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Taken by Midnight (Chapter Three)

Jenna's hands were fisted as she shoved them deep into the pockets of the belted, white terry robe that covered her thin hospital gown. Her feet swam in the new, but extra-large, man-size slippers Alex had retrieved out of a cabinet drawer in the infirmary room where Jenna had awakened less than an hour ago. She shuffled beside her friend, walking along a lighted, marble-white corridor that snaked and twisted in a seemingly endless maze of similar walkways.

Jenna felt oddly numb, not just from the shock of hearing that her brother was dead but from the fact that the nightmare she'd awakened from had not ended with her survival. The creature that had attacked her in her cabin might have been killed, as she'd been informed, but she wasn't free of its hold.

After what she saw in the X-ray images and on the video feed from the infirmary, she knew with a bone-deep dread that part of that fanged monster still held her in its ruthless grasp. She should be screaming in terror for that knowledge alone. Deep down, fear and grief roiled. She clamped a hard lid on her bubbling hysteria, refusing to show that kind of weakness, even to her best friend.

But there was a true calmness inside her, one that had been with her in the infirmary room–since the moment Brock had put his hands on her and promised she was safe. It was that reassurance as well as her own determination to soldier on that kept her from breaking down as she walked the labyrinth of corridors with Alex.

"We're almost there," Alex said as she led Jenna around another corner, toward another long stretch of gleaming hallway. "I thought you'd be more comfortable getting cleaned up and dressed in Kade's and my quarters rather than the infirmary."

Jenna managed a vague nod, although it was hard to imagine that she might be comfortable anywhere in this strange and unfamiliar place. She walked cautiously, her rusty cop instincts prickling as she passed unmarked room after unmarked room. There wasn't a single exterior window in the place, nothing to indicate where the facility was located, nor what might lie beyond its walls. No way to tell even whether it was day or night outside.

Above her head, tracking the length of this corridor like the others, small black domes concealed what she guessed must be surveillance cameras. It was all very state-of-the-art, very private, and very secure.

"What is this place, some kind of government building?" she asked, voicing her suspicions out loud. "Definitely not civilian. Is it some kind of military facility?"

Alex slid her a hesitant, measuring glance. "It's more secure than any of those things. We're about thirty stories belowground, not far outside the city of Boston."

"A bunker, then," Jenna guessed, still trying to make sense of it all. "If it's not part of the government or military, what is it?"

Alex seemed to consider her reply for a moment longer than was needed. "The compound we're in, and the gated estate that sits above us on street level, belongs to the Order."

"The Order," Jenna repeated, finding that Alex's explanation was raising more questions about the place than it answered. She'd never been anywhere like this before. It was alien in its high-tech design, a far cry from anything she'd ever seen in rural Alaska or any of the places she'd been in the Lower Forty-eight.

Adding to the strangeness, beneath her slippered feet, the polished white marble was inlaid with glossy black stone that made a running pattern of odd symbols along the floor–arcing flourishes and complex geometric shapes that somewhat resembled tribal tattoos.

Dermaglyphs.

The word leapt into her thoughts out of nowhere, an answer to a question she didn't even know to ask. It was an unfamiliar word, as unfamiliar as everything about this place and the people who apparently lived here. And yet the certainty with which her mind supplied the term made it feel as though she must have thought or said it thousands of times.

Impossible.

"Jenna, are you all right?" Alex paused in the corridor a couple of steps ahead of where Jenna's own feet had ceased moving. "Are you tired?

We can rest for a minute, if you need to."

"No. I'm okay." She felt a frown creasing her forehead as she glanced up from the intricate design on the smooth floor. "I'm just … confused."

And that was due to more than just the peculiarity of where she found herself now. Everything felt different to her, even her own body. Some part of her intellect knew that after five days unconscious in a sickbed, she probably should be exhausted from even the short distance she'd just walked.

Muscles didn't naturally rebound from that kind of inactivity without a bit of pain and retraining. She knew that from her own personal experience, from the accident four years ago that had put her in the hospital ICU in Fairbanks. The same accident that had killed her husband and young daughter.

