“We’re not supposed to trust anyone,” Travis whispered.
Even as he said it, Donovan could see the wistful look in the kid’s eyes. The desire to, for a few moments at least, lean on someone else.
“Listen to me, Travis,” Donovan said in a grave voice. “You and your sisters need help. Cammie is ill. Eve could be hurt. You are hurt. I understand you’re frightened. And I understand that you don’t know me. But I only want to help you and your sisters. I swear it. Now you need to let us get you out of here, and then I need to find Eve.”
Donovan reached for Cammie again and this time Travis relinquished her, but his eyes tracked Donovan’s every movement. Donovan cradled Cammie in his arms and turned, intending to hand her to Joe. The moment Joe reached for her, Cammie let out a shriek and dove into Donovan’s chest, her tiny body shaking as sobs welled in her throat.
“Shhh, sweetheart,” Donovan soothed. “I won’t let you go. I’m going to get you out of here. Okay?”
“’Kay,” she said in a faltering voice.
Joe’s face was drawn in compassion, his gaze riveted to the precious little girl in his brother’s arms.
“Make sure Travis is okay and that he can even get to his feet,” Donovan said as he pushed past his brother.
He nearly slipped trying to right himself while holding Cammie firmly to his chest. The mud and debris made walking precarious. Swanny was there to steady him, though he was careful to not touch Cammie in the process.
Donovan turned, waiting for Travis to pop out of the culvert. He moved slowly, his face drawn into a grimace of pain. He was holding his side and trying not to let the others see his discomfort, but he failed miserably.
“Where are you hurt, son?” Donovan asked when Travis was beside him once more.
“It’s not bad,” Travis said in a firm voice. “We have to find Evie. She was hurt, and I had to leave her.”
Tears choked his voice and threatened to slosh over the rims of his tortured eyes.
Swanny put a hand to Travis’s shoulder and the boy glanced warily back at him.
“We’ll find her, Travis,” Swanny assured. “Now what I want you to do is come back to Donovan’s truck with me so you can hold Cammie while we search.”
Travis started to protest, but Donovan shut him down.
“Cammie needs you. She’s scared out of her mind and she needs a familiar face with her. She doesn’t need to be out in this. She’s sick. Joe is my brother, and Swanny works with us. They’re the best. We’ll find Eve. I swear it.”
Finally Travis nodded his agreement.
“I’m going to send Swanny with you and Cammie to the truck. Is that all right?” Donovan asked.
Travis nodded, but Cammie stiffened in Donovan’s arms and to Donovan’s surprise she threw her arms around Donovan’s neck and held on for dear life.
“I want you,” she said plaintively.
Donovan pressed a kiss to her matted hair. “Don’t you want me to find Eve? She doesn’t know Joe or Swanny. I don’t want her to be frightened. Wouldn’t you rather I be the one to find her?”
Cammie seemed to consider this a moment, her thumb sliding firmly back into her mouth. Then she nodded slowly, but her gaze was latched cautiously onto Swanny, taking in the jagged scar that covered half his face.
“I’m not as mean as I look, honey,” Swanny said with a half smile. “Some bad people did this to me, which is why we don’t want any bad people to get you or your brother and sister. We’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen, okay?”
“Does it hurt?” Cammie blurted.
Swanny reached tentatively for her, taking her from Donovan. Cammie was shaking, but she didn’t utter a protest as she was transferred from Donovan’s hold to Swanny’s.
“No, sweetheart, it doesn’t hurt. Not now. Now come on. Let’s get Travis into the truck. He’s hurting too. And he’ll feel much better once you and he are safe.”
“Will Trav be okay?”
Swanny nodded and injected a cheerful note into his voice. “Absolutely. In a day or two he’ll be right as rain.”
“Can you make it?” Joe asked Travis.
Travis nodded resolutely. “You just find Eve. She’s out there somewhere. I won’t leave her.”
Joe clapped a hand on his shoulder and pushed him in the direction Swanny was heading with Cammie. “We’ll find her.”
As soon as Swanny disappeared down the road to where Donovan’s truck was parked, Donovan turned to Joe. “Spread out. Don’t leave an inch of ground uncovered.”
“Thank God it’s starting to get light,” Joe muttered. “We’re going to need all the help we can get.”
Donovan nodded. “If we don’t find her immediately, I’ll call in the others.”
“We might be recovering a body, Van,” Joe said quietly.
“She’s alive,” Donovan said fiercely. “She’s a fighter. I don’t see her going down that easily.”
Joe looked as though he wanted to argue, but perhaps he saw the resolution in his brother’s face. He shrugged and then started in the opposite direction, his flashlight bouncing over every single inch of ground.
“Eve!” Donovan called. “Eve, can you hear me?”
Joe picked up the call, shouting Eve’s name as they searched the immediate area around where the trailer used to stand. Donovan picked through rubble from the trailer. Twisted metal from the roof. Pieces of the walls. Glass from shattered windows. Pieces of carpet. Drapes.
His flashlight bounced over the mattress from the bed when he saw one side of it lifted from the ground. It didn’t lie flush like the other side did. His pulse kicked up and he dropped to his knees, lifting the corner of the heavy, waterlogged mattress.
“Joe!” he shouted. “Over here. I need your help!”
Joe sprinted over and bent down next to his brother. To-gether they lifted the heavy mattress and tossed it over on its side. There underneath, curled into a protective ball, was Eve.
“Holy shit,” Joe murmured.
With shaking hands, Donovan reached to feel for a pulse at her neck. He was so relieved to find the faint, erratic patter that he damn near lost it. He had to get it together. His brother would think he’d lost his mind, but then all his brothers already knew he was in way over his head with Eve and her siblings.
