“I don’t dislike you,” he said softly.
“Just be careful,” he warned. “I’m not saying this to piss you off. But damn it, Rusty. Be careful. What do you even know about him? I don’t like you being alone with him in the store. What if he tried to rob you? Or hurt you?”
She laughed. “The day I can’t defend myself against a fifteen-year-old kid is the day I go to my grave. I’m tough, Sean. I’ve had to be, growing up the way I did. The last few years with the Kellys may have softened me, but I’m still on my own at school, and believe me when I say that school is not a cakewalk. I take self-defense classes. I can take care of myself.”
Sean’s eyes narrowed. “What the fuck does that mean? What happened at school? Did someone mess with you?”
She rolled her eyes. “Nothing I can’t take care of myself.”
He wiped a hand through his short hair and blew out his breath. “Damn it, Rusty. Would it kill you to ever ask for help? Just once?”
She blinked in surprise. “And what would happen if I were to ever ask you for help?”
“I’d give it,” he said quietly. “You think I hate you, but that’s not true, Rusty, and if you ever actually lowered your hackles around me you’d realize that I only want to make sure you’re safe.”
She had no idea what to say to that.
“I’ll go,” Sean said. “But I’m going to be keeping an eye on the kid. If you have any trouble at all, you call me. If you even think there will be trouble, you call me. And if you need anything, let me know. If the kid is into any trouble, let me know. There may be a way to help him.”
She was so surprised that she couldn’t do anything more than nod.
As Sean stalked away, she stared in bewilderment after him.
He actually acted like he . . . cared.
EVE looked up from the tattered, worn couch where Cammie was finally sleeping, sprawled across Eve’s lap when Travis walked in the door of the dilapidated one-bedroom trailer they rented.
“Is she any better?” Travis asked anxiously as he walked over to the couch.
Eve ran a hand over Cammie’s forehead, a motion she’d repeated several times over the last hours.
“Her fever is down a little,” Eve said in a low voice. “I’m so worried. We can’t take her to the hospital or even a doctor. It’s too risky. But I can’t get her fever to break no matter what I do.”
Travis’s expression darkened with the same worry and fatigue Eve felt herself. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out three twenty-dollar bills.
“I know it’s not much,” he said. “But I’m going in tomorrow morning for a few hours too. The lady who hired me is really nice. She even bought me lunch.”
Eve took the money, tears burning her eyelids. She swallowed hard, determined to remain strong and not allow Travis to see how scared and worried she was. But he knew.
“I hate that you have to work,” she said fiercely. “As soon as Cammie is better, I’ll find work. I promise.”
Travis’s nostrils flared. “No. Cammie needs you. I’ll do whatever I can. If I can’t get in enough hours at the hardware store, I’ll find something else. I don’t want you to worry, Evie. I’ll take care of us. I swear it.”
Eve patted the space on the couch beside her and then wrapped an arm around her younger brother when he sat.
“I love you. We’ll get through this, Trav. I promise. We’ll find a way to stay together and be safe.”
He hugged her back, holding and squeezing, offering her the comfort she offered him.
“We’ll make it, Evie. We’ll never have to go back to that bastard. I’ll protect you and Cammie both. I won’t let him hurt you again.”
Eve cupped his cheek, feeling the slight bristle of the first growth of beard on his jaw. He was so young. Far too young to be saddled with so much responsibility. It should be her taking care of Travis and Cammie. She should have never left them with their father. It was a decision she’d regret for the rest of her life, even though she’d had no other choice. But thank God, she’d gotten them out when she did. Before Walt Breckenridge could act on his sick fantasies.
It had been bad enough that he’d put the moves on Eve after her mother died, but when he’d turned his attention on Cammie . . . Sweet, darling four-year-old Cammie. Eve shuddered, sick at heart, nausea rolling in her stomach when she imagined Cammie’s father trying to molest her.
She wished she had killed him. That she’d found a way to kill him. She would have gladly gone to jail for the rest of her life if it meant Cammie and Travis were safe. They’d been lucky to escape with their own lives. But Eve wasn’t a fool. Walt wouldn’t give up so easily.
Already she was a wanted woman. Walt had filed kidnapping charges and had painted Eve as an emotionally unstable person who needed constant supervision and psychiatric care. No one would believe Eve. Because Walt was wealthy. He wielded a lot of power and influence. He had far-reaching connections that ensured he could get away with murder. He had gotten away with murder.
Dover, Tennessee, seemed a lifetime away from where they’d fled from the West Coast. It was a small, quiet town nestled close to Kentucky Lake. It was here she’d sought refuge after running for the last several months. She hadn’t intended to stay even this long, but Cammie was sick and they needed money. And a plan. Where to go next. What to do. How to survive.
She couldn’t afford to let her guard down even for a minute. No matter how safe it seemed here, how secluded and out of the way, she couldn’t depend on not being found here. Which meant that she needed to keep moving.
It was no way to live. It wasn’t the life she wanted for her siblings. She wanted better for them. Wanted Cammie to have all the things a normal four-year-old should. And Travis . . . He needed to be in school. He excelled. Made good grades. Was a natural-born athlete. He could easily get an academic or athletic scholarship. But that was now impossible. She couldn’t put him in school, and she hadn’t the tools or the knowledge to homeschool him.
One day. It was a vow she made on a daily basis. One day they’d have a normal existence and Travis would have the education he deserved and Cammie would grow up a happy, secure child not having to worry that her own father would abuse her.
“Evie, are you okay?”
