The darkest hour, p.4
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       The Darkest Hour, p.4

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
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Page 4


  Seamlessly, the men—and the lone woman—moved stealthily through the jungle, closing in on their target.

  P. J. Rutherford, their best sniper, took position and trained her rifle on the distant guard towers. She held up two fingers to signal there were two men in each of the two western posts.

  David Coletrane, or just Cole, was half a mile directly in front of P. J. , poised to take out the two east towers. Steele, P. J. and Cole’s team leader, held up a fist and signaled his ready.

  Donovan and Garrett disappeared from sight as they maneuvered to the south. Their job was to set explosives, provide distraction, and take out anyone in their path.

  Steele and the rest of his team would take the north.

  Sam and Ethan surveyed the ragtag camp in front of them, taking in each of the straw-thatched huts. Sam held up his finger and motioned toward the three to the north and then he pointed at Ethan and gestured toward the four huts on the southern perimeter. Ethan nodded and hunkered down to wait for the fireworks to begin.

  It took every ounce of his training to sit there and not charge into the camp, gun blazing, throwing grenades and leveling everything in his path. It was still his preference. These bastards didn’t deserve any mercy. If it weren’t for the fact they weren’t sure where Rachel was being housed and that she might get caught in the cross fire, Ethan would say fuck the plan and decimate the village.

  Sam checked his watch and then signaled Ethan that they had two minutes to go time.

  Ethan’s gaze drifted through the leaves and tangle of vines, but the only person other than Sam he could see was P. J. At one minute to go time she’d take out the guards and then she and Cole would pick off anyone in the way of Ethan and Sam.

  She was an interesting character. When Sam had told Ethan about her, he’d assumed she’d be a doggish-looking woman, stocky in build with a manly haircut and tattoos. Instead she was delicate looking and utterly feminine. That she was a highly skilled assassin was incongruous with the image she projected.

  Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and her face was painted camo. She was hunched over her rifle, her expression one of intense concentration as she found her target.

  At one minute to go, only the slight shift of her body told Ethan that she’d taken the first shot. Within two seconds she’d taken the second and then she swung her rifle over to aim at the other guard tower.

  She took two more quick shots then held up her hand to signal her success.

  Twenty seconds to go time.

  P. J. repositioned so she’d have Sam and Ethan’s path within her rifle sights. Five seconds to go-time and she was on her belly, her rifle up and steady.

  A thunderous explosion shook the ground. Multiple fireballs lifted through the jungle canopy, lighting an eerie path into the sky.

  Ethan lunged forward, his gun up as he ran through the tangle of jungle growth and into the cleared area of the camp.

  Machine gun fire erupted on both sides of Ethan as he made his way toward the first hut. He hadn’t checked Sam’s progress, and he just hoped the sharpshooters did their jobs.

  SHE huddled in the darkness, hugging her knees to her chest. She rocked back and forth, a constant motion as she rubbed her hands up and down her legs.

  Her medicine. She needed her medicine. Where were they? Had they forgotten? Had she done something bad? Was she being punished? She needed her medicine. The pain crawled over her flesh, leaving a burning trail over her body.

  She closed her eyes and rocked harder. Sweat bathed her shoulders, and she shook uncontrollably. The dirt floor felt hard and cold. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, coldness seeped into her bones. Chill bumps broke out on the surface of her skin.

  Rachel. Rachel. Rachel.

  She said the name, a litany on her lips. If she didn’t say it, she was sure she would forget, and she had already forgotten so much.

  My name is Rachel.

  Some of the panic subsided as she managed to hold on to that one vital piece of information. Pain and nausea welled in her stomach, twisting it around in knots.

  She sucked in deep breaths and tried to focus her thoughts. She closed her eyes again to conjure the image that had brought her comfort in the long months she had lived here.

  Rachel couldn’t remember his name. She didn’t even know if he was real, but as long as she could see him, she could believe there was still hope.

