"We need to talk."
Evangeline accepted the change for her coffee and turned to look at John. He stood close enough that no one else heard the angry tone of his voice. Her police guard waited nearby. He didn't seem too concerned about the Lieutenant. She wasn't either, but she didn't like his approach.
"What about?" She moved around him to add sugar and cream to her coffee. "You sound angry."
"I have every right to be," he said. "You went to Bo behind my back."
She returned his blue-eyed stare with a hard look. "Someone tried to kill me."
Heat colored his cheeks for a brief moment. "I heard about that. I'm sorry—"
"No, you're not." Realizing that hurt her more than she'd ever admit. "You're only sorry that I told Bo the truth about Cristian and about you."
His angry tone softened. "I'd never want anyone to hurt you."
"We both know that's not true."
Understanding registered in his eyes. A muscle flickered at his jaw. "Natalie was unconscious. I had to free her first."
She'd already reconciled that decision in her mind. Her heart was slower to accept it. But watching him save the red-head wasn't the worst. No, the decisions he made afterward slashed deep and painfully into her soul.
"When I lay in that hospital bed, you didn't have to interrogate me like a criminal." She pressed the lid down over her coffee with trembling hands. "You choose to treat me like I was nothing. I almost died. For one moment, you could have pretended like you cared."
"It doesn't matter now—"
"It matters enough for you to use it against me later. You didn't have to tell Bo about Cris—"
"You mean I shouldn't have told him about your involvement. Damn you, John. He's a human being who doesn't deserve what he's going through. He's already been through enough. Is having Natalie so important that you can ignore common decency? I always thought you were a good cop—"
"I am," he angrily defended himself.
"You're a liar," she said, surprised by the conviction in her voice. She dreaded having this conversation with him. After the way their relationship ended, she knew that avoiding him was the best decision for her. He was not the man she thought he was and needed him to be. It saddened her to finally see that.
"You're blaming me for his situation," he said, "and it's not my fault. Cristian made the decision to stay dead."
"And you just agreed with him." She couldn't keep the disgust from her voice. "Knowing everything you know, you just said, 'Sure thing, man. Whatever you want.' How do you look at yourself in the mirror?"
"You know everything, don't you?" he bit out.
"Hey, Evangeline. Is everything okay?"
She looked at Todd in surprise. The conversation with John consumed her and made her oblivious to their surroundings. She glanced around the coffee shop. People were going about their daily lives. Then, her gaze rested on Todd. His protective stance was unmistakable. Nor was the look he threw John. The two men had never been the best of friends, but they ran in different circles. Once, Todd mentioned in passing that Evangeline could do better. She was beginning to understand Todd's point.
"You don't look fine," Todd said. He jutted his chin behind her. "Why is that cop standing over you? What is McBain up to?"
"I'm not arresting her," John said. "O'Reilly's her guard."
Todd's eyes narrowed. "Why do you need a police guard? Is somebody stalking you?" He gave John a pointed look.
John rolled his eyes.
"I had an accident yesterday... Bo thought I should have some protection."
"What kind of accident?" Todd grabbed her arm and looked her over from head to toe. "What happened?"
"Nothing I want to talk about now." She glanced at her watch. "Look, I have a lot of work to do and a short time to do it. I'll see you later, Todd."
- - -
After Bo left, the guard took Cristian to a different cell. Someone had already moved his belongings there. The area felt less restrictive than where he'd been. He tried to settle in, but he spent the night worrying about Evangeline. He was glad that Bo was determined to help him, but more than that, he wanted Evangeline safe. She shouldn't have to risk her life to save his.
Sometime after breakfast, a guard arrived at his cell.
"Your lawyer's here," the guard said. "Come on."
Cris followed him to an open visitation room. This one had a table and chairs. Evangeline stood when he entered the room. No partition separated them. For the first time in a long while, he remembered how good freedom felt.
She extended her hand at his approach and he took it. Her skin was so soft and warm. He swallowed down an immediate sensation of longing, but he couldn't force himself to release her. "Bo said you were in accident."
"I'm fine." She assured him with a smile.
"Bo said that, too," he replied, "but I don't believe either of you."
She squeezed his hand before tugging free. "Believe it. They scared me a little. I'll admit that, but I'm not letting that stop me from helping you. You don't belong here."
"And you don't deserve being run off a road."
"That gives me an even stronger reason to fight. Once you're out of here, I won't have to drive back again."
