“That’s bullshit!” Rusty repeated, frustration grinding her jaw until her teeth ached from it. “No matter what you think you know, there is no way Donovan would throw you under the bus like you’re saying he has. No fucking way! What can I say to make you believe that? If you won’t believe in him, will you at least believe in me? You have to trust someone, Eve. Nobody can make it alone. We all need someone at some point. God, I learned that lesson the hard way, and thank God the Kellys were too stubborn to let me throw their kindness back in their faces.”

Eve smiled faintly as she wound the rope around Rusty’s wrists, tying her hands behind her back. Rusty craned her neck, staring up at Eve, looking for any sign that she was getting through to her. God, she couldn’t let Eve walk out that door and into God only knew what kind of hell awaited her.

“I wish Donovan were as admirable as you in his loyalty,” she said sadly. “Donovan is only loyal to his cause and his interests. And in this case, his interest is in my brother and sister. He’s ruthless. Oh yes, he’s utterly ruthless when it comes to protecting what he considers his. I could admire that if it weren’t aimed at me and at my expense. It’s the only reason I’m leaving Cammie and Travis with him. I can’t protect them. God, I wish I could. I’d do whatever I could to ensure their safety and well-being. But I can’t. You’re right that everyone needs someone. And Travis and Cammie need him. I do know he cares about them and he’ll protect them from Walt. Even if he sacrifices me in the process. And that hurts, but it’s at least a relief that he’s willing—and able—to take care of them when I can’t.”

She went silent a long moment as she finished securing the bonds around Rusty’s hands and feet. Then she stood, reaching for the money bag on the counter.

Rusty was trying to process Eve’s impassioned speech. The conviction—and resignation—in her words. She couldn’t wrap her mind around what the hell Donovan had done to drive Eve to such a desperate—and selfless—act. Eve was utterly convinced that she was being handed over to her stepfather by the only person she’d allowed herself to trust. Rusty couldn’t even imagine the pain Eve was experiencing. True or not, Eve believed it wholeheartedly, and it broke Rusty’s heart for this fragile woman who’d been handed far too much hurt in her life already. This was, Rusty believed, the final straw. Eve looked utterly defeated. Hopeless. And resigned to an uncertain fate.

“Do me one favor, Rusty,” Eve said in a husky voice laced with tears and knotted with emotion. For a moment she remained silent, obviously grappling with the words she wanted to say. “Don’t let Cammie and Travis forget how much I love them. Don’t ever allow them to think I left them willingly. Make sure they’re happy and loved. That’s how you can help me.”

Tears burned Rusty’s eyes as Eve walked toward the back of the store. Never had she felt so helpless. Not even when she’d been a surly teenager on her own, desperate for her next meal and fearful of the lengths she’d have to go just to survive.

Eve was utterly devastated. She was broken and defeated and she left with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She believed—absolutely believed—that Donovan had betrayed her.

Had he? An uneasy sensation crawled up Rusty’s spine. She knew well that Donovan could be ruthless, as Eve had just said. But how ruthless? Could he really have planned to sacrifice Eve in order to ensure Cammie and Travis’s safety?

She shook herself from her thoughts and leaned back, stretching her bound legs upward toward the button that triggered a silent alarm. Now wasn’t the time to ponder the what ifs. No matter what Donovan had done—or what Eve thought he’d done—Rusty had to get help and fast. She couldn’t let Eve walk into the hands of a monster.

She just prayed that Donovan had already taken care of the matter and that Eve’s stepfather was no longer a threat. Because now Eve was alone and vulnerable, and worse, she thought that she’d been betrayed by the man she’d put all her faith in.


WALT Breckenridge watched with smug satisfaction as Eve ducked out the back of the hardware store and slid behind the wheel of the Jeep that she and the other woman had arrived in.

He’d known the little bitch had lied about her involvement with his children and Eve. He hadn’t swallowed that bullshit story about Travis working a few days and then disappearing. And now, Donovan Kelly had arrogantly demanded a meeting with Walt in which he planned to discuss handing Eve over to him in exchange for Walt backing off Travis and Cammie.

Kelly had fed him a bullshit story about how he feared for Travis and Cammie’s safety. That he was well aware of Eve’s history of mental illness and that she’d gotten worse and he feared—as did Walt—that she was a danger to not only herself but others.

He played the sympathy card, commiserating with Walt about his troubles with Eve and expressing his regret over the loss of his wife, made worse when Eve went off the deep end and kidnapped his children and how desperate he must be to get them back.

And yes, it had been Eve he’d offered up, claiming he wanted her to get the help she needed from her caring stepfather and that once he was assured that Eve was taken care of and he knew it was safe for the children to go back, they’d meet and arrange for Travis and Cammie to return home with Walt.

Complete and utter garbage.

Did they think him a fool? He’d researched the Kellys and their do-gooder organization, KGI.

It was a trap, no doubt inspired by Eve’s lies and accusations. He wasn’t falling for it and now Eve, the dumb bitch, had fallen right into his lap. She was making things far easier than he’d even imagined. But she’d never been that intelligent. Stupid. Tenacious. But not smart. Certainly no match for his superior intellect. And now he had her.

Now he’d have what he most wanted. Revenge. He’d make her pay for all she’d done. He’d put her away and ensure no one ever believed her outrageous accusations. Then, and only then, would he get his children back from the Kellys. He had far more power than they would ever dream of having. Money bought a lot of privilege. And it sure as hell bought protection.

Eve would have neither of those things, and by the time he was done with her, she’d wish she’d never crossed him. And he would hear an apology from those lips, right before he wrapped them around his dick.