Jenna remembered all too well the weeks of hard rehabilitation it had taken to get her back on her feet and walking again. And yet now, after the ordeal she'd just awakened from, her limbs felt steady and nimble.

Completely unaffected by the prolonged lack of use.

Her body felt oddly revived. Stronger, yet, somehow not quite her own.

"None of this makes sense to me," she murmured, as she and Alex continued their progress down the long corridor.

"Oh, Jen." Alex touched her shoulder with a gentle hand. "I know about the confusion you must be feeling right now. Believe me, I know. I wish none of this had happened to you. I wish there was some way to take back what you've gone through."

Jenna blinked slowly, registering the depth of her friend's regret. She had questions–so many questions–but as they walked deeper into the maze of corridors, the mingled sounds of voices carried out from a glass-walled room up ahead. She heard Brock's deep, rolling baritone and the lighter, quickly spoken, British-tinged syllables of the man named Gideon.

As she and Alex neared the meeting room, she saw that the one called Lucan was there, too, as were Kade and two others who only fortified the large-and-lethal vibe that these guys seemed to wear as casually as their black fatigues and well-stocked weapons belts.

"This is the tech lab," Alex explained to her. "All the computer equipment you see in there is Gideon's domain. Kade says he's some kind of genius when it comes to technology. Probably a genius when it comes to just about everything."

As they paused in the passageway, Kade glanced up and gave Alex a lingering look through the glass. Electricity crackled in his silver eyes, and Jenna would have to be unconscious in her sickbed not to feel the shared heat between Alex and her man.

Jenna got her own share of looks from the others gathered in the glass-enclosed room. Lucan and Gideon both turned her way, as did two other big men who were not familiar to her. One of them a severe-looking, golden-eyed blond whose stare felt as cold and unfeeling as a blade, the other an olive-skinned man with a thick crown of chocolate-brown waves that accentuated his long-lashed topaz eyes and an unfortunate mass of scars that riddled the left side of his otherwise flawless face. There was curiosity in the men's frank stares, maybe a bit of suspicion, too.

"That's Hunter and Rio," Alex said, indicating the menacing blond and the scarred brunet respectively. "They're members of the Order, too."

Jenna gave a vague nod of acknowledgment, feeling as conspicuous in front of these men as she had her first day on the job with the Alaska State Troopers, a fresh-from-the-academy rookie and a female besides. But here, the feeling wasn't so much about gender discrimination or petty male insecurities. She'd known enough of that bullshit during her tenure with the Staties to realize this was something different. Something a whole lot deeper.

Here, she felt that by virtue of her mere presence, she was treading on sacred ground. In some unspoken way, she got the sense from the five pairs of eyes studying her that in this place, among these people, she was somehow the ultimate outsider.

Even Brock's dark, absorbing gaze settled on her with a weighty appraisal that seemed to say he wasn't sure he liked seeing her there, regardless of the care and kindness he'd shown her back in the infirmary.

Jenna wouldn't have argued that point for a second. She tended to agree with the vibe she was getting through the glass walls of the tech lab.

She didn't belong here. These were not her people.

No, something about each of the hard, unreadable faces fixed on her told her that they were not her kind at all. They were something else …

something other.

But after what she'd been through in her cabin in Alaska–after what she'd seen of herself in the infirmary room–could she even be certain of what she was now?

The question chilled her to her bones.

She didn't want to think about it. Could hardly bear to accept that she'd been fed upon by something as monstrous and terrifying as the creature that had held her prisoner in her own home all those hours. The same creature that had implanted the bit of foreign matter in her body and turned her life–what little had been left of it–inside out.

What was to become of her now?

How would she ever get back to the woman she was before?

Jenna nearly sagged under the weight of more questions she wasn't ready to consider.

Making it worse, the sense of confusion that had followed her through the corridors of the compound rose up on her again, stronger now.

Everything seemed to amplify around her, from the soft buzz of the fluorescent lights over her head–lights that glared too bright for her sensitive eyes–to the accelerating drum of her heartbeat that seemed to be heading for overdrive, pushing too much blood through her veins. Her skin felt too tight, wrapped around a body that was quickening with some strange new awareness. She had felt its stirrings from the moment she'd opened her eyes in the infirmary, and instead of leveling out, it was getting worse.

