The winds were too strong, the force too great. Her strength was gone. She lay there like a broken doll, each breath more painful than the last. She could sense the winds growing weaker. The roar had faded to a dull throb. The tornado had ripped through in a matter of seconds and was even now moving on and spreading its destructive path.
Her last conscious thought was that she had to get to Travis and Cammie. Everything they had was gone. Taken by the storm. Tears of frustration and pain crowded her eyes. She wouldn’t give up. Nothing on earth would make her cry defeat.
Her eyelids fluttered sluggishly. She tried to shake off the veil of unconsciousness. She had to get to Cammie and Travis. But blackness overtook her, pulling her into its snug embrace.
DONOVAN stood in the war room on the KGI compound, palms down on the planning surface as he meticulously did a check of all the systems. His first priority had been in making sure his family was safe, but close on the heels of that was ensuring that the generators did what they were supposed to do in case of a power failure.
The sophisticated system had been designed so that when power failed, within a tenth of a second, the generators would kick in and no compromise in security would occur. They’d tested it many times but had never faced a real-time situation. Until now.
The tornado had blown through Dover, knocking down power lines and destroying homes and everything else in its path. His brothers and their wives and children had all taken shelter in their basements, something every single house inside the compound had.
They’d taken great pains in designing a compound that was safe not only from human attack but from the elements as well. They were too far inland to ever worry about hurricanes, but tornadoes were very real threats.
Just a few years earlier, tornadoes had devastated Jackson and Clarksville, and then on the heels of Clarksville’s recovery, they’d been struck by yet another one. Even Nashville hadn’t proved impervious to the killer storms.
Donovan’s main concern had been that a storm would compromise their security measures and make it possible for there to be a breach when they were at their most vulnerable. He was satisfied to see that the costly technology on which he’d spared no expense appeared to be doing its job.
“Everything checking out okay?” Joe asked.
Donovan glanced up at his brother, who stood by Swanny. His first call had been to Joe, since he lived outside the compound. Then he’d called his parents, frantic with worry over whether they’d withstood the tornado. Other than a tree down on their property and a few missing shingles, they were okay. Donovan’s brothers would go out as soon as it got light so they could assess any damage his father hadn’t been able to see.
One by one, other members of the extended Kelly family had checked in, and all were accounted for. Thank God.
“Yeah, it’s all looking good. My babies did their job,” he said with a grin.
Joe rolled his eyes. “You need to get out more, man. You’re developing far too close a relationship with your technology.”
“Pull the weather service map of the storm, Swanny. I want to see the path the tornado took.”
Swanny bent over one of the computers and a few moments later, the screens in front of Donovan lit up and showed multiple views of the tornado’s trajectory.
Donovan studied it carefully and his breath caught when he saw the exact path the storm had taken. A knot formed in his stomach and his fingers curled into tight fists.
“Fuck,” he whispered.
“What is it?” Joe asked sharply.
“We have to go,” Donovan bit out. “I need you and Swanny.”
“What’s going on?” Joe demanded. “Talk to us, man.”
“Eve,” he said. “God. I didn’t even think. I never should have let them stay there tonight. I knew the fucking weather was going to be bad and I knew that shitty trailer they’re living in provided no protection from the elements whatsoever. And Cammie is sick. Goddamn it, I should have hauled them out of there earlier.”
“You aren’t making any sense,” Swanny said in a calm voice.
Donovan’s fist came down on the countertop with a rattle. “They were right in the path of the tornado. That trailer would have never survived even the weakest storm, much less an F3 like this one was. We have to get over there. I hope to fuck we aren’t too late. If they were killed I’ll never forgive myself.”
“Shit,” Joe muttered. “Let’s go. Swanny and I are with you. Should we call out the others?”
Donovan shook his head. “Maybe Sean, though he’s probably up to his ears with all the other victims. The others need to stay with their own families. We’ll see what we’re dealing with when we get there. If we need help, we’ll call then. Right now I have to get the hell over there and make sure they’re all right.”
“Let’s roll,” Swanny said shortly.
Donovan hurried out to his truck. Joe got in the passenger seat and Swanny hopped into the extra cab. He roared out of the compound, scanning the sky for any sign of impending daybreak. It was lightening toward the east and within thirty minutes they’d have enough light to see what they were dealing with.
“There are flashlights in the back, Swanny. Under the seat. Pull those out and make sure they work. It’ll be light soon but we’ll be there in ten minutes and we’ll need them.”
“On it,” Swanny said.
There was rustling in the back and a few moments later Swanny said, “Got ’em. Looks like you have four.”
He handed two up to Joe and kept the others.
“Careful, man,” Joe murmured. “Keep it on the road. We aren’t going to be of any help to them if you wrap your truck around a tree.”
Donovan eased off on the accelerator, knowing his brother was right. But it didn’t quell the urgency he had to get to Eve and her siblings. Damn it, but he should have never walked away. He knew in his gut it was the wrong thing to do, but he’d consoled himself with the fact that he and Maren would be returning the next morning. He just hoped to hell his hesitation hadn’t cost them their lives.
“Christ, it’s a mess,” Donovan said as he dodged a fallen tree.
The entire way, he could see no sign of power in any of the houses they passed. But he hadn’t seen complete destruction either, something that bolstered his hopes that the trailer hadn’t been demolished.
But as he got closer to the road where Eve’s trailer was, the worse the damage was. Treetops torn off. Debris everywhere. As soon as he turned onto the road, he knew it was going to be bad. The very first house, well, it wasn’t even a house any longer. Only the foundation remained. And oddly, the furniture still sat where it had been situated inside the house. But the walls and roof were gone. He hoped like hell that no one had been inside when the storm struck or that they at least had a basement to seek shelter in.
