Going back isn’t always the right answer.
Recovering from a tragedy, Evelyn finds herself at a crossroad. While surrounded by those who love her, she can’t help but miss having family in her life. And despite her determination to return to school, when it comes time to choose a major, she is unable to make a decision, which leaves her questioning her future.
But answers sometime come when least expected, and Evelyn is offered an opportunity to follow a career she’d never considered. When a stranger shows up and offers Evelyn a chance to have family again, she considers maybe her life is finally making sense.
Except Evelyn finds not all answers are good, not everyone is who they appear to be, and family isn’t about blood but about the people who are still standing beside you when everything falls apart.
Evelyn is the final book in the Evelyn series, following Evelyn Johnson’s journey from her escape from her abusive husband to rebuilding her life one piece at a time.
Read an excerpt
She couldn’t breathe. Except she was breathing. She knew it. But the weight in her chest as she watched Leslie’s husband shuffle into the courtroom squeezed at her lungs. A hand covered hers, and she looked up at Chris, drawing in a quiet deep breath at his sympathetic smile.
He leaned over and whispered in her ear. “It’s almost over. Just breathe.”
Evelyn did as instructed, giving his hand a squeeze to let him know she was listening. Over. It was almost over. Months of the squeaky, slow wheels of justice were behind them. Michael would pay for Leslie’s death, albeit not in the way Evelyn would have preferred, but he would still pay.
When she turned her attention back to the front of the courtroom, her eyes locked with Michael’s, and his lips curled into a menacing grin. It reminded her of the first time he’d looked at her that way during the divorce hearing. She’d thought he was horrible then. She hadn’t realized how truly evil he was until he’d killed Leslie and attacked Evelyn.
Just like during the divorce hearing, she held his gaze. White-hot anger boiled inside her, her muscles tensing from the strain of not reacting. Again, Chris’s hand squeezed hers, and the rage building inside her calmed to a boiling anger.
The rest of the proceedings were a blur. Stand when the judge entered. Sit again. Legal jargon. And then it was time for him to admit to killing Leslie. She already knew the story and how the night’s events had unfolded. But as he stood and pleaded guilty, then proceeded to tell the judge what had transpired, warm tears ran down Evelyn’s face.
His words were cold, emotionless, like he’d been asked to read a passage from a textbook in class. It had been a fluke. He’d simply been driving by when he saw her walking to the shelter. It was the chance he hadn’t had during the divorce hearing; a chance to change her mind. She’d mouthed off to him, told him she wasn’t coming back. Then he’d noticed her missing ring. It just happened, he said. He was so angry. He hit her. Again. And again. And again.
Then he sat back down next to his attorney, and the moment was over. Honoring the plea deal, the judge sentenced him to the maximum sentence for manslaughter. A uniformed deputy took him into custody, and then he was gone.
All the emotions she’d been keeping in check came spilling out from her eyes. Chris’s arm wrapped tightly around her shoulders, and she gave in to it. Vaguely, she caught a nod of understanding between him and the prosecutor as he walked out.
“Come on,” Chris said, urging her to her feet. Then, his arm still wrapped around her shoulder, he steered her toward the double doors. When they exited, the heavy wood slammed shut behind them and echoed through the empty hallway.
Evelyn was quiet all the way out of the courthouse and through the parking lot. When they climbed into Chris’s truck, he paused before starting the engine.
“Do you need anything from your apartment?”
Evelyn shook her head, breathing in the musty smell of the worn leather seats. She’d spent a lot of time in the truck the last months. It felt safe to her, familiar.
As he started the truck, her hand slipped across to rest next to his leg. Once they pulled out, his hand dropped to hers and stayed there the entire drive back to the farm.
Lou was waiting on the front porch when they pulled in. As Evelyn ascended the stairs, Lou opened her arms to her, and without hesitation Evelyn fell into the soft protectiveness of her embrace. “It’s over now. May not be what you wanted, but he’s behind bars.”
“I know. I thought I would feel better. But I don’t.”
Lou stepped back and wiped a stray hair from Evelyn’s face, then cupped her cheeks. “You will.”
From behind, Chris’s warm hand rested on the small of her back, a little pressure nudging her toward the open door. “Why don’t you go lie down for a while?” he asked, his voice soft and gentle.
Yes. A nap. A nap sounded really good to Evelyn. Anything to stop the thoughts whirling around in her brain, if only for a short while.
Typically scornful of afternoon naps, Lou nodded her agreement and helped guide Evelyn toward the stairs. Had she not been so thoroughly exhausted, the entire scene would have made her chuckle.
But she didn’t chuckle. Instead, she side-hugged them both then trudged up the steep staircase to the guest room that was now, for all intents and purposes, her room.
For some reason, probably brought on by the trial, her mind wandered back to when she’d first stayed in that room. On the run, bruised and battered, it had just been a place to rest and heal. Now, it felt like a second home to her, and she was as comfortable here as she was in her own apartment.
Peeling off the stuffy jacket and dress pants she’d worn to the courthouse, Evelyn put on her night clothes and crawled into the bed. Despite being closed, sunlight still poured onto the bed through the thin cloth that served as a curtain.
Some days, it was still hard for her to believe that just two years earlier, she’d been merely surviving day-to-day, wondering when the next beating would occur, and now, she had a new family.
