“I don’t know what to do,” Eve whispered, glancing desperately in Cammie’s direction.
It was the wrong thing to do, and she cursed that she’d broadcast her fear for her sister to see.
Cammie immediately started crying. Not loudly. No. Cammie had learned to be quiet at all times. Big, silent tears rolled down her cheeks, and her thin shoulders shook. Tears pricked Eve’s eyelids as her heart broke into a thousand pieces.
She broke away from Donovan, and this time he let her go. She flew to the couch and knelt, pulling Cammie into her arms.
“Please don’t worry, darling,” Eve soothed. “He only wants to help. He wants to bring a doctor to see you and make you all better. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
Even as she said it, she knew that as soon as Travis got home from work, they’d pack their meager belongings and as much of the food that Donovan had brought as they could carry, and by the time Donovan showed up with his doctor tomorrow, they’d be long gone.
They were far too exposed here. First the woman who had hired Travis and now her brother. He wanted to bring in a doctor and God only knew who else. What if it was all a ruse? What if the cops showed up at her door tomorrow?
They needed anonymity. They needed a place where they would gain no notice. Where they’d be just another poor, struggling family among many.
There were shelters in larger cities. Maybe even Memphis, if they could get that far. There had to be a way for them to get the shelter they needed until Eve could pick up a steady enough job to bolster their finances. She and Trav could tag-team, where one would always be with Cammie while the other worked.
“What did he bring to eat?” Cammie whispered.
Her question nearly undid Eve.
“I brought lots of yummy things that my niece, who is about your age, assures me are the best things ever,” Donovan said cheerfully.
Eve yanked her head around to see that Donovan had followed them over.
“But I think perhaps we should take it easy on your stomach. At least until you’re feeling a little better. How does a grilled cheese, hot soup and a Sprite sound?”
Cammie’s eye brightened. “I love grilled cheese sandwiches.”
“Consider it done,” Donovan said, performing an exaggerated bow that elicited a giggle from Cammie.
Eve watched in wonder as Cammie relaxed under the force of nature that was Donovan Kelly. The man was too good to be true, and Eve had learned the hard way that what appeared to be too good was precisely that. A facade.
“Mind if I steal Eve a moment so she can help me whip up lunch?” Donovan asked.
Cammie slowly nodded, her hand automatically going to her mouth. She slid her thumb inside, a habit she’d only recently adopted. One that was a result of the stress they were all under.
Donovan nudged Eve’s elbow, guiding her away from the couch and back to the tiny kitchenette. He took over as if this were indeed his own kitchen. She stood stiffly, watching as he expertly put together the meal, even including a cupcake on a separate paper plate for Cammie’s dessert.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked in a low voice. “You don’t know me—us. Why would you go to this much trouble for complete strangers?”
His head whipped up and for the first time she caught a glint of anger in his green eyes.
“What would you have me do, Eve? Turn a blind eye to people who desperately need help? Or ignore the fact that you’re scared to death and are running from something or someone? Don’t look so stunned. It’s not hard to figure out. And if I can see it, don’t you think everyone else can? Only those others won’t be of no danger to you like I am. I get that you don’t trust anyone. Believe me, I get that. But I’m going to do everything in my power to change that. There are good people in the world. I’m trying to convince you that I’m one of them.”
“It could be dangerous for you,” she blurted.
It was as close to an acknowledgment of what he already knew as she was going to get.
Some of the anger dimmed from his eyes, and once again she saw that glimmer that told her she wasn’t just someone in need he was helping. And it befuddled her.
“How about you let me decide what I consider dangerous? You say I know nothing about you, but, Eve, you know nothing about me. Yet. And believe me when I say I am not going to let anything happen to you or Cammie and Travis.”
The hell of it was, in that moment, he spoke with so much conviction that she found herself believing him when she should be believing or trusting no one.
“Now here’s what I want you to do,” Donovan said as he pushed one of the two plates he’d prepared across the counter to her. “I want you to go sit with Cammie and eat. You’re as badly in need of a meal as she is.”
“And what are you going to do?” she asked quietly.
“I’m going to finish putting away the things I brought and make sure your refrigerator is stocked. And then I’m going to make a list of anything else you need so that when I come with Maren tomorrow, I’ll bring whatever then.”
IT took everything Donovan had to walk out of Eve’s trailer and stroll to his truck like he’d just been on some neighborly errand for his mother. He was seething on the inside, and he couldn’t even pinpoint the exact target of his rage.
Seeing Eve—and Cammie—look at him like he was some monster and they were expecting the worst turned his stomach. And Cammie. God. He couldn’t picture her without seeing Charlotte and couldn’t imagine his niece in the same situation.
He—all of KGI—took a hell of a lot for granted. They shouldn’t. Enough had happened over the years for them to know all too well not to take a single moment with their families for granted. And yet it was all too easy to forget the circumstances that others lived in. Despite the fact that they saw the worst in the world on a daily basis.
As he drove away, he picked up his cell to call Sam to see if he’d contacted Maren—and Steele—but mainly Maren. Because Steele could put up a fight all he wanted, but if Maren wanted to do something, Steele didn’t have a chance. Steele would just make damn sure she wasn’t walking into a dangerous situation, and after what Donovan had witnessed, he knew that there was nothing to fear over Maren going to check on Cammie. Whatever the danger was, it wasn’t from Eve. No, whatever the hell it was that had struck terror into Eve and her tiny family’s hearts was out there lurking and waiting for an opportunity to strike. An opportunity that, if Donovan had any control over it, would never present itself.