Some strange new power seemed to be growing inside her.

Stretching out, awakening …

"I'm feeling kind of weird," she said to Alex, as her temples ticked with the pound of her pulse, her palms going moist where they remained fisted deep inside the pockets of her robe. "I think I need to get out of here, get some air."

Alex reached out and brushed a strand of hair from Jenna's face.

"Kade's and my quarters are just up this way. You're going to feel much better after a hot shower, I'm sure."

"Okay," Jenna murmured, allowing herself to be guided away from the glass wall of the tech lab and the unnerving stares that followed her.

Several yards ahead in the curving hallway, a pair of elevator doors slid open. Three women walked out wearing snow-dusted winter parkas and wet boots. They were followed by a similarly bundled-up young girl who held a pair of dogs on leashes–a small, exuberant mutt terrier and Alex's regal gray-and-white wolfdog, Luna, which had apparently also made the recent move from Alaska to Boston.

As soon as Luna's sharp blue eyes lit on Alex and Jenna, she lunged forward. The girl who held the leash let out a little yelp, more giggle than anything, her parka hood falling back and freeing a mop of blond hair to bounce around her delicate face.

"Hi, Alex!" she said, laughing as Luna pulled her along the corridor in her wake. "We just got back from a walk outside. It's freezing up there!"

Reaching out to pet Luna's big head and neck, Alex gave the child a welcoming smile. "Thanks for taking her. I know she likes being with you, Mira."

The little girl bobbed her head enthusiastically. "I like Luna, too. So does Harvard."

Whether in protest or agreement, the scrappy-looking terrier barked once and danced frenetically around the larger dog's legs, stubby tail wagging about sixty miles an hour.

"Hello," said one of the three women. "I'm Gabrielle. It's good to see you up and around, Jenna."

"I'm sorry," Alex interjected, rising to make quick introductions.

"Jenna, Gabrielle is Lucan's Breedmate."

"Hi." Jenna brought her hand out of her robe pocket and extended it in greeting to the pretty auburn-haired young woman. Beside Gabrielle, a striking African-American woman offered a warm smile as she extended her hand in welcome.

"I'm Savannah," she said, her voice like velvet and cream, instantly making Jenna feel at home. "I'm sure you've already met Gideon, my mate."

Jenna nodded, feeling ill-equipped for pleasantries despite the warmth of the other women.

"And this is Tess," Alex added, indicating the last of the trio, a heavily pregnant blonde with tranquil, sea-green eyes that seemed wise beyond their years. "She and her mate, Dante, are expecting their son very soon."

"Just a few more weeks," Tess said as she briefly clasped Jenna's hand, her other coming to rest lightly on the large swell of her belly. "We've all been very concerned about you since you arrived here, Jenna. Do you need anything? If there's something we can do for you, I hope you'll let us know."

"Can you zap me back in time about a week?" Jenna asked, only half joking. "I'd really love to erase the past several days and go back to my life in Alaska. Can anyone here do that for me?"

An uneasy look passed between the women.

"I'm afraid that's not possible," Gabrielle said. Although regret softened her expression, Lucan's mate spoke with the serene confidence of a woman cognizant of her own authority but disinclined to abuse it. "What you've been through is terrible, Jenna, but the only way through it is forward. I am sorry."

"No sorrier than me," Jenna said quietly.

Alex murmured a few hushed words of good-bye to the other women.

Then she scratched Luna behind the ears and gave the wolfdog a quick kiss on the snout before navigating Jenna back toward their trek up the passageway. Somewhere in the distance, Jenna picked up the harsh grate of metal striking metal, and the muffled sounds of laughter amid a spirited conversation–by the tone of it, a good, old-fashioned pissing contest–

between at least one woman and no less than three men.

Jenna shuffled alongside Alex as they turned a corner in the corridor and the din of voices and weaponry faded away. "How many people live here?"

