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The darkest hour, p.34
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       The Darkest Hour, p.34

         Part #1 of KGI series by Maya Banks
 
Page 34

 

  Whoever had performed the massacre had been gone at least twelve hours. Rio could detect no movement, no sign of life from the silent village. But he wouldn’t take any chances with his men until they knew for certain the area was clear.

  Patiently he waited and watched. Even the carrion hadn’t found the fresh bodies yet, and in the jungle, scavenging was sometimes the difference between life and death.

  He carefully moved from his cover and let out a low call to his men to converge on the camp. They came in a tight circumference, their rifles up, their gazes cautiously skirting left and right for the slightest warning they weren’t alone.

  Dead men didn’t make any sounds, and all that was left here was the dead.

  Rio stepped over two bodies on the edge of the clearing where the huts began and the jungle gave way to the encampment. Rachel Kelly had been held for a year in just such a place as this. Anger blazed through his veins. It was no place for a woman. There was no telling what the animals had done to her.

  He noted with grim satisfaction that the assholes had been spared no quarter. Poor bastards probably never knew what hit them. Whoever had performed the hit had come in with fire-power to rival an army.

  Terrence stepped into the center of the village and looked toward Rio. Then he signaled the all clear. One by one, his men pushed out of the jungle, their expressions hard as they studied the carnage.

  “Somebody did our work for us, I see,” Terrence said as Rio approached him.

  “Dead men don’t talk, though,” Rio said in disgust.

  Terrence nodded. “Could be why they were killed. ”

  “It’s highly coincidental that within days of our guys here setting up a new camp after the old one was destroyed in Rachel’s rescue, someone comes through here and takes out the entire village, and I don’t believe in coincidence. ”

  “Yep, too convenient if you ask me,” Terrence agreed. “Whoever did this didn’t want any loose ends, that’s for damn sure. ”

  Rio scowled. Sam wasn’t going to be happy. Hell, he wasn’t happy. He’d been looking forward to kicking some cartel ass. Using women in war was for pantywaists. It would have been fun to see if the assholes would feel so tough when they weren’t up against a defenseless woman.

  He glanced around as his men carefully picked their way through the field of bodies. What the hell was being covered up here? Rachel’s “death” had been carefully orchestrated. She’d been cut off from her family and held in a godforsaken shithole just like this one. Why? None of it made sense, and now someone had gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to make sure no questions were answered.

  “So what now?” Terrence asked as he looked around at the bodies strewn left and right.

  “I sure as hell ain’t burying them,” Rio muttered. “And I sure ain’t saying any Hail Marys. Let them burn in hell. ”

  He broke off when a low sound carried on the wind from just a few feet away. Rio and Terrence hauled their rifles up and pointed in the direction of one of the “dead” men. Only he wasn’t dead.

  “He’s still breathing,” Terrence muttered.

  Rio rushed over, and after making sure he wasn’t walking into a suicide trap, he lowered to one knee beside the grievously injured man.

  “Habla Español?” Rio demanded.

  The man’s eyes opened to narrow slits. “English,” he whispered. “I speak English. ”

  Rio and Terrence exchanged glances. What the fuck was an American doing mixed up in the Colombian drug cartel?

  The man coughed, and a stream of blood spattered out of his mouth. He focused his glassy gaze on Rio. “I don’t have much time. ” Each word seemed pulled from him with excruciating precision. His breathing was so labored that his chest rose and fell dramatically. “I tried to help her. I protected her as much as I could. Can’t choose one person over the good of the mission. You know that. You’re a soldier. ”

  “What the fuck are you saying?” Rio snarled. “You’re some kind of goddamn government agent and you sat by while Rachel Kelly was tortured and held captive for a year?”

  The man closed his eyes and more blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. “Had no choice. I did what I could. Drugging her was the kindest thing they could do to her. I sent information to her family in hopes they’d come for her. ”

  “Yeah, well, they did,” Rio bit out. “You picked the wrong woman to fuck with. ” His gaze swept over the destroyed village and at all the bodies on the ground. “Who did this? It wasn’t us. ”

  The man shook his head. “He knows. Has to know by now. He wouldn’t have allowed anyone he struck the bargain with to live. ” He closed his eyes and made a peculiar choking sound.

  “Who knows?” Rio demanded. He shook the man’s shoulder to get him back to consciousness “Who was behind all of this?”

  The man’s eyes flickered open once more. “She isn’t safe. He’ll go after her next. ”

  Then his eyes went blank and his head lolled to the side, his gaze fixed in death.

  “Shit,” Terrence bit out. “That told us absolutely nothing. ”

  Rio rose to his feet and frowned. He didn’t like any of this. “Let’s get the fuck out of here so I can report back to Sam. ”

  “Steele will be disappointed,” Terrence said with a wry grin. “It already pissed him off that we wouldn’t wait for him to go in. ”

  “Fuck Steele. He doesn’t run my team. He needs to take care of his injured instead of worrying about what we’re doing. ”

  “Do we tell him now so he doesn’t make the trip, or do we let him get over here before we let him know the mission is an abort?”

  Rio grinned as he and Terrence exchanged sly looks. Pissing Steele off was about the most amusement they got these days.

  “Gather everyone up and let’s make tracks. I don’t want to be here in case whoever bloodied the jungle decides to come back. ”

  Terrence’s hand went into the air, but he wore a slight smile. Nothing had been decided about Steele, but they both knew they’d let him come in hot and then take the wind out of his sails.

  They took their fun where they could get it.

  CHAPTER 34

  THE dream tormented her. It was more vivid this time. More real. Even though she was still ensconced in the scene unrolling before her, she fought, not wanting to relive the nightmare all over again.

