Bad Dreams

by Angie

This is for Sarai, who asked the question.

Follows events in ‘What’s Your Mama’s Name?’, ‘What I Did on Summer Vacation,’ ‘Unwelcome Visitor,” and "Take Your Daughter to Work Day."

The end of the school year was rapidly approaching and Ezra was going over the vacation plans he had made for Eve. She wanted to spend a couple of weeks with Mitzi, her friend from second grade, before the two of them took a vacation with Maude in France. They would arrive back in time for the grand birthday party he had planned for her.

Hearing the door to the condo open and close, he made his way out of his office and called out to his daughter as she hung her book bag on the hook on the wall. Eve had been at soccer practice and was wearing her team uniform. Her hair was pulled back in a single French braid with a large purple bow on the end. Ezra had learned that purple was the ‘in’ color for the time being.

“Home work?” He enquired as she headed for the refrigerator to pour a glass of apple juice.

“Finished it before practice. Coach had us doing drills and we had to practice in small groups so she could watch. Bella and I finished everything waiting for our turn,” she explained.

After finishing the glass of juice, Eve moved to lean against her father as he finished the report he was typing on his computer. She sighed aloud, causing him to lift his hands from the keyboard and turn to face her. Green eyes, a shade or two lighter than his own, were full of worry.

“What is it, Eve? Did something happen at practice today?” He studied her expression as she delayed answering. Her foot scuffed against the carpet and she stared with great concentration at her hands as she picked off the pale pink nail polish that she and Joelle had applied during recess the day before.

“Do you really have to go?” She asked softly.

Ezra sighed. The hardest part of his job was the time he had to spend away from his daughter. Even though Chris tried to limit his undercover work to only the most necessary cases, it still left Eve in the care of others for several days each month. Orin and Evie Travis were very good with Eve and she enjoyed her time with them but she was still terribly afraid for him.

“We talked about this, didn’t we?” He asked.

“Uh-huh, but I still worry,” she amended.

Pulling her close, Ezra kissed her forehead before capturing her face in his hands. It was almost impossible to imagine how his life had been before his daughter came into his life. Looking around the condo, it was even harder to imagine. There were pictures of her everywhere. School portraits adorned the walls, along with soccer pictures that JD had captured with ‘borrowed’ equipment. Pictures of father and daughter rested on the bookshelf alongside of pictures taken with Grandmother Maude.

The cold, unfeeling matriarch had, at first, refused to acknowledge her granddaughter. That is, until her first visit. The little girl absolutely stole Maude’s heart at first glance. The large oil painting of the three of them bore testament to the love that now encircled the Standish family.

“Have you finished packing? Uncle Josiah is really looking forward to having you for the weekend,” he reminded her.

Josiah was still recovering from gall bladder surgery and was on light duty for the next week. He offered to keep Eve for the weekend before turning her over to the Travis’s for the school week. Since joining the team, Ezra had been fending off the profiler’s ‘father’ instincts. After the arrival of his daughter, the southerner found that he was softening to the sentiment and building a stronger relationship with the older man. Josiah had promised Eve that she could help him to finish the jewelry box he was making for her.

“Yes, I finished packing. You’ll page me, right?” Eve asked with a more resigned tone.

“Every time I think of you,” he assured her. They had decided that since it was too dangerous for him to call her while under cover, he would page her instead. He had gotten a pager that would come up as ‘stolen’ if anyone checked. They worked out a code for messages he would send to her while they were apart. He had preprogrammed them into his phone and would send them several times each day and right before she went to bed.

The doorbell rang just then, distracting Eve from her brooding. Buck was picking them up. He would take them to drop Eve at Josiah’s and then take Ezra to the rental car that had been arranged. While Eve ran upstairs to collect her bag, Ezra opened the door.

“Buck, please come in. Eve is gathering her things. Can I get you something to drink?” The southerner offered.

“No, thanks anyway. How is she taking it?” The explosives specialist knew how hard it was for the new family to be apart.

Ezra shook his head, his expression clearly stating that she was not happy about it. He didn’t say anything out loud as Eve was barreling down the stairs, dragging her canvas duffle bag. Her face lit with a broad smile as she leapt from the third step.

“Uncle Buck! How are you? Is JD here too? I haven’t seen you in forever!” Eve exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around his neck and squealed with joy. Buck had stumbled slightly as he caught her before wrapping his own arms around her and tucking his chin over her shoulder.

“I’m fine, little miss. JD had to finish getting things ready for your daddy to go under cover. Are you ready to head for Uncle Josiah’s house?” He hated to rush them but traffic was going to be bad on a Friday afternoon and they had a ways to drive.

They gathered up the duffle bag and Ezra’s own suitcase before locking up the condo. Eve slid into the middle of the cab of the Chevy and waited for Buck to help her with the seatbelt. Her father got in on the other side and stretched his arm across the back of the seat and stroked her head with his fingertips. As soon as the engine started, the radio blared country music and Eve perked up as she sang along with the familiar tunes.

Pulling up in front of Josiah’s Victorian home, Buck shut off the engine and jumped out. He figured Eve would need a minute alone with her dad. As he watched through the back window, Ezra pulled her close and patted her head. The passenger door opened and Buck grabbed the bags and moved to the sidewalk. Eve snaked her arm around her father’s waist as they walked up the sidewalk to the porch. Josiah opened the door and waited for them.

“Eve, I’m so glad you’re staying to keep me company! We’ll take your things up to your room later. Come on in and sit down for a minute,” he urged.

Ezra pulled an envelope from his pocket and passed it to Josiah. An emergency medical authorization form and Eve’s insurance cards were inside. The profiler tucked the envelope into his back pocket with a silent nod. He ducked his head and tried to catch the little girl’s eye. He knew how hard it was for her to be away from her father for any length of time.

“Well, I have to go, Eve. Be good for Uncle Josiah and I’ll call you if I can,” Ezra told her as he pulled her close. He felt her hand go to the pager on her belt. “I love you, sweetie,” he reminded her.

“Love you, dad,” she replied as she kissed his cheek. Tears filled her eyes but she determinedly blinked them back and smiled. Putting on her brave face, she stepped back.

Leaving her was getting harder for him. As Eve became more comfortable with her new home, she was also becoming more dependant. The psychologist they worked with assured him that it was a perfectly normal part of her settling in that she would have separation anxiety. At least he had a name for the horrible feeling that made him out of sorts when he was away from her.

“JD’s waiting for us at the office and Nathan and Chris are at the meeting point. Everything has been set up for you,” Buck explained as the southerner prepared his mind for his next role. He was going in as a prospective buyer for untaxed cigarettes that were being smuggled in from the Utah area. The agent from Team 2 had already laid the groundwork for Everett Sands to come in and make an offer for the truckload of contraband.

