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Home > Darkest Before Dawn (KGI #10)

Darkest Before Dawn (KGI #10)
Author: Maya Banks

CHAPTER 1

HONOR Cambridge applied one of the colorful Band-Aids with yellow smiley faces over the tiny prick that had been made on the arm of the four-year-old boy and offered him a reassuring smile. In flawless Arabic, she told him how brave he’d been not to show fear or distress in front of his mother and upset her further.

He gave her a toothy grin that already showed signs of male arrogance even at such a young age, as if to tell her of course he’d been brave.

Though Honor held no medical degree, her training was advanced and she’d learned a lot through trial by fire. Technically her job was as a relief worker, offering aid in its many forms to the poor and oppressed in the small villages caught between warring factions and the never-ending struggle for supremacy.

Her family supported her absolutely, but she also knew they questioned her burning need to devote her life to the service of others. They were proud of her, but they also wished she had chosen other, safer places to offer help. Not the war-torn Middle East when the threat wasn’t just from other nations but within their country as well from groups, divided by religious, political and cultural differences and unable to tolerate the differences of others. They all wanted to force others to bend to their way of life, and the lengths they went to impose their beliefs on those who didn’t share the same ideology still managed to appall and bewilder Honor despite the fact that she should be hardened by now. Nothing should shock her. And yet . . . Every day she managed to be surprised, because there was always more. When she thought she’d seen it all, something always managed to catch her off guard.

But to become jaded and cynical was the kiss of death. The day she could no longer feel compassion for the innocent and the oppressed and anger at the senseless violence and despair that was so pervasive in the region she served was the day she needed to find a staid, mindless nine-to-five job, have a safe life where the most dangerous thing she encountered was rush-hour traffic.

Honor put her hand on the boy’s arm to direct him to his waiting mother, who was already holding the large care package filled with things most people took for granted but were precious commodities in villages where running water was a luxury.

The entire building suddenly shook and the floor buckled beneath Honor’s feet as though an earthquake were occurring.

No one screamed. But looks of terror, all too common on the faces of people who’d become dear to Honor, were shared by everyone. Eerie silence ensued, and then . . .

The world exploded around them, a terrible storm, a whirling vortex of heat, fire and the acrid smell of explosives.

And blood.

Death had a smell all of its own. And Honor had seen more blood and death, had smelled it, had witnessed the horrible sight of the very essence of life slowly seep from a once-vibrant human being. An innocent child. A mother seeking only to protect her young. A father slaughtered in front of his entire family.

Chaos reigned as people ran, no clear direction in mind, and yet Honor viewed the goings-on calmly, as if she were apart from her body and viewing dispassionately the attack on the relief center. One of her coworkers—her friend—screamed at her to take cover and then went utterly still, death in her eyes as blood bloomed over her chest. She sagged like a puppet, her expression not one of pain but of great sorrow. And regret.

Tears burned the corners of Honor’s eyes as she finally forced herself into motion. There were children to shield. Women to save. The vicious extremist cell would not take them all. It was an oath, a litany that repeated over and over in her mind as she shoved children and mothers alike out of the rear exit and into the desert heat.

One of the women grasped Honor’s hand when Honor turned to go back in and pleaded with her in Arabic to come with them. To run. To save herself. The extremists would have no mercy. Especially for Westerners.

Honor gently extricated her hand from the woman’s desperate hold. “May Allah be with you,” she whispered, praying in her heart that God, any God, every God, would stop the hate and bloodshed. The senseless killing of the good and innocent.

Then she turned and ran back into the building, or what was left of it. Dimly she registered that the lightweight but cool western flip-flops she usually wore had somehow fallen off her feet in the chaos surrounding her, but the last thing on her mind was protecting her feet when her life was at stake.

She searched frantically for her fellow relief workers. The two doctors who worked tirelessly day and night, sometimes going many nights without sleep because the need for medical aid was so great. The nurses who did the work that many physicians in the United States did and with far less advanced technology or diagnostic tools.

Everywhere she turned, all she saw was blood, rivers of blood. And death. The stench made her stomach revolt and she clamped a hand over her mouth to prevent herself from being violently ill and to silence the scream that welled from the very depths of her soul.

There was no solace to be found anywhere she looked, but she could at least be grateful that she didn’t see the bodies of many children, or their mothers. Most had fled, well trained and accustomed to such attacks. Honor’s comrades, her friends, the people who had the same calling as she, hadn’t fared as well.

The very earth exploded beneath her. Around her. Stone and debris pelted her, battering her in an endless wave of pain and terror. She took a single step, wincing when something sharp cut into her tender foot. And then the already sagging roof collapsed, sending her sprawling painfully across the ravaged floor. Debris rained down on her. No, that was the ceiling caving in on her, pinning her beneath rock, rubble, a shattered beam. The cloud of dust and smoke was so thick she couldn’t suck air into her tortured lungs.

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