“Thank you,” Travis said.
“You’re family now,” Sophie said firmly. “All of you. And as I’m sure Donovan has already told you multiple times, we take family very seriously. We stick together. Because together, there isn’t a force in the world that can stand up against the Kelly family and KGI.”
Eve bit back the tears, determined to stop breaking down at every single thing. But for a moment she couldn’t speak. Travis was similarly affected, casting his gaze downward so no one could see the emotion shining brightly in his eyes.
“Why don’t you come over tomorrow afternoon, Eve?” Shea invited. “We’ll get together at Sophie’s. She has the biggest house. No doubt because Sam wants lots more children.”
The rest of the women snickered and Sophie rolled her eyes.
“Nathan and I live in a smaller house,” Shea explained. “It’s really open. Apart from the bedroom, the rest is mostly one big room. He can’t stand enclosed spaces ever since his captivity.”
Her tone had grown more hushed, and pain briefly flooded her eyes. Then she went silent a moment before smiling.
Sophie rolled her eyes. “She’s communicating with Nathan. He must have picked up on her distress and was demanding to know what the hell was wrong and if she needed him.”
Shea blushed but didn’t refute Sophie’s statement. Eve was utterly bewildered by it all. Communicating?
“Anyway,” Sarah interjected, picking up where Shea left off. “Why don’t you come over and we’ll hang out, have some wine. Well, you, Rachel and Shea can have the wine. Sophie and I will stick to tea. Bring Cammie—and Travis too, if he doesn’t mind hanging out with the girls, that is—and Charlotte and Cammie can play. Charlotte has tons of toys that she’d be more than happy to share.”
“I have Barbies,” Charlotte announced.
Charlotte reached for Cammie’s hand, the one she had in her mouth, and pulled it away, lacing her fingers firmly in Cammie’s.
“You can play with my Barbies. I don’t mind,” Charlotte said solemnly. “I have lots of dolls too. And I have soldier dolls! My uncle Garrett bought them for me.”
Sarah closed her eyes and shook her head. “Only Garrett would buy action figures complete with camo and assault rifles for his niece.”
Everyone laughed and Donovan chuckled.
“Hey, it never hurts to start them early. Maybe Cece will grow up and run KGI when Sam hangs it up,” Donovan said in amusement.
Sophie sent him a dark look. “Bite your tongue, Van. Don’t plant any ideas in Charlotte’s mind. The girl already wants her uncle Garrett to take her to the firing range so she can shoot his gun. God help us all. I made Sam get a gun cabinet with a combination lock so she never gets any ideas.”
“You’re all okay with what they do. Your husbands, I mean,” Eve blurted.
The women’s expressions softened. Donovan remained quiet, watching Eve.
Rachel reached over and squeezed Eve’s hand. “I won’t tell you that I don’t live in fear when Ethan goes out on a mission, although he’s cut back a lot since the twins were born. But I also know he’ll do more sooner or later. But what they do . . . it’s worth it. I know firsthand. If it weren’t for them and what they’re capable of, the resources they have, I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t be alive.”
Emotion knotted Rachel’s voice and Donovan drew her into his side, kissing her temple after giving her a quick hug.
“We all fear that something could happen to our husbands,” Sarah said honestly. “But as Rachel says, what they do, it’s noble. They help so many people. They take down a lot of evil people. Dismantle entire operations. The world is a better place for who they are and what they do. So I can live with that. I can live with my husband risking his life because that’s who he is and I wouldn’t change him. He wouldn’t be the same Garrett I know and love if he were a normal nine-to-fiver working some desk job somewhere.”
Sophie and Shea both nodded their agreement.
“They’ve helped us,” Sophie said quietly. “Each of us. It’s how we met and fell in love with them. And every single one of them, not just the Kellys, but the KGI team leaders and members too would risk their lives for any of us. No questions. No hesitation. That kind of selflessness, that kind of love and loyalty, is priceless.”
Eve nodded, heartened by their impassioned words. She hadn’t yet experienced the full scope of Donovan’s job. But he’d hinted. She’d seen the reality of the way they lived. No one lived behind a high-tech security net unless it was warranted, unless there was a very real danger to them.
Her and Donovan’s relationship was so new. Still growing and deepening. They still had a long way to go. Much to discover about one another, and it made her uneasy to imagine losing him after finding such a miracle.
“You’ll have us when the guys are gone,” Shea said, taking her hand from Rachel’s to squeeze. “We close ranks when they go off on a mission. And it’s rare when they’re all gone at the same time. Sam has a rule about all the brothers being on one mission. Of course over the years, there have been exceptions. But when possible, some remain behind so that we aren’t left alone. And we stick together. We’re not just sisters-in-law. We’re friends. And we’d like to be your friend too, Eve. Donovan means a lot to all of us, and we’re very happy he’s found the woman who will make him happy.”
Eve didn’t miss the subtle warning in Shea’s voice or the mirroring agreement in the other women’s faces. They accepted her, but they were also warning her not to break Donovan’s heart.
“Thank you,” Eve said again. “I feel so fortunate to have found Donovan. All of you. It means the world to me that you’re all so accepting of Travis and Cammie. They’re my family. Until now, my only family. I want them to have a better life than I’ve been providing them. They deserve better than what I can give them.”
“That’s not true,” Travis said fiercely.
Eve silenced him with a gentle smile. “It’s true, Trav. We weren’t going to be able to run forever. We needed . . . help. And now we have it.”
Donovan wrapped his other arm around Eve and pulled her close, brushing a kiss over her brow. “Yes, you do, honey. You have all of us. I want you to remember that any time you get scared or worried. There are a hell of a lot of us who will be here for you. No questions. No conditions.”
