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Taken by Midnight (Chapter Four)

The road hummed beneath Jenna's jeans-clad backside and the soles of her snow-sodden shoes, the smell of smoked meat and male sweat wafting at her from all directions inside the unlit confines of the delivery van. She sat on the floor among stacked crates and cardboard cartons, jostling with every bump. Her stomach roiled, though whether from the adrenaline that was pouring through her or the cloying mix of processed meat and body odor that hammered her nostrils, she couldn't be sure.

How she'd managed to get off the compound's property was a blur.

Her head was still swimming with the disturbing revelations of the past few hours, and her senses had been on overdrive from the moment she made the decision to attempt escape. Even now, sights and sounds and motion–every bit of sensory input–seemed to be flying at her in a chaotic blur.

Up in front of the van, the driver and his passenger chattered animatedly in a thick, Slavic-sounding foreign language. They had known enough English to agree to take her into the city when she'd flagged them down on the street outside the estate grounds, and at the moment that had been good enough for her. Except now that they had gone a few miles, she couldn't help but notice they had stopped smiling at her and trying to talk to her in broken English.

Now the driver cast furtive glances at her in the rearview mirror, and she didn't like the sound of the low-voiced, chuckling exchanges the two men shared as she bounced around in back of the darkened van.

"How far to downtown?" she asked, holding on to a crate of hard salami as the van took a left through a caution light. Her stomach pitched with the motion, her ears ringing, head pounding. She squinted through the windshield at the front of the vehicle as it headed toward the late-afternoon glow of the city in the distance. "The bus station, yes? That's where you said you'd take me. How far is it?"

For a second, she wondered if either of them could hear her over the loud rumble of the van's engine as the driver gave it more gas. The sound seemed deafening to her. But then the passenger pivoted around and said something to her in his own language.

Something that seemed to amuse his lead-footed friend behind the wheel.

A knot of dread formed in Jenna's gut. "You know what? I've changed my mind. No bus station. Take me to the police. Po-lice," she said, dragging out the word so there could be no misunderstanding. She gestured to herself as the driver flicked a scowling glance at her in the mirror. "I'm a cop. I am police."

She spoke with the no-bullshit edge that came to her like second nature, even all these years since she'd been in uniform. But if the pair of jokers up front picked up on her tone or what she was telling them, they didn't seem moved to believe her.

"Police?" The driver chuckled as he looked over at his companion.

" Nassi, nuk duken si ajo e policise per ju? "

"No," the one apparently named Nassi replied, shaking his head, thin lips pulling back from crooked teeth. His thick-browed gaze traveled in a slow crawl over Jenna's body. " Per mua, ajo duket si nje cope e shijshme e gomarit. "

She looks like a tasty piece of ass to me.

Jenna thought the dark leer that Nassi sent her must have been enough to tell her what he'd said, but the words seemed so clear to her. Impossibly clear. She stared at the two men as they began a private conversation in their native tongue. She watched their lips, studied the sounds that should have been entirely foreign to her–words that she couldn't possibly understand yet, somehow, did.

"I don't know about you, Gresa, my friend, but I could do with a bit of prime American tail," Nassi added, so confident that his foreign speech would slip right past her, he had the balls to look Jenna square in the eye as he spoke. "Take this bitch back to the office and let's you and me have a little fun with her."

"Sounds good to me." Gresa laughed and dropped his foot down on the gas pedal, sending the delivery van speeding under a highway overpass and into the throng of busy traffic.

Oh, God.

Jenna's feeling of dread from a few minutes ago went as cold as ice in her belly now.

The sudden jolt of acceleration threw her back on her ass. She scrambled to hold on to the crates around her, knowing her chances of escaping the fast-moving vehicle were nil. If the fall out of the van didn't kill her, the roaring cars and trucks flying by on both lanes beside them certainly would.

Making everything worse, her head was beginning to spin with the barrage of lights and noise from outside the van. Automobile exhaust fumes, coupled with the stench inside the vehicle, formed a nauseating olfactory stew that had her stomach turning on itself, threatening to rise up on her. All of her surroundings seemed amplified and too intense, as though the world had somehow gotten more vivid, more choked with detail.

Was she losing her mind?

After all that she'd been through recently, after all she'd seen and heard, she shouldn't be surprised if she was cracking up.

And as she sat back, miserable against the crates and cartons, listening to the two men discuss their ideas for her in eager, violent detail, she got the feeling that her sanity wasn't the only thing at risk right now. Nassi and his friend Gresa had some rather nasty plans for her back at their office. Plans that included knives and chains and soundproof walls so no one would hear her screams, if Jenna could trust her sudden newfound fluency in their language.

They were arguing over which of them would get to enjoy her first, as they wheeled the van off the main road and into a ratty section of the city.

The pavement narrowed, streetlights growing more sparse the deeper they traveled into what looked to be an industrial area. Warehouses and long, red-brick buildings crowded the street and alleyways.

The delivery van bounced over large potholes and uneven asphalt, the tires crunching in the iced-over brown slush that bunched on both sides of the pavement.

"Home sweet home," Nassi said, in English this time, grinning at her from around his passenger seat. "Ride is over. Time to collect our fare."

