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The Darkest Hour, Page 31

Maya Banks

Page 31


  “Shi-it. Don’t tell Ma that. She’d henpeck him to death. ”

  Both men stopped and stared at each other in realization. Slow grins spread across their faces and they burst into laughter.

  “Oh hell. Garrett’ll kill us for this, but it’ll be worth it,” Donovan chortled.

  “You wanna tell her or should I?” Ethan asked as his shoulders shook.

  Their mother on a mission was a scary sight to behold. Any hint that one of her chicks wasn’t as he should be would bring immediate action.

  “Nah, I’ll tell her on my way out. It’ll distract her from the lecture she’s sure to give me. ”

  Ethan slapped Donovan on the back. It was good to be back among his brothers even when they annoyed the holy hell out of him. Already he felt better. Some of the heavy cloak of doom had lifted and he didn’t feel as weighed down by fear and anxiety.

  “Be careful, okay? I want you back in one piece. ”

  Donovan rolled his eyes. “Okay, Mom. ”


  Both men turned at the soft voice floating from the back door. Rachel stood half-in, half-out, looking at them with a guarded expression. Ethan would have given anything to be able to remove the uncertainty in her beautiful eyes.

  “Hey, sweetness,” Donovan said easily.

  She smiled, and it chased away the shadows, brightening her eyes.

  “Hi, Donovan. I heard you were leaving tomorrow. I hope you’ll be careful. ”

  “Always. I’ll be back before you know it. ”

  “Did you need something, baby?” Ethan asked.

  She frowned for a moment and tugged on her bottom lip with her teeth, as if searching her memory for what she’d come out for.

  Then she raised her gaze again, her eyes lighting with recognition. “Nathan and Joe are about to leave. You should come in and say good-bye. ”

  Ethan and Donovan both headed toward the back door where Rachel stood. Ethan couldn’t resist dropping a kiss on her upturned lips. She smiled under his mouth and he ate it up, taking that smile as deep as he could. He lived for her smiles. He hadn’t enjoyed them in longer than he cared to remember.

  She tucked her hand into his and they walked back into the living room, where Nathan and Joe were both being bear hugged by their dad.

  “Hey, there y’all are,” Joe said as he looked up. “Thought maybe you and Van had flown the coop already. ”

  “If I thought Ma would let us get away with it . . . ” Ethan began.

  Nathan snorted and promptly enfolded Ethan in a hug. They pounded each other on the back and hurled a few insults. Yep, life was good again.

  “You be careful,” Ethan warned. “Get your ass back here in one piece. ”

  “Always. ”

  Ethan moved to Joe while Van and Nathan did their mutual insult fest.

  “You take care of our girl,” Joe said in a serious voice as he pulled away from Ethan’s embrace.

  “Always,” Ethan said, echoing Nathan’s vow.

  “Okay, man,” Nathan called to Joe. “Let’s get on the road. ”

  The two men held up their hands and waved as they headed out the front door. The family followed behind, crowding into the front yard as the twins piled into their trucks.

  Ethan looped his arm over Rachel’s shoulders as they watched them drive away.

  “Anyone up for a barbeque tonight?” Sam asked. “I’ll volunteer Garrett’s cooking. ”

  “Nice, asshole,” Garrett muttered.

  Donovan chuckled. “I’m in. I could use a big nasty steak. Have to keep my strength up. ”

  “I’ll get the meat if you and Ethan will make the beer run,” Sam said to Donovan. “Mom? Dad? You guys want to come over?”

  Marlene reached over and patted Sam on the cheek. “That’s nice of you to ask, but I think I’m going to put up my feet and rest awhile. Rusty said she’d cook dinner tonight and I aim to take her up on it. ”

  Ethan glanced over to see Rusty’s face turn bright red. She wasn’t pleased that Marlene had spread that little tidbit around. Tough kid. Not an ounce of softness in her. At least not where anyone could readily see it.

  He wrapped his arm tighter around Rachel and smiled down at her. “What do you say? Wanna go on a beer run with me and Van?”

