Donovan nodded. “Thanks, Sean. I don’t like you risking your job for me.”
“The day I start siding with abusive assholes and throwing innocent women under the bus in the name of duty is the day I hang up the badge,” Sean said, his tone serious. “If my job ever requires me to hand back over a four-year-old girl to an abusive father, then it’s a job I don’t want anymore.”
There was brief admiration in Rusty’s eyes as she glanced Sean’s way. But it was quickly wiped away by a look of indifference as she listened to the interchange between the two men.
“I’ll go,” Rusty said. “I made sure no one followed me here, just in case you worry that I ran straight here after the guy showed up. I waited a couple of hours. He showed up as soon as the store opened and I played it cool and didn’t leave until later in the morning.”
“I don’t want you back there,” Donovan said seriously. “I don’t want you in this asshole’s presence again. Go back to Mom and Dad’s for now. I’ll talk with Dad later today and let him know what’s going on.”
“I’m going to run too,” Sean said. “I just wanted you to know what I came up with so you could be on your guard. It’s going to be important to keep Eve and her siblings under tight wraps and make sure they aren’t out in public.”
Donovan nodded. “Thanks, Sean. And thanks, Rusty. I’ll talk to you both later.”
Rusty walked out of Donovan’s house, Sean on her heels. She’d parked next to Sean’s patrol car, and she paused in front of them both, turning to confront Sean.
He pulled up short when she turned to face him and took a step back as she stared him down.
“What’s your problem with me, Sean? Why do you still see me as a stupid kid with more brass than brains?”
He blinked in surprise, and then his eyes narrowed. “I don’t have a problem with you, Rusty. I just don’t want you in any danger.”
She rolled her eyes. “You still treat me like I’m some clueless kid. I’m not an idiot. I can handle myself. I didn’t confront the guy when he came in. I played it cool and then I came right over to tell Donovan what happened.”
Sean growled in frustration. “I do not see you as a kid.”
Before she could react, before she could even think about what he was doing, he yanked her roughly into his arms. She landed against his chest at the same time his mouth crashed over hers.
It wasn’t a gentle kiss. It was filled with a myriad of things she could feel. Frustration. Anger. Desire. Lust. Need.
At first she tensed, caught completely unaware by the fact that Sean Cameron—a man who’d never made secret his dislike for her—was kissing her. And not just kissing her, but completely ravaging her mouth.
Whoa, but the man could kiss.
She melted into his arms, opening her mouth as he deepened the kiss. His tongue lapped hungrily over her lips and then slipped into her mouth, delving deep as they tasted each other.
Holy shit! Sean Cameron was kissing her! The mind boggled. She was completely and utterly incapable of thought. Of any response. All she could do was sag there in his arms, supported by his strong hold as he laid one hell of a kiss on her.
And then just as quickly as he’d lost control, he yanked away, swearing vividly as he put her at arm’s length.
“Goddamn it,” he bit out. “That should not have happened. I’m sorry, Rusty. I should not have done that. I had no right. It won’t happen again.”
Before she could collect her scattered thoughts, he stalked to his patrol car, slapping that Stetson she found so sexy on his head, got in and slammed the door before roaring out of Donovan’s drive. She stood there numbly, watching as he disappeared down the road toward the gate.
He’d kissed her.
She raised a trembling hand to her swollen lips, still feeling the imprint of his mouth on hers.
He’d kissed her. It was a thought that kept going round and round in her mind. Sean Cameron had kissed her.
And why the hell had she let him?
DONOVAN surveyed the occupants of his kitchen with deep satisfaction. Travis had wanted to get out of bed, already going stir-crazy at having spent so much time lying down. Even Cammie had been eager to get up, and so he’d set her up at his dining room table with the IV pole next to her so she could sit and eat with everyone else.
Eve sat between them, her face alight with joy and relief. Donovan took it all in, loving the way they looked in his house. His family. They were his. He’d already made that decision and there was no going back for him. He just hoped like hell that Eve would be on board.
He knew she was attracted to him, that she reciprocated at least some of his feelings. He also knew that things had happened at a whirlwind pace that he hoped hadn’t overwhelmed Eve. He’d been honest in that he would take it slow, but he’d been equally honest in that slow to someone else and slow to him were vastly different things.
He was exhibiting extreme patience because what his instincts screamed for him to do from the very first moment he’d laid eyes on Eve was to claim her. To take her to his bed, possess her, mark her as his, and never let her go.
Soon, though. Very soon. Tonight, if he had his way. He wanted to make love to her. To cement their growing relationship, such as it was. He wanted her to know how he felt about her, and words would only carry him so far. He wanted to show her.
“Okay, food’s ready,” he declared, carrying a stack of hot pancakes to the table.
He set it in the middle and forked up pancakes for both Travis and Cammie and then placed three on Eve’s plate. When her eyes widened and she automatically shook her head, denying that she could eat so much, he ignored her and issued a stern directive.
“Eat,” he said. “You need to catch up. All of you do.”
But he needn’t have worried that Travis and Cammie would suffer any such hesitancy. Travis dug into his pile with gusto. Donovan leaned over to help Cammie, cutting the pancakes into neat squares before drenching them in syrup. She beamed her delight back at him and then picked up her fork with the hand that wasn’t attached to the IV and began stuffing bites into her mouth.
Eve seemed delighted—and inspired—by her siblings’ enthusiasm and soon she followed suit, downing a good portion of her own plate. Donovan sat back, eating but mostly watching and enjoying the sight of his family enjoying a meal together.
