The Darkest Hour, Page 40Maya Banks
“Oh shit. ”
“My arm,” she said haltingly. “I broke it when the car hit us. ”
“Holy fuck!” Sam exclaimed. “Rachel, how the hell did you manage to escape with a broken arm and run through the damn woods and down a river to the lake. I assume that’s what you did, hit the lake and take a ride down the shore until you got here?”
She smiled, but it was obvious she was hanging on by the barest thread. Her breathing was erratic and shallow, and she looked pale and shocky.
“Those self-defense moves Garrett and Donovan taught me when Ethan was away so much. ”
“You’re shitting me!” Garrett said. “Hell, and to think we teased you for being such a girl. ”
“That’ll learn you,” she said faintly. “I did good. Just like you taught me. ”
Her words were slurring now, and her eyes slid closed, then opened again like she was battling to stay conscious.
Garrett reached out to touch her hair. “You did just fine, sweet pea. Just fine. ”
Behind Ethan, Sam was on the phone demanding an ambulance for Rachel.
“Baby, I need you to stay awake for a little while. Can you do that?” Ethan asked in a gentle voice.
He wanted to touch her. God, he wanted to hold her, but he was afraid to move her, afraid he’d hurt her more, but most of all he was scared to death she’d reject him.
She nodded slowly. “I’m tired. I hurt. ”
Garrett stroked her hair, and he glanced over at Ethan, sympathy bright in his eyes.
“I know you hurt, baby. Just hold on a little while longer, okay? Can you tell me if you’re hurt anywhere else?”
She touched her face with trembling fingers. “Jaw aches where the jerk hit me. I kneed him in the balls. ”
Sam laughed, but it came out weak and shaky like he was battling the same emotion so raw on Garrett’s face and so agonizing in Ethan’s soul.
“I’m okay otherwise. I think. Hard to tell. Arm hurts so bad. ”
She was whispering now, and her head slid to one side.
“We need to get you out of this corner,” Garrett said. “It’ll hurt, sweet pea. God, I’d do anything not to hurt you, but I don’t know how to do it otherwise. Sam’s called an ambulance, but it’ll be easier if they don’t have to cart a stretcher down the stairs. ”
“S’okay,” she slurred. “I’m just so glad y’all are here. I was so scared. ”
Ethan closed his eyes and bowed his head. Garrett laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed comfortingly.
“You try to get behind her as much as you can,” Garrett said in a quiet voice. “I’ll get her legs. We’ll lift her out and get her upstairs. ”
“I’ll get some blankets and pillows,” Sam said.
For just a moment, Ethan’s and Rachel’s gazes met and held for a long moment. Beyond the physical pain, Ethan could see wounded uncertainty, nervousness and deep sadness. He’d give anything in the world not to have been the cause of her sudden hesitation with him. Even if he understood it completely.
“I’ll try not to hurt you,” Ethan whispered as he slid his hands underneath her arms.
As careful as he and Garrett were, he felt her cry of pain to his soul. He gathered her against his chest, and Garrett carefully positioned her arm down her body.
Ethan inched up the stairs, turning sideways so he didn’t bump her into the wall. Sam had gone ahead, turned on the lights and placed a blanket on the couch.
Ethan eased down, holding her carefully. Sam tucked the blanket around her and they settled down to wait.
Sam’s cell phone went off, startling Rachel. She flinched and let out a low moan.
Sam yanked the phone to his ear. “Sam here. ”
Ethan watched closely as Sam’s eyebrow went up.
“Yes, we found her. We’re waiting for an ambulance. She’s hurt, but I think she’ll be okay. ”
“No, that’s fine. Go where you’re needed. Nail those sons of bitches to the wall for me. We’ll be at the hospital waiting for a full report. Check in when you can, okay?”
Sam shoved the phone back into his pocket.
“What the hell was that about?” Garrett demanded.