As soon as the Chevy was out of sight, Eve sighed and left the window. Josiah had gone about his business, letting her get adjusted to being away from her father. When she turned and sought him, he smiled. She put on her game face and crossed the living room to see what Josiah was doing.

“What do you want to do for supper?” He asked.

Josiah stirred up a light meal for the two of them as Eve sat on the barstool and filled him in on the latest third grade gossip. After eating, they went to the workshop in the basement to look at the progress he had made on her jewelry box. She had picked out a beautiful etching of horses running across an open field for the top. Josiah was carefully burning the image into the lid while Eve sanded the sides with fine grain sandpaper.

They watched a movie and shared a bowl of popcorn before Eve showered and got ready for bed. Josiah went up to make sure that she was comfortable in the room and that she had everything she needed. When he showed her to the bedroom earlier, she’d stiffened up at the door for a moment. He wanted to tuck her in and make sure she was all right.

“Do you want me to leave the bathroom light on for you?” He asked.

“No,” she answered. Her eyes, normally bright with spirit, were carefully hooded.

“My room is just across the hall. If you need anything, call out, okay?”

“Okay,” she replied. Just then, her pager buzzed and she grabbed it. The code for ‘good night, I love you’ showed in the green glow of the LED and she kissed the pager gently. “Love you, too,” she whispered as she tucked the pager under her pillow.

Josiah left the room feeling that something was wrong but that Eve wasn’t able to let him know. He left the hall light on for her in case she woke up in the night. Returning to the living room, he watched the news before retiring to bed.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra glared around the small room and huffed. He hated being housed in ‘flea bag’ hotels. The two full beds in the room were covered in matching gaudy spreads. Both mattresses felt like they were filled with tennis balls. The bathroom was appalling when he turned on the light and he vowed to make Chris pay for putting him through this.

After sending his page to Eve, he sat down and reviewed the files the team had assembled for him. The man from Team 2 was undercover as Paul Blake, a small time dealer and fence who was trying to branch out to the ‘big time.’ He would make contact with the man the next morning. After replacing the linens on the bed with his own, he crawled into bed and willed himself to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah rolled over and stared at the clock. He couldn’t figure out what had wakened him at 2:37 in the morning. Fluffing the pillow before he burrowed into it again, he heard the soft whimper. Tossing off the blankets, he hurried across the hall. Eve lay in a ball in the center of the bed, crying softly into her pillow. She had kicked off her blankets and was shaking. He picked up the blankets and draped them gently over the trembling body and sat on the edge of the bed. Reaching out, he brushed a lock of hair out of her face. She burrowed more tightly into the pillow and he eased off of the bed and left her to sleep.

When the alarm went off the next morning, Josiah shut it off and rolled out of bed. Pulling on his robe, he slipped across the hall to check on Eve. She was not in the room. He quickly changed and headed downstairs. He was relieved to find her sitting in the living room, watching cartoons.

“Hey, sleep good?” He asked as he caught her eye.

“Yeah. I didn’t wake you did I?”

“Nah, I set the alarm. Ready to eat? I can make pancakes or omelets. I might even have some oatmeal around here somewhere,” he offered.

“Oatmeal is fine,” she answered abstractly.

Once breakfast was out of the way, Josiah offered to walk Eve down to the local pool to swim if she wanted. She shrugged her shoulders without taking her eyes off of the television. He nodded and left her to watch cartoons. He went down to the workshop to finish the top of the jewelry box. Eve drew her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms around them. The sick feeling in her stomach was becoming harder to control. She quickly wiped away the tears that welled up in her eyes.

When the lid was finished, Josiah carefully wiped away all the dust and prepared to coat it with lacquer. He decided to go up and check on Eve before beginning that phase of the project. He stepped into the living room and stopped in his tracks. The child was curled up in a corner of the couch, asleep. He wondered if she’d been awake when he checked on her in the night and was afraid to say anything. Picking up a soft, fuzzy stadium throw blanket, he covered her carefully and left her to sleep.

By the time he had finished with the lacquer, Eve had wakened and came looking for him. She was awed by the delicate image burned into the wood and shiny under the high gloss coating. He showed her how he applied the lacquer so that it would look almost like glass. They went back up to the living room after she asked if he would play a board game with her.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra strolled into the small storefront and tossed a disdainful glance at the men around him. His contact from Team 2 made the introductions all around. The southerner continued to affect an air of extreme boredom as the men showed him their supply.

“Gentlemen, what you have on hand here is a mere drop in a bucket compared to my needs. If this is your entire operation, well, I’ll just have to keep looking for a supplier more on par with my operation,” he drawled.

“Mr. Sands, this is only a sample of our supply. Our link can provide all the cartons you could ever hope to sell. If you would be willing to give us an idea of what you need, I’m sure we can meet your order,” the man whined.

“I am not accustomed to dealing with underlings and gofers. Perhaps if I were to meet with the man in charge of your operation, we could more easily facilitate our business transaction. I do not have the time to wait for you to run back and forth between us with offers and counter offers,” he told them loftily.

+ + + + + + +

After lunch, Josiah took Eve to the pool for a couple of hours. She seemed more like her normal self when they arrived at the pool and happily played with the other children. While the profiler stretched out on a lounge chair with a good book, Eve played in the water. He called her out as soon as her pager buzzed so she could see the message from Ezra. She smiled sweetly as she studied the numbers on the display.

“He misses me,” she told him happily.

Ezra paged Eve twice more while she was at the pool. Each call delighted her; it let her know that he was all right and thinking of her. By the time they left, she was skipping and chattering normally. They stopped at a café and had an early supper. Eve stopped to chat with the older woman who lived next door to Josiah. The sun was going down by the time they went back into the house. Almost immediately, Josiah noticed that the child became quiet and withdrawn.

+ + + + + + +

The hotel room was lonely and Ezra sighed as he found himself thinking of all the things he could be doing if he was at home. The dealers had gone to try to arrange a meeting with the man in charge of the operation. He would not have contact with them again until after lunch tomorrow. After pacing for a while in the confines of the drearily decorated room, he walked out to the rental car and went for a drive.

The lonely southerner found himself being drawn to a brightly lit bar along a popular stretch of road. He pulled in and got out, determined to at least give the appearance of enjoying himself. After a while, a woman shyly glanced at the stool next to him and raised a questioning eye. With a shrug of his shoulders, he invited her to sit.

“You look like a man with a lot on his mind,” she whispered seductively.

“Just out here on business and home sick,” he told her.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah sat with Eve until she was dozing off on the couch before he carried her to bed. He tucked her in and smoothed her hair back from her face before placing a light kiss on her forehead. He returned to the living room and watched the news until he was feeling drowsy. As he passed the door of Eve’s room, he noticed that she was sitting on the edge of the bed, rocking slowly. He tapped on the door and stuck his head in to question her.

