Taken by Midnight (Chapter Five)
He had no intention of frying his own bacon, but the thought of sitting at the compound waiting on twilight while an innocent woman was wandering the city, alone and upset, had been too much for him to stand. His decision was made all the more sound when he spotted the nondescript white delivery van sitting outside the address Gideon had traced. Even before Brock got out of the Rover, the odor of fresh-spilled human blood reached his nose.
"Fuck," he muttered under his breath, stalking through the frozen slush and street grime toward the vehicle.
He peeked inside the passenger window and his gaze snagged on a spent bullet casing on the floor between the seats. The coppery smell of hemoglobin was stronger here, nearly overpowering.
Being Breed, he couldn't control his body's reaction to the presence of fresh blood. Saliva surged into his mouth, his canine teeth ripping farther out of his gums until the fangs pressed into the flesh of his tongue.
Instinctively, he dragged the scent into his nostrils, trying to determine if the blood was Jenna's. But she wasn't a Breedmate; her blood scent did not carry its own unique stamp as did Alex's or that of the other females at the compound.
A Breed male could track the scent of a Breedmate for miles, no matter how faint. Jenna could be bleeding sight unseen right under Brock's nose, and there would be no way for him to tell if it was her or any other Homo sapiens.
"Damn it," he growled, swinging his head in the direction of the meat-packaging plant nearby. The fact that someone had recently bled inside the delivery van was all the proof he needed that Jenna was likely in danger.
His rage simmered toward boiling in anticipation of what he would find inside the squat red-brick building. From the street as he approached the place, he could hear men's voices and the hum of a ventilation system compressor droning on the roof.
Brock crept around to a side door and peered inside its small wire-reinforced window. Nothing but packing crates and boxes of wrapping material. He grasped the metal knob and twisted it off in his fist. Tossing it into a pile of filthy snow by the stoop, he slipped inside the building.
His combat boots were silent on the concrete floor as he moved through the storage and cleanup area, toward the center of the small plant.
The rumble of conversation grew louder as he progressed, at least four distinct voices, all of them male, all of them edged with the coarse syllables of an Eastern European language.
Something had them agitated. One of the men was shouting and upset, coughing wetly and wheezing more than breathing.
Brock followed the long, grated drain that ran down the center of the room. His nostrils filled with the chemical stench of cleaning products and the sickly sweet odor of old animal blood and spices.
The open doorway ahead of him was curtained with several vertical strips of plastic. As he got within a few feet of it, a man speaking Albanian over his shoulder came in from the other room. He wore a blood-smeared apron, his bald head covered in an elasticized plastic cap, a large cleaver clutched in his hand.
"Hey!" he exclaimed as he pivoted his head and saw Brock standing there. "What you do in here, asshole? Private property! Get the fuck out!"
Brock took a menacing step toward him. "Where is the woman?"
"Eh?" The guy seemed caught off guard for a second before he regrouped and brandished his cleaver in front of Brock's face. "No woman here. Get lost!"
Brock moved fast, knocking the blade out of the man's hand and crushing his throat in his fist before the son of a bitch had a chance to scream. Stepping around the silenced corpse, Brock parted the plastic curtain and walked into the main processing area of the building.
The presence of spilled human blood was stronger in here, still fresh.
Brock spotted a man seated alone on a stool inside a windowed office, a bunched-up, red-soaked cloth held under his nose. In this area of the building, sides of beef and pork hung suspended on large hooks. The room was chilly, ripe with the stink of blood and death.
Brock's boots chewed up the distance as he stalked to the office and threw open the door. "Where is she?"
"W-what the fuck?" The man scrambled up off the stool. His heavily accented voice was clumsy with an unnatural lisp, nasal from the severe break in his nose. "What is going on? I don't know what you're talking about."
"Like hell you don't." Brock reached out and grabbed a fistful of the guy's blood-splattered shirt. He lifted him off the ground, letting his feet dangle four inches from the concrete. "You picked up a woman outside the city. Tell me what you've done with her."
"Who are you?" the man croaked, the whites of his eyes growing wider as he struggled–and failed–to get loose. "Please, let me go."
"Tell me where she is, and maybe I won't kill you."
"Please!" the man wailed. "Please, don't hurt me!"
Brock chuckled darkly, then his acute hearing picked up the sound of rushing footsteps, moving stealthily behind the butcher tables and equipment in the adjacent room. He glanced up … just in time to see the glint of a steel pistol barrel trained on him.
The shot erupted, shattering the office window and ripping into the flesh of his shoulder.
Brock roared, not from pain but fury.
He swung his gaze on the bastard who shot him, pinning the human with the fiery amber light of his eyes, which had transformed from their normal dark brown to the molten color of his other, more lethal nature.
Brock curled his lips back off his teeth and fangs and bellowed in rage.
There was a high-pitched shriek as the man holding the gun turned tail and ran.
"Oh, Christ!" wailed the wheezing human whom Brock still held fast by the throat. "I do nothing to her–I swear! Bitch broke my nose, but I didn't touch her. G-Gresa," he sputtered, lifting his hand to point in the direction his buddy had fled. "He shot her, not me."
