She clamped down on her wayward thoughts, determined not to give voice to the overwhelming hope that bubbled up that Travis would have a better future. One where he was able to be what he was. A teenager with no responsibilities save for making good grades and keeping out of trouble. Not that she ever expected any issues in that quarter. He was too solid. Too responsible.

He was a good kid—no, a man. He was an adult before his time, but if Eve had her way, he’d rediscover his childhood from here on out.

“You look like you’re a million miles away, Eve,” Shea said in a quiet voice.

Eve’s gaze flickered to where Travis was now across the room helping Rachel unload her things and playing with both of the boys now that they were out of their mother’s grasp.

“Sorry,” she said in a low voice. “I was just thinking.”

Her gaze moved from Travis to where Cammie sat across the room in a corner obviously designated as the play area. She and Charlotte were chattering like two magpies and acting like they were long-lost friends. It sent warmth through Eve’s heart that her brother and sister had found acceptance in this huge, loving family.

“Whatever it was couldn’t have been pleasant,” Sarah ventured.

Sophie leaned forward, her expression one of concern. “Is something bothering you, Eve? You can talk to us, you know. We won’t betray your confidence.”

Eve smiled. Loyal, all of them. And big believers in trust. And the thing was, Eve absolutely believed they were trustworthy. There was just something about the entire family that inspired one to believe in them and their intentions.

“It’s just that Donovan had Travis come with Cammie and me after all because he was meeting with his brothers and one of his teams to discuss . . . me. My situation, I mean. And while I’m grateful that complete strangers are willing to help, I wanted—needed—to know what they were planning. What they’re deciding.”

Sarah nodded her understanding. Shea reached over to squeeze Eve’s hand.

“That’s perfectly understandable,” Shea said. “I’d want to be included in any conversation that dealt with my future too!”

Sophie made a sound of disgust. “Typical men. Or rather typical Kelly men. They mean well, but their motto is to surround their women in bubble wrap and take on any and all threats in their stead. If they had their way, we’d forever remain ignorant of anything that could potentially harm us. And I love them for it, but it’s still aggravating.”

Sarah chuckled. “That about sums up Garrett in a nutshell.”

Shea rolled her eyes. “So why don’t you go back over there and demand to listen in?”

Eve’s eyes rounded. “Oh, I couldn’t.”

“Why not?” Sophie challenged, a fierce, determined glint in her eyes. “Cammie and Travis can stay with us. I know you don’t want to worry them, but it’s equally obvious that you’re worried sick and you aren’t going to feel better until you know what’s going on. I get that Donovan is trying to protect you. But he doesn’t understand that not knowing is worse than being confronted with whatever his plan is.”

Eve slowly nodded. “Yeah. That about covers it.”

“So go,” Sarah quietly encouraged. “We’ll hang out here with Cammie and Travis. You can let us know when we have the green light to bring them back over.”

“But you guys set this up for me—for us,” Eve said. “It was nice of you, and Cammie and Travis do need things. Clothing.”

“As do you,” Sophie gently pointed out. “But leave it to us. We’re the queens of Internet shopping, remember?”

Shea elbowed her sharply. “That’s my title, thank you very much.”

Sarah laughed. “At any rate, we’ll take care of the essentials. We have your sizes. Shea and Sophie have excellent tastes in clothing. And we’ll make sure we get Cammie and Travis what they need.”

Eve wavered on the edge of indecision. But the encouragement—and blessing—she found in the other women’s eyes gave her the courage to do it.

“Okay,” she breathed out, pushing herself up from her perch on the couch. “I’ll head over. I just hope it doesn’t make him angry with me.”

Sarah put her hand on Eve’s arm and squeezed lightly. “Eve, I understand that you haven’t had much reason to put your faith in the male species. But trust me when I say this. Donovan may not like that you want to know what’s going on. But he’ll understand even as his primitive instincts scream at him to haul you back to his cave by the hair, beat his chest and mutter my woman and wrap you in the bubble wrap Sophie mentioned.”

Shea and Sophie broke into laughter. Even Eve had to chuckle at the image Sarah painted.

“But my point is, Donovan wouldn’t hurt a hair on your head, nor would he hurt you emotionally. He’s just not wired that way. Of all the Kelly men, he has the biggest, softest heart when it comes to women and children. He’d cut off his right arm before ever intentionally hurting you.”

Eve smiled. “Thanks. I needed to hear that I think. I feel like such a ninny. I’m not usually. I stood up to my stepfather, though in the end it did me little good. I’m not a woman who just rolls over, but the last few months have taught me a lot about self-preservation.”

“So go, then,” Sophie encouraged. “We’ll hold the fort down here and explain everything to Rachel, if she ever gets loose from the twin devils over there. I swear I don’t know how such a sweet woman gave birth to Satan’s spawn. It has to be Ethan who is to blame.”

That got a laugh from them all, and then came Rachel’s dry rejoinder from across the room.

“I heard that.”

Eve quietly thanked them and then headed for the door, glancing quickly back to ensure that Travis and Cammie didn’t notice her departure. Sophie waved her on, nodding toward Travis and Cammie to assure Eve that they would be looked after.

Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, she took off across the sprawling acreage nestled behind the walls of the compound. The sun was warm on her skin, and she inhaled the sweet honeysuckle-scented air. The Kellys had carved out their own little piece of heaven. Never mind that it was a high-security compound. They’d made it home. It looked homey.

If she looked past the training fields, the gun range, the landing strip, the helicopter pad and the austere stone building that was called the war room, the rest looked like a quiet neighborhood of newly constructed homes. Each unique in its own way with each occupant’s unique fingerprint on it.