The whole ordeal that had been her life, escaping her husband, meeting new friends, Lance’s death, and then, of course, Leslie. Beautiful, smart, funny Leslie who could have had a wonderful life.
Except she had been murdered, her life cut short by a violent man. She often asked herself why she’d survived, and Leslie didn’t. But that answer never came. Deep down, Evelyn knew it wouldn’t.
Then there was Chris. How they were in a relationship, she didn’t know. If she had been him, she would have dumped herself long ago. But he hadn’t. Well, that wasn’t technically true. He had once, but they’d worked it out. Now, they spent what little free time they had together.
And school. Evelyn had no idea what she was going to do about that. Grades were fine. Motivation was not. She had yet to pick a major.
It was so much. Too much, really. She just wanted to stop the ride and get off, but the ride operator seemed to have disappeared, leaving her hanging white knuckled onto the bars and just praying she didn’t fall.
Lou set a plate down in front of her chair as Evelyn wandered into the dining room. A platter of chicken-fried steak, a steaming bowl of mashed potatoes, green beans, and gravy were already on the table. Chris sat in his chair to Evelyn’s right, sipping on a glass of iced tea.
“You look like you feel better,” he said.
Evelyn gave a weak smile and sat down. “I do. Thank you.” Her stomach growled as the smell of the food reached her nose. “Smells good, Lou.”
“You always say that,” Lou said with a wink as she took her seat. Immediately, she bowed her head, and Chris and Evelyn followed suit. A moment of silence passed, then they were digging into the food.
No one spoke as they all spooned food onto their plates and started to eat, leaving only sounds of silverware on plates and rattling ice to fill the space. Evelyn was okay with that. It was nice being able to just be present with others in a room without feeling the need to fill the silence.
As their eating pace slowed, Chris was the first to speak. “So, this may not be the best time, but I figured I should maybe just get it out of the way now.”
Evelyn finished chewing the bite she’d taken, then put her fork down. “That doesn’t sound good.”
“It’s not bad,” Chris said. “I mean mostly, anyway. My entire family is coming to the farm for Christmas.”
Immediately, Evelyn felt anxiety press on her chest at the thought of meeting Chris’s family. He’d only talked about them a few times, and though he never came right out and said it, she got the feeling there was some tension there. Then it dawned on her—maybe this was his way of telling her she shouldn’t come to Christmas.
“Do you still want me to come, then?”
Chris didn’t have a chance to answer because Lou spoke first. “What kind of question is that? Of course, we want you to come, child. And don’t let Chris scare you. The rest of the family doesn’t bite. Much, anyway,” she said with a wink.
Chris followed Lou. “Yes, I’d like you to be there. I would like to officially introduce you to everyone. I realize it’s going to be a lot, being Christmas and all. But my family is only together like this every few years, so it’s really the best time since they’re spread out everywhere.”
“Okay,” Evelyn said quietly, not at all okay. Christmas had been hard enough since her parents died, and she had been looking forward to a stress-free evening with Chris and Lou for her first Christmas at the farm. Now, it would be spent trying to impress Chris’s family in the hopes they approved of her. But she wasn’t about to tell Chris any of that.
“You sure you’re okay?” Chris asked, obviously picking up on her hesitation.
With a deep breath, she said quietly, “I just hope they like me, that’s all.”
Lou scoffed. “If they don’t, they’re idiots. You don’t worry about that, do you hear me? They’ll love you, just like we do.”
Evelyn nodded, though she didn’t really feel much better about it. She would still be there, though. If nothing else, for Chris.
“How was being back in the courtroom, Chris?” Lou asked as she pushed her plate back from her.
A horrible feeling washed over Evelyn as she realized she hadn’t even taken into consideration what effect being in the courtroom was going to have on Chris. He’d been an attorney once before, up until his fiancée had been tragically murdered in a mugging. He’d stepped away from the courtroom after that, had moved to the farm with Lou from New York City, and had become a police officer.
“It was fine,” Chris said. “Better than fine, really. I mean, I’ve had to testify several times as a police officer, but sitting on the other side of it through the hearing was kind of exciting. I’m not going to lie, it made me miss being a lawyer.” His face suddenly went pale as he grasped Evelyn’s hand. “Evelyn, I’m sorry. Obviously, I didn’t mean what happened to Leslie was exciting.”
Evelyn waved him off. “It’s okay. I know what you meant.”
“Still,” he said with an eyeroll. “That was a bad word choice.”
“Seriously, Chris. It’s fine. You loved being a lawyer. I know that. I’m just glad it was a positive experience for you. I felt bad there for a moment that I didn’t even think about what being there would be like for you. I was only concerned about myself.”
”As you should have been,” Chris said with a wink, then turned back to Lou. “Anyway, it was good.”
“Well, that’s good, then,” Lou said, then stood, signaling dinner was over. “Also, can we all just agree that we’re adults here, and if you’re gonna continue to sneak down to Chris’s apartment every time you stay the night, then just stay in his apartment in the first place? Maybe then I’ll get some sleep instead of listening to you clomp down those stairs.”
She picked up her plate and continued into the kitchen. Evelyn felt the heat rush into her cheeks, and when she looked at Chris, saw his face was just as red. They stared at each other for a second, then both burst out laughing.