Evangeline's hand trembled as she knocked once on the door. On the drive over, half a dozen reasons to turn back crossed her mind. She was half-convinced to go home, but her conscience refused to let her rest. If circumstances were reversed, she'd want to know. Maybe John deserved at least that.
He opened the door. Shock flickered briefly in his blue eyes. Then, he stepped aside. She walked in. Her heart thudded wildly in her chest. She almost didn't hear the door click closed. What if this conversation turned out to be a mistake? There really was only one way to find out.
"Hi, John. I probably should have called first."
An unreadable expression crossed his face. "We're not at the point where you have to call first. Or are we?"
"I'm not sure where we are." She placed her handbag on an end table and sat on the sofa. "All we do is argue and that's not my idea of a healthy relationship."
He perched on the coffee table directly opposite her. Resting his forearms on his thighs, he leaned toward her. "Then, what is?"
"Open communication is important. I can't remember the last time we communicatedó"
"Evangeline, what did you come here to say? I won't begin to guess where you're headed. Just tell it to me straight."
"Cristian Vega is painting my portrait. It was my mother's idea."
Angry dots of red colored his cheeks. He rubbed his hands over his face. "So, that's it."
"That's not all. He hasn't come out and said it, but he's interested in me."
"What brought you to this conclusion?"
"Tonight, he...I..." The words lodged in her throat. She didn't want to make things worse than they already were.
"What happened tonight?" John's hands balled into fists. A muscle flickered at his jaw. "What did he do?"
"He didn't do anything. The atmosphere in the room changed."
John rose abruptly and headed to his liquor cabinet. He poured a liberal amount of JD into a glass. His hand gripped the bottle, but he raised neither to his lips. "And what did you do?"
"For a minute I sat there. Before I acted, I left and came here."
"To tell me." He returned the bottle to the cabinet. "To gloat."
"No, John," she said, rising to her feet, "to find out where we stand...where we're headed."
He swallowed the contents of the glass and set it on the edge of the counter. With his back to her, he asked, "I'm supposed to have the answers?"
"I hope we'll come to them together."
"That's a big vote of confidence." He choked out a laugh as he turned to face her. "I don't want to lose you, but for the life of me, I don't know what to do to make you stay. I don't know how to be the man you deserve."
"All you have to do is breathe." Gathering courage, she took his hands. "And be honest with me."
"About Natalie." He looked at their joined hands. "She won't face that we missed our chance."
"But what do you feel about her? Do you wish for a second chance? She and Cristian are divorcing. You'll have a clear shot then."
"I don't want a clear shot. I wanted friendship with her, but I don't think she's capable of that."
"She's never respected our relationship. The boundaries weren't clear with heró"
"I'm working on that." He gently cupped the side of her face. "I'm sorry for everything she's done and my part in it. Cristian accused me of being flattered by her interest. I hate that he's right. I can't hold it against you for feeling the same when he hits on you."
"It didn't really get that far," she said honestly. "It was something underlying and that I began to sense."
"That can be worse than the obvious. It gets under your skin and takes hold faster than you can stop it."
"I stopped it," she said.
"By coming here and finding out where we stand."
"I want to stand with you, John, but I can't stand alone. If you won't put any effort into us, there's no point in continuing. I can't do this alone. I'm dangerously on the verge of falling in love with you. I want to avoid the pain of heartache if I can."
"I can't make any promises, but the last thing I want is to hurt you." He pulled her into his arms. "There will be only you and me in this relationship. No one else. That is one promise I can make with a clean conscience."
"I'm holding you to it."