Taken by Midnight (Chapter Seventeen)
Concern for an MIA brother-in-arms hadn't put him in the best of moods as he opened the door to his shared quarters with Hunter and stepped inside the quiet, lightless room. At home in the dark, his vision sharper here than in the light, Brock peeled off his leather coat and draped it on the sofa before continuing on through the living area to the adjacent bunk room.
The place was so dark and silent, he'd assumed his roommate hadn't yet come in himself–until he entered the bedroom and got an immediate eyeful of full-body Gen One glyphs tracking the naked male from neck to toe.
"Jesus Christ," Brock muttered, averting his gaze from the unexpected, and totally unwanted, full-frontal glimpse at his roomie. "What the hell, man?"
Hunter stood with his powerful back resting against the far wall, eyes closed. He was as still as a statue, breathing almost imperceptibly, his thickly muscled arms hanging loose at his sides. Although his lids flicked open at Brock's interruption, the immense, unreadable male didn't appear startled or even remotely disturbed. "I was sleeping," he said matter-of-factly. "I am rested now."
"Good," Brock drawled, shaking his head as he gave the naked warrior his back. "How about you put some damn clothes on? I just learned things about you that I really didn't need to know."
"My sleep is more effective without clothing to confine me" came the level reply.
Brock snorted. "Yeah, well, so is mine, but I doubt you'd appreciate looking at my bare ass–or anything else–any more than I want to see yours.
Jesus, cover that shit up, will you?"
Shaking his head, Brock unfastened his weapons belt and dropped it onto one of the two undisturbed beds. He thought back to Hunter's lack of response when initially asked about which of the bunks belonged to him and shot a glance over his shoulder at the Gen One, who was stepping into a pair of loose sweatpants.
The Breed male who'd been born and bred to be a killing machine for Dragos. An inpidual raised in utter solitude, deprived of contact or companionship, except for the supervision of the Minion handler who had been assigned to him.
Suddenly he understood why Hunter hadn't cared less which bed he claimed.
"You always sleep like that?" he asked, gesturing to the place where Hunter had been standing.
The uncanny Gen One gave a vague shrug. "Occasionally on the floor."
"Sure as hell can't be comfortable."
"Comfort serves no purpose. The need for it only implies and fortifies weakness."
Brock absorbed the flat statement, then swore under his breath. "What did Dragos and those other bastards do to you all those years you served them?"
Unblinking golden eyes met his scowl through the darkness. "They made me strong."
Brock nodded solemnly, thinking about the ruthless upbringing and discipline that was all Hunter knew. "Strong enough to take them down."
"Every last one of them," Hunter replied, zero inflection, yet the promise was as sharp as any blade.
"You want revenge for what they did to you?"
Hunter's head slowly pivoted in denial. "Justice," he said, "for what they've done to those unable to fight back."
Brock stood there for a long moment, understanding the cold determination that emanated from the other male. He shared that need for justice, and like Hunter–like any one of the warriors pledged in service to the Order–he would not rest until Dragos and everyone loyal to his insane mission was eliminated.
"You honor us well," he said, a phrase the Breed reserved for only the closest of kin or the solemnest of events. "The Order is fortunate to have you on our side."
Hunter seemed taken aback, though whether by the praise itself or the bond it implied, Brock couldn't be sure. A flicker of uncertainty shot through the golden gaze, and when Brock reached out to clap his hand against Hunter's shoulder, the Gen One drew away, dodging the contact as though it might burn him.
He didn't explain the flinching reaction, nor did Brock press him to, even though the question begged an answer. "All right, I'm outta here. I need to check in with Gideon about something."
Hunter stared at him. "You're worried about your female?"
"Should I be?" Brock meant to correct the reference about Jenna being his, but he was too busy dealing with the blood that had suddenly gone a bit cold in his veins. "Is she okay? Tell me what's going on. Did anything happen to her while I was out on patrol?"
"I am not aware of any physical issues with the human," Hunter said, maddening in his calm. "I was referring to her inquiry into TerraGlobal."
"TerraGlobal," Brock repeated, dread sitting in his gut. "That's one of Dragos's holdings."
"Jesus Christ," Brock murmured. "You're saying she contacted them somehow?"
Hunter gave a faint shake of his head. "She sent an email to someone she knows in Alaska–a federal agent, who ran a data search for her on TerraGlobal. An FBI unit in New York City responded to the inquiry. They are aware of TerraGlobal, and have agreed to meet with her to discuss their current investigation."
"Holy hell. Tell me you're joking."
There was no humor in the other male's face, not that Brock was surprised at that. "I understand the meeting is already set for later today in the FBI's New York offices. Lucan has arranged to have Renata accompany her."
The more he heard, the more Brock started feeling twitchy and needing to move. He walked back and forth, not even attempting to cover his concern. "Who will Jenna be meeting with in New York? Do we even know if this FBI investigation into TerraGlobal is legit? Good God, what the fuck was she thinking, getting involved in this shit in the first place? You know what–never mind. I'll go ask her that myself."