“Eve? Are you all right?” He flipped on the light and moved to her side. When he slipped his arm around her, she was shaking. Tears welled up in her eyes as she leaned into his side. Josiah pulled her into his arms and soothed his hand up and down her back. After several minutes, she was limp in his arms again and he slipped her back under the blankets. He hoped that Ezra’s mission didn’t take too much longer.

The peaceful night’s sleep was torn asunder by a scream of terror from the bedroom across the hall. Josiah rolled out of bed and hit the floor running. He flipped on the lights and looked for the child in his care. The bed was empty, the blankets in a twisted pile on the floor. His eyes scanned the room quickly. Finally, he noticed a small set of toes sticking out from beside the chest of drawers. He moved to the corner and knelt down. Eve was wedged as tightly as she could be in the corner, shaking and sobbing. When he reached in to touch her, the child’s green eyes came up and he saw the abject terror in her face.

“It’s okay, Eve. I’m not going to hurt you. Can you come out of there for me?” The soft purring tone of his voice didn’t penetrate the terror she was feeling and she shrank from his hand as if it were an asp. The trembling intensified until he withdrew his hand.

Backing away from the frightened little girl, Josiah returned to his room and picked up the phone. He hit the speed dial for Vin’s apartment. A sleepy voice mumbled something that sounded like a greeting.

“Vin, it’s Josiah. I hate to bother you in the middle of the night but there’s something wrong with Eve. Can you come over here right away?”

From pleasantly sleepy to fully awake, Vin snapped up in his bed and began pulling on clothes. He ran from the apartment and jumped into the Jeep. The brisk night air whipped through his hair as he raced through the streets toward Josiah’s house. The older man had not said she was ill, he said there was something wrong with her. He pulled up to the curb and jumped from the Jeep. The light in the second floor window told him where the girl was in the house. He hit the doorbell and waited.

Josiah had returned to kneel near Eve as she continued to sob inconsolably. He jumped to his feet and ran down to let Vin into the house. He followed the Texan up the stairs. Vin raced into the room and dropped to his knees in front of the little girl. Her hair was damp with sweat and she was clawing at the wall behind her.

“Eve? Sweetheart, are you all right? Can you come out of there?” Vin spoke softly as he reached out and tried to touch her. She flinched under his hand and almost cried out. She scrabbled at the wall as if trying to get away from him.

“We need to get her out of there,” Josiah whispered. Vin nodded and reached out to take hold of her arm. The little girl fought like a tiger, clawing and kicking, without making a sound. As soon as he had her out of the corner, Vin stumbled back and Eve landed on top of him. Her eyes opened for an instant and she saw the open door. Jumping to her feet, she ran out of the room and tore down the steps with both men hot on her heels. When she reached the living room, she jumped on the couch and huddled into a tight ball.

Both men approached her slowly as she continued to shake and push herself tighter into the corner of the couch. Vin sat down and reached out to pass his hand lightly over her back. She whimpered softly and nuzzled against the soft material on the couch. Josiah grabbed the fuzzy blanket he’d covered her with before and eased it over her. The material seemed to soothe her and she drew a deep breath and sighed. Vin stroked her back again and she relaxed a little.

“Do you think we should call Ezra?” Josiah asked softly.

“I’d rather we didn’t unless we really have to, he’s having a hard time with it as it is,” Vin explained. “He’s unhappy and he doesn’t like the hotel we put him up in.”

Just then, a small whimper sounded and Eve moved, stretching out and looking around her. The look on her face showed that she had no idea what had been happening. She looked at Vin and reached out to him. He gathered her to his lap and she snuggled against him.

“How about if I stay the rest of the night?” Vin offered.

Josiah brought down pillows and blankets and helped the younger man get situated on the couch with the girl in his arms. When he was comfortable, the older man returned to his bed and tried to sleep. It was a long time before he was able to relax enough to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

The pleasant woman at the bar spent most of an hour trying to talk Ezra into taking her home with him before giving up and moving on to the next prospect. The southerner finished the drink he had been nursing and slipped out of the bar. He drove back to the hotel and collapsed into an exhausted slumber.

When the southerner awoke, it was nearly noon. He rolled over and pulled his cell phone to send a page to his daughter. As he stared at the phone in his hand he came to a decision and closed the cell phone. He rolled toward the other side of the bed and reached for the hotel phone and dialed the number from memory.

+ + + + + + +

The warm bundle on his chest shifted and a small warm hand reached out and patted his face. As Eve stretched her limbs, her soft melodic voice drifted up to Vin’s ears.

“Good morning, Daddy,” Eve murmured softly before pushing away from the warmth of the body beneath her. “When did you get?” Her voice stopped when she realized it was Vin she was cuddled up with. A look of fear crossed her face and her eyes shimmered with tears for a moment.

“Eve? Do you remember what happened last night?” Vin asked as she scooted to the end of the couch, clutching the blanket to her chest.

“I, I had a bad dream,” she answered evenly.

“Can you tell me about it?” He asked.

“N-no, I don’t want to,” she denied.

“Might make you feel better,” he offered.

“I promised I wouldn’t,” she whispered. Her eyes pleaded with him to let it drop.

“Come here, sweetie,” Vin urged as he held out his arms. She launched herself at him and cried.

The phone rang and Josiah picked it up in the kitchen, where he had been hiding out to avoid being seen by Eve. The older man was certain that it was his presence that was causing the little girl so much grief.

“Sanchez,” Josiah said as he lifted the receiver.

“Josiah, it’s Ezra. May I speak to Eve?”

“Of course, she’s with Vin, I’ll get her for you,” he answered.

“With Vin? Isn’t he supposed to be in the surveillance van?” Ezra asked.

Josiah carefully sidestepped the question by pretending not to have heard it as he called into the other room. “Eve, it’s your dad.”

“Daddy!” The little girl called happily as she jumped from Vin’s lap and raced into the kitchen.

“Hey, sweet heart, how are you doing?” Ezra asked.

“Are you coming home soon? I really, really miss you,” she told him.

“And I miss you. Is everything all right?” He could hear the hitch in her voice.

“I just miss you. Can you come home?” Eve timidly asked.

“Not yet, sweet heart. Are you all right?” Ezra asked with a little more force.

“I’ll be okay. Just be careful, okay daddy?”

“I will. May I speak to Josiah again?” He asked.

“Here he is. I love you,” she whispered before handing off the phone and retuning to the couch.

“Ezra, she had a bad dream last night. I think she’s still a little upset about it,” Josiah explained.

“All right. This case is plodding along. I just needed to hear her voice. Take care of my little girl, Josiah. I have to get ready to acquire a meal and wait for Paul to get in touch with me again.”

