The darkest hour, p.15
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       The Darkest Hour, p.15

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
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Page 15


  “Oh, my God!”

  The entire room erupted in a chorus of denials, of exclamations and demands for more information. Nathan and Joe stood while Marlene buried her face in her hands. Frank gripped the sides of his chair with white knuckles. Only the young girl viewed the goings-on with disinterest.

  “What do you mean held prisoner?” Nathan demanded. “What the fuck is going on, Sam?”

  For once, their mother didn’t threaten to wash his mouth out with soap. Sam doubted she’d even heard what Nathan said. Her features were drawn in shock.

  “Is she okay, Sam?” his mom asked.

  “She’s not, but she will be,” Donovan said soothingly. “It’s going to take time. ”

  “She’s very fragile,” Sam said grimly. “It’s why we came ahead to break the news so that hopefully things will have calmed down by the time Ethan brings her home. ”

  “Calm down?” Marlene asked. “Calm down? How can I calm down? You tell me the daughter of my heart is alive after we’ve mourned her for the last year and I’m supposed to be calm? When is she coming home, Sam, and just how bad is she?”

  “That’s just it, Mom. We have to be calm. She can’t stand the excitement. She’s . . . she’s in withdrawal. They kept her heavily medicated during her captivity. We don’t know what all she endured. She’s on the verge of shattering, so we absolutely cannot overwhelm her when she gets home. ”

  “There’s something else you should know,” Donovan said quietly.

  All eyes turned to him.

  “She can’t remember a lot of her life. ”

  “What?” Marlene gasped. Tears crowded her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. “My baby can’t remember us?”

  “She remembers Ethan. And Garrett. Not much else. I scare her witless, and Donovan might as well be a stranger,” Sam said grimly.

  “Lord have mercy,” Frank said shakily. “That poor child. ” He looked over at Sam, his eyes drawn and angry. “Why? Why did they do this to her?”

  “I don’t know that, Dad. But I plan to find out. ”

  “Holy shit,” Joe breathed. “This is heavy stuff. ” Then he looked up at Sam. “Drug cartel?”

  Sam nodded.

  Nathan swore. “What the hell happened? Did she see something over there she shouldn’t have? And if so, why the big charade? Why not just kill her and be done with it?”

  “Nathan!” his mother exclaimed in a shocked whisper.

  “He’s asking a valid question, Marlene,” Frank said. “He’s not saying they should have killed her, but it seems awfully damn weird that they sent us home her rings and told us she was on a plane that she obviously never set foot on. ”

  “Are you sure it’s Rachel?” Joe asked.

  Both Donovan and Sam nodded.

  “Thank God. Thank God,” Marlene choked out. “It’s a miracle. She’s alive. ” For the first time, joy shone in her eyes as it finally sank in that Rachel was alive. “What a wonderful gift. Ethan must be beside himself. ”

  Donovan blew out his breath. “This isn’t going to be easy for either of them. They’re going to need a lot of help from us. The biggest thing we can do is not to crowd them and to let them find their way back on their own terms. ”

  “When are they coming back?” Marlene demanded. “I need to go over and clean the house and get everything ready for them. There’s groceries to buy. She’ll need new clothes. ”

  Sam held up his hand. “One thing at a time, Mom,” he said soothingly. “It’ll be a few days. She’s being treated, and the doctor wanted her to wait a few days before traveling. You’re right, she’ll need new clothes. She’s thinner. Coming home to a bunch of clothes that don’t fit her might be upsetting, so it would be nice if you could shop for her. ”

  Marlene brightened. “Rusty and I can shop for her, can’t we, Rusty?”

  She turned to where the girl had been sitting a few moments earlier, but her chair was now empty. Marlene blinked in surprise. No one had seen her leave.

  “Who is Rusty?” Donovan asked.

  “Someone who will be staying here awhile,” Marlene said almost belligerently.

  Sam exchanged pained looks with his brothers. Their mother’s defensive tone could only mean one thing. She’d taken in another stray. Only this time it was a human.

  “Mom. . . ,” Joe began.

  “Don’t you ‘Mom’ me, young man,” she said firmly. “Rusty is a guest here, and you’ll treat her like one of the family, you hear?”

  Then her expression softened. “She needs us, boys. The poor thing. You can’t imagine the life she’s had. ”

  Sam blew out his breath in frustration. The last thing they needed right now was a rebellious teenager who’d managed to con their softhearted mother into opening her home.

  With that, Marlene stood up and clapped her hands together. The brothers looked at one another and groaned. It wasn’t any wonder they’d gravitated toward the military. Their mother rivaled any drill sergeant they’d ever encountered.

  “We have a lot to do and not much time to get it all done,” she said firmly. She pinned Nathan and Joe with her stare. “I want you two to get over and get Ethan’s yard in shape. Frank and I will tackle the inside, and then I’ll go shopping for groceries and the things that Rachel will need. ”

  Sam eyed her indulgently. “And Donovan and I?”

  Her gaze softened, and she walked over and pulled him up to stand in front of her. Then she enfolded him in her arms and hugged him tightly. “I want you and Van to go home and get cleaned up and sleep for about twenty-four hours straight. You both look like hell. ”

  He hugged her back and allowed the first strains of emotion to escape. His family had suffered multiple blows over the last year, and they had some hard issues to face, but for the first time in a long time, they were all going to be together again.

  “As much as I’d love to do just that, Van and I have a lot to get done. Our mission isn’t over, and we have injured to see about. ”

  “Anything we can do, Sam?” Nathan asked.

  It was a fact, he’d welcome his younger brothers’ help, but he wasn’t about to tear them away from their mom on their first day home.

