Donovan thought for a moment and then shook his head. “Not yet. Until we at least know what we’re up against. Nathan and Joe’s team can handle things for now. It’s perfect for them and they’re all right here local. No sense pulling in your or Rio’s teams until I have to. I’ll have to fill my brothers in and I don’t intend to tell the same story more than once. So I’ll wait for everyone to get over before I say what’s on my mind.”
Swanny and Joe took off to do their respective tasks, and Donovan excused himself to go tend to Eve. When he entered the bedroom, Eve had already crawled under the covers with Cammie, who was huddled into Eve’s body.
It was such an endearing sight that for a moment all Donovan could do was stare. At what could be his. At what he already considered his. He was struck by the rightness of it all. But he also knew he couldn’t afford to get distracted by the fantasy. Somewhere out there, a monster lurked. Waiting for an opportunity to strike. At his family.
The hell that was happening.
He uncapped the syringe Maren had prepared and then made his way closer to the bed. He slid onto the edge, his thigh resting against Eve’s body.
“I need to give this in your bottom,” he explained. “All you have to do is pull up your shirt and lower the band of your underwear. You can remain covered the rest of the way. It’ll just take a minute and then you’ll feel much better.”
“Thank you,” Eve said, barely above a whisper. “I don’t think I’ve said it properly—or at all, for that matter. But thank you. I have no idea why you’re going to so much trouble for people you don’t even know, but I can never hope to repay your kindness, Donovan. What you’ve done for Cammie and Travis. And me. I don’t know why—I can’t even comprehend it all—but I thank God that you’re here. That we’re here.”
He smiled and ran a finger down the curve of her cheek, fiercely satisfied that she seemed to finally be accepting his help. “You’re more than welcome, Eve. But get used to it, because I’m not going anywhere and neither are you.”
He carefully pushed up the oversized T-shirt to bare her slim waist and the gentle curve of her behind. It was pure temptation to stroke the baby-soft skin, but he focused on sliding her panties down just enough to bare the injection site.
“Just a stick,” he warned, and then pushed the needle into her flesh.
She tensed a moment and then stiffened further.
“Ouch,” she grumbled. “The medication hurt worse than the needle.”
Donovan chuckled. “That’s usually the way it goes. But you’ll be feeling the effects any second now. I want you to relax and get some sleep. I’ll wake you and Cammie for dinner. This time it’ll be something better than grilled cheese sandwiches and soup. Swanny has volunteered his culinary expertise and I have to say, the man can cook.”
She smiled, her eyes already dulling with the effects of the medication. “That sounds lovely. And Donovan? Thanks again. I’ll never be able to repay your kindness.”
He bent to kiss her forehead and she went utterly still beneath his lips. “You will, Eve. Trust me, you will. Just not in a manner you’d likely expect.”
With that cryptic statement, he withdrew, seeing that Cammie had already drifted to sleep in Eve’s arms. He checked her IV line, making sure it was secure and that the fluid was flowing correctly.
“Sleep well, Eve. And know you’re safe,” he murmured just before leaving the room and shutting the door behind him.
AN hour later, Donovan stood in the living room where his brothers, Sam, Garrett, Joe and Nathan, had gathered along with the rest of Nathan and Joe’s team: Swanny, Skylar and Edge. Sean Cameron was present as well. Donovan had wanted him pulled in so he could discreetly run a check on Eve and uncover any potential issues with the law. Steele and Maren had remained, though Maren had retreated to the kitchen to feed Olivia in private.
He needed information from Eve before he could make any huge decisions, but he couldn’t wait until he got her to trust him enough to open up. Hopefully that would come later tonight when he and Eve were finally alone. But for now, he needed everyone on point because something or someone was after Eve. Her fear wasn’t faked. The terror in her siblings’ eyes wasn’t an act.
“So what are we dealing with here, Van?” Sam spoke up, breaking the heavy silence in the room.
“I don’t know exactly,” Donovan said grimly. “But I need to find out fast. I’m going to try to get Eve to talk to me tonight. She doesn’t trust easily, but I’m getting through to her. Getting her to agree to stay here was a huge step in the right direction.”
He glanced over at Sean, who leaned against the wall, hands shoved into his uniform pockets. He’d just come off duty and hadn’t been home yet. Donovan knew he was likely tired, but Sean hadn’t hesitated to come when Donovan had asked him to.
“Sean, I need you to do some very discreet checking on Eve, and Cammie and Travis as well. I’m not positive they’re using their real names, but Hanson is the name Travis gave. See what you can dig up on anyone matching their descriptions, but I do not need anyone to know about it. Anything you find, you come to me with, regardless of what it is you discover.”
Sean’s gaze narrowed. “What exactly are you expecting to find?”
“I don’t know,” Donovan said honestly. “What I know is that they’re running and running hard and scared from someone. Cammie’s terrified of men. She mentioned that her ‘daddy’ had hurt Eve. Not Eve’s father, but Cammie’s. So I’m wondering if maybe Cammie and Travis are Eve’s half siblings and they share a mother, or perhaps Eve is an aunt or concerned relative. I just need whatever you can dig up without leaving any traces that you were looking.”
Sean nodded. “I’ll do what I can.”
Donovan expanded his gaze to include the others. “I need you all on this. I want to tighten security around the compound. Do regular watches. I also want to keep an eye out in town for anyone out of place. Someone new or anyone asking questions who sounds anything like they’re looking for Eve or Cammie and Travis.”
“I can take a look at Amber Alerts,” Sean said quietly. “If they ran, it’s possible they would have been reported missing.”