Alex cocked her head, considering. "The Order has ten members right now who live here at the compound. All but Brock, Hunter, and Chase are mated, so that makes seven of us Breedmates, plus Mira."

"Eighteen people in total," Jenna said, absently counting them off in her mind.

"Nineteen now," Alex corrected, as she slanted a gauging look over her shoulder.

"I'm temporary," Jenna said, walking along, up another length of marble hallway, then pausing behind Alex as she slowed in front of an unmarked door. "As soon as one of your new secret agent pals figures out how to get rid of the thing in my neck, I'll be leaving. I don't belong here, Alex. My life is in Alaska."

The way Alex's sympathetic smile wavered on her lips put a lurch in Jenna's pulse.

"Well, here we are." She opened the door to a private apartment and motioned Jenna inside. She walked ahead of her and turned on a table lamp, filling the spacious quarters with a muted glow. Alex seemed anxious somehow, walking through the place like a whirlwind and talking too fast. "I want you to make yourself at home, Jen. Relax for a minute in the living room, if you like. I'll get you some fresh clothes and start the shower for you. Unless you'd rather close your eyes for a little while? I could give you one of Kade's T-shirts to sleep in and turn down the bed for you."

"Alex."

She disappeared into the adjacent bedroom, still talking a mile a minute. "Are you hungry? Would you like me to fix you something to eat?"

Jenna walked over to the open doorway. "Tell me what's going on here. I mean, what's really going on."

Finally, Alex paused.

She pivoted her head around and just stared for what felt like a full minute of silence.

"I want to know," Jenna said. "Damn it, I need to know. Please, Alex, as my friend. Tell me the truth."

Alex stared at her, let out a long exhalation as she slowly shook her head. "Oh, Jen. There's so much you don't know. Things I didn't know myself until just a couple of weeks ago, after Kade showed up in Harmony."

Jenna stood there, watching her normally frank and forthright friend struggle for words. "Tell me, Alex. What is this all about?"

"Vampires, Jen." The word was whispered, but Alex's gaze didn't waver. "You know they're real now. You saw that for yourself. But what you don't know is that they're not like we've been taught to believe from movies and horror novels."

Jenna scoffed. "That thing that attacked me was pretty horrific."

"I know," Alex continued, imploring now. "I can't excuse what the Ancient did to you. But hear me out. There are others of his kind that are not so different from us, Jen. On the surface, of course, we aren't quite the same.

They have different needs for survival, but deep down, there is a core of humanity inside them. They have families and friends. They are capable of incredible love and kindness and honor. Just like us, there is good and bad among them, too."

It wasn't that long ago–a mere week, in fact–that Jenna would have burst out laughing at hearing something so outlandish as what Alex was telling her now.

But everything had changed since then. A week ago felt like a century from where she was standing now. Jenna couldn't laugh, couldn't even muster a word of denial as Alex went on, explaining how the Breed, as they preferred to be called, had come to exist and then thrive for thousands of years in the shadows of the human world.

Jenna could only listen as Alex told her how the Order had been founded centuries ago by Lucan and a handful of others, most of whom were long dead. The men headquartered in this compound were all warriors, including Kade and Brock, even the charmingly geekish Gideon. They were Breed, preternatural and deadly. They were something other, just as Jenna's instincts had told her.

To a man, the Order's members, then as now, had pledged themselves to provide protection for both the human race and the Breed, their mission hunting down blood-addicted vampires called Rogues.

Jenna held her breath when Alex softly confessed that when she was a child in Florida, her mother and younger brother were attacked and killed by Rogues. Alex and her father had narrowly escaped with their lives. "The story we told everyone about my mom and Richie when we moved to Harmony was just that, Jen. A story. It was a lie we both wanted to believe. I think Dad eventually did, and then the Alzheimer's took care of the rest. I almost could have believed our lie, too, until the killings began up in Alaska.

Then I knew. I couldn't run from the truth anymore. I had to face it."

Jenna closed her eyes, letting all of these incredible realizations settle on her shoulders like a heavy cloak. She could hardly dismiss what she'd been through, no more than she could dismiss the raw pain of her best friend's experience as a child. Alex's ordeal was in her past, thankfully. She had carried on. She had found happiness finally, perhaps ironically, with Kade.