“That was Sean. They’ve arrested two men in the vicinity of the wrecked SUV. They think they’re our guys. He’s hauling them in for questioning now. ”
Ethan’s nostrils flared. It took everything he had not to react, but he didn’t want to disturb Rachel.
“I want those bastards,” Ethan said in a low voice.
“Tell Sean . . . one was a tall skinny guy. Dark hair. Mustache. Other . . . he drove . . . was one with gun. Shorter and stocky. He shot at me. ”
“Son of a bitch,” Garrett muttered.
Rachel was fading. Her eyelids fluttered and slowly closed, only to jerk back open again.
Garrett sat on the other side of the couch and said in an overly loud voice, “Is there anything else you can tell us, sweet pea?”
She stirred lightly against Ethan as she fought the veil of sleep. Ethan rested his cheek against her head and tried by sheer force of will to infuse his strength into her.
She opened her mouth as if to speak, and then her brow crinkled in pain. With a barely audible sigh, she lost the battle and slid into unconsciousness.
ETHAN paced back and forth outside Rachel’s hospital room. Other members of his family had gathered in the hallway, and they all looked at him with deep concern in their eyes.
Sam and Garrett leaned against the wall closest to the door while Marlene and Frank stood against the opposite wall. Marlene’s eyes were red-rimmed and swollen. Rusty stood a few feet away, hands shoved into her pockets. She looked uncomfortable, but her usual belligerent scowl was absent.
“How long does it take?” Ethan spit out as he glanced at the closed door again. “Why won’t they let me inside?”
His mom laid a hand on his arm and squeezed reassuringly. “They need to get her settled in without all of us looming over them. Especially you. You probably scare the nurses half to death. ”
Ethan spun around and paced back down the hall. He was going to go crazy. After hours in the emergency room, Rachel had finally been transported to a private room. She’d only woken up intermittently, and she’d seemed confused and shaky the few times she was conscious.
Her arm was set and casted, her other wounds and scrapes tended to. The doctor assured him she’d make a full recovery. But Ethan needed to see her. He was going to go out of his mind.
The door opened, and they all converged on the nurse as she left the room. She held up a hand with a pained expression.
“She’s resting comfortably now. I gave her something for pain. Try not to overexcite her. If you could limit the number of visitors she has at one time, that would help. ”
Ethan swallowed and nodded. He didn’t care who beyond himself got in as long as he got to see his wife. He pushed by the nurse and ducked into the room.
His chest tightened when he got his first look at Rachel lying on the bed. Her casted arm was placed carefully over her waist, and she was huddled in the sheets like she was still trying to protect herself.
A bruise darkened her cheek, and Ethan closed his eyes to the murderous rage that billowed over him.
As he crept closer, he noticed the dark shadows under her eyes. Her lashes rested on her cheeks, giving her already fragile appearance an even more delicate air. The nurse had cleaned her hair, and now it was brushed soft over the pillow and lay around her face in waves.
The flimsy hospital gown did little to modestly cover her, and he vowed at the first opportunity he’d get her something more comfortable to wear.
He reached out to touch her, but his hand shook so badly he pulled it back in an effort to control the tide of emotion soaring through his body.
She’d been through so much. Had he lost her? Had he fin
ally lost her? She’d survived insurmountable odds, not once but twice, and yet the look in her eyes when she’d discovered the truth about their marriage had seemed to break her when nothing else had.
He bent down and pressed his lips to her forehead. The baby-fine hairs at her temple felt like silk under his mouth. Her skin was so soft, so satiny. He inhaled her scent and held it there, just wanting to savor the fact that she was okay. She was alive.
“I love you,” he whispered. “I need you to believe that, baby. I need you to believe that above all else. ”
Ethan glanced up to see Garrett standing a few feet away, his expression pained. Sam was just behind him.
“Look, man, I know there’s a lot I obviously don’t know about your situation. I’m not butting into your business. ”
Ethan stared dully at Garrett, waiting for the hammer to fall.
