Chapter 1

"Mama, I don't know about this."

Evangeline Williamson hitched a breath as Yvonne Williamson gave her the same enigmatic smile that frustrated Evangeline throughout childhood. They were in the artsy section of Angel Square. A few weeks ago, they attended a gallery showing. A light sparked in her mother's eyes then, but Evangeline forced herself to ignore it. After all these years, she should have trusted her instincts.

"You can't back out now." Yvonne had a stubborn streak miles long. It was no secret where Evangeline inherited the trait. "We have an appointment and I plan to keep it. He generously rearranged his schedule to accommodate yours. We have better manners than to change our minds now."

"We…our…you're making us sound like royalty."

"I'll ignore that."

Evangeline allowed a small glimpse of her humor to show. "Please do."

"We're here."

The place looked dark and deserted. Evangeline closed her hand around her cell phone. John didn't know about their outing today. Suddenly, she wished she had told him. Her mother reached for the doorknob.

"Mama, don't. He's not here. Let's just go."

"He's here. He called to confirm this morning." Yvonne turned the knob. The door opened without resistance or a squeak. She stepped inside, but Evangeline lingered on the sidewalk. "I can't believe you're behaving this way. Does it help to know that this is something your father always wanted for you? If that business hadn't happened at school, he would have seen to it."

"Daddy never mentioned it."

Her mother reached out and gently stroked her cheek. "He loved surprising you. This is my gift to you for him. One last family thing." She extended her hand. "Will you come with me now?"

"Yes, Mama."

Light glowed from the back. The smell of paint permeated the room. Covered canvases filled the walk space, reminding Evangeline of not being able to see the forest for the trees. She wondered what secrets lay hidden. What masterpieces waited to be uncovered? After recent events, she was almost frightened of what could be revealed. Besides, none of it was any of her business. Finally, her life had formed a cohesive unit that she trusted. She and John had been honest about their wants and needs. She couldn't ask for a better relationship. Theirs was perfect.

"Hello!" Her mother called in her best school principal voice. "We're here."

A silhouette came forth, blocking the light for just a moment. Evangeline recognized the outline of his close cropped wavy hair and broad muscled shoulders. Then, he stepped closer. The light returned and shone brightly on Cristian Vega's rugged profile. He smiled.

"Hello, ladies. You're right on time. Please, follow me."

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Cristian rubbed his hands together, warming them. Most artists used brushes. He preferred the hands on approach. He took in a long, deep breath. The canvas, the paints and even his subject created a special aroma.

While locked on a ship, tethered like a dog, he was still allowed his art. He thanked God for it. Of course, he'd been a fool devoting so much time to creating images of Natalie. He believed his wife ached for him as badly as he did for her. But he was wrong. She yearned for John McBain, the cop bastard that caused their separation in the first place.

Damn, how stupid could he be? Had love blinded him?

Obviously, it had.

At least that phase of his life was over. After hearing her confession about her lingering feelings for the other man, Cristian tried to make it work. He fought a losing battle. They couldn't recapture what once came so easily. So he filed for divorce and moved into his art studio.

Antonio warned him against moving hastily. His brother/cousin said that McBain was seriously involved with Mitch Laurence's forner attorney, Evangeline Williamson. In Cristian's opinion, that made perfect sense. Until a recent gallery showing. He needed to reacquaint himself with the art community so he attended the after party. While standing in the shadows, he watched Evangeline admire the pieces of art and interact with a spirited, petite woman he soon learned was her mother.

When Yvonne Williamson admitted to enjoying his work and quickly asking him to do a portrait of her daughter, he found it difficult to say no. Besides, he needed the money.

Evangeline shifted again on the chaise lounge. Her nervousness charmed him. He never expected the confident attorney to be freaked by anything. Imagine that.

"Relax," he said, in a soothing tone. "It's just canvas and paint. All you have to do is sit there."

She frowned. "I moved again, didn't I? I'm sorry. I've never done this before."

"I know."

Her eyes squeezed shut for a brief moment. "Am I that obvious? I'm so grateful that you sent my mother home. If she were here, she'd drive us both nuts."

"She's opinionated." He dipped his middle finger onto his color palette. He'd blended different shades of browns and creams to find the perfect balance of her creamy skin tone. "But it's obvious that she cares about you."

"She's great, but I wouldn't be able to sit like this with her here." She released a short chuckle. "Not that I'm doing a great job now. Would it be better if I stopped talking?"

"It's fine. I'm not on your mouth, yet."

Her eyes widened. For a moment, their gazes connected. Awareness shot through him. His eyes dropped to her mouth, memorizing the curve and fullness of her lips. He swallowed hard. It would do him no good to become emotionally intrigued by John McBain's woman. Especially when all he wanted to do was make John feel the anguish of losing his lover to another man. Once his mission was accomplished, Cris planned to walk away.

Regardless of how enticing he found Evangeline Williamson and her delectable mouth.

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