“Be careful, Ezra,” the older man encouraged.

+ + + + + + +

After hanging up the phone, the southerner scrubbed his hands across his face. Something was bothering Eve and he was stuck half way across the state. The phone rang again and he picked it up, only remembering at the last second what name to use.

“Sands,” Ezra growled into the receiver.

“Mr. Sands, this is Antonio. I have arranged the meeting with my supplier as per your request. He has agreed to meet with you over supper tonight at 8PM. His limo will pick you up and take you to the restaurant. Be ready,” the man said before hanging up without waiting for a response.

Quickly pulling his cell phone, he called Chris to let him know that the meeting was set. They set up a meeting for the team to get set for the bust. If Ezra could get just enough incriminating information, they would move in and make the bust. They could offer a lesser sentence to the man at the top of the local distribution in exchange for the people higher up. It would allow them to get Ezra home to his daughter in time to see her off to school on Monday morning.

+ + + + + + +

After talking to her father, Eve was in a better mood. Vin offered to take her and Josiah out to lunch and they agreed. As soon as she was settled in the Jeep, the little girl brightened. They went to her favorite Chinese restaurant and spent an hour eating and talking. Her pager buzzed and she pulled it from her belt and glanced at it with a smile. After lunch, they went to the park and Eve played on the swings. Josiah’s head hung sadly as he watched her playing so normally.

“It isn’t your fault, you know,” Vin chided the older man.

“Did she act like this when she stayed with you?” He countered.

“No, but you know how it is with bad dreams. Anything can set them off and you have no control over them. She could be upset about something that happened at school or something she saw on TV. It isn’t you, she loves you,” the Texan stated with absolute certainty.

Almost as if to confirm Vin’s words, Eve ran over to show Josiah an interesting rock she had found near the swings. She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him before trusting him with the treasure and running back to play. The older man smiled at the smug look on Vin’s face. They spent a couple of hours watching Eve play and pushing her on the swings before they had to return to the house to get her ready to be dropped off at the Travis’s house. As Vin was getting ready to leave, Eve ran to him and pressed the ‘treasure rock’ into his hand.

“Give this to my daddy when you see him, okay?” She asked as she turned her best pleading look on the man.

“I will. You have a good time at the Travis’s. We’ll try to have your daddy home really soon,” he promised her.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra looked up from the book he was reading when the man knocked on the door. Closing the book, he moved across the room and looked out the peephole. Sighing as he let his face assume a bored expression, he opened the door. The limo was a stretch with twinkling running lights. The chauffer waited patiently for Ezra to collect his things and follow him to the car. He opened the door and another man stepped out.

“I hope you don’t mind, Mr. Sands, but my boss wants to be certain that you are not ‘wired’ in any way. This will only take a moment,” he said as he held out a metal detector wand. Ezra sighed as he put the book on top of the car and held his arms out from his sides. The man passed the wand around his body, pausing at the signal that announced a sizeable piece of metal. He patted the jacket pocket and pulled out the electronic day planner. After examining it carefully, he returned it. When the wand signaled again at Ezra’s ankle, he extracted the Kel-Tec P11 from the holster.

“It is never good to go into an uncontrolled situation completely defenseless, gentlemen. I assure you that I intend no harm to your boss. I never go out without it,” Ezra explained smoothly.

“You won’t mind if I hold on to this until we get back here, will you?” The man asked in a tone that would accept no resistance. He pocketed the small gun and continued to search with the wand. When finished, he gestured Ezra into the limo. The southerner picked up the book and slid into the seat.

The drive was made in relative silence. Neither man had any reason to make ‘small talk’ with the other. Ezra opened the book and continued to read. The small locator devise JD had given him was wedged into the spine of the book. A second signaler was in the day planner and a third in the sole of the under cover agent’s shoe. The team was taking no chances of losing him. The mountain scenery held no attraction for him, he trusted that the others would know where he was when the time came and he immersed himself in reading the novel.

+ + + + + + +

Eve hugged Josiah before taking her bag and heading for the room she used when she stayed with the Travis’s. Josiah pulled Evie aside and told her about the nightmares. In spite of the way the child had behaved during their time at the park, he still felt that it was something personal that was causing her bad dreams.

“She’s had a couple here. The doctor thinks that it’s stress and separation anxiety, perfectly normal considering her circumstances. She’ll be fine as soon as her dad comes for her,” Evie assured Josiah.

After a bath, Eve curled up on the couch to watch TV with Orin while Evie made hot cocoa for them. The child picked up her pager several times to check it to be sure it was working. It had been several hours since the last page and she was getting worried. It was almost her bedtime and she hadn’t gotten a message from her dad. She drank the hot cocoa and stared at the television without really seeing it as the sick feeling in her stomach began again. She curled her arms tightly around her ribs and drew her knees up in front of her.

+ + + + + + +

The limo pulled into the parking lot of a dilapidated looking building. Several other vehicles were parked around the asphalt lot. As soon as the limo parked, the doors opened and several people got out. In the dim light, only the orange glow of cigars and cigarettes gave away the locations of the men. Ezra closed the book and sighed. ‘Time to earn my pay,’ he thought to himself. He took out his cell phone and sent a page before shutting it off. When the man who had taken his gun raised an eyebrow, the southerner explained.

“I would not want an important meeting such as this to be disturbed. I am shutting it off,” he said as he showed the blank display to the man.

+ + + + + + +

The pager was damp with sweat from being so tightly clasped in Eve’s hand when it began to buzz. She quickly opened her fingers and looked at the display. ‘Good night, I love you.’ She translated of the numbers. Eve didn’t see the knowing smile the adults exchanged at her relieved sigh. She pressed her lips to the pager and whispered, ‘Love you, too.’

Orin stretched and made a production out of a big yawn before suggesting that they all retire for the night. Eve got up from the couch and climbed the stairs. Evie went along to see the child into bed.

“Josiah said you’ve been having bad dreams,” the kindly woman prodded.

“Yeah,” Eve whispered.

“Want to talk about it?”

“No. I’ll be okay,” she replied quickly.

Evie drew the blankets up and pressed a kiss against Eve’s forehead. She pulled the door closed and sighed. Orin was waiting for her when she slipped into her own room. Her husband was on the phone with Chris. She waited until the conversation was finished before inquiring about the progress of the mission.

“It will probably go down in the next little while. How’s Eve?” The older man asked.

“Worried, as usual. Josiah’s worried about her, too. She’s been having nightmares. He said she was screaming last night. He called Vin to come and help with her because she wouldn’t let him touch her,” Evie explained.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was escorted into the building. Surprisingly, the inside was recently remodeled and comfortable. A mahogany bar ran along one wall. The polished chrome railing that ran the length of the bar offset the marble inlayed top. Track lighting gave the room adequate lighting without being overpowering. What looked like a dance floor was surrounded by several booths. The men moved toward the bar and three men went behind it and began to serve up drinks.