“So do we have a date tomorrow?” Sarah asked. “Girl time and a play date for Charlotte and Cammie?” She turned to Travis. “And what about you? Would you like to come?”
Travis looked uncertain. He looked to Eve and then Donovan for help.
Donovan laughed. “How about Travis and I have a little guy bonding time and leave you girls to do your thing.”
Travis looked relieved and nodded his agreement.
Rachel rolled her eyes. “That means the husbands will likely get involved, and there’s no telling what they’ll plot when we’re not around.”
“Us?” Donovan asked innocently. “We wouldn’t do any such thing.”
Sophie snorted. “Whatever, Van. Okay, we’re scooting on out. We just wanted to stop in and say hello to Eve and introduce ourselves. We couldn’t let Garrett go on being smug that he was the only one to have met them aside from Joe.”
“It was very nice meeting you,” Eve said with genuine feeling. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
The women all said their good-byes and Charlotte gave Cammie a huge hug before running back to her mom to take her hand.
“You ladies be careful walking back,” Donovan cautioned.
“Oh good Lord, Van. It’s a two-minute walk across the grass,” Sarah said. “I’m sure we can make it that far without any mishaps.”
“Just want to make sure my girls are taken care of,” Donovan said with a grin.
They all blew him kisses, said one last good-bye to Eve, Travis and Cammie and then disappeared out the front door.
When Donovan returned from seeing them out, he pulled Eve down onto the couch with him. Cammie promptly crawled back between them and resumed her position, snuggled into Donovan’s side.
“Well? What do you think of the wives?” Donovan asked.
“I like them,” Eve replied. “They’re nice.”
Donovan nodded. “They’re the best. No better women anywhere. Fierce. Fighters. Loyal to their bones. They’ll be good friends to you, Eve.”
“I hope so,” Eve said wistfully. “But Donovan, what about Shea? What was that all about? Her communicating with Nathan.” She shook her head in confusion.
Donovan chuckled. “It’s a long story, one I’ll have to tell you sometime. The condensed version is that Shea is a telepathic empath. She and Nathan can communicate telepathically. I know it sounds crazy, but Shea—and her sister Grace—have extraordinary abilities.”
“Wow,” Eve murmured. “You guys certainly don’t lead boring lives.”
Cammie yawned and Travis walked to the couch, holding his arms down for Cammie.
“Ready for bed?” Travis asked Cammie. “I’ll go tuck you in and turn in myself. I’m pretty tired.”
Cammie held up her arms for Travis to pick her up, but Donovan stood, lifting her into his arms.
“You shouldn’t be carrying her yet,” Donovan cautioned. “I’ll take her to your room and get her tucked in. You can crawl in with her afterward.”
Eve watched them go, an ache blooming in her chest as she watched Donovan herd Travis and Cammie to bed. Just like a father pulling bedtime duty. The future flashed before her eyes. Donovan tucking in their own children. Nights spent snuggled on the couch watching movies and just . . . being.
She closed her eyes, savoring the wonderful sensation that hope for the future brought with it. No matter how unlikely it was that she’d enjoy such a future. It still didn’t stop the instant coil of hope that warmed her veins. And she briefly considered that she could be setting herself—and Cammie and Travis—up for a far worse hurt than that wrought by her stepfather.
EVE watched Donovan stride purposely back into the living room, a contented look fixed on his features as if he’d found pleasure in the simple task of putting Cammie to bed with Travis. It instilled a fierce wave of longing deep inside her, in places she hadn’t shed light on in so very long. He gave that to her. Hope for better. For the future. Their future.
As he approached, he didn’t sit back on the couch with her as she might have expected. Instead he stood over where she was nestled comfortably and simply extended his hand down to her, his palm up, inviting her to take hold. His eyes were warm with affection. She liked to think it was love. But she knew it was too soon for that even as she acknowledged that she herself was solidly in love with him. But she knew, or rather she hoped, that he cared for her. He’d said as much. It wasn’t like she was fantasizing. It was just that the idea of assuming anything set her up for inevitable devastation.
“I don’t know about you,” he said as she slid her hand over his. “But I’m ready for bed.”
She smiled up at him. “Tired, are you? That’s too bad.”
He gave her a look that sent a quiver through her belly and up to her breasts, her nipples forming taut peaks. But he also looked pleased by her playfulness. And she supposed it would please him since she hadn’t exactly been a ball of laughs since they’d met. But he was changing that. He was changing her. One day at a time. One hour at a time. Each minute that she spent with him she treasured deeply.
“I said nothing about being tired. Only that I was ready to go to bed. With you. Sleep, however, is not on the agenda. At least not right away. But later?” He gave her a lazy smile, his eyes gleaming with purpose. “Yeah.”
A delicate shiver danced over her skin as she let him pull her to her feet. She slid against his body, nestling herself under his arm. His strength vibrated against her, warm and reassuring. She let out a contented sigh as he turned her toward his bedroom.
“Not nervous, are you?” he asked when they entered the room. Had he sensed her hesitation? Just that tiny bit of nerves quaking over her?
He closed the door silently behind them, providing a barrier between them and the rest of the world.
She shook her head and then nodded before shaking it once more.
He chuckled. “Decisive tonight, aren’t you?”
“This is new to me,” she blurted.
His smile turned as warm as his eyes and he pulled her around so they were facing each other, his head lowered, his fingers tipping her chin up to meet his gaze.
“I know it is, honey. I’m not likely to forget what you gave me last night. That I was your first lover. It’s a gift I’ll treasure forever.”