“And yet you live on some kind of . . . compound,” Eve said.
“It’s a necessary evil,” Donovan said quietly. “We’ve made a lot of enemies over the years. We want to make sure our families are protected.”
Eve looked up at him in alarm, and Donovan swore under his breath. Now wasn’t the best time to tell her about KGI and the dangers of what he and his brothers did. He didn’t want to lie to her, but she didn’t need any additional stress. Not until she had come to terms with her and her siblings being here. And trusting him.
“Would any of you like something to eat?” Swanny broke in as he looked to where Travis sat in the armchair and then to where Cammie sat huddled against Eve. As he spoke, he bent over Cammie and placed his hand over her forehead and then frowned. “She’s running a fever. You got any ibuprofen, Van?”
“They need to eat,” Eve interjected, her tone brooking no argument. “We ate last night, but they need to eat again. Especially Cammie. She hasn’t been eating well since she’s been sick.”
“I want a grilled cheese,” Cammie mumbled around her thumb. “Donovan fixed me a yummy one before.”
Swanny smiled, the scar stretching over his cheek as he glanced affectionately down at the little girl. “I think I can manage that.” Then he turned his gaze to Eve, pinning her with his stare. “And what about you? You need to eat too.”
“Yes, she does,” Travis said firmly. “She didn’t eat as much as Cammie and I did last night. She was too busy worrying over where we were going.”
Donovan frowned at that, but it was something he’d address later. Right now he wanted them all to feel at ease in his home. Their home. At least for the next while.
“I’ll have whatever you fix them,” she said quietly. “And Cammie does need more ibuprofen. Her last dose was yesterday before we fell asleep.”
“I’ll help Swanny rustle up some food in the kitchen and we’ll get some medicine,” Joe volunteered.
“I have some liquid ibuprofen in the cabinet,” Donovan told his brother as Joe and Swanny started for the kitchen. “I keep it on hand for when Charlotte is over.”
“Who’s Charlotte?” Cammie asked.
Donovan smiled down at her. “She’s my niece. She reminds me a lot of you, actually. You’re about the same age. You’ll meet her. Would you like that?”
Cammie nodded vigorously. “Does she have dolls to play with?”
Donovan’s heart ached as he looked at the hopeful look on Cammie’s face. The things that Charlotte took for granted were things this child knew nothing of. Something as simple as a doll or toys to play with. Charlotte was spoiled by all her aunts and uncles, not to mention her own mother and father. Who spoiled Cammie? It was obvious that Eve and Travis were too busy trying to keep food on their table to worry over things like toys.
“As a matter of fact, I have a few of Charlotte’s toys here for when she visits. I babysit from time to time, so I keep stuff here for her to play with. She won’t mind a bit if you play with them too. How about after you eat, I see what I can dig up?”
Cammie nodded solemnly. “I’d like that.”
“Now if you’ll all excuse me for just a few minutes, I need to call Maren. Joe and Swanny are cooking up something for you to eat and I need to see about getting something for you all to change into. Travis, I have some clothes that will likely fit you okay. They might be a little big on you, but we’re about the same height. Will a pair of sweats and a T-shirt be okay?”
Then Donovan turned his attention to Eve. “I’ll have one of my sisters-in-law bring over something for you to wear, but until then, you can wear a pair of sweats and one of my shirts. You need to get out of those wet things. I have a few changes of Charlotte’s clothes and some of her PJs. I’ll show you both into the bedroom where you’ll be staying so you can get her changed and change yourself.”
Eve looked poleaxed, but Donovan didn’t give her time to ponder the fact that he had presumed that she would be staying here. If he gave her any time at all, she’d probably bolt like a scared rabbit. And that was not happening. So while it might make him a flaming asshole, he was going to barge forward and keep her off balance.
Acting as though she’d already agreed with his plan, he scooped Cammie up and then extended his free hand down to help Eve to her feet. He watched her closely for signs of pain, frowning when she winced as she struggled up from the couch. He put a hand to her back, steadying her and hovering close as he guided them toward one of the guest rooms.
“The house has five bedrooms,” he explained as they en-tered the room next to his. “But I’ve only gotten beds in three of them so far. You and Cammie can share this one and Travis can have the one down the hall. Cammie would probably feel better with you anyway.”
As he watched Eve take in the bedroom—and the bed—he didn’t miss the longing look she cast toward the queen-size bed. What surprised him more was the swift urge that overtook him. The thought that what he really wanted was her in his bed. His bedroom. His space. Her in his arms.
He shook his head in consternation. Where the hell had that come from? She was a mission. Like so many others. Never before had he had such a strong emotional reaction. Yes, his emotions were always involved but not on such a personal level. Maybe he was losing his mind.
But the thought remained. The fantasy of having Eve in his bed, him wrapped solidly around her, a barrier to the outside world and to anything that sought to harm her.
How easy it was to slip into the fantasy that this was his family. That they belonged to him. That Eve belonged to him. His woman.
Whoa. He needed to snap out of it quick and get control over his wayward thoughts. The very last thing Eve needed was to be blindsided by his desire. She was fragile and to her breaking point. Hell, maybe she was already there. She’d been poised to run. From him. And that ate at him. That she didn’t trust him. He couldn’t take it personally. She didn’t trust anyone. And he couldn’t fault her for that. She had a brother and sister to protect, and in her shoes, he wouldn’t be lining up to trust anyone either.
What made her different from any other woman in need? It was a question he couldn’t immediately answer. He knew his emotions always got involved, that he never remained a passive observer in any situation where a woman or child was in danger. But never to this extent. He never had crazy thoughts, like wanting her to move into his house. To become . . . his.
