Evangeline awakened to the vibrant fragrance of roses, lilies and tulips. Thankfully, the floral scent overpowered the hospital's usual sterile odor. She released a yawn and pushed herself into a sitting position.
"What are you doing?"
The voice startled her. She shrank back against the bed. "Who's there?"
"I'm sorry." Kevin moved into her line of vision. "I didn't want to wake you so I moved the chair back here." He brought the chair closer and moved to sit on the edge of her bed. He took her hand, lightly stroking her fingers. "How did you sleep?"
"I didn't dream," she said in a hoarse voice. Smoke from the fire had grated the inside of her throat. She swallowed hard and frowned. Her throat hurt.
"Here's some water." He released her hand and filled a glass with water. "Drink it slowly."
Smiling, he brushed her hair from her cheek. His gentle touch was comforting. She closed her eyes as the cool water slid down her throat. Kevin continued to caress her hair and cheek.
"How's that?" he asked, quietly.
"Nice." She opened her hands and placed the glass on the bedside table. "You don't have to take care of me."
"I know. I want to."
"Where's my mom?"
"She's in a meeting with Dr. Wolek. They're discussing your health at length."
"Oh, God." Evangeline could just imagine that conversation. Her mother was not a pushover. Once she got an idea about something, heaven help whoever tried to get in Lisa Williamson's way. "What about my health? Other than a scratchy throat, I feel fine."
"She's making sure and I agree with her."
"What about you?" She noticed the bandage on his right hand. "How bad is that?"
"Nothing major." He shrugged. "Just a little burn. I'll be fine in a few days."
"Why do I get the feeling you're lying?"
"I have no idea. Maybe you're suspicious by nature." He tapped her nose with his index finger. "Seriously, I'm okay. I'm more concerned about you. I may as well tell you that the maniac is still on the loose. Bo assigned a guard to you and Natalie."
A shudder rippled through her. "Do you think he'll come after me again?"
"It's possible." He frowned. "I don't want to scare you, but having both you and Natalie rescued probably wasn't his game plan. He expected John to come alone. Duke and I followed John just in case."
"John couldn't decide between us," she said softly. "You didn't hesitate. You came straight to me."
"It wasn't a hard decisionó"
"Natalie's your sister. How could you choose me over her?"
"Like I said, the decision was easy."
He pressed a finger to her mouth. "No buts. While that bastard had you, I found out that Rex and Natalie cooked up a stupid scheme to have John 'rescue' her. For all I know, she could have been behind your abduction."
"She wasn't. She was terrified. She had nothing to do with what happened to us."
His mouth tightened. "That's a surprise, but it doesn't change what she and Rex planned."
"Did John know?"
Kevin nodded. "He knew."
"And he still couldn't decide between us," she said, slowly digesting that information. "Our lives on the line and he can't choose me. What does that say?"
"That he's an idiot and not worthy of you."
She frowned. "You keep saying that."
"Only because it's the truth. John isn't the man for you."
- - -
Following a narrow escape from a fiery death, Evangeline disappeared. Tracking her down proved to be as difficult as Layla's initial decision to make her existence known to the famed attorney. Layla learned the truth about her father and his other family at a very young age. The knowledge created a hole of longing inside. What was her half-sister like? Did their father love Evangeline more? Could the siblings one day be friends or would they always live their lives separately?
Ultimately the questions became too much and the hole became too large. News about Evangeline's latest accolade planted a seed inside Layla. Maybe the time had come for the two sisters to meet. Once the seed took root, it was only a matter of time for the idea to grow and blossom. Layla bought a ticket for Llanview and didn't pause once to reconsider.
Days of footwork and expert eavesdropping brought her to the outskirts of town. The Buchanan estate was vast. The scent of old money hit Layla the moment she pulled into the long, circular drive. From what she'd discovered, Kevin Buchanan invited Evangeline and Lisa into his grandfather's home to protect them from the Killing Club Killer. Layla guessed Kevin's true intent was the same as any other man interested in a woman. Sooner or later, he'd probably succeed and have her big sister right where he wanted her. In his bed.
She parked her rental car just behind a thicket of bushes. Surprise always worked in her favor. She double checked her appearance in the reflection of the car's window. Long, dark brown tresses framed her creamy mocha complexion perfectly. Her attire, while not as uptight as Evangeline's, was classy enough to present her as a together sistah and not some deadbeat hoochie mama looking for a handout. Satisfied with her appearance, she slipped her handbag onto her shoulder and strutted the short distance to the front door.
Her knock was quickly answered but she wasn't prepared for the man who greeted her. What the hell was her hot, Texan, one night stand doing in Llanview?
"What are you doing here?"
They asked the question in unison.
He answered first. "I live here. How did you know I was here?"
Her jaw dropped. "I'm not here because of you. Do you really live here? Who are you?"
"Duke Buchanan," he said with a wide grin and heavy accent. "I never got your name."
"Oh! You must be related to Evangeline." He stepped aside and opened the door wide enough for her to enter. "Come in...Layla. I like your name."
"Thanks, Duke." She gave him a bright smile and stepped inside. A nice invitation and a gorgeous rich guy... Things were definitely looking up.