"What's wrong? Cat got your tongue?" The young woman stared daggers at Evangeline.
Tension crackled the air. Kevin moved quickly. "Okay, that's enough. Leave now before I call security to escort you out."
The stranger folded her arms across her chest. "Believe me. You don't want to do that."
Kevin thrived on challenge. Blood pumped wildly in his veins. "Maybe not. I'd rather do it myself."
He reached out to grab her. She sidestepped him.
"Don't touch me!"
"This is a private party and you weren't invited—"
"Kevin, stop." Evangeline moved to him and rested her hand on his forearm. "My mother is here. I don't want to cause a scene."
"Oh, I thought I saw Lisa," Layla said. "Is Clay here, too? I guess I should call him Uncle Clay, but I've never been big on formality."
"Don't talk about my family like you know them," Evangeline snapped.
"Lisa's not related to me, but Clay is our father's brother—"
"Stop it," Evangeline said through gritted teeth. "I don't know what game you're playing or what you want, but it won't work."
"Game?" Layla claimed the seat Evangeline vacated and plopped down. She raised the martini to her lips and sipped. "Mmm...dirty. Just the way I like it."
"Okay," he said, stepping free of Evangeline's grasp. "That's enough."
Layla looked at Evangeline. "What? You're not jumping to my defense this time? Look, I'm not lying. I don't have a reason to lie. I actually thought you knew by now. I've known since I was ten."
"I don't believe you," Evangeline said in a hoarse voice. "My father would never... He and my mother had a solid marriage for a lot of years."
"So, basically, Lisa never told you."
"Stop saying my mother's name!"
"That's what I always call her. I'm not about to change now." She took another sip of the martini. "Lisa and Clay know all about me. If you don't believe me, ask them."
Kevin turned to Evangeline. The shell-shocked look in her brown eyes knocked the wind out of him. He always thought of her as cool and calm under pressure. Right now, she looked ready to shatter into a million pieces. He took her hand and squeezed.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked. "I can bring your family out here or I can have her thrown out. It's up to you."
Unshed tears pooled in her eyes. Her bottom lip trembled. "I need a minute. I'll be right back."
"Do you want me to come with you?" He couldn't imagine her processing something like this alone.
She gave him a faint smile. "I need to be alone right now. Don't worry. I won't be gone long."
A moment later, she turned and disappeared into the party. He watched her until she exited the restaurant. Then he gave Layla his full attention.
"Okay, it's just the two of us. What's your scam?"
She finished the martini and leaned back against the chair. "No scam. I'm legit. Give me a test and I'll pass it...DNA...lie detector. Anything. I have the goods. My mother didn't lie and I have a birth certificate to prove it."
"Birth certificates can be forged," he said.
The cocky tilt of her head almost had him believing her. "You're very sure of yourself."
"I have every right to be." She crossed her long, slender legs and openly appraised him from head to toe. "So what are you? Her pal, bed buddy, or what?"
He stiffened. "None of your business."
"Ooh, protective." She grinned. "I like that."
"Kevin, where did Evangeline..." Lisa Williamson's question came to an abrupt halt the moment she saw Layla. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see my big sister." Layla shrugged. "I'm not sure if she was happy to see me."
"You spoke to her?"
"It's her big night. She should share it with family. Even with illegitimate bast—"
"Where is she?" Lisa gripped Kevin's arm in a vice. "Where is my daughter?"
"She went out to get some air." He glanced at his watch. "She should be back by now. I'll get her." He jutted his chin toward Layla. "Do you want me to call security?"
Lisa fixed the young woman with a hard look. "No, I'll take care of her myself."
Kevin gave Layla one final look. He wouldn’t want to be her shoes right now. "I'll keep Evangeline inside until you're done."
He stepped into the party. Familiar faces seemed to be enjoying themselves. He quickly scanned the crowd, but a tall, mahogany beauty eluded him. Pushing through the mass of people, he reached the lobby. A few people milled about. He spotted Nora and went to her.
"Hi, Kevin," his former aunt said. "You look lost."
"I'm looking for Evangeline. Have you seen her?"
"The last time I saw her she was on the patio with you."
"Can you check the ladies' room?"
Nora narrowed her gaze on him. "What's going on?"
"I'd rather not say," he replied. "Can you look for me? Please."
"Of course." Nora left. She returned a few minutes later. A frown darkened her expression. "I found her purse in the corner on the floor." She held the small, sparkly bag in her hands. "Evangeline wouldn't just leave this lying around. Everything is inside. Her wallet, keys, and cell phone."
"She was upset," he said softly, mostly to himself, "but not out of it."
"Kevin, you're scaring me. Tell me what you know."
"I can't," he said. "Look, I'll check the parking lot. I don't want to scare her family, but can you look around? If you find her, call my cell. You know the number."
Nora's face paled. "Maybe she just stepped outside."
"I hope so."