He hadn’t been in love with her. He hadn’t cared about her. He loved Cammie and Travis. He cared about them. He wanted to protect them. Eve was just the extra baggage.
He wanted a family. Children. But he didn’t want her. And that hurt more than she should have allowed it to.
Tears burned where before she’d been too numb to feel, to absorb the swift shock of pain and devastation that had swept over her as Donovan had calmly plotted her downfall. How easily she’d fallen into his hands. Easy. Too easy. She’d given him everything. Herself. Her trust. Her virginity.
And all he wanted from her was the children.
She closed her eyes as she reached Sophie’s door, too undone to simply walk in and pretend that nothing had happened. That her world hadn’t just tilted on its axis and left destruction in its wake.
She thought back over every encounter with Donovan. It was always about the children. His concern had been for them first and foremost. Eve was just collateral damage. Someone he had to deal with in order to secure Cammie and Travis’s future.
What was she supposed to do?
Her first thought was to run. To take Cammie and Travis and run as far and as fast as she could and never stop again. Never trust another soul. But . . .
She bowed her head, trying to get control of her raging emotions. They couldn’t see her like this. They’d know. Cammie and Travis would know. And she couldn’t let them find out what she’d heard.
The but was that Cammie and Travis were better off here with him. No matter what kind of bastard it made him to turn on her, to sacrifice her for her siblings. Hadn’t it been what she was willing to do? Whatever she had to do to secure their future, she’d been willing to do. Even if it meant sacrificing her own.
But she could not—would not—go meekly back to Walt. She would not let herself be handed over like some sacrificial lamb. Donovan would protect Cammie and Travis. He may have betrayed her trust, but she knew he wouldn’t betray theirs. There was conviction in his voice when he spoke to his brothers. No reason for him to lie when she wasn’t there to hear. The truth rang in his words. He did love Cammie and Travis. And he wouldn’t allow Walt to take them away. Maybe it made her stupid to believe anything good of him, but she believed wholeheartedly that of the two choices, Walt or Donovan, Donovan was the better choice for her brother and sister.
But she wasn’t Donovan’s choice.
Grief welled in her heart, nearly choking her as a knot grew in her throat.
She couldn’t stay here. She had to go. But how would she accomplish it? How soon did Donovan plan to calmly hand her over to her stepfather? How much time did she have to come up with a plan of action?
And God, how could she possibly say good-bye to her only family? To the two people she loved most in the world and the only two people who loved her? How could she leave them with a man who’d so callously lie to and manipulate a woman who was at her most vulnerable?
The lesser of the two evils. It was how she had to look at the matter. She knew Walt would abuse them. No matter what Donovan had done to her, no matter how badly he played her, she knew deep down that he wasn’t capable of hurting Cammie or Travis.
And that hurt. God, it hurt more than she wanted to admit to herself. She loved him. And he’d totally shit on that love. All that flowery bullshit about treasuring her gift of virginity. How he must have laughed himself silly over her naïveté. But no, even in her anger and devastation, she didn’t truly believe he got any real enjoyment out of betraying her. He was ruthless, yes. Perfectly capable of doing whatever was necessary to achieve his goal. She was a mission and he’d made it clear that when he took on a mission, he won.
He’d won, all right. He’d won what he wanted. Children. His own family. He just hadn’t wanted her to be a part of that family.
And now she had to walk inside this house and pretend to his family, a family she’d foolishly believed she’d be a part of, that her heart wasn’t breaking into a million jagged pieces.
“EVE! Why are you back so quickly?” Sophie asked in a startled voice when Eve entered the living room.
It had taken every bit of strength Eve possessed to compose herself enough to calmly walk into Sophie’s living room and act as though nothing was wrong.
Eve sank onto the couch before her legs gave out or gave her away by shaking uncontrollably. She mustered what she hoped was an abashed, slightly rueful smile.
“I couldn’t do it,” she lied. “I promised to trust him. He told me he’d tell me his plan once we were alone. Later. I want to give that chance to him.”
And then she wondered if he did plan to tell her anything. Or would he lie? Perhaps it had been a misunderstanding and he’d explain everything later.
Don’t be stupid.
She was already trying to justify his words. She had to snap out of it and think on her feet. Fast.
“Where did you go, Evie?” Travis asked with a frown. “I looked up and you were gone.”
“I just needed some fresh air,” she said, her second lie. “My head was hurting. Maybe I overdid it or perhaps I’m not as over the bump to my noggin as I thought I was.”
She hated lying, but she had to set up an excuse to not share Donovan’s bed tonight. She couldn’t do it. She could not make love to him knowing what he had done—what he was going to do.
And it wasn’t a complete lie. Her head was throbbing. But not from her injury.
“I understand,” Sarah said quietly so Travis wouldn’t hear. “He’ll tell you, Eve. Donovan is a straightforward guy.”
The others nodded and it was all Eve could do not to scream at them. Not to tell them that it was all a lie. That they were a lie. The family she’d thought was everything she wanted was nothing more than a lie.
“Your head really does hurt,” Rachel said shrewdly. “I can see the strain in your eyes.”
“Yes,” Eve admitted.
Shea sat down beside Eve and gripped her hand tightly. “I know you’re worried, Eve, but please don’t be. Everything will be all right. Trust in that. This family has faced the worst situations you can imagine. And we always come out on top.”
Oh yes, Eve could well believe that. Ruthless. Cunning. Donovan was definitely a man who was victorious when he set his mind to a goal. Look at how easily he’d manipulated her.
