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Ezra had just dropped the girls off at school, Eve had invited Bella to ride with them, when his cell phone rang. He returned the Jag to park and pulled the phone from his pocket.
Ezra, Chris. Listen, I hate to ask this but the only way JD can be discharged from the hospital is if he can stay with you during the day. I know youve got your hands full with Eve and all but
Fear not, Mr. Larabee. I am more than willing to oversee Mr. Dunne while he convalesces. It is the least I can do until I am able to return to work. If you will ask Mr. Wilmington to bring him a few changes of clothes, he may as well stay here with us.
Are you sure, Ezra? You know what hes like when hes ill.
Quite sure. Consider it practice for the future. In the event that my daughter should ever fall ill, I shall need the experience.
Chris hung up the phone and turned to face the others, the odd grin still shining on his face. He shook his head as he replayed the conversation again.
What is it, Chris? Vin asked, seeing the look on the blondes face.
He said he would not only keep the kid during the day but he suggested that we bring him clothes and let him stay around the clock for a few days. He said he can use the experience in case Eve ever gets sick.
Buck chuckled. It would seem that the child is mellowing our southern friend.
Eve was surprised to see Vins jeep instead of her fathers Jag when she stepped out of school that afternoon. She hesitantly crossed the parking lot and locked a questioning glare on the Texan.
Dont worry, nothing happened. Your dad sent me to pick you up because hes looking after JD at your place. Jump in and well pick up Italian on the way home.
She wouldnt believe it until she saw it for herself. Eve fidgeted all the way home. Her great sighs and tapping toes were all signs of the stress she was feeling. It took forever to get the food at the Italian restaurant. They had stopped at a pharmacy first to pick up JDs medicine and then at a quick shop for soda and snacks. By the time they got to the restaurant, Eve was sure that they were keeping something from her. She gripped her book bag against her chest as she scowled out the window of the jeep. As soon as the vehicle came to a stop in the parking lot of the complex, she was off like a shot, racing to the elevator and leaving Vin to bring up the bags.
The door flew open and the child raced in and looked around. Spotting her father in the kitchen, she threw down her bag and slammed into his chest, bawling loudly.
Eve, sweetheart, whatever has you in such a state? Did something happen at school today? Did something happen on the way home? What? He got no answer as his daughter pulled herself up until she wrapped her legs around his waist. He shifted his grip on her and looked in helpless confusion at the others.
Vin entered the apartment, juggling all the bags and trying to close the door with one foot. Nathan and Josiah went to his aid. Chris and Buck stood at the edge of the kitchen tiles as if afraid to enter. They had all witnessed the hysterical face of the child when she burst into the apartment. Ezra carried her into the living room and sat on the end of the couch, rearranging Eve so he could cradle her in his arms and shelter her from seeing the concerned faces of the rest of the team.
Eve, please talk to me! What has gotten you into such a state?
Between hiccupping sobs, she tried to speak.
I-I was afraid, be-because Vin p-p-picked me up at school. I-I thought s-s-something had h-h-hap-pened to you. It w-was like when they c-came to t-t-tell me that my m-momma died and I was s-s-scared!
The southerners eyes looked pleadingly at the others. He was at a complete loss as to how to deal with the terror that their simple miscommunication had caused. Vin knelt at Ezras feet and reached for Eve.
Hey, kiddo, I told you everything was okay, didnt I? Did ya think I was lying to ya?
She unwrapped her arms from around Ezras neck and regarded the man kneeling before her. His eyes were full of concern and she reached out to encircle his neck with her arms.
It was JD who voiced what the child was feeling.
They didnt tell you why they were picking you up from school the day your mom died, did they? They just put you in a car and took you somewhere and told you, didnt they?
The curly head nodded as it was burrowed in Tanners neck. Chris knelt and tapped her shoulder. When she looked up at him, he made her a promise.
If anything happens to your dad, we will tell you right away. We wont keep it from you. You just gotta know that we would never do anything to hurt or upset you, kiddo. If we ever have to bring you bad news or scary news we will all come and be with you, okay? I promise.
After staring into the intense hazel eyes, Eve sniffled a couple of times and then nodded. She would accept him at his word. Lifting her eyes to her father, she reached for him again. He lifted her from Vins arms and started toward the stairs.
You all go ahead and eat. I need to have a long talk with my daughter.
Arriving in Eves room, Ezra sat on the foot of her bed and cradled her in his arms. She continued to sniffle and nuzzle against his silk shirt for several minutes.