  She smiled as she looked between him and all his brothers. “Are you sure you want me along? This seems like one of those male bonding things. I could head home and let you guys do your thing. ”

  Sam and Garrett both looked affronted.

  “Well hell, Rachel. Stick a dagger in our hearts. You always used to come hang out with us. Too much testosterone otherwise,” Sam said.

  Her smile broadened. “A steak really does sound good. ” She glanced up at Ethan. “Do you care if I run home to change?”

  He touched her cheek. “Not at all. You want me to come?”

  “No. You go with Donovan. I won’t be long. ”

  He fished the keys out of his pocket and dangled them off the end of his fingers. She reached for them and warmth spread up his arm as her hand closed around his. It surprised him that even after so long she affected him with something as simple as her touch.

  Uncaring that his brothers were standing around watching, he bent to kiss her, capturing her mouth with his. She tasted small and feminine. Perfect. It was a taste he’d dreamed about at night when he lay in their bed alone, aching.

  She pulled away as breathless as he was, her eyes slightly glazed. It was then he realized that she didn’t look at him like she had before her disappearance. Then she’d been guarded with him, never allowing him to see what she was thinking. It was a self-protective measure he’d forced on her with his coldness. Now she looked at him with warmth. With love. She hadn’t said the words, but he felt more at ease, more confident of her affection now than he had in a long, long time.

  “Get a room,” Garrett smirked.

  Ethan held up his middle finger behind Rachel’s back. Sam and Donovan laughed while Ethan kissed Rachel again.

  “Better go now, baby,” he murmured. “Otherwise I’m coming home with you. ”

  Her cheeks bloomed pink as she pulled away, but her eyes laughed up at him. Man, he’d missed that.

  “I love you,” he whispered, more for himself than for her.

  She smiled, her teeth flashing, her eyes shining with happiness. It took every bit of his breath away.

  “I won’t be long,” she promised.

  Then she leaned up on tiptoe to offer him a kiss.


  EXCITEMENT curled in Rachel’s stomach as she slid back into Ethan’s truck. Comfortable now in cutoff jeans and a T-shirt, she was eager to get to Sam’s house on the lake.

  Her old clothes fit her better now. The shorts were still loose in the waist and her T-shirt hung over her shoulders and gathered around her breasts. Thanks to countless meals Marlene had brought over and Ethan’s relentless nagging to eat more and better, she was putting on weight. Her color was better. Her eyes were brighter. Even her hair had regained its sheen.

  Now if only she could get rid of the lingering effects of the drugs and regain complete memory of her past. It was the only missing piece to the puzzle.

  She started up the bridge over Kentucky Lake. The water shimmered and sprawled for miles on either side of her. It was a calm day, and the sun still shone bright overheard. Perfect day for a barbeque.

  Reflexively, she slowed as she reached the top, where the concrete guardrail had been knocked out a week before by a tractor-trailer wreck. Orange cones sat strategically on the edge, but there was no protection between the road and the drop-off.

  The right lane was closed and traffic rerouted to the left lane so no one ventured into danger. As she neared, she accelerated, only wanting to be beyond the scary spot.

  A sharp impact sent her forward into the steering wheel. Her seat belt clamped down in reaction and yanked her back ag
ainst the seat. Someone had hit her from behind! Worse, they’d struck her left fender, spinning her so she faced the gaping hole in the side of the bridge.

  She whirled in her seat to see behind her when she was struck again. The sickening sound of metal crunching assaulted her ears. The truck lurched forward, and she cried out as she rocketed toward the edge.

  Her foot slammed onto the brake, and she put all her weight on it as if sheer will alone would keep her from plummeting over the side.

  Her neck snapped forward as, once again, she was struck from behind. She screamed when the front end of the truck dipped as it left the surface of the bridge. She closed her eyes, prepared to feel the impact of the water and the cold surrounding her.

