Taken by Midnight (Chapter Ten)
"Let go of me," Jenna demanded, her senses still muddled, ringing with each long stride of Brock's legs. She shifted in his arms, trying to ignore how even that small bit of movement made her head spin and her stomach twist. Her head fell back over his muscled forearm, a pained groan leaking out of her. "I said put me down, damn it."
He grunted but kept walking. "I heard you the first time."
She closed her eyes, only because it was too hard to keep them open and watch the ceiling of the corridor contort and swirl above her as Brock carried her deeper into the compound. He slowed after a moment, then turned sharply, and Jenna glanced up to see that he had brought her back to the apartment suite that was now her private quarters.
"Please, put me down," she murmured, her tongue thick, throat gone bone dry. The pounding behind her eyes had become a jackhammer throb, the ringing in her ears a deafening high-frequency whine that seemed to want to split her skull wide open. "Oh, God," she gasped, unable to hide her agony. "It hurts so much …"
"Okay," Brock said quietly. "Everything's gonna be okay now."
"No, it won't." She whimpered, humiliated by the sound of her own weakness, and the fact that Brock was seeing her like this. "What's happening to me? What did he do to me?"
"It doesn't matter right now," Brock whispered, his deep voice held too tight. Too carefully level to be believed. "Let's just get you through this first."
He crossed the room with her and knelt down to place her on the sofa.
Jenna lay back and let him gently straighten her legs, not so far gone with discomfort and worry that she didn't recognize the tenderness of the strong hands that could probably crush the life from someone with little more than a twitch of this man's will.
"Relax," he said, and those strong, tender hands came up near her face. He leaned over her and lightly stroked her cheek, his dark eyes compelling her to hold his gaze. "Just relax and breathe now, Jenna. Can you do that for me?"
She'd calmed a bit already, easing into the sound of her name on his lips, the feathery warmth of his fingers as they skated slowly from her cheek to her jaw, then down, along the side of her neck. The short bursts of breath that sawed in and out of her lungs began to slow, to ease, as Brock cupped her nape in one hand and glided his other palm in an unrushed, soothing back-and-forth motion across the top of her chest.
"That's it," he murmured, his gaze still locked on hers, intense and yet so impossibly tender at the same time. "Let go of all the pain, and relax.
You're safe, Jenna. You can trust me."
She didn't know why those words should affect her as much as they did. Maybe it was the pain that had weakened her. Maybe it was the fear of the unknown, the gaping abyss of uncertainty that had suddenly become her reality since that frigid, horrific night in Alaska.
And maybe it was just the simple fact that it had been a long time–
four lonely years–since she'd felt the firm, warm caress of a man's touch, even if offered only in comfort.
Four empty years since she'd convinced herself she didn't need tender contact or intimacy. Four endless years since she'd remembered what it was to feel like a flesh-and-blood woman, like she was desired. Like she might one day be able to open her heart to something more.
Jenna closed her eyes as the prick of tears began to sting at them. She pushed aside the swell of emotion that rose up on her unexpectedly and focused instead on the soothing warmth of Brock's fingertips on her skin.
She let his voice wash over her, feeling his words and his touch work in tandem to coax her through the anguish of the strange trauma that had seemed to be shredding her from the inside out.
"That's good, Jenna. Just breathe now."
She felt the vise of pain in her skull loosen as he spoke to her. Brock caressed her temples with his thumbs, his fingers splayed deeply into her hair, holding her head in a comforting grasp. The piercing ring in her ears began to fade away, until, at last, it was gone.
"You're doing great," Brock murmured, his voice darker than before, just above a growl. "Let it go, Jenna. Give the rest of it to me."
She exhaled a long, purging sigh, unable to keep it inside her as long as Brock was stroking her face and neck. She moaned, welcoming the pleasure that was slowly devouring her agony. "Feels nice," she whispered, helpless to resist the urge to nuzzle further into his touch. "The pain isn't so bad now."
