Sean’s gaze narrowed. “You sound awfully worried about a woman who held a gun on you while she robbed the store of all its cash.”
“It’s complicated,” Rusty said with a sigh.
“Then uncomplicate it and tell me the whole story.”
She gave him a quick, condensed rundown of the morning’s events, starting with when she walked into Donovan’s house and found Eve pointing a gun at her. But when she got to the last, she paused and grabbed Sean’s arm.
“She thinks he betrayed her, Sean. I have no idea how in the hell she got that idea, but you didn’t see her. You didn’t hear her. And she kept apologizing, for fuck’s sake. For taking my Jeep. For stealing money from a man she hadn’t even met.”
“Whoa, wait. Back up a minute. Eve thinks Donovan was going to turn her in to her stepfather?”
He sounded as aghast as Rusty had felt when she’d listened to Eve’s accusations.
“She believes it,” Rusty said quietly. “God, Sean. I hurt for her. She was devastated. Completely defeated. She loves him and yet she thinks—she knows—he betrayed her.”
“That’s crazy,” Sean refuted.
“To you and me, yes. But Sean, she absolutely believes it. I don’t know what happened to make her think it, but I saw the conviction in her eyes. I heard it in her voice. She was destroyed, and even more destroyed that she was leaving Travis and Cammie behind. And yet she trusted that Donovan would protect them. She thinks that she was just the means of Donovan getting what he really wanted. Kids. A family. One that didn’t include her. I’m telling you, Sean. If you could have seen and heard her, you wouldn’t be pissed over what she did. I knew she had no intention of shooting me. I was more worried that she would do it accidentally. I offered to help her. I wanted to help her. Because I couldn’t stand to look into her eyes and see so much pain that it took my breath away. And you know what she said?”
“What?” Sean asked gently.
Rusty hadn’t even been aware that he’d pulled her closer to him and that even now his hand was stroking up and down her back in a gesture of comfort. She had the ridiculous thought that she’d like it if he pulled her into his arms. But she shook off that moment of insanity and refocused on the matter at hand.
“She said that she couldn’t, that she wouldn’t involve me because it was too dangerous and she didn’t want anything to happen to me. When I asked her why she was leaving her brother and sister, she said that of the two, her stepfather or Donovan, whom would I prefer they be with? That she knew her stepfather would hurt them, but she didn’t believe for a moment that Donovan would do anything but love and protect them even if she wasn’t included in the picture. Damn it, Sean. She walked away because she thought Donovan was going to work a trade. Eve for the kids, and she was just collateral damage. She believes that with all her heart. And it breaks mine.”
This time Sean did pull her into his arms and hugged her gently. She could feel his breath against her hair and she closed her eyes, savoring the warmth—and comfort—of his body.
“This is going to destroy Donovan,” Sean said in a grim voice. “How long ago did she leave, Rusty? How much of a head start does she have?”
“I hit the alarm the minute she left. You got here in about five minutes, I’d say, so she hasn’t had that much of a head start.”
“Okay, then here’s what I want you to do. You get in touch with Donovan. Figure out how to tell him. I’ll put a BOLO out for your Jeep and Eve and get everyone I can on the case so we locate her as soon as possible.”
“Thanks, Sean,” she said softly.
His brow wrinkled in confusion as she pulled away.
“What for? For doing my job?”
She shook her head. “For not jumping to conclusions when you learned what Eve had done and for looking for her instead of swearing out a warrant for her arrest.”
His eyes narrowed. “Do you think so little of me, Rusty?”
She shook her head even more adamantly. “No. But you’re a cop, Sean. Your duty would be to arrest her for a crime that she did, in fact, commit. Kidnapping. Armed robbery. I’m sure there are a dozen other charges that I’m not even considering. Someone else wouldn’t have listened to me and they wouldn’t have just accepted what I said as fact. And they would have adhered to the letter of the law and arrested her as soon as she was located. You won’t do that. Not until you have all the facts.”
“I don’t like it,” Donovan said grimly as he watched Walt Breckenridge drive away. He turned to his brothers, seeking their assessment. They didn’t look any happier than he was.
It had been too fucking easy. And Walt had worn this smug, superior smile and Donovan could swear the man was laughing at them all. Was he that arrogant or was Donovan not getting a huge missing piece of the puzzle?
“I need to get home. This worries me. I want to make damn sure that Eve and Cammie and Travis are safe. Eve wasn’t doing that well when I left her, and I’d hoped to bring her good news today so she wouldn’t have cause to worry, and now I don’t know what the hell to tell her.”
“We’ll get him,” Garrett vowed. “He’ll fuck up and we’ll nail his ass to the wall.”
“And until then we have to keep careful watch on Eve and her siblings because I don’t trust the bastard not to make a grab for them. He’s too arrogant. He’s far too self-assured. He thinks he’s untouchable. By us. The law. Anyone. And the asshole probably does have at least a few policemen in his pocket. Up the chain, if I had to guess. It’s why Eve never got anywhere when she went to the police for help.”
“The entire situation sucks balls,” Joe said with a scowl.
None of his team looked as if they felt any different.
“He hates women,” Skylar observed.
The others turned to her in surprise.
“I wouldn’t say you were wrong, but what makes you say that?” Joe asked his teammate.
“It was pretty damn obvious,” Edge growled. “He was pissed that Skylar was here. That she held a position of power. And he didn’t like that she could kick his fucking ass if she chose to.”
A glimmer of a smile curved Skylar’s lips. “That about sums it up. He looked down his nose at me in this superior way and when I didn’t cow, it pissed him off. When he figured out that I wasn’t intimidated by him, it made him even angrier. He feels women are inferior. His wife. Eve. Likely Cammie as well, though he has a fixation with her that didn’t extend to his wife or Eve.”