“Eve. Eve,” he said in a louder tone. “Wake up, sweetheart. I need to see how badly you’re injured.”
“I should call an ambulance,” Joe said grimly. “Travis is hurt too. Looks like he could have busted some ribs.”
Donovan shook his head, and Joe looked at him in surprise.
“No. I can’t do that. I won’t betray their trust.”
“What the fuck, man? They need medical attention!”
Donovan stubbornly resisted as he stroked Eve’s cheek, trying to rouse her from unconsciousness. “They have no money, no means to go to a hospital. It was why I was bringing Maren out today to check on Cammie. And they’re scared shitless. I don’t know of who. Yet. But I’ll find out. And when I do, then we can tackle whatever the hell it is that’s had them running for God only knows how long.”
“So what the hell do we do then?” Joe asked in exasperation.
“We have an infirmary in the compound. Sam just had X-ray equipment set up for Maren last month. It’s fully stocked and we can call Maren to come over there and check them all out.”
“And what if they need a CT scan or something more involved?” Joe persisted.
“Then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Donovan said calmly. “Now help me get Eve up. We need to not jostle her more than necessary. I don’t have a C collar with me, so we’re going to have to be damn careful in case she has a spinal injury or any internal bleeding.”
EVE swam to consciousness, her mind muddled, her thoughts filled with panic and pain. She felt herself being swept upward, and for a moment she thought she was in the grip of the tornado. Again.
“No!” she protested, struggling, though she knew it was useless. She had no power against the force of the storm.
“Shhh, Eve, it’s me, Donovan. You’ll be all right. I’ve got you now.”
The soothing voice broke through her panic, and calm descended. But then Travis and Cammie came screaming to the surface. Her eyes flew open to see Donovan’s face outlined by the pale light of dawn. There was determination—and worry—etched into his handsome features. How had he gotten here? Where was she?
“Travis. Cammie,” she choked out. Oh God. Where were they? Had she lost them to the storm?
Donovan’s grip tightened around her, and she realized he was carrying her. But where?
“They’re fine, Eve. My brother has them in my truck. We’re going to take you somewhere you can all get the care you need.”
“No,” she whispered. “Please. We can’t. Let me go. We have to go. Oh God, my suitcase. Where is it?”
Donovan frowned and stopped walking, still cradling her against his chest. Then with a shake of his head, he resumed again, muttering something underneath his breath she couldn’t decipher.
She found herself carefully placed in the extra cab of a truck. To her relief, Travis and Cammie were next to her.
“Lean on me, Evie,” Travis said, worry evident in his voice.
She sagged gratefully against her brother’s shoulder, and he wrapped his free arm around her. His other was curled securely around Cammie. Eve opened her eyes to see both Travis and Cammie staring anxiously at her.
“I’m okay,” she said hastily, not wanting to frighten them even more than they already were. “What about you?”
“Fine,” Travis said quickly.
“He’s not fine,” Donovan said bluntly.
Eve swung her gaze over to see Donovan standing in the doorway. She glanced back at Travis, taking in the pallor of his skin.
“What’s wrong?” she demanded.
Travis flushed, not looking happy that Donovan had contradicted him.
“He’s hurt,” Donovan explained. “May have some broken ribs. I’m going to take you all back to my place. We have an infirmary on site, and the doctor I told you about yesterday will come there to check you all out.”
His tone brooked no argument and his features were set in stone.
“My suitcase,” she said in a quivery voice. “I need that suitcase. It has everything in it.”
Donovan turned to one of the other men standing outside the truck, and a moment later he held up a waterlogged suitcase. “This yours?”
Relief hit her hard. It was the suitcase that had their clothing and her mother’s jewelry in it. The food they could do without. But the jewelry represented their only hope of supporting themselves for the coming weeks.
And now that they’d suffered yet another setback, who knew when they’d be able to move on?
“Yes,” she murmured.
Donovan didn’t look happy over that fact, but he remained silent. He tossed the suitcase into the bed of the truck and then handed his keys to one of the men standing behind him.
“You drive and let Swanny ride shotgun. I’ll cram in here with Eve.”
The man took the keys with a nod and walked around to the driver’s side. The other man got into the passenger seat, and it was then that Eve saw the deep scar that puckered the entire side of one cheek. She winced in sympathy. It had obviously been a serious injury.
“Scoot over as close to Travis as you can sit comfortably,” Donovan said in a gentle tone. “Cammie, sweetheart, can you sit on my lap so you don’t hurt your brother’s ribs?”
“She’s fine,” Travis said hastily.
“You’re hurting,” Donovan said quietly. “There’s no need. I can hold Cammie.”
He reached for her and to Eve’s surprise, she went willingly, her legs dragging over Eve’s lap as Donovan lifted her. He settled her onto his lap and then reached over to carefully engage Eve’s seat belt. Then he secured his own, making certain that Cammie was strapped against his chest.
“Who are they?” Eve asked in a low tone as she gazed up at the driver and passenger.
“The one driving is my brother Joe. Swanny is the other. You can trust them, Eve.”
If only it were that easy. She couldn’t afford to trust anyone. But she kept silent on that account. No sense arguing. She had to figure a way out of her current mess. Her whole idea of avoiding Donovan and the doctor was one huge epic fail. Now even more people knew of her and her siblings. It was hard to keep her despair from overwhelming her. How long before they were discovered? Being exposed to so many people was like a ticking time bomb. She couldn’t stay lucky forever. Sooner or later, Walt would find them.
“Why were you leaving, Eve?” Donovan asked quietly.