He’d never wanted to put his personal stamp of possession on another woman. And with Eve? And it wasn’t just Eve. He already looked at her siblings as . . . his. Just as he already viewed Eve as his.
And God help the man who tried to take them away from Donovan.
None of the retribution they’d taken in the past would even come close to the havoc Donovan would wreak if someone came after what he considered his.
“If you’ll wait here, I’ll get you and Cammie some clothes. There’s a large soaking tub in the bathroom as well as a shower. I thought you and Cammie could get cleaned up and into dry clothes while you wait for Maren to arrive.”
“Thank you,” Eve said in a soft voice.
Her eyes were still clouded with worry, but she didn’t look as panicked as she had earlier. Donovan took that as a positive sign and a step in the right direction at least.
Donovan stroked Eve’s cheek, unable to keep himself from touching her.
“It’s going to be all right, Eve. You’ll see. Now you and Cammie get changed and into more comfortable clothes. When you get out, Joe and Swanny will have lunch ready. We can eat in the living room. I’m going to go check on Travis and make sure he has what he needs. If you need help, call me, okay? Don’t try to do too much yourself.”
She flushed but nodded. Then to Donovan’s surprise, Cammie launched herself into his arms from where she was kneeling up on the bed. He gathered her in his arms and hugged her back, his heart softening as he held the tiny little girl against his chest.
Finally tearing himself away, he left the bedroom, pulling the door shut behind him. Travis was still in the living room when Donovan reentered and he was pushing himself up from the chair, his face a wreath of pain.
“Whoa there, son,” Donovan said as he hurried over. “Don’t try to do too much on your own. You likely have some busted ribs. One wrong move and you could puncture a lung.”
Travis paled at Donovan’s words and sagged against Donovan.
“I can’t afford to be hurt, sir. My sisters depend on me.”
Donovan tightened his hold around the boy’s shoulders. “Listen to me, Travis. You’re a kid. And I don’t say that to take away from anything you’ve been doing for your sisters. I admire your guts and determination. But everyone needs help sometime in their life. You can’t keep up the pace you’re keeping. And I’m going to make sure that ends here. Now I want you to go into the bedroom I’m putting you in. Take a shower, but be careful. I’ll lay out clothes on the bed and when you’re done, come into the living room so you can eat. The doctor will take a look at you and then we’ll go from there. But the thing you need to know is that I’m here now, and I’m not going to let anything happen to you or your sisters. Understand?”
Travis relaxed, fatigue evident in his drawn features. Then he simply nodded and Donovan helped him into the other bedroom, pointing out the bathroom, the towels and where he’d lay out the clothes for Travis to change into.
Donovan left, his hand reaching for his phone as he walked into the kitchen, where Joe and Swanny were preparing sandwiches and soup.
“You weren’t wrong about them,” Joe said quietly.
Donovan shook his head. “I know.”
“What are you going to do, Van?” Swanny asked.
“Whatever I have to,” Donovan said, his voice as grim as his thoughts.
He placed the phone to his ear after he dialed Steele’s number and waited.
“You all make it through the storm?” Steele asked by way of greeting.
“Yeah, everything’s fine here. You?”
“Yeah. We didn’t get too much. Just high winds and a little hail. You still need Maren this morning?”
Donovan hesitated. “Yeah, but there’s been a change of plans. The tornado wiped out Eve’s trailer. Me, Joe and Swanny ran over because I was scared to death they’d been killed. Found them in a culvert and Eve several feet away trapped under a mattress. They’re hurt and Cammie’s ill. I’d like Maren to come out to check them all over.”
Steele swore. “That sucks, man. Where are y’all now?”
“My place. They’re all here. I need Maren as soon as you can get her here. Travis is hurt pretty badly. I’m concerned he has broken ribs. Eve’s hurt too, but I’m not sure of the extent. She’s in shock and scared out of her mind. And then there’s Cammie, who was already sick enough before spending a night in the storm.”
“I’ll have her over as soon as possible,” Steele said shortly.
“Thanks,” Donovan murmured, but Steele had already hung up.
“They coming?” Joe asked as he plated another grilled cheese.
“Yeah, on their way now.”
“Thought about what you’re going to do after Maren checks them over?” Swanny asked. “What if they need to be in a hospital?”
Donovan shook his head. “That’s going to be our last option. We have the means to take care of them here. Maren can render her diagnosis and write any scripts they need and I’ll take care of them here.”
“So they’re staying,” Joe murmured.
Donovan looked up at Joe. “You got a better place for them to go?”
He shook his head.
“Yeah, they’re staying,” Donovan said resolutely. “Until I find out what the hell they’re running from and eliminate the threat to them, they aren’t going anywhere.”
DONOVAN insisted on holding Cammie while they ate despite the fact that Eve offered. Donovan had shaken his head reproachfully and merely directed her—and Travis—to eat.
Cammie crammed the grilled cheese into her mouth, eating with more appetite than she’d had in days, a fact Eve was grateful for. A quick glance over at Travis told her he was wolfing down his food as well. Swanny had fixed a plateful of sandwiches and given each a bowl of soup and glasses of sweet iced tea.
It was the first time in longer than Eve had remembered that they’d enjoyed something as simple as a meal without worry of imminent discovery. The evening before, when they’d eaten as they prepared to flee—again—was the closest they’d come to a few moments of peace. But weighing heavily on her, despite her attempt at putting up a brave front for Cammie and Travis, was the knowledge that once again they were running into the unknown. Now they were here, wherever here was. As much as she’d feared resigning herself and her brother and sister to the tight security of Donovan’s compound, at least no one could get in.