The Darkest Hour, Page 27Maya Banks
“Yeah, yeah, I got it. If you two are finished mothering me, I’ll go make some calls while you go over and tear a strip off of Rusty’s hide. Just sorry I’ll miss it. ”
Sam watched his brother walk out of the kitchen, the papers clenched tightly in his hand.
Donovan stopped and turned, his eyebrow lifted in question.
“Put it away, okay? I’ll pull the plug on this in a nanosecond if I think your head’s not on straight. ”
Donovan’s lip curled in distrust. “I don’t tell you how to deal with your shit, Sam. Back off. Steele and I can handle this in our sleep. ”
“Fair enough. ”
Sam turned to Garrett after Donovan had left. “You going to call Ethan or am I?”
“Neither of us is calling him yet. Not until you tell me what the fuck is going on with Rio,” Garrett said.
“He’s busy,” Sam said shortly.
“Yeah? With what?”
Sam blew out his breath. “Goddamn it, Garrett. ”
“Don’t bullshit me,” Garrett snapped. “What the hell is it with you and Van making unilateral decisions around here?”
“I sent him back into Colombia,” Sam said tightly. “I’m meeting him in a couple of days and we’re going in after those bastards. I want information, and I don’t care how we get it. ”
Garrett’s eyes glittered with anger. “You sent him back. Without telling me. You’re going back. Without me. Anything else you’re doing without me, Sam?”
“Cut the crap, Garrett. This is precisely why I didn’t tell you. You’d get all pissed off and you’d want to go in with us. ”
“Goddamn right I would!”
Garrett stood and slapped his hands on the table.
“This isn’t just your family, Sam. You aren’t the lone patriarch of the clan. I get it. You want to protect everyone and take responsibility like a good soldier. Well guess what? That’s not the way it works. We’re a team. Remember? We live and die by the team. Your words. Not mine. Or do you think those rules only apply to everyone else but not you?”
“I made a decision. I stick by it. ”
“I don’t give a fuck what you decided. If you think I’m going to let you go on some half-cocked revenge mission, you’re out of your mind. ”
Sam also stood and he got into Garrett’s face. “We need information, Garrett. We need to know why the hell they kept Rachel a goddamn prisoner and treated her like an animal for a year!”
Garrett snarled and didn’t back down. They stood nose to nose, each glaring holes in the other.
“I don’t dispute we need information. You like to throw around that word without giving any yourself. Think, Sam. Use your goddamn head for a minute. You go off to South America and don’t tell us shit. You get blown to shit. What the hell am I supposed to tell Mom and Dad? What the hell am I supposed to do when I don’t even know where to look for you? This is stupid and you know it or you wouldn’t be hiding it from me. ”
“It’s revenge. It’s messy. It’s not honorable, and I can’t ask you or anyone else in this family to do what I have to do,” Sam seethed.
“Always Captain fucking America,” Garrett said mockingly. “What about Ethan and what he has to do? Rachel is his wife. Why are you fighting his battles for him?”
“Because he’s my brother. ”
Garrett stared into his eyes. He wasn’t backing down, but there was understanding there where before there had just been anger.
“You’re not going alone. ”
“You’re not going, Garrett. ”
“Try and stop me. ”
Sam ground his teeth in frustration. “Goddamn it, Garrett. ”
“I’m going or I’ll pull Rio out right now. ”
Sam raised a hand to his head. “Pull him out? When we need the intel? Are you crazy? We have to find out why they targeted Rachel. There’s a threat out there to my family. ”
“Our family,” Garrett corrected. He punched his finger in Sam’s chest to punctuate his statement. “Our family. ”
The intensity in Garrett’s expression took some of the wind out of Sam’s sails. He knew if the situations were reversed, he’d be every bit as pissed and determined as Garrett. It didn’t make it any easier to give in.
“Son of a bitch,” Sam swore. He bit out a few more colorful phrases before Garrett rocked backed on his heels, a flare of triumph on his face.
“Okay, okay. Don’t fucking rub it in. ”
Garrett shrugged. “Now, you going to call Ethan or am I?”
AS a matter of habit, Geron Castle had an array of local newspapers from across the state of Tennessee delivered to his office every morning. It was his practice to drink two cups of coffee as he browsed the human interest stories.
Ever the politician, he looked for any angle to exploit, and he pompously considered that it kept him in touch with his constituents.
He browsed through Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis first. Then he focused on the smaller publications and yawned his way through small-town bullshit. These people had no lives. Cattle, horses, hunting and fishing. It was all they seemed to live for. It was a wonder the suicide rate wasn’t higher in this godforsaken state.
He consoled himself with the fact that these uneducated, backwoods louts were the ones who put him in the Senate, and they would indirectly be responsible for him shaking the dirt of Polk County from his feet when he made the jump to the White House.
He was sipping at his second cup and idly contemplating his upcoming vacation when his gaze lighted on the article about a Stewart County resident declared dead who had miraculously returned after surviving a supposed plane crash in a South American jungle.
He choked on his coffee and sloshed it all over his lap when he read the woman’s name. Rachel Kelly.
He leapt to his feet, slapping at his pants as the heat scorched the more tender portions of his anatomy. He let out a string of curses that would have had his mother washing his mouth out with soap. She was a devout, churchgoing woman, and she had no tolerance for ungodly behavior.
Half his life had been spent following her dictates and example. The other half had been spent veering as far from the path of righteousness as a man could.
He wasn’t proud of his sins, but he didn’t regret them either.
And now it looked like his sins were coming back to haunt him.