“I’d rather go back . . .” She’d nearly said home, but Donovan’s house was not her home. “I’d rather go back to Donovan’s and take something for the headache. Will you call ahead for me, Sophie? I don’t want to interrupt. Surely they’ve had enough time by now. Just let him know I wasn’t feeling well and that Cammie, Travis and I are heading back over.”
“Perhaps it would be better if they stayed,” Rachel murmured. “We’ll look out for them, and you need the time to talk to Donovan so he can ease your fears.”
Already shattered by what she’d discovered, it wasn’t hard for Eve’s imagination to shift into overdrive. Was it a setup? Were Donovan’s sisters-in-law in this with him? Did they plan to separate them so Eve would be a much easier target?
Sweat beaded her forehead and her head began pounding even more viciously.
“No,” she said vehemently, and then regretted her forceful outburst.
The other women looked at her with concern. Fake? Or was it real? Eve didn’t know what was real anymore. And she couldn’t afford to assume any longer.
“No,” she said in a softer, less challenging tone. “They’ll go with me. We’ve taken up enough of your day. Perhaps another day. When all of . . . this . . .” She nearly choked on the words.” . . . is over we can get together again.”
“We’ll look forward to it,” Sophie said in a resolute tone. “And Eve, it won’t be that long. Once they form a plan, they’ll be swift in carrying it out. Donovan wants nothing more than for the four of you to be free of worry and fear. He wants a life with you.”
Eve nearly begged her to stop. To end the torture she was currently enduring. Every word, every lie that crossed their lips just twisted the knife even deeper into her heart.
Instead she rose, proud of how steady she was on her feet. She went over to where Cammie was still playing with Charlotte and extended her hand down.
“It’s time to go, darling. Will you help Charlotte pick up her toys?”
Cammie looked disappointed, but she didn’t argue. Travis came over and began helping both girls put away the toys they’d dragged out of the wooden toy box in the corner.
“I’ll call Donovan now,” Sophie said.
Eve directed a forced smile in her direction. “Thank you. I’ll see you all later.”
After a chorus of good-byes and Cammie hugging each of the women and Charlotte—twice—Eve headed out the door with Travis and Cammie right behind her.
“Is everything all right, Evie?” Travis asked anxiously. “Is your head hurting you badly?”
This time Eve’s smile was genuine and she looked up at her brother, pain slicing through her chest at the thought of being separated from him.
“Just a little ache,” she said. “But I’m sure I’ll be much better when we get back h—to Donovan’s,” she amended.
Cammie slid her hand into Eve’s as they walked the path back to Donovan’s house.
“I like Cece,” Cammie said as she bounced along, her ponytail flopping with her motions.
Eve smiled down at her. “I’m glad.”
“Will I get to play with her again?”
Cammie’s eyes brimmed with anxiety as she stared up at Eve.
This time she wouldn’t have to lie.
“Yes, darling. You’ll get to see Charlotte a whole lot more.”
“We’ll be cousins,” Cammie said proudly. “That’s what her mama said while you were gone.”
Again the twist in her chest, robbing her of breath.
As they approached the house, Eve saw several vehicles pulling out of Donovan’s drive. Either they had finished or Sophie’s call had halted further discussion. It wouldn’t do for Eve to be present while they plotted her demise.
Donovan came out the front, concern etched on his forehead as he stared at their approach. Sophie would have told him, of course. That she had a headache and was acting “off.”
Eve sighed, bolstering herself for the hours ahead. She’d have to pretend that nothing was wrong. A simple headache. And a heartache that medicine couldn’t fix.
“Eve, what’s wrong, honey?” Donovan asked as he strode down the steps to meet them.
Cammie promptly put her arms up for Donovan to pick her up and he complied, but he positioned her on his hip, his gaze still firmly directed at Eve as though he were trying to pry her thoughts right out of her head.
“Just a headache,” she said. “I thought I was better. Maybe I overdid it.”
Guilt entered his eyes and she realized he was likely blaming himself for the two nights of lovemaking so soon after her injury.
“Come inside and get comfortable,” he said, urging her toward the door, Cammie still perched on his hip. “I’ll get you something for the headache. How bad is it? Any blurred vision? Nausea or dizziness?”
He was making her dizzy with all the questions and heartsick that he could pull off such a meticulous deception.
“No. I’m fine. Really,” she murmured as they walked inside.
A burst of cooler air hit her and she wavered precariously for a moment, unable to help her reaction.
Beside her Donovan muttered a curse, and he let Cammie slide from his grasp to stand beside him.
“Go with Travis, sweetheart,” he directed Cammie. “I need to look after Eve.”
Cammie sent her a concerned look, but then Travis stepped in and took Cammie’s hand. “Want a snack?” he asked cheerfully. “Let’s go rustle up something in the kitchen.”
Cammie quickly forgot about Eve and perked up considerably upon hearing the word snack.
Donovan ushered her over to the couch, sat her down and then lifted her feet, removing the canvas shoes one of his sisters-in-law had provided. He pulled the ottoman over and propped her feet up and then slid onto the couch beside her, tilting her chin up with his fingers so he could look into her eyes.
“You look tired,” he said. “How bad is the headache, Eve?”
It was growing worse all the time. She didn’t have to fake that much.
“Would eating help?” he queried. “You didn’t eat much at breakfast.”
The thought of putting anything in her roiling stomach only made the turmoil worse. She shook her head. “Just let me sit here on the couch for a while,” she said. “I’ll be okay.”
He didn’t look convinced, and indecision racked his face. But finally he conceded. He got her to lie down and positioned a pillow underneath her head before retrieving a blanket from one of the closets and tucking it around her.