The Darkest Hour

By: Maya Banks




CHAPTER 1



HE’D hoped if he drank enough the night before he’d sleep right through today. Instead his eyes popped open at eight A.M., and sunlight promptly fried his retinas.

Ethan Kelly threw an arm over his face and lay there as the reality of the day hit him square in the gut.

June 16.

He could say something incredibly corny like . . . June 16, the day his world irrevocably changed. June 16, the day everything went to hell. Truth was, it had done that long before.

The phone rang shrilly from the nightstand, and he quelled the urge to smash it. Instead he listened as each ring pierced his skull like an ice pick.

When it didn’t quit in a reasonable length of time, he reached over and yanked the cord from the wall. It could only be one of his well-meaning family members, and the last thing Ethan wanted today was sympathy.

If it was his dad, he’d give Ethan a lecture about how Rachel wouldn’t like the man he’d become. No, Rachel hadn’t liked the man he’d been. Huge difference there. He hadn’t liked the man he’d been.

Frank Kelly would go on about how it was time to get on with his life. Move on. He’d grieved long enough.

If it was one of his brothers calling, they’d ride his ass about when he was coming to work for KGI.

Try never.

Knowing there was no chance of him going back to sleep with a head that was split apart at the seams, he struggled to the edge of the bed and planted his feet on the floor.

He’d sought oblivion, but all he had to show for the alcohol binge was cotton mouth and a stomach that felt like he’d ingested lead.

And he still had to face today.

Eyes closed, he pressed his fingers into his temples and then covered his face with his hands. His palms dug into his eye sockets, and he massaged as if he could wipe away the cloud hovering in his vision.

Rachel.

Her name whispered through his tired mind, conjuring memories of his laughing, smiling, beautiful wife. They floated there like butterflies.

Just as quickly they shriveled and turned black as if someone had held the wings to fire.

Rachel was gone.

She was dead.

She wasn’t coming home.

He pushed himself up from the bed and staggered toward the bathroom. His reflection didn’t shock him, and he didn’t spare a moment to splash his face with water or wash out his mouth. He took a piss and stumbled back out, his tongue rasping over the roof of his mouth.

He needed a drink. Preferably something that wasn’t going to make him puke.

Mechanically, he walked barefooted across the wood floors into the living room. Everything was just as she’d left it. The room reflected her personality. Classy, elegant, and uncluttered.

He was a rough-around-the-edges slob.

With a heavy sigh, he wandered into the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. Maybe his dad was right. Maybe it was time to put the past behind him. Get on with his sorry life. But he wasn’t sure he could ever forgive himself for pushing her away.

He stood by the coffeemaker, waiting for it to quit gurgling. He could sell the house and move to something smaller. It didn’t make sense to keep it since it was just him now.

He needed to move somewhere he wasn’t reminded of her at every turn, but then this was part of his penance. She didn’t deserve to be forgotten and discarded even if that’s what he’d done.

He thrust his cup forward and poured the steaming coffee from the pot. Then he ambled over to the glass table that overlooked the back deck. He sat and stared out over the landscape that had suffered over the last year. Rachel and his mom had painstakingly planned every detail, putting in long hours planting and weeding. Ethan had helped—when he was home.

He’d often been gone for weeks on end, the assignments always out of the blue, classified. He left Rachel with her never knowing where he was going or if he’d return. It was no way for them to live.

He’d resigned his commission after Rachel had miscarried their child. During the two years they were married, he’d failed her a lot, and he’d sworn he wouldn’t do it again. But he had.

He rubbed his eyes then let his hand rest lingeringly on the three days’ worth of stubble that resided on his jaw. He was a wreck.

A flash of peach caught his eye. He zeroed in on the vase of roses he’d bought yesterday. They were her favorite. Not quite orange, not quite pink, she’d always say. A perfect shade of peach. He should take them to her grave, but he wasn’t sure he could bear to stand over that cold slab of marble and tell her for the fortieth time he was sorry.

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