“She loves you. There’s no doubt in my mind she loves you. She’s always loved you. What happened last night . . . it pulled the rug out from under her. But she loves you. Hold on to that, okay? Things will be okay. You have to believe that. ”
Ethan let out a long breath. “Thanks, Garrett. After the accusations I made. . . ”
Garrett moved closer and gripped Ethan’s shoulder. “It’s forgotten. ”
Ethan grabbed his older brother in a bear hug and held on for all he was worth. Garrett squeezed back and then pounded him painfully on the back.
“Okay, girls, enough,” Sam said in a quiet voice. “Mom and Dad are outside like two mother hens. They’ll want to peek in on Rachel, and Garrett and I need to talk to you, Ethan. ”
Ethan glanced up sharply at Sam. “Talk about what?”
“Let me call Mom in to watch over Rachel. I don’t want her left alone. ”
Ethan didn’t like the concern in Sam’s voice. It went beyond worry over Rachel’s condition. He nodded and waited tensely as Sam ducked out of the room.
Seconds later he returned, and then Marlene stuck her head in the door and shot her sons a worried look. Then her gaze rested on Rachel, and tears filled her eyes.
“My baby,” she whispered.
Frank came in behind her and placed both hands comfortingly on her shoulders.
Marlene put a fist to her mouth. “I just had to see her. I won’t stay, but I had to see that she was okay. ”
Sam touched her arm. “She will be, Ma. She will be. Garrett and I need to talk to Ethan. Can you and Dad stay with her for a minute?”
“Of course,” Frank said gruffly. “You boys go do what you need to do. Marlene and I will call you if she wakes up. ”
As Ethan headed to the door with his brothers, his mom walked over and hugged him close. “We’ll stay as long as you need us, son. If you need anything, you let me know, okay?”
Ethan kissed her on the cheek. “I will, Ma. Don’t worry. ”
Ethan followed Sam and Garrett into the hall and noticed a uniformed officer standing guard by the door. He glanced up at Sam for explanation, but Sam just motioned him farther down the hall.
Midway down they stopped in front of a set of windows and Sam and Garrett flanked him, almost protectively. How like his older brothers to hover. It was like he was twelve again.
“Rachel was right. Someone tried to run her off the bridge,” Sam said bluntly.
Ethan nodded. It wasn’t something he hadn’t already figured out. “What makes you say so, though? Other than the obvious?”
“Right after you and Rachel left the house, Rio checked in. ” Sam’s eyes flickered for a moment before he plunged ahead. “I sent him back into Colombia to do some recon. Garrett and I were going to meet him and go in after the sons of bitches who held Rachel prisoner. My plan was to make them talk no matter what I had to do. ”
Anger tightened Ethan’s jaw. “Why am I only just hearing about this?”
“It’s obvious,” Garrett snapped. “Rachel needed you here, not down getting revenge. ”
Ethan controlled his temper—just barely. Now wasn’t the place to tell Garrett what he thought about his assertion that he shouldn’t be the one to exact vengeance for his wife.
“Rio tagged the new location of their camp, did some recon, cut out to scout a place for Steele to come in and then Garrett and me, but when he got back, the village had been wasted. Same day Rachel is forced off the bridge. ”
“Fuck,” Ethan whispered. He closed his eyes and gripped the back of his neck, massaging the aching muscles. “What the hell happened over there, Sam? She had to have seen something she shouldn’t have. It’s the only thing that makes sense. ”
“But why the hell did they keep her alive?” Garrett asked.
It was a question they’d asked repeatedly, and they were no closer to getting the answers they needed. Out of a team of eight volunteers, Rachel was the only survivor. Everyone else had perished on the plane coming back to the States. And someone had gone to great lengths to make Ethan believe his wife had been included.
“We need to dig deeper into the relief effort. There has to be something we’ve missed. It was a small organization, and the majority of their team died in the airplane crash. They ceased operations after that. Everything we’ve looked into has checked out. Nothing suspicious. ”