Evangeline woke up disoriented. Her head felt thick and heavy. A dull ache spread from the base of her neck to her forehead. Pulling herself into a sitting position required effort, but she managed to do it without losing her lunch. Clutching her head and stomach to ease a wave of dizziness, she leaned back against the wall and observed her surroundings.
The room was dark. Light filtered through the wooden walls. She took a quick breath. The scent of mildew and musk assailed her senses. Fear swept through her. What was this place? How did she get here? Was this a garish nightmare or sick reality? She choked on a sob and rose to her feet.
The familiar voice came just a few feet from her. She frowned. It couldn't be.
"Yeah, it's me. I woke up a few minutes ago. I found you lying here, too." The younger woman crawled toward her. Her clothes looked dirty and wrinkled. Smudgy streaks created a trail from her eyes down her cheeks. Clumps of dirt and straw clung to her flaming red hair. "I don't know what's going on."
Natalie's appearance prompted Evangeline to wonder about her own. She ran her hands over her hair and brushed out dirt and straw. Her black evening dress was covered in dust but thankfully free of rips and tears. Her Jimmy Choo black pumps were still attached to her feet. She considered standing; feeling sick to her stomach, she thought better of it.
"Do you know where we are?"
The other woman rolled her eyes. "What do you think?"
"I think you need to can the attitude," Evangeline snapped. "From the looks of it, fighting is wasted energy."
"I don't know." Natalie rose to her feet. She leaned against the wall, heaved a loud sigh and pressed her hand against her forehead. "This feels likes the mother of all hangovers."
"How many beers did you drown at Rodi's?"
"None," Natalie muttered.
"Then it's probably chloroform because I feel like crap, too."
"You look like you spent the night sipping champagne," Natalie said with a smirk. "I'm sorry. That was snide."
"It's not like I don't expect it." Evangeline used the wall to help her stand. Her head protested with intensified throbbing. She winced and managed to swallow an expletive. "I think I spent the night here. The last thing I remember was walking into the ladies' room at the Palace. Everything is blank after that. Until now. What time is it? I didn't wear a watch tonight."
"I never wear one," Natalie said. "I'll see what my cell says."
Her purse! Evangeline kicked the ground around her. If she returned to the floor, she'd stay down there. Right now, she needed to gather her wits and focus on the problem and finding a solution. "I had a purse, but I don't feel it or see it."
Natalie patted her pockets. "My cell is gone. I remember talking to Rex. He had this idea to...um, never mind."
Evangeline could just imagine what Rex's plan involved. He was a staunch supporter of Natalie hooking her claws into John. No doubt his plan had something to do with that. If so, Evangeline couldn't care less. She had more important concerns than John McBain.
"They should be missing us by now. If John knows we've disappeared—"
"I'm not waiting around for a hero to come breaking down the door," Evangeline said. "How do you expect them to know where we are when we don't even know ourselves?"
"There could be a ransom."
Evangeline couldn't believe the girl's lack of maturity. "Are you serious? A ransom? To our families? Who would kidnap the both of us together? For what purpose?"
"My family has money."
"Mine does okay, but we're not rich. No, Natalie, this is not about ransoms or money. We were grabbed for another reason." Evangeline shuddered as her brain worked on overdrive. "I think it has something to do with John, but I don't know what or why."
* * *
Kevin called in the security team at Buchanan Enterprises to join the search for Evangeline. When John McBain showed up feigning concern and determination, Kevin walked away. Just seeing the detective made Kevin want to punch the other man's lights out. Somehow, Kevin knew that John was involved with Evangeline's disappearance. He planned to wait for proof before he confronted the former Fed.
He spent the night searching for his beautiful date. Nora and Evangeline's family wanted to join him. He told him to wait for news. If Evangeline called, they needed to be available to answer. For awhile that worked to keep them at bay. When morning came, he hated knowing that he had nothing new to report. Llanview wasn't as large as Philadelphia. Where could Evangeline be?
Fresh clothes and steaming coffee beckoned to him as the sun began to rise. He went home and showered. As he toweled off, his cell phone rang. He whispered a quick prayer for good news before he answered.
"Hello, Kevin, this is Nora."
He dropped the towel and stepped into boxers and jeans. "Hi, Nora. How are you?"
"I should be asking you that. You sound awful. Were you out all night?"
"Did you find anything?"
"Nothing," he answered, sitting at the foot of his bed. "I searched everywhere. It's like she vanished. Has there been any news?"
"Have you spoken to Viki or Bo?" she asked.
"No. I was out all night. Why? Is Mom okay?"
"Well, her heart is fine, if that's what you're asking." Nora paused before adding, "No one knows where Natalie is. They're afraid she's disappeared, too."
"Yeah, right," Kevin muttered. "She's up to one of her tricks. She knows that McBain is looking for Evangeline so she's making him have to choose between them. Well, McBain can look for Natalie and encourage her childish games. I'll take care of Evangeline."
"Kevin, they think it's for real—"
"Who does?" he bit out. "McBain? Of course, he would. I've watched the sick relationship he and my sister have formed. She gets into trouble and he bails her out. It's a silly little cycle. I'm glad Evangeline had the good sense to dump him before he dragged her into it. Look, Nora, I need to check in with the guys I have looking for her. I'll talk to you later."
