Part 4

Cristian returned from his meeting with Natalie a man more committed than ever to being released.

She was nothing like the woman he married and promised to love him for better or worse. This woman was a cold, heartless stranger. Since the memories returned, he couldn't stop wondering why she didn't recognize him. Why was it so easy for her to believe him an impostor? His love meant nothing and now his love was no longer there.

Once inside his cell, he stared at his many drawings of her. Before, his heart soared with every stroke of the pencil. Now, bile rose in his throat. How could he have been so stupid and naïve? He surrendered his freedom to preserve his family.

She didn't deserve that sacrifice.

He ripped each drawing from the wall. Totally clear headed, he tore the papers into shreds before dropping each scrap into the toilet and flushing his past into oblivion. Relief went through him. His knees buckled and he fell onto the cot.

"It's done," he whispered.

Applause echoed within the cement covered walls. He looked over and saw Hessler staring back at him. A victorious gleam lit up the other man's eyes. Cris recoiled from that look. Instinctively, he knew something horrible had happened.

"What have you done?" he asked, rushing to his feet. His hands gripped the iron bars. He'd give anything to wrap his hands around the grinning fool's neck.

"What can I do inside Statesville Prison?" Carlo taunted. "I'm a caged jailbird just like you. We're powerless within this prison, aren't we?"

"You've done something." A sickening sensation hit Cristian's midsection. "Tell me."

"I warned you. That should have been enough."

A guard appeared. He frowned at Hessler and said, "Move on or you're on kitchen detail."

Hessler didn't argue. He looked at Cristian. "It's already too late, anyway."

"Go!" The guard removed his baton and waved it in a threatening gesture.

Hessler moved down to the next cell. Once he was out of earshot, the guard unlocked Cristian's cell. "Come on."

"Where?" Cristian followed the guard down the hall.

The guard didn't answer. He led Cris to a long hallway that ended with a locked door. Cris footsteps slowed. What if more of Hessler's goons were on the other side? Could he take them on? Now that he'd awakened from a stupor of obligation, he'd fight like hell to be free. He refused to let anyone control him ever again.

The guard unlocked the door and waved Cris across the threshold. To his surprise, Bo Buchanan waited on the other side.

"Bo. What are you doing here?"

"To talk to you." The police commissioner looked at the guard. "I need to speak to him alone. The warden said we'd have a conference room."

The guard nodded. He unlocked a door and flipped the light switch. "I'll be right outside the door."

Bo walked ahead of Cristian into the room. Cris could tell by the older man's tense stance that something was wrong. He waited until the door was closed before he asked.

"What's going on? Why are you here?"

"Are you Cristian Vega?" Bo asked without hesitation. "Don't lie."

Cris returned his stare without flinching. "I won't. I'm Cristian. How did you find out?"

"Did you hire Evangeline to represent you?"

Cris's eyes narrowed. The tension in his gut worsened. "Since you're here, you already know the answer to that... Wait a minute. Carlo said... Evangeline! How is she?"

"She was almost killed a few hours ago."

Cris's jaw dropped. "No! Was she hurt?"

"They scared her, but physically, she's fine. I have a police officer watching her."

Dios mio." Cris began to pace the floor. "That's good. I warned her about him. Are you sure she's okay?"

"I just left her. She's shaken, but Evangeline's a fighter. She's concerned about you. She thinks Hessler will come after you, too."

"He has before." He pointed to the cuts and bruises on his face. "He's the reason why I didn't know myself."

"You had no idea you were really Cristian. When did you remember?"

"The day I came here. The memories just came back. I didn't know anything while I was in Llanview."

"I want to believe you."

"I don't have a reason to lie," Cristian said. "Evangeline wants to set things right. So do I."

"Why now?"

"Why not? I kept quiet because I didn't want my family to mourn for me. I didn't want to hurt them any more than I had," Cris explained, "but I'm tired of making those kinds of sacrifices. It's time for the truth to be known. I can't let Hessler get away with destroying my life...trying to destroy my life."

Bo rubbed his chin thoughtfully. The silence in the room became heavy and thick. The quiet unnerved Cris. Then, Bo said, "I told Evangeline I'd help you."