"That's good, Jenna." He drew in a breath that sounded more like a sharp gasp, then exhaled a low groan. "Let it all go now."
Jenna felt a tremor vibrate through his fingertips as he spoke. Her eyelids snapped open and she gaped up at him, stricken by what she saw.
The tendons in his neck were strung tight, his jaw clamped down so hard it was a wonder his teeth didn't shatter. A muscle ticked wildly in his lean cheek. Beads of perspiration lined his forehead and upper lip.
He was in pain.
Staggering pain–just as she had been, not a few minutes before his touch had seemed to ease her agony away.
Realization dawned on her then.
He wasn't just calming her with his hands. He was somehow pulling her pain out of her. He was siphoning it, willingly drawing her pain into himself.
Offended by the idea, but even more embarrassed that she had let herself lie there and imagine that his touch was something more than pity, Jenna flinched out of his reach and scuttled into a seated position on the sofa. She breathed hard with outrage as she stared into his dark eyes, which flashed with specks of amber light.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she gasped, leaping to her feet.
The muscle that had been ticking in his jaw gave a tight twitch as he stood up to face her. "Helping you."
Images crowded into her mind in an instant–a sudden vivid recollection of the aftermath of her captivity with the creature who'd invaded her cabin in Alaska.
She'd been in pain then, too. She'd been terrified and in shock, awash in so much confusion and horror, she thought she might die from it.
And she remembered the warm, caring hands that comforted her. The face of a grimly handsome stranger who'd come into her life like a dark angel and kept her safe, kept her sheltered and calm, when everything in her world had been thrown into chaos.
"You were there," she murmured, stunned to realize it only just now.
"In Alaska, after the Ancient was gone. You stayed with me. You took away my pain then, too. And later, after I was brought here to the compound. My God … did you stay at my side all of the time I was in the infirmary?"
His eyes remained fixed on her, dark and unreadable. "I was the only one who could help you."
"Who asked you to?" she demanded, knowingly harsh, but desperate to purge the heat that was still traveling through her, unbidden and unwanted.
Bad enough he'd thought it necessary to coddle her like some kind of child through her prolonged ordeal. All the worse when he seemed to think it was necessary to do so now, as well. She'd be damned before she let him think for one second that she had actually welcomed his touch.
His expression still pained from what he'd done for her a few moments ago, he shook his head and blew out a low curse. "For a woman who doesn't want anyone's help, you sure seem to need it a lot."
She barely resisted the temptation to tell him where he could shove that sentiment. "I can take care of myself."
"Like you did last night in the city?" he challenged. "Like you did just a few minutes ago in the tech lab, right before my arms were the only thing that came between your stubborn ass and the floor?"
Humiliation stung her cheeks like a slap. "You know what? Save us both some grief, and don't do me any more favors."
She spun away from him and started walking toward the door that was still open onto the corridor outside. Each miraculously painless step she took only heightened her anger at Brock. Made her all the more determined to put as much distance between them as possible.
Before she got within a yard of the threshold, he was standing in front of her. Blocking her path, even though she hadn't seen or heard him move.
She stopped short. Gaped at him, astonished by the preternatural speed he evidently had at his control.
"Get out of my way," she said, and tried to move past him.
He sidestepped her, putting his immense body directly in front of her.
The intensity of his gaze told her he wanted to say something more, but Jenna didn't want to hear it. She needed to be alone.
Needed space to think about everything that had happened to her …
everything that was still happening, growing more terrifying all the time.
"Move aside," she said, hating the small hitch that crept into her voice.
Brock slowly lifted his hand and swept a tousled hank of hair off her brow. It was a tender gesture, kindness she craved so badly but was too afraid to accept. "You're in our world now, Jenna. And whether you want to admit it or not, you're in way over your head."
