The darkest hour, p.9
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       The Darkest Hour, p.9

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
Page 9


  Her lips curled into a sneer, but she didn’t say anything further.

  “I won’t lie to you, Rusty. Carl said exactly what you expected him to say, but I needed to hear it with my own ears. I had to make sure that we weren’t getting into a legal mess by offering you a place to stay. ”

  “Yeah, well, only way Carl would say he cared was if there was something in it for him. If he thought you had money, he’d use me to get it. ”

  Marlene sighed. “You don’t have to worry about Carl any longer. I promise you that. There’s still the issue of your mother, but we’ll cross that bridge when and if we come to it. For now, you’re staying here. First thing we’re going to do is go shopping for some decent clothes. ”

  Rusty looked suspiciously at her, but Marlene ignored her and went on.

  “There’s also the matter of school. I’ll expect you to attend and finish your education when it starts in August. ”

  “School’s boring,” she said with a roll of her eyes.

  “For a smart girl like you, I don’t doubt it, but it doesn’t make it any less necessary. You’ll never get into college if you don’t finish high school. ”

  “College?” She laughed, and it sounded bitter and derisive. “What’s a girl like me going to do at college? I can’t afford it and I’d never get in anyway with my record. ”


  “Yeah,” she mumbled. “Nothing major. Got sent to Juvie once. ”

  “What for?”

  Her chin came up, and fire blazed in her eyes. “Solicitation. ”

  Marlene closed her eyes and willed herself not to break down in front of this child. When she opened them again, she saw anger reflected in Rusty’s face. She didn’t appreciate Marlene’s pity.

  “Well, what’s done is done. We can’t change the past, but we can darn sure change your future. You’re going to school, and you’re going to work hard. No excuses. ”

  There was a slight shift and Rusty seemed to wilt a little on her stool. Marlene leaned on the counter and took a chance as she covered Rusty’s hands with her own.

  “I don’t doubt you’ve had a hard life and that a lot of people have let you down. You can wallow in that misery and remain a victim, or you can take charge of your destiny and turn it all around. The choice is up to you. I can’t make you do it, and I won’t. Frank and I will provide you with the opportunity, but you have to want better. ”

  Rusty looked down at Marlene’s hands, her eyes glistening with what looked to be hard fought tears. “Why are you doing this? What’s in it for you?”

  “Not everyone does something for what’s in it for them,” Marlene said gently. “Besides, seeing you graduate and go on to college and make something of yourself will be what I get out of it. ”

  “So I can stay?” she asked hopefully.

  “You can stay. ”

  Marlene picked up her purse again and fished for her car keys. She walked toward the garage door and then turned and pinned Rusty with a stare.

  “Well, don’t just sit there, come on. ”

  Rusty scrambled off the stool and rubbed her hands nervously down her pant legs. “Where we going?”

  “To buy you some clothes and shoes. Maybe do something with that hair while we’re at it. ”

  Rusty frowned and ran her hand defensively over the long strands. “What’s wrong with my hair?”

  “Nothing if you don’t mind looking like a pink rooster,” Marlene said dryly. “I know kids these days get strange ideas about fashion, but trust me, that look is never a good idea. ”

  IT was dark when they pulled back into the drive. Frank met them at the door and took the bags they carried. He did a double take when he caught sight of Rusty.

  Marlene beamed and turned to Rusty. “Didn’t I tell you he wouldn’t recognize you?”

  Rusty ducked her head self-consciously and looked like she wanted the floor to swallow her up. Her confidence was in the gutter, but if Marlene had her way, she’d build it back up.

  “You look nice,” Frank said gruffly. “Like a young lady instead of some punk. ”

  Rusty actually grinned at the backhanded compliment.

  “There’s more bags in the trunk,” Marlene said as they walked on into the kitchen.

  “You buy the store out?” Frank huffed.

  “Almost. I haven’t had that much fun shopping since Rachel and I used to go. ”

  Her mouth trembled as the words slipped past her before she thought better. Frank squeezed her arm on his way out the door.

