That kind of reassurance was priceless.
“You aren’t eating,” Swanny said, gentle reproach in his voice.
Eve glanced guiltily up to see the quiet man regarding her thoughtfully. She got the impression he didn’t say a whole lot. He was someone who blended into the background even though he looked like a total badass. The scar only added to that appearance. What or who had put that mark there? She shuddered to think of the violence he’d endured in the past. It could be the result of an accident. But something told her that wasn’t the case. These men, all of them, were fighters. Ex-military, as Donovan had explained. And now they protected people? What exactly did that mean? It was a question she desperately wanted the answer to, but she wouldn’t ask now. Not in front of the others. That question was reserved for when she and Donovan were alone.
“I don’t have much of an appetite,” she admitted.
“And it’s equally clear that you’ve missed far too many meals already,” Joe said pointedly. “Eat, Eve. Nothing will hurt you here. You have to stay strong for yourself and your brother and sister.”
Knowing he was right, she made an effort to eat more of the food Swanny had prepared. And it was delicious. It didn’t taste like something out of a can. It was rich and flavorful and it warmed her from the inside out. She savored each bite and checked occasionally to see that Travis and Cammie were also eating. They were. Much more than she herself was, so she dug in to catch up. It was important that they all ate and regained their strength, because as soon as they were able, they had to leave. They’d already been here too long and it was making her twitch. Sitting ducks. They couldn’t run forever. She acknowledged this. Knew it for the truth it was. But she could at least buy them more time. Running from place to place until she could figure out what to do. How to confront Walt and the future.
The doorbell rang and Eve immediately froze. Travis dropped his half-eaten sandwich—his third—on his plate and looked uneasily in Eve’s direction. Cammie burrowed deeper into Donovan’s embrace, ignoring the nearly finished sandwich Donovan had been feeding her, her eyes wide and fearful.
Their reactions didn’t go unnoticed by the others. Swanny’s lips turned down into a grim frown and Joe looked . . . pissed. Not at them. But he seemed angry over their fear. Of what they had to fear.
“Get the door, Joe,” Donovan said calmly. “That will be Steele and Maren. Show them into the living room. When Eve, Cammie and Travis are finished eating, Maren can examine them.”
Though it was said to Joe, Eve knew the last was directed at her and her siblings. A command for them to finish eating and reassurance that there was nothing to fear. If only it were that simple.
Joe got up and returned a moment later with a smiling blond woman, glasses perched on her nose, her hair pulled back in a neat ponytail. On her heels was a tall, completely fierce-looking man holding a . . . baby. Somehow the two seemed incongruous, but then Donovan had told her that Maren had recently had a child and had been cutting back on her patient load while she was on maternity leave. This must be her husband. The man Donovan had said was his friend. But now she realized that this man must work with Donovan—and the others—because he screamed badass from head to toe.
Donovan didn’t move from his perch on the couch, where Cammie was doing her best to burrow underneath him.
“Thanks for coming, Maren. We could use you,” Donovan said by way of greeting.
“Hello,” Maren said in a warm voice as she took in the occupants of the room.
She turned to the man holding the baby. “I’m Maren, and this is my husband, Steele, and our daughter, Olivia.”
Joe gestured toward Eve. “This is Eve and this is her brother, Travis, and her little sister, Cammie.”
“Hello,” Eve managed to stammer around the knot in her throat.
“Smile, Steele,” Maren admonished. “You’re scaring the children!”
Steele rolled his eyes but offered a sincere smile first to Eve and then to Travis. When his gaze lighted on Cammie clinging to Donovan’s neck, his expression softened and genuine compassion filled his eyes.
“You’re in good hands,” he said gruffly. “Van will take good care of you and my wife is a doctor, the best. She’ll have you all right as rain in no time.”
Maren smiled, her cheeks coloring at her husband’s praise. But then her expression turned serious. “Whom shall I start with?”
Donovan rose, lifting Cammie with him and then turning to deposit her on Swanny’s lap. Cammie didn’t look thrilled, but neither did she protest. But she didn’t wrap herself around Swanny as she had with Donovan. She stared up at him from underneath her lashes, watching him cautiously. She seemed fascinated with the scar on his face, and then to Eve’s surprise she reached up to touch the puckered skin.
“Did a bad man hurt you?”
Swanny smiled, warmth entering his eyes. “Yes, sweetheart. But you know what? Donovan and KGI took care of it. Those bad men won’t ever hurt anyone again.”
“My daddy hurt Evie,” Cammie said quietly. “Can you make it so he never hurts her again?”
“Cammie!” Eve chastened, shocked at the child’s outburst.
But no one in the room missed her comment. Donovan’s expression grew fierce, and anger surged in Joe’s and Steele’s eyes. Even Swanny was scowling now, but as if realizing he would scare Cammie, he worked at controlling his reaction.
“No one will hurt Eve. Or you and Travis,” Swanny softly amended. “You have my guarantee, little bit.”
“’Kay,” Cammie said, leaning in a little closer to Swanny’s chest. Swanny seemed delighted that the little girl was warming to him and he wrapped his big arms around her, anchoring her more firmly to his chest. It was a silent message to her—and to Eve and Travis—that he was entirely serious in his commitment to see them safe.
“You need to start with Travis,” Donovan said. “You’ll need the X-ray equipment in the infirmary. I’m concerned he has broken ribs. We can ride over. I don’t want any of them walking after what they’ve been through. I don’t want to risk injuring them further.”
Maren nodded her agreement. “What else am I dealing with here? Do you know? Have you made an assessment?”
Eve appreciated Maren’s brisk, no-nonsense, all-business approach. She was clearly in doctor mode. Intelligence gleamed in her blue eyes, but what Eve liked the most was her gentle manner. She hadn’t come in making demands or barking orders.
