“And, Eve? Just so you know. I may have been your first, but I guarantee that I’m going to be your last as well.”

Her eyes widened just as he kissed her again. For several long seconds, he plundered her mouth, tasting, savoring the moment. When he pulled away, her eyes were glazed with want—and need.

She put her hand to his chest, her fingertips resting over his heart. “You can’t possibly mean that, Donovan.”

He arched one eyebrow and stared challengingly at her. “Can’t I? I don’t think you realize it, but you sealed your fate the moment you gave me your trust. And now that you’ve given me the gift of yourself, your virginity . . . It’s something I’ll always cherish. Being your first. And yes, I fully intend to be the last man who ever makes love to you.”

“How can you possibly know that?” she whispered.

He kissed her nose and smiled down at her. “Because you’re mine. And I’m very possessive of what I consider mine. And you are mine, Eve. You and Cammie and Travis all belong to me. We’re family. You’re stuck with me, and I hope to hell you’re feeling half of what I’m feeling right now.”

Eve sucked in her breath, not even realizing she was holding it until she became light-headed. She sucked in a deep breath, overcome by all that he’d said. He was so . . . sincere. Earnest. Could she believe him? Was she crazy to want to believe him? And should she tell him what she’d barely begun to entertain herself?

He’d been honest with her. Straightforward. No holding back. No games. She had to do the same for him.

“I think I could fall in love with you, Donovan,” she said in a whisper he had to lean forward to hear. “It’s crazy. I shouldn’t be talking like this. I shouldn’t even be thinking it. I can’t be entertaining the notion of love and a relationship, the future, when my life is in complete turmoil.”

He nudged her chin upward again until she was staring into his implacable eyes.

“You better damn well be thinking about your future—with me—because I’m already looking down the road to when we have children of our own. At the life I intend to have. With you. Travis and Cammie will always be part of our hearts and our family. I consider them my own children already. But I want children—with you—to fill our house. Lots of children, love and laughter, and I want you to give me those children. I want to see Travis and Cammie graduate high school and college, get married and have families of their own. I want to grow old with you and watch our grandchildren grow up, loved and protected just like I intend to protect you, Travis, Cammie and any children you and I have together. Our family, Eve. Our family.”

She could no longer hold back the tears. They sloshed over the rims of her eyes and slid soundlessly down her cheeks, colliding with his fingers as he stroked her face.

“When you say these things, I believe you. I want to believe you, but I’m afraid. I’m so afraid that it will all be snatched away. I’m afraid to be happy because I couldn’t bear it if it was all taken away. I don’t want to lose you.”

Donovan kissed her tears away, gently removing all traces of dampness on her cheeks. Then he smiled tenderly at her as he continued to stroke her hair and her face.

“We have all the time in the world for me to convince you that I’m not going anywhere and neither are you. We’ll face your—our—problems head on. Together. I’ll always be at your side and always at Travis’s and Cammie’s.”


EVE snuggled into Donovan’s embrace and emitted a contented sigh. They were sitting on the couch enjoying a perfectly normal evening watching movies with Travis and Cammie.

Cammie’s IV had been discontinued earlier that day when Maren had come by for her daily checkup. Travis was no longer taking pain medication, and the soreness and pain he had been experiencing was diminishing greatly.

Donovan had cooked an early dinner for them and they’d sat around the table, laughing and acting just like a . . . family.

The threat of Walt that had loomed over Eve for so long had diminished. It was easy to forget that danger existed. That it was out there lurking, just waiting for the chance to strike. But here, secluded in Donovan’s home, behind the walls of the compound, Eve felt safe. Travis and Cammie felt safe. They’d smiled and relaxed for the first time since they’d run from their father.

It made Eve’s heart ache for all that could be. For all she wanted. Never would she have imagined having all she now had in the palm of her hands. She’d chickened out the night before. Had been so overwhelmed by the depth of her feelings for him that she’d taken the easy way out and said she could see herself falling in love with Donovan.

It was a lie. She loved him. But it had seemed too soon. He acted as though he cared about her. Maybe even loved her. But he hadn’t said the words. Neither had she. She had been afraid to say them matter-of-factly. Too worried that he wouldn’t believe her, that she’d been too caught up in the moment and would have said those words without truly meaning them.

Did she? She’d examined her feelings, their making love, until her head had spun. No matter how hard she tried to talk herself out of the idea of loving Donovan so soon, her heart had stood firm and told her in no uncertain terms that she did. And yet she’d still hesitated, too afraid to give voice to the sentiment for fear that he didn’t love her. That he too was carried away by the moment. By everything.

It all seemed too good to be true, and she found herself anticipating the other shoe dropping. She was just waiting for the bottom to fall out and for it all to be taken away in the blink of an eye.

Donovan’s arm tightened around her and he kissed the top of her head. He touched her and kissed her often. Reassuring her, being loving and affectionate, almost as if he realized her fears of it all vanishing.

“You’re quiet tonight,” he murmured close to her ear.

Eve glanced down on the floor where Travis was sprawled on the rug, Cammie nestled against him as the two were absorbed in the movie.

“I’m just enjoying it,” she said simply.

“Enjoying what?” Donovan asked.

She tipped her head up to him, finding his gaze. “You. Me. Us. It’s going to take time for me to get used to it, Donovan. I’m so afraid that at any moment it’s all going to disappear.”

