"Did you hear how they were found?"
"Butt naked and arms wrapped around each other," the nurse snickered to the EMT. "A tornado's raging outside, but the Buchanans find time to stop and screw. Unbelievable."
"That's not the worse," the EMT added. "She was his dad's ex-wife and current girlfriend. I heard they were engaged to be married."
The nurse stopped laughing long enough to gasp. "How do the people in the big house raise their kids? I wouldn't be able to forgive my kid for that."
Layla and Kevin caught the tail end of the conversation as they returned from getting coffee. She felt him tense and saw his eyes darken.
"Kevin, no!" She dropped her coffee to wrap both hands around his arm. "Don't Kevin, please! You don't want to do this."
Color drained from the faces of the nurse and the EMT. They mouthed an apology before quickly vacating the scene. Kevin moved to go after them, but Layla used all her body weight to keep him in place.
"Let me go," he said through clenched teeth.
"Will you stay here with me?"
Tears filled his eyes. "They were lying, Layla! You heard them. I can't let them get away with that...that lie." He drew a harsh breath and sighed. "What if they weren't lying? What if...What if Kelly and my son...? My God, I can't even say it." He trudged to the guest chairs and dropped onto one.
Layla claimed the seat beside him. She gently stroked his hand. "You can't think about that now. We have to keep praying for Duke, okay?"
"Okay." He used his other hand to rub his face. "I don't know what I'd do without you tonight, Layla. I don't deserve this."
"Don't say that. No one should be alone at a time like this."
No sooner than the words left her mouth, he was in her arms. Or she in his. Closing her eyes, she stroked his back and whispered soothing words to him. She did for him what she wished someone had done for her when her father died.
- - -
Everything seemed to move in superspeed. After packing a bag and getting their tickets, Evangeline stopped by Statesville to let Todd know her plan. Desperation showed in the fresh lines on his face and the worry in his eyes. She believed in his innocence with her whole heart. Why didn't the others see? The meeting ended with him wishing her success. He didn't waste time reminding her that his numbered days were quickly decreasing. By the time she met Cristian at the airport, adrenaline and exhaustion were fighting a vicious battle inside her.
"I'll take that." He shouldered her bag and fell into step behind her as they found their seats.
While he stuffed their luggage in the overhead compartment, she claimed the window seat. The worn cushions soothed her tired body. Cristian folded his long, muscular frame onto the aisle seat. She felt the heat of his eyes staring at her every move as if he was committing everything to memory. Almost like how she still felt the warmth of his mouth long after their kiss ended.
"No," she whispered her breath. She refused to be sidetracked.
"No what?" He plucked her research folder from her lap. "The flight is long. Give yourself a break."
"I'll take a break when Todd is free." She reached for the folder, but he moved it out of her reach. She wasn't in the mood for games. "Cristian!"
"Evangeline!" he whispered her name with the same intensity. "I'm serious. The plane hasn't even taken off and you're itching to bury your head in notes. Relax. You're allowed."
She shook her head. "You don't understand. He'll be dead in a matter of days. I must do everything I can to stop it. I can't get over the feeling that I missed something."
He placed the folder on her lap, put her hand on top and rested his hand on hers. Leaning in close, he said, "Get over it. Give yourself a break. Stop running so fast that you lose sight of yourself. You're no good for Todd like that."
She tried valiantly to ignore the heat sizzling from his large hand and rippling through her to focus on his words. "Okay, so what do you propose I do while we cross the Atlantic?"
"I brought a deck of cards." Smiling, he pointed to the outside pocket on his jacket. "You could rest your head on my shoulder and get some sleep. Or you could finally acknowledge what's happening between us."
She pulled her hand free and shrank back against her seat. She should have expected him to blindside her. "Cristian..."
"Dios mio," he murmured. "I love the way you say my name. I've never heard it said quite like that before."
She shook her head and remained silent.
"You're terrified of this, aren't you? A little fear is healthy, but you don't have to be scared of me. I'm not John."
"Don't bring John into this," she snapped.
"But he's here. Coming between us because you're afraid of getting hurt like that again. I understand that, but you don't strike me as a woman afraid to face her fears and take risks."
"You make it sound like a gameó"
"No, this is serious. I'm dead serious about what you mean to me. I know I can't ease your fears with words. I'll show you and one day, you'll believe me." He cupped his hand against her face and gently cradled her head onto his shoulder. "Rest now. We have a big day ahead of us."