you don't have to thank me. It's not necessary."

She nodded. "You just let everything roll off your back, don't you?"

"Keeping things in isn't healthy," he said. "If that's the way you want to live your life, that's your business. I'm just glad that we found you and you're okay." He moved to the door and opened it. "Take care of yourself."

"Thanks, Cristian." The softly whispered words carried to him as he stepped into the hallway.

He breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God that chapter of his life was over. Of course, a part of him would always care about her, but Natalie wasn't the woman he spent half the night thinking about and the other half dreaming of. Evangeline Williamson consumed him. Her beauty inspired him to sketch countless drawings of her. Her tenacity and intelligence roused his senses. Watching her get wound up made him want to unravel her mysteries and awaken her passions. Kissing her had been a moment of pure ecstasy. His lips burned with the desire to taste her again.

And then, there she was. "Evangeline! Hi."

"Hi, Cristian." She nodded toward the room behind him. "How's Natalie?"

"She's healing." He frowned. "What are you doing here? Was Layla injured?"

"Layla's fine. She's downstairs with Kevin. John's room is right there." She pointed to the door across the hall.

"Oh." Cristian hoped his disappointment didn't show in his voice.

"Are you busy?" she asked.

"Me?" He pointed to his chest. "Um, no. Not really. Why?"

"Remember when you said you'd help me."

Cristian nodded. "Yep. I meant it, too. What do you need?"

She pulled out the printout of Spencer and Paige's wedding announcement. "I brought this with me to show John. Now, I'm not so sure. His father's death has haunted him for years. If I show him this... God, I hate keeping this from him, but David could be the key to Todd's exoneration. I know he knows what Spencer did to Margaret. I can feel it."

He took her hand. "Tell me what you need and I'll do it. Do you want me to go with you to talk to John?"

She looked down at their joined hands. A faint smile curved her sensual mouth. "Yes, but not right now. My private investigator found David."

"Yeah? Where is he?"

"That's the thing. He's in Bangkok."

"What's your plan of action?" he asked.

"I'm going to get him, but I'm not sure he'll come willingly. Would you like to come with me?"

"You'd have to tie me up to keep me away," Cristian said. He nodded toward John's room. "What about McBain? Are we talking to him now or later?"

"John's a loose cannon," she said softly. "I can't risk him exploding and costing Todd his life. We'll talk to John later."

"That's a good plan," he agreed. "When do we leave?"

"How soon can you get a passport?"

"Give me an hour."

"I'll book us on the next flight."

Chapter 6