We have to talk about this, sweetheart. You know that my work is dangerous, right? I cant do my job if I have to be worried about what is going through your head all the time. Now, I have been considering a change of vocation since you came into my life. We need to do some serious consideration about this. I know youve only just lost your mother and youre afraid of losing me but you cant go through your life worrying about that. If something should happen to me, you will be provided for. You dont ever have to worry about going into foster care again. Those men downstairs would be fighting each other for the opportunity to take care of my little girl. I love you, Eve, and I will do everything in my power to come home to you but there may be times when I cant for some reason and you need to trust that youll be all right.
A tear filled nod rubbed against his shoulder and he pressed his lips against the top of her head. They sat together for a couple of minutes before she pushed away from him and kissed his cheek. She pressed her forehead against his before climbing off of his lap and holding out her hand. He took the offered hand and let her lead him back downstairs.
The smell of rich, Italian food wafted halfway up the stairs and they both hurried to get to the table. Food was waiting for both of them in the microwave. Eve ignored the offered plate and went straight to Vin and wrapped her arms around his neck. She whispered something into his ear and he nodded and whispered back before hugging her tightly. Wiping a few more tears from her green eyes, Eve turned to the others seated around the table.
Im sorry I upset everyone. I guess I over-reacted.
No problem, kiddo. Were still getting used to each other. Well be more careful in the future. Now, eat your supper before it gets cold. Chris said softly, smiling at the child.
After they had eaten, the group sat around talking for a while before they noticed that JD seemed to be hurting again. Nathan took the young man into the room that he would be using while he stayed in the condo and insisted that he try to rest. That was the signal for the others to begin leaving for the night. When the last of them had gone, Ezra noticed that Eve had disappeared. He checked her room and the bathrooms before he heard her voice coming from JDs room.
Uh-huh, and the doctors wouldnt tell me anything cause Im just a kid. Meg finally told me what was wrong with my momma. She explained about AIDS and how a person gets it and how not to get it and how I had to be careful at the hospital when I visited.
Its good that you had her to talk to, it sounds like. Were you with her at the end?
No, not the very end. Meg took me to visit on Sunday afternoon. Momma said she didnt know how much longer she could hang on. Meg lifted me up on the bed so I could touch her and hold her hand. She was having a hard time breathing and there was all this medicine running into her arms. I got to hug her one last time. She died some time the next morning; they came and got me out of class to tell me. Did you get to be with your momma when she died, JD?
Yeah, I was right there holding her hand. She looked up at me and smiled. She said she was real proud of me and that she loved me and then she was gone.
That musta been hard, huh?
Yeah, it was. But at least I knew she wasnt hurting anymore, you know? It was kinda peaceful knowing that she was in Heaven and not in pain anymore.
Do you think my momma went to Heaven? I heard some kids say only bad people use drugs and get AIDS. Im not sure if she went to Heaven or not.
As he stood outside of the room, Ezra cried. Of all the uncertainties in her young life, to have to wonder if her mother made it into Heaven. Just as he was thinking of charging in to try to reassure her, JD spoke again.
You know, when I was little and I went to Sunday school, they told me that if a person was sorry for the wrong things they had done, that God would forgive them and take them to Heaven anyway. Do you think your momma was sorry that she used drugs and got AIDS?
Uh-huh, she told me that she was most sorry because she couldnt see me grow up and get married and have kids of my own. And she was sorry that she never took me to meet my daddy. But she said her friend would take care of it and that he would come for me after she died.
Then Ill bet shes right up there with my momma and Vins momma, playing bridge, and having tea and talking about how proud she is of her little girl. Now you better get into bed before your daddy catches you and we get into trouble.
Ezra slipped into the bathroom as he heard Eve giving JD a kiss on the cheek.
Ill see you in the morning, JD. Do you like blueberry waffles? I bet if we ask, my dad would make them for us. Good night.
Waiting until he heard Eve close her bedroom door, Ezra crept out of the bathroom and stuck his head into JDs room. He smiled at the young man when he caught his eye.
Thank you, John Dunne. You have given her a peace that I dont think I would have found. I can almost picture Emily with your mom and Vins, looking down in pride at what they created.
Im glad I was able to comfort her. I cant imagine not knowing if my mom went to Heaven or not. Poor kid, no wonder she was so scared this afternoon.
Get some rest, JD. Ill see you in the morning. Were having blueberry waffles.
After looking in on Eve, Ezra went to bed and settled in to a relaxing sleep. It was the first night since she arrived that Eve didnt come into his room during the night.
As promised, Ezra made blueberry waffles for them for breakfast that next morning. Eve and JD had a lively conversation as they enjoyed their food. After he dropped his daughter at school the next morning, her boxes began to arrive from Memphis. Ezra stacked them in the foyer until Eve arrived home to decide what to do with them. He also received a certified letter from an address in New Orleans. Taking the letter to the dining table, he held it with shaky hands.
Ezra? What is it? JD could see from the couch that the southerners expression was one of apprehension.