"Will you?"

Bo glanced toward the closed door. "I have to get you out of here."

"How? You don't have any jurisdiction here."

"I don't know how."

- - -

After a long bubble bath, Evangeline dressed in the silk pajama set Kevin asked Renee to buy for her. If his step-grandmother wondered about Evangeline's presence there, she gave no indication. A few twinges of embarrassment skittered inside Evangeline's stomach. She had nothing to be embarrassed about. Kevin was a good friend. His willingness to help shouldn't have surprised her.

She pulled on the matching dressing gown and stepped into a pair of satin slippers. Her fingers slid across the fabric. The material was smooth and soft, just the way she liked it. Kevin's awareness of her taste was another welcome surprise.

A soft knock sounded at the door. "Evangeline? Are you awake?"

She padded across the floor and opened the door for Kevin. "I'm winding down, but I'm not sleepy, yet."

He smiled. "Are you hungry? The cook is retired for the night, but I can make a mean omelet."

Her stomach made a distinct rumble. Kevin's eyebrows lifted as he chuckled.

"I'd like that." She rubbed her flat tummy as she followed him downstairs to the kitchen. Her last meal was hours ago. Well before she visited Cris at Statesville. In the midst of all the excitement, she'd forgotten about food. But Kevin was there, ready, willing and eagerly taking care of her. She never imagined trusting anyone like this.

He pulled out a cushioned stool for her. Then, he washed his hands and started pulling food from the fridge. When she moved to help, he waved her away.

"Sit," he said. "Just relax. For once, let someone else take care of you."

"I'm not used to this," she softly admitted.

"I know." He chopped an onion without shedding a tear. "It's not always easy letting go. I've noticed it's especially hard for you."

"You've noticed that, huh?"

He nodded. "I've noticed a lot about you. Mostly, how you're different from the women I'm usually attracted to." He set a plate of cheese and fruit in front of her. "This should tie you over until the omelet's ready."

"Oh, really?" She popped a cube of cheese into her mouth. "Do I want to know about these differences?"

"It's no secret. I've been drawn to needy women, clingy women. Maybe they're not that way all the time, but it's inside them and I draw it out."

Her eyes widened in surprise.

Upon her look, he laughed. "Yes, it's true, but that's how I was. I'm not that man now. Losing Ace changed me. Before Kelly was sentenced for the abduction, she blamed me for her actions. At first, I believed her. She was weak and frightened. Of course, she'd do anything to save our marriage."

"Why did you change your mind?" Evangeline rested her elbows on the counter and leaned toward him. This part of the story intrigued her. After she dropped Kelly as a client, she distanced herself from the case. She read a few articles in the papers, but overall, she didn't want to have anything to do with abducting an innocent baby. In the end, Kelly's role in stealing the helpless newborn rivaled that of her brother Paul.

"As much as I wanted her to need me, she should have realized that taking another woman's baby was wrong. I wanted a family with her, but not at the expense of someone else," he said. "When she tried to turn it around on me and make her actions my fault, I realized that I'd been wrong all along. Need and love aren't the same."

"And all this made you notice me?"

"No," he said, smiling, "I can't help but notice you. You're a beautiful woman. Intelligent. Determined. Did I mention beautiful?"

She blushed. "You did. Twice."

"Good because that's impossible to ignore." He finished chopping the rest of the ingredients and moved to the stove where he cracked the eggs, sautéed vegetables and prepared their omelets in record time.

While she watched him, she reconsidered their conversation. Men flirted with her on occasion. When she fell for John, she ceased to notice. But now that they were over, she found herself hesitant to return to the dating scene. Sure, sparks of interest struck her when Cristian expressed concern for her and now even more sparks exploded in Kevin's presence.

She didn't understand what all of that meant. Was she finally ready to move past John? Could one of these men be the one she'd been longing for all her life?

Kevin set the plate in front of her with a flourish. A pleased grin lit up his handsome face. She returned his smile. As he sat beside her and began digging into his meal, she decided to table those questions for later. Right now, she'd just enjoy being take care of.

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