The two men laughed as the driver put the van in park and cut the engine. Nassi came out of his seat and started to head back inside the van.

Jenna knew she would have only a few seconds to act–precious seconds to disable one or both of the men and bolt.

She inched into a stable position, preparing for the moment she knew was coming.

Nassi smiled broadly as he walked farther into the vehicle. "What do you have to offer us, hmm? Let me see."

"No," Jenna said, shaking her head and feigning the helpless female.

"No, please."

He chuckled wolfishly. "I like a woman who will beg. A woman who knows her place."

"Please, don't," Jenna said as he stepped ever closer. The stink of him nearly made her retch, but she kept her eyes fixed on him. When he got within arm's length of her, she thrust out her left hand, palm forward, as though to physically hold him off.

She knew he would grab her.

She counted on it, and could barely contain the answering jolt of triumph that surged through her veins as he snatched her by the wrist and hauled her up off the floor of the van.

She put her weight into the movement, using his own brute force to launch herself at him. With the heel of her free hand, she smashed him hard under the nose, driving soft cartilage up into his septum with a bone-crunching pop.

"Aaghh!" Nassi howled in agony. " Putane! Bitch, you will pay for that!"

Blood gushed from his face and onto her as he thrust his hands out and roared toward her. Jenna feinted left, dodging his grasp. Up in front of the van, she heard the other man scrambling around, moving out of the driver's seat to fumble with the console between the seats.

She didn't have time to worry about him right now. Nassi was furious, and in order to get out of the van, she'd have to get through him first.

Jenna locked her hands together and brought her elbows down on her attacker's spine. He shouted in pain, coughing as he made another sloppy grab for her. She eluded him again, dancing out of his reach as though he were standing still.

" Puthje topa tuaj lamtumire, ju copille skemtuar! " she whispered to him tightly, a threat she made good on when she then brought her knee up between his legs and nailed him with a sharp blow to the groin.

Nassi went down like a ton of bricks.

Jenna spun on a scream of her own, ready to do battle with his friend Gresa now.

She didn't see the gun in the other man's hand until the flare of the shot burned as bright as lightning. The sudden crack of the bullet as it exploded toward her was deafening. She blinked, dazed and oddly detached, as the searing fire of its impact slammed into her.

"Have we got anything?"

Lucan strode into the tech lab where Brock, Kade, Alex, Renata, and Nikolai were all gathered around Gideon's workstation.

Brock had his hands braced on the desk, staring over Gideon's shoulder at the monitor. He gave Lucan a grim shake of his head. "Nothing solid yet. Still searching DMV records for possible matches."

Jenna had been gone more than an hour. Their best lead on where she might have fled was a couple seconds of surveillance footage captured by a mounted security camera on the south perimeter of the estate.

At roughly the same time that Renata saw Jenna leap the fence and disappear off the grounds, an unmarked white delivery van drove by on the street adjacent to the property. Gideon had only been able to get a partial reading on the van's Massachusetts commercial plates before it rounded a corner and disappeared out of range. In the time since, he'd hacked into the Boston DMV and had been running plate number combinations, trying to narrow down whom the van was registered to and where it might be found.

Brock was sure that if they located that van, Jenna couldn't be far behind.

"Whether we've got solid leads or not, as soon as the sun sets in the next hour and a half, we're gonna need patrols scouring the city," Lucan said. "We cannot afford to lose this woman before we understand what she might mean to our operations."

"And I can't afford to let anything happen to my dearest friend," Alex said, pointing out the emotional wrinkle in the whole situation with Jenna.

"She's upset and hurting. What if something bad happens to her out there?

She's a good person. She doesn't deserve any of this."

"We'll find her," Brock said firmly. "I promise you, we will."

Kade met his gaze and gave a solemn nod. After the stunning circumstances of Jenna's escape from the compound, finding the human woman with the bit of alien material inside her body was a mission none of the warriors would shirk. Jenna Darrow had to be retrieved, no matter what it took.

"Hang on, hang on," Gideon murmured. "This could prove interesting.

I just got a couple of new hits on the latest sequence. One of them is registered to an auto garage in Quincy."

"The other one?" Brock asked, leaning in to get a closer look.

"Meat-packing plant in Southie," Gideon said. "Outfit called Butcher's Best. Says they specialize in personal cuts and catering."

"No shit," Renata said, her chin-length dark hair swinging as she pivoted her head to look at the others gathered in the lab. "The banking exec who lives a couple of miles up the road is hosting his Christmas house party next weekend. Makes sense that a catering van might be up this way."

"Yeah, it does," Lucan agreed. "Gideon, let's get an address for this place."

"Coming right up." He hit a few keys and both the street listing and a satellite map appeared on-screen. "There it is, down in the underbelly of Southie."

Brock's eyes fixed on the location, burning as hot as laser beams. He pivoted around and stalked out of the tech lab, determination in every hard clip of his boot heels on the marble floor.

Behind him, Kade dashed out of the lab into the corridor. "What the fuck, man? The sun won't be setting for a good while. Where are you going?"

Brock kept walking. "I'm gonna bring her back."

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