He should have known she'd see the bright side. "Bo also said you had a bodyguard. Where is he?"
"In the hall." She frowned. "I hope you and Bo didn't spend the whole time talking about me."
"We didn't," Cris said, but he wouldn't have minded if they had. The beautiful, determined lawyer fascinated him. Only family had ever fought so hard for him. Seeing her come to his defense awakened something deep inside him.
"You were moved to a less secure area and away from Hessler. Have you had any problems?"
"Not since they moved me."
She nodded. "The next move is out of here. I've already filed a motion with the court."
"What happens after that?"
"The judge can either deny the motion or set a court date. I believe we'll get the court date, and you'll have your say."
He gave her a faint smile. "You make it sound so easy."
"Not easy, but not impossible either. I have a meeting with a forensic psychiatrist who specializes in memory manipulation."
He laughed. "That's a nice way of saying brainwashing." He rubbed a hand over his face. "I can't believe that happened to me. I've seen it on movies and laughed it off as fiction. How did this become my life?"
"It's not your fault." She reached out and covered his hand with hers. "They imprisoned you and put you through hell. Without a support system and a viable way out... Your choices were taken away from you, Cristian."
He turned his hand over so that their palms touched. Then he placed his other hand on top of hers. His chest constricted. Why did it feel so good holding her?
"Thank you for showing me that I have choices. No matter how this turns out, I'll never forget what you've done."
"I haven't really done anything, yet." She looked down at their joined hands. To his surprise, she didn't pull away.
"You've done a lot in a short amount of time. Don't sell yourself short."
Her soft chuckle was like must to his ears. "That's not something I've ever been accused of."
"Confidence is a good thing." He gave her hand one final squeeze before releasing her. "So other than the accident, tell me what else that's been going on. You looked upset when I first walked in."
"I had a run in with John. I guess Bo talked to him about his role in all this. John wasn't too happy with that."
"He doesn't have a right to be mad at you," Cristian said. "You didn't cause this."
"He thinks I told Bo to get back at him." She leaned back and folded her arms across her chest. "Every time I think about how he knew for almost a year and never said a word, I get so disgusted with him and myself. I initiated the DNA test. It was my contact at the hospital who performed the test! I should have followed up on the results. I should never have trusted John to tell me."
"You had every reason to trust him," he said quietly. "Don't start blaming yourself."
"I can't help it." Her voice became hoarse. "I had doubts and I didn't follow up on them. I've always trusted my gut instinct. This is the first time I didn't listen. I can't help but feel some responsibility. I could have helped you. You had no one fighting for you."
"You're fighting for me now," he gently reminded her. "That's better than nothing. Listen, Evangeline, this isn't your burden to carry."
"And it isn't yours to carry alone. I'd like to tell Antonio and Carlotta. You'll need their support."
He remembered the last conversation he had with Antonio. His brother hated Cristian for being someone he wasn't. How would Antonio feel knowing the truth? And Mamí... She'd already been through so much.
"I don't know..."
"I know that they'd love to know you're alive. For real. You've denied yourself too much for too long. There's no reason to do that anymore."
He nodded. She was right, but... "What about Natalie? She came to see me the other day and I didn't tell her. I should have, but didn't want to. She's not the woman I... I can't tell them without telling her, too."
Evangeline drew in a deep breath. "Would you like for me to tell her?"
"No, I can't ask you to do that. I know how she feels about you. I don't want you in that position."
"So...? I really believe the sooner your family knows the truth, the better. A solid show of support can only aid your case, Cristian. I know you miss them."
"I do." He sighed. "I guess I'm just afraid. I'm in jail for killing Tico. I almost killed my brother. Facing them... Will they forgive me?"
"They will. I know they will."
He smiled. Her conviction did things to him. She made it easy for him to believe that everything could turn out right. "Okay. Tell them for me, but leave Natalie out of it. I have to figure that one out on my own. Okay?"
She nodded. "Okay." She glanced past him for a second. "The guard is pointing at his watch. I suppose our time is up. I'll let you know what happens with the motion. Be ready for your day in court. I have a feeling it will happen very, very soon."
They stood. She stuffed her legal pad into her briefcase. The goodbyes were always so awkward. He wanted to leave with her.
He patted her shoulder. "I'm really sorry about what happened yesterday."
She closed her hand over his. "It's not your fault. I'll talk to you soon. Take care and keep believing."