She needed her head examined because she was in way over her head.
She wanted to ask him how much he cared, but doing so would set her up for inevitable disappointment. She needed to be objective. Look at him as someone who could help her and Cammie and Travis. And they did need help. Desperately. Would she be a fool to turn him down?
Yes. The answer was simple. Cammie and Travis deserved anything she could provide for them. It was obvious that she couldn’t do it on her own. Not anymore. She—they—needed Donovan Kelly.
“Tell me, Eve. Do I have any chance of making you trust me? And if asking for your trust is too much, will you at least accept the help I’m offering? Can you give me your word that you’ll stop running and give me—my brothers—the chance to help you?”
Slowly she nodded, though she wasn’t sure which part she’d agreed to. Maybe all of it. Maybe she already did trust him. Otherwise, would she be here? Not that she’d had much choice in the matter, but she hadn’t fought. Hadn’t even attempted to turn down his aid.
Satisfaction burned brightly in Donovan’s eyes, and his shoulders seemed to sag. In relief? He reached forward, touching her face with his fingertips, and she shivered at the warmth his touch provided. She was starved of affection. Of having someone touch her in such an intimate manner. Walt had touched her, yes, but every part of her had shriveled. She’d shrunk away from his touch, not wanting him anywhere near her. And Cammie. God. Nausea still rose in her stomach every time she imagined that precious little girl in the hands of a monster.
Thank God Travis had called her. Thank God for the maid who’d been willing to help them. If not for her, Cammie—and Travis—would still be under Walt’s control. Eve herself would be under his control. She shuddered at what could have been. What might have already been.
She’d questioned Travis and even Cammie, albeit very gently and very vaguely. She hadn’t wanted to traumatize Cammie, but she’d needed to know the extent of what Walt had done to her. If he’d ever touched her or, God forbid, gone even further. What kind of sick, twisted man could possibly do such a thing to his own daughter?
To make such overtures toward Eve was one thing. Sick, yes, but it wasn’t the same as forcing his attentions on a four-year-old daughter. He’d never made a secret of his distaste for Eve and the fact that she was his wife’s daughter from a previous marriage. Which made it hard for Eve to understand why Walt would suddenly make sexual overtures toward her. Maybe it had always been there. Maybe it was why he’d gone to such measures to control every aspect of Eve’s life. Perhaps he’d always planned to get rid of his wife as soon as she gave him the daughter he wanted. Which made Eve wonder why he’d wanted another child. Was it so he’d have his own plaything? An outlet for his twisted desires?
She couldn’t even dwell on it further because it made her sick to her soul.
“What are you thinking about, honey?”
Donovan’s gentle voice broke through the horror of her thoughts and brought her back to reality. She blinked, finding his gaze. He was staring thoughtfully at her, his brow furrowed as if he were trying to see inside her mind and know what she was thinking.
“H-him,” she stammered out, fighting back the wave of revulsion even speaking of him caused. She couldn’t bring herself to say his name. As if by saying it he would be conjured up and standing in the room with her.
He stroked her cheek, cupping her chin with a tender grasp.
“I don’t want you to think of him any longer. He can’t hurt you here. I won’t allow him near you or your brother and sister.”
She nodded, but the horror had yet to fade. In retelling Donovan everything, the first she’d spoken of the chain of events to anyone, the memories burned bright in her mind. Grief over losing her mother welled in her soul and threatened to overwhelm her. Months of running, of being afraid that at any moment Walt would find them and take them back had beaten her down until weariness—bone-deep fatigue—had blanketed her, suffocating her until she could barely breathe.
“You need to rest,” Donovan said gently. “And I need to get some food down Travis and Cammie. Want to help me wake them up and see if they’re up to eating? I thought you could sit with Cammie while she eats, and I’ll take Travis his food and give him another dose of pain medication after he eats.”
She nodded, eager to focus on anything but what consumed her thoughts. She wanted to see Cammie and Travis again, to reassure herself that they were here. Safe. Taken care of. Getting the food and medicine they both so desperately needed.
Donovan stood, reaching his hand down to help Eve to her feet.
“What about you?” he asked pointedly. “Are you still hurting?
She flushed, wanting to deny it, but her expression had already given it away.
He frowned at her but said nothing as he steered her toward the kitchen. When they got there, he warmed two plates of lasagna and then prepared two glasses of tea. Just when she thought that perhaps he was going to ignore her silent admission, he turned with the tray in hand.
“After Cammie and Travis have eaten, I’m going to give you another dose of pain medication and you’re going to sleep. I wonder when the last time was you got a full night’s rest?”
She dropped her gaze guiltily.
“That’s what I thought,” he said grimly. “Come on. We’ll check in on Travis and get him situated and then I’ll take you to Cammie’s room so you can help her eat.”
Though his hands were full, he walked beside her, lending her his strength, though he didn’t touch her. He didn’t have to. Just being there was enough. He matched his pace to her much smaller one, and she glanced down, realizing she was still clad in only her underwear and his shirt.
When they reached Travis’s room, she opened the door, eager to see how he was doing. If he was still hurting. And offer him reassurance that they were safe. She’d broadcasted her doubts to him. He’d picked up on her unease when they’d entered this place. Now she wanted to reassure him that she’d chosen wisely. She was sure of it.
Travis was still sleeping and she hated to wake him, but she knew he needed to eat and he likely needed more pain medication. His brow was creased even in sleep, his expression tense as though he were indeed in pain. She touched his forehead, running her hand gently across his brow.
He stirred beneath her touch and opened his eyes. They were cloudy with sleep and remnants of fatigue and pain.
“Hey,” she whispered. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay,” he said quickly. But when he tried to shift and sit up, he grimaced and quickly settled back against the pillows.