She watched his mouth as he spoke, wishing she didn't find herself so riveted to the movements of his full, sensual lips. He was still weathering her pain; she could tell by the slight flare of his nostrils as he drew in his breath and blew it out on a controlled exhale. The tension in his handsome face and strong neck hadn't abated, either.
Seeing him carrying a burden that belonged to her made her feel small and powerless.
All her life, she'd struggled to prove herself worthy–first to her father and her brother, Zach, both of whom let her know in no uncertain terms they doubted she'd had what it took to make it in law enforcement. Later on, she'd striven to be the perfect wife and mother. Her entire life had been structured on a foundation of strength, discipline, and capability.
Incredibly, as she stood there in front of Brock now, it wasn't the fact that he was something other than human–something dangerous and otherworldly–that made her want the floor to open up and swallow her whole. It was the dread that he could see through the hard shell of the anger she wore like body armor and that he might know her for the scared, lonely failure she truly was.
Brock gave another faint shake of his head in the long silence that hung between them. His eyes took her in slowly, drifting all over her face before coming back up to meet her gaze. "There are worse things than needing to lean on someone once in a while, Jenna."
"Damn it, I said get out of my way!" She shoved at him, her palms connecting with his broad chest as she pushed with all the anger and fear she had inside her.
Brock flew backward several paces, nearly crashing into the far wall of the corridor.
Jenna sucked in her breath, stunned and amazed at what she'd just done.
Horrified by it.
Brock was a towering force, six and a half feet tall and likely 250-plus pounds of muscle and strength. Something far more powerful than her.
Something far more powerful than anything she'd ever known.
And she had just physically shoved him a couple of feet across the floor.
His brows lifted over his surprised gaze. "Jesus Christ," he muttered, more wonder in his voice than anger.
Jenna brought her hands out before her and stared at them as though they belonged to someone else. "Oh, my God. How did I … What just happened?"
"It's all right," he said, walking back toward her with that maddeningly calm ease of his.
"Brock, I'm sorry. I honestly didn't mean to–"
"I know," he said, nodding soberly. "No worries. You didn't hurt me."
A bubble of hysteria climbed up the back of her throat. First, the shocking news that the implant was somehow altering her DNA, and now this–a strength that couldn't possibly belong to her, yet somehow did. She thought back on her escape from the estate grounds and the bizarre language abilities that she'd seemed to have picked up since the Ancient had left a piece of himself embedded in her spinal cord.
"What the hell is happening to me, Brock? When will all of this finally stop?"
He took her trembling hands between his palms and held them steady.
"Whatever is going on, you don't have to go through it alone. You need to understand that."
She didn't know if he was speaking for everyone in the compound or himself. She had no voice to ask him for clarification. She told herself it didn't matter what he meant, yet it didn't keep her heart from racing as she stared up at him. Under the heat of his fathomless brown eyes, she felt the worst of her fears melt away.
She felt warm and protected, things she wanted to deny but couldn't so long as Brock was holding her in his hands and in his gaze.
He frowned after a long moment and slowly released her hands, letting his palms skate down the length of her arms. It was a sensual caress, lingering too long to be mistaken for anything less than intimate. Jenna knew it, and she could see that he knew it, too.
His dark eyes seemed to grow even deeper, swallowing her up. They fell slowly to her mouth and stayed there as Jenna's breath rasped out of her on a shaky little sigh.
She knew she should step away from him now. There was no reason for them to remain this close, nothing but a few scant inches separating their bodies. Less than that amount of space between his mouth and hers. All it would take was a slight dip of his head or an upward tilt of hers and their lips would come together.
Jenna's pulse kicked at the thought of kissing Brock.
It had been the furthest thing from her mind when he'd carried her into this room. Nor even a few moments ago, when her fear and anger had her hissing and snarling like a wild animal caught in a hunter's trap.
But now, when he was standing so close she could feel the heat of his body radiating toward her, the spicy scent of his skin tempting her to put her head against him and breathe him in, kissing Brock was a secret urge that pulsed through her with every fluttering beat of her heart.
