"We made it in time. We made it in time." Evangeline repeated the words under her breath like a mantra.
With a tight grip on Margaret's wrist, she led the way to the execution viewing room. Cristian and David Vickers were just a step or two behind. Layla opted to wait with Adriana in the crowd of onlookers.
Bo had left passes for them at the main gate. That one minor detail saved them time and she hoped saved Todd's life. When they arrived at the final corridor, she picked up speed.
"Slow down!" Margaret complained.
Evangeline didn't bother to give the other woman a response. They would slow down after Todd was set free and not a second before.
"Let us in," Evangeline said to the guard barring the door. "We have to get in now!"
"You're just in time. They're just now strapping him down." The guard opened the door.
Evangeline burst into the room with a shout.
"Stop! Margaret Cochran is alive!"
Pandemonium erupted in the viewing chamber. Bo approached her first and John was right on the Commissioner's heels. Evangeline heard their questions, but her eyes were on Todd. He lay secured to the table just like the guard described. Her heart lodged in her throat. If she had been another minute too late...
"They have to set him free now, Bo."
Viki shouted to the warden. Hugh stepped up. Evangeline felt Cristian's hand on her back. His breath fanned her cheek as whispered, "You did it, Tiger."
Pure adrenaline got Evangeline through the following, chaotic minutes. The media and the police came to her at once. Bo confronted the warden who called the governor. The man had no choice but to listen now. He quickly ordered for Todd's release. While the guards removed Todd's restraints, John placed handcuffs on Margaret, read her rights to her, and ordered her to be placed in custody. The strange woman's protests fell on deaf ears as Todd left the execution chamber and pushed through the crowd to Evangeline.
"When you didn't show, I thought you'd abandoned me."
He stared at her in utter disbelief. "I can't believe what just happened."
"She's alive, Todd," Evangeline said. "Now, everybody knows we were telling the truth. You're free now. Free!"
"I don't know what to say."
Cristian moved to stand beside her. His hand slid around her back to possessively rest at her waist. "How about thank you? That's a good place to start."
As if still in a trance, Todd nodded. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," she said.
"Todd, we have to go," Viki said, hooking her arm through his. "Starr is waiting outside. Bo asked one of the officers to bring her to a conference room. She'll be waiting for you there."
"I'll talk to you later," he said to Evangeline. "We'll talk soon."
"I know. Be with your family now."
With a dumbfounded expression still on his face, Todd let Viki guide him from the room. After awhile everyone filed out except the press. When they saw Evangeline still there, they swarmed on her like killer bees. Cristian straightened and tightened his grip on her.
"What do you want to do? Do you want to talk to them?"
She shook her head. "Not now. Not yet. I'm not ready."
"Let's go then."
- - -
Layla dropped Evangeline and Cristian at his loft and drove around Llanview without a destination in mind. After the wild frenzy at Lehigh Prison, she needed the relief of quiet solitude. Capricorn was too loud this time of night and the press was probably all over Evangeline's apartment complex. A few turns and a couple stoplights later, Layla arrived at the circular drive of Buchanan Enterprises. She sighed. Maybe her subconscious was wide awake after all. BE did appear the best solution.
Security waved at her as she flashed her badge and headed to the executive level elevators. The car's silent motor flew her straight to the thirty-fifth floor. She passed a sea of cubicles until she reached hers. She was just about to get comfortable at her desk when she noticed the light coming from Kevin's office.
His door suddenly opened and there he was. He smiled. "Hi."
"Hi. I-I hope this is okay. I just needed a place to chill out."
"It's fine. I'm sorry that BE is where you have to relax." He waved her inside. "Come in. It's a lot more comfortable in here."
She accepted his invitation. Apparently, he was taking a breather there, too. His television set was on the all news station and a can of Coke rested on his desk. A pizza with all the works took up the center. She gave him a questioning look.
"Are you camping out?"
"I was catching up on some things, turned on the news and saw that all hell had broken loose at the prison. Your sister definitely knows how to make an entrance." He waved toward the sofa. "Have a seat."
Layla smiled. "She does. I picked them up at the airport. The whole drive she kept yelling at me to speed up. When I saw Margaret, I almost lost it."
Kevin ran a hand over his face. "I can't believe it. She's pulled some crazy stunts before but this outshines everything else." He grabbed the pizza box and carried to the coffee table. "Have some. Would you like something to drink? My fridge is stocked with juice, water and soda. What's your pleasure?"
"Water. It's good for the skin."
His eyes locked on hers. "You have beautiful skin. It's so smooth and flawless."