  “What happened to Rachel?” Rusty asked. “You mentioned her before. ”

  Marlene sighed. “She was married to my son Ethan. ”

  “They get a divorce?”

  “No. She died a year ago,” she returned softly.

  Rusty shifted uncomfortably. “Sorry. ”

  Marlene smiled. “Don’t be. I tell Ethan all the time that it’s time to go on with life and then I don’t heed my own advice. ”

  “You loved her a lot. ”

  It wasn’t a question, but a matter-of-fact statement.

  “Yes, I did. ”

  Frank bustled back in with the rest of the bags, and Marlene turned to Rusty.

  “Well young lady, you’ve got a lot of unpacking to do. Better get on upstairs and get all your things settled. The bathroom on the end will serve as yours. With all the makeup and hair stuff we bought, you’ll be arranging clothes and cosmetics until bedtime. ”

  For a moment Rusty didn’t move. She fidgeted uncomfortably, shifting from one foot to the other. Then she glanced at Frank and finally Marlene.

  “Thanks. Uh, I mean . . . well thanks. ”

  Marlene patted her on the arm. “You’re quite welcome. ”


  AS Donovan set the helicopter down on the bare patch of soil next to the nondescript stone building, a woman in a white lab coat hurried out, shielding her face with her hand.

  Ethan gathered Rachel closer as Sam hopped out and ran ducking toward the woman. Dr. Maren Scofield. He’d heard of her from his brothers. KGI had rescued her during an intense hostage crisis. She’d been the only survivor. Afterward she’d left Africa and set up her clinic in a poor, rural area of Costa Rica.

  Sam returned with Dr. Scofield a moment later, and she poked her head inside the helicopter to survey the injured. She pointed to Cole.

  “Get him in first. Front exam room. ” Her gaze glanced over Rachel and then Dolphin and on to Steele. She pointed first at Steele. “Second exam room. ” Then she gestured to Dolphin. “Take him into the back. I have a portable X-ray. I’ll see if he’s broken any ribs. ”

  Cole grunted and shook his head. Dolphin also remained still.

  “See to Rachel first,” Steele said in a firm voice.

  Dr. Scofield looked at Rachel in surprise then back at the men as if gauging their determination. “I really think that gunshot wounds should be looked at first. ”

  Cole held up his hand, pain evident in the crease of his brow. “Rachel comes first. ”

  Dr. Scofield shrugged and looked at Ethan. “Bring her in. ” She turned to Sam. “Get your men in the exam rooms or they’re not going to have any limbs left. If they rot off, it’s not my fault. The rest of you can shower in the back while you wait. ”

  Sam grinned and motioned for Ethan to get out. “We’ll get them inside, Maren. Don’t get your panties in a knot. ”

  Dr. Scofield scowled at Sam, but Ethan could see the affection twinkling in her eyes.

  Ethan stepped down, holding Rachel tightly. Dr. Scofield leaned over as they walked toward the clinic and then looked up at Ethan. “How long has she been unconscious?”

  “We gave her a sedative,” Ethan said. “It was easier that way. ”

  Dr. Scofield led the way into one of the tiny rooms then motioned for Ethan to lay Rachel down on the exam table. As she brought the stethoscope up, the doctor peered at Ethan over her glas

  “I need you to give me a rundown of her situation. Then you can go shower with the others while I finish up. ”

  Ethan hesitated. He didn’t want to leave Rachel here alone. What if she woke up and panicked?

  Dr. Scofield’s expression softened. “I won’t be long, and then you can come back in. She probably won’t even wake up. ”

  Reluctantly, Ethan told her everything he knew about Rachel’s condition. Which wasn’t much. When he was done, Dr. Scofield nodded and motioned for him to go.

  He left the room and found Sam in the hallway talking to his other team leader, Rio.

  “Ethan,” Rio said with a nod when Ethan approached. “Good to see you. ”

  Ethan shook his hand. “What the hell are you doing here?”

