Chapter 8

With only a few days left before Cristian's day in court, Carlotta had no choice but to go to Natalie. Cristian's pride refused to allow him to accept anything from her or Antonio. Not even a suit! So, Carlotta was left with only one option—retrieve his belongings from his wife.

The thought of approaching Natalie sickened Carlotta. Cristian's vehement refusal to involve Natalie in his return to his family and his fight for freedom spoke loudly and clearly about his opinion of his wife. Carlotta wanted to remain neutral, but Cristian had a valid point. Why didn't Natalie recognize him? If Carlotta's dear Diego returned from the dead, she'd know him instantly. There were some things a loving wife never forgot about her husband. Ever.

She pulled into the expansive, brick driveway. The landscape was breathtaking. Even with snow falling on the ground, the dedication to detail was extraordinary. When the flowers bloomed in spring, the estate would blossom as well. A wish quickly entered her mind. Please, God, let Cristian feel the sun on his face again and breathe in the scent of fresh roses. Don't let my son spend the rest of his life behind bars. It wasn't his fault!

The prayer brought tears to her eyes. She blinked them away. This was not a time for tears. She had to be strong for her son.

She parked near the entrance and headed to the front door. Natalie responded to the ringing doorbell faster than Carlotta imagined. The younger woman gave her a ready smile. Carlotta tried hard to respond in kind.

"Hi, Carlotta." Natalie pulled her into a warm hug. "I didn't know you were coming. I was on my way to PD. Is everything okay?"

"I should have called first. I didn't think about it."

"Of course you don't have to call." Natalie stepped aside. "Please come in. Uncle Bo won't fire me if I'm a few minutes late."

"It must be nice to have a relative with that level of authority," Carlotta commented. "This won't take long. I don't want you to be late for work."

"Are you okay? You seem tense."

"I guess it's the situation."

Natalie frowned. "What situation?"

"Cristian...I remember you gave some of his things away. I'm hoping not everything. I'd like to have one of his suits."

The younger woman's face paled. The softness faded from her voice. "Why do you want his suit?"

"I'm his mother," Carlotta snapped. "Why do you think?"

"I'm trying to understand," she said with a slight edge. "What do you plan to do with it?"

Carlotta's mouth dropped. "How dare you question me? As if you have the right—"

"I was his wife!"

The anguish of the past few days fell hard on Carlotta. Words flew from her mouth before she could stop them. Not that she wanted to. Maybe one day Cristian would forgive her.

"And not a very good one! So wrapped up in John McBain that you couldn't even recognize your own husband when he was returned to us!"

"What are you talking about? That man was an imposter!"

"No, Natalie, that man is my son, your husband! And you doubted him and didn't believe in him." Carlotta clenched her hands together to keep from striking out. "I looked into his eyes that last time and felt something. I didn't want to trust it, but deep inside I knew all along. I was too scared to believe, but that wasn't your excuse, was it?"

"You're crazy. I don't know how he got to you—"

"DNA proves it, you stupid fool! ¡Dios mio! "

Natalie flinched as if she'd been slapped. "You've been fooled. I just saw him. He's not Cristian. I would know—"

"If you ever loved him, you would know. If you weren't so wrapped up in another man, chasing after him like a common whore, you would know exactly who your husband is. Cristian's coming back wasn't convenient for you. You wanted someone else so it was so easy for you to ignore the truth."

Dots of red colored Natalie's pale cheeks. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"I know enough. John was happy with Evangeline. They were finding each other, but you couldn't stand it so you went after him until Evangeline got tired of your meddling. I watched it all. You should have been stopped, but heaven forbid you don't get something you want."

"You don't know what you're talking about. None of that is true."

"Oh, yes, it is and you know it." Carlotta pressed her hands together and looked toward the heavens. "Thank God for Evangeline. She discovered the truth and now, she's working hard to set him free."

"She's doing what?" Natalie angrily whispered. "How do you know this? I can't believe you're taking her word. She'll do anything to come between John and me. She can't stand the fact that he loves me and he was never ever to tell her the same. She's using you, Carlotta, and I'm putting a stop to it."

Natalie whipped around and headed toward the door. Carlotta grabbed the younger woman before Natalie reached the doorknob.

"You'll do no such thing. You'll do what you do best and play house with that detective. Forget you ever knew my family and we'll forget about you."

With that said, Carlotta brushed past Natalie to the door. "And forget about the suit I wanted. I'll buy my son a new one."

- - -

"Thank you for coming on short notice." Evangeline met Dr. Jamison in the lobby of the prison. The handsome psychiatrist eagerly agreed with her request to speak with Cristian. She hadn't discussed the meeting with Cristian and hoped he would cooperate. He could be a little unpredictable at times.

"This type of case fascinates me," Dr. Jamison said, "and so do you."

Her eyes widened. Was he flirting with her?

"Um, thanks."

"You don't have to worry," he said. "I was just stating the obvious."

She nodded once. Cristian's case occupied a good deal of her time and energy. She didn't have anything extra to pursue a relationship. After falling so quickly for John, she planned to take her good, sweet time the next time a man caught her eye.

"Would you like to know more about Cristian?"

He shook his head. "You've given me a sufficient background. Anything else, I can get from him. You said he's unaware that I'm coming."

