Chapter 12

Desire swelled inside Evangeline the moment Cristian's lip touched hers. His tongue pulsated inside her mouth. Hunger drove the kiss into another dimension. Cristian awakened desires that had been ignored for far too long. Promises hinged in the recesses of her mind as the kiss ended. She stepped free of his embrace and raised a trembling hand to her mouth.

"That probably shouldn't have happened," he murmured, tracing the outline of her bottom lip, "but I'm not apologizing for it. I'll see you later. Have a good night."

He stepped back into the shadows of the night. The heavy thud of his boots faded on the sidewalk and the dark outline of his well-formed body disappeared inside Capricorn.

Recovery came slowly. She inhaled slow, deep breaths to calm her racing heart. Cristian Vega was supposed to be off limits, but how could she maintain her resolve when he kissed her like that?

"Evangeline!"

"Dammit," she muttered under her breath. Had the red-haired shrew witnessed the kiss? After a successful day in court and a delicious kiss to end the night, Evangeline was in no mood to engage in a battle of words with the spoiled Buchanan princess.

Evangeline pulled her car door open and tossed her purse inside. She prepared to move onto the driver's seat but Natalie arrived.

"Wait!" Natalie screeched. "I know you heard me."

"Half of the East Coast heard you."

"I'm in no mood for your smart mouth—"

"I'm never in the mood for yours." Evangeline sighed. "Look, Natalie, as entertaining as you can be to a masochist, that's not my idea of a good time. Why don't you go inside and enjoy the celebration?"

"Why don't you just go to hell?" Natalie snapped. "You think you're so high and mighty and so damned smart. You should have asked me before you went to court to save that man!"

"That man happens to be your husband," Evangeline said. "You should be thanking me instead of hurling accusations! What is wrong with you?"

"Thank you? You don't deserve thanks! He's not really Cristian—"

"DNA proves otherwise and the Court agrees with me." Evangeline shook her head. "I don't get you at all. Your husband is back. He's gone through hell, but he made it back. All he wants is to have a good life and you're angry. Dear God, she's angry! Why are you angry? What right do you have to be angry? If anyone should be pissed, it's Cristian and he's not! If I were him, I'd be mad as hell. But here you are, raving like a hellcat. You think the world revolves around you, Natalie, but here's a newsflash for you. The world does not rotate according to your whim. So get over yourself and get out of my way before the tires of my car confuse your face with pavement!"

"You bitch!" Natalie raised her hand as if to strike.

Evangeline's hand balled into a fist. Her days of taking Natalie's crap were over. If the little girl wanted to get physical, Evangeline was ready to show Natalie what years of martial arts had taught.

"Stop!" Todd jumped in seconds before the first blow hit. "While I love a good catfight as much as the next guy, Evangeline, you're too good for this. Natalie isn't worth the effort."

"Damn you, Todd," his niece muttered.

"You're welcome to come right along with me," he said with a smirk. "Why don't you go home before you shame the family?"

"This has nothing to do with you—"

"Don't think for one minute I'm stepping in because of you. If I didn't care about Evangeline's reputation, I'd let her wipe the floor with you and enjoy the show. You, on the other hand, aren't worth my time. So scram before I change my mind!"

Natalie bristled from Todd's attack. Evangeline stood poised, ready if the younger woman decided not to walk away. After a few tense seconds passed, Natalie drew in a hissing breath and stepped back.

"This isn't over," the woman-child warned.

Evangeline's stare didn't waver. "Yes, it is."

"Goodbye." Todd pushed the word out through his gritted teeth.

Natalie quickened her pace and disappeared into the night.

"I had it under control," Evangeline said.

Todd flashed her with a rare grin. "I know. Getting under her skin is too much fun to pass up."

He finished with a chuckle. His obvious delight cut the remaining tension that had lingered inside her. She relaxed and joined in with a giggle.

"I shouldn't encourage you."

"Why not?" He smiled. "It's fun."

"Right." Evangeline rested her backside against her car. "Okay, so why were you out here?"

"I was looking for you." His voice softened. "I wanted to personally congratulate you. You never cease to amaze me."

"Thanks, but I didn't really do anything extraordinary. Cristian was given a raw deal, and the Court didn't have all the information."

"And you fought like hell for him. Regardless the toll it took on you."

She frowned. "What toll? I didn't have anything at stake."

"You annihilated John on the stand. That couldn't have been easy."

She remembered the look of betrayal that flashed in John's eyes as she interrogated him. He had no right to blame her for his actions. Yes, he hurt her. Deeply. But what he did to Cristian was disgusting. He dishonored the badge he cherished so much.

