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The darkest hour, p.24
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       The Darkest Hour, p.24

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
 
Page 24

  “Born and raised. ”

  He went quiet and turned sharply, a frown replacing his smile.

  “Rusty, is that you?”

  Rachel turned in search of the young girl Marlene had taken in. Rusty hadn’t had much to say to Rachel since Rachel had arrived home, but Nathan had hinted that she felt a little threatened by Rachel’s homecoming.

  Rachel just wished there was something she could say or do to ease the girl’s fears. Marlene had been blunt about Rusty’s situation.

  Rusty stepped into the garden patio area from the walkway that led to the front of the house.

  “Yeah, Copper, it’s me. ”

  “Who was that you were talking to?” Sean demanded.

  His voice had gone from congenial and teasing to complete and utter business. He might as well have been interrogating a suspect for all the steel in his words.

  “I didn’t realize I had to get permission to have a conversation around here,” Rusty snapped. “Back off, donut man. I’m not drinking or smoking or otherwise taking advantage of Marlene’s hospitality. ”

  Sean cursed under his breath, and his fingers flexed at his side. He opened his mouth to speak, but Rusty disappeared back into the house.

  “I swear that girl makes me nuts,” Sean muttered. “She’s so belligerent. I’d love to teach her a little respect plus a few manners while I’m at it. If I ever catch her talking to Frank or Marlene like that, I’ll turn her over my knee myself. Someone should have done it a long time ago. ”

  “That age is hard,” Rachel said, surprised by the need to defend Rusty. “From what Marlene said, she’s had it tough. Plus I’ve never heard her be anything but respectful with Frank and Marlene. Everyone else, though . . . ”

  “Yeah, tell me about it. She really loves me since I’m a cop, and I get the impression she’s been a round or two with the police before. Marlene told me she had a record but forbade me—in true mom fashion—from running her. She doesn’t want me to be influenced by Rusty’s past. For the love of God. ”

  Rachel grinned at the disgust in Sean’s voice. And then she realized how long they’d been outside.

  “I should probably go back in. I told Ethan I was going to the bathroom. ”

  “Ah, there’s the search party now,” Sean drawled as Garrett stepped outside.

  “Everything okay, sweet pea?” Garrett asked as he walked over.

  “Yep. Just talking to Sean and getting some fresh air. ”

  Garrett shoved his hands into his pockets. “You mean you’re hiding out here with this pussy who’s here for the same reason. ”

  Sean grunted. “Yeah, the exact same reason you’ve run outside like a damn girl. ”

  Garrett grinned. “Too many damned people. Ma eats that shit up, but I swear it makes the rest of us crazy. ”

  “So at what point is she going to figure out we’ve fled the premises?” Rachel asked. The last thing she wanted was to hurt Marlene’s feelings.

  “Not to worry. Mom is well used to having to round us up. She usually gives us ten minutes or so to get the crazed look from our eyes, and then she’ll come out all sweet-like but with a glint in her eyes you know better than to ignore. ”

  “And at that point, she drags us back inside by our ears,” Sean finished.

  “Sam should be making his appearance soon,” Garrett said. “He got snagged on his way out. We all left Ethan on his own fielding questions. Poor bastard. ”

  “Oh,” Rachel said. “Maybe I should go back in. I didn’t intend for him to get stuck answering questions about me all night. ”

  Garrett shook his head. “Not to worry. He deserves it for the time he sicced Aunt Edna on me at Thanksgiving. The woman talked my ear off for damn near an hour while Ethan made his escape. The rest of the bastards stood outside the window and laughed their asses off at me. ”

  Laughter bubbled up and spilled from her lips. She could so picture it in her mind, and the more she imagined it, the harder she laughed.