  Her guardian angel. He hovered on the fringes of her shattered mind. Big, strong, a warrior. Her protector.

  Where was he?

  How many days had she sat here wondering if he would come? She had lost count long ago, the scratches on the wall to mark the passing time a long-forgotten diversion.

  Oh God, she was going to die. They weren’t bringing her medicine. She needed it. She couldn’t take the pain. Fear lodged in her throat, and she tried in vain to breathe around it. Her chest burned with the effort.

  She rocked faster.

  A huge explosion echoed like a million thunderclaps. The ground shook beneath her and she threw her arms over her head. The sound of gunfire rang sharply in her ears, and fear clutched her with dead fingers.

  The lock on the door of her hut rattled impatiently, and then another gunshot, much closer, pierced her hearing. She glanced up just as the door flew open. Sunlight blinded her, and she ducked away. When she looked back, silhouetted against the odd orange glow behind him, stood a man.

  He was big and menacing, his features drawn and made ghoulish by the fire and smoke and more sunlight than she’d seen in days. His rifle swept the room before he focused all his attention on her.

  Oh God, he was going to kill her. The day had finally come. The one they had taunted her with.

  She whimpered deep in her throat and wrapped her arms protectively around herself.

  “Jesus,” the man swore. “Rachel, honey, we’ve come to help you. Everything’s going to be okay. ”

  She flinched. They had never used her name. In her darker moments, she wondered if she had made the name up.

  The man turned his head sideways and spoke into some kind of a receiver he was wearing. “I’ve got her. Hut three. North. We’ll need cover. ”

  He looked back at her and started forward.

  She threw her arms over her head and shrank as small as she could. She closed her eyes so she couldn’t see what was to come.

  Above her the man swore softly, but he stopped. She could no longer hear him move. She chanced a peek from under her arms and saw him standing sideways to the door. He was looking out, his profile illuminated by fire.

  A few seconds later, another man burst through the door, a gun cradled in his arms. His gaze settled immediately on her.

  The second man ripped off his helmet, and her mouth dropped open in shock. She knew this man. She’d seen him so many times in her mind. But he wasn’t real, was he?

  He knelt cautiously in front of her and extended his hand. “Rachel, it’s me, Ethan. I’ve come to take you home. ”

  He knew her name. Her guardian angel knew her name. She began to shake harder, her teeth chattering loudly in her head. Pain gnawed incessantly at her. She needed her medicine.

  “Medicine,” she croaked out. It hurt to speak. She hadn’t spoken aloud in a long time. “I need my medicine. ”

  Ethan frowned and looked back at the other man. Then he reached out and gently took her arm. The first man moved from the doorway so that the light shone more fully in, and she flinched away from the glare. Ethan turned her wrist over until the inside of her arm was exposed.

  He let out a hiss of anger.

  She yanked her arm away and shrank from the power emanating from him.

  “Shit, Sam,” Ethan murmured.

  The man he called Sam echoed the curse and then jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “We have to move. Now. It’s three miles back to the chopper and we’re still taking fire from all sides. ”
r />   She stared between the two men, mystified by what was transpiring. Where were they taking her?

  Ethan touched her cheek and then scrambled up, pulling her with him. Pain wracked her body and she was bathed in heavy sweat. Yet she’d never felt so cold in her entire life.

  “Trust me, baby,” Ethan said softly. “I’m going to get you out of here, but I need you to do as I say. ”

  She barely had time to nod before he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. He fumbled with his rifle with his free hand and then charged out the door behind Sam.

  The ground spun dizzily underneath her and his shoulder dug painfully into her belly until bile rose and ate at her throat. Around her the world had gone mad. Fire blazed a path across the village and beyond. Gunfire peppered the ground and trees around her, and she was sure she would die. Now, when rescue was imminent, it would all be for nothing. They would never let her go. They’d told her as much.

  Suddenly she went flying through the air. Her back hit the ground with such force that all the air was forced out of her lungs. She lay there, one muscled arm banded tight around her waist as she tried to breathe. Pain, so constant, exploded in her head until dark spots danced in her vision.