  As if knowing the direction of his thoughts, Marlene let out a snort and stepped away. “If you need them, they’re yours, Sam. The sooner you get your business squared away, the sooner I can have my family together under one roof. ”

  “Glad we’re handed around so easily,” Joe drawled. “This feels like the damn army. ”

  “Well, if you’re serious about the offer to help, Van and I could sure use you. I’m getting reports every three hours from Garrett, and Rio is back on the ground. Cole and Dolphin are at Fort Campbell, but I don’t expect them to stay more than twenty-four hours before they demand for me to get them the hell out of there. Steele, Renshaw and Baker are itching to go back into action, and I’m leaning toward letting them because Rio is without any sort of backup. ”

  “Nathan and I—”

  “Don’t even say it,” Donovan broke in. “You two buttheads don’t belong to us. You belong to Uncle Sam, and he gets pretty pissy when his recruits show up in foreign countries on private missions. ”

  “The best you can do is come back to the house and help out with the communications while Van and I catch some sleep. I can’t even tell you the last time we caught any shut-eye. ”

  “I expect you all back here for lunch tomorrow,” Marlene said firmly.

  “Fried chicken?” Donovan asked hopefully.

  Marlene patted him on the cheek and then hugged him as she’d done Sam. “For you, anything. Now go home and get some rest. ”


  “RACHEL . Rachel, honey, wake up. ”

  Rachel roused herself from the deep void of sleep and rubbed a tired hand across her eyes. Then she squinted as the bright sunlight speared her vision.

  The plane came to a stop and the whir of the jets
cut off. Next to her, Ethan stroked gentle fingers across her cheek.

  It was then she realized that they’d already landed.

  She sat up, then weaved precariously as she moved too fast. Ethan caught her arms and steadied her. Across from them, Garrett unstrapped himself and went to open the hatch.

  “Are you ready?” Ethan asked.

  “Where are we?”

  “We just landed at the Henry County airport. We’re about forty minutes from home. ”

  She let him help her up and guide her toward the exit. Garrett was there to grab her hand as she stepped down. The sandals she’d borrowed from Dr. Scofield slid up and down on her feet as she struggled to keep her footing. The clothes, like the shoes, were too big, but she was clean and comfortable, which was more than she could say she’d been for a very long time.

  Sam stood a few feet away. She almost didn’t recognize him in the faded jeans and white T-shirt he wore. He seemed much more approachable out of the camouflage warrior mode. Even his expression was softer, less threatening. He wasn’t quite so scary.

  He stood with arms crossed, watching as they got down from the jet. He leaned nonchalantly against the parked SUV, but he smiled when he saw her.

  Determined to put on as brave a front as possible, she straightened her shoulders and pried herself free of Garrett’s and Ethan’s grasp. Each step forward, away from their support, felt like walking into a void, but she pressed on anyway, until she was just a foot away from Sam.

  “Hello, Sam,” she said in a low but steady voice.

  His smile deepened, and he opened his arms, but made no move toward her. It was up to her to accept the gesture. Taking a deep breath, she walked into his embrace. His arms came around her as he hugged her tightly.

  “Hello, sweetheart,” he said against her ear. “Welcome home. ”

  Tears pricked her eyes, and she buried her face in his neck. He smelled like Ethan. Strong and steady.

  He kissed her hair and simply held her until finally she pulled away. His hand came out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear in a tender gesture.

  “How you feeling?” he asked.

  “I don’t know,” she said honestly. “I’m . . . I’m a little scared. ”

  Ethan’s hands crept over her shoulders, and she turned instinctively into the shelter of his arms. He pressed a kiss to her temple. “There’s no need to be afraid, baby. You’re home now with people who love you. ”

  “Come on. I’ve got the truck waiting,” Sam said.

  Rachel watched as he and Garrett picked up the few bags that Ethan and Garrett had brought back with them, and then they headed toward an SUV parked several feet away. Ethan gave her a squeeze and then urged her forward.

  She walked almost mechanically, unable to process the bizarre feeling that this was all normal, or it should be. After months and months of fear and captivity, she was free. Back in the regular world. She’d resume her life as if it hadn’t been on hold for the last year. As if the people who loved her hadn’t gone on with their lives without her.

  Garrett piled into the front while Ethan ushered her into the back and then crawled in beside her. Sam got into the driver’s seat and pulled away from the small landing strip.

  It could hardly be called an airport. It was a tiny airstrip in the middle of acres of farm ground. There were only two hangars, one larger and one much smaller, and they were just tin buildings.

  Their truck kicked up a cloud of dust as they drove away. Moments later, Sam pulled onto a paved highway and sped up. Rachel looked curiously out her window, hoping something—anything—would register with her.

  After several miles, she gave up. It looked like any place. She could be anywhere.

  Rachel leaned into the curve of Ethan’s arm, and he immediately tightened his hold on her.

  “You okay?” he murmured.

  She nodded. She hadn’t completely shaken off the effects of her withdrawal. The last several days had been harrowing, an experience she never wanted to repeat. There was still an aching emptiness, a hollow void begging to be filled, but it was more bearable now. And she refused to give in. She wouldn’t be the only weak one amid these strong warriors.

  Ethan had stuck by her side—he and Garrett. They’d taken turns holding her when she screamed and cried, when she’d begged for relief. At her most desperate hour, she’d pleaded with Ethan to get her the drugs.

  He’d stood with her, fully clothed, in the shower when she’d been convinced she was covered with spiders. She still shuddered at the memory of the horrible creatures—hundreds of them—scuttling across her body.

  After several seemingly endless days, the worst had been over. She was exhausted, and she knew Ethan and Garrett hadn’t fared much better.

  “Where are we going exactly?” she asked. It was silly to ask. Ethan and Garrett had gone over the details of her homecoming numerous times, but she couldn’t help the anxiety that swam rivers through her mind.