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The Darkest Hour, Page 37

Maya Banks

Page 37


  Sam and Garrett both put away the files they were studying and surveyed Ethan with open curiosity.

  “Just wanted to tell you that I’m taking Rachel back to the house. ”

  Garrett frowned. “Does she want to go?”

  Ethan sucked in a breath through his nose. He had no right to get angry when Garrett was just looking out for Rachel. Just like he always had, but Ethan had been too stupid and insecure to know it.

  “Yeah. We need to talk. Things have changed. I fucked up. ” He looked directly at his brothers. “I can’t lose her. ”

  Sympathy simmered in Sam’s expression, and Garrett might have softened an iota. It was hard to tell around his scowl.

  “Good luck, man,” Sam said.

  Ethan backed out of the basement and hurried up to where Rachel waited. He held out his hand to her and waited for her to take it.

  Tentatively she slid her fingers over his palm. For a moment he savored that small amount of trust, and he silently swore never to abuse that trust again.

  It was still pitch-black outside, and he checked his watch. Two in the morning. Hell, they should both still be in bed, him wrapped as tight around her as he could go.

  He ushered her into the truck and then got in. Quiet descended as he drove away from Sam’s house, and he was loath to disrupt the silence. He much preferred any conversation to take place at home when he could hold her in his arms.

  The winding road that paralleled the lake was dark as hell at night. He slowed when he saw a car stopped at the intersection ahead. As they started to drive past, Ethan reached over and slid his fingers through Rachel’s.

  Headlights seared through his periphery. What the hell? Jerk was bright-lighting them. Then he saw the lights coming directly at them.

  Ethan slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel in an effort to avoid the SUV, but it slammed into the driver’s side and shoved Garrett’s truck all the way across the road into the ditch.

  Pain exploded in his head, and he vaguely registered the smell of blood before all went black.


  THE impact nearly jarred Rachel’s teeth loose. She slammed against her door and cried out as pain lanced up her arm. The truck rocked to a halt, and she sat trying to make sense of it all.


  She turned in the seat and cried out again when her arm screamed in protest.

  “Ethan,” she said hoarsely. “Ethan!”

  He didn’t move. He was slumped against the steering wheel, shoved over by the side impact air bag. Blood ran down his forehead, and she stared in horror when he didn’t stir.

  “Ethan, wake up. Oh my God, Ethan. ”

  The sound of creaking metal jerked her around in her seat just as her door was peeled open.

  “Oh thank God! My husband is hurt. We need an ambulance. ”

  The man leaned in, grabbed her by the hair and hauled her out of the truck.

  She screamed when he slammed her against his body, trapping her injured arm between them.

  “What are you doing?” she yelled as he pulled her toward the road.

  “You’re a hard bitch to kill,” he bit out.

  Her brain short-circuited. It was too much shock for her to process. She looked frantically back at the smashed truck where Ethan was unconscious.

  “Let me go!”

  She kicked back and struggled, ignoring the searing pain that sliced through her body.

  He reared back and slapped her hard across the face, knocking her to the ground. Then he yanked her up by her good arm and dragged her to a waiting vehicle.

  Her face throbbed, and she struggled to comprehend what had happened, and why. He’d said she was hard to kill.

  The bridge accident hadn’t been an accident. She knew it hadn’t been. But why? Why would someone want her dead?

  The man threw her into the backseat, where another man sat waiting, and then he climbed into the driver’s seat and roared down the highway.

  “Who are you?” she demanded as she tried to shake the grip of the second man. “What do you want?”

  The driver ignored her and picked up his cell phone. He punched a few buttons and then barked into the receiver.

  “I’ve got her. Yeah, no mistakes this time. I’ll make sure she never talks. No, I can’t make it look like an accident this time. I tried that already. Bitch wouldn’t die. I’ll kill her and dispose of the body. No one will ever find her. It’ll just be one of those unsolved crimes. Castle will be happy, and Tony and I will disappear to Mexico. ”

  Castle. Castle. She knew that name. She cursed her shattered mind. Where did she know that name from?

  Her arm screamed in pain and her head was about to explode. She raised her good hand to her temple and massaged, willing herself to remember. Beside her, goon number two kept close watch on her and finally grasped her wrist and wrenched her arm down to the seat.

  “Let me go,” she begged softly. “I won’t say anything, I swear it. My husband’s family can pay you. They can even fly you to Mexico. Just please let me go. This will kill them. They thought I was dead. ”

  She knew she was babbling, but she was desperate. And scared out of her mind.

  The driver laughed. “Yeah, you have a way of staying alive. I’m convinced you’re a cat with nine lives. You should have died a year ago. You should have died on the bridge. I’d hoped to make it look like an accident, but a bullet is more expedient. ”

  She was going to vomit. Between the pain and the panic, she was barely able to think.

  “Why?” she croaked. “I’ve never done anything to anyone. ”

  “Castle wants it. I don’t question. He pays the bills so I do what he tells me. ”

  The two men laughed as the car continued to barrel down the winding road she’d just driven down an hour earlier. They were going back by Sam’s house. Had they followed her? How else would they have known where to find her?

  She closed her eyes as despair fell over her. In the year she’d been held captive she’d never once accepted her death. She’d waited for Ethan, knowing that somehow, someway he’d find her. Now she had no such hope. There was no way for him to know what had happened to her. He might not even be alive.

  A sense of calm descended, washing away the paralyzing fear and panic. Before, she’d waited for someone to save her. Now it was up to her to save herself.

  No one can save you now but you.

  Her own words drifted back to her. Said such a short time ago. How prophetic they’d turned out to be.

  Ethan couldn’t help her now. She had only herself.