He tossed the cup aside, ignoring the stain on the carpet and the line of liquid on his desk. He snatched the paper back up and read the article in its entirety.
This was a disaster. Not just a disaster but the end of his career. The end of his presidency before it ever began.
How the hell was the little bitch alive?
The fucking drug cartel had screwed him over. What possible motivation they’d had for reneging on their end of the deal he didn’t know, but they wouldn’t get away with it.
He grabbed his phone and started to dial and then slammed it back down, shaking his head at his stupidity. This wasn’t a safe place to make such an important call. He couldn’t use his cell phone either.
Impatience and panic vied for equal attention. He flung his chair back and all but ran from his office, past his startled secretary, who probably saw the mess he’d made of his clothing.
Then he forced himself to calm down. Nothing good would come of him drawing unwanted attention. He forced a smile at his secretary and told her he was going home to change. A slight mishap, he said with a fake smile.
He drove out of town, giving thanks he hadn’t been in D. C. when the newspaper article was released. He didn’t always get the papers at his residence or his office there. What would have happened if he’d missed it?
At the first gas station with a pay phone he came to, he pulled off and made sure no one was close enough to overhear his call. Then he placed a phone call. His instructions were
The cartel had fucked up. He needed no witnesses. Anyone who could connect him to drug trafficking had to die.
And Rachel Kelly needed to return to the grave.
RACHEL hung up the phone with shaking hands, and then she turned to Ethan, praying she didn’t look as sick as she felt. Her stomach churned, and she was eternally grateful she’d refused breakfast.
“She’ll see me right away,” she said in a low voice.
Ethan closed the distance between them and pulled her into his arms. She clung to him, her anchor, the only thing in her world that made sense right now.
“Do you want me to go?”
She hesitated, because more than anything she wanted him to go with her. She was scared to death and didn’t want to do this alone. But worse than her fear of being without Ethan was her fear of him finding out why she was finally agreeing to go to the therapist in the first place. How could she face him and relate the horrible things she dreamed about at night when he’d been so absolutely wonderful to her?
“No, I need to do this on my own. ”
Her lips trembled so bad she could barely get the words out without the urge to puke. The thought of going to some stranger and laying out her soul terrified her.
He leaned in and brushed his lips across hers. Then he deepened the kiss, seeking and exploring her mouth.
When he pulled away, they were both breathing hard, and her lips were swollen and tingling.
He reached into his pocket and took out a cell phone, and placed it on the counter next to her.
“This is yours. I’ve programmed my number as well as everyone else’s in the family. Sean, the sheriff, and all the deputies. Anyone I could think of that you might ever need. If you change your mind, you call me. I’ll be there as soon as I can. ”
She smiled and leaned into him, circling his waist with her arms. She gave him a squeeze, pleased that she could feel and act so affectionate with him after the terror of her dreams the night before. In the daylight they faded and made her feel silly and reactionary.
The phone rang, startling her. They rarely got calls, and she was sure it was because Ethan’s family was respecting their privacy.
Tentatively she reached to pick it up, remembering that this was her house too. She actually smiled as she brought the phone to her ear. Her home. Her phone.
There was a short pause and then Sam’s voice sounded in her ear.
“Hey, Rachel, how are you?”
His tone was gentle as it always was, and remembering how abrupt and foulmouthed he was with his brothers, she grinned. For once the thought of the big man didn’t intimidate her.
“Hi, Sam. I’m good. ”
“That’s great, honey. Is Ethan around? I need to speak to him for just a minute. ”
“Sure. He’s right here. ”
She turned and handed the phone to him.
He gave her a quick kiss and then took it.
Rachel moved away to give him space, but even across the room she felt the sudden anger emanate from him.
“What the hell? You’re shitting me. ”
She winced and turned in concern to see Ethan’s face clouded in fury.
“You’ll have to come by to get me. I need a ride. Rachel’s taking the truck. I still haven’t gotten her new wheels. ”
He glanced up at her as he spoke and made an effort to ease his expression.
“Yeah, give me half an hour, okay? Don’t you fucking go over there without me. ”
He hung up the phone and curled his fist into a tight ball. He looked for the world like he wanted to smash something, but he stood there, breathing in and out, instead.
“Ethan?” she asked cautiously.
He slowly relaxed his fist and looked back at her. He even tried to smile. “It’s okay, baby. Just some stupid stunt Rusty has pulled. Sam wants to go over and give her hell. It’s time Mom came to her senses. This girl is trouble, and this time she’s gone too far. ”
Rachel frowned unhappily. “Oh, that’s too bad. Try not to be too hard on her or your mom. Rusty has had such a bad time. She just seems so fragile. ”
To her surprise, Ethan smiled, so much that it lit up his entire face. He crossed the room and took her shoulders in his hands.
“God, you sound just like yourself. So tenderhearted and always looking out for the underdog. ”
“I’m trying, Ethan. I really am. I want to be the Rachel everyone knows. I just have to remember her first. ”
“I know, baby. I know. You should get on the road. I want you to be careful, and if anything freaks you out or if you just get there and change your mind, you call me. I’ll come immediately. ”
She rose up on tiptoe to kiss him. “I will. I promise. ”
RUSTY sat on the edge of her bed staring down at the fingers that had lost feeling five minutes ago. Her knuckles were white, but she didn’t lessen her grip on them.
Even with her door closed she could hear the raised voices drifting up the stairs from the living room. Sam, Garrett and Ethan were there along with Nathan and Joe, Marlene and Frank. A regular family meeting. The only people missing were Donovan and Rachel.