She breathed an audible sigh of relief when he rejoined her, sliding into bed next to her and arranging the covers around them as he pulled her into his arms. She snuggled into his side and pillowed her head on his shoulder.
He kissed the top of her head, an affectionate kiss that made her giddy. They just felt . . . comfortable. Like they’d been lovers for years. They . . . fit. They just fit.
She yawned broadly and let her eyelids flutter closed as he stroked his hand up and down her arm.
“Go to sleep, honey,” he said. “Here in my arms and know you’re safe. If you dream tonight, dream only of me.”
And she did. For the first night in many long years, she slept free of the constant worry and nightmares. There, in Donovan’s arms, she dreamed of the most wonderful of things.
DONOVAN hadn’t slept the night before despite the fact that he was exceedingly sated and content. Making love to Eve was satisfying on an emotional level he’d never experienced before. And yet he’d remained awake, worried and pensive. In the predawn hours, just before finally sliding into sleep, with her curled into his arms, he’d come up with a plan.
Now all he had to do was act on it. And to do so required the presence of his brothers. Nathan and Joe’s team. He briefly considered calling up Steele and his team, but Steele had enough to worry over with a new wife and child. Besides, it had already been decided that Nathan and Joe’s team would regularly draw missions now. Perhaps even work as the front line with Rio and Steele’s team acting in more of a support role.
Neither team leader would likely be happy with that assessment, but neither would they argue because they had wives and children to focus on now. The rest of their teams? Likely not as content as their team leaders to sit back and allow another team to take up their slack.
There was also the fact that it would take longer to pull the other teams in, and Donovan didn’t have the luxury of time. Not when Eve’s stepfather was already close. He trusted Nathan and Joe’s team and he trusted his brothers. They were more than capable of pulling off what Donovan had in mind.
He rose early, not wanting to disturb Eve. He made his phone calls in the kitchen, quiet so the others wouldn’t hear. And then he made yet another call. The most important. He’d set the bait. Now all he had to do was wait for the target to fall into his lap.
WHEN Eve awoke, Donovan was already gone, but then she’d expected as much. He was an early riser and he didn’t seem the type to lie around in bed all morning. Even if the thought was very appealing to her. A morning spent snuggling in his arms? Heaven.
She stretched, smiling at the slight twinge of discomfort that made itself known in her body. They’d made love twice, the second very much at her initiation. Well, but also the first. She’d been impatient and unwilling to let him torture her slowly as he’d planned. The second hadn’t been any more slow or more patient than the first, and she was feeling the effects this morning.
Not that she’d admit a thing to him. If she so much as hinted that she was tender, as he’d put it, he’d likely not touch her tonight and she was having none of that.
She yawned broadly and lay there a moment longer before finally pushing herself out of bed and toward the shower. She glanced at the bedside clock and moved more quickly toward the bathroom. She and Cammie were supposed to go over to the sisters-in-laws’ today to shop.
A perfectly ordinary occurrence. Certainly nothing to get worked up over, but she found herself looking forward to it. It signaled freedom. Normalcy. And she wanted those things above all else. She also wanted a place within the ranks of the Kelly family. She envied the wives with her every breath for what they had. What she herself wanted.
How wonderful must it be to be a part of such a family? Loyal. Tight-knit. Everyone seemed to like one another. Did they ever fight? Squabble? Get pissy and mad in the heat of the moment?
She shook her head as she stepped into the shower and let the water work its magic.
Several minutes later, she combed through her wet hair and dressed. She had no makeup and she’d never lamented that fact. Until now. She wanted to look her best for the other women. It was a female thing. No one liked to be compared to a much prettier woman. But then she hadn’t noticed the other women wearing much in the way of makeup. Sarah had light makeup on. Sophie had what looked like mascara and light lip gloss. She couldn’t conjure the memory of whether Shea and Rachel had worn makeup.
Then she laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of her pondering whether Donovan’s sisters-in-law had worn makeup to meet her.
Ah well, perhaps she could order what she needed today. She hated the thought that she was relying on Donovan to supply her and Cammie’s and Travis’s needs. But she was pragmatic enough to know that she had no way of paying for anything. Donovan had insisted that she use his credit card for whatever she wanted. She wouldn’t buy much. Just the necessities. There would be plenty of time later. When she had a firmer grasp of just what their relationship was and would be.
For now? She was happy. And that was enough. Cammie and Travis were happy. Safe. Protected. Shielded. It was all she’d ever ask for. It was enough.
She padded down the hallway, peeking into the room where Cammie and Travis had slept only to find the bed empty. Apparently Eve was the only straggler this morning. Everyone else was up and likely in the kitchen.
She went in search of the others and indeed found them in the kitchen. Cammie and Travis were sitting at the table laughing. Broad smiles were on each face, their eyes glowing with happiness. It was a sight that took Eve’s breath away.
Donovan was in the kitchen. He’d donned an apron and looked frighteningly domestic for a man who was built the way he was. The apron was completely incongruous with what Eve knew him to be. A total badass.
“Ah, Sleeping Beauty awakens,” Donovan said, smiling as he looked up and saw Eve standing in the doorway.
Eve smiled back and then was distracted by Cammie’s squeal of “Evie!”
She walked to where her sister sat at the table, nearly bouncing in her excitement. What a difference a few days had made in her health. She was back to normal. Her face no longer carried the strain of illness. Her eyes were not as haunted. She looked and acted just as a four-year-old should. Happy and carefree.
Tears burned the edges of Eve’s eyes and she hastily blinked them away, not wanting to upset Cammie or Travis. Not when there was absolutely nothing wrong. Indeed, everything was exactly . . . right.