"What should I tell her family? Her mother is worried sick."
"Tell Lisa that I won't stop until I find her daughter."
* * *
"Maybe you don't have anyone to look for you, but I know someone's looking for me. My entire family won't rest until I'm found!" Natalie stormed to a darkened corner and made a dramatic show of giving Evangeline her back.
A thousand retorts lingered on the tip of Evangeline's tongue. Restraint kept her from hurling them at the other woman. It was pointless to argue or even sink to her level. Losing control of her emotions sent her to the ladies' room and right to her abductor's clutches. She wouldn't be so foolish again.
For a split second, she thought about Layla. What if her accusations were true? What if Evangeline's first and only real hero was a cheat? What if her Daddy lied when he called her his one and only little princess?
Her throat tightened.
No! I won't cry about it. I have to get out of here first. That's the only thing that matters.
She rubbed the unshed tears from her eyes and moved around the room. Four windows were boarded shut. She checked for loose boards and found none. The space seemed to lack a door. But there had to be a way in and out. Sooner or later, their captor would come back. Evangeline planned to be ready when he did.
She grabbed an old, tattered blanket from the floor. After ripping it into shreds, she wrapped the pieces around her fist and began pounding the walls.
"What are you doing?" Natalie shouted. "You'll make him come back!"
"Or I'll make someone find us. Don't just stand there! Help me. There has to be a way out of here!"
Natalie slowly bound her hands with the pieces of fabric. She claimed a space a few feet away from Evangeline and started to make some noise.
"Just so you know," Evangeline said, hitting the wood with all her might, "I have family who'd stop at nothing to find me. I've never had to test their love. I know it's there. Don't ever doubt them again."
"I was just—"
"No!" Evangeline said, pausing a moment for emphasis. "I know exactly what you were doing. I won't allow it anymore."
Then, she returned to hitting the walls and screaming for help until her throat hurt.
* * *
"You're interfering with an investigation and I won't allow it."
Kevin's hands balled into fists. He glanced once at his uncle Bo before turning to face John. "You have no authority over me."
"I'll lock you in a cell and throw away the key," John said.
"Try it and I'll have your badge."
John made a move. Bo quickly stepped between them. "Enough!" the police commissioner bellowed. "That's it for both of you. Keep it up and I'll lock you both in a cell. Together!"
"Bo, you'd better clue him in," Kevin said. "He thinks he's Superman."
"Your nephew believes that money will get him anything he wants."
"It gives me the resources to find Evangeline," Kevin said. "She's been missing forty-eight hours, or haven't you noticed?"
Angry splotches of red colored the detective's face. Kevin only felt a moment's gratification in hitting McBain where it hurt. Just as quickly as it came, the sweet revenge transformed into frustration. Forty-eight hours gone. Where could Evangeline be? Was she hurt? She was tough, but even this situation warranted fear. He knew because each passing hour terrified him. He promised her family he'd find her. He didn't want to lie them or himself.
"That's enough, Kevin," Bo said in a deadly quiet tone. "Bickering won't bring them back."
"Them?" Kevin repeated. "You can't honestly believe Natalie is in trouble. She did this on purpose!"
"That's sick," John said.
Kevin fixed narrowed eyes on him. "What's sick is that you know I'm right. I know for a fact that Rex told you about the little scheme he and my little sister cooked up. They'd pretend that the Killing Club Killer went after her. Then you'd go running to save her and she'd prove that your love was true. Or some kind of bullshit, nonsense like that."
Bo's jaw dropped. "John, is that true?"
"Some of it, but it's not true now."
"Why not?" Kevin asked. "How do you know she's not out there somewhere planning a big romantic rescue for the two of you?" Kevin grabbed Bo's arm. "He should be off the case. Let him go and play house with Natalie. He doesn't give a damn about Evangeline."
"That's not true!"
"You hurt her, you lousy sonuvabitch—"
John's fist plowed into Kevin's mouth before he could finish his tirade. His quick reflexes kicked in and he responded with a hard punch to John's gut. Kevin was ready to dive in for more when once again, Bo stopped them.
"You're even now."
"Excuse me, Commissioner." Eddie, one of the uniformed officers, stepped inside Bo's office. "Mrs. Williamson and Evangeline's uncle are here. Someone slid this note under the door at Evangeline's apartment."
Kevin peered over Bo's shoulder as he removed the paper from the plastic protective covering. "It's addressed to McBain."
"Let me see." John held out his hand.
Bo shook his head. "If it was really meant for you, it would have been delivered to you. Eddie, please, make sure Mrs. Williamson waits. I need to speak with her. How long ago did she get it?"
"About fifteen minutes ago."
"What does it say, Bo?" The suspense was getting to Kevin. His adrenaline pumped at a frenetic pace. First punching John and now this. He was almost ready to explode.
"Two's company. Three is a crowd. Find the girls as they scream out loud. Tick tock. Time is running out, Lover Boy. Make your choice soon or they'll both go BOOM!'"