Taken by Midnight (Chapter Fifteen)
"Huh? Oh. Yeah, I'm fine." Jenna glanced up at Alex, snapping herself out of the daze that had been hijacking her focus all night. Ever since Brock's unexpected B&E in her room a few hours ago. To say nothing of the incredible sex that had preceded it. "Just lost in my thoughts, I guess."
"That's exactly why I asked," Alex said. "You've been somewhere else since you sat down with me here tonight."
"I'm sorry. It's nothing to worry about. Everything is fine."
Jenna picked up her fork and chased a bite of salmon around her plate.
She wasn't hungry, but when Alex had fetched her for a quiet dinner together in her quarters, Jenna couldn't deny that she welcomed her best friend's company. She wanted to pretend, if only for a little while, that things were the same as they'd been in Alaska just a few weeks ago–before she'd known about her brother's corruption and death, before she'd learned about vampires and alien biotechnology and accelerated DNA mutations.
Before she'd compounded all of her problems by getting naked with Brock.
"Hello?" Across the table from her, Alex watched her over the rim of her beer glass. "FYI, in case you're wondering, you're doing it again, Jen.
What's going on with you?"
"I suppose you mean other than the obvious," Jenna replied, pushing aside her plate and leaning back in her chair.
She stared at her friend, the most sympathetic, supportive person she knew–the one person, aside from Brock, who'd given her the strength she needed to get through the worst of her life's ordeals. Jenna realized she owed Alex more than the usual don't-worry-about-me facade. Never mind the fact that Alex had the ability to see through any bullshit with her built-in lie detector, courtesy of her Breedmate genetics.
Jenna took a slow breath and let it out on a sigh. "Something happened earlier. Between Brock and me."
"Something … happened?" Alex looked at her in silence for a moment before her brow knit into a frown. "Are you saying …"
"Yeah, that's exactly what I'm saying." Jenna got up from the table and began clearing her place setting. "I was in the war room alone, after everyone had gone to bed. Brock came in, and we started talking, then we started kissing. Things got really intense, really quickly. I don't think either one of us meant for it to happen."
Alex followed her into the kitchen. "You and Brock … slept together?"
she asked. "You had sex in the war room?"
"God, no. We just kissed in there. On the conference table. The sex came later, in his quarters. Or, rather, my quarters." Jenna felt a blush creep into her cheeks. She wasn't used to discussing her intimate life–mainly because she hadn't had one in a very long time. And certainly never anything as out of control as what she and Brock had shared. "Oh, for crissake, don't make me spell out every detail. Say something, Alex."
She stared, somewhat slack-jawed. "I'm, um …"
"Shocked? Disappointed? You can tell me," Jenna said, trying to guess what her friend must think of her, having known how she'd avoided anything resembling a relationship or intimacy in the years since the accident, only to end up in bed with one of the Order's warriors after just a couple of days in his company. "You must think I'm pathetic. God knows I do."
"Jenna, no." Alex took her by the shoulders, forcing Jenna to hold her gaze. "I don't think any of those things at all. I'm surprised … then again, not so much. It was obvious to me that you and Brock had a connection, even before you were brought here to the compound. And Kade mentioned to me a couple of times that Brock was very attracted to you and that he was concerned about you, protective of you."
"Really?" Curiosity fluttered to life inside her against her will. "He talked to Kade about me–when? What did he say?" She suddenly felt like a teenage girl prying for details on a schoolyard crush. "Oh, God–forget it. I don't want to know. It doesn't matter. What happened between us didn't mean anything. In fact, I'd really like to forget about it."
If only it was that easy to put the whole thing out of her mind.
Alex's eyes were soft, her words careful. "Is that what Brock thinks, too? That making love didn't mean anything? That you should try to pretend it didn't happen?"
Jenna thought back to the incredible passion they'd shared and his tender words afterward. He'd told her he didn't want her to regret it. He didn't want her to think it was a mistake. Sweet, caring words that he'd offered just moments before he'd fled from the room and left her sitting alone and confused in the dark.
"We agreed up front that there would be no strings, that it wasn't going to go anywhere between us," she heard herself murmur as she broke from Alex's gaze and pivoted to clear more dishes. She didn't want to think about how good it felt to be in Brock's arms, or the startling hungers he stirred within her. "It was just sex, Alex, and a onetime thing at that. I mean, it's not like I don't have bigger things to worry about, right? I'm not about to make everything worse by getting involved with him–physically or otherwise."