  “I was just asking the same thing,” Sam said dryly.

  Rio flashed a grin. “Brought you fellows a present. A new helicopter. That one out there is going to get you attention you don’t want with all the bullet holes. Not to mention the fact that the Colombian government has issued a statement saying such a helicopter is an item of interest in national security. ”

  Sam swore. “I was afraid this would happen. Our departure was too messy. ”

  Rio shrugged. “Bound to happen when you only have three days to plan a mission and you’re low on manpower. You should have waited for me and my team to get in. It would have only meant one more day. ”

  “We couldn’t wait one more day,” Ethan broke in. “They had my wife. ”

  Rio stared at Ethan for a moment and then nodded. “I understand. Still, we need to ditch the helicopter. No way someone won’t notice even in this shithole little village in the Costa Rican jungle. I’ll take care of it. ”

  Without another word, he turned and strode away, disappearing as quickly as he’d appeared.

  Sam shook his head then turned to Ethan. “Rachel settled?”

  “Dr. Scofield is looking her over. ”

  “Let’s go grab a shower then. We both smell like goats. ”

  They went to the back of the clinic where the small room housed two open showers. There wasn’t much in the way of hot water, but even the lukewarm felt good to Ethan. He washed away the dried blood and felt along his scalp for the wound. He was damn lucky he wasn’t dead.

  “Rio’s men go with him?” Ethan asked after they’d showered and dried off.

  “Yeah. Where Rio goes, so does his team. They’re a cagey, antisocial bunch to the core. They probably resented like hell having to come out of their caves even briefly. ”

  “Sounds like my kind of crowd,” Ethan said with a brief smile.

  Sam looked at him in astonishment. “Well I’ll be god-damned. You cracked a joke. What on earth is the world coming to?”

  Ethan popped him with a towel. “Cut the smart-ass attitude, big brother. I can still kick your scrawny ass. ”

  Sam actually smiled. Then without warning he grabbed Ethan in a big bear hug and pounded him on the back. “It’s damn good to have you back, little brother. ”

  “Cut the mushy shit out,” Ethan grumbled as he pulled away.

  “You girls having a love fest back here?” Donovan asked.

  Ethan and Sam turned to see Donovan and Garrett standing in the doorway, amused grins plastered on their faces.

  Sam flipped them both off. “Get cleaned up before Maren tosses your smelly carcasses out of her clinic. Ethan and I will check in on the others while we’re waiting for Maren to finish with Rachel. ”

  Ethan stepped into Cole’s room to find his teammate lying awkwardly on the too-small table, his eyes closed and forehead creased with tension.

  “Hey man,” Ethan said quietly.

  Cole opened his eyes and stared back at him. “Rachel?”

  “Nothing yet. Dr. Scofield is examining her. Wanted to see how you were feeling. ”

  “I’ve been better. I’ve been worse. Nothing I won’t get over with the help of some good drugs,” he offered wryly.

  Ethan hesitated and swallowed uncomfortably.

  “Something wrong?” Cole asked.

  “I just wanted to say thanks. You risked your life to save Rachel. I can’t ever repay that. Having her back . . . Just thanks. I appreciate it. ”

  Cole made a rude noise. “Just don’t holler that Semper Fi shit and we’ll call it even. ”

  Ethan gave him a mock look of horror. “Hooyah, baby. Hooyah. ”

  Cole grinned. “Right on, brother. Right on. ”

  Then he lay back and groaned. “If those fuckheads had better aim, this would have been a clean through-and-through. ”

  “Yeah, well, if they had better aim, your brains would be splattered over the Colombian jungle,” Ethan said dryly.

  Cole closed his eyes wearily. “There is that. ”

  “I’m going to get out of here. I’ll go look in on Dolphin and Steele. ”

  Cole opened his eyes again and lifted his head. “Save your breath with Steele, man. And for God’s sake don’t thank him. It’ll just piss him off. ”