"Yes, I meant to contact you earlier, but I wasn't sure when we'd get the court date. I want the Judge to be aware of Cristian's state of mind, but after having someone play with his mind, I wasn't sure how Cristian would take my suggestion. In order for this to work, he must cooperate."

"With freedom riding on everything, he'd be a fool not to."

They moved through the security checkpoints. Soon, they reached the private conference room the warden reserved for them. A guard brought Cristian in almost as soon as Evangeline and the psychiatrist sat. Her client's brown eyes rested on her immediately. A strange tingle of excitement rippled up her spine. She shook off the sensation and briefly looked away to regain her composure.

"Hi, Evangeline," Cristian said. "Who's this?"

"I'm Dr. Jamison." The psychiatrist extended his hand and Cristian shook it. "Ms. Williamson asked me to speak with you."

"What kind of doctor?"

"A psychiatrist," she said before the physician could answer. "He comes highly recommended."

"Good for him."

Cristian's sarcasm didn't surprise Evangeline. She gave him a reassuring smile. "It won't be as bad as you think."

"I'm tired of people playing with my head," Cristian said, his mouth barely moving. "I won't be anyone's puppet. Never again. Thanks, but no thanks."

"I want him to evaluate you. His observations can be useful in court to present your case."

"My word isn't good enough," Cristian bit out.

"It may not be. The system works, but we must be willing to do our part. I'm fighting for you, Cristian. Don't fight against me," she said. "It's only a conversation. This isn't about manipulating you, but setting you free. Will you please talk to Dr. Jamison?"

"If I say I don't want to, you'll leave it alone?" he asked.

She didn't want to, but this was Cristian's life. She couldn't imagine having anyone else inside her mind. His objections made perfect sense. She would respect his decision even if she didn't agree with it. "Yes, I'll ask Dr. Jamison to leave."

Cristian looked down at his cuffed hands. An array of emotions flickered across his face. Anger. Frustration. Hope.

"Okay, I'll talk to him...on one condition," Cristian said.

"What's the condition?"

He raised his head and met her stare. "That you leave us alone. I won't talk to him with you here."

"If that's what you want, I'll do it." She stood and grabbed her briefcase. "Dr. Jamison, I'll call you later. I'll see you later, Cristian."

He gave her a faint smile. "I know."

- - -

"I would ask you how it's going, but I can tell by your face that something's wrong," Kevin said after he and Evangeline claimed a booth in a dark corner of Capricorn. "Can you talk about it?"

"I probably shouldn't," she said. "It's the case I'm working on."

"The one that's put your life at risk." His jaw tightened. "I hope they're paying you what you're worth."

"Actually, I'm doing this one pro bono."

"I didn't hear that right. You're not working for free."

"Not everything is about money," she said. "An injustice was done and I'm trying to fix it."

"But at what cost to you?"

"I'm fine." She shrugged and grabbed her menu from the table. "I'm suddenly very hungry. I can't remember if I had lunch. Are you hungry, too?"

"So, we're changing the subject?" He bit back a smile. "Okay. Yeah, I'm hungry. They have the best nachos in town. Want to split it?"

"Sounds good to me." She rubbed her hands together in anticipation. "But a single serving may not be enough."

"No problem. I like a woman with a healthy appetite." His corresponding wolfish grin made her giggle.

"You are so good for my ego." She plucked an olive from her martini. "You know I have to confess that I know what you're doing, but I won't hold it against you."

"What am I doing?" His expression was all innocence. "Other than having a good time with a good friend?"

"You've taken me under your wing. While I appreciate your attention, I don't want to be your project. The attack frightened me, but I won't let it claim me. You can rest easy. I'm not a glass doll. I won't shatter into pieces."

A shadow fell across their table. "Don't be so sure about that."

Todd's warning didn't come as a surprise to Evangeline. Her former client's war with his nephew had reached Llanview legendary status. Kevin gave his uncle a menacing look and Evangeline knew a new battle was about to begin.

"Look, Todd—"

Kevin cut her off. "Go away."

"No." Todd nudged Evangeline until she scooted over then he sat beside her. "Evangeline's a good friend of mine. Not to mention one hell of a woman. I'm not about to watch you do to her what you've done to all the other women in your life."

"As if your track record is so great," Kevin muttered. "You have no idea about my relationship with Evangeline so why don't you shut up and stop making a fool out of yourself. Go home to Blair. Oh, wait. She kicked you out and now, Spencer Truman is playing daddy to your kids."

"You sonuvabitch!"

Kevin's hand balled into a fist. "You watch how you talk about my mother."

"Viki's too good to be your mother. Another mix up at the hospital is the only explanation."

"And your excuse is like father, like son."

A red, angry cloud darkened Todd's face. The strength of his anger vibrated from him. Evangeline quickly reached out and touched his arm. "Enough," she said firmly. "I want to enjoy my dinner, but I can't if you two turn Capricorn into a madhouse. I'm not about to bail either of you from jail. Now, should I leave or should I stay?"

"Leave!"

"Stay!"

She gave both men a hard look. What was it with men these days? They accused women of being temperamental. Not so lately.

"Guys."

Todd cursed under his breath before he slid from the booth. "You're a grown woman. I can't force you to listen to reason, but consider yourself warned. Kevin's the kiss of death."

"If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that bastard's jealous." Kevin took a long swallow of his beer. He wiped his mouth with a napkin. Now, where were we?"

Chapter 10

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