Two of the homes were log cabins, but Nathan and Shea’s house was a quaint, small cottage-looking home. More distant from the others and surrounded by thick trees and flowering bushes. It was as if they’d separated themselves from the others while still being firmly immersed in the protective barriers to the outside world.

Ironically, Donovan’s home was something she would have chosen herself had she had the ability to build the house of her dreams. It wasn’t as rustic looking as the cabins occupied by two of his brothers. It was very Southern looking, with shutters on the windows and a front porch that encompassed the entire front and wrapped around on both sides. There was a swing suspended from the ceiling on the right side and there were flowerpots and hanging baskets, bursting with vibrant colors.

It looked homey and inviting. It wasn’t just a house. It was a home. The inside was still stark and bereft of things that usually dotted a home. Knickknacks. Picture frames. Mementos. Comfortable-looking furniture. But then he’d mentioned that it had only recently been completed. Perhaps he just hadn’t had time to see to the more intimate details of making his house a home. Or maybe he was simply waiting for the right woman to put her own stamp on his house.

She mentally kicked herself again over the direction of her thoughts. When would she learn not to get ahead of herself? She’d known the man for a very short time and she was already planning how to decorate their—his—house.

With a shake of her head, she traipsed around to the kitchen door. Donovan and his brothers were likely in the living room and she didn’t want to just barge into the middle of it all. And they were all present and accounted for, judging by the number of vehicles parked in front.

No, she’d go in through the kitchen and ease her way into the living room. And insert herself into whatever plan it was that Donovan was hatching.

Quietly she opened the kitchen door and let herself in, being careful not to make any noise when she shut it behind her. In the distance she heard the murmur of conversation and she paused a moment, mustering her courage to brazenly walk in on the planning session.

“Ninny,” she muttered.

She’d certainly not had any issues marching into the police station, not once but twice, and demanding action on her mother’s behalf. She’d stood up to Walt time and time again, even though the result had been swift punishment. But she hadn’t allowed that to deter her. Why was she being such a wuss now?

Because she was in love with him and she didn’t want to do anything to make him angry with her.

It was a ridiculous reason, and if that was the way things worked in their relationship going forward, she seriously needed a kick in the head. She wasn’t going to tiptoe through life worrying that everything she did would piss him off.

Having admonished her silliness, she set off toward the living room, the murmurs growing louder as she neared.

But what she heard next stopped her cold in her tracks.

“We call and set up a meet with Walt,” Donovan said, presumably to the occupants of the room. “We dangle Eve in front of him. Hopefully his need for revenge is such that he’ll take her and not focus on Cammie and Travis. I love those kids and the bastard is not getting his hands on them ever again.”

Eve’s mouth dropped open and she shook her head, sure she hadn’t heard correctly. Her heart pounded and she instantly chided herself for jumping to conclusions. Obviously she hadn’t heard right. She’d march in there and get to the bottom of this at once. Then she’d put her idiocy to rest.

But still, an icy hand clutched at her heart and with Donovan’s next words, a sick, oily sensation snaked its way through her veins.

“She’s highly unstable. Danger to herself and those kids. Walt will satisfy himself with her. I’m positive of that. He obviously is a control freak and has an ego the size of Texas. He’ll want to punish her for defying him and upending his plans.”

“And what do you plan to tell Cammie and Travis about all of this?” someone else asked. She couldn’t identify his voice. Perhaps it was someone she hadn’t met yet.

“They won’t know,” Donovan clipped out. “They’ll never know. There’s no need. I’ll take care of them. They’re mine now and I’ll die before ever allowing harm to come to them. Physical or mentally.”

Eve stood there stunned by the conversation unfolding just a few feet away. No. No! It couldn’t be. Nausea welled, sharp and overwhelming in her stomach. Bile rose in her throat as she hastily backed away, wanting only to be away from so much hurt. Each word, like a dull knife, hacking her into tiny pieces until there was nothing left. No heart. No soul. Nothing.

Hands shaking, she managed to hurry back through the kitchen door, sucking in mouthfuls of fresh air. The inside had been stifling. She’d stopped breathing the minute she’d heard Donovan’s cold, ruthless words.

He couldn’t mean it. He couldn’t! He’d just hand her over to her stepfather after all she’d told him? After all she’d shared?

But she’d heard it. Even after denying it to herself, she’d heard correctly. The words couldn’t have been clearer. It was no wonder he hadn’t wanted her, Travis or Cammie here. He wouldn’t have wanted any of them to overhear what he was currently plotting with his brothers. His team. People she’d thought were so kind and generous. People she’d thought she’d found a future with. A home.

She rushed back toward Sophie’s, taking the longer, less direct route so she didn’t walk in front of Donovan’s house. So no one inside would see her.

No tears threatened. Not yet. She was too numb. Too devastated. But soon. She knew they would come. How could they not?

Oh God. Oh God. What was she supposed to do? She felt like the worst sort of idiot for ignoring her misgivings. For not trusting her instincts when her gut screamed at her to cut and run and keep on running. She’d been such a trusting, naïve idiot. And she knew better. She knew!

And yet she’d gone against everything she felt was the right choice. She hadn’t trusted her instincts, and instead she’d trusted him. When she’d vowed not to make the mistake of trusting the wrong people. She’d known it would only lead to disaster, and she’d been right!

His sisters-in-laws’ words floated back to her. The same words she’d heard from others since coming to this place. Donovan had a soft spot for women and children. But especially children. The statement had always been qualified by that addition.