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The darkest hour, p.11
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       The Darkest Hour, p.11

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
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Page 11


  “Are you in pain? Do you want me to get her?”

  She shook her head. “No. I feel . . . ” She mentally examined her physical state. “Quiet. My mind is quiet. My skin isn’t crawling and yet I know it’s there, waiting to come back. ”

  He gently touched her face, his fingertips sliding over her cheekbone and to her lips. “We’ll beat this. ”

  She closed her eyes as grief settled, thick and suffocating. “What did they do to me? Why?”

  Ethan’s hands stilled on her face. “I don’t know why. ” Anger tightened his voice. She opened her eyes to see fury reflected in his. “I won’t let it happen again. I protect what’s mine. ”

  A peculiar prickle shivered up her spine, leaving a warm glow in its wake. Her chest fluttered, and something inside her long dead awakened and unfurled.

  She belonged to this man. He’d keep her safe.

  “Tell me about us,” she whispered.

  He smiled then, and it transformed his face. Gone was the serious, gruff man, replaced by boyish charm. It was a marvelous thing to behold.

  “We were married three years ago. ”

  Her brow wrinkled. “Oh, not long then. ”

  His eyes lost some of their shine. “No, not long. ”

  If she concentrated hard, she could summon distant memories. It was odd. Though she could remember them, it was as if they belonged to someone else. The connection to her hadn’t been forged in her tattered mind.

  “Did Garrett give me away at our wedding?”

  Ethan stilled and then slowly nodded.

  “I remember that. He told me I was the most beautiful bride in the world. ”

  “And you were. ”

  “I remember seeing you, waiting for me. ”

  Ethan hesitated for a moment. “What else do you remember?”

  She sighed. “It’s sort of a mess. I mean I remember lots of random things, but I don’t have a clear chronological list of events. It’s like someone’s shooting out-of-order pictures at me. ”

  “Don’t rush it. You’ve been through a lot. When I get you home, and you feel safe again, you’ll remember. ”

  She cocked her head to the side for a moment. “How many brothers do you have? I only remember Garrett. Sam . . . he scares me. And there’s another here. Donovan?”

  Ethan smiled. “Garrett is usually the one who scares people. Sam is the oldest, but you’d think Garrett was. ”

  “Garrett wouldn’t hurt me. ”

  “Neither would Sam,” he said gently. “To answer your question, there are six of us in all. Nathan and Joe are twins and they’re deployed to Afghanistan. ”

  “Do I have any family? It seems odd that I would remember Garrett but not my own family. ”

  He shook his head. “You were an only child, and your parents died in a car accident several years ago. ”

  “Oh. ” She couldn’t help the disappointment that accompanied his statement.

  “You were very close to my mom, though. She and Dad both loved you like a daughter. You were a part of the family long before I married you. ”

  She relaxed and smiled. Then her forehead furrowed as she remembered one detail. “They think I’m dead. Like you did. ”

  Ethan sighed and rubbed a hand through his hair.

  “How did you know? I mean how did you find me?”

  She trembled as she spoke, and already she could feel the slow crawl of need creep over her skin.

  “It’s a long story, baby, and right now it isn’t important. What is important is that I found you. You’re a miracle to us all. Mom and Dad are going to be so thrilled. I don’t know yet how I’m going to tell them. They’ll think I’m crazy. ”

  “I’m hungry,” she blurted. She rubbed her hand over her arm, trying to make the itch go away. Hunger beat at her, but she wasn’t sure which was more prevalent: the hunger for food or the hunger for the needle.

  She could feel the needle sinking into her flesh, welcomed it, wanted the horrible ache to go away.

  Ethan’s hand closed warmly over hers. “I’ll be right back. ”

  He eased from the bed and left the room after a quick look back at Rachel. Whatever Maren had given her was wearing off, and she was becoming agitated again.

  He stuck his head in the doorway of Cole’s room to see him passed out cold. From there he passed Steele’s room, only to find it empty, not that it surprised him. He nearly bumped into Maren as she came out of Dolphin’s room.