Chris and JD watched the glowing blips on the monitor. They still had a good signal from Ezra but they weren’t close enough for the audio signal. As long as Ezra had the book with him, they would be able to use the emergency signal they worked out. If he needed backup, the undercover agent was to rap the spine of the book against something, the signal would be interrupted and the ‘cavalry’ would come to the rescue. They could see the assortment of cars and the limo sitting on the parking lot. JD pulled up information on the building from the computer while Chris angled the receiver to try to pick up an audio signal. They didn’t want to get too close because Nathan reported that there were still several men on the lot, smoking and drinking from the look of it. Buck called in their location to Team 2 and called for backup from the local sheriff’s department.

Turning down a drink, Ezra admired the finery of the bar. He knew what it cost to have something like that made by hand. The booths weren’t cheap either, leather instead of plastic or vinyl covered the seats and the tops were polished wood. Admiring and complimenting on the location of their meeting gave him a chance to get a feel for the place. He noticed several lighted ‘exit’ signs, as well as the location of the rest rooms. Another group of men arrived and there was a noticeable shift in the attitude of the room. He turned to face the man who was in charge of the operation.

As stealthily as a leopard, Chris, Buck and Nathan crept up on the group of body guards gathered between the vehicles on the west side of the building. Team 2 was taking the south and the local sheriff and his deputy were coming up from the east. The team leader pulled the big Glock from his belt and stood up from behind the Lincoln Continental.

“Is this a private party or can anyone play through?” Chris asked as he moved up on the men. One man went for the semi-automatic on the hood of the car and found himself staring into the business end of Buck’s weapon.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the explosives specialist warned. Another man went for something under his jacket and Nathan goosed him with the barrel of his gun.

“I do hope you were preparing to surrender that pop gun,” the medic growled. “And I assume you have a permit for this? It would be a shame to have to go to jail for want of a piece of paper.”

Inside the building, Ezra smiled as he extended his hand to the portly man. Bodyguards encircled them as they moved to one of the booths. The southerner prayed that the team had gotten close enough to record the deal so that it wouldn’t be his word against theirs when the bust happened.

JD grinned as he found the signal. He heard Ezra placing the book on the table as he discussed the unusually cool weather across the desert. The recording equipment hummed softly as the digital tape picked up every shuffle and cough in the vicinity of the undercover agent. Keying his mic, he told the others that he was ‘in’ and he would let them know when they could move in.

+ + + + + + +

Evie Travis was a light sleeper and she knew the moment that Eve began to whimper in her sleep. She pulled on her wrapper and crossed the hall to open the door to the other bedroom. She could see the frown on the child’s face and hurried to her side. As soon as her weight shifted the mattress, Eve came to life screaming and fighting.

Trying to calm the child, Evie reached out and caught hold of her arm. Eve continued to scream and claw at the light restraint. Orin had wakened when his wife rolled out of bed and he bolted when he heard the first screams. Slapping the light switch, he surveyed the room for whatever had set the child off. The lights started the little girl and she dashed from the bed and out of the room. Both adults followed her as she ran down the stairs. Miraculously, she didn’t fall as she fled whatever she was seeing in her mind’s eye. When she reached the main floor, Eve dove into the couch and curled into a defensive ball. Soft sobs drifted out from behind her hands as she pressed tightly into the furniture.

“Eve? What is it, sweetie?” Evie Travis asked softly as she reached for the girl. As soon as she touched the child, she felt the violent trembling. Casting a genuinely worried look to her husband, the older woman tried again. “Eve? Can you talk to me about it?” The little girl continued to press her body tightly into the couch and whimper.

+ + + + + + +

It was incredibly easy. Ezra marveled at the stupidity of the average criminal. The man stated that he had a contact inside the plant where the cigarettes were made and that he could get as much as he wanted. He was offering them at five dollars a carton. After agreeing to purchase a significant quantity, Ezra inquired as to where a person stored such a large quantity of ‘ill gotten gains.’ The man bragged that he stored them right under the nose of local law enforcement because his brother-in-law was the sheriff. He cut the man in for a percentage and everyone was happy.

“If I might be excused for a moment to visit the facilities, then we can conclude our business?” Ezra asked as he stood. The man nodded as he yelled across the room for another drink. The southerner picked up the book and left the booth. When he reached the rest room door, he rapped the book firmly against the doorway.

“That’s the signal. Move in,” JD called from the surveillance van. Knowing that the sheriff might turn on the others, the young agent got out of the van and crept toward the building. In his headset, he could hear the others getting ready to kick in the doors. He slipped up behind the sheriff and pressed his gun into the man’s ribs. “Drop your weapon and keep your hands where I can see them,” he ordered.

The sheriff had been prepared to let his idiot brother-in-law go down until he felt the gun in his side. Suddenly, he realized that he had been made. Turning, he threw a quick right into the jaw of the young agent. His deputy whirled around to see what was happening and went to his partner’s assistance. He dove into the fray, pinning the hand of the young man and wrenching the gun away. The sheriff used his fists to pummel JD unconscious. His deputy rolled the young man to cuff him and saw the ATF logo on the back of the jacket.

“Hey, Charlie, this guy is one of them,” he called just before his partner shot him with the Glock he’d picked up from the ground.

Inside the building, mayhem reigned. The bodyguards were ducking and shooting at everything. The ATF agents were carefully picking them off. When several men finally surrendered, the bust was over. Nathan surveyed the injured while Chris and Buck kept them covered. Ezra slipped out of the rest room and received a cursory glance from the medic. Agents from Team 2 were handcuffing and Mirandizing those not injured. Chris glanced around the room before keying his mic.

“All clear, JD.”

An ominous silence ensued as the team leader waited for a response from the surveillance van. Buck looked up for a moment before handing his gun to Ezra and tearing out of the building. Chris grabbed one of the men from Team 2 and gestured toward the men on the floor before running after his friend.

Charlie Iverson stood slowly and leveled his 357 at the back of the longhaired young agent. He would tell them that the kid shot his partner, thinking he was one of the bad guys, and that he had killed the kid before he identified him as an agent. It would look like a tragic accident in the dark. He thumbed back the hammer on the gun and aimed it at the base of the JD’s head.

Buck could barely see, coming from the lighted inside of the building to the darkness outside. He made out the shape of a man standing beside the police car. As a cloud drifted out from in front of the moon, he caught sight of the nickel-plated weapon. Putting on a burst of speed, he tackled the man to the ground. The gun skittered free and Charlie made the mistake of swinging on the enraged man pinning him to the ground. Buck drove his fist into the square jaw, sending the man into oblivion before turning to survey the situation.

“JD?” He called.

