Tears gathered in Eve’s eyes. For a moment she remained silent, clearly overwhelmed by all that had been said. Cammie looked worried when Eve didn’t respond right away. She got up and clambered into Eve’s lap, putting her free hand to Eve’s cheek.
She patted gently, wiping away the tears that slipped down Eve’s face.
“Don’t cry, Evie,” Cammie said in a solemn voice. “Van says he’s going to take care of us. Everything will be all right, won’t it, Van?”
“Absolutely, sweetheart,” he said gravely, but he was looking at Eve the entire time he reinforced his vow.
Eve hugged Cammie fiercely to her, and then she reached for Travis’s hand, squeezing. The three of them presented a fragile image, but there was also determination. They were a unit. A solid, unbreakable family unit, one that Donovan wanted to be a part of.
Slowly, Donovan reached out for Travis’s hand and then he reached for Eve’s other, linking them all together.
“We’re a family,” Donovan said. “Going forward, you can count on me for anything. If anything ever frightens you, I expect you to come to me. If you have any concerns or just need someone to talk to, I’m always here. We have a lot to work out. There are a lot of things that have to be addressed and resolved. But we’ll get there. Together.”
“I’d like that,” Eve said softly, for the first time openly acknowledging—and accepting—what Donovan had asked her for.
Travis looked relieved. Cammie let out a squeal of delight and then launched herself from Eve’s lap into Donovan’s arms, forcing him to break his hold on Travis’s and Eve’s hands. He laughed as she wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tightly.
“I love you,” Cammie whispered next to Donovan’s ear.
For a moment he closed his eyes, a lump forming in his throat that rendered him unable to respond. He sat there, savoring the sweetness of a child’s unconditional love, and he vowed then and there that he would always return it. That not even the children he and Eve would one day have would replace Cammie or Travis in his love and affection. To him they would always be his first children and have a place accordingly in his heart.
“I love you too, sweetheart. I want you to always remember that, okay?”
Cammie nodded against his neck and then burrowed more deeply into his chest. She yawned broadly and went limp against him. He shifted her in his arms so he could hold her more securely and then returned his attention to Eve and Travis.
“What are we going to do?” Travis asked in a quiet voice. “About him, I mean. He’ll keep coming after Eve. He’ll want to punish her for what she did. We can’t let that happen, Van. He’ll kill her. Just like he killed . . .”
Travis broke off and hastily looked away but not before Donovan saw the glimmer of tears in his eyes. Eve’s eyes brimmed with sudden tears as well at the mention of their mother.
It made Donovan’s heart ache to know that Travis was well aware of how his mother had died. That he had to come to grips with the fact that his own father had taken away the most important person in Travis’s life.
“I don’t want you to worry about him,” Donovan said firmly. “What I want you to do is concentrate on getting better and looking out for your sisters. My brothers and I will take care of your father and ensure that he’s no longer a threat to any of you. Can you trust in that?”
Slowly Travis nodded.
“Now, this little lady here is almost asleep on me, so I’m going to put her down and then perhaps you need to consider getting some rest yourself. How is your pain? Do you need more medication?”
Travis shook his head and then hesitated a moment. He glanced at Eve and then back at Donovan before speaking again.
“Why don’t you put Cammie in with me? She’ll be fine there and she’s used to sleeping either with me or Evie. I know Evie needs to rest too.”
Donovan barely controlled his surprise. He could swear that Travis was paving the way for Donovan to have time alone with Eve by arranging for Cammie to sleep with him, and judging by the sudden rush of color in Eve’s cheeks, she suspected the same.
Still, Donovan wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He and Eve did need time alone. Not just to make love—which Donovan had every intention of doing—but to be able to discuss things that would otherwise upset Cammie were she to overhear.
“If you’re sure,” Donovan said.
Travis nodded. “And I’m okay. For now, I mean. I may need more medication tonight. It bothers me most when I’m lying flat and it’s hard to sleep.”
Donovan frowned. “You should have said something last night. No reason for you to suffer needlessly. I could have given you an injection so you could rest better.”
“It’s okay,” Travis said. “I’ll be fine. I’ll go lie down with Cammie now and she can sleep with me tonight after supper. I’m looking forward to those pork chops.”
Donovan smiled. “Okay, then let’s get you and Cammie to bed.”
Before they could move, a knock sounded at the kitchen door. Since the surveillance system hadn’t alerted him, he knew it had to be one of his brothers or his sisters-in-law. Glancing up, he saw Garrett through the glass window portion of the door.
Shit. Garrett could be very intimidating. The last thing he wanted was for his brother to scare Cammie and Eve shitless.
With a sigh he got up and transferred Cammie into the seat next to where he’d been sitting.
“It’s just my brother Garrett,” he explained to ease the look of alarm on Eve’s face. “You’ll be seeing a lot of him. Well, and of everyone. Sam and Sophie will want to bring Charlotte over to meet you, Cammie.”
Cammie smiled shyly and shoved her thumb in her mouth.
Donovan went to the door, irritated with the interruption. But he should have expected it. Garrett, being Garrett, would have wanted to see for himself what Donovan had involved himself in. Better to get it over and done with now so Garrett would back off. No way Garrett wouldn’t take one look at Eve, Travis and Cammie and do a complete one-eighty about warning Donovan off.
Garrett might be the grumpiest and the growliest of the Kelly brothers, but he was also a complete softie when it came to the people he loved. And Donovan had no doubt that he’d love Eve and her siblings on sight.
To his surprise when he opened the door, Garrett was holding a foil-covered baking pan.
Donovan’s eyebrow arched. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit?” The emphasis on unexpected wasn’t lost on Garrett, but he ignored Donovan’s dig and pushed his way inside.