  “Is there a place we can get some food?” Ethan asked. “Rachel’s hungry. ”

  “That’s good. She needs to eat. But take it easy. Don’t give her too much too quickly. I have a small kitchen in the back where we can nuke some soup. ”

  She turned, and Ethan followed her past the shower area to a kitchenette that had a two-burner stove, a small fridge and a microwave.

  “All the comforts of home,” she said ruefully.

  “You don’t live here, do you?”

  “Yes and no. When I’m busy or have patients I crash in the back room here, but no, I have a cottage a half a mile from the clinic. Not much, but it’s dry and keeps the rain out. ”

  “Where is everyone?” he asked as he watched her take a bowl out of the refrigerator.

  “I sent them down to the cottage. They can crash, eat and generally stay out of my hair there. Sam said to tell you he’d be back in a few. Why don’t you go back to Rachel? I’ll heat this up and bring it down in a few minutes. ”

  “Thanks. I appreciate it, Maren. ”

  She smiled and made a shooing motion with her hand. Ethan turned and walked back down the hall. He was nearly to Rachel’s door when he heard a crash.

  He broke into a run and burst through the door to see Rachel standing by her bed, the IV pole knocked over. She yanked frantically at the line at her wrist, and before he could react, she pulled the line free of the catheter. Blood spilled from the catheter still inserted into her arm onto the floor and her gown.

  She ignored it, rubbing and hitting frantically at her arms, her chest and her legs. Blood flew in all directions as she batted at invisible objects.

  He vaulted over the bed and grabbed her to him. He reached for her wrist to try to stop the flow of blood, but she fought relentlessly. She wasn’t even aware of his presence.

  “Rachel! Stop. Baby, stop!”

  “Get them off!” she cried. “God, get them off me!”

  He held her tightly, subduing her flailing arms and all the while trying to get his hand over the IV lock to stop the blood. Finally he held her, helpless in his arms, her body locked to his, but still she twitched and cried out in anguish.

  “Maren!” he yelled. “I need you in here!”

  Rachel screamed again, a high-pitched sound of terror. She arched her body, bowing against him with surprising strength.

  “Rachel, honey, I’ve got you. You’re okay, I swear. ”

  “They’re all over me,” she wailed. “Get them off!”

  “Get what off? There’s nothing there. ”

  Maren burst into the room, her lab coat flying in her wake. She took one look and went into action.

  “On the bed,” she ordered. “I need to get that IV hooked back up. ”

  Ethan hauled her onto the bed and held her down as she kicked and bucked endlessly. Her eyes were wild with fear, the pupils fixed and dilated. Sweat bathed her face and hair, and her cheeks were chalky white.

  “Hallucination,” Maren said grimly. She deftly reattached the IV and then yanked a bottle of medication out of her pocket. With sure hands, she filled a syringe and then bent to inject it into the port.

  When she was done, she put her hand over Rachel’s forehead and gently wiped away the sweat and tangled hair. “Listen to me, Rachel. It’s not real. Whatever you’re seeing, it’s not real. Look at me. ”

  Rachel’s wild eyes focused on Maren, her mouth open in a silent scream.

  “That’s it. Now
listen to me. You’re safe. It’s a hallucination. Ethan’s here. I’m here. We’re not going to let anything happen to you. You’ll feel better in a minute, I promise. ”

  Rachel crumbled, her eyes filling with tears. Harsh, ragged sobs came deep from her chest and shook her entire body as they spilled from her lips. How she’d held it together this long, Ethan didn’t know.

  As soon as Maren backed off, he gathered Rachel in his arms, holding her tight as she cried. He stroked her hair, her back, every part of her body he could touch.

  Something inside of him broke. He wanted to hit a wall. He wanted to cry with her. For her. For all she’d endured.

