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Taken by Midnight (Chapter Six)

How we doing?" Renata asked Brock from behind the wheel of the black Rover as the vehicle sped out of South Boston on a course for the Order's compound. Her green eyes flicked to the rearview mirror, slender dark brows knit in a frown. "Our ETA's about fifteen minutes out.

Everything okay back there?"

"Yeah," Brock replied, glancing down to where Jenna lay, resting quietly across his lap in the backseat. He had sliced off one of the seatbelts and tied it around her thigh as a tourniquet, hoping it would help stanch the blood loss. "She's hanging in."

Her eyes were closed, her lips slightly parted and tinged with blue from the cold she'd been subjected to inside the meat chiller. Her body still trembled under the cover of his leather duster, though he guessed her shuddering was more in reaction to shock than any amount of discomfort.

His Breed talent was making sure of that. With one palm cupped around her nape, the other stroking her temple, he drew Jenna's pain into himself.

Renata cleared her throat pointedly as she watched him in the mirror.

"What about you, big guy? Hell of a lot of blood back there. You sure you wouldn't rather drive and I'll look after her until we get to the compound?

Say the word and I'll pull over. Won't take but a minute."

"Keep driving. Situation's under control back here," Brock said, although he wondered if Niko's shrewd Breedmate would buy it, given that his growled reply was spoken through gritted teeth and fully extended fangs.

It had been hard to contain his reaction to Jenna bleeding when he first found her inside the building. Now that he was trapped in close confines with her, feeling the heat of her spilling blood through the leather of his duster, smelling its coppery fragrance, and hearing the low thud of each heartbeat that pushed still more blood from her wound, Brock was living a private hell in the back of the SUV.

He was Breed, and there was none among his kind who could resist the pull of fresh human blood. It didn't help him any that the last time he'd fed had been … hell, he wasn't even sure. Probably pushing a week, which would have been bad even in the best of circumstances. And these were hardly the best of circumstances.

Brock focused all his effort on pulling Jenna's pain. Easier to keep his mind off his hunger that way. It also helped keep him from noticing how soft her skin was, and how the curves of her body fit so nicely against him.

The absorbed pain of her injury–and the slighter irritation of his own–was the only thing that kept his body from having yet another sort of reaction to her, as well. Even then, he couldn't totally ignore the uncomfortable tightness of his fatigues, or the way the light flutter of her pulse against his fingertips where they rested against her nape made him yearn to put his mouth against her instead.

To taste her, in all the ways a man could crave a woman.

It took a great deal of effort to shake the thought from his mind. Jenna was a mission, that's all. And she was human, with the fragility and short shelf life to go along with it. Although if he was being honest with himself, he'd be the first to admit that he had long preferred mortal females over their sisters who were born Breedmates.

When it came to romantic entanglements, he tried to keep things casual. Nothing too permanent. Nothing that might last long enough for him to let down a woman who had grown to trust him.

Yeah, he'd already been there, done that. And he damn well had the guilt and self-loathing to prove it. No desire to go down that particular stretch of road ever again.

Before his memories could drag him toward the shadows of his past failings, Brock glanced up and saw the gated entrance of the Order's compound looming ahead. Renata announced their arrival to Gideon on her hands-free headset, and as the Rover rolled to a stop at the tall iron gate, it unlocked and swung open to welcome them inside.

"Gideon says the infirmary is prepped and waiting for us," she said as she drove to the fleet garage in back.

Brock grunted in response, hardly able to speak now for the crowding presence of his fangs. The whole back section of the Rover was bathed in amber, the glow of his transformed eyes throwing off light like a bonfire even from behind the dark lenses of his shades.

Renata parked the vehicle inside the large hangar, then jogged around to help him get Jenna out of the backseat and into the elevator that would take them down from street level to the compound headquarters belowground. Jenna roused as the doors closed and the hiss of the hydraulics went into action.

"Put me down," she mumbled, struggling a bit in Brock's arms as though she was annoyed with the assistance. "I'm not in pain. I can stand up by myself. I can walk–"

"No, you can't," he said, cutting her off, his words terse and rasping.

"Your body is in shock. Your leg needs tending. You won't be walking anywhere."

Through the daze of her lingering shock, Jenna glowered at him, but kept her arms linked around his neck as the elevator came to a stop at the compound below. Brock stepped out, walking briskly. Renata followed, the lug-soles of her combat boots thudding in counterpoint to the soft, wet patter of blood that dripped to the floor from Jenna's wound.