  After several seconds, she cautiously opened her eyes again to see the sunlight still streaming through her windshield. A windshield that was bobbing precariously up and down.

  Oh God. She was hanging over the edge, rocking softly up and down. Any movement could send her over.

  She didn’t move. Was afraid to breathe. Only her eyes moved, rapidly, side to side, as she tried to figure out how she was going to get out. Her hands curled around the steering wheel, holding so tightly her knuckles were white. Her seat belt was still fastened, and she didn’t dare release the steering wheel to unbuckle it.

  And so she sat, terrified, as the truck did a gentle seesaw motion in the breeze. Around her, she heard voices shouting to her, but she couldn’t even turn her head. She stared ahead and wondered if she’d survive the drop from the bridge.

  Ethan was trained in water. He lived in the water during his years with the SEALs. She frantically searched her memories for anything that could help her now. A hysterical laugh escaped. Escaping a submerged vehicle hadn’t come up in any of their conversations. She was sure of it.

  The voices were closer now. Surely they wouldn’t try to pull her out. Panic exploded in her stomach. Slowly and carefully she turned just so she could see out her window from the corner of her eye.

  Two men were standing a few feet away shouting at her. What were they saying? If the buzzing in her ears would abate long enough, maybe she’d know.

  She sucked in several steadying breaths and forced herself to relax.

  Don’t move. Stay there.

  Yeah, she heard that. Not to worry. She wasn’t going anywhere. Except maybe down.

  A moment later she heard the wail of sirens. Her chest caved in relief. Surely they’d know how to get her out of this.

  Anxiety was making her sick. Nausea welled in her stomach until she was sure she would vomit. The only thing keeping it down was the knowledge that if she allowed herself to be sick, she’d likely roll right over the edge.

  “Rachel! Rachel!”

  Relief swamped her. Sean. She tried to turn her head to see him.

  “No! Don’t move, honey. Sit tight, okay? I just want you to know we’re here. We’ll get you out of this, okay? Just don’t move, for God’s sake. ”

  The worry in his voice did nothing to soothe her ragged nerves. Calm, unflappable Sean had an edge to his voice that sounded like panic.

  A low moan escaped before she could clamp her lips around it. It was stifling inside the truck. Sweat rolled down her neck and between her breasts. Her breathing was shallow and rapid, and it made her light-headed.

  Memories of that hated hot box slammed back into her mind. The days had bled into one another. The only way she knew it was night was because the temperature went from unbearable to slightly less so. And then it began all over again.

  Her hands shook despite her best efforts to remain calm. She couldn’t go back there. She wouldn’t. She closed her eyes against the memories because now it all seemed too real. Maybe she’d dreamt everything. A hallucination brought on by withdrawal and days baking in the heat in the hated prison.

  Her hand left the steering wheel and flailed at the window. Air. She needed air.

  The truck rocked precariously, and the window slid down, letting in a blast of fresh air.

  “Rachel, no! Goddamn it, don’t move!”

  She had to get out. She didn’t want to die.

  “Goddamn it, hurry up and get it secure!” Sean yelled.

  She let out a low whimper. Her throat tightened until she couldn’t breathe. She could hear Sean talking to her, his voice low and soothing. She could hear the noise around her, the men hurrying to secure the back end of the truck so they could pull her back.

  “Okay, Rachel, listen to me. ”

  She turned just enough that she could lock onto him. He stood just a foot away from the truck. Close enough to touch, but neither he nor she made any move to do so. His features were tight and worried, but his lips were set in a determined line. He wasn’t going to let her die.

  Some of her panic abated. No, Sean wouldn’t let anything happen to her. His determination bled into her, and she grabbed hold with both hands. She was equally determined that she wouldn’t survive a year in hell, only to come home and let some asshole force her off a bridge.

  Sean stepped closer, until he was inches from the truck. He leaned down so they were at eye level.

  “We’re going to pull the truck back, okay? I need you to stay calm. Let us do our job. We’ll get you out safe. We won’t let you go. I need you to trust me, Rachel. ”