Maybe he knew what she was feeling.
Maybe he was feeling the same thing.
He ground out a harsh curse, then took a small step back from her, staring at her hard, scowling fiercely. "Ah, fuck … Jenna …"
When he reached up and tenderly caught her face in his big hands, all the air seemed to evaporate out of the room. Jenna's lungs froze in her chest, but her heart kept hammering, racing so fast she thought it might explode.
She waited, in terror and in hope, bewildered by the need she had to feel Brock's mouth on hers.
His tongue swept quickly over his lips, the movement giving her a glimpse of the sharp points of his fangs, glinting like diamonds. He cursed again, then withdrew to arm's length, leaving a chasm of cold air swimming in front of her where the heat of his body had been just a second before.
"I shouldn't be here right now," he murmured thickly. "And you need some rest. Make yourself comfortable. If there aren't enough blankets on the bed, you'll find more in my walk-in closet off the bathroom. Use whatever you like."
Jenna had to mentally shake herself back to conversation mode. "This, um … are these your quarters?"
He gave a faint nod, already stepping out to the hallway. "They were.
Now they're yours."
"Wait a minute." Jenna drifted after him. "What about you? Do you have somewhere else to stay?"
"Don't worry about it," he said, pausing to look at her where she leaned against the doorjamb. "Get some rest, Jenna. I'll see you around."
Brock's blood was still coursing hotly in his veins a short while later, when he stood outside one of the last remaining residential suites and dropped his knuckles on the closed door.
"It is eleven minutes earlier than we agreed" came the deep, matter-of-fact voice of the Breed male on the other side.
The door swung open and Brock was skewered by a pair of unreadable bright gold eyes.
"Avon calling," Brock said by way of greeting as he lifted the black leather duffel bag that contained all the personal gear he'd taken from his quarters earlier that day. "And what do you mean, I'm not supposed to be here for eleven more minutes? Don't tell me you're going to be one of those uptight roomies who runs everything by the clock, my man. My choices were limited, seeing how you and Chase have the last two rooms left in the compound. And to tell you the truth, if Harvard and I had to share quarters, I'm not sure we'd both survive the week."
Hunter said nothing as Brock stepped past him and strode inside the room. He followed along to the bunk area, as stealthy as a ghost. "I thought you were someone else," he remarked somewhat belatedly.
"Yeah?" Brock pivoted his head around to look at the stoic Gen One, genuinely curious about the Order's newest, most reclusive member. Not to mention the fact that he was eager to steer his mind away from overheated thoughts about Jenna Darrow. "Who were you expecting besides me?"
"It is not relevant," Hunter replied.
"Okay." Brock shrugged. "Just trying to make conversation, that's all."
The Gen One's expression remained impassive, utterly neutral. Not surprising, considering the way the male had been raised–one of Dragos's homegrown assassins. Hell, the guy didn't even have a proper name. Like the rest of the personal army Dragos had bred off the Ancient, the Gen One had been referred to simply by his chief purpose in life: Hunter.
He'd come to the Order a few months ago, after Brock, Nikolai, and some of the other warriors had led a raid on a gathering of Dragos and his lieutenants. Hunter had been freed during the skirmish and was now allied against his maker in the Order's efforts to bring Dragos down.
Brock paused in front of the pair of double beds that sat on either side of the modest barracks-style bunk room. Both of them were made up with military precision, tan blanket and white sheets tucked in without a single wrinkle, a sole pillow meticulously arranged at the head of each bunk.
"So, which one do you want me to take?"
"It makes no difference to me."
Brock glanced back at the impassive face and inscrutable golden eyes.
"Then tell me which one you usually sleep in, and I'll take the other."
Hunter's flat stare didn't change one iota. "They are furniture. I have no attachment to either one."
