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The darkest hour, p.2
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       The Darkest Hour, p.2

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
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  Your wife is alive.

  It was a kick right to the balls. Rage surged through his veins like bubbling lava. He crumpled the note in his fist and threw it across the room. It skittered along the floor and landed under the television.

  Who the hell would pull a stunt like this and why?

  He snatched up the photo again and then another. He gathered them all, his hands shaking so bad the pictures scattered like a deck of cards.

  Cursing, he got down on his knees to collect the photos from underneath the coffee table. Some had slid under the couch, and still more were wedged between the cushions.

  Papers had also scattered everywhere. Charts, maps, a whole host of crap that made no sense to him.

  Get a grip. Don’t let this asshole get to you.

  Even though he told himself it was all some morbid prank, he couldn’t control the rush of anger. Hope. Fear. Rage. Helpless fury. Hope. Against his fucking will. Hope.

  He curled his fingers around the papers, wrinkling them with the force of his grip. The pictures stared back at him, mocking him. They were Rachel. All were Rachel.

  Thinner, haunted. Her hair was shorter, her eyes duller. But it was Rachel. A face and body he was intimately familiar with.

  Who would do this? Why would someone set up such an elaborate hoax just to fuck with him on the one-year anniversary of her death? What could they possibly hope to gain?

  He forced himself to look away from the scared, fragile woman in the picture because if he continued to stare and if he gave any thought to it being Rachel—his wife—he was going to vomit.

  The other documents blurred in his vision, and he wiped angrily at his eyes so he could make sense of what he was holding. He forced calm he didn’t feel. It took everything he had, but he switched off his emotions and studied the documents with the detached coldness necessary to remain objective.

  He hastily spread everything out on the coffee table, positioning what he could fit, and then he lined the rest out on the couch.

  The map pointed him to a remote area of Colombia about fifty miles from the Venezuelan border. The satellite photos showed dense jungle surrounding the tiny village—if you could call it a village. It was nothing more than a dozen huts constructed of bamboo and banana leaves.

  Special attention was given to the guard towers and to the two areas where arms were stockpiled. What the hell would a shithole like that need with guard towers and enough ammo to support a small army?

  Drug cartel.

  He glanced again at the photo of the woman.

  Rachel.

  Her name floated insidiously through his mind.

  It looked like her. Made sense it could be her. If it weren’t for the fact that her remains had been shipped home along with her wedding rings.

  No DNA testing had been done.

  Nausea surged in his belly until he physically gagged.

  No. No way in hell he’d blindly accepted his wife’s death while she was being held, enduring God knows what by men who had no compunction about terrorizing an innocent woman.

  She’d been identified only by the personal effects supposedly recovered with her remains. The fire had made even dental record identification a moot point. The explosion had incinerated everything in its path. Everything but the bent, misshapen rings and the charred remains of her suitcase. Half of a melted passport had been found in the wreckage. Her passport. It was the flight she’d taken and there had been no survivors. Ethan had never thought to question it.

  Jesus, he hadn’t questioned his wife’s death.

  He shook his head angrily. Boy was he getting carried away. There had to be some other explanation. Someone was messing with him. He didn’t know why. He didn’t care.

  He scanned the rest of the papers. Guard post schedule. Drug drop schedule. What the hell? It certainly looked like someone wanted them to be able to waltz right in. It screamed setup.

  GPS coordinates. Satellite photos. Topo maps. Whoever had sent it was thorough.

  If this was for real, this information made these jokers sitting ducks. The Boy Scouts could mount an assault on the camp that would take it down inside of five minutes.

  Your wife is alive.

  He glanced at the shadow of the small, balled-up piece of paper lying underneath the television.

  Four words. Just four simple words.

  He hated the hope that sprung to life within him. His heart thumped like a jackhammer inside his chest. His pulse raced so fast he felt light-headed, almost like the night before when he’d obliterated any rational thoughts with really cheap liquor.

  Only tonight he was stone cold sober.

  No. No fucking way. He wouldn’t allow himself the small glimmer of hope that was battling its way through a year of grief. This shit didn’t happen in real life. People didn’t get handed second chances on a fucking platter.

  He’d prayed for a miracle more times than he cared to admit, but his prayers had gone unanswered. Or had they?

  “You’re losing it,” he muttered.

  Finally he was losing the last shreds of sanity. Was this what it felt like at the end of the road? Was all that was left was for him to start barking at the moon?

  He rubbed his hands over his face and then over the back of his neck. Then he stared down at the information spread out before him like a road map. A map to his wife.

  He wanted to believe it. He’d be the worst sort of dumbass to give this any sort of credibility. But could he afford to dismiss it without even talking to his brothers about it?

  Hell, they ran KGI. They kicked asses for a living. There wasn’t a military operation they couldn’t mount. They found people who didn’t want to be found. They rescued people from impossible situations. They freed hostages. They blew shit up. Surely some rinky-dink cartel outpost in the middle of Bum Fuck, Colombia, would be a walk in the park for an organization like KGI.

  Oh God, they’d think he’d finally lost his mind. They’d have him committed.

  But what if this isn’t a joke?

  The thought took him by the throat. It had teeth. It wouldn’t let go.

  He spent the entire night rifling through the material, document after document, mentally compiling the image in his head until it was so ingrained he could see the compound in his sleep. He knew it intimately, knew where every hut stood, where the guard towers were positioned. He knew when they changed guard, knew their drug drop schedule. Even when they took their prisoner and moved her to a different hut.

  He had to be prepared. His brothers might think he was nuts. He couldn’t really blame them if they did. One thing he knew for certain. With or without them he was going in after his wife.

  If she was there . . . if she was alive . . . he was bringing her home.

