Twenty four hours after the procedure Duke couldn't stand another moment without meeting his daughter. He stumbled from his hospital bed and made it to the door. Layla and the nurse caught him as his knees started to give.
"What are you doing?" Layla asked.
"You shouldn't be out of bed, Mr. Buchanan," the nurse added. "Your body needs time to recover."
"I don't care about time. I need to see Emerest. I need to see for myself that she's doing better."
"I can't okay tható"
"I don't need your okay," Duke countered. "I'm her father and I'm going. Even if I have to crawl to her room."
"Duke, relax." Layla stroked his arm. "Can you get him a wheelchair?"
"I'll see what I can do."
As the nurse walked away, Duke muttered, "She'd better do more than see."
"You're starting to act like your father," Layla half-joked.
"I'll take that as a compliment. Family is important to Buchanans."
"I can see that." She wrapped her arm high around his waist. "Come sit on the bed until she comes back."
He shook his head. "Nope. I'm standing right here until she comes back. And if she doesn't return within the next two minutes, I'm going to Emerest's room without her."
"I'll take you to her room."
He gave her a tight smile. The bone marrow transplant wasn't an easy procedure to endure. His backside still ached, but that didn't compare with the ache in his heart. So much time had passed. He'd already missed the first fifteen months of his daughter's life. He couldn't stand to miss another minute.
"Here she comes," Layla said.
Layla and the nurse carefully eased him onto the wheelchair. Beads of sweat cropped his forehead and salted his upper lip. He licked the perspiration away and settled himself on the chair. Discomfort didn't compare to his need to see his child.
They wheeled him to the pediatric intensive care unit. Layla pulled on sterile hospital scrubs and a mask. Duke waited patiently as they suited him up the same.
"We have to be careful that she doesn't get an infection," Layla said.
"I understand." He pushed himself from the chair.
"I don't want her first memory of me is to be in a wheelchair," he said in a voice husky with emotion. His heart started to race. Emerest's very first memories didn't include him. He'd spend the rest of their lives making up for that.
"Can I lean on you?"
Layla nodded. "Of course."
She waited for him to put his arm around her shoulder. Taking careful, measured steps, they entered their daughter's room. Duke's first sight of his peacefully, sleeping daughter took his breath away. He'd never doubt the possibility of love at first sight ever again.
His gaze locked with Layla's and he felt the emotion twofold. Now that he had mother and daughter in his life, he didn't plan to relinquish hold of either of them.
- - -
Evangeline stepped onto the deck and admired the endless waves of the Pacific. Stars twinkled in the sky and their reflection shone brilliantly in the blue water. She'd forgotten how much she loved the West Coast. The California coastline brought a welcome change to Llanview's landscape. A chilly breeze blew from the ocean. She shivered. A moment later, Kevin's arms locked around her from behind.
"I should have known you'd have a house in Malibu," she said, sliding her hands over his.
"A ski lodge in Aspen, a penthouse in Manhattan and a villa inó"
"Stop." She turned within the circle of his arms. "That wasn't an invitation to list your real estate. I know you're wealthy. Very wealthy."
He drew his eyebrows together in a frown. "Does that bother you?"
He nodded. "You're an independent woman who's used to taking care of herself."
"You're a man who likes taking care of people that he cares about."
"People I love," he said. "I look into your eyes and I see the possibility of a wonderful future...with you."
Her eyes narrowed as she concentrated on his conviction. "You're that sure about us."
"I've never been more sure about anything else in my life."
Another stronger breeze blew. Goosebumps covered her arms and back. He rubbed his hands over her, warming her with his masterful touch. Then, he took her hand and led her back inside. After he closed and locked the glass doors, he joined her on the sofa.
He held her hand between both of his. "I promised I wouldn't push you."
"You're not." She paused as she smiled. "That's the wonderful thing about being with you. You honor your promises."
"I won't ask for details about you and John."
She shook her head. "You don't need to. He's in the past and that's where my relationship with him is. I won't lie to you. I cared very deeply for him. There was a time when I thought I wanted him in my life forever."
"But that's in the past, too?" Kevin asked.
"It's dead and buried." She gently caressed his cheek. The hint of stubble prickled the palm of her hand. "I've been scared about our relationship."