“Did the rest of your team check in, Joe?”
Unease gripped him. Skylar and Edge roomed together in a house they shared rent on, but Donovan had no idea if they had a basement. Nathan, Joe and Swanny had helped their teammates move in but Donovan had never been to their house, a fact he now lamented.
“Yeah, they’re good. Tornado didn’t touch them. They barely even got any rain,” Joe said.
“Did Steele check in?” Swanny asked.
“Yeah. He and Maren and the baby are fine. Maren gave him shit about them sleeping in the basement, but I’m guessing she won’t be complaining in the future.”
Donovan braked hard, swerving into the ditch, curses blistering his lips. Fuck, that was close.
“Holy shit, that was a near miss,” Joe breathed.
A huge tree was lying crossways over the road, preventing a vehicle from passing. No way around it or over it. They were going to have to go the rest of the way on foot.
“Let’s go,” he said grimly.
Grabbing the flashlight and his medic bag from the seat, he climbed out and set out at a brisk pace, climbing over the downed tree and shining his light down the road.
There was shit everywhere. Limbs, shingles, even a badly misshapen door. And a suitcase?
“Grab that, Joe,” Donovan directed.
“It’s full,” Joe said as he hoisted it up.
“Put it to the side where we can find it. I’m sure it belongs to someone on this road.”
Donovan broke into a jog, rounding the corner to where Eve’s trailer was located. The sky was starting to lighten just enough that Donovan could see where the trailer was. Or rather used to be.
He sucked in his breath. “Oh no. God no.”
It was gone. A depressed area of grass where it had rested was the only indication that it had ever been there at all.
“Eve!” he shouted hoarsely as he ran forward. “Eve! Where are you? Are you here? Are you all right?”
“Holy shit,” Swanny said in awe. “It looks like a bomb went off.”
“Spread out,” Donovan snapped, not wanting to hear the fatalistic tone in Swanny’s words. He wouldn’t entertain that Eve, Travis and Cammie could be dead. They had to have survived. Donovan couldn’t live with himself with their blood on his hands. “Look everywhere, and I mean everywhere. If we don’t find them in short order, I’m calling in backup. I’ll get everyone out here looking until we find them.”
They fanned out, each going in a different direction. The trailer had been surrounded by woods on three sides, and across the dirt and gravel road was another home. Strangely, it appeared to be untouched, but then there was no rhyme or reason to the path of a tornado. Hell, he’d witnessed tornadoes that dipped down, took out one house then lifted and left the others next to it untouched. Discriminating, fickle, unpredictable bastards.
Donovan stumbled over a limb lying across the driveway that went over the culvert and nearly went down on one knee. He was picking himself back up, adjusting the flashlight to shine in the direction of where the trailer used to be when he heard a low sob.
He froze, straining to pick up the sound once more. He hadn’t imagined it.
“Eve? Cammie? Travis? It’s Donovan Kelly. Can you hear me?”
“You got something, Van?” Swanny asked from several feet away.
Donovan held up a hand to silence Swanny. But he heard nothing further.
“I heard something,” Donovan said. “I didn’t imagine it.”
Joe hurried over and then looked down the ditch to where the water had already mostly drained off. Then his gaze flickered to the culvert they were standing over.
He and Joe must have had the same idea at the same time. They both scrambled down the ditch, Joe holding the flashlight to illuminate Donovan’s path.
“Eve?” Donovan shouted. “Where are you? I’m here to help.”
He crouched down at the entrance to the culvert and surveyed the interior. Definitely big enough for people to fit into. He grabbed Joe’s flashlight since it was the bigger and shined it inside.
The beam caught two pairs of wide eyes. Travis was huddled inside the culvert, his arms wrapped tightly around Cammie. They both stared at Donovan, fear and shock evident in their gazes.
“Travis, are you all right?” Donovan demanded.
He started forward on hands and knees, barking back to Joe to keep the light shining on Travis and Cammie.
He reached them in a matter of seconds, and realization struck that Eve was not with them.
“Where is Eve?” Donovan asked.
Tears glimmered in Travis’s eyes. “I don’t know,” he choked out.
Cammie began to cry, and Travis stroked a hand through her matted, bedraggled hair.
“Come on. We need to get you out of here,” Donovan said, his heart pounding as he pondered Eve’s fate.
He reached for Cammie, but she didn’t relinquish her hold on her brother.
“Let me take you, sweetheart,” Donovan said gently. “I know you’re scared, but I’m here to help you and your brother.”
“I want Evie,” she wailed.
Tears shimmered in her eyes and then slid down her dirty cheeks. Her thumb slid between her lips and Donovan carefully pulled it away so she wouldn’t get dirt and God only knew what else in her mouth.
“Where is your sister, honey? I need to find her so we can make sure she’s okay.”
“She was caught in the storm,” Travis choked out. “She came back for me after putting Cammie in the culvert. I had been knocked down by a limb and she came back for me, but we got separated. Something hit her and she told me I had to get to Cammie and protect her. Not to leave her alone. But oh God, I left her.”
The last came out as a sob, and Donovan’s heart went out to the kid. He put his hand on Travis’s shoulder and squeezed.
“You did right, son. You had to protect Cammie. She’s just a little girl and wouldn’t have made it on her own. I know you didn’t want to leave Eve, but it’s what you had to do. Now let’s get you and Cammie out of this ditch and inside my truck where you can get warm and dry out some. I’ll look for Eve. I won’t give up until I find her. I promise you.”