“He’s unconscious. The deputy has been shot. I’m going to get Nathan. Don’t touch anything!” Chris warned.

By the time the dust settled, the sheriff was in cuffs with the rest of the bad guys. The deputy regained consciousness as he was being loaded into the ambulance long enough to say that his partner had shot him. JD’s gun was placed in an evidence bag to be checked for prints, just to be on the safe side. JD was transported to the hospital to be checked out. Chris told Ezra to head back to Denver; he could do his reports in a day or two.

It was nearly midnight when Chris called to let Orin know that the bust had gone down. He was surprised to find the man awake in the middle of the night. When he heard the explanation, he immediately called Ezra to let him know that he should go directly to the Travis’s to see about Eve.

When the southerner pulled into the driveway, the porch light came on and the door opened. Orin was watching for him. Ezra moved quickly into the house and came to a halt. Eve was curled up on the corner of the couch and Evie was sitting nervously at her side.

“What happened?” He asked as he moved to kneel in front of the couch.

“She had a nightmare. She screamed and ran down here. We haven’t been able to calm her at all,” the woman explained. She reached out for the child only to draw her hand back for fear of upsetting her more.

Ezra ghosted his hand over her hair. Eve flinched and drew her knees up tighter to her chest. The concerned father grasped his daughter by the arm and tried to draw her away from the couch. As he touched her, he called her name.

“Eve? Come on sweetheart, wake up,” he coaxed. Her eyelids fluttered before she came fully awake. Surprise lit her face as she focused on the person closest to her.

“Daddy? Is it over?” She asked timidly.

“Yes, it’s all over. Are you all right?” He asked.

“Can we go home now?” She asked as she turned pleading eyes on her father.

He nodded and she reached out to wrap her arms around his neck. Ezra stood, shifting her to his hip as she buried her face in his shoulder. He nodded his thanks to the Travis’s before leaving the house. He put Eve in the front seat and secured her seatbelt. As soon as he slid into the driver’s seat, she reached out and caught hold of his arm. By the time they reached the condo, she was sound asleep. Ezra carried her into his bedroom and settled her on the bed. She nuzzled into the pillow before sighing contentedly and going back to sleep.

Ezra didn’t set the alarm, he planned to keep Eve home the next day. Something was bothering her and he had to find out what it was. He was awakened by a small, warm hand flopping against his face as Eve rolled over in her sleep. He reached over and brushed her bangs back from her face. She sighed before opening her eyes. He watched as she carefully studied the ceiling for a moment before speaking.

“Daddy?” She asked hopefully.

“Right here, Eve,” he replied.

“Am I going to be late for school?”

“I thought you could stay home today. It sounds like you had a pretty rough weekend,” he suggested.

“I’m okay,” she defended.

“Want to talk about what was bothering you?”

“No. Just bad dreams. I’m okay!” She insisted.

“Bad dreams, huh? Worried about me?” He pried.

“I don’t want to talk about it. Can I go to school today?” She deflected.

After a quick breakfast, Ezra dropped Eve at school. She was only an hour late. He decided to drive to the office and start on the reports as soon as he made a call to the psychologist. Dr. Laumeier had come highly recommended. She was especially good with children who had suffered abuse. Although she had been meeting with Eve regularly since she came to Denver, she hadn’t made a lot of headway in getting the child to admit the abuse. She listened as the distraught father explained why he was calling and scheduled an appointment for that afternoon.

“Ezra, I thought you would be in later today. Is everything all right?” Vin asked as he came out with a fresh cup of coffee. Chris had left him a message that they wouldn’t be in until after lunch.

“I’m worried about Eve. She had a nightmare at the Travis’s. They said she was screaming and ran in terror from the room. She’s never done that before. What happened at Josiah’s?”

“I don’t know. Josiah called me and when I got there, she was huddled up in a corner. She wouldn’t talk about it,” he said.

“I made her an appointment with Dr. Laumeier for this afternoon. Maybe she can help figure it out.”

Unfortunately, Eve vehemently denied remembering anything about the nightmares. She insisted that it was just worry about her father that caused the bad dreams. Except for the nightmares, Eve seemed all right with everything else in her life. She happily bragged about the plans they had for the upcoming summer vacation and how much she was looking forward to seeing her grandmother. After spending most of an hour with the child, the doctor called Ezra into the office.

“Eve is in denial about something. Unfortunately, digging into it will only make her more reluctant to reveal it. I want to see her a couple of times a week for the next few weeks to see if I can ferret out the problem. It’s possible that something she has seen or heard has stirred some unpleasant memories and she’s having difficulty incorporating them into her thoughts. I wish I could get her to open up a little more about it but until she’s ready, I’m afraid pushing her will make it worse,” the doctor explained.

“What do I do?” Ezra asked.

“Love her, support her, just what you’ve been doing. She’s an amazingly well adjusted child considering all that she’s been through. We’ll keep working on it from this angle and you keep up the good work,” the doctor finished.

There were no more nightmares for the rest of the week. Eve seemed to return to the happy go lucky child that she was before the weekend. Josiah came to the condo and she ran and threw herself at him just like normal. They went out to supper together and she was fine. Ezra had suggested the visit and dinner to see if it really was something about Josiah that was bothering her, though he couldn’t imagine it. Eve slept through the night without problems.

After two weeks with Dr. Laumeier, they were no closer to an answer. Eve denied having any idea what brought on the nightmares and it seemed to upset her to be asked about it. Her schoolwork was fine and she was getting along with her friends like normal. In general, it was terribly frustrating to Ezra and the adults who loved the little green-eyed imp.

As they were packing for Eve’s trip to see Mitzi, they realized that she needed some new clothes for the summer. Ezra took her to the mall to go shopping. Several hours, stores, and outfits later, Eve jerked to a halt and refused to move. Her father studied the horror stricken look on her face before he spoke to her.

“Eve? Are you all right? Did you forget something?” He asked hopefully.

A hard shudder wracked the child’s frame and she blinked several times. When she looked up at Ezra, she seemed confused. She took his hand and started down the mall as if nothing had happened. Her hand clenched tightly to her father’s and she remained pasted to his side for the remainder of the shopping trip. Ezra replayed what he had seen several times that evening and couldn’t figure out what might have upset Eve. A niggling thought popped into his head that there might be something physically wrong with her and he flinched.

After her shower, Eve curled up with Ezra for their nightly ritual of reading. Ever since the child had come into his care, he had read to her as often as he could before her bedtime. They had read through several of the classics and he was reading Shakespeare to her over the summer. She enjoyed listening to her father’s voice as he spoke. They discussed the things they read and she was quick to question anything she didn’t understand. Anything Ezra couldn’t explain had to be researched on the computer or asked of one of her uncles. Josiah was the one she most often turned to when her father’s explanation fell short.