He was already pacing the room, so it only took a couple of hard strides to carry him out of the apartment and into the corridor outside. With his pulse jackhammering, adrenaline pouring into his veins, he was in no frame of mind to find himself face-to-face with his errant patrol partner.
Chase came stalking up the stretch of hallway at precisely that moment, looking like complete hell. His blue eyes were still shooting sparks of amber, pupils more slits than circles. He was breathing hard, each pull of air dragging through his teeth and fangs. Grime and dried blood caked his face in lurid streaks, still more of it caught in his short blond hair. His clothing was torn in places, stained with God knew what.
He looked and smelled like he'd been through a goddamn war zone.
"Where the fuck have you been?" Brock demanded. "I looked all over Boston for you after you ran off tonight."
Chase glared at him, baring his teeth in a feral sneer, but didn't offer any kind of explanation. He brushed past, letting his shoulder hit Brock and all but daring him to make an issue out of it. If Brock hadn't been so concerned about Jenna and the trouble she'd apparently stirred up, he would have taken the arrogant son of a bitch down.
"Asshole," Brock growled after him as the former Agent swaggered away in stony, secretive silence.
Jenna came up off the sofa in an anxious hop when a hard rap sounded on the door to her quarters. It was early in the morning, just a little after six A.M. according to the clock on the stereo system playing softly across the living room. Not that she'd slept in the handful of hours since she'd spoken with Lucan and Gideon.
And not that she would be able to sleep in the time remaining between now and the important meeting she would be having later that day with the FBI field agent in New York.
Special Agent Phillip Cho had been pleasant enough on the phone when she'd called to speak to him, and she should be grateful that he was available and open to meeting with her about his investigation into TerraGlobal. This was hardly the first time she'd had an audience with the federal end of law enforcement, so she wasn't sure where her jittery nerves were coming from. Of course, she'd never had so much riding on a simple information-gathering meeting before.
She wanted to get this one right, and couldn't help feeling the weight of the world–both hers and the Order's–sitting on her shoulders. She hadn't been a cop for so long, and now she had to put on a command performance in just a few short hours. So, maybe it was only reasonable that she'd feel a bit on edge about the whole thing.
The knock at the door came again, sharper now, more demanding.
"Just a second."
She clicked the mute button on the stereo remote, silencing an old Bessie Smith jazz CD that had been queued in the deck when she turned the unit on a while ago to help kill time. She crossed the room and opened the door.
Brock waited in the corridor outside, taking her completely by surprise. He must have just come in recently from his patrol of the city.
Dressed head to toe in black combat gear, his fitted crewneck T-shirt clung to his broad chest and shoulders, short sleeves straining around the thick width of his biceps.
She couldn't keep her gaze from wandering the length of him, down past his tight abs, accentuated by the crisp tuck of his shirt into the belted waistband of his black fatigues, which were loose fitting, yet not so much that they masked the trim cut of his hips or the powerful bulk of his thighs. It was far too effortless to recall how well she knew that body. Far too troubling to realize just how much she craved him, even after she'd promised herself she wouldn't travel down that road with him again.
It wasn't until she dragged her gaze back up to his handsome but tense face that she realized he was upset. As in pissed off something fierce.
She frowned up into his stormy gaze. "What's going on?"
"Why don't you tell me." He took a step forward, his big body like a moving wall, forcing her to back into the room ahead of him. "I just heard about your inquiry into TerraGlobal with the goddamned FBI. What the hell were you thinking, Jenna?"
"I was thinking that maybe the Order could use my help," she replied, her own anger spiking at his confrontational tone. "I thought I would tap some of my law enforcement connections to shed some light onto TerraGlobal, since the rest of you had hit a dead end."
"Dragos is TerraGlobal," he hissed, still advancing on her, towering over her. His dark brown eyes crackled with tiny flecks of amber light. "Do you have any damn idea how risky it was for you to do that?"
"I didn't risk anything," she said, getting defensive now. Her hackles were rising with every one of his strides that physically edged her farther into the room. She stopped retreating and dug in her heels. "I was totally discreet, and the person I asked to help me is a trusted friend. Do you honestly think I would knowingly put the Order or its missions in jeopardy?"
"The Order?" He scoffed. "I'm talking about you, Jenna. This isn't your battle. You need to steer clear, before you get hurt."
"Excuse me, but I think I can handle myself. I am a cop, remember?"
"Used to be," he sternly reminded her, pinning her with a hard look.
"And you never went up against anything like Dragos in your line of duty."
"I'm not going up against him now, either," she argued. "All we're talking about is a harmless office meeting with a government field agent.
I've been involved in these kinds of territorial pissing contests a hundred times. The Feds are worried that a local yokel Statie might know more than they do about one of their cases. They want to know what I know, and vice versa. It's not a big deal."
Shouldn't be a big deal, she thought to herself. But those jangly nerves were still clamoring and Brock didn't exactly look convinced, either.
"It could be bigger than you expect, Jenna. We can't be sure of anything when it comes to Dragos and his interests. I don't think you should go." His face was very serious. "I'm going to talk to Lucan. I think it's too dangerous for him to let you do this."
