The Darkest Hour, Page 42Maya Banks
“Rachel, you need to let me give you something to make you more comfortable,” the older doctor said kindly.
She blinked to bring him back into focus. The pain was making her shocky, and she’d already zoned out more times than she could count during the doctor’s visit.
He had a nice face. Older, lined with age. He was probably someone she’d seen countless times, as he was a Kelly family friend.
But nice didn’t mean he wasn’t trying to kill her.
He sat on the couch next to her, perched on the edge as he examined her cast, took her pulse, looked over the cuts and bruises that had already been tended to in the hospital. He’d bandaged the small wound from the ripped-out catheter, and now he was offering her innocuous white pills. White pills that could be anything.
She closed her eyes. She couldn’t be called paranoid if there were actually people after her, right? And now she knew why. She was at risk. Her family was at risk.
She sought out Ethan, her anxiety rising when she saw him standing just a few feet away. In the midst of hell, she remembered the gut-wrenching discovery of the divorce papers: Ethan’s anger, his accusations, and the knowledge that her marriage was over.
What was he thinking? There was so much unresolved between them, but somehow it didn’t seem so important now. Did he love her? Did he really want things to be different between them?
She wished she had the answers, but she was too exhausted to pick apart her feelings and her emotions. Way too tired to try to guess what Ethan might be feeling.
She looked up and caught his gaze. His eyes were a raw storm. She flinched at the pain she saw there. Unable to maintain the contact, she ducked her head and looked away again. It was a rejection. She knew it, and she hated that she couldn’t do more than just sit there so helplessly. She squeezed her eyes shut and prayed that she didn’t completely crack open for all to see.
The doctor’s voice shook her from her thoughts, and she turned back to see him holding out those innocent little pills in his palm.
Panic leapt into her throat.
Garrett was there in an instant. Ethan started forward but then hesitated.
“Let me have them, Doc,” Garrett said. “I’ll make sure she takes them in a little while. ”
She looked gratefully at him. He understood.
The doctor reluctantly stood and held out the pills to Garrett.
“If you need me for anything, just have Marlene call. I’ll come right over no matter what time. ”
Ethan shook his hand as he started out. “Thank you for coming so quickly. ”
The buzz of activity overwhelmed her. Everywhere she looked, people stood. No one paid her any attention except Ethan and Garrett. They were all busy processing information.
She leaned back against the cushions and propped her cast on her chest. She’d never felt so tired in her life. So completely and utterly beat down. Only fear kept her from succumbing to the deep need for sleep.
“Can you talk to us now?” Garrett asked.
Behind him, Sean and Sam both closed in. Sean motioned for the other officers to stand back. Sam stood off to the side, and for the first time, she made an overt invitation to him. She looked up and then held out her hand.
His eyes widened slightly in surprise, and then he came forward and sat beside her on the couch. Ethan eased down on her other side.
Sam reached for her fingers and squeezed. “You know we’re not going to let anything happen to you, right?”
It seemed like an absurd statement in light of all that had happened to her, but she still took comfort in the quietly spoken vow. And she believed him. Believed them all. Now that they knew—or they would know—the threat, they would do whatever was necessary to protect her.
“Can you tell us what happened, Rachel?” Sean asked.
She slipped her hand from Sam’s, raised it to her temple and massaged deeply as she sorted through the barrage of information pouring through her mind.
“I recognized him,” she said simply. “When he came into my hospital room. I saw him a year ago in South America. He was talking to Senator Castle and two other men. ”
None of them looked surprised by her statement. Maybe they’d already figured out a connection between her supposed death and the most recent events.
“Do you remember what they were talking about?” Garrett asked.
She nodded. “Drugs. Senator Castle outlined a trade-off of sorts. The drug cartel would ‘give’ him a few victories. He’d take his ‘tough on drugs’ campaign to the heart of Colombia, score a few huge victories in preparation for his bid for the presidency. In return, he’d open up the drug lanes into the U. S. The cartel also sold out a few of their competitors. It was a win-win situation. Castle looked good and the cartel got unfettered inroads into America and a monopoly on the drug trade. ”
“And you overheard all this,” Sean said.
“Yes. I had left the tent where we were administering shots to the children, to get one of the little girls who had wandered off. Castle and the other men were behind the child’s family’s hut. I recognized him. I remember being so shocked to see him there. He had been a supporter of the organization I traveled over with, and now I knew why. It was a perfect cover for him.
“I ducked behind one of the water cisterns when I figured out what they were talking about, but it was too late. The man who came into my hospital room saw me before I could slip away. Castle told the cartel to get rid of me. Make it look like a tragic accident. ”
“Jesus Christ,” Ethan muttered.
“But they didn’t kill you,” Garrett said. “Do you know why?”
She swallowed and let her gaze skitter away as painful memories of her captivity flooded her mind.
“I was their insurance policy. The cartel’s. They staged my death to satisfy Castle, but they kept me alive so that if Castle ever reneged on their bargain, they could pull me out and say, Hey, remember her? Look what we’ve got. It was the ultimate blackmail plot. ”
“Holy fuck,” Garrett breathed. “Pretty damn good plan. ”
The corner of her mouth lifted into a half smile. “They didn’t count on KGI. ”
Ethan tucked his hand behind her neck and gently squeezed her nape. She started and turned her head to stare at him. He held her gaze, and this time she didn’t look away. There was so much she wanted to ask, so much she needed to know, but now wasn’t the time. She wasn’t entirely sure there would ever be a time. The idea that her marriage might well and truly be over hurt more than the broken arm, and medication couldn’t fix that kind of pain.
