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The Darkest Hour, Page 5

Maya Banks

Page 5


  Sam shook his head and then gestured over his shoulder. “P. J. taken them out yet? I’m getting damn tired of lying here in the dirt. ”

  Ethan rose up on his elbows and swept his viewing area with his rifle. Just when one of the assholes popped his head over a barrel, P. J. put a bullet between his eyes. Damn the woman was good.

  “I’ve got to get to Rachel,” Ethan said.

  Sam nodded. “On my count. ”

  Ethan rolled, coming up on his knees.

  “One. ”

  “Two. ”

  “Three. ”

  The two men dove from behind the crates, and ducked and ran for the jungle.

  The world around them went eerily quiet when they reached the area where P. J. was positioned. It made Ethan uneasy.

  Moments later, Steele, Renshaw, and Baker staggered through the growth dragging Cole between them. Ethan glanced around to see Sam holding his hand over his ear as he listened intently to traffic. He looked up at Ethan, his expression grim.

  “What?” Ethan demanded. “What the hell is going on? Where are Van, Garrett, and Rachel?”

  Sam motioned for the others to gather, and the knot in Ethan’s stomach grew bigger.

  “Goddamn it, Sam, talk. ”

  Sam motioned for quiet. “Okay, this has to be quick. Garrett and Van are looking for Rachel. They haven’t turned anything up yet. Renshaw, you and Baker get Cole and get the hell back to the chopper. The rest of you fan out. Let’s find Rachel and get the hell out of here. ”


  MARLENE Kelly stepped out of the bathroom and padded across the bedroom floor toward the bed where her husband was sitting up reading. As she neared, he lowered the book and took off his glasses.

  “You look worried,” he observed.

  She managed a faint smile, amused by the fact that after all these years, he still had a knack for stating the obvious. He couldn’t exactly be called intuitive when she’d moped around the house the entire day.

  She pulled back the covers and slid under the sheets. As she settled against the pillows, she crossed her arms over her chest and sighed. “I am worried. ”

  Frank turned on his side and propped his head in the palm of his hand. “About?”

  “Ethan. ”

  He blew out his breath. “I thought we agreed that it was good that he finally joined his brothers? Does a man no good to stay locked up in that house with all her things. ”

  “I just worry that he wasn’t ready,” she said unhappily. “Rachel’s death affected him badly. ”

  “Our boys will take good care of him. You know that. Sam wouldn’t let him go out if he wasn’t confident in Ethan’s abilities. ”

  “You’re right, I know. I just worry. I want him to be happy again. ”

  Frank touched her cheek, his calloused fingers tracing the faint wrinkles at her temple. “He will be. It’ll take time. ”

  She frowned when she heard a sound downstairs. She sat up, Frank’s hand sliding from her skin. Then she turned to her husband. “Did you hear that?”

  “Hear what?”

  She huffed in exasperation. “That sound. It came from the kitchen. ”

  He stiffened and put a hand on her arm when she started to get up. “You stay here. I’ll go down. ”

  “We should just call the police,” she hissed.

  He gave her a look of annoyance as he headed toward the closet. “It’s probably just a mouse. No need to get Sean over here for nothing. ”

  He disappeared into the closet and returned seconds later with a shotgun.

  “Frank, don’t you dare mess up my kitchen!”

  He waved her off and walked out the door. Marlene reached for the phone. Typical Kelly man. All things could be solved with firearms. Not that she had anything against them, but she didn’t want a hole in her newly done walls.

  She gripped the phone, determined that if she so much as heard a peep she was calling Sean, and she didn’t give a damn if he had to get out of bed or not.

  “What the—Hey, you come back here!” Frank roared.

  Marlene winced when a crash sounded. Her fingers were pounding the phone keypad when she heard Frank again.

  “Marlene, get down here,” he yelled.

  She flew out of bed, the phone to her ear. When she hit the bottom of the stairs and then rounded the corner into the kitchen, she skidded to a halt, staring at the bizarre scene in front of her.

  “Get off of me!”

  Marlene stared down at the screeching girl lying facedown while Frank sat on her in the middle of the kitchen floor. Frank was rubbing his hand and cursing with every breath.

  “Frank! What on earth is going on?”

  Frank glowered up at her. “What does it look like? I caught this little hellcat raiding the fridge. She threw the cookie jar at my head and tried to run. Call Sean and have him come over. ”

  Marlene stared hard at the still-struggling girl. “Girl” was an appropriate description. Why, she couldn’t have been more than sixteen if she was a day. Stick thin, she looked like a toothpick under a boulder. All Marlene could easily see was a bunch of pink hair sticking out in forty directions.

  “Frank, get off her,” she chided as she hurried forward.

  “What? Get off her? The hell I will. Crazy woman tried to kill me. ”

  “You’re killing her,” she pointed out. “A man your size sitting on her. I doubt she can breathe. ”

  Frank glared at her then shoved the butt of the shotgun down so he could get up. He kept his free hand square in the middle of the girl’s back while he rose. “Don’t you be getting any ideas, girly. I have no compunction about filling your hide full of buckshot. ”

  Marlene rolled her eyes then shoved her husband aside.

  “Don’t get too close to her, Marlene, damn it,” Frank protested. He tried to get between her and the girl, but Marlene stepped around him.

  “You can get up now,” Marlene said pointedly. “But I’d do so slowly if I were you. Frank is just dying to use that shotgun. ”

  The girl slowly turned over and she quickly masked the fear in her eyes. Replacing it was sullen defiance. She was pretty enough, but skinny as a rail. She had enough shadows under her eyes for Marlene to realize she hadn’t slept in probably as long as she’d gone without eating.

  Her clothes, if you could call them that, hung off her, and her hair was probably pretty under all the pink dye.