Travis’s worried question shook her from her thoughts. She glanced up to see that he was staring intently at her. It was obvious he’d said something to her before that she’d missed, being so deep in her thoughts. She forced a smile and nodded.
“I’m fine, Trav. And the money will help. I need to buy more medicine for Cammie and we need food. As soon as she is better, I’ll be more comfortable leaving her with you so I can work. I don’t want you working so much. You need to be exposed as little as possible.”
“You’re the one who’s wanted,” Travis said fiercely. “It’s you who should stay out of sight. They wouldn’t arrest me. They’d just try to return me to that asshole. If they catch you, you’ll go to jail. I won’t let that happen.”
She smiled again, stroking a hand over Cammie’s hot, dry cheek. Cammie stirred slightly and then opened bleary, fever-dulled eyes.
“Trav?” she asked sleepily.
Travis’s entire expression softened. “I’m here. How are you feeling?”
“Better now that you and Evie are both here. I don’t like it when you go away.”
Eve and Travis exchanged stricken looks. Cammie was deathly afraid of being separated from Eve and Travis. It broke Eve’s heart that this child had so much to fear in life. That someone who should have taken absolute care of her had betrayed her in the worst way.
“I had to work,” Travis said in a gentle tone. “We need money so we can get you medicine to make you better. And food! How does a hot meal sound to you? Maybe some soup?”
Cammie wrinkled her nose. “I’m tired of soup.”
Eve’s chest tightened. Soup was all they could afford. They existed on cheap foods. Ramen noodles. Canned soups. Sandwich meat and bread.
“Tell you what,” Travis said, leaning over Eve so Cammie could better see him. “I’m working again tomorrow and there’s this really great sandwich shop just a few doors down. If you’re feeling up to a solid meal, I’ll bring you home a burger tomorrow. They’re really good. I had one today.”
Cammie’s face lit up. “That sounds yummy. Thanks, Trav.”
“You’re welcome. Now I want you to rest and get better, okay?”
Cammie nodded and closed her eyes, snuggling more firmly into Eve’s side.
“Do you want me to go out and get her medicine?” Travis asked in a low voice.
“Yes. We need acetaminophen and ibuprofen. I’ve been alternating between the two. And she needs something for her cough. Maybe some liquid cold medicine. Get the off brand. Whatever is cheapest. We have enough food to last until tomorrow. After you come home from work, I’ll run out and get some food while you stay with Cammie. For now, just get the medicine from the pharmacy and come right back.”
Travis nodded and then squeezed Eve’s hand. “It’s going to be okay, Evie.”
She squeezed back, praying with her entire heart that she wasn’t lying. “I know it will.”
DONOVAN Kelly glanced over at his dad’s hardware store as he drove by. It was a habit all his brothers had of taking a look when they were in the area just to make sure everything was as it should be.
He braked hard when he saw Rusty’s Jeep parked out front. Executing a quick U-turn, he drove back and pulled in beside her vehicle. The “Closed” sign was up but a light was on inside.
Frank Kelly never worked on Sundays. No one who worked for them did either. Why on earth would Rusty be here? She hadn’t been in church this morning. Not that he himself went often. But he’d let his mom drag him out since KGI was be-tween missions and things were quiet on the home front.
An unusual occurrence to be sure. There was always something going on. But after completing the last mission two weeks earlier with the new team composed of Nathan, Joe, Swanny, Skylar and Zane—or Edge, as he’d been named back when he was an MMA fighter—nothing new had come up.
The new team was working out really well. Better than Donovan could have hoped for, given the length of time the team had been together. With the other two team leaders now married, thoroughly domesticated and enjoying fatherhood, the new team had taken up a lot of the slack while the other two teams had taken fewer missions.
He got out of his truck, but before he could even walk to the door, Rusty hurried out to meet him. He frowned at her expression. She looked . . . guilty. And while in the beginning he—and his brothers—had reservations about Rusty, she’d proven herself in the years since. She’d become a responsible young lady who was doing well in college and was extremely loyal to his parents. She was, in fact, an absolute member of the Kelly family.
“What’s up?” Donovan asked, looking beyond to the door that was ajar. “Dad never opens on Sundays. Is there a problem? Do you need help with something?”
Rusty grimaced, took a deep breath and then glanced back in the direction of the hardware store.
“Look, can we talk a minute out here? Preferably down the street a bit?”
Donovan’s brows furrowed at the anxious note in her voice. “Sure.”
“Let me tell Travis I’ll be right back, okay?”
Donovan’s brows shot upward. “Travis? Who the hell is Travis? Is he your boyfriend? And if so, what the hell are y’all doing in Dad’s store on a Sunday?”
She sighed and shook her head. “Just give me a sec and I’ll explain.”
Before he could argue further, she hurried back and disappeared through the door to the store. Barely a few seconds later, she came back out, locked the door behind her and then strode in Donovan’s direction.
She motioned him down toward the sandwich store two doors down and he followed, wondering what the hell she was up to now. They hadn’t had any trouble from Rusty since high school. She was only a year from graduating college and he couldn’t imagine her fucking that all up now.
She stopped and then turned, surveying the area as if worried someone would overhear what she was about to tell him.
She shoved her hands in her pockets and sighed again. “I was going to call Nathan, but you’re here now, so maybe . . .”
She trailed off, hesitating. It made sense that if she had a problem she’d call Nathan. Of all the Kelly brothers, she was closest to him because he’d been more accepting of her from the very start. But since then he and all his brothers had made it clear to her that she was family and that they looked out for family. She should be able to call any of them. Not just Nathan.