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Taken by Midnight (Chapter Thirty)

That's about the tenth time you've checked that thing since we came down here." Brock smirked at Dante as the warrior–the anxious, expectant father–broke away from the group in the weapons room to look at his PDA.

"Damn, my man, you're about as jumpy as a cat."

"Tess is napping in our quarters," Dante replied. "If she needs anything, I told her to text me."

Apparently finding no messages since his last look about five minutes ago, he set the device back down on the table and returned to the firing range where Brock, Kade, Rio, and Niko waited to resume their target practice.

As Dante swaggered back to his place among his brethren, Niko peered at him with mock intensity, getting up close and staring at his face before finally giving an exaggerated shrug. "I'll be damned. Nothing there, after all."

"What?" Dante asked, his black brows crunched into a scowl. "What the hell are you doing?"

Niko grinned, baring his twin dimples. "Just looking for a nose ring or something. Figured Tess might have had one installed on you to go along with that short leash she's got you attached to."

"Piss off," Dante said around a deep chuckle. He pointed a finger in Niko's direction. "I'm gonna remind you of this when Renata's the one who's eight and a half months pregnant and it's your turn to worry."

"No need to wait on that," Kade put in. "Renata's already got him trained to jump on command. Probably got him on a leash of her own, too."

"Yeah?" Niko reached for his belt and made a show of starting to unbuckle it. "Give me a second and I'll show you."

Brock shook his head at his brethren, not quite feeling part of the jokes and lighthearted smack-talk about Breedmates and babies soon to be on the way. He couldn't help thinking about Jenna, and about how he might find a way to make a future for them together.

She wasn't a Breedmate, and that troubled him. Not because of the fact they would never have offspring together. Not even because of the absence of a blood bond, which would connect them to each other inexorably for as long as both of them lived.

He didn't need a blood link to strengthen what he felt for her. She was his mate already, in all the ways that mattered. He loved her, and although he wasn't sure what their future would look like, he couldn't begin to imagine living it without her.

He looked to the other warriors in the weapons room with him, and knew that he would die for Jenna if it came down to that–the same as any other blood-bonded Breed male.

As his gaze traveled past Kade and Niko and Dante, he realized that Rio had gone quiet in the past few minutes. The scarred, Spanish-born warrior leaned against the nearby wall, staring at nothing in particular as he idly rubbed his fist in a small circle at the center of his chest.

"You all right, Rio?"

He glanced over at Brock and gave him a vague shrug. His fist kept circling, directly over his heart. "What time is it?"

Brock checked the clock at the other end of the facility. "Almost three-thirty."

"The women ought to be calling in any minute now," Kade said. His gaze seemed preoccupied, as well, his silver eyes glinting with a note of unease.

Niko set down his weapon and grabbed his cell phone. "I'm going to call Renata. Something doesn't feel right to me all of a sudden."

"Yeah," Kade agreed. "You don't think anything is wrong, do you?"

Although Brock wasn't liking the suddenly serious vibe that was coming over his brethren, he assured himself that everything was fine. The day trip Jenna and the other females were on was just a quick drive to the Cape. A visit to a seventy-year-old nun, for crissake.

Jenna had a weapon on her, and so did Renata, and both of them knew how to handle themselves. There was no reason at all to be concerned.

Dante walked over, frowning darkly, while Niko waited in prolonged silence for his mate to pick up his call. "Any answer?"

"No," Niko replied quietly.

" Madre de Dios, " Rio blurted as he pushed away from the wall.

"Something has Dylan frightened. I can feel her fear in my veins."

Brock registered the alarm traveling through each of his brethren now.

"The both of you, too?" he asked, shooting a grim look at Kade and Niko.

"My pulse just kicked into overdrive," Kade said. "Ah, shit.

Something bad is going down with Alex and the others."

"It won't be dark for another hour, minimum," Dante reminded them, sober with the warning.

"We don't have that long," Niko said. "We've got to go after them now."

With Dante looking on, Brock fell in alongside his three fellow warriors, feeling lost and adrift, dependent on their instincts to help guide him toward whatever threat was now facing Jenna and the other males'

Breedmates.

Holy hell. Jenna was in danger and he'd had no clue.

She could be dying that very moment, and he wouldn't know until he was standing over her body.

The realization was as cold as death itself, reaching into his chest and seizing his heart in an icy fist.

"Let's go," he barked to his brethren.

Together the four of them raced out of the weapons room, gathering their guns and gear as they went.

At the same instant, Jenna and Renata both had their pistols drawn and leveled on the smiling nun–the Minion, whose dead eyes looked through them as though they weren't there.

As though they were nothing, meant nothing.

Which to this woman, Jenna knew without question, they weren't, and didn't.

Behind Sister Grace, two bulky men now stood. They'd been lurking in the shadows of the hallway at her back, summoned forward even before Jenna and Renata had raised their guns to shoot. The men's eyes held the same cold stare as the nun's. Each of them held a large pistol–one aimed at Renata, the other leveled on Jenna.

The standoff played out in wary silence for a long moment, time that she used to calculate possible ways of disabling one or both of the men without putting either Alex or Dylan in harm's way in the process. But damn, it didn't seem viable. Even if she hoped to use the implant-enhanced speed her reflexes seemed to have now, the risk to her friends was too great to chance it.

And then, more bad news.

From somewhere to her left, another male Minion stepped up and rested the cold nose of a revolver against her head.

The nun smiled her false smile. "I'm going to have to ask you girls to put down your weapons now."

Renata didn't budge. Neither did Jenna, despite the metallic click of turning gears as the Minion at her side chambered a round.

"How long have you been working for Dragos?" Renata asked the female mind slave. "He's your Master, am I right?"