Jenna hoped she might be able to move beyond the nightmare she'd endured, but she felt the cold touch of a shackle when she thought about the bit of unknown material floating beneath the base of her skull.

"What about me?" she heard herself murmur. Her voice rose with the spike of anxiety that flooded her bloodstream. "What about the thing that's inside me, Alex? What is it? How am I going to get rid of it?"

"We don't have those answers yet, Jenna." Alex moved closer, concern creasing her brow. "We don't know, but I promise you, we'll find a way to help you. Kade and the rest of the Order will do everything in their power to figure this out. In the meantime, they will protect you and make sure you're well cared for."

"No." Jenna wrapped her arms around herself. "All I need is to be back home. I want to go back to Harmony."

"Oh, Jen." Alex slowly shook her head. "The life you knew in Alaska is gone now. Everything in Harmony is changed. Precautions had to be taken."

She didn't like the sound of that at all. "What are you talking about?

What precautions? What's changed?"

"The Order had to make sure that word of the Ancient and the strange happenings around town didn't leak out to the rest of the population." Alex's gaze stayed steady on hers. "Jenna, they scrubbed everyone's memories of the week surrounding the killings in the bush and the other deaths around Harmony. As far as anyone up there is concerned, you and I have both been gone from Harmony for months already. You can't go back and raise a lot of questions. It would all come crashing down around us if you do."

Jenna forced herself to hold it together as she processed everything she was hearing. Vampires and covert headquarters. An alternate world that had existed alongside her own reality for thousands of years. Her best friend of the past two decades having barely survived a vampire attack as a child.

And then the part that brought back a fresh wave of grief: the recent multiple homicides in Harmony, which apparently included her brother.

"Tell me what happened to Zach."

Alex's face was full of regret. "He had secrets, Jen. A lot of them.

Maybe it's better if you don't know everything–"

"Tell me," Jenna said, hating the gentle treatment she was getting, particularly from Alex. "We've never let bullshit stand between us, and I sure as hell don't want to start now."

Alex nodded. "Zach was dealing drugs and alcohol to the Native populations. He and Skeeter Arnold had been working together for some time. I didn't figure it out until just before Zach …" She exhaled softly.

"When I confronted Zach about what I knew, he got violent, Jen. He pulled a gun on me."

Jenna closed her eyes, sick to think that her older brother–the decorated cop she strived to emulate practically all her life–was, in fact, corrupt. Granted, they had never been truly close, siblings or not, and they'd been drifting apart more and more in recent years.

God, how many times had she pressed Zach to look into Skeeter Arnold's questionable activities around Harmony? Now Zach's reluctance to do so made a lot of sense. He didn't really care about what was going on in town. He was more concerned with protecting himself. How far would he have gone to protect his dirty little secret?

"Did he hurt you, Alex?"

"No," she said. "But he would have, Jen. I took off on my snowmachine, out to your place. He followed me. When we got there, he fired off a shot–to scare me, more than anything. Everything happened so fast after that. The next thing I knew, the Ancient had crashed out of your cabin and took him down. After the initial strike, it was over very quickly for him."

Jenna stared then, for a long moment, utterly at a loss for words.

"Jesus Christ, Alex. Everything you're telling me here … it's all true? All of it?"

"Yes. You said you wanted to know. I couldn't withhold it from you, and I think it's better that you understand."

Jenna stepped backward, stumbling a bit. She was suddenly awash in confusion. Suddenly swamped in emotion that shortened her breath and put a tight squeeze on her chest. "I have to … need some time alone …"

Alex nodded. "I know how hard this must be for you, Jenna. Believe me, I know."

She drifted toward the adjoining bathroom, Alex moving across the floor with her, sticking close as though she thought Jenna might collapse.

But Jenna's legs weren't about to give out on her. She was stunned and shaken by what she'd just heard, but her body and mind were far from weak.

