Brighter Than the Sun(3)

By: Maya Banks

Zoe’s eyebrows went up in question.

Rusty held up fingers as she ticked off her points. “Apart from the fact that the asshole sheriff is exceedingly protective of our family and is an adopted family member much like myself, my brothers kick asses for a living. They’re all ex-military and someone would be a fool to ever cross them in any way, and once you come home with me as a friend? Well, consider yourself a member of the Kelly clan. Their motto is ‘no one fucks with the Kellys,’ and trust me, sister, that isn’t just an idle boast.”

“What on earth do they do? I mean, apart from kicking asses for a living and being ex-military.”

“They run an organization that takes a wide range of assignments from personal protection to hostage retrieval to messy jobs the government doesn’t want to soil their hands on but don’t mind throwing KGI under the bus for in order to achieve their purpose. They’ve done fugitive recovery, rescue missions, obliterated terrorist organizations, and that’s when they aren’t meeting their significant others while on a mission.”

Zoe studied her for a long moment. “You’re not joking, are you?”

Rusty shook her head. “Nope. When I say they are the ultimate badasses, I am not in the least bit exaggerating. Wait until you meet them!”

“Uh, maybe that’s not a good idea,” Zoe mumbled. “I’d feel better staying to myself as much as possible.”

Rusty shrugged. “If you come home with me, it’s inevitable you’ll meet them at some point. Just be yourself and act casual. If you start acting all weird and jumpy then they’re going to get suspicious, and that’s the last thing we want.”

“So you aren’t going to tell them about . . . me? I mean, the truth?”

Rusty’s eyes grew earnest. “I would never betray your confidence, Zoe. You’re my friend, and as far as they’re concerned, we’re friends who met in college and you’re visiting me while we decide what to do with our degrees and futures. The less they know, the better. In fact, no one but the two of us ever needs to know the truth. That’s how fuckups happen. I’m going to keep you alive no matter what it takes. I won’t let that asshole get his hands on you.”

Zoe took a deep breath. “So when do we leave then?”


“WE’RE almost there,” Rusty said cheerfully as they crossed the bridge over Kentucky Lake.

“It’s beautiful here,” Zoe breathed. “It seems so quiet and peaceful. No hustle and bustle of a big city. Are the people here nice?”

Rusty wrinkled her nose. “For the most part. I mean, like any small town we have our share of nosy busybodies whose sole ambition in life is to make others miserable, but the Kellys are very respected in this area. Frank owns a hardware store in Dover, and as I told you, all six of his and Marlene’s sons served in various branches of the military. I was on the other side of the fence growing up. White trash. Troublemaker. Loser. Pick your poison. My life changed when I broke into Frank and Marlene’s house because I was starving and my asshole stepfather didn’t give a shit about anything except where to score his next hit. He wasn’t choosy. Alcohol, drugs, whatever would get him hammered the fastest. Taking care of a stepdaughter dumped on him by his slut of a wife wasn’t exactly a priority. I wouldn’t have ever stayed the first night with him, but I had nowhere else to go and I was too young at the time to pull off acting older than I was, so I would have just gotten hauled into the foster care system. At least my stepfather was the devil I knew and I learned to get around him.” She grimaced. “Most of the time.”

“God, Rusty. My life wasn’t exactly wonderful, but I was never abused and I never went without. My father saw to it that I had the best of everything. Most likely so I wouldn’t be more of an embarrassment to him than I already was. I mean, it was obvious that my own mother had no use for me. She left and couldn’t be bothered to take her daughter with her.”

Rusty scowled. “I don’t see much of a difference in our situations. We were both unwanted, and that does a number on a child, as we can both attest to.”