“I brought over a pan of caramel num-nums. I thought Cammie would like it. They are Charlotte’s favorite and she’s always begging her uncle Garrett to make her some,” Garrett said in amusement. “Plus my wife informs me that there isn’t a woman alive who can resist chocolaty caramel goodness.”
Donovan grinned and took the pan. “Come on in. We just finished a late breakfast. Everyone is at the table. I’ll introduce you. Just, Garrett? Try not to scare the hell out of them.”
Garrett adopted a look of pure innocence. “Me? I’m the nice guy, remember?”
Donovan snorted. “Whatever. Just be on your best behavior. They’re . . . they’re family now, Garrett. I’ve told them that. I’ve told Cammie and Travis that. That not only are they my family but that my family is theirs as well. I’ve informed them of how many uncles and aunts and cousins they have, not to mention Ma and Dad.”
“And how did they take that?” Garrett asked quietly.
Donovan breathed out and glanced in the direction of the dining area to make sure they weren’t overheard. “They were overwhelmed, man. And if you could have seen the hope and the longing in their eyes. It damn near killed me. They were afraid I was going to let them go and that whatever help I was giving them was temporary.”
Garrett scowled. “I hope you dissuaded them of that notion.”
“Oh yeah, I did. I let them know in very clear terms that I wasn’t going anywhere and neither were they. And that not only did they have me in their corner but all of you as well.”
Garrett nodded. “Good. Now go introduce me to your family.”
By those words, Garrett told Donovan that he’d accepted the situation. That Donovan had his full support. Donovan knew that Garrett wouldn’t hold out, but hearing it still gave him a huge measure of relief.
Yeah, his big brothers worried about him and they even pulled the mother hen routine from time to time, but when it came down to it, they were behind him one hundred percent. Just like all the Kellys. There wasn’t another family in the world like them and Donovan wasn’t just saying that because they were his.
The Kellys were a loyal, loving, kick-ass bunch of people and Donovan wouldn’t trade them for anything.
He and Garrett walked back to the table where the others sat and Cammie was now perched on Eve’s lap, her nervousness broadcasting over the entire room. As soon as Garrett’s eyes lighted on the little girl, his entire face softened.
Garrett was gruff. Grumpy and a complete hard-ass, but he was a loyal son of a bitch. Loyal to his toes and he’d sacrifice his life for any one of his loved ones. Hell, he’d taken a bullet for Sophie. And he’d do it again for any of his sisters-in-law.
“Guys, I want you to meet my older brother Garrett. Garrett, this is Eve and her sister, Cammie, and their brother, Travis.”
Travis hastily rose, grimacing when he got up too fast. But he straightened and solemnly extended his hand toward Garrett.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir. We’ve heard a lot about you.”
Garrett eyed the teenager, respect gleaming in his eyes. He took Travis’s extended hand and shook it.
“I’m glad to meet you too, son. I’ve heard a lot about you too. Donovan is very proud of you for the way you looked out for your sisters. A lot of grown men don’t have the integrity you’ve shown.”
Travis flushed, pleasure evident in his expression over Garrett’s praise. Then Garrett turned his attention to Eve and Cammie, his smile warm and welcoming.
“Hey, little bit. I’m glad to meet you. I have another niece your age. Charlotte. I think you two will become great friends.”
It was Eve who looked immeasurably pleased by the fact that Garrett had called Cammie his niece. She’d picked up on his acceptance and even now, a glitter of tears shone in her eyes. She looked briefly away as if to compose herself and not become too emotional. But Garrett didn’t miss it.
“I brought you a special treat, Cammie,” Garrett said, keeping his tone light, though he kept his gaze on Eve.
Cammie perked up, a shy smile emerging around her thumb. Her hand slipped away, allowing the tip of her thumb to rest on her lips. “What is it?”
He reached for the pan Donovan was holding and tore off the aluminum foil.
“Caramel num-nums. I don’t know exactly what they’re called, but they got their name from me because when you eat them all you can say is num-num-num because they’re so good.”
Cammie giggled and tentatively reached for one of the squares. Garrett lowered the pan so she could easily reach it, and then Garrett offered it to Travis before setting it in front of Eve.
“I’m very happy to meet you as well, Eve,” Garrett said quietly. “And I want you to know, as I’m sure Donovan has already told you, but I want you to hear it from me. First, I and my brothers and all of our organization as well as our entire family will do everything we can to help you and make damn sure nothing ever hurts you or your brother and sister again. And second, welcome to the family.”
Eve lost the battle to hold back her tears. They streamed down her face and she wiped self-consciously at them. Travis reached for Cammie, but Donovan intervened, scooping her up before Travis could hurt himself by lifting her.
Garrett then bent over and enfolded Eve in a fierce hug. She hesitated at first but then rose and returned Garrett’s hug. Garrett grinned as he stepped away and then slapped Donovan on the back.
“You’re a lucky son of a gun, Van. Can’t say the same for them, getting stuck with a geek like you, but you certainly lucked out with them.”
Donovan rolled his eyes. “How many times do I have to tell you? Geeks are hot.”
Eve laughed but nodded vigorously. “Intelligence is very attractive on a man.”
Garrett joined in her laughter, and then he ruffled her hair affectionately. Acting just like an older brother. And Eve soaked it up, loving every minute of it. Her eyes shone with happiness.
“I’ll get out y’all’s hair. I just wanted to pop in and introduce myself. Heads up, bro. I’d expect similar visits from the rest of the clan, just so you know. The wives are all champing at the bit to see the woman who landed you, and of course they’ll want to give their stamp of approval. You know how protective they get of you and Joe since y’all are the only two unattached ones. And I guess now it’s down to just Joe.”