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The darkest hour, p.3
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       The Darkest Hour, p.3

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
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  Ethan fought to keep his expression neutral. He wanted to snarl, he wanted to rage, and goddamn it, he wanted action. He wanted it now. He wanted to crawl right out of his skin. How could his brothers stand in front of him so calm, so rational when they should be planning Rachel’s rescue?

  “Christ, you have,” Garrett muttered.

  “Ethan,” Donovan began in his quiet voice. “You have to know, this is probably just a hoax. Some sick joke. It might even be someone with a grudge against KGI. What better way to get us in the line of fire with our balls hanging out than to dangle Rachel in front of us like that?”

  Sam nodded grimly. “We certainly have to treat it as a possible threat. ”

  Ethan exploded in rage. He slammed into Sam, grabbed handfuls of his shirt and got into his face. “That’s my wife down there in some shithole. We aren’t talking about some nameless hostage or some political pawn who doesn’t matter. This is Rachel. With or without your help, I’m going in to get her. ”

  “Take your hands off me, Ethan,” Sam said calmly. He stared back at Ethan, his expression unreadable. There wasn’t anger or judgment in his eyes, and maybe that bothered Ethan the most.

  Ethan slowly uncurled his fingers then shoved Sam back with a sound of disgust. He started to walk away, but found himself in a headlock. Garrett’s arm tightened around his neck, and he muscled Ethan back across the room. He loosened his hold and shoved Ethan onto the couch.

  Ethan stumbled and sprawled onto the cushions. He would have come up swinging, but Donovan promptly sat on him.

  “Goddamn it, get off me!” He wanted to hit something—someone. Let loose the rage that was fast erupting, that he was losing control over with each passing second.

  He blinked when Sam’s face came into focus, their noses just centimeters apart.

  “Listen up, little brother. If you think we’re going to leave Rachel in that shithole, think again. But I’m not going to risk my team—my brothers—by going off half-cocked without any intel or backup, you got it?”

  Ethan closed his eyes. He wasn’t stupid. Desperate, yes. Stupid, no. He knew they couldn’t stomp down to some South American jungle, guns blazing, and start a fucking war, no matter that his wife was being held captive by a bunch of assholes.

  He nodded and felt Sam move away. Donovan eased off Ethan, and Ethan rolled off the couch and onto the floor, the carpet soft under his knees.

  “I’ll get Steele on it,” Garrett said. “He and his team are finishing up a recon in South America. I can get satellite imagery based on the coordinates you have in that packet. If those guys so much as take a piss outside a hut, we’ll be able to tell their dick size. ”

  Sam nodded. “We need photos. We need numbers. We need to confirm every single piece of that information. We don’t go until I’m convinced we’re not walking headlong into an ambush. ”

  Ethan remained there, on his knees, watching as his brothers calmly did what they did best—plan a military operation. Only this time they weren’t rescuing a nameless hostage or recovering a fugitive.

  Numbness gripped him. Everything moved around him in slow motion. A firm hand gripped his shoulder, and Ethan slowly turned his face upward until he met Garrett’s hard gaze.

  “If she’s there, we’ll get her out. You know that, man. ”

  “Yeah, I know,” Ethan said in a voice just above a whisper. Then he stood, irritated by his paralysis. “What can I do?” he demanded. He needed to do something or he would go crazy.

  Sam eyed him, his demeanor calm, but his eyes betrayed him. There was a harsh gleam. Anger. Something Ethan could relate to. “We need an extrication plan. Why don’t you get with Van, pull out some maps and learn everything you can about the lay of the land. Download satellite imagery from Hoss while I get on the horn to some of my contacts. I’ve got a guy with the DEA who should be able to tell me if we’re stepping in the middle of a drug war. ”

  Ethan’s lips twitched and he glanced sideways at Donovan. “You mean I get to touch Hoss?” He relaxed the slightest bit. He had every faith in Sam and KGI. They employed some of the brightest military minds in the world. They could do this. Soon. Rachel would be home. Soon.

