The darkest hour, p.13
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       The Darkest Hour, p.13

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
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Page 13


  “You let us worry about that,” Sam said. “You just take care of Rachel and get her home as soon as possible. ”

  He slapped his hand on Ethan’s back. “This is the best news this family has gotten in a long time. Just think about how great Christmas is going to be this year. ”

  For a moment Ethan couldn’t even speak. Christmas. Rachel was crazy about the holidays. She and his mom drove everyone nuts every year decorating, shopping, making everyone else join in on cutesy family celebrations. He hadn’t realized just how much he enjoyed that time of year until last year, the first Christmas Rachel missed. It had been a solemn, gut-wrenching holiday.

  He’d spent Christmas Eve alone at home with a bottle of cheap liquor. In the dark. No festive lights or Christmas music that predated his grandparents. Only the memory of Rachel’s smile and the way she tore into presents on Christmas morning.

  He would have given anything for just one more Christmas with her, and now his wish had been granted.

  “God help us,” Donovan said in amusement. “Between Rachel and Mom, no one will escape with their sanity intact. ”

  Garrett rolled his eyes. “Or without one of those stupid Santa hats. ”

  “Which reminds me, it’s your turn to play Santa,” Sam told Garrett.

  They all burst out laughing at the deer in the headlights look that flashed on Garrett’s face. God, it felt good to laugh again. To not feel like nothing good would ever happen.

  Ethan grinned broadly as he stared at his brothers. He’d missed them as well. The last year had been painful enough without Rachel, but he’d closed himself off from his family as well. This would be a homecoming for him as much as Rachel.

  “I’ll let them dress me like Rudolph if it puts a smile on their faces,” Garrett said after he stole a quick look at Rachel who was still sleeping soundly.

  “Amen to that,” Donovan muttered.

  Sam’s expression grew serious as he looked at Garrett and Ethan. “We need to get on out of here. You two stay in touch and be careful. Donovan and I will break the news to Mom and Dad and get things ready for Rachel to come home. ”

  Ethan stared back at Sam and then glanced at Donovan and then Garrett.

  “Thanks. ”

  “Come on, Van. Let’s go before Ethan gets mushy again,” Sam said.

  Ethan slugged Sam in the gut as he walked by and Sam bent over in an exaggerated grimace.

  “Pussy,” Garrett muttered.

  Ethan turned to Garrett. “Will you hang out here in case Rachel wakes up? I want to see them out. ”

  “Yeah sure. Go ahead. Give them a kiss for me while you’re at it. ”

  Ethan grinned and shook his head. Then he flipped up his middle finger as he walked out behind his brothers.

  RACHEL stirred and sleepily opened her eyes. Then she remembered the things . . . the bugs that had crawled over her body, and she yanked her gaze down to her arms, her belly. But all she saw was bloodstained clothing.

  She frowned as she struggled to remember all that had happened in her hysteria. And then as she looked beyond the bed, she saw Garrett slouched in a chair by the window.

  When he saw she was awake, he immediately got up and moved to stand beside the bed. His smile was gentle, and his voice low and soothing.

  “Hey, sweet pea. How you doing?”

  She tried to smile, but she felt more like crying.

  Garrett sat down on the edge of the bed like Ethan had done the night before. “Hey now, don’t look like that. ”

  “I’m losing my mind. ”

  Her voice came out as a sob, and she despised it.

  He touched her cheek and smoothed hair from her face. “You’re not losing your mind, Rachel. You’re getting it back. There’s a difference. You’ve been through a very tough time. Most people wouldn’t have survived it, but you did. Don’t sell yourself short. ”

  Tears gathered in her eyes, and he gently thumbed one away as it trickled down her cheek.

  “Where’s Ethan?”

  “He’ll be back soon. Want me to go get him?”

  She shook her head. She did want him, but she hated the way she seemed to cling to him. Surely she could survive a few moments alone. But then she wasn’t alone. Garrett was here, and he’d been her friend. She knew that much.

  “You gave me away at my wedding,” she whispered.

  He smiled. “I did. It was a toss-up, really. Dad very much wanted the honor. ”

  She cocked her head to the side. “Then why didn’t he?”

  “Because you asked me to,” he said simply.

  “Ethan said I had no family, that I was a part of his before we ever married. ” It was voiced as a question rather than the statement she’d intended.

  “That’s true. Mom taught you in school. You were always one of her favorite students. After your parents died, she pretty much adopted you into the Kelly fold. ”

  “So Ethan and I knew each other? I mean before we got involved?” Then she frowned. “Involved” sounded so . . . impersonal.

  Garrett smiled. “I’m pretty certain he always noticed you, but it wasn’t until he came home on leave and discovered that our younger brother Joe had asked you out that he got his ass in gear. ”

  Her brow furrowed in concentration. Try as she might she couldn’t summon a mental picture of Joe or Nathan. “Ethan told me that Nathan and Joe were twins, but I can’t remember either of them. ”

  “Maybe when you see them it will all come back, and if it doesn’t, there’s no hurry,” he said easily.

  “Why don’t I remember them? Or Sam or Donovan?” She shook her head in confusion. “I don’t remember your parents either, and it sounds like I was close to your mom. ”

  “Give it time, sweet pea. You’ve got all the time in the world now. You have nothing to worry about other than resting and letting us all take care of you. ”

  “They aren’t. . . ” She trailed off and looked down.

  “They aren’t what?”

  “Sam isn’t mad because I can’t remember him? Or Donovan?”

  Garrett took her hand in his, letting her fingers lie over his much larger ones. “No one is angry with you. We all love you. Sam and Donovan too. They just want you home where you’re safe and healthy. ”

  “I want to go home. It’s so hard for me to believe I have a home. I used to dream. I thought I made the memories up but now I know they really happened. ”

  “What kinds of things?” Garrett asked.