  CHAPTER 2

  THERE weren’t scripts for moments like this. Nothing in his years in the military had prepared him for this bizarre turn of events. Even as he tried to beat down the hope pulsating in his chest, it lived and breathed inside his skin.

  Ethan parked his truck in the driveway of his brother Sam’s lake house then reached down onto the seat to grip the envelope containing all the information on Rachel’s whereabouts.

  They’d be surprised to see him. In fact, Sam, Garrett and Donovan were probably inside planning their raid on Ethan’s house. They’d been after him for months to join their special ops group, KGI. All in their plan to shove him firmly back into the land of the living.

  A FedEx package had done what his brothers couldn’t do.

  For the first time, he felt something other than guilt or grief. He was angry. Very, very angry.

  He harnessed that rage and kept it close, needing it for the impending confrontation. His brothers were going to think he’d lost his mind. They were his only hope, though, so he had to convince them that Rachel was alive.

  He got out of his truck and glanced toward the adjacent lot where the war room wa
s located. Built next to Sam’s rustic log cabin that was nestled on the bank of Kentucky Lake, the state-of-the-art, completely decked-out, two-thousand-square-foot building housed the offices of Kelly Group International.

  It was where Sam, Garrett and Donovan, Ethan’s older brothers, practically lived. They slept in the war room more often than they did the house.

  Ethan headed there first. Last he’d heard, one of the KGI teams was doing a recon mission, which meant that his brothers wouldn’t venture far from the communications room.

  The facility was impenetrable thanks to a high-tech security system. The location was benign and seemingly innocent, which was why Sam liked it so much. No one would suspect that military operations were planned and carried out in rural Stewart County.

  Ethan stopped at the keypad and had to think hard to remember the security code. The last thing he wanted to do was get it wrong and get his ass laid out by his brothers.

  After he’d punched in a series of codes, the door opened and he walked inside. Sam and Garrett were sprawled on the couches in the middle of the room, while predictably, Donovan was manning the computer system referred to as Hoss.

  Ethan strode forward, a determined set to his mouth. There was nothing to be gained by coming across as some weak pansy. Sam looked up when he heard Ethan, and his eyes widened in surprise. He kicked at Garrett’s leg that rested on the coffee table and gestured in Ethan’s direction.

  “ ’Bout time you dragged your carcass out of that house,” Sam drawled.

  Donovan swiveled in his chair, and his surprised gaze met Ethan’s. “Hey, man, it’s good to see you. ”

  “You look like shit,” Garrett said bluntly. “When was the last time you slept?”

  Ethan ignored the pleasantries and Garrett’s observations. “I need your help. ”

  Sam’s brows drew together, and he stared intently at Ethan. His gaze swept up and down, taking in every detail of his appearance. When he spoke, it was in a quiet, but firm voice. “You know all you have to do is ask. ”

  Ethan licked his lips and swallowed back the urge to blurt out everything in a rush. “I need KGI’s help. ”

  Garrett’s feet hit the floor and he surged upward. “What’s wrong? Are you in some kind of trouble?”

  Trust Garrett to immediately bristle. Sam might be the oldest, but Garrett was an overprotective bear when it came to family. He’d lose his mind when he learned about Rachel. Especially since he had been so close to her.

  Ethan looked down at the thick envelope in his hand, doubt clouding his mind. This was insane. How could he convince his brothers when he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe it? But if it was true . . . if there was even the slimmest chance she was alive, he had to move heaven and earth to find out. There simply wasn’t an alternative.

  The knot in his stomach grew larger, and he finally thrust the envelope in Garrett’s direction. Sam shot up from the couch and took it before Garrett could. Donovan and Garrett crowded behind Sam to look over his shoulder as Sam started pulling stuff out.

  “What the hell is all of this?” Sam demanded as he shuffled through the charts, maps and GPS coordinates. When he reached the photos of Rachel, Garrett’s and Donovan’s expressions froze. Sam’s frown grew fierce, and he stared back up at Ethan. “Where did you get this?”

  “It was delivered yesterday along with a note telling me Rachel is alive. ” Ethan pointed to the stack of papers and photos Sam held. “That was the proof. ”

  He marveled at how calm he sounded. How composed. As if hearing that the woman he’d thought dead was alive was a common occurrence.

  Garrett cursed viciously, and Donovan . . . he looked at Ethan with sad, understanding eyes. Ethan hated that look. It was one beat off patting him on the head and recommending a good therapist.

  Sam was still studying the photos, his brow furrowed in concentration.

  “This looks like Rachel,” he said slowly, as if it pained him to say it, to admit that maybe Ethan wasn’t certifiable.

  “It is Rachel,” Ethan said, impatience simmering through his veins. “Believe me, I’ve been through it all. I’ve been up the entire night going through all of this, telling myself this is some sick joke. But what if it isn’t? Can I afford to blow it off and pretend I never got this? My God, if she’s alive . . . if she’s been over in some hellhole for a year. . . ”

  He broke off, his chest heaving as he tried to regain control of himself. He curled and uncurled his fingers as the horror of that thought played over and over in his head. Rachel. Alive. Held prisoner and subjected to God knows what.

  “Sam, you have to help me. I need KGI for this. Who else am I going to go to? No one else is going to believe me. You’ve been wanting me to come to work with you forever. Do this for me—help me—and I’m yours. ”

  Sam swore and shook his head. Garrett scowled. Donovan’s face screwed up like he’d just sucked a lemon.

  “This isn’t about you coming to work with us, man,” Sam began. “I wouldn’t manipulate you like that. Shit, I’m trying to get my mind wrapped around this. Do you know how far-fetched it sounds for Rachel to be alive after all this time? You know that, right, Ethan? You haven’t convinced yourself that she’s alive, have you?”

 
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