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The darkest hour, p.23
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       The Darkest Hour, p.23

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
Page 23


  Soft and so gentle, he deepened the kiss, his fingers thrusting upward into her hair, tangling as he pulled her even closer.

  He shook against her, his chest throbbing with tightly held emotion. It overwhelmed her that this man felt so deeply, that he was as moved as she was and seemingly just as desperate for her touch as she was for his.

  She reached up and tentatively stroked her fingers over the side of his neck and then over his clean-shaven jaw. She wanted to touch all of him, to relearn all the contours of his body. She wanted to see and touch, to explore and reclaim what was hers.

  It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him she didn’t want to go to his parents’ after all.

  With a ragged gasp he pulled away and then returned, pressing quick, breathless kisses to her mouth, to the corner of her lips and then her jaw.

  “Tell me what you need, Rachel. I swear I’ll give it to you. Anything. ”

  It took all her courage to say what it was she most wanted. He’d made all the sacrifices so far. He’d been patient, understanding. He deserved this much. He deserved her courage.

  “Will you make love to me? Tonight?”

  Fire blazed in his eyes, turning them a brilliant shade of blue. He opened his mouth and just as quickly closed it. His nostrils flared with the effort of his breathing, and when he finally did speak, his voice was hoarse.

  “I’ll make love to you, baby. I’ll do anything you want. ”

  She brushed her hand over his cheek, the need to touch him a living, breathing thing.

  “Do you want me? I mean as a wife. ”

  The words came out rushed, and she stammered over the last. She didn’t realize she was holding her breath until it escaped in a jerky explosion.

  He caught her hand and tucked his mouth into her palm. The kiss sent a shiver over her skin, raising chill bumps in its wake.

  “Want you? I want you so much I hurt. There isn’t a time when I don’t want you. But I want you to feel safe and protected more. I’d never do anything to frighten you, but I worry that I’ll do it unintentionally. I can’t stand the thought of screwing up and hurting you. ”

  His face twisted in pain, and her heart surged, fluttering so wildly she had a hard time catching her breath.

  “Ethan. ”

  It was all she could say. Her throat ached.

  She rose up on tiptoe and kissed him. Hard, with all the passion she’d been afraid to show. It bubbled out, rising sharply until she thought she might well explode.

  There was no finesse, certainly none of the skill of a practiced seduction. Her hands stabbed clumsily at his face and finally ended up clasped around his neck, her fingers toying with the short hairs at his nape.

  When her starved lungs demanded she pull away, they were both gasping and pulling in big mouthfuls of air.

  “You won’t hurt me, Ethan. I do feel safe with you. I knew the moment you showed up in my hut that I was saved. I dreamed of you. You were all I remembered of my life before. I held on to you when everything else fell away. ”

  He lowered his head until his forehead rested against hers. Their lips were so close that she could feel each of his breaths.

  “I’m just sorry I wasn’t there sooner,” he said painfully.

  She smiled and tilted her chin just enough that her lips brushed his again.

  “You came. That’s all that matters. ”

  He sighed and pulled away. “Are you sure you want to go to Mom’s? I can always cancel. ”

  She shook her head. “No, she’s been planning this for days. I don’t want to disappoint her. Nathan and Joe are home for the night, and she seemed so thrilled to have everyone together at the same time. I gather this is somewhat of an unusual occurrence. ”

  He grinned. “Apart from Christmas, and even then it’s not always possible, it is hard to get everyone together. We’ve all served in the military, and all getting leave at the same time is pretty much impossible. It got a little easier when Sam and Garrett formed KGI. That only left Nathan and Joe enlisted. ”

  “Maybe we can all be together this Christmas,” she said. And she realized she really looked forward to Christmas trees, holiday music and big family get-togethers. The idea filled her with such longing that she knew it was something she must have loved.

  With reluctance she turned back to check her hair again. There wasn’t much to do for it given its length, but she’d used a curling iron to give a little lift to the ends and it looked an intentional style now instead of the butcher job done to it by her captors.

  “You look beautiful,” Ethan said.

  She smiled brilliantly at him. “You always know what to say and when to say it. I admit I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. I’ve only to look at pictures to see that my hair used to be much longer and that I’m much thinner now than I was. ”

  “Your hair will grow, and if Mom has her way, you’ll gain your weight back in no time. ”

  She had to chuckle at that. Marlene did take her role seriously in that regard. Not a day had gone by that she hadn’t sent someone over with food or just demanded Rachel and Ethan’s presence for meals at her house.

  “Okay, let’s go before I lose all nerve. ”

  Ethan took her hand and squeezed. “You’re going to do great. ”

  THE party was a real drag, but then she hadn’t expected the Kellys to bust out with a real party. Rusty sat in the corner and observed the goings-on with ill-suppressed boredom.

  What they needed was some good music and decent alcohol, not the pussy light beer some of the men were drinking. She’d give her right arm for a cigarette right now. She’d given serious consideration to sneaking a pack, but Marlene would have a cow if she found out, and despite how hung up she was on the rules, Rusty liked her. And she didn’t want to mess up the first decent home she’d had.

  So she sat there like a good girl, with her good-girl clothes and her good-girl haircut.

  “Are you one of the family members?”

  She whirled and scowled at the man who’d snuck up on her.

  “What’s it to you?”

  He lifted an eyebrow and amusement brightened his eyes. “Just wanted to ask a few questions about Rachel’s homecoming, but I wanted to ask a direct family member. ”

  A peculiar feeling settled in the pit of her stomach. To her surprise the idea that she was family or could even be regarded as such sent a surge of pleasure through her veins.