Sister Grace blinked, unfazed. "One more time, dear. Put down your weapon. The rug you're standing on has been in my family for more than two hundred years. It would be a pity to ruin it by having Arthur or Patrick here blast a fucking hole in your chest."

Jenna's own chest constricted with fear at the thought of any of her friends being hurt by these Minion assholes. She waited in tense, terrified silence, watching as Renata's lean arm muscles lost some of their tautness.

Jenna thought she was about to comply, but the subtle, sidelong glance Renata gave her seemed to indicate otherwise.

Jenna acknowledged that look with a barely discernible shift of her own gaze. There would be only one chance to make her move. A split second to either make it work or lose everything in an instant.

Renata exhaled a resigned-sounding sigh.

She started to lower her gun …

As she did so, Jenna seized on every bit of speed she could summon from the tendons and sinews of her human limbs. She pivoted with blinding swiftness and snapped the wrist of the Minion holding her at gunpoint. He screamed in pain, throwing the whole room into a state of chaos.

In what seemed like slow motion to Jenna but probably played out in fractions of seconds, she leveled her pistol on the fallen Minion and put two bullets in his head. Renata meanwhile had shot one of the others behind the nun. As the second Minion spurted a bloody fountain from his chest and dropped to the floor, Sister Grace turned to dash for the hallway.

Jenna was on her before she could take even two steps.

She leapt over the Minion, heading her off in an instant. She thrust her hands out at the woman and shoved her backward, sending the gray-haired monster airborne. She crashed down onto the parlor floor as Renata plugged the last of the male Minions and left the body twitching and bleeding on Sister Grace's heirloom rug.

Jenna stalked over to the scrabbling Minion nun and hauled her up onto the delicate silk-covered settee near the window. "Start talking, bitch.

How long have you been serving Dragos? Did you already belong to him when you were working in his shelter?"

The Minion grinned through bloodstained teeth and shook her head.

"You won't get anything out of me. You don't scare me. Death doesn't scare me."

As she spoke, a pair of heavy footsteps thundered up from somewhere below the house. Two more Minions, racing up from the cellar. The door off the hallway crashed open as they stormed out. Renata swung around and nailed each one dead center in the head, stopping them in their tracks.

Dylan let out a little whoop of triumph as the house went silent once again.

And then … the faintest sounds of voices coming from the cellar deep below.

Female voices.

More than a dozen different voices, all of them screaming and shouting, calling out to whoever could hear them.

"Holy shit," Alex murmured.

Dylan's eyes went wide. "You don't think–"

"Let's go find out," Renata said. She turned to Jenna. "Will you be all right up here?"

Jenna nodded. "Yeah, I'm good. I can hold her until you get back. Just go."

In the momentary inattention, Sister Grace fidgeted on the little sofa, digging around in her sweater pocket. Jenna looked back at her, just in time to see her stuff something small into her mouth. She swallowed quickly, gulping the object down. The tendons in her throat constricted. Her mouth started spewing thick white foam.

"Oh, shit!" Jenna cried. "She's poisoning herself!"

"She's dead. Forget the bitch," Renata said. "Down here with us, Jenna!"

She turned away from the Minion, letting the convulsing body fall to the floor. Together she and the other women raced down the old stone steps that led into the dimly lit, enormous cellar, which looked to be carved out of the craggy rocks of the peninsula itself.

Deeper and deeper they went, the cries for help growing louder.

"We hear you!" Dylan called back to the terrified women. "It's okay, we've found you!"

Jenna was not prepared for what awaited them as the cellar widened out ahead of them. Hollowed into the stone was a large cell, covered by an iron grid. Inside were upward of twenty women–filthy, unkempt, dressed in tattered laboratory gowns. Some of them were heavy with child. Others were waif thin and wan. They looked like the worst prisoners of war, neglected and forgotten, most of their faces drawn and expressionless.

They stared at their rescuers, some of them mute, some weeping quietly, while others sobbed openly in great, chest-racking heaves.

"Oh, Jesus," someone whispered, maybe even Jenna herself.

"Let's get them out of here," Renata said, her voice wooden. "Look for a key somewhere that fits this goddamned grate."

Dylan and Alex began searching the dark space. Jenna walked toward the far corner, peering into the deep shadows that seemed to continue on forever into the cavelike hollows of the old cellar. In her peripheral vision, she caught the slight hand movements of one of the captives. She was trying to get Jenna's attention, gesturing covertly toward the lightless tunnel that stretched farther into the darkness of the place.

Trying to warn her.

Jenna heard the nearly imperceptible scuff of a footstep coming out of the dark. She turned her head–just in time to see a flash of metal, a rushing movement. Then she felt the sudden body slam of another Minion, barreling out at her and knocking her nearly off her feet.

"Jenna!" Alex shouted. "Renata, help her!"

The gun blast echoed like cannon fire in the enclosed cellar. The captive females screamed and shrank back away from the sound.

"It's all right," Jenna called out. "He's dead. Everything's going to be fine."

She shoved the lifeless heap off her and crawled out from beneath him. Something metallic jangled as the Minion rolled onto his back and expelled his last breath.

"I think I found the key," she said, bending over him to remove the ring of several keys from his pants pocket.

She ran over to the cell and began searching for the one that would fit the padlock on the grate. The Minion's blood soaked her coat and palms, but she didn't care. All that mattered was getting the captive Breedmates out of this place.

The lock sprang loose on the second try.

"Oh, thank God," Dylan gasped. "Come on, everyone. You're safe now."

Jenna swung open the large iron grid and watched with a sense of pride and relief as the first few captives began to shuffle out of their prison.

One by one, woman by woman, the group of them stepped away, finally free.

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