Chapter 7

Kevin's arms felt warm and strong. The solid wall of his chest ignited dormant emotions inside Layla. The sudden onslaught of need welled in her chest. Fearful of wanting more than she should, she slowly ended their embrace.

Unshed tears glittered in his eyes. She ached to wipe them away but knew better. Instead, she folded her hands in her lap and leaned back against the hard, uncomfortable chair.

"I'm sorry." He rubbed his face with both hands. When he looked at her again, the tears were gone. "I just laid all that on you. I feel like I'm taking advantage."

"You're not." Instinctively, she reached out and patted his hand.

He held on tight. "I can't get over how strong you are."

"You're strong, too."

"Not lately," he confessed. "I drink too much."

"What are you going to do about it?"

Surprise registered on his face. "What do you mean?"

"You can't solve your problems in a bottle. I've worked in enough bars to know that only creates more problems. You're too smart for that, Kevin."

"I know half a dozen people who'd disagree with you," he argued.

"They're wrong," she said. "Every last one of them."

He looked down at their joined hands. "You're being too kind."

"I'm only telling the truth."

Silence fell upon them and Layla wondered if she'd said too much. The words had been on her mind for weeks. Every day, she saw Duke and Kelly become closer...too close. She knew that pain drove Kevin from the two people he loved the most and she wondered why neither of them understood that. So many times, she caught Duke and Kelly in compromising positions at work. Their tones were hushed but their eyes spoke volumes. Layla hoped they'd stop before it was too late and now, it was. Her biggest fear was that Kevin would lose himself in the fallout.

"I wish your version of the truth matched mine."

"Kevin, I've been looking for you." His mother rounded the corner. The look she gave their joined hands didn't go unnoticed by Layla. "What are you doing?"

"Waiting," Kevin said. "How's Natalie?"

"She's doing better. I think she'll be released in the morning." Viki moved between him and Layla. She placed her hand on his shoulder as she looked at Layla. "Thank you for sitting with him. I'll take over now."

Layla flinched. The cutting remark reminded Layla of Natalie's caustic mouth. She considered the temptation to snap back but thought better of it. Maybe the older woman was tired and worried and hadn't meant to be rude.

"Mom." Kevin stood and circled his mother to stand by Layla. "She's my friend. She hasn't been with me because she works at BE. Don't treat her like an employee."

"I didn't meanó"

Layla quickly rose from the chair as she spoke. "I know you didn't," she lied. "It's fine. Family is important right now." She gave them both a polite smile. "I'll be praying for Duke."

"You don't have to leave," Kevin said.

"I know I don't. I'll talk to you later. When Duke comes out of surgery, let him know I'm praying for him."

"I will."

Layla stepped toward the elevator. Kevin stopped her before she moved too far. He took her hand and gently pulled her into a hug. He whispered against her ear, "Thank you for everything."

- - -

"It's not the Ritz Carlton."

Evangeline's assessment made Cristian smile. When the desk clerk offered them the last room with only a double bed, he thought Evangeline would raise the roof. To his surprise, she accepted the room. The space was comfortable. Not too roomy and not too tight. Tropical plants stood in every corner of the room. A fairly long sofa claimed the wall opposite the bed. He dropped his bag on the couch and placed hers on the bed.

"This place has character," he joked. "Actually, it's not too bad. Will you be okay?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" She opened her luggage and methodically removed her clothes and shook out the wrinkles.

"We're sharing a room."

"I think I can handle it," she said. "If you don't mind, I'll shower first. We should try to get some rest. We have a big day tomorrow."

"Yeah," he murmured. "A big day. No, go ahead. Go first. I'll be fine."

She took a few things from her bag and then hurried into the bathroom. The door slammed behind her and he could swear he heard the click of a lock. He laughed as he reached for the remote control.

Sure, you can handle it, Evangeline, he thought. Yeah right.

