“Thank you,” she whispered.
“Now you’re just pissing me off,” he said darkly. “You don’t thank me for doing what’s right. For protecting what’s mine. You’re entitled to that. And there won’t ever be a time you aren’t.”
She closed her eyes and laid her head on his shoulder. God, she loved this man. Didn’t care if it was too soon. Didn’t care if she was being foolhardy for allowing herself to become involved in a relationship when she was on the run from a killer.
She wanted this. Wanted it with everything she had. And damn anyone who said or thought differently.
They were interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell. Cammie stiffened, coming fully awake, and Travis jerked up, his eyes wide and wary.
“Hey,” Donovan gently chided. “It’s okay, guys. Remember the tight security we have here? If my doorbell rings and I wasn’t alerted of someone coming through the gates, then whoever’s at the door is someone who lives here on the grounds. No one can access this place without me knowing about it.”
“Who is it?” Cammie asked anxiously.
Donovan smiled. “It’s likely one of my brothers or perhaps even one or more of their wives. They very much want to meet you.”
“’Kay,” Cammie said.
Travis scrambled up, standing nervously as Donovan got up to go to the front door. Eve couldn’t see from her angle who was there when Donovan opened the door. He stood talking a moment and then turned to walk back into the living room, a group of people following close behind.
There were four women, two holding infants, one holding the hand of a blond-haired little girl who looked to be Cammie’s age. And they all wore warm, welcoming smiles.
Eve hurried to her feet, standing as she waited for Donovan to make introductions. The affection in which he regarded the other women was evident in every aspect of his expression.
Cammie even got off the couch, looking curiously at the other little girl. Travis stood to the side, ill at ease. He wiped his hands down his pants in a gesture that told Eve he was as nervous as she was about meeting Donovan’s family.
These were the sisters-in-law that Garrett had mentioned. He’d said they’d want to come over to check Eve out for themselves. Give her their stamp of approval. What was it that Garrett had said? That they were all protective of the two unmarried Kelly brothers and they would want to see firsthand if Eve was good enough for Donovan.
Ugh. No pressure! No, not at all. It was all Eve could do not to run from the living room and barricade herself in the bedroom.
Though she and Donovan had made love in the room he’d given Eve—the one she’d initially shared with Cammie—he’d made it clear the morning after that he wanted her in his bed. In his bedroom.
Tonight, she’d share his bedroom with him. They’d sleep for the first time in his bed. He’d told her very matter-of-factly that no other woman had shared his bed in his home. Not this house. He’d told her that when he built this house, he had no intention of bringing any woman here if he wasn’t certain that she was the one.
What did it say about him that he’d insisted that Eve and her siblings move in with him after only meeting Eve on two occasions?
Sure, he’d said that things happened fast in his family. That he—and all his brothers—wasted no time once they met the woman they’d marry. But talking about it in the abstract and experiencing the lightning speed in which her and Donovan’s relationship had progressed were two vastly different things.
Once again, Donovan caught her in the middle of her wayward thoughts. A habit she had to break of drifting off during important moments. She winced and immediately focused her attention on Donovan and the group of women all staring expectantly at her.
“Hello,” she said in a husky voice that she hoped didn’t betray her nervousness.
“Ladies, I want you to meet a very special woman. Eve. I also want you to meet Eve’s brother, Travis, and her younger sister, Cammie.”
He glanced down at the little blond-haired girl holding the hand of what had to be her mother, given the strong resemblance.
“Charlotte, Cammie is your age. I’m sure she’d love to have a new friend to play with. Think you’d mind sharing some of your toys with her?”
Charlotte beamed, displaying not one ounce of shyness. Here was a confident little girl, secure in the knowledge that she was adored and spoiled beyond reason and that her family would never allow anything bad to happen to her.
Eve’s heart ached because she wanted the same for Cammie. And maybe now she’d finally have the same security and innocence that Charlotte possessed. No, she’d never be as innocent as Charlotte, but hopefully she’d overcome her past and it wouldn’t follow her into adulthood. If Eve had anything to do with it at all, Cammie would never again know the fear and uncertainty that had plagued the first four years of her life.
Charlotte immediately went to where Cammie stood just behind Donovan. The entire time Donovan had performed the introductions, Cammie had edged closer and closer, finally slipping her hand into Donovan’s much larger one.
Her thumb automatically went to her mouth as she stared shyly back at Charlotte.
“Hi, Cammie,” Charlotte chirped. “We’re going to be best friends. And my mama says you’ll be my cousin!”
Cammie smiled, warming instantly to the other child, and how could she not? No one could possibly look at Charlotte and not be won over instantly.
Donovan turned his attention to Eve, motioning her forward to stand beside him. He slipped an arm around her waist and looked at his sisters-in-law.
“Eve, these are my sisters-in-law Sophie—she’s Charlotte’s mom—and Rachel; she’s married to Ethan and the twin boys are hers. You already met Garrett. This is his wife, Sarah. She’s expecting their first child in eight or so months. Sophie is also pregnant with her second child and is due a little before Sarah. And last but certainly not least, there’s Shea, Nathan’s wife. He’s the youngest of my brothers.”
Eve’s eyes widened as she glanced at the petite woman Donovan had introduced as Shea.
“I’m very glad to meet all of you,” Eve said sincerely. “Donovan has talked so much about you that I feel like I already know you.
“We’re very pleased to finally meet you, Eve,” Rachel said quietly.