Finally she turned back to the others.
“What now?” she asked, including each of the men standing in front of her in her questioning gaze.
“Now that I have the full story, I can use the leverage against the assholes in custody,” Sean said. “Chances are one or all will sing rather than go down for Castle. We’re going to need their testimony. A defense attorney would shred Rachel on the stand. ”
Ethan’s grip tightened on her neck. “I don’t want her to have to go through that. ”
Sean grimaced. “It’s inevitable she’ll have some part in his prosecution. It’ll be up to the D. A. as to how large a part. If he can put his case together without her testimony, you can be sure he’d prefer to go that route. ”
“First you have to make the assholes talk,” Garrett pointed out.
“You let me worry about that. In a couple of hours, it’ll probably be out of my hands anyway. I’ll have the feds and the state police crawling so far up my ass I’ll need an enema to remove them. ”
A series of chuckles lightened the tense atmosphere.
Ethan leaned over to take the medicine from Garrett. Then he turned to Rachel, his expression guarded.
“You need to take the pills, baby. You’re hurting. ”
She hesitated for a moment and then
finally nodded. Seconds later, Garrett thrust a glass of water into her hand while Ethan slipped the pills between her lips.
She swallowed them down and then sagged against the couch. She wanted Ethan to hold her. She wanted to go back just two days, to when she hadn’t found those damn divorce papers and remembered that her marriage was over.
She watched the goings-on around her with idle curiosity until finally the medicine kicked in and things went a little fuzzy. Sean left, but the Kellys stayed behind. They seemed to take turns casting concerned looks in her direction.
This was home. This was her family.
She wanted to fight. She didn’t want to give them up.
“Sleep, baby,” Ethan murmured close to her ear. “I’ll watch over you. ”
The quietly given promise was a balm to her tattered soul. There was conviction in his voice. There was love.
Was it enough? She searched his face for something she could hold on to. She’d always considered herself a person with a deep belief in good. Optimistic even. Right now she struggled to find some of that faith. Worry and fear overwhelmed her.
She had every confidence in the Kellys and Sean, the police department. They’d unravel the story and put the pieces of the puzzle together. She’d be safe in time. She could go on with her life.
But would it ever be the same? Would she face a future without the one man she’d always known she’d grow old with? How could she face overcoming so much only to return home and see her life disintegrate before her eyes?
RACHEL awoke disoriented and unsure of where she was. For a moment, panic billowed up her spine, but she felt steady, reassuring warmth around her body, and she relaxed.
She blinked to adjust to the low light in the room. It was one of Marlene’s bedrooms. Ethan’s old bedroom. It was nearly dark outside—had she slept the entire day?
Her shoulder ached from the awkward position of the heavy cast, and she tried to turn but ran into a hard chest.
She sucked in her breath as she came face-to-face with the man who’d made such sweet love to her—was it only last night?
The stared at each other, neither attempting to speak. Finally the crooked position of her neck forced her to turn back. Damn the cast. Damn the fact she couldn’t move worth a damn.
She was spooned against Ethan and his arms hung over her waist, holding her close against his chest. Slowly, he moved his arm. The bed dipped, and to her disappointment he got up.
Again she tried to roll over, but she came up short when she saw he was simply going to the other side of the bed.
He climbed onto the mattress and lay back down. This time they faced each other, and she saw the horrible uncertainty in his eyes.
For some reason it comforted her. She could take uncertainty—God knew she was riddled with it. What she couldn’t take was seeing the loss of hope.
He finally broke the silence. “How are you feeling? Is your arm hurting? I have more pain medication for you. ”
She glanced down at her arm. It did hurt, but she didn’t want to zone out on medication again. There was too much that needed to be addressed.
“Has Sean found out anything?”
She could start there, avoid the topic of her marriage for just a little while. The mere thought of going back there squeezed her chest so tight it was hard to breathe.
“Quite a bit,” Ethan said. “The FBI is arresting Senator Castle as we speak. ”
Her mouth fell open, and her eyes went wide. “Just based on what I said?”
Ethan grimaced. “No, baby. You aren’t the most credible witness because of the holes in your memory. The men Sean had in custody rolled on him. They’re arresting him for conspiracy to commit murder. Your murder. The drug trafficking, the deal with the cartel, his hand in your disappearance . . . that will have to come later as they build a case against him.
“The three assassins all want to cut deals, so they’re spilling their guts. The important thing is Castle will be in jail. ”
“So it’s over,” she murmured. “After a year, it’s finally over. ”
He thumbed away a strand of hair that had fallen over her forehead.
“Yeah, baby. It’s over. ”
She swallowed hard, gathered her courage and looked him directly in the eyes. “And what about us? Are we over?”
His gaze looked so haunted. There were deep shadows under his eyes. The bandage on his head had been removed, and it looked like there were stitches in the cut at his hairline.
He touched her cheek, and his fingers shook against her skin. His breath stuttered erratically from his chest, and she realized just how hard he was trying to keep it all together.
“I’ve been the driving force in our relationship for way too long. I push, you give. I destroy and you suffer. I alone decided the course of our marriage a year ago when I shoved those papers at you and watched you fall apart. It’s time that you decided what is best for you. ”
He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in his throat. He sucked in a deep breath through flared nostrils, and his eyes went shiny with unshed tears.