  Donovan grunted. “No. I’ll do the touching. You just sit and watch. I don’t want you fucking with my computer. ”

  “That’s as close as he gets to a love affair,” Sam muttered. “I think he came in his pants when we got the thing. ”

  “Ha ha. You’re such a comedian,” Donovan said as he flipped Sam off. He motioned for Ethan. “Come on, little brother. I’ll show you the real brains behind KGI. Peckerhead over there couldn’t wipe his ass without me to tell him when and how. ”

  Action. Something to do. Something to keep his mind off the fact that right now, at this very moment, Rachel was terrified and alone. And worse, she thought he wasn’t ever coming for her.

  THREE days later, the war room looked precisely like its name-sake. There were blown-up satellite images and maps covering all surfaces and even some spread out on the floor. Donovan sat at the computer, his brow creased in concentration while Sam spoke in low tones to Steele over the satellite link.

  Garrett stood across the elevated planning table from Ethan while the two of them studied the picture of the encampment they’d put together with satellite images as well as photographs taken by their man on the ground.

  Ethan looked up when Sam walked back over. “What’s up? Have they made a positive ID yet?”

  Sam stood next to Garrett and picked up one of the photos. “Things are quiet there. Too quiet. Steele got there two days ago and has been pulling round-the-clock surveillance with his team. They’ve seen the woman in question twice. ”

  Ethan surged forward, putting his palms down on the table. “So she is there. She’s alive. ”

  Sam hesitated. “That’s not what I’m saying, man. We don’t know that it’s her. ”

  “Bullshit. You’re telling me Rachel has some goddamn twin in the exact same place she went on her mercy mission a year ago?”

  Garrett and Sam exchanged glances. “I just don’t want you to get your hopes up, Ethan,” Sam said. “We agree that whoever the woman is, it’s obvious she’s not there by choice, and the fact that she strongly resembles Rachel is enough for us to go in for the extrication. ”

  Ethan’s shoulders sank in relief. “When?” he asked. They’d already spent three days—three agonizingly long days—waiting for information, data, satellite photos, and Steele’s recon.

  And then another thought hit him. “You’re not leaving me out of this. ” It wasn’t a question. There was no question. He wasn’t staying here while KGI went in after Rachel.

  “To be honest we thought about it,” Garrett admitted. “But I also know if it was my wife, no way in hell would anyone keep me off the mission. So yeah, you’re going, but you’re going to keep your head on straight. You’ve been out of action for a while, and you have a personal stake in this. ”

  Ethan nodded, adrenaline stirring in his veins. “When?” he asked again.

  “As soon as we can be assured we know exactly what we’re getting into,” Sam said. “Steele’s on the ground with his team. He’s positioning them so we have a tight circumference around the encampment. As soon as I can get a chopper lined up for the extrication, we’ll gear up and fly down on the jet to Mexico. We take the helicopter into Colombia and drop into the jungle. It’ll be a bitch, but it’s doable. ”

  Garrett’s jaw tightened. “Hell yeah it’s doable. ”

  “Just got an email from Beavis and Butt-Head,” Donovan called over his shoulder. “Are we telling them what’s going on?”

  Ethan grimaced. The youngest two Kelly brothers, Nathan and Joe, were still active military and currently deployed to Afghanistan. Ethan was sure Sam and the others probably kept the twins updated on the goings-on at KGI, but the last thing he needed was for his brothers to be worried and distracted when they were fighti
ng in a hot zone.

  “No,” he and Sam said at the same time.

  Sam glanced over at Ethan and nodded. “No reason to get anyone’s hopes up until we know for sure that Rachel is alive. ”

  “So what are we telling Dad?” Garrett asked.

  Donovan turned around in his seat to tune in more to the conversation.

  “I’ll tell him it’s a classified mission,” Sam said with a shrug. “Not like we haven’t had a dozen of those. ”

  “Yeah, but what are you going to tell him when he notices that our holdout isn’t holding out anymore?” Donovan asked with a jerk of his thumb in Ethan’s direction.