  Her heart went out to this girl. It was obvious she wasn’t some hardened criminal. Of course Frank would laugh at her and say that she was way too softhearted for her own good. Her boys would growl and say that she took in too many strays, and she did, but usually they were of the animal variety.

  “Are you hungry?” Marlene asked.

  The girl’s eyes narrowed. “No, I was breaking into your fridge for some ice. ”

  Marlene nearly laughed at her bravado. “No need to get snotty with me, missy. I can assure you that in my years as a teacher I’ve faced bigger and badder than you, and if you don’t mind me saying, there isn’t much of you to be intimidating so much as a flea. ”

  The girl scowled at her, but Marlene remained firm, hands on her hips as she stared her back down.

  “Now, we can do this two ways. You can sit down like you have some manners while I fix you something to eat, or we can call the sheriff and you can spend the night in jail. Completely up to you. ”

  The flicker of hope in the girl’s eyes nearly broke Marlene’s heart. Then she cast a cautious glance at Frank, who stood a few feet away, his expression belligerent.

  “Don’t pay him any mind,” Marlene said in exasperation. “His bark is way worse than his bite. Now, do you want something to eat or not?”

  Slowly she nodded.

  “That’s settled then. Sit down at the bar while I figure out what kind of leftovers we have. And Frank, you quit scaring the life out of her. She won’t be able to swallow for you
scowling at her that way. ”

  Frank sighed but put the gun down and attempted to drop the frown. It would be difficult, because all her men did love to scowl when they were put out. One thing the boys got from their father for sure.

  The girl maneuvered onto one of the bar stools, her gaze never leaving Marlene and Frank. She looked as though she’d take flight at the least provocation.

  “Now, what’s your name?” Marlene asked as she went to the fridge.

  “Rusty,” she said in a voice that Marlene had to strain to understand.

  “How the hell did you get past my security system?” Frank demanded. “My boys installed it three months ago. ”

  Rusty gave him a triumphant smirk. “It was easy. ”

  “Well goddamn,” Frank muttered. “That’s a fine waste of money. ”

  Rusty shook her head. “Not for most intruders. I just happen to know my way around electronics is all. ”

  “And why were you intruding here?” Frank demanded suspiciously.

  Rusty shifted uncomfortably and looked away. “I was hungry,” she muttered. “Looked as though you could afford it if I took a little. ”

  “I’ll have you know I’ve worked damn hard for everything I’ve got. ” He shook a finger in her direction. “That’s the problem with today’s youth—”

  “Frank, please. Don’t get started,” Marlene interjected. “You’ll give her indigestion. ”

  She pulled out several containers and plunked them on the table.

  “Do you want something too, dear?”

  He just glared at her in response.

  Marlene turned her attention to Rusty as she threw together sandwiches. “Do you have a place to stay, Rusty?”

  Rusty froze, and fear returned to her eyes. “Yeah, of course I do. I’m not homeless or anything. ”

  “You just don’t have food at this place to stay?” Marlene asked gently.

  Rusty’s lips came together in a firm line. Marlene put two sandwiches in front of her and then reached up into the cabinet for a glass.

  “Get her some ice, dear,” she instructed Frank.

  Frank looked annoyed, but he did as she asked, returning a second later with the glass. The ice crackled and popped when Marlene poured the tea, and she pushed the glass across the table to Rusty, who was already devouring one of the sandwiches.

  Marlene exchanged unhappy glances with Frank, who looked as moved by the sight as she felt.

  “Why don’t you stay here tonight?” Marlene offered.

  She wasn’t sure who was more shocked, Rusty or Frank. She silenced Frank with a look, then directed her gaze back to Rusty.


  “Why do you want me to stay?” Rusty asked warily. “I tried to steal from you. You two aren’t into any freaky shit, are you?”

  Marlene blinked in surprise, and then her heart broke as she realized what Rusty must be thinking.

  “No, honey,” she said gently. “I’m just offering you a place to sleep and a good breakfast in the morning. ”

  “But why?” Rusty blurted.

  She looked as though she wanted to cry, as if she had no idea how to deal with kindness dealt to her. Which told Marlene she’d seen far too little of it.

  “Because you look like you could use some rest and another good meal. ”

  The yearning in Rusty’s eyes hit Marlene like a hammer. Lord, but she hurt for this child.

  “And what happens tomorrow? Are you going to call the police?”

  Marlene shook her head. “No, Rusty. No police. Unless you try to steal from us again. You do that, and I’ll call Sean myself. But you’re welcome to stay. And as for what happens tomorrow, why don’t we discuss that over a hot breakfast in the morning? You’ll have to pardon me for saying so, but you look dead on your feet. ”

  “Uh yeah, sure, okay,” Rusty said around a mouthful of bread.

  “Don’t think I won’t be watching you,” Frank warned.

  Rusty’s nostrils flared, but she didn’t respond.

  “Go on and finish your meal, then I’ll show you to your room. You can take a bath and change into some of Rachel’s clothes I still have. ”

  “Who’s Rachel?” Rusty asked.

  Marlene paused, sadness creeping into her soul. “She was my daughter-in-law,” she said quietly.

  Rusty must have sensed her misstep because she didn’t press the issue further. Instead she wolfed down the remaining bite and chased it down noisily with the tea. Afterward, she wiped at her mouth with the back of her sleeve.

  Marlene’s eyes narrowed, and Frank actually grinned. If there was one thing she didn’t tolerate, it was poor table manners. Every one of her boys had been subject to her ire at some point over the years, and as a result, they all had impeccable manners, even if they didn’t always choose to use them.

  Still, she didn’t comment. The poor little chick probably hadn’t ever had too many decent meals, so table manners weren’t a priority.

  “Come on then. Let’s get you upstairs. I’ll get you some clean sheets while you’re in the shower. ”