Home > After the Storm (KGI #8)(9)

After the Storm (KGI #8)(9)
Author: Maya Banks

But Rusty wasn’t going to be put off. Donovan had to hand it to her. She was ferocious when she set her mind to something.

“Can we come in?” Rusty asked. “We won’t take but a minute. In addition to the money I owe you, I realized we hadn’t discussed your work schedule beyond this weekend, and I would like to have you come in a few hours each day if you’re interested. If we could come in and talk a few minutes, then we can get it all worked out and we’ll be out of your hair.”

She smiled as she said it, even nearly fooling Donovan with the innocence of her request.

Travis gave a panicked, deer-in-the-headlights look as he glanced over his shoulder and then back to Rusty and finally letting his gaze flicker warily over Donovan.

Rusty edged forward, even as the kid was obviously racked with indecision, like she was confident that her normal request would be granted. She was already on her way in before Donovan could make a grab for her. Damn it, they had no idea what was inside this house or why the occupants were scared out of their minds. He didn’t want Rusty—or himself—to be caught in the middle of a dangerous situation.

Travis stepped back and sent a look of apology toward the inside. To his sister? Someone else?

But Donovan didn’t give him a chance to change his mind. He pressed forward, keeping close on Rusty’s heels in case he needed to shove her down quickly and cover her.

The very first thing he saw was a very young child—a girl—huddled on a tattered couch riddled with holes, a takeout box from the sandwich shop down the street from the hardware store perched on her lap.

Her mouth was smeared with ketchup and mayonnaise and her hands full of the burger Travis must have brought home. The one Rusty had bought for him and had told Donovan that he hadn’t wanted her to know he hadn’t eaten. Now they both knew why. He had brought it home to his sister—just a baby—because she was likely starving.

Donovan was gripped by rage as his gaze swept over the living room—if you could call it that. They were living in absolute squalor. It wasn’t that the interior was messy or unkempt, as if they were slobs who discarded trash or food on the floor. In fact, what was there was neat and well ordered. But the condition of the trailer was deplorable.

In at least four places on the floor that he could see sat plastic bowls, presumably to catch leaks from the sagging ceiling. It had rained two nights earlier. He flinched to imagine them living here. No protection from the elements.

It was also then that he realized how warm the interior was. Hot, muggy. No air conditioning. The windows, such as they were, the ones not already broken out, were cracked to allow air to flow inside.

It took every bit of his control and training to keep his expression impassive and not to let free the full force of his reaction to what stared him in the face.

“Is there a problem . . . ,” the older sister began, her voice soft but laced with fear and hesitancy.

The minute Rusty had barged into the house, Donovan behind her, Travis’s older sister had immediately flown to the couch, placing herself between the young girl—she couldn’t be more than three or four—and Rusty and Donovan.

Though she tried to look calm and poised, it was obvious she was prepared to fight or flee at a moment’s notice. As if she’d had plenty of experience in . . . both.

“No problem at all,” Rusty said cheerfully. “As I said to Travis, I wanted to pay him the cash I accidentally shorted him for the hours he worked today, but I also wanted to check with him so we could work out times for him to come in and work this next week. That is, if he’s willing.”

Travis and his sister exchanged quick, worried glances.

Donovan cleared his throat, determined to add his own two cents.

“Perhaps it would be best if you introduce yourself—and me—so she knows who her brother is working for,” Donovan suggested pointedly.

Rusty’s hand fluttered. “Oh, of course. How rude of me!” She strode over to where Travis’s sister sat and thrust out her hand. “I’m Rusty Kelly.”

The woman tentatively took Rusty’s hand but remained silent. Donovan’s gaze narrowed.

Rusty turned in Donovan’s direction. “That’s my older brother, Donovan Kelly. Well, one of them,” she added with a grin. “There’s a lot of us Kellys! Six older brothers, if you can believe it. Not to mention all the other unofficial family members Mama Kelly has adopted over the years.”

Donovan didn’t blame the woman’s look of utter bewilderment. He drew up short of shaking his own head at Rusty’s exuberance. She was overdoing it just a little in the let’s-get-nice-and-friendly effort. And it wasn’t working to relax any of the occupants of the room. If anything, they looked even more ill at ease.

The child clutched at her older sister’s hand and edged more firmly behind her, her eyes wide as she swiped at her mouth with the back of her other hand.

“Who are they, Evie?” she whispered. “What do they want?”

Evie. Well at least they were getting somewhere.

Donovan took a step forward, risking that “Evie” wouldn’t tuck tail and run, the child hauled over her shoulder. He extended his own hand but wasn’t as forceful as Rusty had been. He simply held it out and waited for her to take it. If she would.

“Glad to meet you, Evie,” he said gently.

After a long moment, she slid slender fingers over his palm, and an electric sensation snaked up his arm and into his shoulder. Her touch was a shock, one he hadn’t expected. Neither had she, judging by the way she quickly yanked her hand back, looking up at him with even more confusion clouding those liquid amber eyes.

   
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