After Sam confirmed that Maren was in and that Steele had been assured all the bases were covered as far as Maren’s safety, Donovan rang off and drove toward the compound, Eve squarely on his mind.
He activated the key code to open the gate and waited as it swung open, allowing him entrance. The tight security net around the compound reminded him of the reality of his life. His family’s lives. It was a necessary evil, one they were all well aware of. But it brought to the forefront that they would never lead normal lives. That theirs came with an awareness that at any time, enemies could strike at them, at their most vulnerable weakness. Their wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.
Donovan had wondered in the past, as he was sure all his brothers had, particularly when their family had been in jeopardy, if it was all worth it. If what they did was worth the risk to their loved ones. But at the end of the day, the answer was always the same. Yes. They might not be able to solve all the ills of the world, but they could damn well make it a better place, one mission at a time. For every criminal they took down, for every child they rescued, for every hostage they freed, they made a difference.
Maybe that answer would change if they ever lost any part of their family to the enemies they’d accumulated over the years since KGI’s inception. But for now, they were still absolutely devoted to righting wrongs and taking down the evil in the world.
As he pulled up to his house, he was surprised to see Steele’s SUV parked out front. Not that it should have come as a shock. Steele would want a firsthand accounting of the situation his wife was walking into.
But then the passenger door opened, and Donovan saw Maren step into the sunshine, a warm smile lighting her features as she stared toward Donovan. A moment later, Steele got out of the driver’s side, his expression not as warm as Maren’s. Donovan sighed and stepped out of his vehicle. Might as well beard the lion now.
“Hello, Van,” Maren called out. And then she opened the passenger door and ducked in, a second later reappearing with her daughter.
Donovan’s smile was instantaneous. Okay, so he was a total sucker for babies. Sue him.
“Hey, sweetheart,” he said as he walked toward where Maren stood with the baby. “I swear that girl gets bigger every time I see her.”
Maren grinned. “That’s because I’m a twenty-four-seven fast-food restaurant. Clearly she inherited her father’s appetite because I swear I can’t ever feed her enough.”
Steele grunted and then reached for the baby, expertly cradling her in his arms. Donovan shook his head. He still hadn’t gotten used to seeing Steele with an infant. The sight still elicited amusement, and if he was honest, it also inspired envy.
“So what’s the situation?” Steele asked bluntly.
“Why don’t y’all come in out of the heat?” Donovan offered. “I have some iced tea in the fridge and I can brew Maren up a cup of her favorite hot tea. Then we’ll talk.”
“Hadn’t planned to stay long,” Steele replied. “Weather’s supposed to get bad tonight, and I don’t want to have Maren or Olivia out in it.”
Donovan frowned. “Bad weather? What are we talking here?”
Maren rolled her eyes. “Steele has become a regular meteorologist in his spare time. He’s convinced a storm is going to take us out.”
Steele shot her a glare. “It pays to be aware of potential hazards.”
Donovan mounted the steps to his home and swung open the door, gesturing Maren and Steele inside.
“So? The weather report?” Donovan queried.
“Severe thunderstorms. Isolated strong cells. The entire western part of the state is under watch overnight.”
Donovan blew out his breath. Damn. All he could picture was that first time he’d walked into Eve’s trailer and had seen the bowls scattered over the floor to catch the rain. They’d be miserable tonight and with Cammie sick, the last thing she needed was to get rained on inside her house.
“Have a seat,” Donovan murmured. “I’ll get Maren’s tea brewing. Care if I nuke the water and throw a bag in it?”
Maren smiled. “Nope. With my hands full of a starving infant, I’ve learned the art of a quick brew.”
Donovan shuffled into the kitchen and drew water into a coffee mug before slipping it into the microwave. While he waited for the time to elapse, he filled two glasses with ice and took the pitcher of tea from the fridge.
When the microwave dinged, he pulled the hot mug out and dropped the bag into it. Remembering that she liked sugar, he spooned the right amount and gave it a quick stir. Balancing one of the tea glasses between his arm and chest, he picked up the mug and the other glass and headed back to the living room.
“How have you stayed single this long?” Maren teased as she took the proffered cup. “I love a man who spoils me.”
Steele grunted again and shot her a bemused look. Donovan chuckled because it was widely known that Steele absolutely spoiled both wife and daughter.
Steele took the glass from Donovan’s hand but didn’t drink. He leaned forward, setting the glass on the coffee table, and looked expectantly at Donovan.
“It’s bad,” Donovan murmured.
Steele’s expression immediately blackened. “What the fuck? Sam said it was safe.”
Donovan shook his head. “Not what I mean. It’s safe for Maren. I wouldn’t bring her into a situation that put her at risk. You know that.”
“Then what the hell do you mean?” Steele demanded.
Maren’s soft voice immediately brought the team leader to heel. If the situation hadn’t been so serious, Donovan would totally have given him shit over it.
“Not very far from here, a young woman is living in a run-down, piece-of-shit trailer with her two younger siblings. Cammie, her four-year-old sister, is sick. Travis, her fifteen-year-old brother, is working part time in the hardware store to put food on their table, and Eve . . . She’s trying to keep it together.”
“They’re running from something,” Donovan continued. “They’re all scared shitless.”
“Well, fuck,” Steele muttered.
“How sick is Cammie?” Maren asked, her eyes narrowing in concentration.
Steele reached for the baby, deftly taking her from Maren’s arms as she sat forward, her gaze trained on Donovan.