  She pursed her lips, concentrating on the haphazard images dancing in her mind. “There’s a lake and a dock. I’m barefooted and wearing shorts. You’re standing in front of me and Ethan is behind. I run to you thinking that you’ll save me from Ethan, but you pick me up and toss me into the water. ”

  A warm smile transformed the darkness of his features. She stared at him in fascination.

  “You don’t smile much. ”

  He gave her a startled look.

  “I know that,” she said, “and I also know that you smile for me. I remember that. I remember that I can make you laugh and that everyone teases you about being so grouchy. ”

  He chuckled lightly. “Yes, I’m grouchy and yes you can always make me laugh. Yes, I threw you in the water when I was supposed to be saving you from Ethan. You paid me back later, though. ”

  “Oh?” She leaned up in the bed in her excitement. Information. Details. She craved them as much as her body craved the drugs.

  “You conned Sam, Donovan, Joe and Nathan into ganging up on me and tossing me into the lake. It took all four I might add, but you got your revenge. I took two in with me,” he added smugly.

  She smiled, feeling the wonder of his words clear to her soul. It did sound like she had family, like they were all a family.

  And then she frowned again. “Why am I so afraid of Sam? It sounds like I had a good relationship with him. ”

  “Because you can’t reme
mber him yet. You fear the unknown. You remember me and Ethan so you feel comfortable with us. As more of your memory returns, you’ll remember how comfortable you were with us all. ”

  She nodded, grasping onto his explanation, drawing comfort from the idea that she wouldn’t be this scared mouse forever. And then she had an unsettling thought. What if she had always been this timid?

  Garrett laughed, and she realized she’d voiced the question aloud.

  “You’ve always been quiet and shy, particularly around new people, but I’d never call you timid. You fit into our family as if you’d been born a Kelly, and you never took any crap off anyone. No one could survive our family for an extended period of time if they were timid. We’re loud, noisy. . . ”

  “But we protect our own,” she said as if repeating someone else’s words.

  “The Kelly mantra. See, you remember more than you think. ”

  “Don’t fuck with the Kellys,” she said and then her eyes widened as the expletive rolled off her tongue. She slapped a hand over her mouth and stared at Garrett with shocked eyes.

  He threw back his head and laughed. “Got it in one, sweet pea. I couldn’t have said it better myself. ”

  Ethan stood just outside the door, listening to Garrett and Rachel talk. Then he heard Garrett’s laughter and then astonishingly Rachel’s as well. The sound hit him where he lived, put a chokehold around his throat until he struggled to breathe. There wasn’t a more beautiful sound than her laughter, but he hadn’t been the one to coax it from her. Garrett had. Just as he always had.

  He willed the bitterness, the old feelings of insecurity and jealousy to leave him. They’d never brought him anything but misery. Him and Rachel both. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t allow that back into their lives. He’d sworn on Rachel’s grave that if he had a chance to do it all over again, he wouldn’t give in to the jealousy that nearly ate him alive during their marriage.

  “Why do I have blood on my clothes?” she asked when the laughter died away.

  “Just an accident with the IV,” Garrett replied. “Want me to get you something clean to wear?”

  There was a brief hesitation, and Ethan couldn’t stand outside any longer. He walked into the room, making sure his face didn’t reflect the dark train of his thoughts.

  When she looked up, he forgot all about everything else except the way she lit up when she saw him. Garrett got off the bed and turned to face Ethan.

  “I’ll go get her something else to wear if you want. ”

  “Thanks, I appreciate it. Check with Maren. She said she had a clean gown she could wear when she woke. ”

  Garrett nodded and started to move past him, but Ethan stopped him.

  “Thanks, man. ”

  Garrett didn’t react, just nodded and moved past as if it were nothing. As if Rachel’s laughter hadn’t about put Ethan on his knees.

  Ethan moved forward to take Garrett’s place on the bed. “Garrett been taking good care of you?” he asked as he settled into place.

  She smiled and nodded. “He said you wouldn’t be long. ”

  “I wouldn’t have left, but I needed to see Sam and Donovan off. ”

  “Off? Did they leave?”

  He nodded. “They went ahead of us. Cole and Dolphin needed medical care, and Sam and Donovan are going to break the news to Mom and Dad. As soon as Maren gives the okay for you to travel, we’ll go back too. ”

  “I want to go home,” she said softly. “I don’t like it here. ”

  “I know, baby. I want you home too. You can’t imagine how much I want you back in our house, where I can hold you and take care of you. ”

  She stared up at him with wide brown eyes. There was a certain amount of trepidation in her gaze, and she licked her lips as if she was struggling with what she wanted to say.

  “Is there something wrong?” he asked.

  She gave a short negative motion with her head. And then words, so sweet, like a cool northern breeze blowing off the lake. “You could hold me now. ”

  It was almost his undoing.

  “Ah baby. ”

  He turned and reclined beside her until she was tucked solidly against his chest. Then he wrapped his arms around her, one sliding underneath her head as he gathered her close.

  Her heart beat against his chest, fluttering like a baby bird. She gave a contented sigh that he felt all the way to his soul.

  Life didn’t get any better than this moment. It would never be sweeter, and he’d never hungered for something more.

  Garrett walked in a second later, but when he saw them, he dropped the gown on the end of the bed and quickly retreated.

  She could change later. For now Ethan was reluctant to disturb the wonder of having his wife snuggled deep in his arms.


  MARLENE had just set dinner on the table when she heard the front door open and the sweetest words filled her ears.

  “Ma, we’re home! Where are you?”

  She turned just as Joe and Nathan rounded the corner, both grinning like idiots, with bags slung over their shoulders. They let them fall to the floor about the time her mouth did the same.