I dont know as yet, Mr. Dunne. Its from the same town as the cassette tape that told me about Eve. I dont know why but I am suddenly filled with trepidation at what this letter may contain.
The young man came slowly to his feet and made his way to the table and sat down. He looked at the envelope as it lay on the table. Ezra stared at it as if the plagues of Egypt might be held inside its manila depths. Finally, he sighed and reached for a letter opener from the bureau. He carefully slit the end of the envelope and upended its contents onto the table.
A necklace clattered softly on the table, followed by several loose snapshots and finally several pieces of stationary. Ignoring the paper, Ezra picked up the pictures. The first one was of Emily holding Eve in the hospital. The next was Eves hospital picture. There were several snapshots of the mother and daughter at different times over the first year of his daughters life. A piece of cardboard held a dark curl of hair and a date under a yellowed piece of tape. The plastic covered identification band from the babys ankle also clattered on the table.
With trembling hands, Ezra fingered the lock of hair. He picked up the necklace and stared at it as the light from the window made it sparkle. Finally, he picked up the letter and opened it.
My dearest Ezra,
I wish I could have seen your face when you saw her for the first time. Your daughter was the only thing that made me hold on for as long as I did. It wasnt until after they had taken her from me that I found out your true last name. I debated telling the caseworker but I knew that they would give her to you and I would never see her again. Forgive me for being selfish but I just couldnt face the thought of losing her. Im so sorry for all of the things you missed. My friend Joanie will send you the pictures and things that I left with her if you let her know that it is all right. The necklace you are holding was the one I was wearing when we met. You made some comment about how it sparkled like my eyes and I treasured it. Please take good care of our little girl and know that I did the best I could.
Thru the tears that streamed down his face, Ezra studied the necklace again. He clearly remembered the night he had commented on it, she was standing on the balcony of his hotel room in the moonlight and her skin glistened with sweat from the humidity. She sparkled in her innocence and beauty.
JD pulled the pictures across the table and looked them over. He couldnt help but smile at the face in the photo. Eve looked so much like the pictures he had seen of Ezra as a child that there was no denying she was his daughter. He stacked the pictures and left them on the table as he quietly rose and slipped back into his room.
When Ezra finally looked up from the letter he noticed that JD had left the table. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the tears from his face before picking up the phone and dialing the number on the bottom of the letter from Emily. The phone rang only a couple of times before it was answered.
May I speak to Joanie? He was put on hold and transferred.
Joanie Adkirson, may I help you?
This is Ezra Standish, I believe you knew my former paramour, Emily Turnbull? You sent me a tape and a certified letter.
Yes, I knew Emily. How is Eve? Is she taking it all right?
Eve is doing well. Shes at school right now. The letter said that you have other things to send. I would appreciate anything you care to let me have for both Eve and myself.
I have a box of stuff Emily left when she moved back to Memphis. There are several albums of pictures of the baby and some other stuff. She wasnt sure you would want it.
Anything you have, I will pay for the shipping if necessary, Eve has nothing of her mothers that I can tell. May I ask a question, if you were so close to them, why didnt you try to get Eve?
Her parents blocked it. They didnt want the child but they didnt want any of Emilys friends to have her either. They dug up all the dirt they could find on any of us who tried to get the kid. We had to settle for waiting for Emily to die so you could get her.
Does Eve know you? Will she know who you are if I tell her where these things came from?
She may not remember. She was only four or five when I saw her last. Im just glad that shes safe and happy. Ill ship the rest of Emilys things tonight. I have to go now. Thanks for calling, Mr. Standish.
As Ezra hung up the phone, JD came out of the bedroom.
Are you okay, Ezra?
Yes, I will be fine, JD. Would you like to take a ride to the office for a little while?
Cant wait to show off those pictures?
Can you blame me? Look at her, she was a beautiful baby!
The two men laughed as they left the condo and headed for the office.
Friday evenings were usually reserved for a visit to the saloon but with JD not feeling great and Ezra having Eve, they decided to gather at Standishs condo. Buck rented a couple of movies, one suitable for the child to see and one action movie for after she was in bed. Vin picked up snacks and sodas. Josiah had a big pot of his four-alarm chili. Chris brought some steaks to cook on the grill and Nathan brought some vegetable trays and a fruit salad.
Eve was delighted with the party that bloomed up as the guys arrived with the food. She made herself at home playing hostess. It had only taken her a short time to go through the boxes that had come and put the things away. She soaked up the attention that the team lavished on her. After the steaks were done, everyone ate and then they piled up in the living room floor to watch the movie.