Satisfied that, for now, Cammie and Travis would wait, he climbed into his car, his focus on his immediate goal. Eve. A rush invaded his veins at the thought of her at his utter mercy. He’d enjoy every single moment. Eve? Well, he doubted she’d enjoy it as much as he would. But she didn’t matter. She never had.

He wanted her to suffer.

He wouldn’t be as easy on her as he was on her pathetically weak mother. Her killing had been too easy. No challenge whatsoever. Eve, on the other hand, had proven to be more of a challenge than he’d imagined. He’d underestimated her once. He wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

He wouldn’t kill her because, as with her mother, that would be too easy. He wanted her to pay. And pay she would. He wanted him to be what she saw when she closed her eyes. What she dreamed. And know that there was no escape. That her fate was solidly in his hands.

With a satisfied smirk, he pulled out of the area that had provided cover for his vehicle—a rental that couldn’t be traced back to him—and fell in behind the Jeep.

She was being careful. Not speeding. No, she wouldn’t want to draw undue attention to herself or risk being pulled over by the police, and that wouldn’t fit his plans at all. He had no desire to involve the law. Not here. Not where he had no influence and power.

A wreck. An abandoned vehicle. It would appear as though she wrecked and then ran. And then he’d make his meeting with Donovan Kelly and he’d play by Donovan’s rules. For now. After Eve was taken care of and was in a place where she wouldn’t be discovered, no record of her whatsoever, he’d return for his children.

Eve would simply disappear. Another person lost in the system. An unexplained disappearance blamed on the fact that she was on the run and mentally ill. The Kellys would likely investigate, but even they wouldn’t be successful in uncovering her whereabouts.

And with her out of the picture for good, there was nothing to stop Walt from reclaiming his children.

Travis would also pay for his part in aiding Eve, but he would be brought to heel with the threat of Cammie. He wouldn’t do anything that would cause her harm. In that, he and Eve were alike. A product of their weak, mindless mother. But Cammie was younger and more easily molded into what Walt wanted. And when Travis was older and less manageable, well, tragedy would strike the Breckenridge family once more. Travis would succumb to the same mental illness that Eve had been diagnosed with. An unfortunate hereditary trait passed to them from their mother. And then he and Cammie would be alone, and he’d mold her into the perfect daughter.


RUSTY breathed a huge sigh of relief when she heard a noise from the rear of the store. The police would have responded to the alarm she triggered, though they wouldn’t just waltz in the front of the store without knowing what they were walking into.

“I’m up here!” she yelled out. “It’s clear. This is Rusty Kelly. My dad, Frank Kelly, owns this store. I’m tied up behind the register. I’m the only one here.”

She knew they wouldn’t take her at her word, because for all they knew she had a gun to her head and was being forced to call out to them. But maybe it would speed the process along a bit if they at least knew where she was.

She struggled to right herself so she could at least shove herself up to a standing position so they’d see she was alone when they entered the sales area. She could lean against the counter if she could just manage to get there!

It took considerable squirming and leg bending to achieve her goal, but she was finally able to hoist herself, nearly falling just as she gained her feet. She pitched herself sideways so the counter would break her fall and winced when the edge hit her squarely in the ribs.

Sucking in a breath to steady herself, she called out again. “I’m here and alone. I’m standing behind the register.”

A few moments later, Sean appeared from the back. He cut the corner sharply, his gun raised. He quickly glanced in Rusty’s direction and she saw a flash of relief in his eyes before he rapidly did a thorough sweep of the area, gun still up and grasped tightly in his hand.

Evidently satisfied that there was no danger, he strode behind the counter, fury registering in his eyes as he saw she was bound hand and foot.

“What the fuck?” he growled. “What the hell happened, Rusty? Are you hurt? Did that son of a bitch hurt you?”

“I’m fine,” Rusty said in a calm voice. “But, Sean, I need you to hurry. Eve is in terrible danger.”

Sean’s brow furrowed even as he started yanking away the ropes that secured her wrists. As soon as her hands were free, he knelt and untied her legs as she rubbed feeling back into her numb fingers.

When he was finished he grasped her shoulders, forcing her to look squarely at him.

“What happened? I want to know everything, and don’t leave a single word out.”

He paused a moment and stared harder at her.

“Are you sure you’re all right? Goddamn it, Rusty. You scared the ever-loving fuck out of me. I thought . . .”

He broke off with a shake of his head. As if he had said too much or was going to.

“It’s a long story and we only have time for the abbreviated version, but yes, I’m all right. She didn’t hurt me.”

“She?” Sean asked incredulously.

“Eve,” Rusty murmured, cringing in advance for the explosion that would surely follow.

Sean’s eyes darkened with fury. “Are you telling me Eve tied you up and left you in the store? How? And why?”

Then his gaze lighted on the still-open cash register and then down to the safe that was wide open.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No fucking way. She robbed you?”

“At gunpoint,” Rusty muttered.

Sean went white. For a moment Rusty worried he might do something crazy like hit the floor. His knees buckled and then he reached out to touch her again. He feathered a hand over her face, his fingertips softly grazing her cheekbone.

Then he closed his eyes and when he reopened them, his gaze was haunted and filled with regret.

“This is going to kill Van,” he said quietly.

Rusty blew out her breath. “There’s a lot you don’t know. Hell, that I don’t know, for that matter. But we have to get in touch with Donovan like now. He’s going to lose his mind when he hears this story. I know he was going to deal with Eve’s stepfather today and I hope to hell he’s already done whatever it is he was going to do because if not, Eve is in a lot of danger.”