Cristian had noticed the tension between Evangeline and John at the diner. During his visit with his mother, he wondered about the couple. Were they already having problems? How much of a push would Evangeline need to betray her lover?
A heavy weight suddenly pressed onto his chest.
Evangeline and betrayal didn't go together. Sure, he heard about the circumstances leading to her relationship with McBain. She and RJ had been together and then the former Fed swooped in right under the crime-boss/club-owner's nose. Having worked for RJ, Cristian knew the man well enough to know that Gannon and Evangeline were doomed from the start. If RJ thought otherwise, the man had become a fool in the year of Cristian's captivity.
He returned to his studio and began setting up for the evening's session. Evangeline's interesting choice of clients--namely, Mitch Laurence and Todd Manning--had her pegged as bordering on opportunist. Then, he heard about the custody case for Kevin's son and how she quit representing Todd when he and Blair went after Asa's home. Now, she served as Jessica's attorney. The steely glint he noticed in her brown eyes whenever she mentioned work went beyond wanting a kick ass track record. Integrity and determination went hand in hand. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, Evangeline's inside was just as appealing as the outside package.
An hour later, a pan of tamales warmed in the oven. The lights were dimmed. Santana's Supernatural CD played in the stereo. Cristian glanced at the clock and rubbed his hands together. Evangeline warned that she'd be late, but he knew her better than that. The woman was a stickler for punctuality. Any minute, he'd hear her heels click along the hardwood floor and her signature floral scent would waft through his studio, competing with the smell of paint and Carlotta's delicious dinner. Smiling to himself, he removed the sheet covering the canvas and mentally counted the seconds to her arrival.
The front door creaked opened. A voice called out, "Cristian, are you here? It's me, Evangeline. I'm sorry I'm late."
McBain, you'll never know what hit you, Cristian thought. Then, he beckoned to Evangeline and they began their nightly ritual.
Half a dozen times John reached for the phone. Fighting with Evangeline always tied his stomach into knots. He guzzled a bottle of Pepto-Bismal and then popped in several sticks of Big Red. The spicy, cinnamon flavored gum awakened his senses. All of a sudden, he realized how badly he missed her…the softness of her hands, the glossy sheen of her dark hair, the airy scent of her perfume and the sweetness of her mouth.
Grunting, he ran a hand over his face. This was stupid. Arguing was dumb. So, she had stuff to do and couldn't get away. How many times had police business kept him from her, or God forbid, how many times had Natalie? Evangeline had a life. He considered himself damn lucky that she included him in most of it. He owed it to her make things right.
He leafed through the yellow pages until he found what he wanted. After dialing, he balanced the phone against his ear as he closed his office door to ensure privacy.
Someone answered on the fourth ring.
"Delilah's Hothouse, how can I help you?"
He frowned. "Is this the flower shop?"
"Basically, yes, but she wants us to sound exotic," replied the clerk. "What sort of arrangement would you like?"
"A dozen red roses," John said. "I want them just on the verge of blooming and I want them delivered tonight if that's possible."
"Wow, you must be in deep trouble--"
"Don't worry about it," he responded gruffly. "I want a card attached."
Irritation went through John. He came close to mouthing off, but Evangeline deserved the best. If he voiced what was on his mind, the smart-ass clerk might send her dead roses instead of fresh ones.
"I over reacted. Sorry. John."
He waited for the clerk to repeat the message. They settled the bill over the phone and he instructed them to deliver the flowers to her townhouse. After the call ended, he leaned back in his chair and sighed. The roses would lay the groundwork. It was up to him to solidify the foundation.
For the next couple of hours, work demanded his full attention. With tension creeping up his neck, he broke for coffee around nine. As he swallowed the steaming brew, a light knock sounded at his door.
Tension returned at the sight of Natalie. The sudden divorce from Cristian sent her crying to him. John knew she confessed having feelings for him and that led to the break-up. Renewed guilt claimed him. Maybe if he had made it clear to her that he held absolutely no interest in her other friendship, she wouldn't have risked her marriage. He never disclosed the full details to Evangeline and refused to question his reasons why.
"Natalie." He took another sip of coffee for strength. "It's late. Shouldn't you be at Rodi's or at home?"
"I worked the swing shift today." She entered and closed the door. A brown paper bag was clutched in her hand. "Here's a burger and some onion rings. I figured you hadn't eaten."
His stomach turned. Food lost all appeal after the disastrous lunch with Evangeline. The last thing he wanted was junk food from Rodi's.
He shook his head. "You figured wrong. Thanks, but no thanks."
"Oh. Okay." The corners of her mouth turned down.
"If there's nothing else, I'm pretty busy tonight so--"
"Why did Evangeline have lunch with Cristian today?"
He stiffened at her sudden outburst. Her question caused him to grow still. Even his stomach paused. Fixing her with a hard glare, he said, "She didn't."
"Yes, she did," Natalie insisted. "I saw them together at the Angel Square Diner. What do they have to talk about? Is she representing him in a case or is he a witness for Jessica?"
"Natalie, Evangeline wasn't with Cristian today. She was with me." He set the coffee mug so hard onto his desk that it spilled.
Natalie moved quickly to clean the mess. He stepped back to give her room. All the while, wheels turned inside his mind. Cristian had entered as John left the diner. As usual, he was invisible to the younger man. Had Cristian spoken to Evangeline afterward? If so, why?
"They looked pretty chummy," Natalie said, her mouth tight. She finished cleaning his desk and folded her arms across her chest. "He smiled at her. I haven't seen his smile in ages."
"He divorced you," he said quietly, almost under his breath. "Look, I wish I could help you, but I don't have time."
She moved slowly to the door and paused. "Are you mad?"
"Since when does my anger matter?" he retorted. Upon her saddened look, he added, "No, I'm busy. Look, Natalie, whatever Cristian does now is none of your business. Evangeline's actions are none of your business either."
"You make it sound as if I'm trying to start something--"
"It was just a question," she defended.
"And not one you had a right to ask. If you want to know why Cristian smiles at another woman, ask him. Don't come to me."
Her eyes flashed with fire and hurt. "What about Evangeline? Wouldn't you want to know if she's sneaking around behind your back?"
"She wouldn't do that."
Natalie smirked. "Oh, no?"
Then, she left. Thirty seconds later, John knew work was a lost cause. He locked the files in his desk and slammed out of his office. If Cristian Vega was indeed smiling at his woman, John wanted to know why.