Left unsaid was the fact that Eve could very well be labeled a kidnapper and a danger to the children. Donovan knew that was bullshit, but it didn’t mean it wasn’t out there.
Donovan nodded his agreement. “Just make damn sure you come to me with any information and don’t breathe a word to anyone else. I know I’m asking you to work off the books on this and if you aren’t comfortable doing something that could compromise your job, I understand.”
Sean made a derisive sound. “If you believe in her, then so do I, Van. I trust your judgment. I’m not going to wave any red flags when I dig up what I can find. You’ll be the first to receive any info I discover.”
“Appreciate that, man,” Donovan said quietly.
Then he turned his attention to Steele.
“Until I know precisely what I’m dealing with, you and your team are out. Nathan and Joe can take this. This is our home turf. We aren’t going to allow some asshole to come in and threaten Eve and those kids. But at the same time I want to make damn certain our family is protected and we watch our sixes at all times. Which means the wives need to be aware of the potential dangers and make sure they don’t go out alone.”
Donovan directed the last at his brothers.
Sam and Garrett both nodded their agreement, grim expressions on their faces.
“As long as they’re here, inside this compound, nothing can hurt them,” Donovan said. “It happened once with Shea. We’re never going to make that mistake again. And I fully intend to ensure Eve goes nowhere that places her or Cammie and Travis in danger.”
The others voiced their agreement.
“Let’s eat,” Donovan said, ending the current topic. “Swanny threw together dinner. I’m going to let Eve sleep a while longer before I wake her to eat . . . and talk.”
Even as the others filtered into the kitchen, Donovan walked down the hall to Eve’s bedroom and peeked inside. His heart softened when he saw Cammie nestled into Eve’s arms. Both of them were sound asleep. He stood watching a moment longer before silently retreating, the image still vibrant in his mind.
The others were in the kitchen, standing around with plates and forks scarfing Swanny’s lasagna. Donovan rescued enough for Eve and her siblings to eat later, putting the plates into the oven so they’d stay warm.
Sean was the first to leave, saying he was heading home to get some sleep and that he’d do some digging the next morning and report back to Donovan. One by one, Nathan and Joe’s team left as well, followed quickly by Steele and Maren, who promised to return the next day to examine Eve, Cammie and Travis again.
Donovan closed the door behind them and turned to see Sam and Garrett standing a short distance away. He knew that look both his brothers wore. He sighed and motioned toward the couch in the living room.
“If I’m going to be lectured by my older brothers, I at least want to be comfortable,” Donovan said dryly.
Neither Sam nor Garrett refuted the lecture crack, so Donovan knew he’d been right.
“So what’s up?” Donovan asked.
Sam rubbed a hand through his hair and exchanged glances with Garrett. Almost as though they were deciding who was going to speak up first.
“Just spit it out,” Donovan said impatiently. “It’s obvious you have something on your minds beyond what’s already been discussed.”
“I’m concerned—we’re concerned,” Sam amended. “I guess we’re worried that this is some sort of wish fulfillment on your part.”
Donovan reared back in surprise. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Garrett shifted and then shoved his hands in his pockets. “Look, man, of all of us, you’ve always been the biggest homebody. You were always the one who wanted a wife and a large family. It surprised the hell out of us that you weren’t the first to get married and have a house full of kids.”
“We’re just worried that you see Eve and her siblings as a shortcut,” Sam interjected. “A ready-made family. We just want to make sure you know what you’re getting into. You know nothing about Eve or her situation. And you know nothing about what you may be bringing to our front door or the danger you could be placing our families, our wives and children in.”
Anger simmered and boiled up in Donovan’s throat. He flexed his fingers, finally balling them into tight fists in an effort to rein himself in. The last thing he wanted to do was do or say something he’d regret in the heat of the moment.
“I’d never do anything to endanger any of my sisters- in-law or my nieces and nephews or any of the family and you damn well know it,” Donovan seethed. “I’d give my life for them in a heartbeat. And if you know me so damn well, then you know I’d never turn a blind eye to any woman or child so desperately in need.”
“That’s the point we’re making,” Garrett said quietly. “You’ve always had a huge soft spot for women and children. Especially children. We don’t want to see you get attached and then have them taken away. You have no idea about the mother or the father in the picture or if Eve herself is the danger to Cammie and Travis.”
Donovan fought to keep his cool. He understood his brothers’ concerns. He got it. But it still pissed him off, and judging by the looks on his brothers’ faces, they knew he was pissed.
“You know we’ll always have your back,” Sam said. “We aren’t immune to Eve or her siblings. We just don’t want to see you get hurt. We’re concerned that you’re becoming too emotionally involved, and you have to turn it off. Treat it like any other mission. Help her and her brother and sister, but keep a distance and keep your heart out of it.”
“Sarah was supposed to just be a mission,” Donovan challenged. “Remember how quickly that became personal for you? And you, Sam. You got involved with Sophie while on a mission and the very last thing you should have been doing was fucking around with a woman when we were hot on the trail of Mouton. Do either of you regret that now? Look at what you have. Wives. Children, and children on the way. How can you know that Eve is not the one for me? Would you deny me the same shot at happiness that you received yourselves while on a ‘mission’?”
Discomfort crawled across Sam’s face, and Garrett flinched.
“I know Eve isn’t just a goddamn mission. I know that. I also know that a lot has to be resolved. I have to gain her trust so that I can be prepared to face whatever she’s running from. I don’t believe for a minute that she’s some criminal. She’s just a desperate woman doing whatever it takes to protect her family. Wouldn’t we all do the same? Whatever it takes. Just like you do for your own families. Your wives. Your children.”