When Eve was completely limp in his arms, Ezra closed the book and laid it aside. He gathered her into his arms and carried her to her room. She mumbled softly as he settled her on her pillow. The blankets were tucked up to her shoulder before he kissed her cheek and slipped out of the room. A couple of hours later, Ezra was wakened by the bathroom light. He rolled over and waited to see if Eve was all right. When the light stayed on longer than he expected, he padded down the hall and peered into Eve’s room. She had stripped the linens from the bed and was struggling with the mattress, which she had partially on the floor.

“What happened?” Ezra asked softly.

The look of horror that scrolled across his daughter’s face was like a knife in his heart. He had never done anything that would cause the child to be afraid of him. As he crossed the room to comfort her, she recoiled. His eyes noticed the dark stain on the mattress and he realized that she’d had an accident and wet the bed.

“It’s all right, let me help you with that,” he said quickly. She backed away as he flipped the mattress and squared it on the box spring. He picked up the pale purple sheets she had brought out and put them on the mattress. Eve backed into the bathroom and changed out of her wet pajamas. When she crept back into the room, she skirted the wall and waited for him to finish.

Ezra sat down on the edge of the bed and held out his hands. Eve crept toward him as if she expected to be punished. He gathered her into his arms and rocked her for several minutes. When she began to relax, he spoke to her.

“Accidents happen, Eve. That’s why they call them accidents. You don’t ever have to be afraid to come to me if something is wrong or if you need help. I love you! More than I would ever have thought possible! It hurts me that you’re upset about something and you can’t talk to me about it.”

“I don’t mean to hurt you!” Eve quickly replied.

“I know. I just want you to know that you can tell me anything and I will still love you, okay?” He stared into her eyes and waited for her to answer. She nodded and wrapped her arms around his neck.

The end of the school year celebration took all day. Ezra watched as Eve accepted her reading award. Mitzi got a ribbon for the highest average in spelling tests for the year. Joelle and Kaitlynn got certificates for completing a math challenge. The playground was crowded with game booths and a couple of small rides for the children to enjoy. Eve’s teacher approached Ezra and told him how much she’d enjoyed having Eve in class in spite of the rocky beginning.

As the day for Eve to go to visit Mitzi loomed closer, Ezra found himself reluctant to let her go. Minnesota was a plane trip away, not across town. If the nightmares started there, he wouldn’t be able to go to her. Dr. Laumeier told him that there was no way of knowing when or if they would return. Reluctantly, he agreed to let her go. He had a long talk with Mitzi’s grandparents to let them know about the situation so they would be prepared. No matter how hard Eve pleaded to be allowed to make the short flight alone, there was no way Ezra was going to allow it. He booked a round trip for himself that would allow him to spend the first couple of nights in Minnesota.

Eve was thrilled to see Mitzi. The girls hugged and danced and chattered all the way from the airport to the house. As soon as the door opened, both disappeared to the room they would be sharing. Mitzi’s grandmother invited Ezra in and offered him a cup of coffee. He stayed only a short time before catching a cab to the hotel where he would stay overnight. In spite of serious misgivings, he saw that his daughter seemed fine with him leaving her and he kissed her soundly on the cheek before he left.

The flight home was miserable. Ezra was beside himself with worry. The stewardess kept trying to lighten his mood when he would have preferred to be left alone. Turbulence over the mountains buffeted the plane, making everyone uptight. When they landed, the southerner stormed through the airport. He couldn’t get home fast enough. Entering the condo, he made a beeline for Eve’s room and threw himself on her bed. His heart was racing and every instinct he possessed was telling him to go to her.

When the southerner arrived at the office the next day, there were dark circles under his eyes. From the muffled curses floating up from his desk, he was not having a good time with his report. JD watched as Ezra picked up the phone and put it down several times each hour. Buck passed the desk and invited Ezra to go to lunch with them. The cold, piercing glare had the older man back peddling.

Just after lunch, Ezra’s cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the caller ID. Seeing that the call was from Eve, he fumbled with the phone in his haste to open it.

“Eve? Are you all right?” He asked breathlessly.

“Hi Daddy, I love you,” she chirped.

“Love you too,” he replied.

After talking to Eve, the southerner settled down and seemed more relaxed. The afternoon went smoothly as everyone went about their routine. Vin invited Ezra to go out to supper with him so he wouldn’t be alone and he gratefully accepted.

It was a long two weeks for Team 7. Ezra was as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. From the circles under his eyes and the distracted way he responded to the others, it was clear that he was not doing well. Chris excused Ezra from all but the most necessary duty, relegating him to filing and reviewing files while the others did the fieldwork. The first weekend, Chris ordered him to the ranch so they could keep an eye on him. Ezra was withdrawn and despondent, spending a good part of Saturday grooming his and Eve’s horses. Only after talking to Eve was he anything like normal for a few hours.

The entire team turned out at the airport for Eve’s return. Ezra had given in to her repeated pleas to be allowed to make the flight alone. From the moment the plane left the ground in Minnesota, he paced the concourse where it would arrive. The team drew a few odd looks as they took turns following the nervous father while he paced. When the plane was delayed because of the number of planes in a holding pattern, he almost burst into tears. The airline staff had been watching the dark haired man as he paced back and forth in the waiting area. Sympathetic smiles were carefully hidden behind their hands as he checked his watch for the third time in five minutes. When the board showed the plane had landed, Ezra plastered himself against the glass and watched it taxi down the runway and turn toward the building. The airline staff had gotten in touch with the plane to make sure that the little girl would be the first one off the plane.

Eve wiped the tears from her eyes as the plane got closer to the building. She had been staring at her watch for every second of the twenty-two minutes that the plane was delayed. The stewardess assured her that it would be all right, that her father could see on the board that the plane was waiting to land. When the wheels touched down, she wanted to throw off her seatbelt and rush the door. A light touch from the stewardess reminded her to remain in her seat. When the plane finally came to a stop, there was an announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please remain in your seats for a few moments. We have a passenger that we need to get off of the plane first and then we will allow the rest of you to disembark.”

Tears spilled down her cheeks as she heard the announcement. Eve unbelted her seatbelt and turned on her knees in the seat to see who was preventing her from getting to her daddy. When the stewardess opened the overhead compartment and took down her duffle bag, Eve’s eyes widened.

“Come on, sweetie. Your daddy is waiting for you,” the stewardess said gently.

Eve hit the concourse at an all out run. She could see them standing just beyond the doorway.

“Daddy! Daddy!” Eve yelled as she leapt into his arms. Ezra staggered slightly under the impact, but Buck and Josiah caught him. The stewardess handed JD the duffle bag and smiled knowingly at the happy reunion. Ezra didn’t put Eve down until they reached the car.