“No,” Donovan said. “We haven’t had time. My priority was getting them here so they could be evaluated. Travis and Cammie were in a culvert when we found them. Eve got caught in the storm trying to save Travis and we found her trapped underneath a mattress.”
“The mattress probably saved her life,” Maren murmured.
Eve felt the blood drain from her face. She hadn’t considered it. She’d been too swept up in the terror of the moment and had been relieved to survive such a deadly storm. But Maren was right. If the mattress hadn’t knocked her flat and kept her trapped underneath, she probably would have been killed.
“Well, let’s get to it then,” Maren declared. “I’ll examine Travis and take X-rays and then go from there.”
Donovan made no move to reclaim Cammie from Swanny’s arms. Cammie looked as though she’d protest until Donovan put his hand to her cheek.
“I need you to let Swanny carry you, honey. I need to help your sister. Is that okay?”
Eve would have spoken up but as if sensing she’d do just that, Donovan silenced her with a look.
“’Kay,” Cammie said, sliding her thumb back into her mouth.
“I’ll take good care of you,” Swanny said in a grave tone.
Cammie cracked a half smile and settled back against Swanny’s chest. Tears stung Eve’s eyes. They were all so . . . nice. So very gentle and understanding with all of them. People just didn’t do what these people were doing. Going out of their way for complete strangers. Taking such a personal stake in their well-being. It flabbergasted Eve and rendered her unable to comprehend their generosity and kindness.
“Steele, can you help Joe with Travis?” Donovan asked as he bent over the couch where Eve sat. “He’s in a lot of pain and it would help if he doesn’t further aggravate his injuries.”
Handing the baby over to Maren, Steele moved to Travis’s other side and he and Joe helped Travis to his feet.
“Lean on me,” Joe said kindly. “Steele and I will bear your weight.”
Then Donovan turned his focus back to Eve. He extended his hand down but at the same time moved his other arm behind her back and gently eased her forward until she was on the edge of the couch.
“I’m really okay,” she said quietly. “My head hurts and I’m sure I have bruises in places I don’t even know about yet, but nothing feels broken or too badly hurt.”
“You’re in shock,” Donovan said bluntly. “I’d be more surprised if you were feeling it yet. But when the reaction sets in, you’re going to know it. Now let me help you and don’t argue.”
She conceded his point and allowed him to ease her to her feet. His strong arm came around her waist, anchoring her firmly to his side. And God, did it feel good. To lean on this man and his strength. It was like being held up by an immovable boulder. In that moment, she knew nothing could hurt her. That Donovan wouldn’t allow it. It was a crazy assumption, but she had no intention of thinking differently. She—they all—needed a moment where they felt safe and secure.
They moved slowly toward the door, Swanny leading the way holding Cammie. Travis, with the help of Joe and Steele, filed out after Swanny, and Maren, holding the baby, walked on Eve’s other side, hovering as if worried Eve would face-plant. Did she look that bad? She didn’t feel so terrible. But maybe Donovan was right. When the adrenaline diminished, maybe she would start screaming for mercy.
She tightened her lips, determined that no matter what happened she’d remain stoic for Travis and Cammie. They were afraid enough without her adding to their worries. And the truth was, she was far more worried about them. Travis was moving slowly, each step making him grimace. And Cammie was still running a fever and it was doubtful a night in the rain helped matters any.
“Will Travis be okay?” Eve whispered as Steele and Joe helped him into the backseat of an SUV she guessed must belong to Maren and Steele.
“He’ll be fine, Eve. I’m more worried about you at the moment. You’ll see that we have practically a damn mini hospital here on the compound. Sam, my oldest brother, outfitted it from head to toe with everything Maren could possibly need to treat our teams.”
Her eyes widened. “Do they get hurt so often?”
Donovan carefully put her into the front seat of his truck while Swanny climbed in back with Cammie. Joe got in with Travis, and Maren and Steele climbed in front, so they were taking two vehicles to the infirmary.
It wasn’t until Donovan slid behind the wheel that he answered Eve’s question. He regarded her with a serious expression as he cranked the ignition.
“I told you what we do. I realize you don’t fully comprehend the scope of what it is I do—that we all do—here, but our job is to help people who need it. To protect people. It’s a dangerous job and yes, we incur injuries from time to time. Maren used to have a rural practice in Costa Rica. Before that, she worked in Africa. We used her whenever we were in close proximity, but now that she’s moved here and is living here with Steele, we’ve taken her on as our doctor in addition to the patients she sees in the private sector.”
“Have you ever been seriously injured?” she asked in an anxious tone. Granted, she didn’t know Donovan, but the thought of him being hurt bothered her. It bothered her a lot.
He grinned. “Nothing too serious. All of us have suffered a bullet wound or two. Nothing that has ever taken me out of action for a long time. Two of my brothers had more serious gunshot wounds. Took them out of action for a bit and laid them up. They weren’t too happy about it either.”
She shuddered. “How can you be so nonchalant about it? You make getting shot sound so . . . normal.”
He shrugged. “Like I said. Hazard of the job. We’re all very aware of the risks we take when we go on a mission. If we weren’t prepared for that possibility, then we wouldn’t be doing our jobs very well.”
“Not many people would risk their lives for a stranger,” she murmured.
“We do,” he said simply.
They drove across the compound back in the direction they’d come and pulled up beside the building Eve had noticed on their way in. The one with no windows that resembled a hulking, concrete block. What she hadn’t seen at the time was that there was a smaller building right behind it. This one had windows in the front. Was this the infirmary Donovan had mentioned?