Kevin read Ethan's report several times. The information would be traumatic if it were true. He closed the folder and locked it inside his desk before he gave his private investigator his full attention.
"How accurate is that?"
Ethan frowned. "You've worked with me long enough to know that I only produce the truth."
"I didn't mean to offend you," Kevin said by way of apology. "Layla tried to disrupt Evangeline's life on one of the most important nights of her life. I need to be positive that she's who she claims to be and that there is no doubt as to what she wants."
"You can be positive," Ethan said. "I stand by my work."
"I know you do." Kevin pulled out his checkbook and quickly scribbled a figure that would more than compensate the investigator and soothe his bruised ego. "Thank you. I appreciate how quickly you completed the investigation."
"Obviously time is of the essence." Ethan pocketed the check without pausing to glance at it. "If you need anything else, you know how to reach me."
Ethan left. Kevin used the ensuing silence to weigh his options. His newfound knowledge couldn't be taken lightly. He had no choice but to tell Evangeline everything. The question was how.
The object of his thoughts floated into the room like an angel with invisible wings. He tried to summon his usual smile of joy at seeing her. But Ethan's report preyed on his thoughts. Until he resolved the issues presented, he wouldn't be much use to Evangeline.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Ethan Bennett just left," he said, moving across the room to take her hand. "He's the private investigator I hired..."
"To get the goods on Layla," she finished for him. Her fingers flexed nervously against his palm. "Well? How bad is it?"
"It's pretty bad," he replied. "Let's sit down."
She sat without objecting. Her eyes widened. "I don't like dramatic pauses. Just tell me what he found out."
"She's really your sister," Kevin began.
Evangeline nodded. "I know. My mom and Uncle Clay confirmed it. That can't be the worst of it."
"No, it isn't." He swallowed hard. Bearing this kind of news wasn't easy. He couldn't predict how Evangeline would react. Regardless her response, he'd be there for her all the way.
"Kevin, you're starting to scare me. Out with it. Please."
"Layla has a daughter. A baby really. Anyway, the baby is aplastic anemia and needs a matching donor for a bone marrow transplant. Layla tried but she isn't a match. I think she came here hoping that you would be."
"Oh, dear God." She covered her mouth with her hand. "Why didn't she just tell me that?"
"I don't know. Apparently, Layla's lived her life on the edge. Living like that can make a person wary."
"Where is the baby?" she asked.
"She's in Los Angeles at the UCLA Medical Center."
"What's her name?"
"Emerest," Kevin said quietly.
"That's an odd name," she murmured under her breath as she abruptly stood. "I need to see Layla. I have to talk to her, face to face."
"I'll take you."
He rose from the sofa. Seconds later, Evangeline was in his arms, hugging him in a tight embrace. "I can't thank you enough for what you've done. I pray that we're not too late."
- - -
Evangeline glanced around the Angel Square Hotel without any twinges of nostalgia. After breaking up with John, she never imagined having a reason to return. It was funny how Fate worked. Kevin took her hand and they quickly climbed the steps to Layla's room.
He knocked on the door and Evangeline called out, "Layla, it's me, Evangeline. Please open the door. We need to talk."
A series of locks clicking open sounded from the other side of the door. Then, Layla appeared in the doorway. Her red-rimmed eyes said things that Evangeline hoped were not true. She released Kevin's hand and moved into the room.
"How's Emerest?" she asked without preamble. "Please tell me I'm not too late."
Layla released an audible gasp. "How did you...?" Then, she glanced past Evangeline to Kevin. "Your rich boyfriend had me investigated."
"Does it matter?" Evangeline asked. "Please, all I want to do is help."
"What a sudden change of heart." Hurt and anger laced Layla's voice. "Now, in my hour of need, we're family."
"You know I never knew about you," Evangeline said. "My parents made that decision and I apologize for them and for how they made...make you feel."
"I wish I could believe you."
Kevin stepped forward. "Your little girl is very sick. Does any of this other stuff really matter right now?"
"Kevin's right," Evangeline added. "We can play the blame game later. I'm here and I want to help. I want to be tested to see if I'm a match."
"It's not a pleasant procedure," Layla advised. Fresh tears watered her eyes. She grabbed a tissue and dabbed at the moisture.
"I can handle it."
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Layla asked.
"I'm sure. She's my niece and you're my sister. I need to try."
"Okay." Layla's hands shook as she reached for the telephone book and telephone. "I'll see if we can get the next flight out. Maybe they'll have something on standby."
Kevin took the telephone and book from her. "My private jet is waiting for us at our landing strip. Get whatever you need and we can leave right now."
Tears rolled unchecked down Layla's cheeks. "Thank you."
- - -
Layla's tale about her sick baby daughter tortured Duke. For days, he pondered ways to help. He longed to discuss the details with his father, but he promised Layla to keep quiet. In turn, he made her promise that if she ever needed him, she wouldn't hesitate to come to him.
An accounting error kept him at BE longer than usual. He returned home to find Kevin and Evangeline gone. His great grandfather didn't have any information so Duke climbed the winding staircase to his room. Once there, the nagging thoughts that plagued his mind took over.
Layla's little girl was only fifteen months old. Duke grabbed a notepad and quickly sketched a fifteen month calendar.
He counted backwards and reached a conclusion that rocked his world.
What if he was the baby's father?