  What had those bastards done to her? She could remember almost nothing and was suffering endlessly in withdrawal. What if the drugs had permanently destroyed her mind?

  He shook his head. No, he wouldn’t accept that his Rachel was gone. She’d come back to him. She had to. Only he had to make sure that when she did, when she remembered the past, he managed to convince her that he’d been wrong. He loved her. Asking for a divorce had been the worst mistake of his life, and something he’d regret to his dying day.

  He shut his eyes and held on, his body shaking almost as badly as hers.

  “I’m so sorry, baby,” he whispered, his voice choked with emotion. “I’m so sorry I let you down. ”

  For several long minutes he knelt on the bed, his arms wrapped around her until finally he realized that she’d quieted. As he pulled away, her head lolled to the side. Carefully he cupped her face and then lowered her back to the pillow. Her eyelashes fluttered delicately against her cheeks as she settled into oblivion.

  “Most of the blood is on the floor and her clothes,” Maren said in a low voice. “We can change the sheets later. Let her rest. I’ll clean up what’s on the floor, and when she comes around again, I’ll get her a fresh set of clothes. ”

  “Can I stay with her?” he asked, though he had no intention of leaving her, even for a minute.

  “Of course. I’ll be out of your way in just a second. I left the soup on the table, but she’ll probably be out for a few hours. When she wakes, be sure she eats. I’ll be staying in my office tonight to monitor Cole and Dolphin. Steele told me to fuck off and he left,” she added with an amused glitter to her eyes.

  “Don’t take it personally. He likes everyone pretty much the same. ”

  Maren shrugged. “I don’t care if he likes me. I did what I could. The rest is up to him. ”

  Five minutes later, Maren finished mopping the spilled blood and then she quietly left the room, leaving Ethan alone with Rachel.

  Ethan relaxed on the pillow as much as the awkward position would allow. He’d never been so bone weary in his life, nor had he ever felt so goddamn helpless. Or angry.

  He wanted to be able to fix what was wrong, but he couldn’t. All he could do was stand by while Rachel tried to put the tattered pieces of herself back together.

  “I love you. ”

  The words blew quietly across her forehead, ruffling a tendril of hair.

  “This time I won’t quit on us,” he vowed.


  “HOLA,” Rio said as he burst into Maren’s cottage. His dark eyes swept the interior where Sam and the others were sprawled haphazardly on the floor and furniture.

  Sam rose to greet his team leader, extending an arm. Rio grasped it and gave it a firm shake.

  “How are Cole and Dolphin?” he asked. Steele was notably absent from Rio’s concern.

  “Dolphin has busted ribs, Cole took a bullet to the leg and Steele took a bullet in that last exchange. ”

  “Christ. What a clusterfuck. ”

  “You get the chopper? Where are your men?”

  Rio grinned, his white teeth flashing. “They’re with the chopper. I stashed it a few miles away then doubled back on foot. Good way to learn the terrain and find out what we’re up against. ”

  “Reconnecting with your people, amigo?” Steele drawled as he walked over to join Rio and Sam.

  “Fuck you,” Rio said. His gaze swept over Steele’s bandaged and bound arm and he offered a mocking smile. “Hurt yourself?”

  Sam shook his head. It was a running source of irritation between Rio and Steele. Rio hated the gross generalization of lumping all people of Latin heritage into the same pot. Rio was Brazilian and Sam didn’t even know his real name. He had always been called Rio, short for his home city.

  Steele smiled, but it was more of a grimace. His teeth clicked as he stared eye to eye with the other team leader. “At least I was there and not off on some pussy mission to Asia, which if I’m not mistaken is where you should still be?”

  “Just saving your ass. Ain’t nothing new about that,” Rio said easily.

  Before things could escalate further, Sam stepped between them. “I’d like to speak to both of you outside. ”

  He glanced back at Garrett and Donovan, who raised their eyebrows in question, but Sam shook his head and then motioned for Steele and Rio to follow him outside. This wasn’t something he wanted his brothers involved in.

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