Brighter Than the Sun Page 53

Grace smiled at her, tears shimmering in her eyes. “I can’t believe we get to share this. I can’t think of anything more perfect.”

• • •

JOE strode into the war room hoping no one looked too closely at him. He looked—and felt—like shit. He hadn’t slept worth a fuck the previous night despite gaining Rusty’s assurance that Zoe would be at his house tonight. He was too focused on the one hundred and one other things that could go wrong, resulting in him not having a chance in hell with Zoe.

A day ago he would have said he was only two inches from pathetic. Today? He’d long since surpassed pathetic and gone straight to desperate.

He nodded at his older brothers but didn’t stop to talk as he made his way to where his team was standing.

“Hey, hold up a sec,” Donovan called.

Joe stopped and turned around to see Donovan jog to catch up with him. He had a concerned look on his face. Fuck.

“What’s up, Van?” he asked lightly.

Donovan’s eyes narrowed in a don’t-feed-me-that-line-of-bullshit manner. “Everything okay with Zoe?” he asked, lowering his voice so they weren’t overheard. Joe appreciated that at least.

“I don’t know. Yet,” Joe added. “I’m getting there, though. I should know what I need to know tonight,” he added vaguely.

Donovan frowned, studying his younger brother a long moment. “Anything I can do?”

Joe sighed. “Did you dig anything up on her family? Parents? Siblings? That sort of thing? You didn’t mention them so I assumed she didn’t have any, but I didn’t verify that with you.”

Donovan slowly shook his head. “She was an only child. According to my report, her parents died in a car accident when she was seventeen years old. Didn’t find anything about foster care, but it’s not unusual for a seventeen-year-old to be emancipated by virtue of being ignored instead of a court order. Could be she didn’t pursue help and just went it alone. The hell of it is, she was likely smarter to do that. There are a lot of great foster care providers out there, but there are also a fuck ton of leeches in it for the check every month too. It appears she was smart and resourceful and made it on her own. She has grit, and that’s admirable.”

“She shouldn’t have had to go it alone for so fucking long,” Joe said around his tightly clenched jaw. “Admirable or not, it sucks not to have anyone to lean on or be there to help pick you up if you fall.”

“You planning to be that person in the future?” Donovan asked casually.

“Bet your ass, I am,” he snapped.

Then he realized just how neatly his brother had baited the trap and how quickly he’d fallen right into it. He scowled darkly at Donovan and stepped into his space, his finger up and pointing.

“You say one fucking word or smile even one fucking smug smile and I’ll rearrange that smile for you,” Joe growled. “Furthermore, you say shit to anyone, and that includes the other clowns I call brother, and it gets back to Zoe or it causes a problem for her, then there’s going to be a serious problem between you and me. The last thing I need right now is yet another reason for her to push me away, not let me in or run the hell as fast and as far away from me and everyone here as possible. You got me?”

Donovan barely managed to stifle his laughter but it was there, gleaming in his green eyes. But instead of needling Joe any further, he surprised him by dropping the smirk and adopting a look of complete seriousness.

“Meant what I said, man. You need anything, anything at all. Don’t care what time of day it is, where I am or where you are, you call me. I’ll be one pissed-off big brother you ignore me on this. We clear?”

Joe nodded, not trusting himself to speak around the knot in his throat.

“How’d you get Eve to trust you? In the beginning, I mean,” he said when he’d regained his composure.

Donovan’s gaze softened at the mention of his wife. “I didn’t give her any choice,” he admitted. “I was an ass, if you want to know the truth. But I was a desperate ass. She was going to—hell, what am I saying—she was running. From me, from everyone else. And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it other than to press my advantage and use every tool available to me, including coercion and manipulation.”

He winced but continued on. “Not proud of the way I handled it, but neither do I regret it, because however I accomplished my goal, Eve is here. Travis and Cammie are here. Safe. Loved. Taken care of. Not out there still running or, God forbid, if her bastard stepfather hadn’t been taken out and she were still on the run, she could, right this minute, be in his hands, under his control.” Donovan shuddered, his eyes going dark with anger and . . . stark fear and pain. “So no, I don’t have any regrets, because at the end of the day, they’re all safe. Sometimes . . . well, it has to be said. Sometimes the caveman approach really does work the best.”

Joe burst into laughter. “This is rich. You, who always lectured me and the rest of our brothers on the correct way to treat a woman. Who was always critical of our caveman, knuckles-dragging-the-ground methods and the fact that we weren’t sensitive enough to women’s needs. And now suddenly when it’s your woman we’re talking about, you’re practically beating your chest while grunting and growling my woman. I’m surprised you don’t drag her around by the hair. Or that you allow me and the rest of the men in the family to even look at her, much less talk to her.”

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