Adrenaline coursed through her, flooding her senses and putting her fight-or-flight instinct on high alert. She forced a calmness into her expression as she looked at Alex now, while inside she felt anything but calm. "I think I'll take that shower now. I just … I want to be alone for a little while. I need to think …"

"All right," Alex agreed, ushering her inside the enormous bathroom.

"Take whatever time you need. I'll get you some clothes and shoes, then I'll be right outside if you need me."

Jenna nodded, her eyes following Alex to the door and waiting for it to close behind her. Only then did the tears begin to fall. She wiped at them as they streamed down her cheeks, hot as acid, even while the rest of her felt chilled to the core.

She felt lost and scared, as desperate as an animal caught in a trap.

She had to get out of this place, even if it meant chewing off her own limb to escape. Even if it meant using a friend.

Jenna cranked the hot water in the massive two-person shower. As the steam began to fill the room, she thought about the elevator that had carried the other women and the young girl down from the outside.

She thought about freedom, and what it might take for her to taste it.

"Still another two bloody hours to sundown," Brock said, glancing at the clock on the tech lab wall as if he could will the night to come. He pushed off the conference table he'd been leaning against, his legs antsy, his body needing to move. "The days may be short this time of year in New England, but damn, do they crawl sometimes."

He felt eyes on him as he began a tight prowl of the room. It was only himself, Kade, and Gideon in the tech lab now; Lucan had gone to find Gabrielle, and Hunter and Rio had both left to join Renata, Nikolai, and Tegan in the weapons room for a bit of sparring before the start of the night's patrols in the city. He should have gone with them. Instead he'd stayed behind in the lab, curious to see the results of Gideon's latest blood work on Jenna.

He paused behind the computer screen and watched a set of stats scroll on the display. "How much longer is it going to take, Gid?"

For a few seconds, the clatter of fingers racing over a keyboard was the only reply. "I'm just running one last DNA analysis, then we should have some data."

Brock grunted. Impatient, he crossed his arms over his chest and continued wearing a track in the floor.

"You feeling all right?"

When he pivoted his head, he met Kade's narrowed, assessing look.

He scowled back at the warrior. "Yeah, why?"

Kade shrugged. "I don't know, man. I'm not used to seeing you so twitchy."

"Twitchy?" Brock repeated the word like it had been an insult. "Shit. I don't know what you mean. I'm not twitchy."

"You're twitchy," Gideon put in over the clickety-clack of his work at the computer. "In fact, you've been visibly distracted for the past few hours.

Ever since Alex's human friend woke up today."

Brock felt his scowl deepen even as his pace across the floor grew more agitated. Hell, maybe he was on edge, but only because he was eager for darkness to fall so he could hit the pavement on patrol and do what he'd been trained to do. That was all. It had nothing to do with anything–or anyone–else.

If he was distracted by Jenna Darrow, it was because her presence in the compound was a breach of Order rules. They had never permitted a human inside their headquarters. All of the warriors were acutely aware of that fact, a point made obvious when she and Alex had walked past the tech lab a short time ago. And that this human woman carried something alien inside her–something undetermined, which may or may not prove detrimental to the Order and its mission against Dragos–made her presence there all the more disturbing.

Jenna had everyone on edge to a certain degree. Brock was no different. At least, that's what he told himself as he paced one final time behind Gideon's workstation, then exhaled a rough curse.

"Fuck it, I'm outta here. If anything interesting comes in on that blood work before nightfall, I'll be in the weapons room."

He strode to the tech lab's door and paused as the wide glass panel slid open in front of him. No sooner had he stepped across the threshold than Alex came rushing toward the lab from the direction of her and Kade's quarters.

"She's gone," Alex blurted as she entered the room, clearly upset. "It's Jenna … she's gone!"

Brock didn't know why the news should hit his gut like a physical blow. "Where is she?"

"I don't know," Alex replied, misery in her eyes.

Kade was at his mate's side in less than half a second. "What happened?"