Although she started out sitting beside JD, when the young man began to look uncomfortable, she moved to the other end of the couch and curled up on Buck. When Nathan suggested that they let JD lay down on the couch, she crawled into Josiahs lap as he was ensconced in her daddys big recliner. By the end of the movie, she was sound asleep. Vin volunteered to take her up to her room.
After the child was safely, soundly asleep, Chris brought in the cooler with the beer in it that had been waiting in the truck. The men helped themselves to more chili and snacks as the second movie was loaded. JD conked out about half way through and Ezra carried a blanket from the bedroom to cover him. After the movie, the men moved onto the front balcony to talk for a while.
You look like youre taking well to the domestic lifestyle there, Ezra, Chris teased.
I must admit, Mr. Larabee. There is something to be said for having someone looking forward to seeing you each day.
We look forward to seeing you, Ez, arent we good enough? Buck bellowed.
As charming an image as that brings, Mr. Wilmington, your smiling countenance is neither the first nor the last thing I would want to see each day. I have even found myself enjoying the company of our young friend in there. That boy has depths that I am only just beginning to fathom.
Nathan only laughed and shook his head as he raised his beer bottle in toast.
To the domestication of the shrew!
Amidst the gentle laughter, Ezra looked hurt. He clutched his chest and raised his bottle to his forehead.
Alas, you have wounded me, Mr. Jackson. The domestication of the shrew will occur when and if my darling mother ever has the opportunity to come to love Eve as I do.
As we all do, Josiah said softly as he raised his bottle again.
The team left after carefully removing all evidence of the beer from the apartment and cleaning up some of the mess. JD was roused and relocated to his bed and Ezra turned out all the lights before retiring himself to bed. They had agreed to meet at the ranch the next day to introduce Eve properly to the joys of horseback riding.
The men took turns riding with the child while others sat with JD on the deck. Eves delighted laughter rang out as she sat in front of Buck. The mustached man was tickling the girl along the ribs as she tried to block him with her elbows. A short time later, she rode out with Josiah. Chris delivered a pair of cold beers to the men on the deck as soon as Eve was out of sight. The blond eased himself into a chair and glanced over at the proud father.
Nathan said you might be able to do light duty in a couple of weeks if the surgeon will authorize it. JD should be back on his feet by then and at least we can start working like a team again. What do you think?
Looking up from the beer bottle dangling between his knees, Ezra sighed.
It would certainly be better than sitting in my living room watching daytime television. I had no idea that the American public had sunken to such a state.
Have you figured out what youre going to do about Eve?
As we speak, an agency is gathering suitable applicants for me to begin interviewing on Monday. I hope to have someone selected by the end of the week. As long as we are on the subject, Mr. Larabee, I may as well tell you that there is a possibility that I will be seeking to find another position within the unit if possible. I am concerned that my undercover work may keep me away from home too much and is too dangerous now that I have Eve to consider.
With a resigned sigh, Chris nodded.
Cant say I didnt expect it. We can try to find another undercover agent. I want you to stay with the team, though; you have an insight that catches things the rest of us might miss. Just let me know when you decide, Ill take care of things with the judge.
Gratitude shown from the green eyes as the men stashed their beer bottles when Josiah and Eve rode back into the yard. The dark headed moppet was sound asleep, reclining easily in the profilers right arm. Nathan reached out and eased the child down and carried her to the house. Ezra spread a quilt on the couch and cocooned his daughter before kissing her on the forehead.
They agreed to spend the night at the ranch. After a hearty supper, Chris and Vin built a bonfire and they gathered around it as the sharpshooter played his harmonica. He drifted from tune to tune until a soft voice began to sing along. Eves voice was pure and clear as she sang the words without thinking.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are gray. Youll never know dear, how much I love you, please dont take my sunshine away.
Vin blended into another song and Josiahs deep bass joined the haunting tune.
Down in the valley, the valley so low. Hang your head over, hear the wind blow. Hear the wind blow dear, hear the wind blow, hang your head over, hear the wind blow.
The songs continued for several minutes, each person joining in when they recognized a familiar tune. Vin let a smile break from behind the harmonica as he started on Row, Row, Row, your boat.
Eve started the round and Ezra joined in, JD and Buck came in together, Josiah, Nathan and Chris all jumped in on the last round. When the song ended, Eve giggled as she looked around at all of her Uncles. She sat, wrapped inside of her fathers jacket, securely in his arms as she watched the fire.
Having run through his repertoire of songs, Vin tucked the harmonica back into his pocket and sat enjoying the night sounds. Sitting under the star-studded sky, the young man felt completely at ease.
The group went their separate ways on Sunday afternoon to get ready for the workweek. Ezra drove over to Judge Traviss house just to reacquaint Eve with the older couple in case she had to spend time with them. Evie was as charming as ever, showing the girl around the house and the room she could use if she had to stay overnight. In the corner of the room sat a large dollhouse complete with furniture and a little family. The girls eyes sparkled as she shyly looked at the room.
