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The darkest hour, p.19
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       The Darkest Hour, p.19

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
 
Page 19

 

  “God. ”

  His body trembled against her. His shoulders heaved, and she thought he might be crying, but she was afraid to look up, afraid of her own tenuous grip on her emotions. If he broke in front of her, she would simply shatter.

  “We’re going to beat this, Rachel,” he said fiercely. “You’re already almost there. ”

  She couldn’t tell him that right now she wanted the needle more than she wanted to live. She couldn’t tell him that she’d sell her soul for just a moment of sweet oblivion. And so she lay in his arms and said nothing and prayed that the incessant craving would somehow go away if she slept.

  ETHAN snatched up the phone when it rang, hoping it wouldn’t disturb Rachel. She was curled on the couch, a blanket tucked up to her chin, and she was sleeping peacefully. Perhaps the most peaceful rest she’d had in the three days since they’d gotten home.

  “Hello,” he said in a low voice as he walked toward the kitchen.

  “You know if you’d just turn on your damn cell phone, you could put it on vibrate and not have to worry about someone waking Rachel,” Sam grouched in his ear.

  “Now, why would I want to make it so easy for the rest of you to get in touch with me?” Ethan drawled.

  “How is she?” Sam asked, ignoring Ethan’s teasing.

  Ethan sobered and stole a glance in Rachel’s direction.

  “She’s doing better. It’s been rough. She hasn’t been sleeping well. Between the lingering effects of withdrawal and her nightmares, neither one of us is getting much rest. ”

  “You sound wiped,” Sam said, concern bleeding into his voice.

  “Nothing I can’t handle. ”

  “Mom is getting antsy. It’s all I can do to keep her away. ”

  Ethan sighed. “I know this is hard on everyone. There’s nothing I’d like more than for everyone to see her again. Hell, I’m hoping she’ll remember something or someone once she’s reunited with the family, but she’s just so fragile Sam. It’s taking everything she has just to keep her feet beneath her. ”

  “Have you taken her to the doctor here?”

  “Yeah, almost the first thing I did. Got the name of a therapist in Clarksville I’m going to call as soon as Rachel feels ready. She seems willing enough to talk to me, but so far she’s balked at going to anyone else. ”

  “What does the doctor say about her physical condition?”

  “Same as Maren said. She’s extremely fragile. Undernourished. Her reserves are sorely depleted. He put her on a vitamin regimen and I’m feeding her three good meals a day with snacks in between. ”

  “And the withdrawal?”

  Ethan ran a hand through his hair and blew out his breath. “She’s still jittery as a June bug at times. I know it eats at her a lot more than she admits. She’s so stoic and I can’t figure out if she’s ashamed and doesn’t want me to see or if she’s somehow trying to protect me from the viciousness of what she’s going through. ”

  “That’s a hell of a note,” Sam muttered.

  “Tell me about it. I’m supposed to be protecting her. ”

  Ethan turned when a knock sounded at the front door.

  “Shit, I need to go, Sam. Someone’s at the door. ”

  Sam paused. “It’s probably Garrett. You had to know he’d be by to check in on you and Rachel. ”

  “Yeah. I’ll talk to you later, Sam. ”

  Ethan hung up the phone and went to the front door. Indeed, it was Garrett, standing with his hands shoved into his pockets. He stared at Ethan and took a step forward. “Can I come in?”

  Ethan opened the door wider. “Sure. Just be quiet. Rachel’s sleeping on the couch. ”

  “How are things?” Garrett asked as he followed Ethan into the house.

  Ethan shrugged. “We’re getting by. ”

  “You look tired, man. Why haven’t you asked any of us for help?”

  The question came out gently, but to Ethan it still sounded like an accusation. Hell, he probably deserved it, but how was he supposed to explain to anyone how he felt? He’d lost her. For an entire year he existed with the knowledge that she was dead. And now by some miracle he had her back.

  Garrett walked by the couch in the living room and looked down at Rachel. His gaze softened and he carefully touched her cheek. Then he glanced back up at Ethan.

  “I think you should go over and see Mom and Dad. Hell, I don’t even know if anyone told you that Joe and Nathan are home. They’re anxious as hell to see you. ”

  “Sam told me,” Ethan said in a low voice. “I’m not going to leave her. I know everyone wants to see her. Believe me, I understand, but I have to do what’s best for Rachel, and I’m worried about bombarding her with family right now. ”

  “I wasn’t suggesting you take her over yet. I agree you shouldn’t overwhelm her too soon. But I think you should go over. Mom’s worried sick about you. So is Dad. ”

  “I can’t leave her,” Ethan said incredulously.

  “I’ll stay with her. She’s sleeping. You need to get out, man. Get some fresh air. Breathe a little. You can’t keep this up or you’re going to fall apart, and then what good will you do her?”

  Christ. Ethan swallowed. Garrett made all the sense in the world, but damn it, he didn’t want to leave Rachel. Even for a minute. How could he explain the sheer panic he felt over the idea? What if he got over to Mom and Dad’s and discovered this was all some bizarre fantasy?

  Garrett walked over and put his hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “Look, the way I see it you have two choices. You can get your ass in your truck and go see Mom and Dad for a couple of hours. Or, I can call Sam, Van, Nathan and Joe and have them come over and haul you out forcibly. Either way, you’re getting out of this house for a while. ”

  Ethan clenched his fingers into a tight fist. Never before had he wanted to hit someone like he wanted to hit Garrett right now. And Garrett knew it, but he just stood there, arms down, making no effort to defend himself.

