Layla paused in Angel Square to admire the stone statue. A spark of envy smacked her with surprising force. The neighborhood had its very own angel to watch over them. She wondered what happened to her protector. Did her bastard conception make her ineligible for an angelic guardian?
Forget that. She didn't need an angel watching over her. She could handle any situation. All she ever needed was time and money. Unfortunately, time was starting to run out.
She left the square and headed to the hotel around the block. Minus the crazy blonde who managed the place, the room and board wasn't too bad. Of course, nothing was as good as home.
After making a quick call to check on things in Los Angeles, she kicked off her heels and was about to sit when a knock sounded at the door.
"You have the wrong room!" she called out.
"No, I don't, Layla. Open the door."
Shit! How did he find her?
"Layla, I'll break it down if I have to."
She didn't doubt his threat. On bare feet, she padded to the door. Maybe if she talked fast, he'd just leave.
"What?" she asked in a voice heavy with bravado.
"Still the same tough kid with a chip on her shoulder," Clay said as he entered the room. "A kid who never listens."
"I stopped being a kid a long time ago."
He lifted his eyebrows in disdain. "So I've heard."
She fought the urge to curse him. And won. "What's up, Uncle Clay? I know you didn't hunt me down to reminisce about the family. What do you want?"
He fixed her with a hard stare. "You know exactly why I'm here."
She nodded. "Evangeline."
"You were never to contact her. You broke the arrangement."
"She's my sister. Some bonds can't be broken."
He smirked. "The acting classes have paid off. I almost believed you."
She rolled her eyes. The pompous windbag was a real jackass. His preference for his brother's firstborn was no secret. Ignoring his contempt became second nature after many years of hoping for more.
She opened the door. "Sorry you can't stay."
"How much will it take?"
"I don't want your money."
"That'll be a first." Clay pulled out his wallet. "I have five hundred dollars cash. I can wire twenty-five hundred to your bank in Los Angeles. It'll be there waiting for you when you get there."
"I won't tell you again," she said, her jaw set with hurt and humiliation.
"Don't try to play hardball with me, little girl. You're out of your league."
"And you're crossing the line." Duke stood in the doorway. His presence was sudden and stunned Layla to silence. "She doesn't want you here. Goodbye."
Clay didn't argue. "She's not as sweet and innocent as she looks. Be careful."
Duke stepped aside as Clay walked out. After the other man left, he gave her a faint smile. "Are you okay?"
"I will be."
"Do you want me to go after him?"
"No!" She inhaled a shaky breath. "No, just leave him alone. He's not worth it. What are you doing here?"
"Dad interrupted us. I hadn't asked you out for dinner."
Her eyebrows arched in surprise. "Dinner?"
"You do eat."
"It's a way to pass the time."
"My grandmother has a pretty nice restaurant. I can get us a great table on short notice and without reservations. Interested?"
She smiled. Dinner with the handsome Buchanan would be a nice way to past the time while her brain formulated a new plan.
- - -
"Am I in love with you?" Kevin slowly repeated Evangeline's question.
She hadn't intended to let him know she'd overhead his conversation with John. But hearing the intense way he defended her tampered with the hole in her heart. Suddenly, she became aware of feeling things. Like how her pulses raced when Kevin touched her hand, smiled at her or held her in his arms. She hadn't imagined how he trembled when he freed her from the burning stake. He didn't pause once to assess his own personal injury. He dove right in and rescued her. That image of him transformed her fiery nightmares into very sweet dreams with fairytale endings.
"That's the question," she said softly. "Maybe I shouldn't have asked it."
He stood and took her hand, leading her to the sofa where they both sat. "You overheard us."
"I was looking for you and then, I heard you and John."
"Are you mad that I wouldn't let him in?"
She mulled over his question. Hearing John's voice made her sick to her stomach. The acrid smell of smoke and the painful realization that he'd never choose her first taunted her senses. Her mother was right. Being with a man who refused to wholly commit to her was the worse mistake she'd ever made. Thank God, she had the good sense to end their relationship. The decision put a whole in her heart, but every day, Kevin's tender loving care repaired the damage.
"You are mad," he said. He sighed. "I can't help that, Evangeline. He's messed up inside. You don't want to be involved with a guy like that."
"You're right. I don't and I'm not." She took his hand and held it between both of hers. "My relationship with John is in the past. I'm living in the present."
He smiled. "That's good to know."
"You still haven't answered my question."
"You noticed that, huh?" He laughed softly.
"It's a big question and I probably have no right to askó"
Her eyes widened. "Excuse me?"
"In love with you," he said in a husky voice. "I'm falling. I tried to stop it, but it's been months in the making. I don't expect you to feel the same. No matter how bad a person can be for you, it can take awhile to get them out of your system."
"Ssh." She pressed her fingers to his mouth. "Don't sell yourself short. You're making it very easy for me to forget about John."
"This easy." She leaned in with a kiss that deeply conveyed exactly what she felt.