Go ahead, dear. You can play with it. We always hoped that Steven would have a daughter to play with it but, well it just wasnt meant to be.
Ezra turned to the woman with grateful eyes as he watched Eve kneel and carefully rearrange the family members inside the house. After a couple of moments, the child was completely engrossed in play, making up voices for the people as they went about their lives in the dollhouse.
Why dont we go down and have a cup of coffee while she plays?
The two adults returned to the kitchen and Mrs. Travis poured them both a cup of coffee. They discussed the weekends events and Eves making friends with the little girl in the complex. Finally, Ezra worked up the courage to ask a few serious questions.
Can you tell me if Billy ever questioned where his father went when he died? I overheard Eve telling Mr. Dunne that she was afraid that her mother didnt go to Heaven because she had used drugs and had AIDS.
Oh that poor little dear! Who would have given her that idea? No, we always told Billy that his father was watching over him from Heaven. What did JD tell her?
A gentle smile lifted the corners of Ezras mouth as he replied. He told her that if her mother was sorry for what she had done wrong that she was in Heaven, having a tea party with his mother and Mrs. Tanner. It seemed to comfort her.
Bless him, JD is such a good boy. Evie brushed a tear away from her eye. Have you figured out what you will do with Eve when you return to work?
Yes, I will begin interviewing this week for a suitable person to be available to pick her up after school and stay until I arrive home. I would also like your permission to set a time that, if I am not home for some reason, she may bring Eve to you.
Of course! Whatever time you feel is appropriate. Not too late that she cant get bathed and ready for school the next day. You just use whatever time you usually arrive home and add a half hour or an hour.
Thank you, Mrs. Travis. Let me tell you again how much I appreciate you and the judge stepping up to speak for me, Ive never had that kind of support.
Evie placed a hand on Ezras shoulder. You just didnt work with the right people. What does your mother think of Eve?
My mother has yet to come around to the idea that she is a grandmother. I believe she is off in Monte Carlo or some other place sulking.
Shell come around. How could she possibly not love that little girl?
When Eve had finished playing with the dolls, she came down and slid into her fathers lap and draped her arms around his shoulders.
Im tired, daddy, could we just pick up something to eat and go on home?
After casting an apologetic look at Mrs. Travis, Ezra gathered his daughter and headed for home, stopping at a Chinese restaurant to pick up supper for the both of them. Buck returned JD to the condo several hours later.
Interviewing someone to care for his daughter turned out to be both easier and more difficult than Ezra expected. Some of the applications he had were clearly inappropriate while others raised questions in his mind as he reviewed the work histories. He tried to avoid his natural inclination to run background checks on the women until he had met them face-to-face.
After three days of interviews, Ezra was becoming frustrated with the process. He had not found one suitable candidate among the ten women he had met with. As he was picking Eve up from the Hernandez apartment, Mrs. Hernandez asked him to come in and sit down.
I understand from Eve that you are interviewing for a nanny to keep her after school? I would be more than happy to keep her until you arrive home in the evening. She and Bella get along so well together.
I appreciate the offer, Mrs. Hernandez, but its more than just keeping her after school for a few hours. There may be times when I will not be able to get home until quite late, if at all and I have made arrangements for her to stay with friends. She would have to be delivered to them at a certain time in the evening. I wouldnt want to impose on your kindness.
Its not an imposition, Mr. Standish. Eve is a delightful child and we enjoy having her here. If you cannot make it home, I am willing to deliver her to your friend.
Youre certain it wont be too much for you? I genuinely appreciate the offer but it would have to be a long-term commitment. I will make other arrangements for the summer but I need to be certain that I have a plan in place for the remainder of the school year.
I will keep her until the end of the school year and I can probably even help you to find things to keep her busy during the summer as well.
Then all that is left is to arrange remuneration for your services.
The woman tried to kindly refuse the offer of payment, but Ezra was adamant. They agreed on a nominal amount and to get together another afternoon to work out the particulars as they were immediately interrupted by the girls coming down to ask for a snack. They exchanged pleasantries for a few more minutes before returning to their own condo.
With the problem of childcare attended to, Ezra found himself actually looking forward to the doctors appointment the next afternoon. Both he and JD were to be evaluated by their respective specialists before being given the okay to return to light duty. The box from Mrs. Adkirson arrived via Fed-Ex that morning. The two agents spent a couple of hours looking through the photo albums. Emily had tried to record all the prominent moments in the childs early life.
Through a misty veil of tears, Ezra saw his daughters first smile, her first bath, her first steps, and her first haircut. Christmas and birthdays and other holidays that he had missed filled an album by themselves. He barely had time to pull himself together before he drove the two of them to their appointments.