When Ezra and Eve returned from their vacation with Maude, the little curly headed moppet dazzled all of them with her mastery of French. She had gotten a special gift for each of her uncles and the Travis’s. A welcome home party was thrown for them at Josiah’s house.

The team had gone all out for the party. Brightly colored streamers proclaimed ‘welcome home’ and ‘we missed you’ in French. Several of Eve’s friends from school had gotten invitations. The party went all day, with people coming and going as their schedules allowed. Ezra was jet lagged and appreciative of the way that the party was geared so that he didn’t have to worry about entertaining. Josiah and Inez had done the cooking and JD and Vin were quick to intercept anyone who appeared to be taking too much of the southerner’s time.

Inez tapped Ezra on the shoulder and motioned for him to follow her. Curious, he did. Eve was sitting in the swing on Vin’s lap, sound asleep. She had been telling him about all of the beautiful places they had toured when she simply dozed off. The Texan had one arm carefully around her back to prevent her from falling but she was dead to the world. After several pictures were taken, Vin carried her up to the room she had used when she stayed with Josiah.

Everyone except the team and Inez had gone home. Ezra was so tired that he could hardly think straight. JD and Vin were picking up trash and helping clean up the yard. Buck had taken some of the kid’s home and got ‘side tracked’ by one of the pretty, single mom’s. Chris nudged Ezra and offered him a ride home. Just as the southerner was coming to his feet, a shriek rent the air.

“That’s Eve!” JD announced and they all headed for the stairs.

They jammed up in the doorway as Ezra landed on the side of the bed. Eve was rigid on the mattress and screaming as if in terrible pain. As soon as her father touched her, she clung to him, shuddering and sobbing.

“Don’t let him get me! Don’t let him!” She whispered into Ezra’s collar.

At her words, Josiah shrank away. She’d been fine, by all accounts, since she’d been away from him and now she was flipping out again. He barely heard Ezra question the little girl.

“Who Eve? Don’t let who get you?” Ezra asked as he tightened his arms around her shaking little body.

“Mark, don’t let Mark get me Daddy. He hurts me!”

Ezra turned confused eyes to the group at the door. He didn’t know anyone named Mark, at least not anyone who would know Eve. Vin pushed into the room and knelt beside the bed. He passed a hand over Eve’s back and got her attention.

“What reminded you of Mark? Is it something in the room?”

The child looked at him as if it was the clearest thing in the world and she couldn’t believe he didn’t see it. She raised a trembling arm and pointed toward the wall.

“He hurt me before. He chained me to one of those,” she explained in a hushed whisper.

Josiah had stopped at hearing the name. As he looked over Chris’s shoulder, he saw where she was pointing. The old Victorian house had central heat because he’d had it renovated from the steam heat radiators. The profiler had removed the radiators from the rooms on the first floor but hadn’t had the opportunity to remove them from the second floor. Eve’s trembling finger pointed to the radiator that used to provide heat to the room.

“The radiator,” Josiah whispered. “She was reminded by the radiator!”

Eve buried her face in her father’s shoulder and shuddered again. Ezra picked her up and carried her back down the stairs. The team followed closely, in stunned silence. When the southerner settled in the rocking chair, he began to question her.

“Who is Mark? Can you tell me?”

“He was Mommy’s boyfriend. He was mean to her. I would hear her crying sometimes,” Eve answered. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“Eve, we have to talk about it, just for a little while. I need you to understand that Mark doesn’t know where you are. He has no way of knowing where you live. We changed your name. He wouldn’t even know to look for you as Standish, right? Besides, you know that your uncles wouldn’t let anyone hurt you, right?”

The little girl’s green eyes came up and she stared into Ezra’s. The thought seemed to roll around for a long time before it finally dropped into place. Realization dawned on her and a slow smile blossomed on her face.

“You mean it’s like I’m under cover?” She asked incredulously.

“Exactly like that. He wouldn’t know who you are and you aren’t where you used to live. There’s no way this Mark would ever find you here and if he did, one of us would be there to protect you,” Ezra promised her.

Chris drove Ezra and Eve home. He waited while Ezra settled Eve into bed and returned to the living room.

“What do you want to do about this Mark character?” The team leader asked. The need to brutalize someone who would terrorize an innocent child was burning brightly in his hazel eyes.

“I will check with the caseworker and see if she knows who he is, if I can get a last name. I need to know who he is and what he looks like just in case,” Ezra replied.

“Are you going to bring charges against him?”

“No, I couldn’t put her through that. She’s been through enough,” Ezra stated emphatically.

“Okay, I understand entirely,” Chris replied. “He’d just better not ever show his sorry face in my town!”

Ezra smiled at the older man. He was truly grateful to have friends who would protect him and would protect his little girl too. He raised his head as Chris stood to leave.

“Get some rest. I’m looking forward to seeing both of you at the ranch on Saturday.”

“We’ll be there, and thanks,” Ezra said.

An envelope was on the southerner’s desk a few days later. Inside was a photo and police record for Mark Allen Roth. He had been arrested with Emily before she lost custody of Eve. The man had a rap sheep that included numerous drug charges and a few assault charges. At the end of the stack of papers was a single page that reported that the man had died of AIDS related complications six days before Emily. Ezra lowered the envelope and sighed into his hands.

“What is it, Ez?” Vin asked.

“The man who hurt Eve is dead,” came the soft reply.

“Thank God,” Josiah announced from across the room.

“Isn’t it sacrilegious to be thankful for someone’s death?” Ezra asked.

“I’ll take my chances,” the profiler answered with a broad smile.

Dr. Laumeier met with Eve several times in the weeks that followed the revelation. It stunned Ezra to learn that Eve thought she had seen Mark at the mall the day she wet the bed. She seemed relieved that the man was dead and that she wouldn’t have to worry about him coming after her anymore.

The final piece of putting Eve’s demon to rest came a few days before her birthday. Josiah invited father and daughter to his house for supper. The profiler had been immensely relieved that it wasn’t something he had done that had so upset the little girl but it still hurt him that he had been the one to dredge up the bad memories. He asked Eve if he could show her something upstairs after supper. Ezra cast a warning gaze at the older man he led the little girl up the stairs.

At the door of the bedroom, Eve paused. She stared up at Josiah with just a hint of fear in her eyes. He gave her a smile and his best ‘trust me’ gaze as he opened the door. Eve looked into the room and gasped. The radiator was gone! The furniture had been rearranged to take advantage of the missing item and a pretty makeup table sat along that wall. Eve smiled as she stepped into the room. The walls had been painted, the carpet replaced and there was very little except the location of the room that remained the same.

“What do you think?” Josiah asked as he knelt at her side.

Eve wrapped her arms around his neck and placed a big kiss on his cheek. The love and trust shining in her eyes could light up the room.

“Can I stay all night with you again?” she asked.