The darkest hour, p.29
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       The Darkest Hour, p.29

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
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Page 29


  She pulled to the shoulder and cut the engine, knowing she couldn’t drive another mile. She gripped the steering wheel at the top and buried her face against the backs of her wrists and wept.

  SEAN Cameron topped the hill and automatically slowed when he saw the SUV pulled to the shoulder. No flashers were on even though he could see someone in the driver’s seat. He frowned. It looked a lot like Ethan’s vehicle. But the driver was too small to be Ethan. It looked more like a woman. Or a really short man.

  As he neared, he radioed plates and pulled behind the vehicle. He didn’t have to wait for the dispatcher to come back. It was definitely Ethan’s truck.

  Checking back for oncoming traffic, he got out and cautiously approached. In the sideview mirror he caught the image of a woman bent over the steering wheel. Rachel.

  He dropped his hand from his holster and hurried forward. He could see her shoulders shaking through the window, but she never even registered his presence.

  Not wanting to frighten her, he carefully tapped on the glass. She reacted violently, yanking herself up, her ravaged, tearstained face staring back at him. Her pupils dilated—in fear? His chest tightened at the idea that he’d inadvertently scared her.

  “Open the door, Rachel,” he said, loud enough so she could hear through the glass.

  For a moment he thought she’d refuse, and then her eyes dulled in resignation, and she hesitantly opened the door a crack.

  He pried the door from her fingers and then went down on one knee. “What’s wrong, Rachel? Are you okay? Did you have an accident?”

  He couldn’t see any damage to the vehicle, but he hadn’t been around it for a full inspection.

  A low sob welled from her throat and more tears trickled down her cheeks.

  “You should arrest me, Sean. ”

  Of all the things he’d thought she might say, that wasn’t one of them. He rocked back, completely poleaxed by her statement.

  He eyed passing traffic with concern. This wasn’t the best place to hash out whatever Rachel thought he should arrest her for, and it was obvious this wasn’t something that would be solved in one or two minutes.

  He rose and reached gently for her elbow. “Come sit in my car with me. I’d feel better if we were farther out of the line of traffic. Then you can tell me what’s bothering you. ”

  She looked so damn forlorn that it discomfited him. Hell, he dealt with women in various forms of distress all the time through his job. He arrested them, gave them bad news, took reports from the abused, but he didn’t know any of them.

  She stared ahead, biting her lower lip as if she couldn’t decide what she should do.

  “Come on, honey,” he said a little more forcefully. “Let’s go talk about it and then I’ll get you home. ”

  She turned her gaze to him and her eyes filled with tears again. “I can’t go home, Sean. ”

  Hell. What was he supposed to say to that? And where the hell was Ethan?

  He lifted her arm, hoping she wouldn’t fight him. He reached down to unclasp her seat belt and urged her from her seat. She stumbled as she got out, and he wrapped an arm around her waist to support her as they walked toward his squad car.

  “No, not in the back,” he said when she went in that direction.

  He walked around to the front passenger seat and ushered her inside. Then he hurried around to the driver’s side and slid in next to her.

  He tapped his thumbs on the steering wheel for a moment and then broached the subject head-on.

  “Why on earth do you think I should take you to jail?”

  She raised a trembling hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. He could see the deep pain grooved on her forehead.

  “God, Sean. Do you know what I almost did? I came out of the therapist’s office. ” She broke off and laughed, a harsh, brittle sound. “I ran out of the office more like. All I could think was what a mess my life is and how I wanted the needle more than I wanted to live. I looked over and saw this kid riding his skateboard in the parking lot of the grocery store. A kid, Sean. And I wondered if he’d know how to score a hit. I got out of the truck before I even realized what I was doing. ”

  She wilted in the seat, all the fight completely gone. There was such despair in her eyes that it made him want to cry like a damn baby.

  “Ah shit, Rachel. You should have called me. Or Ethan. Or anyone else. ”

  She jerked her head around, her eyes red-rimmed, exhaustion and self-recrimination stark in her features.

  “What was I supposed to say? That I’m the world’s biggest screwup? That I’m trying my best to mess up my life as soon as I get it back? Do you have any idea how much I hate myself?”

  Sean pulled her into his arms and stroked her hair. “Give yourself a break. You didn’t do it. Do you hear me? You didn’t do it. You may have wanted to but nothing you could ever say will convince me that you would have gone through with it. And I sure as hell can’t arrest someone for wanting to commit a crime for God’s sake. If that was the case, the whole damn world would be in jail, including yours truly. ”

  Her muffled laughter sounded pitiful, but at least she’d stopped crying.

  “I’m about to go out of my mind,” she said against his shirt.

  He could feel the light shudders of her body and knew she was suffering. How she’d endured this far was a mystery to him.

  “I’m not sure I have a mind left,” she added.

  He held her for a minute and absently ran his hand through her hair.

  “You’re doing fine. You probably insisted on going alone this morning when you should have been willing to ask for help. You’re surrounded by people who’d drop things at a moment’s notice if you needed them. You need to be willing to use that. We’re your family. That’s what families do. It’s what you used to do for everyone else. Now it’s our turn to repay that. Do you understand that? You don’t have to make it on your own. It doesn’t make you weak to need help. You don’t remember, but when I first came on the job, I was shot because I did a really stupid thing. I was a rookie. Second week on the job and I thought I knew it all. Went into a situation without backup because I was confident I didn’t need anyone’s help. I’m lucky I didn’t get killed.

  “During my recovery you and Marlene took turns cooking for me. You cleaned my house. Did my grocery shopping. Made sure all my bills were paid. And you lectured me endlessly about making damn sure I never did something so stupid again.

