“I don’t know what to believe,” Rusty said, tears clogging her voice. “All I know was that I was confronted with a desperate, terrified and devastated woman who believed to her soul that she’d been betrayed by the one person she trusted. You.”
Donovan couldn’t even form a response. He was utterly flabbergasted. First, that Eve would ever think such a thing, and second, that a member of his own family would think, even for a moment, that he would do something so despicable.
Near to his exploding point, Donovan turned at Sophie’s soft call. Her eyes were red and rimmed with moisture. All the wives were present and deeply upset by the situation. But at least there was no accusation in her eyes. Just grief and worry.
“I think I may know what happened,” she said in a painful voice. “Yesterday when you sent her and the kids over to my house. When we were supposed to shop and you and your brothers were getting together at your house to talk about Eve’s situation.”
“Yes, I remember,” Donovan said, impatient for her to get to the point.
“She was worried and bothered by the fact that you hadn’t let her remain behind. She thought she should be included in any decisions regarding her future. I—we—understood. We knew that if it were us in that situation that we wouldn’t—couldn’t—just stand to the side and let our fates be decided by others. We would have at least wanted to know what was going to happen, even if we weren’t going to be directly involved. The uncertainty is horrible. It was horrible for Eve. She’s had no control over her life in a long time. She wanted at least a semblance of control—of choice—especially when it concerned her brother and sister, whom she’d do anything at all for. Even at risk to herself. We encouraged her to go over and tell you what she was feeling. At first she didn’t want to because she didn’t want it to appear as though she didn’t trust you. We told her you would understand. That you might not like it, but that you wouldn’t be angry with her.”
Donovan’s gut tightened and his dread increased.
“So she decided to walk back over, only she wasn’t gone that long and when she returned, she was visibly upset. She tried to play it off and when we asked her why she was back so soon, she told us she changed her mind. That she didn’t want you to think she didn’t trust you and that you’d promised to tell her later anyway.”
“Dear God,” Donovan whispered hoarsely. “She must have overheard. It’s the only explanation. She must have come through the kitchen and overheard parts of our conversation. Out of context, some of it sounds bad. But it was a plan, goddamn it. It was supposed to be a trap. I never had any intention of handing Eve over to that bastard.”
“Fuck,” Garrett said.
It was a testament to the severity of the situation that he didn’t instantly earn a reprimand from his wife for the F-bomb.
Donovan sank onto the couch, burying his face in his hands. The bastard had her. And she thought Donovan had been prepared to hand her over. She thought he didn’t want her. Didn’t love her. That he wanted Travis and Cammie but not her. And even after knowing—thinking—so, she’d still left them in his care because she’d known what her stepfather would do to them. God, what he would do to her.
Even now she was in his hands. Grief knotted his throat, choking him when he tried to voice his fears. His fury and helplessness. So he sat there, hands shaking as rage and sorrow vied for equal control of his emotions.
“How could she believe it?” he finally managed to get out. “No matter what she heard, how could she think it? I love her, damn it. How could she not know?”
“Did you tell her?” Rachel asked softly. “Donovan, you have to understand her situation. Put aside your anger and your grief for a moment and imagine yourself in her shoes. She’s not been able to trust anyone. She hasn’t been able to afford to. You know how hard it was for you to get through to her. How delicately you had to handle the situation. How hard it was to get her to agree to put herself and her siblings in your hands. To move into your house. I can only imagine the torture she put herself through wondering if she was making the right decision. And now, she believes the worst. That she did make the wrong choice. I can’t even begin to imagine her sense of betrayal. She loves you, Van. I know it. We all know it. One only has to look at her to know that despite any fears or reservations she’s entertained, she loves you, and love will make a person very afraid. I know from personal experience that love can make things worse. It makes the hurt worse when a perceived betrayal is in the mix.”
Donovan was momentarily baffled as he thought back over their many conversations about the future. Their future together. So much of what Rachel said made sense. He saw the discomfort and grief flicker briefly through Ethan’s eyes at Rachel’s impassioned defense of Eve. Yes, he and Rachel would both know firsthand how love could sometimes be twisted into something ugly and black.
The idea that Eve was now feeling even a tenth of what Rachel had described gutted him to his soul. He could put himself in Eve’s shoes and consider what she’d heard and what she was even now experiencing, and it shredded his heart. He never wanted that for her. He never wanted her to experience the kind of pain she’d already experienced in her young life. And the fact that he was currently the source of her agony undid him. Completely and utterly undid him.
“I didn’t say the words—I was afraid of coming on too strong, too quickly—but she had to know. How could she not? I’ve never been this way with another woman. And that bullshit about having a weakness for women and children. It doesn’t mean she was a pity case for me. I wanted to spend the rest of my bloody life with her! If I never hear those goddamn words again it will be too soon. Eve isn’t a mission. I damn well know the difference between wanting and needing to help a woman in a desperate situation and knowing to the bottom of my soul that she’s it for me.”
“Donovan, you need to put yourself in her shoes,” Shea said, echoing Rachel’s words. “Remember her life to now. Remember that she’s never been able to trust anyone, and that over and over she’s been betrayed by the very people sworn to protect her. Now imagine how devastating it was for her to hear what she heard and for her to think you would discard her so callously.”
