Home > After the Storm (KGI #8)(10)

After the Storm (KGI #8)(10)
Author: Maya Banks

The woman was beautiful. Scared. Haunted. Shadows hung from her like picture frames. But she was stunning. She was too thin. It was obvious they were struggling to even survive, and yet her fragility only made her more beautiful. He was mesmerized by those eyes. Could simply stand there and stare into them, picking out all the different flecks of gold and chestnut.

“It’s Eve,” she said huskily. “My name, that is. Cammie and Trav call me Evie. It’s their pet name.”

Donovan knelt on the threadbare carpet in front of the couch and smiled warmly at the child. “You must be Cammie. Pretty name for a very pretty young lady.”

She looked confused and huddled more fiercely behind Eve’s back. Eve reached over her shoulder to snag Cammie’s hand that had crept up toward Eve’s neck.

“It’s all right, Cammie,” she whispered. “He won’t hurt you.”

Even as she issued the promise, she turned hastily, staring pleadingly into Donovan’s eyes as if begging him not to make a liar out of her. Goddamn, but it sickened him that these two females—and their brother—had been conditioned to expect harm from others. And not just others, but particularly men.

Cammie had been nervous, yes, when Rusty had moved in her direction. But when Donovan had approached, the child had panicked and damn near climbed up her sister’s back.

He wanted to demand to know who the hell had hurt them, who had taught them pain and fear and who the hell they were running from. Then he wanted to take apart the son of a bitch with his own hands, and the very next thing he wanted was to ensure that nothing would ever harm this ragtag family again.

How crazy was that?

Five minutes in their presence, and he was ready to rush in, take over their lives and make them promises he had no business making. And no guarantee that he could even keep them since he didn’t have a f**king clue what they were up against.

“No, sweetheart,” Donovan said gently, it taking absolute concentration not to give in to the fiery rage brewing inside him. “I will never hurt you. Never. You can take that to the bank. I’d like to help you. Your brother and your sister. I’d like to be your friend.”

Both Cammie’s and Eve’s eyes went wide. Cammie looked uncertain, while Eve froze. Not a single tremor went through her body. It was as if she’d turned to ice. He could feel her staring at him, staring holes through him as if trying to figure out who and what he was. If he was a threat. If he was telling the truth.

Goddamn it, but he’d never felt so damn helpless in his life. He was a man of action. He wasn’t one to f**k around and play games. He never hesitated when it came to someone needing help. And yet he knew he couldn’t do that here. This was a delicate situation that he had to tiptoe through as though walking through a minefield. One that could blow up in his face at any moment.

“We don’t have any friends,” Cammie mumbled. “Evie says it’s not safe.”

“Cammie, shhh,” Eve said, turning swiftly to silence the child. She turned back to Donovan, a weak smile wavering on her face. “Cammie has a very active imagination. Most four-year-olds do, you know.”

She was nearly the same age as his niece, Charlotte. Charlotte, who was surrounded by a huge, loving family. Charlotte, who never had to worry where her next meal came from. Or if it would come. Charlotte, who had doting uncles and aunts. Grandparents to spoil her rotten. And an entire organization of badass military operatives who’d start a f**king war to protect her.

This child was the complete antithesis of his niece and her life, and it broke Donovan’s heart.

Rusty cleared her throat and inserted herself to alleviate the sudden awkwardness wrought by Cammie’s confession.

“As I was saying, Travis—and Eve—I can work Travis in a few hours every day this week, and of course he’s welcome to come in next weekend as well. I’m absolutely flexible, so whatever works for you is fine with me.”

Unease crossed Eve’s face, and then she glanced down, shame and embarrassment flashing in her eyes before they were hidden from view.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “But I don’t intend for him to have to work long. Just until Cammie is better and I can leave her. I don’t know if things will work out here, so I’d hate for you to depend on Travis when we only plan for him to have a temporary job.”

“And why wouldn’t they work out?” Donovan prompted carefully.

Her eyes became shuttered, the golden flecks dimming as her expression became indecipherable. She lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug. “There are no guarantees. Ever. It may or may not work out that we can stay here. I have to prepare for reality.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Donovan challenged. “What then?”

“We move on,” she said simply.

She said it so matter-of-factly that Donovan knew this wasn’t new to them. He had no idea for how long they’d been running or how far. But relocating on short notice—and often—was not foreign to them at all.

He thought a whole host of crazy things. Things that would have his brothers thinking he’d lost his goddamn mind. Maybe he had. He had to get a grip. Take a step back, take a deep breath and gain some perspective before he did something really crazy like haul every one of them out of this dump and move them into his brand-new, very empty house, which had finished construction mere weeks before.

It was a house built with a large family in mind. The family he knew one day he wanted to be his. Though he had no immediate plans. No specific woman in mind. No one waiting in the wings. No one he was even considering. He hadn’t allowed anyone that close.

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