It sounded like a smart and reasonable argument, though whether she was trying to convince her friend or herself, she wasn't totally certain.
Alex drifted out of the kitchen behind her. "I think you already care about him, Jen. I think Brock has come to mean something to you, and it's got you terrified."
Jenna pivoted around, stricken to hear the dead-aim truth voiced out loud. "I don't want to feel anything for him. I can't, Alex."
"Would it be so bad if you did?"
"Yes," she replied, emphatic. "My life is uncertain enough as it is.
How foolish would I be if I let myself fall for him?"
Alex's smile was subtly compassionate. "I think there are worse things you could do. Brock's a good man."
Jenna shook her head. "He's not even totally human, in case either of us is tempted to forget that small fact. Although I probably should be questioning my own humanity, after the way I bit him earlier tonight."
Alex's brows arched. "You bit him?"
Too late to take back her careless blurt, Jenna tapped a finger against the side of her neck. "While we were in bed. I don't know what came over me. I suppose I got swept away in the moment, and I just … bit him. Hard enough to draw blood."
"Oh," Alex replied slowly, studying her now. "And how did that feel to you, biting him?"
Jenna huffed out a short sigh. "Crazy. Impulsive. Like a runaway train. It was embarrassing as hell, if you want to know the truth. Brock seemed to think so, too. He couldn't get away from me fast enough afterward."
"Have you talked to him since then?"
"No, and I hope I don't have to. As I said, it's probably best that he and I both forget the whole thing."
But even as she said it, she couldn't help thinking back to the moment she'd realized he'd returned to the room after she'd showered and gone to bed. She couldn't help remembering how desperate she'd been to hear him speak to her–to say anything–in those quiet couple of minutes that he watched her in the dark, assuming she'd been asleep and didn't know he was there.
And now, after trying to convince herself and Alex, too, that she was in control of the situation with Brock, the memory of their passion put an undeniable quickness in her veins.
"It was a mistake," she murmured. "I'm not going to make it worse by imagining it was anything more than that. All I can do is make a point of not repeating it."
She sounded so sure of herself, she thought for certain Alex would believe her. But when she glanced over at her friend–her best friend, who'd stood beside her through all of her life's triumphs and tragedies–Alex's eyes were gentle with understanding.
"Come on, Jen. Let's finish up these dishes, then we'll go see how Dylan and the others are making out on their investigations."
"We've been sitting here for twenty-five minutes, my man. I don't think your guy is gonna show." Brock turned a look on Chase from the driver's seat of the parked Rover. "How long are we supposed to wait on this asshole?"
Chase stared out at the vacant, snow-covered lot in Dorchester, where their rendezvous with one of his former Enforcement Agency contacts was supposed to have taken place. "Something must have come up. Mathias Rowan is a good man. He never leaves me hanging out to dry. Let's give him another few minutes."
Brock exhaled an impatient grunt and turned up the SUV's heat. He hadn't been excited about partnering with Chase on the night's patrol, but he was even less excited that their work in the city included the prospect of meeting up with a member of the Breed nation's de facto law enforcement organization. The Agency and the Order had a long-held, mutual distrust of each other, both sides in disagreement about the way crime and punishment should work among the Breed.
If the Enforcement Agency had been effective at one time, Brock personally couldn't vouch for it. The organization had long ago become more political than anything else, generally favoring ass-kissing and lip service as a means of handling problems–two things that happened to be missing from the Order's playbook.
"Man, I hate winter," Brock muttered as the flurry of new-falling snow began to come down in earnest. A gust of icy wind buffeted the side of the vehicle, howling like a banshee across the empty lot.
Truth be told, a lot of his foul mood had to do with the way he'd screwed things up with Jenna. He couldn't help wondering how she was doing, what she was thinking. Whether she despised him, which was certainly her right. He was anxious for the night's mission to be over so he could head back to the compound and see for himself that Jenna was okay.
"Your man Rowan better not be dicking us around," he grumbled. "I don't sit in the damn cold freezing my ass off for just anybody–least of all a self-righteous Agency blowhard."
Chase slid him a meaningful look. "Whether you care to believe it or not, there are a few good inpiduals in the Enforcement Agency. Mathias Rowan is one of them. He's been my eyes and ears on the inside for months now. If we want a fighting chance at routing out Dragos's possible allies in the Agency, we need Rowan on our side."