  “So this is where you assholes are,” Sam growled as he shut the patio door behind him. “Although I don’t think we’re far enough away from the house to do us much good. Mom will only let it go for as long as she’s preoccupied. The minute she notices we’re gone, we’re toast. ”

  Rachel edged a little closer to Sean and then realized what she’d done. Why the hell did Sam still intimidate her? By all rights Garrett should scare the life out of her. Sam wasn’t near as big or as scary-looking as Garrett, but something akin to panic gripped her every time Sam got close. Maybe it was because he’d been the first one into her hut that night, and she’d been so convinced he was there to kill her.

  No matter how stupid that seemed now, she couldn’t rid herself of the memory of him standing over her, big and menacing, holding a gun.

  To his credit, Sam seemed very aware of her fear, and he always made a point of being cautious around her. Even now, his eyes softened and he didn’t seem hurt by her overt unease.

  As if realizing her sudden stiffness, Sean casually rested his hand on her knee. He gave it a gentle squeeze and never looked away from Garrett and Sam.

  “It’s hard to run away from Ma in her own house,” Garrett said in resignation. “She’ll just hunt us down and give us the look. ”

  Sam chuckled. “Damn shame when grown men are reduced to a bunch of pussies by their mother. ”

  The patio door jerked open and Ethan stuck his head out, his expression grim.

  “Hey have you guys seen Rachel?”

  “I’m looking at her,” Sam said.

  Ethan stepped out, and relief settled over his face. He stopped beside Garrett and glanced between Rachel and Sean and then at the others.

  “You okay?” he asked.

  She smiled, not wanting him to worry. “I’m fine. I stepped out for some fresh air not realizing this was a time-honored tradition of escaping Marlene’s get-togethers. ”

  Ethan relaxed and stuck his thumbs in his belt loops. “Yeah, it’s become something that rivals war games. He who survives the longest without being hauled back in by Mom wins. ”

  As he stared at her, she knew he was thinking of their earlier conversation, of when they kissed and what she’d asked him to do. His gaze settled over her skin, warm and electrifying.

  She shivered, and she wasn’t the least bit cold. The late summer air was humid and warm to the point of discomfort, but all she could feel was the heat of his stare, and the promise in his eyes.

  “Do you think your mom would mind if we left?”

  Her voice sounded husky, and she swallowed the butterflies that danced in her stomach and surged upward as if chasing an escape route.

  “If you leave now, she won’t know until it’s too late,” Garrett smirked.

  “Good point,” Sean said.

  Ethan shook his head and reached for Rachel’s hand. “They’re right. We can sneak around front, and if no one’s blocked us in, we can be gone before anyone sounds the alarm. And they will. Sound the alarm that is. I’m sure Garrett hasn’t forgotten the Aunt Edna incident. ”

  “If it weren’t for the fact that Rachel wants to go, I’d have already blown the whistle on your ass,” Garrett said in disgust.

  Ethan pulled her up to stand beside him and chucked her chin. “I suggest we go now before he changes his mind. ”

  She turned and leaned down to kiss Sean on the cheek. “It was very nice re-meeting you. Thank you for keeping me company. ”

  He seemed surprised and then pleased by the gesture. Then she turned to Garrett and gave him a quick hug. Determined to not act like a ninny, she awkwardly moved toward Sam.

  “Good night, Sam,” she said almost formally.

  He opened his arms and simply waited. Taking a quick breath, she went forward and hugged him. He let her do most of the touching and only loosely returned her hug. She stepped away and gave him a genuine smile.

  Anyone who was this solicitous of her feelings w
as certainly not the bad guy.

  He returned her smile and briefly touched her cheek. “See you later, Rachel. ”

  With a small wave, she followed Ethan from the garden and to the path that led up to the front yard. As they walked toward Ethan’s truck, he slipped an arm around her and pulled her close to his side.

  Her pulse could chop a cinder block. She was looking forward to making love with Ethan. She was as nervous as hell, maybe more nervous than she’d ever been about being with him, but she wasn’t about to let that hold her back.

  It was high time to reclaim her marriage and her husband.