“Don’t try to move,” Donovan cautioned. “Just take it slow and easy. I’ve brought you something to eat. Eve and I will help you maneuver so you can eat. Then I’ll give you another dose of pain medication so you can rest.”
Travis glanced between Eve and Donovan and then realized she was only in a shirt. His eyes widened and Eve flushed. Donovan ignored the interchange and set the tray holding the plates down on the nightstand. Then he bent over Travis while Eve got on the other side and they helped ease him upward, Travis grimacing as they propped pillows behind him to support him.
“Hungry?” Donovan asked.
“Starving,” Travis admitted. “It smells good, whatever it is.”
Eve smiled. “Then eat. I’m going to go check on Cammie and try to get her to eat too.”
“Is she all right?” Travis asked quickly, his eyes going dark with concern.
“She’s fine,” Eve assured him. “She’s been sleeping. Like you. She’s getting the medicine she needs. In a day or two she’ll be better.”
“And you, Evie?” Travis asked, lifting his gaze to hers. “Have you slept at all? Are you still hurting?”
“Don’t you worry about your sister,” Donovan said briskly as he set the tray in front of Travis. “She got some rest and she’s about to get some more just as soon as we see to Cammie. I’m going to give you an injection for pain, and then she’s getting the same and I want all of you to get a good night’s sleep.”
“Yes, sir,” Travis said in a low voice.
Donovan smiled down at him and handed him a fork. “Dig in. I’m going to go down with Eve to check on Cammie, and when I get back I’ll give you that shot. It’ll give you time to eat before you crash again.”
Travis lifted his gaze to Donovan, sincerity blazing in his eyes. “Thank you for what you’re doing, Mr. Kelly. For my sisters. We appreciate it.”
Donovan put his hand on Travis’s shoulder and squeezed. “You’re welcome, son. Now call me Donovan. The only Mr. Kelly around here is my dad. Hearing you call me that makes me feel like an old fart.”
Travis grinned and relaxed, the tension easing from his face. He picked up his fork and dug in with gusto. Eve could hear his stomach growl and gave thanks once again that they were safe, under a roof that didn’t leak, and that Travis had plenty to eat and the care he needed.
She leaned down and brushed her lips across Travis’s brow. “I’ll be back later to check on you, okay? I’m just down the hall if you need me. I love you.”
“Love you too,” Travis mumbled around a mouthful of lasagna.
She smiled and turned to follow Donovan from the room.
When they got to the bedroom she shared with Cammie, she went in, her heart softening when she saw Cammie still fast asleep, the IV bag still dripping steadily into the tube. It hurt her heart to see the little girl with an IV in her arm, taped and a tube leading away, but she also knew that this was what was necessary. That if Maren hadn’t acted as quickly as she had, Cammie could have gotten a lot worse.
“I’ll let you rouse her,” Donovan said quietly. “I’ll stand back until she’s awake and oriented. Once you get her sitting up I’ll set the tray up in front of her.”
Eve went to Cammie’s bedside and slid onto the bed beside her. She touched Cammie’s fevered brow, tenderness assailing her.
“Cammie? Cammie, darling, can you wake up for me? I brought you something to eat. Are you hungry?”
Cammie roused, blinking sleepily as she stared up in confusion. Then her gaze settled on Eve and she relaxed.
“I had a bad dream,” she mumbled, sliding her thumb inside her mouth.
Eve bent to kiss her forehead and stroked a hand through her tousled hair. “I’m sorry, darling. But you know nothing can hurt you here, don’t you? It was just a dream.”
“He was there,” Cammie said in a low voice, still sucking at her thumb. “He was here. I woke up and he was standing by my bed just like he used to. It scared me, Evie. You promise he won’t find us here?”
Donovan’s expression had gone utterly black as he listened to Cammie. Eve exchanged helpless looks with him. Now that Donovan knew everything, he could read between the lines. Knew what Cammie referred to when she said that her father had watched her sleep. That he’d acted inappropriately toward her. Eve just didn’t know the extent. Maybe she never would. And that killed her. She didn’t want to remind Cammie of past fears. She didn’t want to bring back those terrors. But at the same time, Cammie needed to talk to someone. She needed to get it out or the wounds would fester, and left unresolved it would cause her problems well into her adult life.
Donovan took a step forward, for the first time inserting himself into the conversation. Cammie’s eyes flickered and she latched on to him, relief lighting her expression.
He seated himself on Cammie’s other side, carefully positioning the tray in front of her. He picked up the hand that didn’t have the IV attached and curled his fingers around her palm.
“Listen to me, sweetheart. You and Eve and Travis are safe here. I’m not going to let your father come here. Okay? Eve has told me everything that happened. Your father is a bad person and I’m not going to let him ever scare you again. Now, what I’d like for you to do right now is eat. Swanny made a special dinner just for you. Think you’re up for that?”
“Did he make grilled cheeses?” Cammie mumbled around her thumb.
Donovan gave her an indulgent smile. “Not exactly. But it’s sort of like a grilled cheese. Only better. Promise. It has lots of yummy cheese. And noodles. Make you a deal. Try the lasagna and if you don’t like it, I’ll make you a grilled cheese instead.”
Cammie smiled. “’Kay.”
He pushed the tray toward her and Eve reached for the fork, cutting into the wedge and cutting small bites. Cammie looked eagerly at the cheesy noodles and meat sauce and opened her mouth when Eve forked a bite and lifted it to her lips.
Cammie chewed, her expression thoughtful, and then she gifted Donovan with a broad smile.
“Good?” he asked.
“Yummy,” Cammie replied, eager for the next bite.