The darkest hour, p.38
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       The Darkest Hour, p.38

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
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Page 38


  SAM rubbed his hand wearily over his face. What a goddamn mess. He’d never suspected. Oh sure, he’d known Ethan could be a rigid son of a bitch, but he’d never dreamed his marriage to Rachel had been in so much trouble.

  He stared over at Garrett, who wore a look of equal bafflement. Garrett looked up and simply shook his head.

  “Me. And Rachel. ”

  He shook his head again, as if he couldn’t wrap his brain around the idea that someone had thought he was having an affair with his brother’s wife.

  “That’s messed up,” Garrett said.

  Sam glanced at his watch. It was almost time for Rio to check in. No sense going back to bed now. He gestured at Garrett.

  “Come on. Let’s head to the war room. Rio will be checking in soon, and you and I need to plan our trip over. Steele’s probably already on his way. Against my wishes, I might add. Never can tell that son of a bitch anything. I don’t know how he ever got through basic training. He doesn’t take orders for shit. ”

  “He got through because he’s a goddamn machine,” Garrett muttered.

  He got up to follow Sam, and the two walked out the side door and trudged across the grass in the dark.

  “You ever consider how ridiculous it is to carry the sat phone from the house to the war room in the middle of the night?” Garrett asked in an amused tone as Sam punched in the security codes to the door.

  Sam glanced down and shrugged. They kept the phone on them at all times when their men were pulling a mission, but he’d prefer to take report here where he had access to all their equipment.

  A few seconds later, the fluorescent tubes along the ceiling lit up and flooded the interior with light. Sam checked his watch again as he took a seat behind the computer.

  Donovan would be landing in Texas in another half hour and would check in once he met his team. From there they’d take the short hop into Mexico for what was supposed to be a quick in-and-out extrication.

  Sam yawned. “Might as well stay up for Van. ”

  Garrett nodded as he studied the information Donovan had left behind.

  “I should have pushed to go with him,” Garrett said.

  Sam leaned back in his chair and lifted an eyebrow in Garrett’s direction. “Like you pushed to go with me into South America?”

  “I gave in to Van because he could handle that mission with both hands tied behind his back. Your trip to South America with Rio is a whole other ball game, and you damn well know it. ”

  Sam held his hands up in surrender. Garrett was getting all lathered up again, not that it took much.

  The sat phone beeped, signaling an incoming call. Sam reached for the receiver.

  “Sam here. Go ahead. ”

  There was interference on the line that made Sam frown. Damn bad time to be out of position.

  “Bad news, bossman,” Rio drawled. “Someone got here behind us. ”

  “What do you mean behind you?” Sam demanded.

  “We tagged your boys, set up surveillance, did a recon several miles to the north to set up an entry point for you. When we returned, the entire village had been wiped. It was professional and it was bloody. Message sent, I’m thinking. ”

  Sam’s blood went cold. It was too pat. The timing too close to Rachel’s accident on the bridge.

  “Son of a bitch,” he breathed as he sat forward in his seat. “Pull out and get your asses back home. Immediately. ”

  “There’s more. We found one guy alive. Said he tried to help Rachel. Protected her while she was in captivity. ”

  “Protected her my ass,” Sam snarled.

  “He was working undercover. No sacrificing the mission for the good of one and all that bullshit. He was the one who sent Ethan all the info, hoping her family would mount a rescue. ”

  “You’ll pardon me if I don’t offer him hero status,” Sam said nastily.

  “Wouldn’t expect you to. Just relaying our findings. And, Sam, he said to be careful that he’d be after her next. ”

  “Who?” Sam demanded.

  Rio made a sound of disgust. “Bastard had the bad manners to die before we were through talking to him. Just wanted you to be aware of a possible threat to Rachel that still exists. ”

  “Yeah, we know that now. Get your team the hell out of there. I don’t want you in any cross fire or some fucking war between the cartel. ”

  “You’re the boss. ”

  “And Rio . . . be careful. ”

  Rio didn’t answer and the line went dead.

  “What the hell is going on?” Garrett demanded. The veins in his neck bulged, and his jaw was so tight Sam thought his teeth might pop out.

  He briefly explained Rio’s findings and then added his own suspicions about Rachel’s accident.

  Garrett leapt to his feet. “We have to go after her and Ethan. Son of a bitch, Sam, she said she’d been run off the bridge. She told us that and we blew her off. ”

  Sick fear welled in Sam’s stomach.

  “I’ll grab the keys. ”

  They ran back to the house, and when they entered, the phone was ringing. And Sam knew . . . he knew it wasn’t good news.


  HOLDING her broken arm tight to her chest to immobilize it, Rachel concentrated on making a wide circle through the woods. She was on the wrong side of the highway. She needed to head to the lake. No one would expect her to go for the dead end, right?

  Her head spun, she wanted to stop and puke. Her sides were on fire and vicious pain shot through her arm with every step she took.

  She blocked it all out. She pictured the lake and how wonderful it would feel. The coolness of the water. The soothing ripples. Escape. She had to make it to the lake.

  Her feet pounded the ground. She tripped over countless rocks and roots, but she kept her footing. If she went down, she was a goner. That thought alone kept her on her feet and running.

  Was she even running in the right direction? She wanted to stop to catch her breath, just for a moment, but she didn’t dare. They could be right behind her.

  No more shots had been fired, but how did she know they weren’t stalking her, waiting for her to make a mistake?

  After an hour of agonizing pain, losing one shoe and battering her one bare foot, she plunged out of the woods and fell over the riverbank and down into the water below.

  The cold was a shock, and she barely called back the scream of pain when her broken arm took the brunt of the impact. Water filled her nose and mouth, and she picked her head up from the gurgling stream.