  “You need your family right now,” Garrett said softly. “And Rachel needs you. ”

  Ethan closed his eyes. “All right. I’ll go. Swear to me you’ll call if she needs me. Sometimes when she wakes up, she forgets . . . she forgets where she’s at. You’ll need to be right there so she doesn’t panic. ”

  Garrett cut him off before he could go any further. “Go. I can handle this. I’ll watch over her for you. ”

  Ethan took a breath and then turned away to look for his keys. When he found them, he walked over to the couch, where Rachel hadn’t so much as stirred. For a moment he watched the soft rise and fall of her chest. A crease marred her forehead, and she looked worried even in sleep. He bent down and kissed away the wrinkle.

  “Sleep well, baby,” he whispered. “I’ll be back. ”

  CHAPTER 19

  ETHAN got out of his truck, slammed the door then took a deep breath before heading to the front door of his parents’ home. As much as he was looking forward to seeing Nathan and Joe, being away from Rachel, even for a few minutes, had him on edge.

  The door flew open as soon as he mounted the steps, and his mother rushed out to greet him, her arms open wide. Though he swallowed her up, it was her doing most of the holding and hugging.

  Tears pricked his eyelids, and he sucked in a big breath to hold them back.

  “Ethan, thank God you and Rachel are home,” his mom said. She leaned up, cupped his cheek and kissed him even as she wiped tears from her own cheeks.

  She reached for his hands and squeezed then pulled him toward the door.

  “Nathan and Joe here?” Ethan asked as he ducked inside.

  She shook her head. “No, they’re helping Sam and Donovan out. Come in, sit down and let me look at you. ”

  She parked him in a chair at the kitchen table and stood staring at him, all the love of a mother shining in her eyes.

  “You look like hell,” she scolded. Then she sank into a chair across from him
and grasped his hands in hers. “How is she?”

  He swallowed the knot in his throat. “She’s okay. I left her sleeping. Garrett’s there. ”

  “How is she really?” she asked softly.

  He closed his eyes. “She’s fragile, Ma. Those bastards . . . those bastards kept her prisoner for a year. A year. A year where she needed me, where she went through God knows what. ”

  He choked back a sob, ashamed to be breaking down in front of his mother, for God’s sake.

  She rose and he was back in her arms, her arms wrapped tight around his shoulders, and he turned into her as he’d done when he was a child, his grief muffled by her shirt.

  “You should have come sooner,” she soothed. “This is too much for you to stand up under alone, son. There are so many of us who will help you, but you have to let us. ”

  “She needs me,” he said hoarsely. “I failed her already. I won’t do it again. ”

  “Are you failing her by taking a moment to see the mother who is worried sick over you while Garrett watches over her?”

  “He called you. ”

  “Yes, he said you were coming. And it’s about time. Did you think we’d storm the castle or not understand if you couldn’t bring her to us yet? We’re so worried for you both, Ethan. I want to see her so bad I hurt. I want to hold her in my arms again. I want to see my daughter. But I can wait. ”

  “Ethan, you’re home. ”

  Ethan looked up, then hastily away, as his father entered the kitchen. His emotional outburst was bad enough in front of his mom, but to break down in front of his father was more than he could stand.

  That thought fled the moment his father hauled him up and crushed him in his beefy embrace. His father wept openly, his big body shaking convulsively as great sobs tore out of his chest.

  “Thank God, thank God you’re home. Your mother and I were so worried. And then Sam and Van came home alone. You’ll never know what it was like seeing them come in the door so dirty and haggard and not seeing you and Garrett. It was as bad as the day they told us Rachel died. ”

  “I’m sorry,” Ethan said as he cupped the back of his father’s head. “I never meant to scare you or Ma. But we couldn’t tell you. Not until we were sure. I’d never get your hopes up like that. ”

  “So it’s really her? She’s home?” his dad asked hoarsely.

  “She’s home,” Ethan said, allowing the joy of that statement to flood his chest.

  Now his mom’s eyes filled with tears again, and she raised her shaking hands to her face.

  “Bring her to us soon, Ethan. Dinner. Just like old times. We won’t push her, I swear. Just let us see her. Everyone loves her so much. ”

  Ethan wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand and reached for her hand. “I will, Ma. Sunday, okay? Sunday dinner just like old times. The family will be together again. ”

  “Praise God,” she breathed out. “Oh, Ethan, it’s a miracle. You’ve been given such a precious gift. ”

  He smiled at her, touching her damp cheek with his fingers. “I know. I won’t screw it up this time. ”

  She frowned at that, but he turned to his father before she could question his meaning.

  “I’m really sorry we scared you. Things happened so fast. If it was Rachel, we had to get in there fast, and if it wasn’t, we didn’t want you to go through the loss all over again. ”

  “It’s okay, son. The important thing is my boys and my daughter are home again where they belong. I can’t ask for more than that. ”

  “Let me fix you something to eat,” Marlene said as she bustled around the counter toward the fridge. “You can take leftovers home for Rachel. ”

  He hedged, checking his watch. He’d already been gone half an hour.

  “She’ll be fine with Garrett,” his mom said in a quiet, understanding voice. “You need a break, Ethan. Let me feed you. You probably haven’t eaten a thing I’ve sent over since you’ve been home. ”

  “When have I ever turned down your cooking, Ma?”

  She smiled when he cracked a grin.

  “That’s better. Now sit. Talk to your father while I whip up supper. Garrett will call if she needs you and you can be home in less than five minutes. ”

  THE dream was the same. Ethan was angry, his features drawn into a dark cloud. Despair washed over her in waves, and a feeling of helplessness assaulted her. More powerful than her fear of her captors. No, that was in the past. Now she faced something worse.

  Was it a nightmare? Some terrible image fueled by her fears and insecurities, or was she remembering more about her life with Ethan?

  She twisted, held captive to her dreams. A tortured moan escaped her over and over, and all she could think was He doesn’t love you. It’s not real.

  “Rachel. Rachel. Wake up, sweet pea. You’re dreaming. Come back to me. ”

 
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