He smiled tenderly at her and then captured her lips in a gentle kiss. “I’m not going anywhere, Eve. I’m here for the long haul. I understand your fears, but in time they’ll disappear. In time you’ll know that I’m keeping you, Travis and Cammie. You all belong to me. But I also belong to you. No one else will ever have the hold on me that you do. Not my family. Not KGI. You come first.”

Warmth seeped into her heart, assuaging the ache that had settled in at the thought of losing him. That it was all too good to be true.

“I don’t know what I did to deserve you,” she whispered. “But I thank God every day that you found me—us.”

He chuckled. “And here I was wondering what I’d done to deserve you and Travis and Cammie. Guess we’ll just both be grateful together.”

Cammie got up from where she was lying on the floor next to Travis and crawled onto the couch, inserting herself between Donovan and Eve. She emitted a sleepy yawn and then promptly cuddled into Donovan’s side.

Eve watched as his face softened and transformed as he stared down at the little girl in his arms. He stroked her curls and Eve doubted he even realized how he looked right now. His gaze so full of love. It astonished her that this man could so readily open his heart to children that weren’t his own. But then he’d made it clear he did consider them his already.

She glanced over to see Travis’s head propped in the palm of his hand, and he was no longer watching the movie. He was watching Eve, Cammie and Donovan. There was such hope—and contentment—in her brother’s eyes that Eve knew she’d made the right decision for them all.

“How are you feeling, Travis?” Donovan asked, seeing the teenager watching them.

There was a note of fatherly concern in his tone that formed a knot in Eve’s throat. Travis wasn’t unaffected either.

“I’m good, sir. I appreciate your concern. What you’ve done for me—us. I’ll never forget it.”

Donovan smiled at the teenager. “You can stop calling me sir. We’re family. You can call me Donovan or Van.”

“Can I call you Daddy?” Cammie piped up.

Eve glanced down, surprised to see her awake. She’d been well on her way to sleeping, snuggled firmly against Donovan’s side. Now she looked up at Donovan with shyness—and longing.

Donovan brushed a kiss over the top of her head. “I’d like that, pumpkin.”

Cammie wrinkled her nose. “You call me lots of different names. How come?”

Donovan laughed. “That’s because you’re cute as a button. And they’re pet names. You’ll find that in my family, we call all the women we love by special pet names. You’ll get used to it. It just means we love you.”

“Oh,” Cammie said, looking delighted.

Eve took in Cammie’s obvious pleasure, and a hint of foreboding took hold. It would devastate Cammie—and Travis—if this didn’t work out. She’d been right to hold off, not to get swept away and say things carelessly. She had more than herself to think about in this situation. She had Travis and Cammie and there was still the very real threat of her stepfather.

No matter Donovan’s assurances that he would take care of the matter, no one was above the law, and Eve had certainly broken the law. She’d kidnapped her siblings. Oh, it wasn’t kidnapping. She’d saved them. But without proof, with the solid evidence that Walt possessed detailing her mental instability, she’d committed a crime, and crime didn’t go unpunished.

And if she was punished, Travis and Cammie would be punished even more. For they would go back to their father and the evil he planned to unleash on them both.

A cold chill overtook her just thinking of that sweet, innocent baby in the grasp of a sick, twisted monster.


Donovan’s concerned voice broke through her dark thoughts, and she turned to see him looking at her intently, worry reflected in his green eyes.

“What’s wrong, honey?”

She shook her head. “I was just thinking. About . . . him. About what I’ve done. I’m a criminal in the eyes of the law. You and I may know—think—differently, but there it is. I could go to jail. Or to a mental institution and they’d be left at his mercy.”

She trailed off, not wanting to give voice to her many fears. She didn’t want Cammie and Travis to share those fears. She wanted for them the absolute knowledge that they were safe and protected from all evil in the world.

“Come here,” Donovan said in a tender voice, pulling her to rest against Cammie so that Cammie was firmly sandwiched between them.

He put his arm around her, giving her a reassuring squeeze. Then he leaned over to kiss her temple, leaving his lips there a long moment.

“I don’t want you to even think about him. The only thing I want you thinking about is me. Our life together. How many kids you want. Leave everything else to me. I’m not going to let him hurt you again, Eve. And I’m never going to allow Cammie within a mile of him.”

“I want you to promise me something, Donovan,” she said, looking earnestly up at him. She wanted him to know how utterly serious she was about this.

“What is it, honey?”

His tone was concerned, but he kept his voice low so that they were unheard over the movie Travis and Cammie were focused on once more.

“If something happens to me.”

She shook her head when Donovan immediately began to protest. She brought her finger up to place over his lips, instilling firmness in her gaze.

His lips tightened underneath her fingertip, but he remained silent as he waited to hear the rest.

“If the police arrest me. If somehow he finds me and takes us, takes us all. No matter what happens to me, I want you to swear to me that you’ll fight for Cammie and Travis. That you’ll do whatever you have to in order to wrest them from his grasp again. If I’m not jailed and he doesn’t ensure they throw away the key, he’ll likely have me institutionalized. He has so much evidence supporting my so-called mental illness. It’s possible. Anything is possible in his world. But swear to me that you’ll protect them. They’ll need you, Donovan. If they don’t have me, they’ll need you—and your family’s protection.”

Donovan wasn’t happy. Indeed, he looked . . . pissed. There was anger in his eyes and he simply shook his head.

“You don’t get it, do you? I’m not going to just throw up my hands were something to happen to you. I’ll fight with my every breath, not only for Cammie and Travis, but for you as well, Eve. I’d never leave you to his mercy. Never.”