"This is sick," Natalie muttered. "I can't believe you're going through with it."
Evangeline counted to ten before she answered. Natalie's constant whining grated on her nerves. They were in a no-win situation. Believing John would save them at the last moment was a child's fairy tale. Their only way out was to believe in themselves.
"It's sick, but it's what he wants." Evangeline slid the pleated skirt over her trim hips and pulled the matching sweater over her head. "Hurry up before he gets back."
"I'm not doing it." Natalie shook her head.
"Suit yourself." Evangeline put her sock covered feet inside the white Keds. As she tied the shoelaces, she added, "You always do. He wants us both in these stupid cheerleader uniforms. He made that clear before he left. God knows what he'll do if we don't comply. But you don't give a damn about the consequences. You can't ever see beyond what you want."
In a flurry of movement, Evangeline grabbed the uniform left for Natalie and slammed the outfit into the other woman's chest. "No, you shut up and put the damn clothes on! NOW!"
Natalie jumped into action. Without any further protests, she changed into the cheerleader uniform. Per their captor's sick sense of humor, their outfits showed allegiance to two separate teams. Evangeline didn't miss the irony of that. If any women were on two different worlds, it was she and Natalie. The younger woman lived in a bubble. Nothing else seemed to matter except what she wanted. She didn't give a damn about who was hurt in the process as long as she was happy in the end. The sad part was that Natalie didn't have a clue. No one ever found true happiness at the expense of others.
"Okay, your highness, I'm in the suit, what now?"
Evangeline resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "I'm not your enemy. We're in this thing together. Let's leave the childish name-calling until we're out of this mess."
"How dare you call me childish?"
"Natalie, please!" Blood pounded Evangeline's forehead. She rubbed her temple. God, her head hurt. When would this end?
"Your head hurts, too?"
She nodded. "Yeah. Yours?"
"It hasn't stopped. I don't know what he used to knock us out."
"Probably chloroform. I researched it for a case. One of the side effects is a headache. I had no idea the pain would last for days." Evangeline moved to an upturned crate and sat. "I wonder what he has planned next. We have to be ready. If an opportunity comes, we have to take it."
A few minutes later, the door opened. The man, wearing a hooded mask, entered the room. He threw hoods at them while waving a gun with his other hand. His voice sounded distorted as he gave his next instructions. "Put the hoods on over your heads."
"Do it," Evangeline snapped, cutting Natalie off.
"Listen to the attorney." Their captor laughed softly as Natalie scowled. "Aw, the poor little rich girl doesn't get her way. Buck up. Your time is coming. You may get what you want. If you're willing to claim your stake."
- - -
"Are you sure about this, Dad?"
Kevin ignored the warning in Duke's voice. Sure, Bo didn't want them trailing John, but Kevin was desperate. His gut instinct told him that McBain was the root of Evangeline's disappearance. Following the detective should lead him directly to his missing friend. Nothing, not even his son's apprehension would keep Kevin from finding Evangeline.
"I can let you out at the next red light," Kevin said, his hands tightening around the steering wheel. "Just say the word."
"I'm not leaving you," Duke said.
His son's statement of solidarity eased the tension in the car. Since Duke's return to Llanview, father and son had often been at odds. This recent turn in favor of a positive relationship was all Kevin ever wanted for them.
They drove in companionable silence for awhile. In the quiet, Kevin wondered about Evangeline's fate. She tried many high profile criminal cases. Had someone retaliated out of jealousy? That idea didn't seem right. The letter to John was too personal. That had to be the angle! Someone had a personal vendetta again McBain and Evangeline was caught in the crossfire.
"He's slowing down."
Kevin eased off the accelerator. John had led them to the Love Community Center. The detective parked his car on the curb and raced inside. Kevin and Duke quickly followed suit.
The race led them straight to the gym. A flash of light blinded Kevin for a moment. He stopped short, and Duke plowed into him.
"Oh, my God! They're burning at the stake!" Duke cried. "That's sick."
Kevin blinked. Evangeline and Natalie were tied to two separate stakes on opposite sides of the room. Flames of orange, red and gold flickered from a pile of wood stacked just inches below their bound feet. Gags prevent both women from screaming aloud. John stood in the middle, as if torn between whom to rescue first.
Kevin didn't hesitate. "Duke find a fire extinguisher and call 9-1-1!"
While Duke took off for the extinguisher, Kevin shoved past John. In a leap of faith, he jumped over the flames and freed Evangeline in record speed. Heat scorched his arms and his hands. The soles of his shoes burned like molten lava. He ignored it all as he carried Evangeline to safety. From the corner of his eye, he saw John carry Natalie off.
"Take slow, deep breaths." Kevin pulled the gag from Evangeline's mouth and quickly untied her arms and legs.
Her shoulders shook as she inhaled. A series of coughs overtook her. Then, tears streamed down her cheeks. She tried to speak but her voice was hoarse. "Kevin..."
"Ssh." He smoothed hair from her cheeks. "Take it easy. You don't have to talk. Just focus on breathing."
She glanced past him. Fresh tears filled her eyes. He didn't have to turn around to know why. Gently, he pulled her into the circle of his arms. She clung to him and he rocked her back and forth.
"Don't think about them. You're with me and you're safe. I won't let anyone hurt you."