She glanced up to see Donovan discreetly motioning her to come to him. After brushing a kiss over Cammie’s forehead and ruffling Travis’s hair on her way by, she went into the kitchen, where Donovan was plating pancakes and bacon.
“You’re going to have them spoiled,” Eve said in amusement.
“Nah,” Donovan refuted. “Besides, I like spoiling them.”
She smiled, delighted by his words—and actions.
He lowered his voice, turning so Cammie and Travis wouldn’t hear.
“I know I said I’d keep Travis with me today so you and Cammie could go over to visit with my sisters-in-law and have girl time, but I need him to go with you after all.”
Eve’s forehead wrinkled in concern as she took in the seriousness of his tone. “Is everything okay?”
He touched her arm, squeezing lightly in reassurance. “Everything is fine. It’s just that my brothers and one of the teams are meeting with me here today to go over your situation. I’d rather Travis not hear. I don’t want to upset him.”
Eve frowned, glancing toward her siblings and then back at Donovan. “I understand not wanting to upset Cammie and Travis, but shouldn’t I be here when you discuss your plan of action? This directly involves me—and them. I want to know what you have planned.”
He pulled her into his arms, cocking her head back so she could look at him. His arms were wrapped firmly around her waist, anchoring her to his body.
“I want you to put it all out of your mind. I don’t want you to worry about anything. The only thing I want you to focus on is having a fun day with my sisters-in-law and getting what you and Cammie and Travis need. Leave this to me, Eve. I don’t even want it on your mind. Okay?”
She wanted to argue, but knew he had a point. Though she knew his command for her to keep her mind off it was pointless. How could she be thinking about anything else? Travis and Cammie needed her to be strong. They needed her not to show fear and to display confidence in Donovan’s ability to handle Walt and any other complication that arose. But at the same time, such blind faith made her uneasy. Even as she knew she could trust Donovan. She did trust him. But she was terrified of her stepfather and his control. His reach. His influence and power. And it chafed her not to somehow be a part in whatever plan Donovan had hatched. Knowledge was power. Uncertainty just bred more fear, and she’d lived with fear for far too long.
Donovan pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Trust me, Eve. Let me handle this. I won’t let him hurt you or Travis or Cammie. Especially Cammie.”
She sighed reluctantly but nodded her agreement.
“You’ll tell me after?” she asked in a low voice. “Later?”
He stared intently into her eyes, his own blazing with sincerity. “Of course, Eve. I won’t keep anything from you. No secrets. I want you to trust me. Can you do that?”
She nodded again and his expression eased.
“Now, go back over to the table and put on a smile for your siblings. Don’t give them any reason to doubt you—or me. I want you all to have a good day. You and they will love my family just as they already love you.”
“Okay,” she whispered as she pulled away.
“Eve,” Donovan called out softly as she started to walk back to the table.
She stopped, turning back to look at him.
“It will be okay. I know I’m asking a lot, but trust me.”
Again she nodded and then turned back to her brother and sister.
Breakfast was enjoyable as Cammie kept up a constant stream of chatter over her excitement of getting to go to Charlotte’s house and play with her toys.
Travis didn’t express disappointment over the fact that he was now accompanying his sisters. Cammie’s enthusiasm was contagious, and Eve could see Travis’s pleasure in her excitement. They were all so used to being alone, of relying solely on one another, that it was baffling and yet pleasing that they now had others they could trust and socialize with.
Travis seemed every bit as eager for the visit, even if he would be the only male among the women. Maybe because he’d be the only male. She smiled over that and realized that if things worked out, he could do all the normal things teenage boys did. Go to school. Lust after girls. She cringed at the thought, but her brother was a very handsome young man. And he’d be even more handsome when he filled back out and put on the weight he’d shed over the last several months.
After breakfast, Donovan walked them over to Sophie’s house, a sprawling log cabin that butted against the lake, as did the other residences that housed his brothers and their wives. It was already hot, but the breeze from the lake was refreshing and it had the makings of a beautiful summer day. It was easy to forget that just days before a tornado had ravaged the area.
Here in the isolated bubble created by the Kellys, the outside world was a whole different universe.
The women had already gathered at Sophie’s house, with the exception of Rachel, who’d called and said she was running late because she had to change both twins. Sophie laughingly informed Eve that Rachel’s boys timed everything together, and as a result they ran both Rachel and Ethan ragged.
Donovan kissed Eve, making her flush with embarrassment because he did so right in front of his sisters-in-law. Then he hugged Cammie and told Travis in a grave tone to watch out for his women.
But Donovan’s sisters-in-law didn’t look at all bothered by the fact he’d kissed Eve. In fact they all wore delighted, smug grins.
A few moments after the women were seated in the spacious open-concept living room, two laptops out and open, Rachel burst in, looking harried as she struggled with two squirming toddlers, one on each hip. Her diaper bag was slung cross-body and bulged in front of her so it didn’t get in the way of the babies, but it was evident that she was about to lose her grip on one or both.
Travis rushed forward, reaching for one of the twins. Rachel gratefully relinquished one, and Eve watched in fascination as Travis cuddled the baby in his arms. But the baby—Mason?—was having none of that. He struggled upward in Travis’s grasp and reached for Travis’s face, his grubby fingers pawing at Travis’s laughing mouth.
“I’m sorry,” Rachel said in an aggrieved tone. “He has an obsession with people’s mouths.”
Travis chuckled. “It’s not a problem. I’m used to children.”
And yes, he was, since he’d been Cammie’s primary caregiver for so long. Even when Eve’s mother was alive, it was often Travis who shouldered the responsibility for his younger sister. Travis was too busy worrying over his mother to burden her with Cammie, and so he shielded both as much as possible. He’d taken on far too much responsibility at far too young an age. It was a fact that grieved Eve, but there was nothing to do for it now. What was done was done. But in the future . . .