"I was afraid of using you to get past the hurt."
"You shouldn't have that fear. You're not a user." He kissed her palm. With slow deliberation, he kissed each finger and drew her thumb into his mouth. "You're a beautiful, compassionate woman. You're far too good for me, but I won't let that stop me from loving you and taking care of you for as long as you let me."
"That sounds like an offer." She inhaled a sharp breath. The words escaped before she could stop herself from saying them aloud.
He smiled. "More like the foreshadowing of a proposal, but not now. Later, when we're both ready and when you're sure about what you feel for me."
- - -
Six months later...
The first rays of the early morning sunlight filtered through the lace curtains. From the intensity of the beams, Kevin guessed the second day of his Texas honeymoon would be a scorcher. His beautiful bride snuggled closer to him as slumber continued to claim her. He brushed Evangeline's long, dark tresses from her face. An overwhelming sensation of love gripped his heart.
A few days ago, they took their vows. When she looked into his eyes and promised to love him forever, he believed her, but more than that, she believed. From the first moment they met, he sensed she possessed the possibility of changing his life. For some reason, Fate kept throwing them together...during Asa's case, at Christmas and after her breakup with John. Strong unseen powers couldn't be denied. He surrendered first. Knowing that actions meant more than words, he gave her his all. Her surrender came soon after the bonds of distrust created by John's betrayal loosened and disappeared. Kevin thanked God that he had the patience to wait it all out.
Feeling her wide eyed gaze on him, he turned his head to meet her eyes. "Good morning, Cookie."
She rolled her eyes at the nickname. "Good morning, Cupcake."
"It is," he said. "The first of many. How did you sleep?"
"I kept having the same dream."
He frowned. "What dream?"
"It went something like this," she murmured seductively.
Her hands took a slow path down his torso. A low growl of anticipation came from deep in his throat. When she closed her mouth over his, he was more than ready to thoroughly explore her depths.
Slow and deep, his tongue dove inside her mouth and collided with hers. A passionate duel ignited. The kiss soared to decadent heights as Kevin rolled her onto her back. Her thighs parted, giving him free access to the pleasures at the center. Hardness plundered her liquid core.
"Yes, Cupcake," she murmured, grasping his backside. Her hips rolled in unison to his thrusts. "Just like that. Don't stop. Please, love, don't stop."
Her encouragement came in gasps. That sexy tone of her voice warned him that ecstasy was only a few strokes away. Wanting to prolong the moment, he willed himself to slow down. The force of his restraint brought beads of perspiration to his forehead. As he raised up to gaze upon the love reflected in her eyes, a droplet fell to her top lip. Without batting an eye, she licked her mouth. A wicked gleam flickered in her chocolate orbs. His decision to delay her ride to fulfillment would cost him.
Her slender hands slid up his chest. She used her thumbnails to torment the tiny, hard tips of his chest. He barely had a chance to react when suddenly, she pushed him onto his back.
"Evangeline," he groaned.
Her incredible skill of squeeze and release drove all thought from his mind. Kevin gripped her hips. With hard thrusts of his hips, he accepted her silent challenge.
Dark hair framing her face like a halo and her honey brown shoulders and breasts glistening, she tilted her head back and rode him hard, bringing him to the edge of ecstasy several times without taking him over. Although he started the game, he quickly reached his breaking point and knew the exact caress that would have her falling into the precipice of pure joy.
Keeping his left hand low on her hip, he moved his other hand to their joined flesh. He slipped two fingers inside and easily located her hot button. Circular strokes to the slippery nubbin made her squeal with delight. Within moments, her velvet grip clenched him to submission. His back arched as he cried out and his seed filled her.
Later, he curled his body around her. Their labored breathing returned to normal. The distinct pounding in his chest lessened. He caught his breath and found his voice.
"That was some dream."
She held his hands and snuggled against him. "I have it all the time. The only thing better than dreaming about you is the reality of being loved by you. I love you so much, Kevin."
"I love you, too," he said the words easily, "with all my heart."
"Sounds like my tough girl is melting." He nuzzled her ear.
"Into a puddle. I used to be scared of marriage. Now all I can do is look forward to sharing the rest of my life with you."
"So do I, Mrs. Buchanan. So do I."