He called the desk clerk and asked for an extra set of bedding and pillows. The sofa would have to make do. Besides, the flight around the world wiped him out. The sofa's lumpiness wouldn't stop him from sleeping. He learned how to make do with his environment while in prison. And if he had to compare this Bangkok hotel with his Statesville prison cell, this place won hands down.

A bellhop quickly answered Cristian's request. He tipped the guy in American currency and thanked him. While he transformed the sofa into a bed, the bathroom door creaked open. The fresh scent of Evangeline's soap and lotion infused his senses. He drew in a deep breath and counted to ten before turning around.

"Te quiero.".

Her brows drew together in a frown that failed to mar her beauty. The shimmering pink pajamas were enticingly seductive on her curvaceous frame. The bottoms stopped mid thigh and he flexed his hands in anticipation of stroking her supple flesh.

"What did you say?"

His perusal came to a premature end. He met her stare and smiled. "I said you're beautiful."

"I know some Spanish," she said. "That didn't sound like beautiful."

The heat of a blush filled his cheeks. "It's what I meant."

He grabbed his bag and headed to the bathroom. "My turn."

He moved quickly before his mouth did any more damage. Of course, Evangeline knew Spanish! How could he forget? She already apologized to him in his native language just a short while ago. Letting it slip how much he wanted her in any language was not a wise move, but damn if he could pretend any more. That kiss sealed it for him. He wanted her bad and even a cold shower in a foreign hotel couldn't wash that need off him.

- - -

"I called my investigator in the States," Evangeline said when she heard the bathroom door open. "He said that judging by the cell phone GTS, David is still here and maybe not too far from this hotel."

"That's great." Cristian's voice sounded weary and very unlike him.

Frowning, she looked up and immediately wished she'd prepared herself for the sight of him in a pair of short, navy pajama bottoms and a matching robe that emphasized the width of his chest instead of covered it.

"What's wrong?" she asked in a choked voice.

"Nothing." He dropped his bag on the floor and took measured steps to the bed. When he reached it, he sat and rested his hand just inches from her thigh.

The heat of his body spread through the thin cotton sheets and scorched her from head to toe. Never once did she consider moving away.

"What are you doing?"

"If you keep talking about Vickers, you'll be too wound to sleep. You need to relax." He inched closer. "Roll onto your stomach."

"For what?"

"A massage...unless you prefer frontal. Funny, those never seem to relax me."

"I don't think this is a good idea."

"That's the problem," he said, taking her cell phone and moving it out of reach. "Sometimes you think too much."

"But a massage?"

"That's all I'm offering," he said. "Believe me, I'd love to offer more, but I'm a patient man. At least, I'm trying to be. Roll over on your stomach. By the time I'm done, you'll be fast asleep."

"I doubt it," she mumbled. His responding grin made her stomach flip flop. Without further delay, she followed his bidding. In seconds, his hands rested on her shoulders, masterfully kneading her tired flesh. Nervous tension seeped from her muscles and a different kind of tension replaced it. She released a low moan from the pit of her stomach. Her fingers dug into the pillows for support. His hands were absolutely amazing.

"How's that?" "Wonderful." She bit her lip to keep from moaning again. A burning ache formed between her thighs. She pressed her legs together in an attempt to ease the discomfort.

The bed shifted as he brought his full weight onto the mattress. She glanced out the corner of her eye and saw the muscles in his massive thighs contract. Her mouth went dry as she imagined running her hands over his hard body.

Hard.

Damn. That single word drove her insane with desire.

"Are you okay?" he asked. "Your legs keep moving. Am I hurting you?"

"No," she croaked. "It feels good."

"So you don't want me to stop."

"Heavens, no!"

His chuckle was sexy and loaded with innuendo.

"I like touching you." He lowered himself to his side until he rested prone beside her. One hand continue to stroke her back while the other touched her face. Their eyes locked. "Just as much as I like kissing you. May I?"

She nodded even though they both knew his question needed no answer. The first taste of his lips sealed her fate and promised that sleep wouldn't come until after their mutual desires were satisfied.

[To be continued in an email only chapter. If you'd like to read it, let me know. Thanks!]

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