That first night, holed up in Evangeline’s bedroom, John called all the hospitals and hotels in Llanview, Pine Valley and Center City, to see if anyone fitting her description had checked in or been admitted. He parked himself on the chaise with his laptop and cell phone nearby, but he could hardly sit still. He didn’t feel he could go near the bed until he could make things right between them.
Make things right. He had been trading on her strength and love and patience with him for far too long. He should have put Natalie in check the first time she’d grabbed him and kissed him and moaned, “Why her? Why not me?” He should have told Evangeline the words she needed – the words she deserved – to hear. But the deeper he fell into love with this woman, the more terrified he was of putting it into words. If he said what was in his heart, if he gave those words to the air, to the universe, he knew he would lose her the way he lost Caitlin. As soon as the words left his mouth, the earth would open and take his beautiful, brilliant, precious Evangeline and his soul with her.
Time and again over the past several months, she’d been on the verge of calling it quits – always because she felt he was shutting her out. Maybe he was. Ever since he’d watched helplessly as his fiancé Caitlin was slaughtered before his eyes, he hadn’t been able to let anyone in. But each time she was ready to walk, he’d managed to bring Evangeline back, ambushing her with passion, challenging her to risk more of herself with him, ceding another little piece of himself to her. But it wasn’t like her to leave without a fight. The look in her eye when she turned and ran from him – that was new and it frightened him. What she had seen in his office had cut her to the core.
He couldn’t have hurt her if she hadn’t loved him so. But what had he done to deserve such love? Nearly a year into knowing her, he was sometimes still amazed Evangeline Williamson gave him the time of day. But she’d given him so much more than that – she’d given him a reason to look forward again, she’d given him her heart and she’d given him time. She knew he was a broken man but she believed it was worth waiting for him to heal. And with her love, he was starting to. Even more amazing than her beauty, brains and accomplishments, were her courage and compassion – it took a lot of both for her to take a chance on him. Evangeline was no fool, but she wanted to see the best in people. Maybe that’s what made her such a good defense attorney: she could tease out the redeeming thread in the worst criminal, find the key to unlock the most damning cases. For a while, it even appeared she’d tamed RJ Gannon.
Gannon. John was still looking for a way to get back at RJ for the beat down the con man had ordered on John after he found out he was sleeping with Evangeline. It wasn’t as if John had stolen Evangeline from RJ – she’d been clear that their relationship was casual – and she’d tried to keep things casual with John. But just as she set the boundaries with John, she was the first one to want to move them. First, no strings. Then, when she arrived unannounced at his Angel Square Hotel apartment one night and found him playing cards with Natalie, she told him she needed more – “strings attached” -- from him. And he stepped up. Then she told him she wanted to ban the words “love” and “marriage” from their conversations. She said she didn’t want what they had together to be burdened by the pressure of conventional declarations of devotion and her experiences in family court made her wary of legal unions. “Why ruin a good thing with a contract? When something ends, it’s better to be able to walk away,” she’d said as if ending was inevitable. Even though her moratorium on discussions of love and marriage made him uncomfortable, he accepted it until the day she blurted that she was falling in love with him. He knew it hurt her when he wasn’t ready to say it back. She didn’t know how close he’d come in the past few weeks to breaking down and telling her he loved her. Given their track record, he wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d ended up asking him to marry her.
But he’d killed any chance of that this afternoon. All of his half-stepping and stalling had given Natalie time to make her move. Maybe his brother Michael was right, maybe he really did want to sabotage the happiness had with Evangeline. But why did she have to hurt for his fucked up head trip?
He glanced at his watch – nearly 11 p.m. and no sign of her anywhere. He’d stopped ringing her cell hours ago when he started getting a “subscriber is out of range” message. Where had she gone? He couldn’t hold out any longer: he had to call her best friend Nora Buchanan Colson.
John tried Nora’s cell first. No answer. Taking a deep breath, he rang her home number, saying a silent prayer she’d pick up and not her new husband Daniel Colson. “Hello?” Nora’s voice was still morning crisp at this hour.
“Nora, it’s John McBain. I’m sorry to be calling so late.”
“John. Hi. It’s got to be one of two things. A break in a case or a break of hearts?”
“You certainly cut to it.”
“Come on John. Neither of us is any good at pussyfooting around. It has to be something serious for you to be calling me at home this late at night. If it was a case, I’d be hearing from Bo. What have you done to Evangeline?”
In spite of himself, a smile twitched at the corners of his lips. “So I’m that transparent?”
“Daniel told me she lost Antonio’s case. But she hasn’t called me and she hasn’t returned my calls. That’s not like my friend. She’s your woman, but she’s my girl and we talk. A lot. You should try it sometime.”
Hearing Nora’s voice, he had a flash of her and Evangeline laughing over martinis and french fries at the Palace. His voice was thick with rising tears when he spoke. “I know….Nora….”
“John, what’s wrong? Honey, excuse me, I’ll be upstairs in a bit,” he heard her call over her shoulder and pull a door shut.
He swallowed hard and tipped his face skyward, running an anxious hand through his hair. “She saw me with Natalie.”
Nora was silent for several beats. “What. Do you mean. She saw you. With Natalie?”
“She came to see me after Antonio’s verdict. When she walked into my office, she saw Natalie kissing me.”
“What was Natalie doing kissing you?” Nora screeched. “What is your fucking problem John McBain?”
“Natalie says she still wants to be with me. I told her that can’t happen. About a week ago she made a pass at me. I told Evangeline about it. Today Natalie tried again and Evangeline saw us. I was trying to push her away, but I know it looked bad.”
“You were trying? John, I know Natalie’s a tough little broad, but you’re a big guy. Don’t ask me to believe you couldn’t have avoided this if you wanted to. You asshole! Evangeline must be devastated.”
“I don’t want Natalie. I’ve tried to tell her that. Evangeline is the only woman for me. Nora, she ran from me. I’ve never seen her like this. I don’t know what to do, where to look for her. I’ve tried everything.”
Nora heard the desperation on the other end of the line. She didn’t know what McBain’s problem was, but she would believe in him as long as Evangeline did. Nora was old enough to be Evangeline’s mother – in fact, sometimes the younger woman reminded her a bit of her own daughter Rachel. But the two lawyers were more like sisters – consulting over cases, conspiring against their rivals and analyzing the ins and outs of their complicated love lives. She sighed and a different kind of warmth, not the heat of rage, but a flicker of compassion, crept into her voice. “John, she loves you. You do know that, don’t you? I’m not so sure how she’ll feel about you tomorrow, but I imagine she’s torn apart over this. It’s not like her to run from anything or anyone. Look, are you sure she’s hiding?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to make you any crazier than you already are, but with all these murders…”
“Don’t say that!” he barked into the phone. “Don’t say that.”
“All right, all right. Neither of us are going to get any sleep tonight. Do you want me to stop by her place?”
“No, that’s where I am. I’ve been here most of the night. Nora, I’ve checked all of her favorite places and I can’t find her anywhere.”
“Okay. Maybe she has gone underground for a few hours to get her head together. You call me as soon as you hear anything. You understand?”
“Yeah. And would you call me if you hear from her?”
“Not that you deserve it, but yes, as soon as I hear something, I’ll let you know.”
“John, I’m sure she’s somewhere hurting, but she can take care of herself. She won’t do anything crazy.”
“Thanks, Nora. Good night.”
John glanced at his watch again. Another 41 hours before he could file a missing person’s report.