After they were both approved for light duty, the two agents went by the office to break the news to the team. They found the rest of the team in the conference room with Team 9 going over a bust scheduled for the next evening. They were moving on a tip that a major shipment of stolen military-grade explosives was being sent by train through Denver to a group in Montana.
They only stayed a short time as Ezra had to pick Eve up at school. They spent a few hours playing Monopoly with the girls as part of a math assignment making change. After supper, Eve asked if she could call Mrs. Crawford.
While his daughter was on the phone, Ezra played the single message on his machine.
Ezra, dear, after careful consideration, I have decided to come to Denver and meet your offspring. My plane arrives at eleven; you can pick me up since you arent working. See you in the morning, dear.
JDs eyes widened slightly as he looked at the undercover agent. Ezra deleted the message and turned his attention to the end of his daughters conversation with Mrs. Crawford. His emotions were held carefully in check as he tried to figure out how to handle the situation.
I can, um, go back to my place tomorrow. Now that Im released to light duty, I dont need to stay here with you any longer. Ill be okay during the day and Buck will be home at night.
Thank you, JD, I hadnt even thought that far ahead. Of course, you may return to your own abode whenever you feel comfortable. I dont want you to take my mothers arrival to mean that I want you to leave. You are welcome to stay here as long as you need.
Thats okay, the headaches are almost gone and I can get around in the apartment on my own. Besides, your mom scares me a little. He admitted with a blush.
Yeah, she scares me too sometimes. I just hope that Eve can deal with her.
Therein lay the rub. As badly as he wanted his mother to love his daughter, he was afraid that that Eve would end up hurt. He would do anything to protect the child from his mothers rapier wit and razor sharp tongue.
After supper that night, he tried to prepare Eve for Maudes arrival.
Eve, sweetheart, my mother, your grandmother is coming to visit tomorrow. I just want to, I just want you to know that,
Looking into the optimistic eyes of his daughter, his words failed him. There was no way he was going to set the child up for that kind of hurt. He smiled brightly and smoothed her hair down her back.
I just want you to know that you will still have my attention any time you need it, okay? If you need to talk to me or ask me something, you just come right out and say it.
Okay, daddy. Whats she like?
My mother is, shes very, well, very proper. She isnt around kids a lot so she doesnt know a lot about what kids like to do.
The next morning, he dropped Eve at school and dropped JD back at the cesspit before heading to the airport to pick up Maude. As soon as she came through the security checkpoint he could tell that she had not had a good flight. Her hair was not as neatly coiffed as it normally was and her face was drawn and tight.
Ezra, dear, thank goodness! I just want to gather my bags and go someplace quiet. There was a screaming baby on the plane in the first class section! Can you believe it? It screamed and cried the whole time. I sincerely hope this child of yours has the ability to be silent when it is appropriate.
The southerner held his tongue. He would not address the issue in the airport in front of all of those people. After collecting her bags, they headed for the parking garage. He had deliberately parked farther from the terminal to avoid having the Jag dinged by other cars in the garage. Maude grumbled and fussed as she followed her son.
Honestly, Ezra, you couldnt have found a spot closer to the building? Walking on this concrete in these heels is killing me.
I am quite sure that the walk will not kill you, mother. You chose to wear those impractical things. The walk is good for you.
After stowing her bags in the trunk, he unlocked the door and opened it for her. Taking her elbow, he guided her into the car and closed the door after her. He didnt say anything until they exited the parking garage.
Mother, before we arrive at the condo, there are a couple of things we need to get clear. First of all, you will be using the office on the first floor for the duration of your stay. I have acquired a rollaway bed for you to use. Secondly, you will not, under any circumstances upset my daughter or belittle her or any of the other things that you used to do to me as a child. If I get so much as a hint that Eve is upset by something youve said or done I will relocate you to the nearest hotel. Is that clear?
The angry tone in her sons voice shocked Maude more than the things hed said.
Ezra, dear, there is no need to take that tone with me. I have no desire to cause your daughter to experience unhappiness. Although I can only imagine the horrendous habits and lack of manners that she may have will be distasteful, I will do my best to overlook them.
See that you do.
The rest of the ride was silent. Maude sulking over the way her darling baby boy seemed to have turned on her and Ezra worrying that Eve would be hurt somehow. They arrived at the condo with just enough time to unload the suitcases and get her settled before Ezra left to pick Eve up from school. He called Mrs. Hernandez and told her that he would bring both girls home.
Eve was excited at the prospect of meeting her grandmother. All her life, she had wanted to have grandparents like the other kids. At recess, she had questioned Bella at length about what her daddy meant when he said that his mother was very proper. When her friend didnt have an answer for her, she went to the counselor to ask. Unfortunately, the counselor wasnt any help either so she decided she would just have to wing it.