“I saw her,” Rusty said flatly. “The rest of you can speculate on how she may have felt, but none of you saw what I saw. What I heard. She was broken, beaten down and utterly hopeless. I saw her eyes and she knew. She accepted her fate, but her being her, she wasn’t going to go down without a fight. She’s stood up time and time again even when she’s been shut down at every turn, every time she tried to get help for her mother, for Travis and Cammie. And yet she never gave up. But now? I saw her give up right in front of me and yet she was still determined that she wouldn’t be, in her words, a sacrificial lamb. That as long as Travis and Cammie were cared for, it didn’t matter what happened to her, but she wasn’t just going to go meekly along with Donovan’s plan.”
“Jesus,” Donovan said, pain gripping his insides and twisting viciously. “He has her. He hurt her before. He tried to . . .” He couldn’t even finish the statement, instead going silent as he tried to keep his composure.
“He’ll want revenge. He’ll want her to suffer. Goddamn it, he has his hands on her right now. She’s enduring God only knows what kind of hell while we sit here and talk about the what ifs and whys. This is bullshit. It’s time to dispense with the analysis and go take that son of a bitch down.”
“We’ll find her,” Sam said firmly.
“Hell yeah, we’ll get your girl back, Van,” Garrett seconded.
A course of agreements circled the room.
Donovan raised his gaze, determination etched in every facet of his face. He wouldn’t entertain any other option. No matter what, he had to get Eve back. Yes, he wanted children, a family, but he wanted those things with Eve. Without her, he had nothing. How could he ever be happy having Travis and Cammie as his own when Eve was not a member of that family unit? She was the heart and soul of their family. His family. Without her, none of them, him, Travis or Cammie, would never be whole.
“Yes, I’ll get her back,” he said in a tone he knew surprised his brothers. Every mission meant something to Donovan. Yes, he had a weakness for women and children, though he was sick to death of having that thrown in his face, of it being used to hurt the woman he loved, like somehow she’d been relegated to being just another woman in need. No one special, when she was the very air he breathed.
“And when I do I’ll never let her go again. I’ll never let a single day pass that she doesn’t know she means the world to me. That she is my world, damn it!”
“Van, my God, Van!”
Everyone turned to see Marlene standing in the doorway to the living room wringing her hands. In the distance Cammie was crying and Charlotte’s concerned voice was rising as she tried to comfort Cammie.
“What is it, Ma?” Ethan asked sharply.
“Travis. He’s gone,” Marlene said painfully. “He excused himself to go to the bathroom. He was gone a long time but he was upset before. I thought he was embarrassed and just needed time to get himself together. When I realized how much time had passed, I became concerned so I went to check on him and he was gone. He must have slipped out the back or one of the windows. I don’t really know! I was paying attention to the girls and trying to keep them occupied.”
Donovan closed his eyes, the nightmare only growing more horrific with every passing second. His family was being destroyed in front of his eyes and he was helpless to do anything but watch it happen.
Fuck that. Eve, Travis and Cammie belonged to him, and he sure as hell wasn’t letting them go. He’d go after Walt Breckenridge and nail his ass to the wall. Legally or illegally. It didn’t matter one way or another as long as the job was done.
Some things were done off the books. It was a reality of what they did. They were neither right or wrong, but some fucked-up place in between. But at the end of the day, they lived with their choices and they continued to do the job.
To save his precious family from a monster like Walt Breckenridge? He’d play dirty. He’d fight dirty. And he’d take him down by any means necessary and he’d lie, cheat and steal to get back the family he’d claimed as his own.
“THIS situation gets more fucked by the minute,” Sean said.
“What now?” Donovan demanded.
They were in down and ready mode, plotting their plan of action, and it frustrated the hell out of Donovan that they were so damn slow getting the information they desperately needed. Even his computer geek skills weren’t helping at the moment, but then this wasn’t a regular mission. He knew he didn’t have his head on straight and he was shaking like a leaf as he went through the motions.
Nathan and Joe’s team were on standby and waiting for the go command. Donovan and his brothers, after ensuring that the family was well taken care of by Steele and his team, were in load-and-go mode. But they couldn’t very well act without accurate intel.
So far Sean had been a far greater source of information. Information they badly needed.
They were in the war room, where their command center and enough technology to rival a government agency was set up and going through Walt Breckenridge’s entire life. His financials, residences, anything that would lead them to where he’d go now that he had Eve.
“Breckenridge flew out an hour ago from Camden on his Learjet, which means he has one hell of a jump on us, even with us using the KGI jets.”
“Fuck!” Donovan exploded. “Flight plans? Destination?”
“There’s more,” Sean said grimly, and Donovan did not like what he saw in the deputy’s eyes.
“Jesus,” Sam muttered
“I just got this in from Henry County PD. I’d put out the BOLO on both Eve and Travis. Travis hijacked a plane from Henry County. We could beat him there if we hop one of the Kelly jets; however, here’s the interesting part.”
“Get the fuck to it,” Donovan seethed. “We’ve wasted enough goddamn time as it is!”
“The pilot filed flight plans to Oregon.”
Donovan’s brow furrowed. God, but his head hurt like a son of a bitch. Oregon? What the fuck was in Oregon? Unless . . .
“He knows something we don’t,” Donovan said. “One of Walt’s hidey-holes. Walt may have filed flight plans for California, but he would have known we’d trace that. Ten to one says the fucker is going to Oregon and that Travis knows or at least has a damn good idea of where he’ll go now that he has Eve.”
“Do you know where in Oregon?” Garrett asked. “Or are we flying blind here?”