“Will you hold me?” Eve asked. “I’m so very tired, but I’m so afraid that I’ll wake up and this will have all been a dream. I’m afraid to go to sleep because I don’t want to lose you and Travis and Cammie.”
Donovan turned sideways so he was nestled against her on the bed. He reached down and pulled the covers over both of them, and then he enfolded her tenderly in his embrace. He pressed a kiss to her forehead and then whispered something that Eve could swear was a prayer. A thank-you to God for giving him back his family.
“Sleep, my darling Eve,” he said, his voice filled with love. “I’ll be here when you wake and every other time you wake. You’ll never be alone again.”
IT was Friday night, and the entire Kelly family was gathered in the football stadium of the local high school. A cool breeze blew through the stands, and Donovan curled his arm more tightly around Eve to shield her from the chill.
A cool front had burst through, dropping the temperatures from warm to unseasonably cold. Though it was only the second weekend in September, already fall was forcing its way through, beating back the sultry temperatures of summer. A welcome relief from the hotter than normal weather this summer had brought. A summer that had changed Donovan’s life forever.
Cammie’s excited squeal made the entire Kelly clan focus their attention on the field where the home team had just burst through the blow-up tunnel in the end zone. The cheerleaders lined each side of the tunnel as the football players ran for the sidelines.
Donovan smiled as Travis—his son—loped toward the bench and then wound up in the middle of a pile of players as they jumped on each other’s backs, hooping and hollering. Eve grabbed his hand and squeezed.
He glanced down at his wife. His wife. He’d never get tired of those two words. My wife. It still gutted him to remember how close he’d come to losing her. It wasn’t something he could even dwell on, because it still had the power to bring him to his knees.
He squeezed her back and savored the joy on her face. Her eyes were suspiciously wet, gleaming with tears. Happy tears. If she never shed one out of sadness again it would be too soon for him.
“He looks so grown up,” Eve whispered, emotion knotting her voice.
He leaned down so he could hear her above the roar.
Travis disentangled himself from the pile of players and walked further down the sideline. Then he turned, searching the stands. The entire Kelly family stood, cheering and waving madly. Travis’s face split into a broad grin and he waved back just as enthusiastically. He’d been awestruck that every single Kelly was attending his game. Their acceptance in turns bewildered and overwhelmed him. But he soaked up every bit of it. He and Cammie both.
“I want to wave at Trav!” Cammie protested.
Donovan reached down and hauled her up to his shoulders, and she nearly shook herself off her perch waving at her brother.
All of them were here. Every single Kelly was present and accounted for.
Rachel, Ethan and the twins, though both boys, wiggling bundles of pure boy excitement, were firmly held. Charlotte had wedged herself between Cammie and Eve, while Donovan sat on Cammie’s other side.
Garrett and Sarah were present, as were Sam and Sophie. The women sported tiny pregnancy bumps, a fact that de-lighted both their husbands to no end. Nathan and Shea were smiling and enjoying the evening. Swanny and Joe were also there, as was Sean. The only one not there was Rusty. She’d hated missing Travis’s first home football game, but the drive back from Knoxville was an undertaking, and she had early Monday morning classes to attend.
Even Skylar and Edge were present, all wanting to show their support for Donovan’s family.
Life was good.
As they stood for the national anthem and raising of the flag, Donovan’s hand found Eve’s and he squeezed, his heart about to burst from his chest. When a moment of silence was asked for, Donovan whispered a prayer of thanks that his family was safe. Back where they belonged. It was all he’d ever ask for. This. Being surrounded by them. Their love.
When they retook their seats, Eve turned and smiled at Donovan, joy lighting her eyes. So much had happened in the last months. Eve’s uncertain, winding road back home. The worry that he’d never fully have her back, heart and mind. But he shouldn’t have worried. His wife was a resilient, kick-ass, never-give-up woman. Just like all his sisters-in-law. She fit in as naturally as all his sisters-in-law had.
“Look at my grandchild!” Marlene said, pride evident in her voice as Travis took his place on the field.
Eve’s smile broadened, delight crossing her face at Marlene’s words.
Things hadn’t been easy. They’d had a lot to overcome. All of them. Travis had dealt—was still dealing—with guilt over killing his father, even though the bastard deserved it and far worse. Eve had her own issues to deal with. And Cammie’s nightmares of her father still plagued her sleep, made worse by the fact that Travis and Eve were obviously so troubled by their own separate hells.
The little girl had soaked up all the turmoil and made it her own.
But through it all, one thing had remained constant. Donovan didn’t allow a single day to pass where he didn’t tell his wife how much he loved her. He never let a day go by where he didn’t assure Travis and Cammie that he loved them and very much wanted them to be a permanent part of his and Eve’s family.
Even now he and Eve were pursuing legal adoption of them both. He wanted his children to bear his name—their name. The Kelly name and all the love and support that name entailed. He couldn’t wait for the court date. They were going to have one hell of a backyard barbecue the minute those kids were legally his. And every single Kelly would be there to celebrate the event.
Travis and Cammie already called him “Dad,” a fact that made him absurdly happy. And while Cammie called Eve “Mom” half the time, Travis was too used to calling Eve “Evie.” And it didn’t matter to Eve. She was just glad to have her family safe. Whole.
Eve’s sleep was fractured by nightmares from time to time, though they’d gotten better in the last weeks. Donovan made sure that she slept in his arms and that he was always there to gently wake her from the agony of those dreams. He made love to her, whispering his love and that he would always be there.