As they rounded a curve in the corridor that would take them to the infirmary, Lucan met them in the passageway. He stopped dead in his tracks, feet braced apart, hands fisting at his sides. Brock could just make out the subtle flaring of the Gen One's nostrils as the scent of fresh blood traveled the corridor.

Lucan's eyes zeroed in on the bleeding human, their gray color flashing with sparks of light, pupils narrowing swiftly to catlike slivers.

"Holy hell."

"Yeah," Brock drawled. "Gunshot wound to the right thigh, .45-caliber round with no sign of exit. We tied it off, but she's lost a damned lot of blood between here and the place in Southie where I found her."

"No shit," Lucan said, his fangs clearly visible now, twin points gleaming as he spoke. He grated out a harsh curse. "Go on, then. They're waiting for her in the infirmary."

Brock gave the Order's leader a grim nod as he continued past him. In the infirmary, Gideon and Tess had prepared an operating table for Jenna.

Gideon's face went a bit pale at the sight of her, and when he clamped his jaws together, a muscle jerked in his lean cheek.

"Set her down right here," Tess said from beside the surgery table, jumping in when Gideon, the otherwise calm and collected Breed male who'd stitched up his fair share of combat wounds for the other warriors, seemed at a loss now that the patient in question was human and leaking red cells like a faucet.

"Fuck me," Gideon said after a long moment, his British accent coming on stronger than normal. "That's a lot of blood. Tess, can you–"

"Yes," she put in quickly. "I can handle it on my own."

"Okay," he said, visibly affected. "I'll, ah … I think I'm gonna wait outside."

As Gideon made his exit, Brock placed Jenna on the stainless steel table. When he didn't move away, Tess glanced up at him in question.

"You're injured, too?"

He shrugged his good shoulder. "It's nothing."

She pursed her lips, not entirely convinced. "Maybe Gideon ought to make sure of that."

"It is nothing," Brock repeated, impatient. He took off his shades and hooked them into the collar of his black shirt. "What about Jenna? How bad is she?"

Tess glanced down at her and gave a faint wince. "Let me have a look.

It's a shame my talent is suppressed because of the baby, or I could heal her in a few seconds, instead of the hour or more it's likely going to take to get the worst of the bleeding under control."

Tess had been a skilled and caring veterinarian before she moved in to the Order's compound and became Dante's mate. She'd since taken on a vital role as Gideon's right hand in the infirmary, tending to much larger–and, no doubt, more disagreeable–clientele than she'd dealt with in her former clinic in the city.

As a Breedmate, she also possessed an extraordinary talent–one that was unique to her and which would be passed down to the son she would bear, as Brock's mother had passed her own down to him. Tess had a healing touch, as well, only her ability went even further than his. Where Brock's talent gave him the power to absorb human pain, the effect was only temporary. Tess could actually restore health, even restore life, in any living creature.

Or, rather, she had been able to, before pregnancy had stifled her power.

But she was still a damned good physician, and Jenna could not be in more capable hands. Still, Brock found it difficult to step back from the operating table, in spite of the bloodthirst that was twisting his gut and wringing him out from the inside.

He stood there, stock-still, as Tess scrubbed her hands, removed the makeshift tourniquet, then did a cursory visual examination of the wound.

She asked Renata to stay nearby and assist her, then spoke reassuringly to Jenna, explaining what she had to do to extract the bullet and tend the wound.

"The good news is, there's no bone damage and, from what I can tell, it will be a fairly simple procedure to remove the bullet and repair the artery it nicked." She paused. "The bad news is, we're not really equipped down here for this type of injury–meaning a human injury. In fact, you're the first non-Breed patient that's ever been in the compound's infirmary."

Jenna's gaze slid to Brock as if to confirm what she was hearing.

"Lucky me, stuck in a vampire hospital."

Tess smiled sympathetically. "We'll take care of you, I promise.

Unfortunately, we don't have a need for things like anesthesia. The warriors don't require it when they come in with injuries, and those of us who are mated have the blood bond to aid with healing. But I can give you a local–"

"Let me help," Brock interrupted, already moving around the table to stand at Jenna's side. He held Tess's questioning look. "I don't care about the blood. I'll deal. Let me help her."

"All right," Tess replied softly. "Let's get started."

Brock stared unblinking as Tess picked up a pair of scissors from the instrument tray and proceeded to cut away Jenna's ruined clothing. Inch by inch, from the ankle of her right leg to her hip, the blood-soaked denim fell aside. In scant minutes, all that covered Jenna's lower body was a skimpy pair of white cotton bikini panties.