"No attachment," Brock muttered around a low curse. "You can say that again, man. Maybe you can give me some pointers on that don't-give-a-damn-about-anything attitude of yours. I'm thinking it would come in real fucking handy from time to time. Especially when it comes to women."
With a growl, he tossed his gear onto the bunk at his left, then scrubbed his palm over his face and the top of his head. The groan that leaked out of him was ripe with frustration and the pent-up lust he'd been stifling since he'd forced himself to walk away from Jenna and the temptation he sorely didn't need.
"Damn," he ground out, his body thrumming all over again from just the remembered image of her beautiful face, tipped up to look at him.
If he hadn't known better, he would have thought she'd been waiting for him to kiss her. Everything male inside him had been clamoring with that certainty at the time, but he knew it would be the last thing Jenna needed.
She was confused and vulnerable, and he supposed he was a better man than the one who might take advantage of that fact simply because his libido craved a taste of her. Of course, that didn't make him feel any better about the raging hard-on that was suddenly coming back to life again, honor be damned.
"Way to go, hero," he berated himself tightly. "Now you're gonna need to soak in a tub of ice water for a week to pay for being noble."
"Are you unwell?" Hunter asked, startling Brock to realize the other male was still standing behind him in the room.
"Yeah," Brock said, giving a sardonic chuckle. "I am unwell, all right.
If you want to know the truth, I've been unwell since the moment I laid eyes on her."
"The human female," Hunter replied with grim understanding. "It is apparent that she is a problem for you."
Brock blew out a humorless sigh. "You think?"
"Yes, I do." There was no judgment in the answer, only level statement of fact. He spoke like a machine: total precision, zero feeling. "I presume everyone in the tech lab reached the same conclusion today, when you allowed Chase to provoke your anger over his comments regarding your attachment to the woman. Your actions showed a weakness in your training, and worse, a lack of self-control. You reacted carelessly."
"Thanks for noticing," Brock replied, suspecting his sarcasm was wasted on the unsociable, unflappable Hunter. "Remind me to bust your balls from here to next week if you ever loosen up enough to let a woman get under your skin."
Hunter didn't react, merely stared at him without a speck of emotion.
"That will not happen."
"Shit," Brock said, shaking his head at the rigid Gen One soldier who'd been raised on neglect and punishing discipline. "You obviously haven't been with the right woman if you can sound so sure of yourself."
Hunter's expression remained stoic. Distant and detached. In fact, the longer Brock looked at him, the more clearly he began to see the truth.
"Holy hell. Have you ever been with a woman, Hunter? My God … you're a virgin, aren't you?"
The Gen One's golden eyes stayed fixed on Brock's gaze as though he considered it a test of will that he not permit the revelation to affect him.
And Brock had to hand it to the guy, not a single degree of emotion flickered in those uncanny eyes, nor in the perfectly schooled features of his face.
The only thing that made Hunter flinch was the soft shuffle of slippered feet that sounded from the corridor outside. A child's voice–Mira–
called into the living room.
"Hunter, are you here?"
He turned without offering an excuse and went to meet the little girl.
"Now is not a convenient time," Brock heard him tell her in that deep, level tone of his.
"But don't you want to know what happens when Harry puts on the invisibility cloak?" Mira asked, disappointment dimming her normally bright voice. "It's one of my favorite parts of the whole book. You have to hear this chapter. You're gonna love it."
"She's right, that is one of the best parts." Brock came out of the bunk room, not sure what made him grin more–the realization that the stone-cold, Gen One assassin was an untried virgin, or the newer, equally amusing idea that the appointment Brock had apparently interrupted by coming to drop off his gear was Hunter's reading hour with the compound's youngest resident.
He gave Mira a wink and a smile as she plopped herself onto the sofa and cracked open the book to the place she'd left off. "Relax," he told Hunter, who stood there, stiff as a statue. "I'm not going to tell anyone your secrets."
He didn't wait to check for a reaction, just strolled out to the corridor and left Hunter staring in his wake.