The Darkest Hour, Page 20Maya Banks
She shrank away from the soft croon, and her eyes fluttered open. She blinked rapidly as Garrett’s face came into view. Relief staggered her, and she felt sick that she was relieved it wasn’t Ethan kneeling next to the couch.
She grabbed at his hand and clutched tightly, her heart threatening to beat right out of her chest.
“Hey, are you okay?”
She nodded but she kept her fingers wrapped tight around his hands as she struggled to sit up.
Garrett helped her and then slid onto the couch to sit next to her, his arm hung loosely around her shoulders.
“Ethan’s over at Mom’s, but he’ll be back soon. I can call him if you need him. ”
She shook her head. “No. I’m fine. Really. ”
“Can I get you something? You hungry?”
He rose and with a concerned look in her direction walked into the kitchen. A few seconds later he returned with a glass of water. She took it from his outstretched hand and drank thirstily.
After a few moments some of the blackness of her dreams receded, and she could breathe easier. She held the glass in both palms and rested the bottom on her knee as she stared straight ahead, trying to collect her scattered thoughts.
“Rachel? Are you sure you’re all right? That seemed like a really bad dream. ”
Her mouth lifted in a half smile. Then she glanced over at him, easing a little more at the worry in his eyes.
“Tell me about Ethan,” she said softly.
Garrett’s brows came together in confusion.
“About me and Ethan,” she corrected. “Were we happy? Did he . . . did he love me?”
Garrett sucked in a deep breath and then he leaned back on the couch. He held out his arms to her. “Come here. ”
She went willingly, seeking his comfort, wanting the truth but also hoping it eased her mind.
When she was settled in the crook of his arm, he nudged her head until it was pillowed on his shoulder.
“Ethan is a stubborn son of a bitch. There was never a doubt about that. He’s butted heads with every one of us. You included. But he loved—loves—you. Don’t ever doubt that. You were just right for him. No other way to put it. You were calm when he had the tendency to get all worked up over things. You centered him. ”
“My nightmare was about us,” she admitted. “In it he was angry. Really angry. I don’t know about what. But I was so . . . afraid. Scared. Not that he’d hurt me but that he didn’t love me, that he didn’t want me. Why would I dream something like that?”
He tightened his hold on her and kissed the top of her head. “You’re scared, sweet pea. We’re a bunch of strangers to you. You’re suddenly thrust back into a world you can’t remember. I can only imagine how frightening that has to be. I’d be amazed if you weren’t having nightmares about all of us. ”
She sighed, her chest caving a little in relief. He made so much sense.
“But there’s something you need to know,” he continued. “Ethan was devastated when he lost you. Not a day has passed that he hasn’t mourned for you. He damn sure didn’t stop loving you. He’s scared too, Rachel. Scared out of his mind that he’ll do or say the wrong thing, that he’ll hurt you or that, God forbid, he’ll lose you again. ”
“I’m not the only one hurting,” she murmured.
“No,” he agreed.
“Thank you,” she said simply. “I’ll remember that. I’m glad he went to see his mom. She must be worried about him. ”
“We all are. We’re worried about you both. ”
Her hands shook, and she clasped them tighter around her water glass to control her nerves.
“Will you take me to him?” she asked.
Garrett hesitated. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. He won’t be long. I can call him to come back. He’s just five minutes away. ”
She gave him a perplexed look. Her brows scrunched together as she studied him. “Why not?”
“We don’t want to overburden you too fast. Ethan has a big family. There are a lot of us,” he said tactfully. “It can be overwhelming. ”
“I’m okay,” she insisted. “I want . . . I want to see them. Maybe I’ll remember something. Besides I don’t want to keep Ethan from his family because he worries I’m going to freak out. I can only imagine how worried everyone has been for him. ”
“And you, sweet pea,” Garrett said gently. “We’re most worried about you. ”
“Will you take me to him?”
He inhaled through his nose, his big chest puffing outward, and then he released his breath in a long exhale, his chest sinking.
“Okay. I’ll drive you over. Ethan might kick my ass over it. ”
She eyed him doubtfully. “You’re bigger than Ethan. ”
His teeth flashed as he grinned. “But Ethan’s meaner. ”
She raised her hand to her lips as laughter spilled out. Then her eyes widened in surprise to hear the sound.
“Ahh, sweet pea, that sure does sound good. Come on. Mom and Dad will be so glad to see you. If we’re lucky, the rest of the clan is still over at my place, so you won’t be subject to everyone at once. ”
THEY weren’t so lucky.
Garrett sighed when he pulled into his mom and dad’s driveway to see that the yard resembled a used truck lot. Not only were Nathan and Joe back, but it appeared they’d brought Sam and Donovan with them.
He glanced over at Rachel, who sat quiet and pale in the passenger seat. Her fingers were balled tight in her lap, and she stared at the front door as if she expected it to explode. And hell, maybe it would.
After pulling to a stop behind Ethan’s truck, Garrett cut the engine then reached over to take Rachel’s fist. Carefully he pried her fingers open until he stroked the length of her hand reassuringly. He wasn’t even sure she noticed.
“I can turn around and take you back home,” he offered.
Finally she turned to look at him, her eyes deep and haunted. “No. I can do this. Maybe I’ll remember something. ”
He had to admire her courage. His family was enough to make him run screaming like a girl on a good day. Facing them when they were complete strangers? Brave.
Theatrically he sucked in a breath and made a show of squaring his shoulders. “Ready?”
A smile wavered on her lips. “Ready. ”
He opened his door and walked around as she was getting out of the truck. He reached for her hand and she tucked it trustingly into his.
As they neared the door, he paused and squeezed her fingers. “Just remember they love you. ”
She smiled bravely and he opened the door.