Yeah, this was right. No matter his brothers’ warning—he understood their concern—Eve was right for him. He felt it to his bones. He’d known that his brothers had known from the moment they’d met their wives that they were the one. Perhaps Sam had been longer to come around than the others, but they’d all known, and maybe Donovan had never truly appreciated the scope or depth of their feelings, the knowledge that their woman was the one. But he got it now because he felt the same exact way, and if his brothers felt even a tenth of the intensity that Donovan experienced when he looked at or thought about Eve, then he well understood their drive to possess their women. He just wasn’t as stubborn as Sam and he wasn’t going to waste time trying to deny what he now knew his destiny to be.
“This is really good, Mr. Van,” Cammie said in a sweet voice. “Thank you for making us breakfast.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart,” Donovan said, grinning over her attaching Mr. to his name. “But this counts as lunch. The morning is all gone now. But be thinking about what you’d like for supper. I have a pretty well-stocked pantry and you know what? If I don’t have the stuff on hand to make you what you want, I’ll be sure to get it. Sound like a deal?”
Cammie nodded vigorously, her mouth full of pancakes.
“I’d really like some fried pork chops,” Travis said wistfully. “Evie makes the best pork chops and mashed potatoes and gravy, but it’s been a long time since we could afford to have it.”
Then he flushed, color invading his cheeks as he realized all he’d said.
Donovan leaned forward, giving Travis a gentle, reassuring smile. “That sounds like a perfect dinner to me. But I don’t think Eve should tackle the kitchen just yet. I may not make them as good as she does, but I’ll do my best.”
“Oh I don’t mind,” Eve protested. “You’ve done so much for us, Donovan. I don’t mind cooking for us at all. It’s the least I can do.”
Donovan shook his head adamantly. Not that the idea of Eve in his kitchen preparing them all a meal wasn’t a very appealing prospect. But they’d have plenty of time to get to that. For now he only wanted to pamper and spoil them all. “You need to rest. I can handle supper. I just want you to sit back and do nothing and recover. It’s what I want all of you to do.”
“He’s right, Evie,” Travis cut in, his tone every bit as resolved as Donovan’s. “You shouldn’t be cooking right now. You’ve taken care of us for a long time. It’s time that someone took care of you.”
“Bravo,” Donovan softly agreed. “Very well said, Travis.”
Eve flushed, but pleasure shone in her eyes as she stared back at Donovan and then over to Travis.
“Will you be taking care of us from now on?” Cammie asked.
Though the question was asked innocently enough, Donovan could see the anxiety in the little girl’s eyes. As though she feared that Donovan would turn them out and send them on their way.
Even Travis glanced at Donovan, clear question in his eyes. There was a shadow there as if he feared the same, that he wondered if this was a temporary situation and that Donovan would hurt Eve.
Donovan reached for Cammie’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. But he included both Eve and Travis in his declaration. He wanted them all to understand exactly where he stood.
“Absolutely I’m going to take care of all of you from now on. And I’m glad you brought this up because there is something I very much wanted to discuss with you and Travis both.”
Cammie’s eyes widened and even Travis looked surprised. But then a guarded look entered Travis’s gaze, as if he feared the worst.
“I like Eve very much and I want her to stay with me. Forever,” he said, not mincing his words.
He wanted Eve to hear him say it when it wasn’t just the two of them and it could be thought he was speaking in the heat of the moment and saying things he didn’t really mean. By declaring his intentions in front of her brother and sister, she would realize, hopefully, that he was utterly serious and committed to making this work.
“But I want you both to stay as well. I want us to be a . . . family,” he said, gauging their reaction to his statement.
Travis looked surprised—and relieved. Cammie looked delighted.
“Do you mean that?” Travis asked hoarsely. “You want us all to stay with you?”
“Yes, I do,” Donovan said quietly. “I know I’m not your real father, but I’d very much like to be a father to both of you. I’d be proud to call you my own and I’d always love and protect you.”
“I don’t like my real daddy,” Cammie said sadly. “He scares me. He’s not a good person, Van. I want you to be my daddy.”
Donovan’s heart melted a little more and if he hadn’t already been solidly in love with the little girl, that would have sealed his fate.
“You don’t have to worry about your real father anymore, Cammie. I’m going to take care of you and your brother and Eve. I want us to be a family. A real family. And what you don’t realize is that I have a very large family and they’ll all love you too. You’ll have grandparents. Lots of uncles and aunts and cousins. I’ve already told you about Charlotte. She’s your age. And there are more babies on the way,” he added with a smile. “My brothers Sam and Garrett are both expecting a new baby early next year.”
“I love babies!” Cammie exclaimed, clapping her hands together in delight.
Donovan turned his gaze on Eve, who’d remained silent through it all.
“And what about you, Eve?” he asked softly. “What do you want?”
At once, Travis and Cammie both turned pleading gazes on Eve as if they were afraid she would put a crashing halt to everything. It was manipulative for Donovan to have broached the subject with Travis and Cammie present, but he wasn’t trying to manipulate her emotions at all. He only wanted her to know that he was utterly sincere. He hoped she knew him well enough or at least had discerned enough about his character to know that he wouldn’t bring Travis and Cammie into it unless he was absolutely serious. He wouldn’t risk hurting them if he wasn’t certain of his feelings and intentions.
“I want you to be happy, Evie,” Travis said in a quiet, grave voice. “You’ve given up so much for me and Cammie. He hurt you. I know that. I also know what he tried to do to you. And I know how much you’ve risked to get me and Cammie away from him. So if this is what you want, you have my blessing. I don’t want you to give up your life because of me and Cammie.”