After seeing Bella to her door, they took the stairs to the next floor. Eve suddenly clung to Ezras coat sleeve, her eyes wide with fear. Recognizing her fear, Ezra picked her up and propped her on his hip. Her little arms wrapped around his neck and she nuzzled against his cheek.
You smell good, daddy.
Thank you sweetheart. You ready?
He unlocked the door and stepped inside. Hanging Eves book bag on the hook hed put up for her, he stepped into the living room. Maude turned from where she was standing near the balcony doors and stared, open mouthed, at the two of them.
Good Heavens, Ezra, shes the spitting image of you at that age except for the hair. Your hair was always curly like that though.
Eve, this is your grandmother, Maude.
A tiny voice squeaked from the childs throat. Hello.
Well now, is that any way to greet your grandmother? Come over here and let me have a look at you. Dont tell me your father does your hair?
Uh-huh, and hes getting good at it. I brush out the tangles and he puts it up for me.
Lowering his daughter to her feet, Ezra took her hand and squeezed it gently. She looked up at him and smiled before crossing to the woman towering over her. Maude knelt down and took the outstretched hand. She studied the child from head to toe.
Shes what your sister would have looked like if she had lived.
Shes what? What sister?
I never told you? Right before your father left, I had another baby, a girl. There was something about her heart; she died when she was only a few days old. I cant believe I never told you.
Never mind, mother. What should we do for supper tonight?
Can we have that noodle dish you made the other night again? My daddy makes the best, what was it called, storg, stroma, stroganoff I ever ate! Eve loved her fathers cooking.
How about we go out for supper? We could go to that Greek restaurant downtown.
Eves green eyes showed that she wasnt too sure of that idea.
Ezra, dear, I hardly think a Greek restaurant is going to be appropriate for a child. Perhaps there is a restaurant that would be better for us to get to know one another?
They ended up at a Chinese restaurant. Maude was surprised when the child ordered intelligibly from the menu. She suppressed a smile when the urchin prompted her father to order something other that the plain vegetable stir-fry. While they were waiting for their food, Eve filled her father in on her day.
In spite of her preconceived notions, Maude found herself entranced with the child. She listened in fascination as Eve explained the teachers theory on the creation of the universe. He questioned her on some point and the child proceeded to draw him a picture on the back of the paper placemat she had been given.
Much to Ezras considerable surprise, his mother and his daughter got along famously. Eve wrapped Maude around her finger and the next afternoon, the Standish women went to a spa together. Ezra was stunned to find that his mother had taken the child and paid for her to have a facial and a manicure and pedicure. He could only shake his head and smile.
When it came time for his mother to leave, for the first time that he could remember in his life, Ezra regretted seeing her go. It was the most pleasant time he had ever spent with the woman. Eve hung on her grandma and made her promise to return as often as possible.
A couple of days after Maude left, Eve received an invitation to the birthday party of one of her classmates. The girl, Kimberly, was not part of the in crowd according to the child but she liked her anyway. That was one of the things that he loved most about his daughter, she had been poor and mistreated and now that things were better for her she still liked people because of their personalities not just their place in the pecking order.
Parking the Jag in front of the small, rundown dwelling, Ezra escorted his daughter into the house. A small cluster of children from the school was gathered in the living room, playing some kind of party game. Eve placed her package on the table along with the others and went to join the game. The mother of the birthday girl came out of the kitchen and introduced herself.
Hi, you must be Eves father, Im Kims mom, Patty Lawson. You can pick her up at two, thats when I expect to be done with the food and opening the presents and all.
If its all the same to you, Ill stay. I would prefer to keep an eye on Eve.
The woman shrugged her shoulders. Suit yourself. Can I bring you a soda or a cup of coffee? I was just brewing a fresh pot.
Id like that, thank you. Ezra followed the woman into the kitchen where she was decorating a cake. She poured him a cup of coffee and invited him to sit on one of the stools on the other side of the counter.
He found himself telling the woman about how he had only recently acquired custody of his daughter. She told him about her husband leaving her all alone to raise their two children. He found himself enjoying the company of a person who could understand the things that he now worried about, homework and school projects, Girl Scout meetings and parent-teacher conferences.
When Patty expressed dissatisfaction with the rosettes she was trying to make for the birthday cake, Ezra offered to give it a try. While the woman watched in amazement, he turned out several small, perfect, icing roses. She left him to finish decorating the cake while she organized the next game with the children in the other room.
The children gathered around Kim as she sat on the throne opening her gifts. The children squealed in delight at every package. Ezra sat in the far corner of the room just watching the girls when he noticed that one of the girls had what appeared to be bruises on her arms. She also had the fading remnants of a black eye.