At that unwelcome newsflash, Brock's fingers tightened around the fragile human windpipe. "She's been shot? Tell me where the fuck she is.
"T-the chiller," he gasped. "Oh, shit. Please don't kill me!"
Brock squeezed punishingly harder, then tossed the blubbering son of a bitch against the far wall. The human cried out in pain, then dropped in a sniveling heap on the concrete floor. "You'd better pray she's all right,"
Brock said, "or you're gonna wish I had killed you just now."
Jenna huddled on the floor of the large walk-in refrigerator, her teeth chattering, body shivering in the cold.
Outside the sealed steel door, loud noises sounded. Heavy crashes, men shouting … the abrupt crack of gunfire and the bright clatter of breaking glass. Then a roar so intense and deadly, it jerked her head upright just as it was starting to become too weighty to keep lifted, her eyelids growing too difficult to hold open.
She listened, hearing only silence lengthening now.
Someone neared the cold cell that held her. She didn't need to hear the thud of approaching footsteps to know that someone was there. As chill as it was inside, the blast of icy air coming from the other side of the locked door was arctic.
The latch gave a snick of protest in the instant before the entire steel panel was ripped from its hinges on a deafening metallic squeal. Steam poured out of the opening, shrouding a massive, black-clad mountain of a man.
No, not a man, she realized in dazed astonishment.
His lean face was so stark, she hardly recognized him. Huge fangs gleamed white behind the broad mouth that was drawn grim and furious. His breath sawed in and out between his lips, and behind a dark pair of wraparound sunglasses, twin coals blazed with a heat Jenna felt as surely as a touch when he scanned the fogged space and found her slumped and shivering in the corner.
Jenna didn't want to feel the rush of relief that swamped her as he strode inside and dropped down onto his haunches beside her. She didn't want to trust the feeling that said he was a friend, someone to help her.
Someone she needed, in that moment. Maybe the only person who could help her.
She started to tell him she was okay, but her voice was thready and weak. His ember-bright eyes seared her through the veil of his dark shades.
He glanced down and hissed when he saw her wounded thigh and the blood that had soaked the leg of her jeans and formed a small pool beneath her.
"Don't talk," he said, stripping off his black leather gloves and pressing his fingers against both sides of her neck. His touch was light but comforting, seeming to warm her from the inside out. The chill drifted away from her, taking the pain of her gunshot wound with it. "You're going to be all right now, Jenna. I'm gonna get you out of here."
He stripped off his black duster and wrapped it around her shoulders.
Jenna sighed as the heat from his body and the scent of him–leather and spice and strong, deadly male–enveloped her. As he leaned back, she noticed that a bullet hole had torn through the beefy round of his shoulder.
"You're bleeding, too," she murmured, more alarmed by his injury than by the thought that her rescuer was a vampire.
He shrugged off her concern. "Don't worry about me. I'll live. It takes more than that to slow down one of my kind. You, however …"
The way he said it, the grave look that ran across his face as his shaded eyes drifted to her bleeding thigh, seemed almost accusatory.
"Come on," he said, reaching out to gently scoop her into his arms.
"I've got you now."
He carried her out of the refrigerated room like she was nothing but feathers in his arms. At five foot eight and fit, a tomboy from the time she took her first steps, Jenna had never been the type to be toted around like some kind of fragile fairy princess. As a former cop, she'd never expected that from a man, nor wanted it.
She had always been the protector, the first one into danger. She hated that she was so vulnerable now, but Brock's solid arms felt so good underneath her, she couldn't muster the will to be offended. She held on tight as he strode through the small plant, past the grisly meat hangers and more than one broken, lifeless person lying on the floor.
Jenna turned her head away and buried her face in Brock's muscular chest as they cleared the last room of the plant and exited to the outside. It was dusk on the street, the snow-packed alleyway and crouching buildings bathed in the darkening blue of evening.
As Brock stepped off the stoop, a sleek black SUV rolled up from a cross street. It came to a stop at the curb and Kade jumped out of the backseat.
"Ah, fuck," Alex's mate growled. "I smell blood."
"She's been shot," Brock said, his deep voice grave.
Kade stepped closer. "You okay?" he asked her, his light gray eyes taking on a faint yellow light in the gathering darkness. Jenna nodded her reply, watching as the points of his lengthening fangs glinted behind his upper lip. "Niko and Renata are with me," he told Brock. "What's the situation inside?"
Brock grunted, dark humor beneath the dangerous tone of his voice.
"Figures," Kade said, quirking a wry look at him. "You don't look so good yourself, my man. Nice hit to the shoulder. We need to get Jenna back to the compound before she loses any more blood. Renata's behind the wheel of the Rover. She can take her in while the rest of us clean up inside."
"The human is my responsibility," Brock said, his chest vibrating against Jenna's ear. "She stays with me. I will bring her to the compound."
Jenna caught the look of curiosity that flashed across Kade's face at Brock's statement. He narrowed his eyes but said nothing as Brock strode past him to the idling SUV, Jenna carried lightly in his arms.