Brock gave a grim nod and settled back to continue their wait. Chase was probably right about his old ally. Few in the Enforcement Agency would want to admit there were cracks in their foundation–cracks that had permitted a cancer like Dragos to operate inside the Agency in secret for decades. Dragos had hidden behind an assumed name, accumulating power and intel, recruiting an untold number of like-minded followers willing to kill for him–to die for him, if duty demanded it. Dragos had climbed as high as the director level in the Agency before the Order had unmasked him several months ago and driven him to ground.
Although Dragos was gone from the Agency, the Order was certain he hadn't severed all of his ties. There would be those who still agreed with his dangerous plans. Those who were still allied with him in silent conspiracy, hiding within layer upon layer of bureaucratic bullshit that prevented Brock and the other warriors from going in with guns blazing to flush them out.
One of Chase's main objectives in the months since Dragos turned tail and ran was to start peeling back those layers in the Agency. To get closer to Dragos, the Order would need to get close to his lieutenants without tripping any alarms. One careless move could drive Dragos even deeper into hiding.
The operation was covert in the extreme, made all the more delicate seeing how the Order's best hope of success lay in the hair-trigger, volatile hands of Sterling Chase and his trust in an old friend who was only as loyal as Chase promised him to be.
On the passenger-side dashboard, Chase's cell phone began to vibrate.
"That'll be Rowan," he said, grabbing the phone and answering the call.
"Yeah. We're waiting. Where are you?"
Brock stared out at the swirling snow through the windshield, listening to Chase's side of a conversation that didn't sound like good news.
"Ah, fuck–anyone dead?" Chase went quiet for a second, then hissed something nasty. At Brock's questioning look, he explained, "Got detoured by another call. Darkhaven kid let things get out of hand at a party. There was a fight, then a feeding on the street outside. One human is dead, another ran off on foot, bleeding bad."
"Jesus," Brock muttered.
The dead human and a feeding taking place on a public street was bad enough. The bigger trouble was the escaped witness. It wasn't hard to imagine the hysteria that a savaged human could cause, running around screaming the word "vampire." To say nothing of what that same bleeding human could incite among Brock's own kind.
The scent of fresh, spilling red cells would be a beacon to every Breed in a two-mile radius. And God forbid there were any Rogues left in the city.
One whiff of an open wound would be enough to send the blood-addicted dregs of the Breed population into a feeding frenzy.
Chase's jaw was taut as he went back to Mathias Rowan on the cell.
"Tell me your guys have the runner contained." From the harsh grate of the curse that followed, Brock was guessing the answer to that was no.
"Goddamn it, Mathias. You know as well as I do that we've got to get that human off the street. If it takes the entire Boston pision to track him down, then you do it. Who's down there with you from the Agency?"
Brock watched and listened as the conversation continued, observing a side of Sterling Chase he hardly recognized. The former Agent was cool and commanding, logical and precise. The unpredictable hothead that Brock had grown accustomed to as a member of the Order seemed to take a backseat to the crisp, capable leader sitting beside him in the Rover now.
He'd heard that Chase had been a golden boy with the Agency before he'd joined the Order, though you couldn't have proved that by Brock in the year that he'd been working alongside him. Now he felt a kindling new respect for the former Agent, as well as a gnawing curiosity about the other, darker side of him, which never seemed far from the surface.
"Where are you at, Mathias?" Chase motioned to Brock to put the vehicle in gear as he spoke to his Agency contact. "Tell you what, you let me worry about whether the Order needs to get involved in this. I'm not asking permission, and you and I never had this conversation, got it? Save it for when I get there. We're already heading your way."
Brock turned the Rover onto the street and followed Chase's directions as he cut off Mathias Rowan's audible protests, then stuffed the cell phone back into his coat pocket. They sped deeper into the city, toward the industrial wharfs, where a lot of the younger crowd–humans and Breed alike–met for late-night raves and private, after-hours parties.
It wasn't hard to find the scene of the killing. Two unmarked black sedans were parked at a dockside warehouse. Several Breed males in dark coats and suits stood around a large object lying unmoving in the filthy snow of the lot adjacent to the building.
"That's them," Chase said. "I recognize most of these men from the Agency."
Brock swung the Rover into the area, eyeing the group as all heads pivoted toward the approaching vehicle. "Yeah, that's them, all right.
Useless and confused," Brock drawled, assessing the Agents with a glance.
"Which one's Rowan?"