  Ethan shifted uncomfortably when all three of his brothers focused their gazes on him.

  “Just that he’s not holding out anymore,” Garrett said. “Dad will be glad to hear it. He’s worried about Ethan. ”

  Donovan nodded and turned back to the computer. The satellite link beeped and Sam walked back over to the receiver.

  “Do we have any backup?” Ethan asked Garrett in a low voice. As much as he wanted Rachel back, safe and in his arms, he didn’t want to risk his brothers’ lives with a dangerous extrication. Things could and did go wrong all the time.

  Garrett grunted. “I won’t lie to you, man. This kind of operation usually takes a hell of a lot more planning. We don’t have the backing and manpower of the government for this. It’s not as easy as picking up the phone and asking for shit like when we’re contracting for Uncle Sam. If we start a goddamn war with fucking Colombia, our asses are in a sling and there ain’t no one there to bail us out. ”

  “I know I shouldn’t have asked,” Ethan said as he stared back at his brother. “But I had to. I can’t leave her down there. ”

  Garrett’s eyes grew cold. “Hell no, we’re not leaving her down there. We’ll get her back, Ethan. No one fucks with the Kellys. ”

  Ethan cracked a smile then reached out to bump his fist against Garrett’s.

  “All right, we have a go time,” Sam said as he returned.

  Donovan swiveled in his chair again. “I’m downloading the local maps into our GPS’s along with the digital images Steele captured. I’m done on my end. ”

  Ethan leaned forward. “When?”

  Garrett and Donovan also looked to Sam for the answer. “We rendezvous with the guy getting us a chopper in Mexico in forty-eight hours. From there we fly into Colombia, do the drop, get Rachel, then get the hell out. Rio and his team are still over in Asia, but he’s heading to South America as fast as he can get there. He’ll be our backup if we need him. ”

  “How many will we have on the ground?” Ethan asked.

  “Steele and his team . . . and us,” Garrett said. “More than enough to take out these assholes. ”

  Ethan sat back and blew out his breath in frustration. Forty-eight hours. It was a lifetime and not enough time all at once.

  Fear for the danger he’d placed his brothers in gnawed at his gut, but at the same time, he’d do anything to bring Rachel back.

  “You’re not wimping out on us, are you?” Garrett asked Ethan.

  Ethan yanked his gaze to his brother in surprise. There was a gleam in Garrett’s eyes. A calculated gleam that bordered on challenge.

  He met Garrett’s stare with resolve. KGI was the best at what they did. He had every confidence in their ability to head up the mission to rescue Rachel. His brothers had all served time in the military, and there wasn’t another badass out there who could hold a candle to his brothers.

  “Hooyah,” Ethan said softly.

  Sam rolled his eyes. “Don’t start that navy shit with me, frog boy. ”

  “Oohrah,” Garrett said with a smirk.

  Donovan laughed and echoed with an oohrah of his own.

  Sam shook his head. “Why is it Nathan and Joe showed the only good sense among my brothers and followed my example of joining the army?”

  “They’re the dumb ones,” Ethan said.

  “Yeah well, what’s your excuse?” Garrett demanded. “Donovan and I set such a good example for you with the marines. But no, you had to go be a navy boy. Although you look damn pretty in the little sailor suit. ”

  Donovan snickered, and Ethan reached out to slug Garrett in the gut. Garrett doubled over as a laugh escaped.

  “It’s good to have you back, Ethan,” Sam said, his tone growing serious.

  Ethan glanced up at Sam. “I just want her back, man. ”

  “Yeah, I know, and we’ll get her. I promise. ”

  CHAPTER 3

  THE jungle around them was alive with hundreds of critters. The air was so heavy and concentrated that it swam in lines in front of Ethan’s eyes. Breathing was damn near impossible. The heat was so oppressive that it weighed down on them like two tons of concrete.

 
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