  Ethan stood in their living room. His face was drawn into harsh, angry lines. He was shouting and she stood, stunned, all the fight gone.

  Then he turned to the bookshelf. Her bookshelf that housed countless volumes of literature, her teaching manuals, her romance novels that she so loved. He pulled a sheaf of papers from between two of the books and shoved them at her.

  They had significance, but what?

  She could feel herself breaking. Could feel the despair that swamped her.

  She roused herself from sleep and sat up in bed, her heart beating wildly. She glanced down to see Ethan still sleeping solidly beside her, and she put her hand on his arm to reassure herself.

  Still, the sick feeling inside her festered. Why was she having these dreams? Was she so insecure that her fears of losing him had inserted themselves into her subconscious?

  Or were they memories?

  The thought slammed into her with painful intensity. Sure, she remembered more of her life every day. Little things. Bits and pieces that eventually formed the whole puzzle.

  She rolled out of bed, nausea forming in her belly. Ethan loved her. She loved him. He hadn’t given her any reason to believe differently.

  Chill bumps raced up her bare legs, and she hastily pulled on a pair of sweatpants and grabbed another of Ethan’s T-shirts from his drawer.

  The bookshelf. Surely that would prove whether or not this was all some bad nightmare or if it was in fact an elusive memory.

  God, maybe she really was cracking up. She could blame it on the stress of her accident. She
was having paranoid delusions. First someone was out to kill her, and now her husband was hiding mysterious documents in between books.

  She walked into the dark living room and stared fearfully at the bookshelves. How on earth was she supposed to know where, between what books? She had six bookcases and more books than she could shake a stick at.

  She switched on the lamp at the desk and then stared at the books. She closed her eyes and tried to recall the dream. He was standing between two and in front of one, so the one in the middle. Which side?

  Encyclopedias. Shoulder level for him so a bit taller for her.

  She crossed the room and rose up on tiptoe to pull out one of the encyclopedias. Surprise, surprise, nothing there. She went down the row, feeling more like an idiot with each volume she pulled out.

  She was ready to give up when she got to the third from the last and a set of folded papers fell onto the floor when she yanked the book out.

  Her heart plummeted and she stared down at then like they were some hideous creature about to take her leg off.

  Carefully, she reshelved the encyclopedia and stepped back, still staring down. Squatting down, she picked up the papers and walked back over to the desk so she could see in the lamplight.

  She unfolded the papers, and at first couldn’t make sense of what they were. They were legal documents, that much she knew. It wasn’t until she’d read the first page three times that it sunk in.

  Shock hit her with the force of a speeding train. Divorce. Ethan had filed for divorce.

  She put one hand over her stomach as nausea bubbled and boiled deep in her belly. Oh God.

  She closed her eyes as bits and pieces of that awful day came back to her. So much of it was still fuzzy, but she couldn’t get Ethan’s furious face out of her head.

  He hated her. He wanted out of their marriage. God, some of the things he accused her of.

  Her hand flew to her mouth. He’d accused her of having an affair with Garrett. Was any of it true? God, she couldn’t remember!

  She sank into the chair at the desk and buried her face in her hands as more of that day bombarded her. Ethan said he was tired of living this way. He hadn’t wanted her to go on her mercy mission to South America. He’d told her there was plenty to fix right here at home so why was she going off to some shithole on some do-gooder mission?

  It was more than that. His kind of unhappiness didn’t happen overnight, and she could remember her own misery, the feeling that no matter what she did, she’d never make it right. That there was no hope for their marriage. And yet it destroyed her when he pulled out those papers.

  He hated her. He didn’t love her anymore. And then she’d died. Had he been glad? Why the big farce now? Did he feel guilty?

  His family didn’t know. The thought popped into her head. She remembered how trapped she felt because she didn’t feel like she could go to his family; she’d die before allowing them to know the extent of her marital problems. Ethan wouldn’t have gone to them either, so they wouldn’t have known how awful things were.

  Oh God, so was that why he was now acting like she was the love of his life? Why? God, why?

  There was too much she didn’t know, that she needed to know. She had to get out of this house before she screamed the walls down.

  Garrett. He’d always been there for her. Always. But had they betrayed Ethan? No. It wasn’t possible. She’d loved Ethan. Had been devastated when he asked for a divorce—no, demanded a divorce.

  But Garrett would know. He’d have some of the answers. The time for her to be silent and keep everything to herself was over. She had no one else. Only Ethan, and now she knew she didn’t even have him.

  She choked back a sob as she got up. Garrett had left keys to his truck on the kitchen table. Sam had come to pick him up so she and Ethan would have transportation until they replaced Ethan’s truck.

  It was impossibly dark outside when she hurried out to Garrett’s truck. She hadn’t bothered to check the time, and now as she drove toward the same bridge she’d nearly gone off of earlier, panic gripped her.

  Her palms were slick with sweat, and her breathing was so shallow she felt light-headed. As she approached, she slowed and almost pulled over to the side. She had a cell phone. Garrett’s number was programmed. He could come get her.

  With a snarl of disgust, she stepped on the accelerator and barreled over the bridge. She kept to the far inside lane and didn’t spare a glance at all the police tape and the barricades erected around the gaping hole.

  “No one can save you now but you,” she chanted to herself. Maybe if she said it often enough it would sink in.

  Ten minutes later, she pulled into the gravel drive of Sam’s lake house and parked Garrett’s truck beside Sam’s. With Donovan taking off so late—or early—they probably hadn’t gotten much sleep—if any—and now she was barging in.

  She searched her tattered memories for some idea that she was mistaken about her relationship with Garrett, but all she could come up with was the sense of a close friendship.

 
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