***Truckstop near Navasota***
Donovan paced the tarmac outside the RV. They had arrived just before dawn. Vic had texted his aunt then grabbed a couple hours of sleep. The woman had arrived a while ago. He stared at the closed door, “What the hell is taking her so long?”
Vic reclined in the folding chair by the door with a cup of coffee in his hand as he studied something on his phone. “My tia is thorough. And….”
“And that girl needed to talk to someone,” the older woman smiled as she took the cup of coffee that Vic held out. He had made it for Donovan, but he had not been still long enough to touch it.
Donovan bit back a snarky comment about talking being all that Selena did. “How is she?”
The woman took a long sip then met his eyes, “The pregnancy is perfectly normal. It’s still a bit early, so I did not try to listen to the baby’s heart. I was afraid that it would only upset her if I didn’t manage to get it yet. I did give her one of my herbal teas for nausea and made a couple other suggestions.”
Her smile broadened, “But that is not what you want to know, is it? Your woman has a mild concussion. Possibly a hairline fracture of the eye socket, too. But the only way to know that would be an x-ray. And….”
“She refuses to see a doctor.”
“Si, and honestly, at this point, there isn’t much they can do. I expect she’ll continue to have the headaches and dizziness for another week, maybe two. If it goes longer than that, then you have to convince her to see a doctor. But other than the pain killers, there is nothing more that can be done for her. Rest is the best medicine.”
“Garcias, Tia Lupe.”
“De nada, Vic,” the woman put the cup down. “I had better get going. Hector will worry about me. What are your plans, sobrino?”
Donovan caught the hint of concern. While this man had been nothing but kind to them, something in his gut told him that Vic Flores was running from something besides being a witness to what had happened in Vegas. The man had even hinted along those lines once or twice. But the look that passed between them reminded Donovan of how little he actually knew about their savior.
“Houston. I’m headed to Houston.”
The look that the woman gave him set off alarm bells in Donovan’s head. “Madre de Dios.”
Vic held up a hand and smiled, “Do not worry, Tia. I know what I’m doing.”
“No, Vic, por favor, don’t do it. You were never like them….”
Vic shook his head and gave the woman a stern look. Whatever the woman was going to say froze on her lips. But there were tears in her eyes, and her thickly veined hand trembled as she placed the coffee mug on the folding table next to her nephew. She rose from her chair slowly and shook her head before making the sign of the cross.
The man rose from his chair and embraced her. “I promise everything will be alright.”
“Walk me to my car,” the woman looked between them.
Vic set his cup down and wrapped his arm around the woman’s stooped shoulders. “I’ll be right back.”
Donovan sank into the chair that the woman had vacated. It was still warm, but that barely registered as he watched them argue. He caught a few words in Spanish but not enough to get an idea of what they were talking about.
“Do you trust him?”
He turned with a smile at the sound of her voice. The bruises around both eyes and cheeks were mottled green and yellow now. Only a few splotches of blue, purple, and black remained. He hurt deep inside just looking at her.
But he was still more worried about what was happening inside his woman than those bruises. She tried very hard to bluff it all away with that cool exterior that had gotten her so far in a man’s world. He saw the truth. Jolene Monroe was more vulnerable and broken right now than Selena.
He had more sense than to try and point that out. No, his job was to support her, to do whatever it took to help her rebuild her life. No, to build a life together. Because as brutal an awakening as this whole thing had been, it showed him one thing – there was no place in that world for people like him or Selena. Or even the revered Jo Monroe.
He chose his words carefully with that in mind, “He’s been nothing but helpful.” And it was true.
“That wasn’t what I asked. Do you trust him?” There she was, that glimmer of the brilliant mind and strong woman he had fallen in love with that first night in Vegas.
He shook his head, “No, but I’m not sure I trust anyone right now. Except you.” He added as he held out his hand. The man was walking back towards them. His head was down like a puppy after being chastised. Jo took his hand, and he pulled her into his lap, “But let’s hear what he has to say.”
The man was silent as he slumped into the other chair. He picked up the empty coffee cup and cussed. “Do you want some?” Vic turned to them. Jo nodded and added a sweet but strained ‘please.’ It was clear that whatever the old woman had said to the man bothered him.
Selena came back with him, carrying two cups while Vic had two more. The man passed his to Jo, and Donovan took the one that Selena held out. Vic nodded to the girl to take the remaining chair and instead sat cross-legged on the tarmac.
“I can leave you here. With this many truckers, you’d probably be able to find a ride to wherever you want to go. But you might need to break up. And frankly, I’m not too sure how easy it will be for you to find a lift.” His gaze met Donovan’s.
The man left the rest unsaid. But he knew that alone or with Jo, the color of his skin made the difference. And if they split up, well, there was no way he was letting Jo go anywhere alone. Of course, Selena alone would have no trouble finding a ride, but safety would be questionable.
“Or you can all go with me to Houston.” Vic lifted his mug to his lips but did not meet Donovan’s gaze.
“Why Houston?” Damn, just the tone of her voice got him hard. Not that he had not enjoyed caring for the broken bits of her these past few days. It was another side, a more human one that Donovan got a feeling few people saw.
Vic shrugged as he swallowed, “I have some family business there.”
Donovan was not that surprised that the answer was vague. But he was shocked that Selena was the first to speak, “Lupe says that she can provide my prenatal care and I can have the baby at home.” There were tears in her eyes as she looked between him and Jo, “I’m going with Vic. It’s the best chance for the baby.”
Jo nodded her head and inhaled deeply, “And have you thought about what you’ll do when the baby is born. Assuming they don’t find us first.”
The girl dropped her head, and her voice cracked as she spoke. “Lupe said she can find it a good home. That was my plan all along. I’m not ready to a mother. Especially not….” Her words filtered off into quiet sobs.
“You realize that any adoption won’t be legal without Junior’s signature?”
He winced at the way Jo kept pushing the girl. But he realized that it needed to be done. Selena was not Jo. He stifled a chuckle at the revelation.
“She’s willing to falsify the birth certificate. So it wouldn’t be an adoption. It would be as if it were their child.”
This time it was Vic that Jo’s glare fell on, “You realize the trouble your aunt could get into….”
“Si, I’m not happy about it. And before you get the wrong idea, it isn’t something my tia has ever done before. But when she heard the story, she just wants to protect Selena and the baby.”
“Then maybe, if he thought I had…. Maybe I could just go back to my life.”
Jo shook her head and blew out a long breath. Would she disabuse the girl of that fact? Or allow her to hang onto the illusion that neither of them had any longer? There was no going back. For any of them. Not since those bullets in the elevator and certainly not since the parking lot in Vegas.
“I’m not sure about this plan of yours,” Jo addressed Vic. “But she’s right. Selena needs to be somewhere stable where she can get the proper medical care. So, for now, I’ll sign on, too. At least until I heal a bit more and come up with a better one.”
And if Jo was going, then so was he. “But one condition. If your cover story is this non-traditional marriage, then I’m Jo’s lover, not Selena’s.”
The man threw back his head and cackled as Jo turned to him with one of those glares she used on the most recalcitrant opponent or Junior when he got on her wrong side. “It’s not negotiable, sweetheart. I’m not pretending to care about one woman when I love the other.”
“Poly, I love it. Okay, so a three-bedroom apartment it is then.” Vic laughed, “Oh, this is going to be good.”