Patty caught Ezra observing the girl and made her way around the crowd.
Weve reported it to the authorities and they say they cant do anything about it. Mitzi wont tell anything when they question her and they cant prove anything.
When the party was over, Ezra stayed to help with the clean up before leaving with Eve. His daughter chatted happily all the way home. He paid very little attention to what was being said, as he couldnt get the image of the bruises on Mitzis arms out of his head. He refrained from asking Eve about the girl because he didnt want her in the middle of any unpleasantness.
At the Girl Scout meeting the following week, Ezra noticed fresh bruises on Mitzi and a cast on her arm. From his place at the corner of the table beside his daughter, he watched Mitzis mother closely. It was immediately obvious to him that the mother was also being abused. He carefully avoided making eye contact with the woman because he didnt think he could control his expression.
While undercover a few days later, he caught the news report of the brutal murder of a young mother. The woman had been beaten with a baseball bat and dumped in a park in Purgatorio. She was identified by name and her picture was flashed on the screen. Ezra excused himself from the table where he was playing cards with the man they were investigating for smuggling untaxed cigarettes into the area. Ezra pulled his cell phone and called the Travis home.
Hello, Mrs. Travis, I just wanted to make sure that Eve was all right. I just saw on the news where the mother of one of her classmates was killed.
Im so glad you called, Eve is with Mrs. Hernandez. She was so upset about Mitzis mom and she wanted to stay with Bella. I hope you dont mind that I let her stay. All of the kids were upset about the situation.
What happened to Mitzi? His concern now turned to the thin, scruffy looking child he had seen at the birthday party. He hoped the child had been spared the horror of witnessing her mothers death.
Shes still with her father. Why do you ask? The older woman could almost feel the tension through the phone.
Never mind, tell Eve that I love her and Im thinking about her. He ended the call and returned to the table. The men looked up at his return and he shook his head. Just checking on things at home. Got a new puppy and hes chewing up everything. He rolled his eyes expressively and the men believed the lie.
One of the men suggested a 38-caliber solution for the problem amidst general laughter. Ezra chuckled along with them and returned to the card game. He quit when he lost the small stake he had brought in with him; his mind just wasnt in the game.
Once Ezra had ascertained the delivery time and date, he returned to the office to help set up the bust. Vin had blueprints of the small, abandoned office building that they were using to store the goods until they could sell them. The team went over the plan carefully. Chris wanted to make certain that no one would get hurt.
In the few hours before he had to return to meet with the suspect, Ezra did some checking on the murdered woman. The police had no clue as to who had killed her. The body had been nearly frozen before it was dumped, eliminating the possibility of determining when she died. He asked JD to hack into the Family Services database to get the hot line complaints that had been called in on Mitzi. Of the several calls, the investigator could not find enough proof of abuse to remove the child. Before he had to leave the office, he called Eve.
Hey sweetheart, are you being good for Mrs. Travis? He tried to sound upbeat so as not to worry the sensitive child.
Yes, Daddy. When are you coming home? I miss you.
Very soon, Eve. Hopefully in a few hours I will be there to get you. I just wanted to hear your voice. I love you, kiddo.
I love you too, Daddy. Be careful. Uncle Vin said he was gonna make sure that nothing happened to you. Uncle Josiah and Uncle Chris picked me up from school and took me to the library to do the research for my project. I hope that was okay.
Its fine Eve. I have to go now. Ill see you in a few hours, hopefully. Be good.
Love you, Daddy. Eves voice dropped to a whisper and she replaced the receiver in the cradle. She took several deep breaths to calm her racing heart before turning to Mrs. Travis. In her most steady voice she said that her daddy was coming to get her in a few hours and she was going to pack.
Casting a look at the Judge, Evie wrung her hands. This was the first truly dangerous situation Agent Standish had gotten into since his return to work and she was concerned for the child. Slipping quietly up the stairs, she found Eve laying across her bed, crying. She went to her side and gathered the child into her arms.
What is sweetie? Can you talk to me about whats bothering you?
Im scared for my daddy. Im afraid he wont come home like Mitzis mom. I didnt tell him that Im scared, though, cause he will worry about me. Can I stay up until he comes to get me?
You have school tomorrow, sweetie. You know your dad would want you to get some sleep. Time will pass faster if youre asleep. You know, like Christmas, you go to sleep the night before and all of a sudden its morning. Would it help if I read to you for a while?
Getting a nod from the child, Evie went to find a suitable book while Eve bathed and put on her pajamas. After drying her hair and putting it in a braid for the night, Evie settled the child in bed and began to read to her. It took nearly an hour for the worried green eyes to stay closed.