  For a moment she lay gasping for breath. Then she heard voices over the gentle lap of water. They were close. Oh God.

  She heaved herself toward the steep bank, crawling desperately for the shelter of the overhang. It was her only chance to remain out of sight, and she had to pray they didn’t come down to the water.

  She huddled against the damp soil and mud and curled herself into the tightest, most inconspicuous ball she could. The voices came closer now, and she heard the driver shout to the other one to spread out.

  Her breath caught and held when dirt rained down the bank just in front of her. He was here. Right above her.

  Sweat rolled down her neck. Her nose twitched uncontrollably. Every muscle in her body ached. She needed to move, to shift, something, anything.

  “Bitch must have doubled back. She couldn’t have made it across the water,” the driver yelled to his partner.

  Still she waited, frozen in fear, her heart pounding so hard she worried it would give her away. For an eternity she sat there, pain washing over her in waves.

  Just as she started to cautiously shift her position, there was a slight noise and a trickle of dirt spilled over the bank again. She stared in horror, paralyzed by the mistake she’d almost made. He’d been waiting for her. He suspected she was out there, he just didn’t know where. He’d laid the trap, and she’d damn near fallen into it headfirst.

  She closed her eyes, determined to outlast him. She wouldn’t move. She wouldn’t breathe. Her life depended on it.

  After an agonizing, interminable amount of time, she stretched her legs, uncurling herself with extreme care. Her arm was stiff and swollen, and she could barely move it.

  No way did she want to go back into the woods. They were waiting for her. They had the advantage.

  The creek. All she had to do was go into the water and follow it to the lake. Hopefully she wasn’t too far. The water was shallow here, but she knew there were deeper pools in places.

  She crawled from beneath the protective overhang and carefully made her way back to the water’s edge. Her instincts screamed at her to run, to barge into the water and wade as fast as she could downstream.

  Instead she mustered all her strength and quietly slipped into the water. She waded to the middle, where it was deeper, and sank down, knowing it would be easier if she could let the current carry her. She was bone tired and in so much pain, she couldn’t walk much farther.

  Rocks slapped her and cut into her knees and feet. She bounced along the bottom and it took everything she had not to scream every time her arm was jostled.

  In places, it shallowed so much that the water was only ankle deep, and she walked over the gravel bottom, too afraid of leaving prints if she got onto the muddy bank.

  How long had she been gone? It seemed like hours, but the sky was still pitch-black, no sign of dawn to the east. The water got deeper again and she sank tiredly down, only too willing to float for a while.

  She rounded a sharp corner and sucked in her breath when she saw the inky black expanse of the lake spread out before her.

  It freaked her out, the idea of going into the lake in the dead of night. The river channel ran quite deep, more than thirty feet in the coves, and out in the middle of the main drag, it reached depths of more than fifty feet.

  Still, it beat the alternative. Anything beat being shot because Castle wanted her dead. A man who nagged at her memory but remained cloaked in shadows.

  Tiredly she pushed on, rolling to her back and kicking her feet to propel her farther into the lake.

  She was fast coming off the adrenaline rush, and shock was setting in. She needed to get to a safe place fast before she passed out.

  Turning over, she struck out with one arm, holding the other close to her body. She kicked strongly, but she knew she looked like a crippled tadpole moving erratically through the water.

  She focused single-mindedly on the main stretch of lake, determined to make it, to put as much distance between her and her pursuers as possible.

  Numb to her toes, staggered by exhaustion, she made her way out of the cove to where she could finally see down the lake. In the distance, the lights on the bridge twinkled at her, mocking her. She had to laugh. That damn bridge, the one that had nearly killed her, now marked an impossible distance for her to travel.

  Sam’s house was before that bridge. His property backed to the water’s edge. Would she recognize his dock in the dark? How far from the bridge was his house? The bridge seemed an interminable distance.

  Two inlets? Three? For that matter, which was she in now?

  Water lapped up over her face, and she struggled to keep her head above water. She was holding on by a whisper-thin thread. It would be so much easier to just roll over and let the water take her.

  Insidious voices whispered in her ear. Some of them mocked her, told her to give up like a wimp. Others told her to buck up. Her family had gone through much worse. Ethan and all his brothers had been shot, injured, defied impossible odds, and here she couldn’t even manage a swim with a broken arm.

  Ethan’s SEAL brothers would laugh their asses off at her.

  She needed a SEAL—or three—right now. Or at least she needed to channel one. This would be a walk in the park to them.

  Oh God, she was getting delirious.

  It bolstered her spirits to realize that while she’d been carrying on a ridiculous dialogue with herself she’d made good progress. At least one thing was working in her favor. She was moving with the current.

  Her first plan of action would be to find Sam’s house. Or any house. If that failed, she’d go for the bridge and pray she’d make it that far.

  Too tired to attempt the motions of swimming, she turned on her back again and let the current take her along.

  She kept her face turned toward the bank and scanned the shore, looking for anything that looked familiar. Lights beckoned in the distance. A house? Houses?

  Clumsily she struck out toward the shore. As she got closer, the shape of a dock loomed in the darkness. Excitement took a little of her pain away. There weren’t many docks because of TVA regulations on new construction. Sam had owned his house for years and had purchased it from someone who had been on the lake for two decades.

  Her toes dragged along the bottom and she dug them in, straining to get closer to shore.

  Two docks. Did Sam live next to someone who also had a dock?

  She shook her head. It didn’t matter if it was Sam’s place or not. She only hoped whoever lived here was home.

  She slipped below the surface when she tripped over a rock. Every single movement sent tears of agony coursing down her cheeks. Finally she gave up on standing and crawled through the shallower water toward the dock. With her good hand, she reached up to circle her arm around one of the wooden posts supporting the dock.