  CHAPTER 24

  ETHAN gripped the steering wheel as he pulled to a stop outside the house. For a long moment, he stared straight ahead, and then he realized he was holding his breath like a teenager on his first date. In some ways it was. His first date. With his wife. God. He still couldn’t get over the idea that he had Rachel back. That he’d been granted a second chance.

  His pulse pounding in his ears, he cut the engine and turned to look at Rachel. She looked as nervous as he felt. His chest caved in just a bit at the brave set of her lips.

  “Rachel. Baby? Do you still want me to make love to you?”

  His palms went clammy and slid over the steering wheel. Before he asked, he’d had no idea just how afraid he was that she’d back out. He’d understand. He’d wait forever if that’s what it took, but he wanted to be able to touch her again more than he’d ever wanted anything else.

  She turned, and her eyes glowed softly in the dim light cast from the porch lights. There was much reflected in the pools. Fear, hesitancy, hope and desire. Determination.

  “Come inside with me, Ethan. ”

  Her husky voice sent a shock wave over his skin. His groin tightened until he shifted to alleviate the discomfort. She reached for his hand, her fingers trembling against his.

  He laced his fingers with hers, twining them tightly and squeezing reassuringly. Finally he raised her hand to his lips to kiss each knuckle.

  “Let’s go,” he whispered.

  They both opened their doors and hurried for the porch. When he fumbled clumsily at the doorknob, Rachel leaned against the entryway and dissolved into giggles.

  Surprised to hear the joyful sound, he stopped with the door cracked open. Her eyes twinkled merrily and she gasped for breath as she held her stomach.

  “What a pair we are. Is this how we acted when we dated? Nervous as two cats and so eager to get to bed that we trip over ourselves on the way in?”

  Ethan grinned, and then a chuckle escaped, followed by outright laughter. The tension evaporated, and he leaned against the door as he wiped at his eyes.

  “I guess we do seem a little desperate. Well, I do. Leave it to a man to get all antsy when sex is mentioned. ”

  She grinned again and shoved her hair away from her face. “Well, I’m glad you’re a normal guy. Would be hard to seduce you if you never had sex on the brain. ”

  Unable to resist her any longer, he pulled her into his arms and tucked her head under his chin. She just felt . . . right. If only he’d seen that before.

  He closed his eyes and chased those memories away. Not tonight. Not when everything could be so perfect again.

  Shoving with his shoulder, he opened the door and tugged her along behind him. Cognizant of her unease with the dark, he immediately reached for the switch, flooding the living room with light.

  He touched her again, more to reassure himself than her. His fingertips grazed her cheekbone and then cupped her jaw.

  “Wait here. I’ll come for you in a few minutes. I want this to be perfect for you. ”

  She cocked her head to the side and looked at him in confusion.

  He smiled and leaned in to kiss her nose. “Indulge me. Let me try my hand at romance and all the stuff women are supposed to love. ”

  The trust in her dark eyes humbled him. Made him want to be better. To be worthy. Not to let her down, damn it.

  He turned and hurried into the bedroom. He stopped in the middle of the floor and turned in several circles, looking, not sure what he wanted or where to find it.

  Candles. Rachel loved candles. She always had several scattered over the house.

  Where the hell were they now? He hadn’t thrown anything away, but Ma had come over and boxed a lot of stuff up. No way he wanted to be rummaging around in the garage when Rachel was waiting for him.

  The closet.

  He yanked open the door and flicked the light on. Several boxes were piled in the back. Hoping the candles were in one of them, he dragged the top one down and pried open the top.

  He huffed in frustration when he found assorted knickknacks, then he opened the second box. A light floral scent wafted up as soon as the lid flapped over. Inside were several candles in varying sizes. Perfect.

  He grabbed as many as he could carry, then went back into the bedroom and placed them strategically around the room. Satisfied with the placement, he went back to the kitchen for matches.

  A couple of minutes later, the bedroom was alight in the warm glow of a dozen candles. It wasn’t the most perfect setup, but it would do.

 
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