"I don't remember asking what you thought," she said, trying not to let his grim expression and sober tone of voice sway her. He was worried–
deeply worried, about her–and part of her responded to that worry with an awareness she wanted to ignore. "I don't remember putting you in charge of what I do or don't do, either. I make my own decisions. You and the Order may think you can keep me on some kind of a leash–or under a damned microscope so long as it suits you–but don't confuse compliance with control. I'm the only one in control of me."
When she couldn't hold his thunderous gaze any longer, she turned away from him and went back over to the sofa, busying herself with picking up the collection of books she'd been thumbing through in her restlessness of the past few hours.
"Christ, you are hardheaded, aren't you, lady?" He blew out a low curse. "That's your biggest problem."
"What the hell does that mean?" She threw a scowl in his direction, surprised to find he had moved up right behind her. Close enough to touch her. Close enough that she felt the heat of him in every awakened nerve ending in her body. She steeled herself against the masculine power that radiated off his big form, hating the fact that she could still be wildly attracted to him even when her blood was simmering in anger.
His stare penetrated, seeming to bore right through her. "It's all about control with you, Jenna. You just can't stand to give it up, can you?"
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"No? I'll bet you were like this from the time you were a little girl."
She turned away from him while he was talking, determined not to let him goad her. She grabbed an armful of books and carried them over to the built-in shelves. "I'll bet you've been like this your whole life, haven't you?
Everything's got to be on your terms, isn't that right? Never let anyone take the reins, no matter what. You don't budge an inch unless you've got your sweet, stubborn ass planted firmly in the driver's seat."
As much as she wanted to deny it, he was hitting very close to home.
She flashed back through the years of her childhood, all the playground fights and daredevil stunts she'd gotten dragged into just to prove that she wasn't afraid. Her time in the police force had been more of the same, though on a grander scale, upgrading from fists to bullets, but still struggling to show she was as good as any man–better, even.
Marriage and motherhood had presented another set of obstacles to master, and that was the one area in which she'd failed miserably. Paused in front of the bookcase, Brock's verbal challenge hanging behind her, she closed her eyes and remembered the argument she and Mitch had the night of the accident. He'd accused her of being stubborn, too. He'd been right, but she hadn't realized that until she'd woken up in the hospital weeks later without her family.
But this was different. Brock wasn't her husband. Just because they'd had a few moments of pleasure together–and despite the attraction that still crackled between them whenever they got near each other–that didn't give him a license to impose himself on her decisions.
"You want to know what I think?" she asked, her movements clipped with irritation as she filed each book back in its rightful place on the shelves.
"I think you're the one with the problem. You wouldn't know what to do with a woman who doesn't need you looking after her. A real woman, who can survive just fine on her own and not let you hold yourself responsible if she gets hurt. You'd rather blame yourself for not living up to some imaginary bar you've set–some unattainable measure of honor and worth. If you want to talk about problems, try taking a good look at yourself."
He had gone so quiet and still, Jenna thought he might have walked out of the room. But when she turned around to see if he had left, she found him standing near the sofa, holding the old photograph that she'd first discovered tucked into the pages of one of his books. He was staring at the image of the pretty young woman with the ebony hair and large almond eyes. His jaw was held tight, a tendon ticking hard in his smooth, dark cheek.
"Yeah, maybe you're right about me, Jenna," he said finally, letting the photo drift out of his grasp to the sofa cushion. When he looked over at her, his face was schooled and sober, the consummate warrior. "None of this changes the fact that I am responsible for you. Lucan made it my duty to keep you protected while you're in the Order's custody–"
"Custody?" she balked, but he spoke right over her.
"–and that means whether you like it or not, whether you approve or not, I do have a say in what you do, or who you come in contact with."
She scoffed, outraged. "Like hell you do."
He stalked over to her, barely three long strides before he was standing right up against her, the nearness of him sucking all the air from the room. Glittering heat lit his eyes from deep within. His fierce stare likely should have cowered her, but she was too hot with indignation–and too very much aware of the way her senses reached out to him in longing, despite the anger that made her chin jut upward. When she glared at him, casting inside herself for the tough-as-nails attitude that might have given her the strength to shove him away with harsh words or prickly defiance, she found it had deserted her.
All she could do was hold the breath that had suddenly gone shallow in her lungs. He ran his fingertips along the side of her cheek, such a skating, tender touch. His thumb lingered on her lips, stroking in a lazy pattern as his eyes drank her in for what seemed like forever.
Then he gathered her face in his palms and drew her toward him for a sizzling, and all-too-brief, kiss.
When he released her, she saw the sparks that glimmered in his eyes had now grown to bright, smoldering embers. His chest was firm and warm against hers, his arousal pressing bold and unmistakable against her hip. She staggered backward on her heels, a blaze of desire racing in her veins.
"You can fight me all you want on this, Jenna, I don't fucking care."
Although his words were all business, his low voice vibrated through her like the coming of a storm. "You are mine to protect and keep safe, so make no mistake: If you leave the compound, you leave with me."