He’d taken much needed time away from KGI when Eve returned. He hadn’t wanted to leave her, even for a night. Nathan and Joe’s team had taken more of the load and he—and his brothers—were impressed by their efforts.
Even Rio and Steele were impressed, though they didn’t always like taking a backseat to the new team. But KGI was a well-oiled machine. With three teams now actively taking a roll, their organization had expanded to take on more missions—righteous missions. And Donovan’s sisters-in-law had begun taking part in the administration, not that he or his brothers would ever allow them to take a dangerous role. But they helped out, devoting many hours to helping other women. He was so damn proud of them all, and especially Eve for wanting to help others in need. Just as she’d once been in need. As had all his sisters-in-law.
Everything was . . . perfect. No more waiting for the other shoe to drop. No fears of it all falling apart. His family was together. KGI was flourishing, even with Donovan in a more administrative role lately.
Eventually he’d go back to full time. But he was in no hurry, because for the first time in his life, he had something that took priority over his career.
For now? He was perfectly content to allow others to take the lead so he could spend time on what mattered to him most. Eve. And their children.
He pulled Eve to him, squishing Cammie and Charlotte between them. He hugged her into his side and pressed a kiss to her temple.
“I love you,” he murmured.
She smiled, her entire face lighting up.
“I love you too, Donovan.”
“Look at our boy,” he said, pride reflected in his voice.
“I know,” Eve said, her smile as broad as his own. “This is where he belongs. In school. Doing what other teenage boys do. Playing sports. Not worrying about anything other than making good grades. It’s what I always wanted for him.”
Donovan smiled at the wistfulness in her tone and squeezed her again, despite complaints from the girls that he was “squishing” them.
“Where he belongs is with us, honey. We’re a family now. And though I one day hope to have more children with you, in my heart, Travis and Cammie will always be our first.”
“I want that too,” she whispered, her eyes shining with love. “I want a lot of children, Donovan. I hope you don’t mind. I want a houseful. I want to give them everything I never had. What Travis and Cammie never had until now.”
“No complaints from me,” Donovan said, satisfaction gripping him. “I want as many as you’re willing to have. I’m going to warn you now, the picture of you pregnant and swollen with my child? Pretty heady stuff. If I have my way, you’ll be nothing but barefoot and pregnant for the next ten years or so.”
She laughed, the sound warm and vibrant, carrying through the stands. Other members of his family glanced down, delighted smiles on their faces. Their gazes were filled with love and understanding. They knew all too well the winding road she’d traveled to where she was now. And they were all as thrilled and overjoyed as he was that she was happy. Safe. Loved.
His mom looked at him then, tears glittering in her eyes. With all the love of a mother. She told him without words, with just a look, how happy she was that he’d found the love of his life.
“I don’t know about the next ten years,” Eve said cautiously, her lips still turned up in a grin. “But I wouldn’t say no to the next five at least. Think we could manage as many as your mom and dad did?”
“As long as you promise to give me girls,” Donovan said, contentment filling his heart as he imagined a houseful of daughters with Eve’s beauty and smile.
“I’m beginning to see why y’all built a compound,” Eve said in amusement as she directed her gaze once more to the playing field.
The crowd erupted in cheers when Travis carried the ball into the end zone. The Kellys high-fived all around and Eve was slapped on the back by more than one of Donovan’s brothers.
“That’s my boy!” Donovan shouted, pride filling every corner of his heart. “Our boy,” he added, hugging Eve to his side.
Eve’s eyes filled with tears. She looked so happy she could burst.
As they retook their seats, Donovan glanced over. “What did you mean about the compound?”
She laughed, her eyes lighting with mischief. “With all the girls you and your brothers are producing, or plan to produce, you’re going to need a high-security complex to protect them from all the boys!”
Donovan’s scowl was instantaneous. “Damn right,” he growled. “No way in hell some snot-nosed punk is going to come around my daughters.”
Eve grinned and then leaned into Donovan’s side, emitting a contented sigh as he wrapped his arm around her.
“I’m so happy, Donovan,” she said in a low voice he almost didn’t hear.
He kissed the top of her head and squeezed her a little tighter.
“I’m happy that you’re happy, honey. More than I can ever tell you. You mean the world to me. You, Travis and Cammie. I hope you know that.”
She turned, tilting her head up so she could stare into his eyes.
“I do know. I love you so much. I never dreamed I’d find such happiness. Such a home.”
The yearning in her voice nearly undid him. He wanted so much to wrap her in his arms, take her home and make love to her the entire night. But for now he contented himself with being here, with his entire family, watching his son excel on the football field.
“You’ll always be home with me. And home for me is wherever you are. No matter where life takes us, as long as we’re together, it’s all I’ll ever ask for.”
She leaned up and kissed him. A soft kiss that contained all the sweetness that was her. He closed his eyes, savoring this moment, one of the many to come in their lifetimes.
Everything he’d ever wished for. Had dreamed of, wanted, yearned for. It was all in his arms.
No longer did he envy his brothers all they had, because Donovan had everything he could ever hope for. A beautiful, loving wife. Children. The hope of more in the future. It was all his.
He glanced down the bleachers at all of his family gathered to support Travis. He caught Joe’s gaze and grinned evilly. Joe rolled his eyes because he well knew what that look was for. With Donovan firmly ensnared, Joe was the only remaining Kelly-born brother who was still single. And that made him a wanted man. His mother had already pinned him down and pointed out that he was the only son not to give her a daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
“Never,” Joe mouthed.