“You sound like a shrink,” Nathan muttered.
Donovan smiled. Yeah, Nathan would have issues with psychoanalysis. There’d been plenty of people wanting to pick his mind apart when he’d returned home after months of captivity and torture.
“I was a psychology major,” Skylar said cheerfully. “Sam knows.”
Nathan glowered at his brother as if it were a betrayal for him to hire a woman for Nathan’s team who had a degree in psychology.
Sam chuckled. “I didn’t hire her because of her psychology degree. I hired her for her ability to kick some serious ass.”
“That she can,” Edge defended.
Skylar sent him a sharp glance that suggested she didn’t need him to defend her. The two had become close friends now that they roomed together. Donovan thought it was a prime example of the odd couple. Edge was a mountain of a man, muscled, tattooed, quiet, but like Swanny, when he spoke, others paid attention.
Skylar was his complete antithesis. Bright, cheerful. She had a sunshiny personality. If it weren’t for the fact that Donovan knew firsthand her ability to kick a man’s ass even if he was twice her size, he would have even called her perky. But somehow a woman who could take a man down in two seconds flat and have him begging for mercy didn’t qualify as perky.
Could a cheerleader be a Rambo-ette? Because if so, Skylar deserved that moniker. Although she might be insulted to know Donovan was comparing her to a cheerleader. It wasn’t an insult, but some women took it as such. Cheerleaders were actually damn good athletes. They had to be to perform the feats they pulled off.
“So what are we going to do about Breckenridge?” Sam asked, bringing the topic back to what was most important. The safety of Donovan’s family.
“He was damn careful about doing anything that could be perceived as a trade. Eve for the kids,” Ethan said. “I swear he knows we were trying to set him up. He didn’t buy the concerned-citizen bit, but on the other hand, a legitimate father in distress would not have been so calm about agreeing that Eve needed help before the children were allowed back home. What the hell kind of parent agrees to that? If he’d been for real, he would have had the police so far up our ass we would have had the imprint of their badges for a week.”
“Exactly,” Donovan confirmed. “He does not want police involvement. But neither did he do or say anything to incriminate himself. He thanked us for our concern and then agreed that getting Eve the help she needed was the first priority. That’s bullshit. As a father his first concern should have been making damn sure his children were okay. He should have demanded to see them. And then agreed to do whatever the fuck we wanted so he could get them back. Instead he leaves with this ‘I’ll be in touch’ bullshit? Like he needs time to think about it?”
“More likely he needs time to figure out a plan to get both Eve and the children. Punish Eve. Get the children back under his thumb. Eve too, for that matter,” Garrett muttered.
“The hell that’s happening,” Donovan growled.
“So what’s the plan?” Skylar asked.
Donovan looked at Nathan and Joe and then to their teammates, Swanny, Edge and Skylar. “I want him under surveillance twenty-four-seven. I don’t want him to take a piss without us knowing about it. Phone calls monitored, taps, tracking devices. The works. And I want it done yesterday. Find the son of a bitch and make sure we’re so far up his ass he can taste what I had for breakfast.”
“I think we should meet over at Mom’s,” Sam said.
“What the hell for?” Ethan demanded.
“Because the compound is safe. Ma and Dad still live outside. I want to make damn sure they know the situation and that they’re protected. Until they move inside the compound, they’re going to be a target for anyone wanting to strike out against us. We can meet over there and plot our next move. Not even someone as arrogant as Walt would try to make a move on a house full of cops and KGI. But you can bet your ass he’s already trying to uncover our weaknesses. And Ma and Dad are big-ass weaknesses because we’d do anything it took to prevent harm from coming to them. So yeah, we’re meeting there; make sure there’s plenty of protection. Nathan and Joe’s team can get set up on Breckenridge.”
“I agree with Sam,” Donovan said. “I’ll go get Eve, Cammie and Travis, although, Sam, you think Soph would mind if Cammie stayed with her? Travis is old enough and he deserves to know what’s going on and what we’re up against. Cammie, however, is too young to understand and I don’t want her frightened. We need to explain everything to Eve—and Travis. I promised Eve I’d tell her what was decided yesterday, but she wasn’t feeling well. She’s starting to fray at the seams. The stress and fear are getting to her, and that pisses me off.”
Sam frowned as if just remembering that the wives were on the compound alone. High security or not, he wouldn’t have liked the idea, and judging by the looks on Donovan’s brothers’ faces, they’d come to that same realization.
“I’ll call Steele, Cole and P.J. Ask them to go out and stay with the wives inside the compound,” Sam said. “If Dolphin, Baker and Renshaw are close, they can come as well, but I know Cole and P.J. can be there in half an hour tops.”
“Good call,” Garrett said in a grim voice. “I don’t like leaving them alone, but I don’t want them mixed up in this clusterfuck. Bad enough Mom and Dad will have to be in the middle of it all.”
“As soon as we get them moved into the compound, we can all breathe easier,” Ethan remarked.
The others nodded their agreement.
“You may as well let Rusty tag along,” Nathan said in amusement. “She has a personal stake in this and she’ll find a way in whether we let her or not. She’s not going to stay put with the wives under lock and key.”
Donovan chuckled. “Yeah, I’ll let her come too. She likes Eve and Travis. And they like her. Today is going to be stressful enough. Rusty can provide a distraction for them if nothing else.”
Joe snorted. “As if you’ll have a choice.”
“Let’s get moving,” Nathan said in his command voice.