  “I’m as direct as they get,” she said airily. “I live here after all. ” She waved her hand at some of the Kelly brothers gathered in a bunch across the room. “None of them do anymore. ”

  “Ah, good, then you’re just the person I want to speak to. Mind if I sit?”


  RACHEL gripped her glass and stood with a smile frozen in place. She didn’t even know what was in the glass, and she hadn’t tasted it.

  Who were all these people? She knew all of the Kellys, or at least what was considered the immediate family of Ethan’s brothers and parents. But the room was crammed full of people she’d never seen before in her life.

  She grimaced. Of course she’d seen them. She just didn’t remember them. It was hard to smile and pretend when so many spoke to her as though they’d known her forever. Several even cited specific instances that she had no recollection of whatsoever.

  But she nodded at appropriate times and smiled until her teeth ached. After the sixth person had approached her, she lost track of names and faces.

  Ethan had remained at her elbow the entire night, but she felt the need to escape for just a few minutes, so she turned and pasted a reassuring smile on her lips.

  “I need to go to the bathroom. I’ll be back in a minute, okay?”

  He nodded and she broke away, threading her way through the crowded room. Instead of going to the bathroom, she slipped through the kitchen, hoping that Marlene was otherwise occupied. She signed in relief when she saw t
hat the coast was clear.

  She opened the sliding glass door that led into the back garden and stepped into the night air. Her lungs filled with the fragrance of dozens of different flowers, all planted in boxes and brick planters lining the walkway.

  Marlene had told her that the two of them had spent hours designing the perfect garden and then they’d turned their attention to Rachel and Ethan’s house.

  Not wanting to go far in case anyone got to looking for her, she took a seat on the wooden bench that overlooked the bird-bath and she concentrated on each breath. In and out. After a few minutes, the tightness in her chest eased and she began to relax.

  Her fingers uncurled, and she placed her palms on the smooth finish of the bench. Frank had made it. That memory popped into her head, and she smiled, welcoming the information like an old friend. She searched her memory for more, and little tidbits filtered through in scattered blips.

  Frank owned a hardware store. She knew that from the present. But he was also good with his hands. Loved tools. When Marlene had despaired of him ever building her the bench she wanted, she’d gone to Walmart across the lake, in Paris, and bought a simple garden bench.

  Frank had taken immediate exception and presented her with a sturdily constructed bench in three days’ time. Marlene had smugly told Rachel that she’d saved the receipt and had never taken the bench out of the garage. Her husband was predictable if nothing else.

  Rachel smiled at the memory and hugged it close, savoring those pieces of information that told her where she came from and where she belonged.

  She was so ensconced in her memories that she didn’t realize she was no longer alone until someone to the left cleared his throat.

  Startled, she sat forward, her head jerking warily around to confront her company.

  A man stepped from the shadows, and she spied his uniform and the gun on his hip.

  “Sorry if I startled you. ”

  His soft drawl was more pronounced than that of Ethan or the other Kellys. He had a hint of the Deep South. He also looked young, but not too young. Maybe midtwenties.

  She hadn’t met him, but she assumed he was the sheriff’s deputy the Kellys were so fond of.

  “You’re Sean?”

  Then she realized her mistake. If he was Sean, no doubt she’d met him before. She didn’t know how much Marlene had told everyone. For all she knew everyone knew she was stark-raving mad and had no memory of her life before.

  He smiled and stepped farther into the glow of the outside lamp. He had kindness in his eyes, which surprised her given his profession. He had muddy blond hair cut short, a lot like the military cuts the Kellys wore. But he sported a goatee that framed his mouth and gave him the appearance of age despite what she knew his to be.

  “That’s me,” he said. “Had enough of the inside?”

  She sighed and decided not to lie. “It’s a bit overwhelming. ”

  Sean gestured to the spot next to her. “Mind if I sit?”

  She scooted all the way over in response, and he settled next to her.

  “I’m not much of a crowd person myself, but Marlene would nail my hide to the wall if I missed one of her get-togethers. Like you, I’m pretty much a Kelly adoptee. She may not have given birth to me, but that hasn’t stopped her from arranging my life, mothering me endlessly and adding me to every family gathering on record. ”

  Rachel laughed. “She’s quite something, isn’t she?”

  “She’s the best,” he said in a sincere voice. “But I’m more comfortable with the people I meet on the job. I don’t have to pretend to be social when I’m arresting someone, and I don’t have to worry about meaningless chitchat and how-do-youdos. ”

  The grimace on his face had her giggling again. “You poor thing. These things must be hell for you. ”

  “Let’s just say I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one running for cover. Now, if asked, I can blame my absence on you. ”

  “Oh nice,” she said dryly.

  He laughed. “So how are you doing? Had any problems with red tape I can help with?”

  She twisted her mouth into a rueful grimace. “It’s a lot easier to stay dead than it is to come back from the dead. Ethan’s tried to do everything quietly. The last thing we want is for some human interest story to be run. The driver’s license wasn’t too hard to arrange, but the social security issue is a bit more difficult. ”

  Sean patted her on the knee. “You’ll get it all sorted out. In the meantime if there’s anything I can do, just let me know. I’ve known you since I was in high school. You graduated two years ahead of me. ”

  She winced. “Sorry I don’t remember. ”

  “Hey, don’t worry about it. You’ll get it back. And when you do, you’ll remember you owe me five bucks. ”

  Startled, she cocked her head to the side.

  Mischief gleamed in his green eyes. “You lost a bet. You bet me Tennessee would beat LSU. As if that would ever happen. ”

  “Ahh, Louisiana then? I thought your accent sounded a little different. ”

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