  She gathered the memories of Donovan and Garrett teaching her self-defense. How they’d despaired of her being too girly to ever learn anything. She’d shown them when she’d tossed them on their asses in a rage.

  They’d laughed and called her too easy, and she’d refused to speak to them for a week. They’d eventually sucked up to her with chocolate and books.

  She’d made them keep teaching her. With Ethan gone so much, she’d felt it important to be able to defend herself.

  Hysterical laughter bubbled in her throat, and by sheer force of will, she kept it down and recovered the eerie calm of a moment ago.

  She studied both men, the one in the front and the one with a bruising grip on her uninjured wrist. She was worried her right arm was broken, but what was a broken arm compared to a bullet in the head?

  Suck it up, Rachel. It’s not going to be easy, and it’ll hurt like hell, but you’re not going down without a fight.

  The driver was short but very stocky in build. The asshole sitting beside her was tall, much taller than her, but he wasn’t as bulky. She’d probably have more success at knocking him on his ass, but then the driver was the one wielding the gun.

  Oh well, she’d die if she did nothing, so if she died trying to escape, the outcome was still the same. It amazed her how accepting she could be of her own death. May
be it was because for the last year, she’d been dead.

  They pulled onto a gravel road that led away from the lake, and the driver turned off the headlights, plunging the world around them into darkness. The moon wasn’t even out and the overcast sky blotted out the stars.

  What was she going to do? She needed a plan. Plan? Her only plan was to survive, however she could make that happen.

  Again the driver pulled off the road they were on, this time onto a path that led back into the woods. She stifled a groan. Even if she managed to escape, she wouldn’t have a clue where she was.

  The car ground to a halt, and she braced herself for the agonizing pain that would come as soon as she moved. And the jackass wasn’t gentle about hauling her out of the car.

  She clamped her jaw shut, but an agonized groan still escaped when his hand circled her broken arm and yanked.

  “Let’s make this quick,” the driver muttered. “Sooner we get the hell out of here, the better. ”

  She saw the dull metal finish of the gun as he pulled it from his pocket. She only had seconds to act.

  She was crazy, right? It was time to see just how crazy she was.

  As soon as tall guy wrapped his hand around her arm to haul her into the trees, she cut loose with a yell to rival a banshee’s. She kneed him in the groin, and ignoring the agony ripping through her arm, she stabbed him in the eyes. He rolled away shrieking like a girl, and she was careful to keep him between her and the guy with the gun.

  Her foot hit a large rock, and she hit the ground, her hand grabbing at the dirt until she wrapped her fingers around the rock. The man aimed his gun at her and she let it fly. She hadn’t played softball for eight years for nothing.

  It hit him right in the head with deadly accuracy. He folded like a puppet, and she scrambled up, not wasting a second before fleeing into the woods.

  The sound of bullets hitting the trees beside her spurred her on. Bastard was using a silencer so she had no idea how far back he was. It didn’t matter. If he caught her, she was dead.

  “ETHAN. Ethan!”

  Ethan came awake in an instant, every instinct screaming at him that something was terribly wrong. He glanced around to see Sean shining a light in his face. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the glare, and Sean lowered the light.

  “Christ, you scared ten years off me. What the hell happened?” Sean demanded.


  The realization slammed into him with the force of a freight train. He reached down and yanked at his seat belt. Sean grabbed him, yelling at him to stop.

  “Goddamn it, Ethan, you need to wait for the ambulance. You shouldn’t move. Don’t know if you damaged your spine. Come on, cooperate with me. ”

  “Rachel,” Ethan rasped. “They have her. ”

  He threw off Sean’s arms and managed to get out of the seat belt. Christ, how was he going to get out? His entire side of the truck was caved in. The window was busted out, and Sean leaned through with his flashlight.

  Ethan turned in the direction of the passenger seat. Where Rachel had been. The door was still open, but her seat was eerily empty.

  Heaving himself up, he crawled across the center console and all but fell out of the passenger seat and onto the ground. Sean was around the truck in an instant, that damn flashlight beam bouncing across Ethan’s face again.

  “What about Rachel?” Sean demanded. “Was she with you?”

  Ethan hauled himself to his feet and grabbed onto Sean’s shoulder when he bobbled. Fuck. He didn’t need this.

  “Yeah. She was with me. Bastards took her. She was right, damn it. The accident on the bridge. Wasn’t an accident. Those assholes were waiting for us when we left Sam’s. They rammed us and took her. ”

  “Holy mother of God,” Sean whispered.

  He immediately began barking orders into his radio. He broke off at one point and stared hard at Ethan.

  “Tell me every thing you remember, Ethan. We need a starting point. ”

  “I don’t know,” Ethan bit out. “It was dark. I saw them parked at the intersection of the highway. They turned on their brights and rammed us when we got close. The rest is fuzzy, but I remember Rachel screaming while some guy yanked her out of the truck by her hair. ”

  “God help us,” Sean muttered. “Okay, we’re going to have to organize a wide search. They have a head start on us. I’ll radio for the highways and secondary roads to be roadblocked. I’ll contact the Henry Country Sheriff’s Department and get them out looking. ”

  “Give me a phone so I can call Sam and Garrett. ”

  Sean tossed him a cell phone and he dialed Sam’s number. His gut was churning like a volcano. Fear had him by the balls. Sean was talking fast in the background, his radio going off like a bullhorn. Ethan had to hand it to the younger man, he knew his shit, and right now he was glad as hell to have him to help find Rachel.

  He closed his eyes as he waited for Sam to answer.

  I’m coming, baby. Hold on. I’ll get to you, I swear it. Just hang on. For me. For us.

  Please God, don’t take her now.

  Someone wanted her dead. Her life depended on him and his brothers figuring it out yesterday. And God help the fuckers when Ethan found them.