  “Now, you tell me how that’s any different than what’s going on with you. You need help. You’ve got a family who’s all dying to pamper you and spoil you endlessly. Not everyone is as lucky to have a family like yours. ”

  She pulled away and stared up at him, a mystified look on her face.

  “I guess I am being pretty stupid. I just feel so ashamed. It kills me that I can’t just turn off the need. Most days I’m okay, but then days like today I need it so much I feel like I’m going to die without it. ”

  “Those are the days you need your family the most,” he said gently.

  She blew out a long breath and sagged against the seat.

  “I’ll drive you home. Ethan can have one of his brothers come back to get the truck. You shouldn’t be driving right now. You’re damn lucky you didn’t wrap yourself around a telephone pole. ”

  She reached over and hugged him so tight he couldn’t catch his breath.

  “Thank you,” she breathed. “Just thank you. ”

  He pulled her away long enough to level a hard stare at her. “Promise me something, Rachel. Promise me if you ever find yourself in that situation again, you’ll call me immediately. Don’t make me respond to a call because you’ve gotten involved with the wrong person and I have to be the one to tell Ethan you’re dead. ”

  She shivered and her eyes went wide, but he didn’t regret for a minute scaring her this time.

  “I promise,” she said in a low voice.
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  “Okay then, let’s get you home. ”


  “LEAVE it to Dad to make us all feel like shit,” Ethan grumbled.

  Sam chuckled and Garrett just scowled.

  The brothers stood outside with Nathan and Joe, while inside their mom was busy mopping up Rusty’s tears and laying down the law. Again.

  “It was a stupid stunt. She should have known better,” Garrett growled.

  “She’s a kid,” Nathan said in her defense. “A scared, strung-out kid who’s never had anyone give a damn about her. Cut her some slack. We all did some pretty stupid shit when we were her age. ”

  “Speak for yourself,” Joe said mockingly. “I was an angel. ”

  Snorts abounded.

  “Where’s Van today anyway?” Nathan asked. “I wanted to see him before Joe and I head back to Fort Campbell. ”

  Sam and Garrett exchanged glances, and Ethan leaned forward in interest. So did Nathan and Joe.

  “Researching a mission he’s taken on,” Sam said.

  Joe’s brow went up. “He’s taken on? I take it you don’t approve?”

  Garrett made a rude noise. “He’s heading the job with part of Steele’s team. Sam and I just don’t happen to be going along. ”

  Nathan made an exaggerated expression of shock. “You? Mr. Have to Be Involved in Everything? Not going?”

  Garrett held up his middle finger. “Fuck you. ”

  Ethan’s cell phone rang, and he quickly dug into his pocket. Everyone who’d have any business calling him was with him. Except for Rachel.

  He glanced at the LCD and frowned. Sean? He flipped the phone open and stuck it to his ear.

  “Hey, man. ”

  “Ethan, hey. Look, I’m driving Rachel home, but I need one of your brothers to go pick up your truck. It’s on the shoulder of 79 just outside of town. ”

  Ethan motioned for his brothers to be quiet.

  “What the hell? What happened? Why is Rachel with you?”

  “She’s fine, Ethan. Relax. I don’t want to get into it on the phone. I’m on my way. We’ll be at your house in about ten. I just wanted to be sure you’d be there. ”

  Ethan held the phone away in shock when the call was disconnected. What the fuck? Blood pounded in his ears. Why hadn’t she called him, and why the hell was his truck on the side of the highway? He was going to kick Sean’s ass for this.

  “What’s up?” Sam demanded.

  Ethan shoved the phone back into his pocket. “Look, can one of you go get my truck? Sean said it’s parked on 79 just outside town. He’s driving Rachel home. ”

  “Shit,” Garrett swore. “Is Rachel okay?”

  “Sean said she was but wouldn’t say anything else. I need a ride home. He said he’d be there in ten. ”

  “Come on,” Sam said in his usual take-charge manner. “Garrett and I’ll drive you home. Nathan? Can you take Joe to get Ethan’s truck and drive it back to his house?”

  “Yeah sure. No problem. ” Nathan looked in Ethan’s direction. “Hope everything’s okay, man. ”

  Ethan wasn’t paying attention. He was already climbing into Sam’s truck.

  The ride home was silent, which was just as well. Ethan had no desire to talk or speculate. Worry was eating a hole in his gut. He should have never let Rachel go alone, no matter what she said. Had she been in an accident? Had the appointment with the therapist been too much?

  “Stop beating yourself up,” Garrett said in a low voice. “You don’t even know what, if anything, happened. Save it. ”

  Ethan blew out his breath in frustration and didn’t respond.

  When they pulled into the driveway, Sean’s patrol car was already parked in front. No one was in it, and as soon as Sam pulled up beside it, Ethan hopped out and hurried to the front door.

  “Rachel?” he called as soon as he got inside. “Baby, where are you?”

  He burst into the living room to see Rachel sitting on the couch, her face pale and drawn, her eyes red-rimmed and swollen from crying. Sean sat beside her, and relief flashed over his face when he looked up to see Ethan. He stood and moved forward to meet Ethan.

  Ethan’s stomach dropped as he locked onto Rachel. He walked past Sean, ignoring everything but the look on Rachel’s face. She looked . . . lost.

  Sean stepped back to the couch and briefly leaned down where Rachel could hear him.

  “Remember your promise. And tell Ethan everything. It’ll be okay, I swear it. ”

  She nodded but looked away, as if trying to hold on to her rapidly deteriorating composure.

  Sean touched Ethan on the shoulder and then walked across the living room to where Sam and Garrett now stood. Ethan turned long enough to see Sean motion Ethan’s brothers outside, and then he and Rachel were left alone.

  Something in Rachel’s expression kept him from going to her and taking her in his arms. There was something dark and terrible in her eyes, and for the first time since she’d come home, he felt real, tangible fear. Of what he wasn’t sure.