Alex shook her head. "She took a shower and got dressed. When she came out of the bathroom she said she was tired. She asked me if she could lie down for a while on the sofa. When I turned around to get her a pillow and spare blanket from the closet, she was just … gone. Our apartment door was wide open into the corridor, but there was no sign of Jenna. I've been looking for the last few minutes, but I can't find her anywhere. I'm worried about her. And I'm sorry, Kade. I should have been more careful. I should have–"

"It's okay," he said, gently stroking Alex's arm. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"Maybe I did. I told her about the Breed and about the Order. I told her everything about Zach, and about how we left things back in Harmony.

She had so many questions, and I thought she had a right to know."

Brock stifled the curse that was riding at the tip of his tongue. He knew damn well that he would have been hard-pressed to lie to Jenna, too.

Kade nodded, sober as he dropped a kiss on Alex's brow. "It's okay.

You did the right thing. It's better that she knows the truth up front."

"I'm just afraid that the truth has sent her into a panic."

"Ah, Christ," Gideon muttered from his position in front of the compound's computer banks. On one of the panels that monitored the estate's motion detectors, lights started blinking like a Christmas tree. "She's in the mansion at ground level. Or, rather, she was in the mansion. We've got a security breach on an exterior door."

"I thought all topside points of entry were locked as procedure,"

Brock said, not meaning it to come out as the accusation it sounded like.

"Have a look for yourself," Gideon said, pivoting the monitor as he clipped on a hands-free headset and punched a speed-dial number. "Lucan, we have a situation."

While the Order's leader got a quick rundown, Brock stalked over to the computer command center, Kade and Alex following. On the security camera feed from the estate above the compound, one of the mansion's steel-reinforced lock bars was twisted off its mountings like a piece of taffy. The door was flung open to the daylight outside, the glare of solar rays on the snow-filled yard nearly blinding, even on-screen.

"Holy hell," Brock muttered.

Beside him, Alex gasped in disbelief. Kade was silent, his gaze as grim as it was stunned when his eyes slid to Brock. On the phone, Gideon was now giving urgent orders to one of the Order's more formidable females in residence, namely Renata, to head topside on the double and bring Jenna back in.

"I've got her location on camera now," he told Renata. "She's on the east side of the property, heading southeast on foot. If you take the south service door, you should be able to head her off before she reaches the perimeter fence."

"The perimeter fence," Brock murmured. "Jesus Christ, that thing is juiced with more than fourteen thousand volts of electricity."

Gideon kept talking, advising Renata of Jenna's progress and position.

"Cut the power," Brock said. "You have to cut the power to the fence."

Gideon swiveled a dubious look on him. "And let her waltz right off the property? No can do, my man."

Brock knew the warrior was right. He knew the smartest, best thing to do for the Order was to ensure that the human woman stayed contained within the compound. But the thought of Jenna coming into contact with a potentially lethal dose of electricity was too much. It was, in a word, unacceptable.

He glanced at the security camera feed and saw Jenna, clad in a white sweater and jeans, her loose brown hair flying behind her as she raced across the snowy yard at a blind clip toward the edge of the property. Straight for the ten-foot-tall fence that hemmed the estate in from all sides.

"Gideon," he growled, as Jenna's fleeing form grew smaller on the monitor. "Cut the goddamn power."

Brock didn't wait for the other warrior to comply. He stalked over and slammed his hand down on the control panel. Lights blinked on, and a persistent beeping kicked up in warning of the disabled power grid.

A long silence filled the room.

"I see her." Renata's voice came over the speaker in the lab. "I'm right behind her."

They watched on-screen as Nikolai's mate sped on foot in the direction of Jenna's trail in the snow. Moments ticked by as they waited for further word.

Finally, Renata spoke, but the curse she hissed into her mouthpiece wasn't what anyone in the room had hoped to hear. "God damn it. No …"

Brock's veins went cold with dread. "What's happened?"

"Talk to me," Gideon said. "What's going on, Renata?"

"Too late," she replied, her voice oddly wooden. "I was too late–she got away. She's gone."

Gideon leaned in, cocking his head toward Brock. "She climbed the bloody fence, didn't she?"

"Climbed it?" Renata's answering laugh was more of a sharp exhalation. "No, she didn't climb it. She … ah, shit. Believe it or not, I just watched her jump over it."

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