He needn't have asked. No sooner had he said it than one of the group broke away from the others, stalking over at a brisk clip to meet Brock and Chase as they got out of the vehicle. Agent Mathias Rowan was as tall and broad as any one of the warriors, his thick shoulders bulky mounds underneath the heavy fall of his tailored dark wool coat. Light green eyes flashed with intelligence and annoyance as he approached, skin stretching tight across his high cheekbones.
"Understand you Agency boys are having a little trouble tonight,"
Chase said, pitching his voice loud enough for the rest of the gathered Agents to hear him as well as Rowan. "Thought you might need some help out here."
"Are you fucking nuts?" Rowan growled, low under his breath, for Chase alone. "You've got to know any one of these Agents would just as soon tear your limbs off than have you walking into the middle of their investigation."
"Yeah?" Chase replied, mouth quirked into a cocky grin. "Been a slow night for me so far. Might be interesting to let them try."
"Chase, damn it." Rowan kept his voice low. "I told you not to come."
Chase grunted. "There was a time when I was giving the orders around here and you were the one following them, Mathias."
"Not anymore." Rowan frowned, but there was no animosity in his expression. "We've got three Agents in pursuit of the runner; they'll get him.
The building has been cleared of all humans, and any potential witnesses to the incident have been scrubbed of all memory of the entire night. It's handled."
"Well, well … Sterling fucking Chase." The snarled greeting carried on the wintry breeze, across the snow-tossed industrial lot from where a couple of the other men had broken from the pack to amble over.
Chase glanced out, eyes narrowing on the big male in front. "Freyne,"
he growled, spitting the name like he couldn't stand the taste of it. "I should have known that asshole would be here."
"You're interfering in official Agency business," Agent Rowan said, louder now, intending to be heard by all. He shot Chase a cautioning look, but spoke with the kind of uptight arrogance that seemed to be as standard issue in the Enforcement Agency as their GQ suits and polished shoes. "This incident doesn't concern the Order. It's a Darkhaven matter, and we've got the situation under control."
Grinning dangerously at the two approaching newcomers, Chase stepped around his friend with little more than a sidelong glance. Brock followed him, muscles twitching in readiness for battle as he registered the air of menace rolling off the pair of Agents who'd come to confront them.
"Jesus Christ, it is you," said the one called Freyne, his lips curled back in a sneer. "Figured we'd seen the last of you after you popped your Rogue nephew last year."
Brock tensed, caught off guard by the comment and its deliberate cruelty. Outrage spiked in him, yet Chase appeared unsurprised by the heartless reminder. He ignored the jibe, an effort that must have taken incredible control based on the steely clench of his jaw as he brushed past his former colleagues on his way to the scene of the killing.
Brock kept pace with Chase's long strides, cutting through the eddying flurries of snow, past the tinted window of an idling sedan where the Darkhaven kid who'd let his hunger rule him waited inside. Brock felt the weight of the Breed youth's eyes on him as he and Chase passed the car, their images–two heavily armed males in black fatigues and long leather coats, unmistakably members of the Order–reflected in the glass.
On the ground near the building, the snow was stained deep red where the struggle had occurred. The lifeless corpse of the slain human had now been zipped into a body bag and was being loaded into another Agency vehicle parked nearby. The blood was dead and of no temptation or use, but the coppery tang was still strong in the chill air, making Brock's gums tingle with the emergence of his fangs.
Behind them, footsteps crunched in the snow and gravel. Freyne cleared his throat, apparently unable to let things lie. "You know, Chase, I'll be straight with you. No one could blame you for putting the kid down."
"Agent Freyne," Mathias Rowan said, a warning that went unheeded.
"It's not like he didn't have it coming, right, Chase? I mean, shit. The kid was Rogue, and there's only one good way to deal with that. Same way you deal with a rabid dog."
As determined as the other Agent was to taunt, Chase seemed equally determined to tune him out. "Over there," he said to Brock, pointing to indicate a trail of heavy spatters tracking away from the scene.
Brock nodded. He'd already spotted the path the runner took. And as much as he personally wanted to leap on Agent Freyne and take the smug bastard down a peg or ten, if Chase was able to ignore him, Brock would do his best to do the same. "Looks like our live one ran off toward the docks."
"Yeah," Chase agreed. "Judging by the amount of blood he's spilling, he's too weak to get far. Fatigue will take him down in under a mile."