  She tried to turn when the nausea finally overwhelmed her, but she was trapped. Panicked, she kicked and flailed but his grip only tightened on her.

  “Shhh, baby. I’m here. It’s okay. ”

  His voice comforted her, and she stilled beneath him. Ethan pulled her to her feet, and she blinked as she adjusted to the constant stream of sunlight.

  As suddenly as he hauled her up, he shoved her back down, covering her head with his big arms.

  “Son of a bitch! Where’s the cover?”

  Ethan lay there, sprawled over Rachel as he quickly scanned the area. Goddamn it, Sam was pinned down several yards away. Ethan looked again in the direction he knew P. J. to be and where Garrett and Donovan would be rendezvousing.

  He couldn’t leave Sam, but he had to protect Rachel. Hell of a choice. His brother or his wife.

  He pushed Rachel’s hair from her face and took in the stark terror in her eyes.

  “Listen to me, Rachel. I need you to do exactly as I tell you. See that slight path into the jungle?”

  He pointed and waited for her to turn her head. When he was satisfied she was locked on, he motioned again.

  “When I say go, I want you to run like hell. Straight down that path. Get into the jungle and hide. I have people there. They’ll find you. ”

  She stared at him in horror, and he wondered if she’d even absorbed his directions.

  “Come on, Rachel, say something. Tell me you understand. I have to help Sam. ”

  Slowly she nodded. He let go of her and she scrambled to her knees, looking warily at her surroundings.

  Ethan pulled the mic to his mouth. “I need cover. Sam’s in trouble. I’m sending Rachel to you, P. J. ”

  In response, a heavy line of fire peppered the area beyond Ethan. He shoved Rachel forward. “Go! Run!”

  She didn’t hesitate. Like a colt getting its legs under it for the first time, she stumbled erratically and lunged toward the heavier growth of the jungle.

  She looked back, and he raised himself enough that he could see her. Fire seared across his scalp, and he smelled the unmistakable scent of scorched hair and blood.

  Rachel stared at him in horror about the time he felt the warm slide of blood down his neck.

  “Go!” he barked.

  He dropped down and ran his hand over the area above his right ear. It came away stained with blood. He still had most of his hair and he wasn’t missing any body parts, so it obviously wasn’t serious.

  He waited only long enough for her to disappear into the greenery before he turned to find his brother.

  He crawled over and Sam shot him a disgruntled look.

  “Save it,” Ethan said shortly. “I’m not leaving you. ”

  “You should be taking care of your wife,” Sam bit out. “Not babysitting my ass. ”

  Another round of fire peppered the metal barrels they’d taken cover behind.

  “Goddamn sons of bitches,” Sam said. “Where the fuck are Van and Garrett with all the goddamn explosives?”

  An explosion shook the ground, and both men covered their heads with their arms as debris rained down all around them.

  Ethan grinned. “Right there I’d say. ”

  Another boom rocked the area, and Ethan and Sam took advantage of the chaos to bolt from their cover. The earpiece fell from Ethan’s ear, and in front of him, Sam cursed a blue streak as they dove behind a stack of boxes.

  “Cole’s been hit. Some fucking lucky ricochet. Steele’s on his way to get him. Dolphin and Renshaw are providing cover. ”

  “What about Rachel?” Ethan demanded. “Have Garrett and Van gotten to her yet? Where the hell is P. J. ?”

  He hadn’t realized he was yelling into the mic until Sam winced.

  “P. J. says to tell you she’s busy saving your ass. No sign of Rachel. Van and Garrett are looking. What the hell happened to your earpiece?”

  “Lost it. ”

  “Shit, Ethan, you’re hit. You’re bleeding like a stuck pig. ”

  Ethan glanced up at his brother and curled his lip. “What are you, a pussy? Your years out of the army turned you into a girl? Since when do you worry over anything less than a missing limb?”