Brock swallowed, his throat working audibly at the combined one-two punch of seeing so much soft feminine skin while his senses were drenched with the coppery siren's call of Jenna's blood.

He must have growled his hunger out loud, because in that same instant, Jenna's eyelids lifted, startled. No doubt he was a scary sight, looming over the operating table, his gaze rooted on her, every muscle and tendon in his body strung as tight as piano wire. But fearful or not, Jenna didn't look away. She stared him down, unblinking, and he saw in her courageous hazel eyes a bit of the frontier cop he'd heard she used to be.

"Renata," Tess said. "Will you help me move Jenna just a bit so we can get rid of these clothes?"

The two Breedmates worked in tandem, removing the bloodied jeans and his ruined duster while Brock could only stand there, immobilized by thirst and something else that ran even deeper.

"Okay," Tess prompted, catching his heated gaze with a knowing look. She had scrubbed and dried her hands and was pulling on a pair of surgical gloves from a box on the rollaway tray. "I'll begin whenever you're ready, Brock."

He reached out to Jenna and laid the palm of his hand against the side of her neck. She flinched at first, that uncertain gaze flicking up to meet his as if she might jerk away from his touch.

"Close your eyes," he told her, an effort just to keep the hungered rasp from his voice. "It will be over in just a few minutes."

Her chest rose and fell in rapid movement, her eyes locked on his, not quite trusting.

And why should she? He was born of the same stock as the creature that had terrorized her in Alaska. The way he looked right now, Brock figured it was a small wonder she didn't leap up from the table and try to fend him off with one of Tess's neatly arranged scalpels.

But as he gazed down at her, Jenna blew out a soft breath. Her eyes drifted closed. He felt the strong pound of her pulse beneath his thumb …

then the first piercing jolt of pain as Tess began cleaning and tending Jenna's wound.

Brock concentrated all his focus on keeping her comfortable, wrapping his talent around the acid burn of antiseptics and sharp, probing surgical instruments. He swallowed Jenna's pain, idly aware of Tess's efficient work as she retrieved the bullet from deep within the muscle of Jenna's thigh.

"Got it," Tess murmured. The chunk of lead clattered into the basin of a stainless steel bowl. "That was the worst part. The rest of the procedure will be a piece of cake."

Brock grunted. He could bear the pain easily enough. Hell, a gunshot wound and patch-up was standard issue just about every night for one or more of the warriors coming off patrol. But Jenna hadn't signed on for this shit, ex-cop or not. She hadn't asked to be part of the Order's battles, though why that should matter to him, he didn't know.

He was feeling a lot of things he had no goddamned right to feel.

Hunger still stirred in him like a tempest, rising up from two powerful, equally demanding sources. Giving in to either one would be a mistake, especially now. Especially because the object of his twin desires was a woman the Order needed to keep safe. To keep on their side, at least until they could determine what she might mean to their war with Dragos.

And yet he wanted her.

He felt protective of her, even though he knew he was unsuitable for the job, and even though she seemed to balk at the idea of needing help from anyone. Lucan had made her his responsibility, but Brock could hardly deny that she'd become his personal mission even earlier than that. From the moment he first laid eyes on her in Alaska, after the Ancient had tormented her for days in her own home, he'd been emotionally invested in keeping her safe.

Not good, he chided himself. Bad fucking idea, letting himself get personally involved where his business was concerned.

Hadn't he learned that lesson the hard way back in Detroit?

Getting personally invested in any mission was the fast lane to failure.

Minutes must have passed as he contemplated the years that stood between that dark chapter of his life and the place he stood now. He was dimly aware of Tess operating in attentive silence, Renata standing by with the needed instruments and supplies as they were requested. It wasn't until the final suture was in place and Tess had walked to the sink to scrub up that Brock realized he was still touching Jenna, still caressing the line of her carotid with the pad of his thumb.

He cleared his throat and pulled his hand away. When he spoke, his voice was a raw scrape of sound. "Are we finished here yet, Doc?"

Tess paused at the sink, turning to look over her shoulder at him.

"What about your injury?"

"I'm good," he said. He had no intention of sticking around any longer than necessary, and besides, his Breed genetics would heal him in no time.

Tess gave him a faint shrug. "Then, we're finished."

On the table beside him, Jenna's gaze found his and held, steady and strong. Her lips, still pale and bluish from shock and cold, parted on an expelled little puff of air. Her throat worked as she swallowed and tried again. "Brock … thank–"

"I'm out of here," he snarled, knowingly harsh. He took a step back from the table, then, with a self-directed curse, he pivoted on his heel and stalked out of the infirmary.

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