Cool air washed over him as he stepped into the foyer. In the distance he could hear the TV and the murmur of voices. Everyone was in the living room.
As much as he savored the idea of reintroducing Rachel to her family, he knew it should be Ethan’s decision. His brother was going to be pissed. But then Ethan hadn’t been the one faced with Rachel’s pleading expression. Garrett had never been able to tell her no, an affliction he was sure Ethan shared.
He stopped in the dining room, just a short distance away from the steps leading down into the living room. Rachel bumped against him and he felt her tremble. He squeezed her hand one more time but kept her solidly behind him as he started forward again.
At the top of the steps, he stopped again and softly cleared his throat.
All eyes turned in his direction. Ethan was first to react. He stood straight up, his face a thundercloud. His mom cocked an eyebrow and then frowned. He recognized that look. A reprimand was about to fly. He almost grinned. The woman could make him feel five years old again with one stare.
Nathan and Joe looked up with only mild interest. Sam frowned and Donovan just looked. But then that was Van. Calm and nonjudgmental.
“You’re supposed to be with Rachel,” Ethan exploded. “Goddamn it. ”
br /> “Ethan,” his mom scolded. “Watch your mouth. ”
In response, and because at the moment he wanted to survive with his hide intact, he pulled Rachel out from behind him. She was stiff as a board, and her eyes looked wild.
The room erupted in chaos. He held up a hand to shut it down before Rachel bolted.
“Quiet!” he shouted above the din.
Ethan stalked over, his eyes never leaving Rachel. His worry was evident because he didn’t even threaten to kick Garrett’s ass. He didn’t even look at Garrett.
“Rachel, baby,” Ethan said softly. “Are you all right? I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you woke up. I shouldn’t have left. ”
Behind Ethan, Nathan and Joe stood, their gazes locked on Rachel, utter disbelief etched in their expressions. Garrett couldn’t blame them. Until he’d actually seen Rachel, he’d doubted her existence. Stuff like this only happened in the movies. She’d died—or so they all thought—and now she was back.
His mom held both hands to her mouth, tears flowing unchecked down her cheeks. Even his big ole burly chested dad looked pale and shaken.
As was her habit when the family was together, Rusty sat away, her gaze flickering dispassionately over the hubbub. Once it rested on Rachel, and her eyes narrowed before she quickly looked away. Garrett frowned. The last thing Rachel needed was a lone dissenter. Especially someone who didn’t belong. When Rusty glanced up at Garrett, he scowled at her, letting the full force of his disapproval bleed into his expression. Rusty blanched and looked down at her hands, refusing to pick her head back up.
“I wanted to come,” Rachel said in a quiet, shaky voice. “I asked Garrett to bring me. Don’t be angry with him. ”
Ethan touched her cheek. “I’m not angry. Just worried about you. ”
She offered a tremulous smile. Garrett moved slowly away, leaving her standing there with Ethan. He shot his mom and dad warning looks, and his mom scowled as if to say she wasn’t an idiot.
Rachel peeked around Ethan and nervously scanned the occupants of the room. She recognized Donovan and Sam, of course. The older couple had to be Ethan’s mom and dad, which left the other two men to be Nathan and Joe. There was a young girl sitting away from the rest, and Rachel searched her memory for any mention of a female member of the Kelly family. But it was all a blank.
Disappointment surged over her. She didn’t recognize them. Tears brimmed at her eyelids, but she bit her lip to keep them at bay. She was damn tired of being so weepy.
Ethan’s mom crossed the room to stand beside Ethan. Rachel swallowed the ache in her throat. She could see the hope in this woman’s eyes. The love. And Rachel could remember nothing. Couldn’t conjure the same memory of love and affection.
“My baby,” his mom crooned, and she gently enfolded Rachel in her embrace.
Rachel gulped in steadying breaths, but God she wanted to break down and sob like a baby. Was there anything better than the love of a mother? This wasn’t her mother. She didn’t have one, but if Ethan and Garrett were to be believed, Marlene Kelly was as much a mother to her as she was to her own children.
“Thank God you’re home with us,” Marlene murmured against her hair.
She drew away and then kissed Rachel’s cheek. Her hand stroked down her hair, and she gave Rachel a watery smile.
“You’ve monopolized her enough, Marlene. Let her breathe a minute so I can hug my daughter. ”
The gruff voice made her jump, but she immediately relaxed when she saw Frank Kelly step to Marlene’s side. She smiled tentatively up at the big man, and to her surprise his face crumbled and big tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks.
She stared in shock as he put his arms out to her. He didn’t move to her as Marlene had done, and maybe he was worried she’d reject him or was afraid.
As anxious as she was, she wanted to comfort him.
After only a brief hesitation she walked into his hug and wrapped her arms around his waist. His admonishment to Marlene to let her breathe made her smile. He was squeezing her so tight she could barely pull air into her lungs.
She closed her eyes and inhaled his scent. Old Spice after-shave. Made her think of grandpas. Leather and the overwhelming smell of comfort. Home.
“Hey, no hogging. ”
Rachel opened her eyes to see a grinning face close to Frank’s shoulder.
“Which one are you?” she asked.
His teeth flashed in a wider smile. “I’m Joe. The good-looking one. ”
Unable to resist, she smiled back just as Frank released her. Joe tugged her into his arms and lifted her up.
“Hey, knock it off, dumbass,” Ethan growled.
Joe ignored him and twirled her around. As she stared into his eyes, a memory as dizzy as he was currently making her skittered through her mind. Just a brief glance. But it was Joe, standing nervously in front of her. He was younger. Same short haircut, but he was in uniform. Army fatigues. Boots.
Her brow furrowed as she sought to hang on. Joe carefully eased her down, and she blinked as he stared at her in concern.