Of all the women, she seemed the quietest. Well, and Sarah seemed to be shyer as well. While Sophie and Shea seemed more outgoing. But after hearing of all that Rachel had endured, Eve couldn’t blame her for being more subdued. How hellish to endure an entire year in captivity and not to be able to remember her family or her husband.
After hearing Donovan describe how all his brothers had met their wives—in less-than-ideal situations—Eve studied them closely now, comparing the image she’d built in her mind to the reality of them standing a few feet away.
She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but the women seemed perfectly normal. Just like average, everyday women, even if they had endured extraordinary events. It gave her hope for her own life and how normal it could be once the threat to her and her siblings was eliminated. She just prayed that Donovan’s confidence that he and his brothers could handle any situation was truth.
“Donovan is very important to us all,” Sophie interjected. “We’d despaired of him ever finding a woman to settle down with and have the brood of children he’s always wanted. So we’re very glad to meet the woman who brought him down. Next to Maren, you have our utmost admiration.”
Eve cocked her head, uncertain what the last had meant.
Sarah chuckled, speaking up for the first time. “Maren brought down the ice man. Steele. He’s one of the KGI team leaders. Total and complete badass. We never thought we’d see the day he’d fall head over ass for a woman, much less be carrying around a baby!”
“Oh,” Eve said, frowning a bit as she thought back to when she’d met Maren and Steele.
She hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention to Steele, but she supposed she could understand where the others were coming from. He did look intimidating and daunting. It would take a special woman to bring out his tender side. Supposing he even had one. Maybe Maren was a badass in her own right and stood up to Steele.
“We also wanted to see what else you needed,” Sophie said. “We gathered up some clothes, but we didn’t have a lot of notice and we’d like to get what you need as well as what Travis and Cammie need. She and Charlotte are about the same size, but I don’t want her to just get hand-me-downs. If Donovan will let you out of his sight for a few hours, we could take you shopping so you could get clothing for all of you.”
Donovan frowned at that. “Not going to happen, sweetheart. I know you mean well, but there is no way in hell I’m letting Eve out of my sight or out from underneath my protection, and I damn sure don’t want you ladies to risk yourselves by going out in public with her. Not only would my brothers kick my ass, but they’d never go for it either.”
The women looked crestfallen and Donovan immediately shook his head.
“No puppy-dog eyes. Especially you, Rachel. I know you’re used to batting those pretty eyes at me and I’ll do damn near anything to keep you from pouting, but this is a serious matter. The risk is too great.”
“But she needs stuff, Van,” Sophie protested. “You can’t keep her under lock and key forever!”
Eve stifled a smile at how vehement the women were in their defense of her. But she agreed with Donovan. Furthermore, she had no desire to leave the security of the compound. The outside world couldn’t touch her here and she was happy about that.
“That’s why online shopping was invented,” Donovan said with a grin. “I’ll turn you girls loose with my credit card and y’all can go to town.”
Shea brightened at that. “Oh, I’m the queen of Internet shopping. I hate going to the mall or even to the store because I never know when I’ll pick up someone’s random thoughts, and it can be overwhelming when I’m trying to shop and I’m hearing something someone doesn’t want the world to know.”
She shuddered delicately and the other women looked at her in sympathy. Eve stared at her, utterly perplexed. Shea’s eyes widened as she stared back at Eve.
“You don’t know, do you?” Shea asked.
“Know what?” Eve asked, feeling like she was missing a huge piece of a puzzle that everyone else had already put together.
“I hadn’t told her yet,” Donovan spoke up.
Shea waved her hand dismissively. “We’ll fill you in tomorrow when you come over. I can steer you to some of my favorite sites. We’re about the same size, so I can definitely hook you up. Just say the word and we’ll commandeer one of Van’s many computers.”
The others snickered at the mention of computers, and Donovan rolled his eyes.
“Thank you,” Eve said sincerely. “I really appreciate all that you’re doing. Travis, Cammie and I . . . Well, we don’t even know what to say.”
“Has Travis been in school?” Rachel asked hesitantly.
She rushed on before Eve could respond.
“I mean, I know you’ve had a hard time and you’ve been moving a lot. I don’t know what your plans for him were, but I’m happy to help him with his studies to get him caught up so that when things settle down he can enroll in school here.”
Travis’s eyes brightened but he remained silent, almost as if he were afraid to voice an opinion.
“Thank you,” Eve said again, emotion knotting her throat. “He does need to get caught up. He loves school. He excels. He’s always made good grades. And he’s a very good athlete.”
Eve glanced down, not wanting the others to see the pain she was sure was evident in her eyes.
“He should be in school with an opportunity to play sports, hang out with kids his own age. Make friends and have a normal life.”
“I don’t regret anything, Evie,” Travis said in a quiet tone. “You did what you had to do. I’ll always be grateful for the risks you’ve taken and for sacrificing so much for me.”
“What about it, Travis?” Donovan spoke up. “Would you like Rachel to help get you caught up with your studies? Maybe this fall you can enroll here in school. Rachel teaches at the middle school and she’s friends with many of the high school teachers. I know they’d be willing to work with you to get you up to speed.”
“I’d like that a lot,” Travis said, his voice sincere.
Rachel smiled. “Then that’s settled. No hurry, though. We still have the rest of the summer, and what you need to focus most on right now is getting better. Once you’re settled more and comfortable in your surroundings, then either I can come here a few days a week or you’re welcome over at my house. I just live across the way.”