“Just thinking,” Donovan replied.
Garrett nodded. “Yeah, that much is obvious.”
“Hey, congrats to both of you,” Donovan said. “Can’t believe you two are providing more nieces and nephews. How is Sarah? Is she taking it well?”
Sam and Garrett both softened, their hard faces suddenly filling with love at the mention of their wives and their pregnancies.
“She’s happy,” Garrett said softly. “We both are. I worried it would be too soon. But she wanted a child, and well, I’ve always wanted a house full. But I’d wait indefinitely if that was what she wanted.”
“I think we all know where I stand,” Sam said in amusement. “Sophie and I started trying right after Rachel’s babies were born. Not sure if this will be the last or not. I’ll leave that up to Sophie. Every child is a blessing, and I’ll take as many as she wants to have and be grateful for every one.”
Garrett nodded. “Sarah and I have some catching up to do. Sam’s on his second. Rachel gave Ethan twins. Hell, I’m surprised Nathan and Shea haven’t started thinking about children yet.”
Donovan smiled. “They’re still young and they’ve both been through hell. It’s probably smart that they’re waiting. They still have a lot to work through. And they have all the time in the world. Shea is young. And hell, so is Nathan. They still have a few years before they get to where Sam was when he had his first.”
“Don’t remind me of my age,” Sam said with a grunt. “Turning forty sucks. I feel like an old fart now.”
Garrett and Donovan both laughed.
Sam turned his stern gaze on Donovan as the laughter stopped. “Now, what’s this about this kid Rusty hired and his sisters? You said it was bad. You also said they’re running from something. What do we need to know here and what can we do to help?”
Donovan sighed and ran his hand raggedly through his short hair. “The hell of it is, I don’t know. I’ve never felt so damn helpless in my life.”
Garrett frowned and took a step forward. “I’ve seen you get worked up over women and children in danger plenty of times, Van. But this is different. You’re different. What’s going on here? We need the full truth. Not the watered-down version you gave Ma and the rest of the family at the table.”
“Rusty is right. They’re in trouble. I just don’t know what they’re running from,” Donovan replied. “They need the money Travis is bringing in. He walks like he expects someone to jump out and attack him at any moment. He’s always looking over his shoulder. He’s so obvious about it that it makes me cringe. Someone would make him in a minute.”
Sam made a sound of disgust and anger. “What do you plan to do?”
Donovan lifted his shoulders and then let them sag. “That’s the problem. I don’t know and it pisses me off. I can’t treat this like a mission. Go in, kick ass and take names. Put a bow on it and call it good and leave knowing I made a difference and the people go on and live their lives. This woman is scared shitless. Her brother and sister are scared shitless. It was like being punched in the balls to see that four-year-old little girl look at me like I was a monster.”
“Damn,” Garrett said softly. “That sucks, man. There has to be something we can do.”
“Oh, I’m going to do something,” Donovan said, his soft vow settling over his brothers. “I have to figure out a way to get close to them. To make them trust me. I’m going to start by bringing them food and evaluating the situation more thoroughly. And then, if Cammie is still sick, I want to bring in Maren so she can check out Cammie.”
“Is that the little girl’s name?” Sam asked. “Cammie?”
Donovan nodded. “Yeah. She’s Charlotte’s age. Reminds me a lot of her. But where Charlotte is a happy, normal child without a care in the world and an entire family behind her to love and protect her, Cammie has Travis and Eve and that’s all she has.”
“I’m sure Maren would love to help,” Garrett said. “Good idea to call her in and bring her out. Not like she doesn’t make house calls now that she’s taken over Doc Campbell’s practice.”
“She’s been taking it a lot easier and Doc has stepped back in to take some of the patient load while she’s been on maternity leave, but she still sees a few patients. Steele’s been breathing down her neck trying to make her take it easier,” Sam said, amusement thick in his voice.
Donovan and Garrett both chuckled. It was funny as hell to see the team leader so wrapped up in his wife and daughter. Steele with a baby was a sight no one in KGI ever imagined seeing. But it was hilarious to see the ice man thoroughly wrapped around the finger of Dr. Maren Scofield—now Steele—and their daughter, Olivia.
“Steele won’t like letting Maren go in alone,” Garrett warned. “If he gets wind of the situation, there’s no way in hell he’ll let her go in without him, and if Eve and her siblings get sight of Steele, he’ll scare the shit out of them even more.”
Donovan grimaced. “Yeah, I hear you. I could use your help persuading him to stay his ass at home and let me go in with Maren. I will have been out twice by then, so I think they’d be okay with me and Maren. But if Steele comes, yeah, that’s not a good idea.”
“I’ll put a bug in his ear and assure him that you’ll be with her and prepared for anything. But I need the situation, Van. I need to know everything about what she’s going into, because Steele is going to want to know and I can’t just tell him nothing and to trust us. You know him. He plays by his own damn rules, and he’s very protective of Maren and Olivia.”
“There’s no danger inside that trailer,” Donovan murmured. “It’s a run-down piece of crap that no human should be living in. Cammie is four. Travis is fifteen, but he’s a good kid. Earnest. Determined to provide for his sisters. And Eve . . . I’m guessing midtwenties, but it’s hard to know. She has this ageless look to her. Like she could be twenty or thirty or anywhere in between. Beautiful. But scared to death.”
Garrett’s and Sam’s brows furrowed as they stared back at their younger brother. Donovan shifted uncomfortably under their scrutiny, knowing he’d probably said too much. Or perhaps it was his tone or expression that had given him away. Fuck it all. The last thing he needed was a lecture about getting too emotionally involved. More so than normal, at least.
