Evangeline left Statesville Prison in a flurry of emotion. Anger filled a large percentage of the energy that fueled her flight back to Llanview. Cristian had no business behind bars! Yes, Tico Santi was dead and although Cristian confessed to pulling the plug on his sadistic cousin, Evangeline harbored many doubts as to his guilt.
If her doubts proved to be illogical, there was still the point of Cristian not being in his right mind at the time of the death. Some bastard—most likely Carlo Hessler—brainwashed him, programming him to go after family and foe. And worst of all John knew that. How could he ignore everything his profession as lawman demanded of him? Was having Natalie in his bed worth a man's life and John's own sense of decency?
"Damn you, John," she muttered under her breath as she swerved into the far left lane.
What gave him the right to play Russian Roulette with Cristian Vega's life? Hadn't Cristian already given enough? Taken from his family and imprisoned on a slave ship were more than enough hardships to last anyone a lifetime. Then, when he could finally reclaim his life, everything fell apart. Cristian questioned her dedication to his cause, wondering if she wanted John back. Nothing could be further from the truth. The John McBain she invited into her bed, life and heart was an illusion. The real John was ruthless. Just thinking how deeply she once craved his love sickened her. Tears blurred her vision. How could she have been so stupid?
A honking horn prevented any more questions from entering her mind. She quickly diverted her attention back to the interstate. Three large, black Suburbans blocked her on all sides. Cristian's warning about Carlo coming after her echoed inside her head. Fear gripped her as her hands tightened around the steering wheel. Her heart thudded wildly in her chest. The cars could all be a strange coincidence.
Knowing that outrunning them was impossible, Evangeline searched her mind for another alternative.
Courage flopped to the pit of her belly. It sat heavy and full, like a dead weight. Come on, Williamson, she thought, you can do this!
Dear God, she needed help. But who? John came to mind, but after being left at the stake while he saved Natalie first, she realized he couldn't be trusted to save her. There had to be someone else.
Slowly, she uncurled her right hand from the steering wheel and reached for her cell phone. Maintaining a high speed while searching through her digital phone book proved to be a nerve-wrecking task. Twice, she accidentally dialed her beautician before finally connecting with the right "B."
"Hey, Cookie. This is a nice surprise."
"Kevin—" The SUV in front of her suddenly dropped speed. She swerved into the emergency lane to avoid a collision. "Shit!"
"Evangeline!" The teasing tone left Kevin's voice. "What is it? Where are you?"
"I'm about thirty miles outside Llanview and I need help. I was trying to call your uncle."
"You have me. Tell me what's happening."
"There are three large SUVs all around me. I'm in the emergency lane. They won't let me back in. I'm a good driver, but I don't know about this. What should I do?"
"Keep driving," he advised. "I'll get my security team on it and I'll call, Bo."
"Thank you," she whispered.
"Don't hang up! I'm staying with you until you're on solid ground."
"Kevin, I'm scared." She hated admitting the truth. The words just came tumbling out. There was no stopping them once she realized Kevin could be trusted.
"I know, Cookie," he said gently. "You'll be safe soon. I'll see to it."
She breathed a small sigh of relief. "Thanks, Cupcake."
The meeting with Evangeline left Cristian restless. Exercising within the small confines of his cell only took a small edge off. Sit-ups and push-ups only exerted his body. He needed something to calm his racing thoughts and keep him mentally prepared for further attacks from Hessler.
After toweling off and changing into a fresh t-shirt, he walked the space beside the wall of iron bars. The cell block was quiet, echoing with an eerie silence. But that was deceptive. They were out there, watching and waiting for their next chance to control him or kill him. Whichever benefited them most.
That thought brought his movement to a standstill. He couldn't stomach the idea of his fate being in someone else's hands. Not any more. Not ever again.
He glanced around his cell. Because of a sadistic twist of fate, this was his home. He even had his art supplies to round out the picture.
Soon after his confinement, he painted a portrait of Natalie in her wedding dress. Back then, he still believed in her and in their love. Hell, he sold his freedom because of his devotion to her. Always, a voice in his head nagged at him. If she loved him half as much, she would have known him. His smell...his taste...his touch. She wouldn't have doubted his identity. She wouldn't have turned her back on him. But she did. So maybe she didn't love him after all. Maybe she never had.
In a sudden fit of temper, he snatched the painting. His fingers dug into the canvas. He almost ripped it into pieces. For some reason, he stopped. Unwilling to look at her for another moment, he tossed the painting aside.
"No more," he whispered. The world was full of other things to recreate with pencil and paper. He grabbed a sketchpad and a piece of charcoal. Sidestepping the turned down portrait, he returned to his cot.
After a few minutes of staring at the blank page, his fingers began to move. Two expressive doe-like eyes appeared first. Then, a small slanted nose over a pair of full, sensuous lips. Shadows created the hint of cheekbones. By the time dark waves of hair framed the beautiful face, he recognized his subject—Evangeline Williamson.
Hessler stood on the other side of the cell. His cart of books rested beside him. The criminal mastermind abandoned the literature in favor of taunting Cristian. "You're healing nicely."
"No thanks to you."
"Me?" Hessler smirked. "You can't blame me if you decided to give up."
"Right." Cristian set the sketch of Evangeline on his cot and sauntered to the bars. He briefly pondered reaching through and grabbing Hessler by the neck.
The other man stepped back. "That would be ill-advised."
"Attacking me," Hessler said. "You remember what happened the last time. Now, there's more than you at stake."
Cristian's eyes narrowed into slits. "What do you mean?"
"Doe!" The outer cell door widened as a guard stepped through. He pushed Hessler aside. "You’re not assigned here. Get moving."
Cristian watched in surprise as Hessler gave the guard a cold look, but silently followed the man's bidding. What the hell?
"Doe, you have a visitor." The guard put a key in the hole. "Step back."
Cristian obeyed with hesitation. "Who is it?"