Home > After the Storm (KGI #8)(12)

After the Storm (KGI #8)(12)
Author: Maya Banks

God, but Eve hated that fear. It gutted her that her baby sister at such a tender age had learned that the very person she should be able to trust most had proved to be a monster. No child should learn fear at such a young age. It made Eve want to weep, but she couldn’t give in to her despair. At least not in front of Cammie and Travis. They depended on her. They needed her. They needed her to be strong. To show no fear or uncertainty. If it killed her, she’d swallow it all back and put up a brave front for her siblings.

“How did they know where we lived?” Eve asked Travis softly.

Guilt surged into Travis’s eyes and she hurried forward, touching his shoulder, having to reach up to his greater height. So tall and strong. A man long before his time. Like Cammie, he should still be a child, with a child’s innocence, and without the knowledge they now held like poison.

“Trav, it’s okay,” she reassured.

He shook his head. “No, Evie, it’s not. I wasn’t careful enough. They must have followed me from the hardware store. I saw a truck following me but I didn’t want to draw attention by running. I had . . . I had hoped it was just a local going in the same direction and when I turned down our road, I paused to look back, but they drove on. They must have doubled back. I’m sorry.”

She pulled him into a hug. “They seem nice. They came all this way to pay you what she owed you and to work out hours you could go in. I’m sure they mean no harm.”

The lie passed easily from her lips. Yes, they seemed nice. Normal. But appearances could be deceiving, as she well knew. Her stepfather was the picture of normal, wholesome. Wealthy. Well connected. A philanthropist. Involved in local politics. Nothing to hint at what lay underneath the smooth, polished exterior. It sickened her.

“Do you want me to quit?” he asked anxiously. “Maybe I should try somewhere else. It just seemed too good to be true. She pays cash. Hasn’t asked any questions. She’s been really nice and I let my guard down.”

“No. I think it would be even more suspicious if you suddenly didn’t show up, especially since they came out and were so nice. They’d wonder why you quit. And another employer wouldn’t be as accommodating. You got lucky. Most wouldn’t pay under the table. And it’s only temporary. Just a few more days until Cammie is well enough to stay with you so I can work.”

“I don’t mind,” he said fiercely. “You’ve done so much for us. This is the least I can do. I won’t let you work yourself to death like you’ve been doing. It’s not fair. You’re supposed to have a life, Evie. You’re young and beautiful and now you’re saddled with two kids to take care of when you should have a family of your own.”

“You are my family,” she said just as fiercely. “I love you and Cammie. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hate what we had to do. I hate that we have to hide and move. You and Cammie should have a childhood and not be forced to grow up. You’re a teenager, Trav. You should be in school with other kids your age. Playing sports. Having fun. This isn’t fair!”

“Evie?”

Cammie’s soft whisper had her and Travis both turning, and Eve instantly regretted having this conversation in front of her.

“We’ll be okay, won’t we?”

Eve rushed to the couch and sat, pulling Cammie into her arms and hugging her tight. She stroked her blond curls and pressed a kiss to her sweet head.

“Of course we will, darling. I don’t want you to worry. Promise me.”

Cammie pulled away and offered a tentative smile and then glanced over at Travis. “We’ll be together always, won’t we?”

Travis sat on Cammie’s other side and wrapped his arms around both Eve and Cammie.

“You betcha, little sis. We’re family. Just like Evie said. We’re going to be fine. He’ll never find us. No one will ever hurt us again.”

Eve’s heart ached at the tenderness and determination in Travis’s voice. She swallowed back the knot of emotion and blinked at the sudden sting of tears. And savored the feel of her siblings in her arms. As if she could protect them from the world. Damn if she wouldn’t do whatever was in her power to ensure their well-being. Whatever she had to do. There were no limits to her love or the sacrifices she’d make to keep them safe.

She turned her face up toward Travis. “Just this week, okay? If you can work this week, then Cammie will be better and I’ll find work. Something during the day so I won’t be gone in the evenings. We can have dinner together. Just like family.”

“I’m feeling better, Evie,” Cammie said in a solemn voice.

Eve stroked her hand through Cammie’s hair and then kissed her temple, leaving her lips there for a long moment. Against flesh that was still warm with fever.

“I know you are, darling. But you need to rest a few more days. No reason to rush now, is it? Tomorrow I’ll do some grocery shopping and I’ll be sure and buy you a special treat.”

Cammie’s eyes lit up. “A treat? I love treats!”

Eve smiled. What little girl didn’t? There was a thrift shop not far from the hardware store where Travis worked. She’d go early, before Travis was due in to work, and see what she could find. Cammie needed a few more shirts and shorts. Something cool since they didn’t have air conditioning and the temperatures were already quite warm despite the earliness of summer.

“It will give you something to look forward to,” Eve said, squeezing Cammie to her once more.

   
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