His compliment floored her. She didn't know what to say or what to do.
"I probably shouldn't have said that," he murmured as he joined her on the sofa. "Duke warned me about you. He told me I'd hurt you and that I needed to stay away."
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him to mind his own business."
"But what if he's right?" Kevin asked in quiet voice. "Our relationship changed the night of the tornado. Neither of us can deny that. I'm noticing you in a different way and I want to get to know you better. I want you to know me."
"Hear me out," he calmly stated. "Just listen. I'm not offering or suggesting anything more than what's already happened. I know I'm not quite over Kelly, yet. I loved her for a very long time."
"I'm not good at rebound relationships," she said.
"Neither am I and that's not what I want. I'd like for us to keep getting to know each other without being afraid..."
"But?" she asked. "I sense a but in there somewhere."
"But I'd like to know why Duke cares so much. Is there more to your relationship than friendship?"
"That's all it is."
He nodded. "That clears it up for me. Now, it's your turn. Are you interested in what I'm offering and the potential of what could be?"
- - -
Cristian pulled the blanket over Evangeline's sleeping body and carefully crawled into bed beside her. The crazy adventure of the last few weeks left his body exhausted, but his mind wide awake.
He couldn't help but stare. The way her body sighed with her every breath enthralled him. He loved the way her full lips parted and the way she curved against the pillow...and him. He especially loved the way her body adapted to his. Even in slumber.
He rolled onto his side and gently slid his arm around her. As she molded her sleeping form against his, he reached for his sketch pad and focused on his beautiful subject.
A short while later, she woke with a start. "Where's David?"
He chuckled softly. "It's okay. He's in custody."
"Did you tell John?"
"No, I talked to Bo. I thought you'd want to talk to John. I told Bo that, too."
She brushed her hair from her eyes as she grinned at him. "You think of everything."
"I do my best." He caressed her cheek, enjoying the feel of her silken tresses on the back of his hand. "You didn't sleep long enough."
"I'm surprised I slept at all. I can't believe you let me. I dropped off in mid-conversation. Why didn't you wake me up?"
"And miss watching you sleep? Not a chance." He flipped the sketch pad closed and dropped it on the table behind the bed. "You're so angelic when you're asleep."
"As opposed to when I'm awake," she said with a smirk.
He laughed. "I never said that. Don't put words in my mouth when you have so many other delicious offerings."
Her mouth opened and he swooped in before a witty comeback came firing at him. Breathy sighs and labored breathing replaced their teasing conversation. His hands trailed down her body as she dug her fingers into his back. Their tongues collided and he reveled in how she tasted sweeter than the last time they kissed.
"Cris," she murmured. Her brown eyes radiated desire as she stared up at him. "You're so good to me."
"You deserve the best I have to offer." Leaning forward, he caressed her face. "Being good to you is second nature."
"Why?" She covered her eyes with her hands. "Why are you so good to me?"
"Why not?" He brushed her hands away and waited for her to look at him. "I'm not John, Evangeline. You'll never have to wonder where my heart is. It's with you. I'm falling in love with you and this is stronger than anything I've ever felt in my life."
She stared at him with star struck eyes. "I don't know what to say."
He smiled. "That's a first for an attorney."
"I'm not joking."
"I know you're not. I also know you're not sure what you feel for me—"
"I care about you," she declared as she sat up. "I wouldn't be in your bed if I didn't know that much."
"And I won't pressure you into knowing more."
She made a face, sighed and fell back onto the bed.
He threw up his hands. "What's wrong now?"
"Maybe I work best under pressure!"
"This isn't work!" He left the bed and started to pace. "I thought we settled this in Thailand."
"I thought we had, too." She moved into a sitting position. "Work has always been the priority in my life. Until John came along, I thought it always would. Then, all these emotions exploded inside me and I realized that life had so much more to offer...except John wasn't part of that offering."
"McBain's an idiot." Cris turned his back on her and moved to the window. The moon looked so perfect and full. A perfect looming circle in the dark sky. In some legends, it drove people mad. He wondered if it was having the same effect on them.
"I hate what he did to you," he said quietly. "I hate that he damaged your ability to trust and that you're now afraid to love. I wish I could get that back for you, but I can't. I don't know how."
He sensed her a second before she slipped her arms around him from behind. "You're already doing it, Cristian," she whispered as she kissed his back. "Will you do something for me?"
"Anything." He moved her hands to his chest and placed them over his thumping heart. "Anything at all."
"Will you be patient with me? Just a little while longer?"
He sighed. "I thought you were gonna ask for something hard. Come here."