Brock looked back at Chase. "So, if the area's been swept and no one has found him yet–"
"He's got to be hiding somewhere not far from here," Chase said, finishing the thought.
They were about to head out in pursuit when Freyne's chuckle sounded from behind them. "Putting a bullet in the kid's brain was an act of mercy if you ask me. But you have to wonder if his mother felt the same way … seeing how you killed her son right in front of her."
Chase froze at that. Brock glanced at him, saw a muscle ticking dangerously fast in his rigid jaw.
While the rest of the small group moved out of the immediate area, Mathias Rowan stepped in front of his Agent, fury vibrating off every inch of him. "Damn it, Freyne, I said shut the fuck up and that's an order!"
But the son of a bitch just wouldn't stop. He navigated around his superior, putting himself right in Chase's face. "Elise is the one I pity in all of this. That poor, sweet woman. To have lost your brother Quentin in the line of duty all those years ago, then you take her only child before her eyes.
I guess it's no surprise she'd look for comfort somewhere–even among the thugs of the Order." Freyne made a vulgar sound in the back of his throat.
"Fine-looking female like that could have had her pick of eager males in her bed. Hell, I would have gladly sampled some of that. Surprised you never did."
Chase let out a roar that rattled the ground. In a blur of movement that not even Brock could fully track, Chase launched himself at Freyne. The two big males crashed down to the gravel and snow, Chase pinning the Agent beneath him, pounding his fists into his face.
Freyne fought back, but he was no match for Chase's fury. Observing it up close, Brock wasn't sure anyone could stand up to the feral rage that seemed to pour out of Chase as he landed one punishing blow after another.
None of the other Agents made a move to stop the altercation, least of all Mathias Rowan. He stood back, silent, stoic, the rest of his subordinates seeming to gauge their response on his. They would have let Chase kill Freyne, and whether that killing was deserved or not, Brock couldn't allow the brutal scene to play out to its seemingly foregone conclusion.
He stepped up, put a hand on his fellow warrior's churning shoulder.
"Chase, my man. It's enough."
Chase kept hammering, even though Freyne was no longer fighting back. Fangs stretched huge in his mouth, eyes blazing with the amber fire of his rage, Chase seemed unwilling–or unable–to bring the beast in him to heel.
When one of those bloodied fists recoiled to strike another blow, Brock caught it in his hand. He held fast with all his strength, refusing to let the hammer fall again. Chase pivoted a wild look on him. Snarled something raw and nasty.
Brock slowly shook his head. "Come on, Harvard. Let him be now.
He's not worth killing, not like this."
Chase glared hard into his eyes, lips curled back off his fangs. He grunted, animalistic, then swung his head back around to look at the sputtering, bloodied male still pinned beneath him and semiconscious in the muck.
Brock felt the tight fist in his grasp begin to loosen a fraction. "That's it, my man. You're better than this. Better than him."
A cell phone trilled nearby. From his periphery, Brock saw Rowan put the mobile to his ear and pivot away to take the call. Chase was still huffing and dangerous, not yet willing to let Freyne loose.
"They got him," Agent Rowan announced, his calm statement cutting through some of the tension. "Two of my Agents found the runner hiding under a delivery truck down by the wharfs. They've scrubbed his memory of what he witnessed and will drop him near a hospital on the other side of the city."
Brock gave a faint nod of acknowledgment. "You hear that, Chase?
It's over. We're done here." He let go of Chase's fist, trusting him not to escalate the situation with Freyne or any of the other Agents still gathered around, watching in anxious silence. "Let him go, Chase. This shit is finished."
"For now," Chase finally muttered, his voice rough and dark. He snuffled, shook off the hand Brock placed on his shoulder. With rage still rolling off him, he delivered one last punishing blow to Freyne's battered face before springing up to his feet. "Next time I see you," he growled,
"you're a dead man."
"Come on, Harvard." Brock steered him away from the area, not missing the pointed look that Mathias Rowan leveled on them as they headed back toward the Rover. "So much for diplomatic relations with the Agency, my man."
Chase said nothing. He followed behind a couple of paces, his breath sawing in and out of his lungs, his body throwing off aggression like a nuclear blast.
"I hope we didn't need that bridge back there, because you may have just torched it," Brock said as they reached the vehicle.
Chase didn't answer. Nothing but quiet at Brock's back. Too much quiet, in fact.
He pivoted around. All he found was a lot of empty space where Chase had been standing just a second ago. He was gone, vanished without excuse or explanation, into the snowy night.