“What’s this woman mean to you, Van?” Sam asked quietly.
“She’s in trouble and she needs help,” Donovan said, avoiding the question. “That’s what she means to me. Some asshole has made that baby girl afraid of men. A part of me doesn’t even want to imagine what they’ve all been subjected to, and we come across a lot of horrific shit in our line of work. At this point you’d think we’d seen it all, and yet I find myself surprised every time I come across some asshole who abuses women or children.”
Garrett winced in sympathy. “I hear you, man. But the day we become immune to it is the day we need to hang up the job. It has to mean something to us or we couldn’t do what we do. We aren’t fucking robots without empathy or emotions. Every mission means something.”
“Every mission is personal,” Sam said, echoing a statement he’d made many times in the past. “Just some are more personal than others.”
“And this is one of them,” Donovan said softly. “I can’t explain it, but yeah, this is very personal to me and I’m not going to look the other way.”
Sam put his hand on Donovan’s shoulder and squeezed. “You know we have your back.”
Donovan smiled. “Yeah, never doubted it. Never will. I’ll call Maren. You put a call into Steele. Get him to stand down. I know it will kill the control freak in him, but explain the situation. Tell him I’d never put Maren into a dangerous situation and that I’ll have her covered every second we’re there.”
“Will do,” Sam said. “But Van? And I’m probably wasting my breath saying this, but don’t let your emotions overrule your common sense. If you get in too deep, take a step back and let one of us go in. We’d be more objective and you know we’d get the job done.”
“No one is doing this but me,” Donovan said, his voice more fierce than he intended. “She’s mine. They’re mine. And I protect what’s mine.”
EVE stopped by the couch where Cammie lay sleeping and swept her hand lightly over Cammie’s forehead, frowning when she still felt the evidence of fever. She closed her eyes as she withdrew her hand, not wanting to wake the sleeping child, and walked toward the tiny kitchen area in the hot, muggy trailer.
She filled a glass of water from the tap, not bothering with the ice from the antiquated ice trays in the freezer. Those were saved for Cammie. Eve used them for the drinks she gave Cammie but also to cool her down when her fever got too high.
If she didn’t pay the water and electric bill soon, they’d be without both. Electricity they could do without. It wasn’t as if they had air-conditioning for relief. Being in the darkness didn’t bother her. The heat did.
And it was hot today. No breeze to filter in through the windows and give any relief. She’d spent precious funds on a box fan from the thrift store and pointed it at the couch so Cammie would have some relief from the heat and maybe aid in lowering her fever, but it was still sweltering, even though it wasn’t even noon yet. And if they lost electricity, they’d lose the small measure of relief the fan provided.
Yet one more thing to worry over. As if she didn’t have enough already just trying to provide food for them to eat.
She took stock of the meager supplies she’d purchased before Travis had gone in to work at the hardware store. She’d stretched the money as far as she could, buying only what was necessary. Food. The fan for Cammie. And more medication. Even buying the generic, she’d winced at the prices.
While she’d been out, she’d stopped in a small coffee shop not too far from where Travis worked and had spent a few precious minutes on the Internet. Looking for any sign that Walt was close. For any new developments. What the latest accusations were he was flinging her way.
All she’d accomplished was renewing her utter panic as she’d gone over the news stories in the local California papers and seen that even a few larger news outlets in the bigger cities in California had picked up on the “human interest” story of a deranged, emotionally unstable woman who’d kidnapped the two children of a wealthy, respected man.
Eve wanted to put her fist through the computer screen. Lies. All of it lies. But who would believe her? Who would ever believe that Walt was the monster and not her? That he was the sadistic, abusive father instead of the doting, worried, grieving man he portrayed to the rest of the world. He had everyone who mattered fooled. Only she—and Travis and Cammie—knew the truth.
Eve’s mother had known the truth, and she’d paid for it with her life. Eve could never prove it, but she knew, she knew that Walt had killed her mother. It wasn’t a guess. She knew absolutely. And so did Travis. They kept that from Cammie. It was something she never needed to know. She had enough to fear from her father without knowing he’d killed their mother. But Eve and Travis knew and they lived with the knowledge every single day. That if they ever went back, they’d be going back to hell.
Eve would be locked away, if not in jail, in some mental institution where they’d make a vegetable out of her. And Travis and Cammie would be returned to a man who’d destroy them.
It was only a matter of time before the news carried farther than California. Maybe it already had. Walt had the connections, and it was evident he was doing everything in his power to make the media carry the story far and wide. So there’d be no place for Eve to hide. No hole deep enough. No corner far enough out of the way to escape his reach.
An Amber Alert had already been issued for Travis and Cammie. Eve’s face was plastered on many a billboard as the one who’d kidnapped the children. She was listed as highly unstable and to be approached with caution, as she could be armed and dangerous.
That was laughable. She’d never even held a gun in her hands. Wouldn’t know how to use it. There was a lot she regretted. One was thinking, as many people did, that she’d never have need of self-defense. That she’d never be touched by situations calling for violence. Or to defend herself from violence.
She was a naïve fool, and now Travis and Cammie were paying the price for her ignorance.
Her first instinct was to hide behind blissful ignorance. Not to seek out information or remind herself of what she was running from. But that would be the height of stupidity. She couldn’t afford blind ignorance or to ever believe for one minute that she was safe. Hidden. Out of Walt’s reach.