"Evangeline?" Todd took her hand. "You know you deserve better, right?"

She squeezed his hand and smiled. "I know."

- - -

"Are you sure about that?" Antonio pointed at the papers in Cristian's hand. "Don't do something in the heat of the moment that you may regret later."

A week of freedom brought amazing clarity to Cristian. Everything felt new and exciting. He spent a lot of time walking around and reacquainting himself with life. Every day, he learned something new about himself. That morning, he awakened with the full knowledge that the day had arrived for him to officially start over.

"Divorce is final. There's no going back," his brother warned.

"I know. That's what I want. I can't live in the past and I can't pretend that our relationship isn't over."

Antonio poured coffee into a mug and slid it down the diner's counter toward Cristian. "You're hurt because she hasn't come to see you. Maybe she's scared and hurt. You let her believe you were dead. As much as I'm glad to have you back, I wasn't happy with your decision."

"But you and Mamí love me enough that that one mistake doesn't outweigh what you feel for me. You love me unconditionally. That's how I loved Natalie, but she didn't love me the same."

"Maybe she just needs time—"

"Antonio, you're playing devil's advocate and I appreciate it, but you're wasting your time. I don't love her." He added sugar and cream to his coffee as he continued to speak. "Look, I've had a lot of time to think about this...even before Evangeline showed up and made me an offer of a lifetime. Natalie is not the type of woman I want or need. Maybe there's a guy out there she's perfect for, but I'm not that guy. For a long time, I wanted to be."

"What changed?"

Cristian swallowed hard. While he'd often thought about his relationship with his wife, he hadn't spoken about it as much. Voicing the words hurt. Not because he still cared about her, but because of how much he'd lost in believing a lie.

"Cris?" Antonio nudged his shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah." Cristian coughed once and forced himself to get the words out. "You asked me what changed. Do you remember how I 'disappeared'? When everyone thought I was dead, but those bastards had me on that slave ship? Do you know what happened?"

"You went after them."

"Do you know why?"

"You were protecting Natalie," Antonio said. "Where are you going with this?"

"All she had to do was throw the pool game. They asked her to lose one lousy game and she refused. Pride, ego, pure-selfishness...or total stupidity. I can't be sure of her reasons, but that one self-centered act changed my life forever. I lost over two years of my life, man! And I'll never get them back and she can't bring herself to come see me. Hell, she didn't even recognize me when I came back. How could I possibly love someone like her? I swear to you, Antonio, I can't get her out of my life fast enough."

- - -

"You are one hard woman to track down."

Evangeline smiled at Kevin. They'd played phone tag for over a week until he pinned her down to Sunday brunch at the Palace. After the server brought their coffee, she answered him.

"I've been busy."

"A big court win will do that," he said. "This is late and overdue...congratulations!"

"I think the huge bouquet of flowers and the beautiful card conveyed that sentiment."

"So you got them," he said with a grin.

"You know I did. I sent you a thank you note."

"It's not the same as seeing your beautiful smile."

Heat filled her cheeks. "You are so good for my ego."

He shrugged. "I'm just calling it the way I see it."

The server returned to take their orders. After she left, Evangeline noticed that someone or something behind her had captured Kevin's attention. She yearned to turn around and follow the direction of his gaze, but decorum forced her to sit still. Yet, she couldn't resist the urge to say something.

"What's back there?"

"Huh?"

She bit back a laugh. Kevin Buchanan was rarely flustered. "Nothing."

He gave Evangeline his full attention. "What did you say?"

"Only because I'm dying to know...what were you looking at?"

"Hi, Kevin." A soft, feminine voice drifted from behind Evangeline. "Hi, Evangeline."

"Rachel," he said. His eyes sparkled with interest. "What brings you back to Llanview?"

"A once in a lifetime opportunity at Crave as editor."

"I bet Nora is thrilled," Evangeline said. "I'm surprised she hasn't mentioned it."

"Daniel's keeping her pretty busy. Besides, I swore her to secrecy."

Kevin frowned. "Why?"

"I prefer to ease myself back into Llanview's culture instead of having it shoved down my throat at once." She laughed. "It's great to see you again, Kevin. You too, Evangeline."

"The pleasure has been all mine," he said, a husky note to his voice.

Evangeline's eyes widened. She remembered Nora mentioning that Rachel and Kevin once were an item. Maybe history was on the verge of repeating itself.

Chapter 13

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