"Damn," he ground out, his body thrumming all over again from just the remembered image of her beautiful face, tipped up to look at him.
If he hadn't known better, he would have thought she'd been waiting for him to kiss her. Everything male inside him had been clamoring with that certainty at the time, but he knew it would be the last thing Jenna needed.
She was confused and vulnerable, and he supposed he was a better man than the one who might take advantage of that fact simply because his libido craved a taste of her. Of course, that didn't make him feel any better about the raging hard-on that was suddenly coming back to life again, honor be damned.
"Way to go, hero," he berated himself tightly. "Now you're gonna need to soak in a tub of ice water for a week to pay for being noble."
"Are you unwell?" Hunter asked, startling Brock to realize the other male was still standing behind him in the room.
"Yeah," Brock said, giving a sardonic chuckle. "I am unwell, all right.
If you want to know the truth, I've been unwell since the moment I laid eyes on her."
"The human female," Hunter replied with grim understanding. "It is apparent that she is a problem for you."
Brock blew out a humorless sigh. "You think?"
"Yes, I do." There was no judgment in the answer, only level statement of fact. He spoke like a machine: total precision, zero feeling. "I presume everyone in the tech lab reached the same conclusion today, when you allowed Chase to provoke your anger over his comments regarding your attachment to the woman. Your actions showed a weakness in your training, and worse, a lack of self-control. You reacted carelessly."
"Thanks for noticing," Brock replied, suspecting his sarcasm was wasted on the unsociable, unflappable Hunter. "Remind me to bust your balls from here to next week if you ever loosen up enough to let a woman get under your skin."
Hunter didn't react, merely stared at him without a speck of emotion.
"That will not happen."
"Shit," Brock said, shaking his head at the rigid Gen One soldier who'd been raised on neglect and punishing discipline. "You obviously haven't been with the right woman if you can sound so sure of yourself."
Hunter's expression remained stoic. Distant and detached. In fact, the longer Brock looked at him, the more clearly he began to see the truth.
"Holy hell. Have you ever been with a woman, Hunter? My God ... you're a virgin, aren't you?"
The Gen One's golden eyes stayed fixed on Brock's gaze as though he considered it a test of will that he not permit the revelation to affect him.
And Brock had to hand it to the guy, not a single degree of emotion flickered in those uncanny eyes, nor in the perfectly schooled features of his face.
The only thing that made Hunter flinch was the soft shuffle of slippered feet that sounded from the corridor outside. A child's voice--Mira--
called into the living room.
"Hunter, are you here?"
He turned without offering an excuse and went to meet the little girl.
"Now is not a convenient time," Brock heard him tell her in that deep, level tone of his.
"But don't you want to know what happens when Harry puts on the invisibility cloak?" Mira asked, disappointment dimming her normally bright voice. "It's one of my favorite parts of the whole book. You have to hear this chapter. You're gonna love it."
"She's right, that is one of the best parts." Brock came out of the bunk room, not sure what made him grin more--the realization that the stone-cold, Gen One assassin was an untried virgin, or the newer, equally amusing idea that the appointment Brock had apparently interrupted by coming to drop off his gear was Hunter's reading hour with the compound's youngest resident.
He gave Mira a wink and a smile as she plopped herself onto the sofa and cracked open the book to the place she'd left off. "Relax," he told Hunter, who stood there, stiff as a statue. "I'm not going to tell anyone your secrets."
He didn't wait to check for a reaction, just strolled out to the corridor and left Hunter staring in his wake.
Cross your fingers, you guys, but I think we may have just gotten the lead we've been looking for." Dylan hung up the phone and spun her desk chair around to face Jenna, Alex, Renata, and Savannah, all of whom had been gathered in the Breedmates' meeting room for the past couple of hours.
Actually, to call it a meeting room hardly did it justice. No less than half a dozen computer workstations sat at the ready on a long table at the back of the room. Boxes of manila files were organized by location and housed in a tall bookcase for easy access. Nearly every inch of wall space was covered with highlighted, pin-dotted maps of New England and detailed investigation charts that would have put most police cold case units to shame. Among those maps and charts were several expertly hand-drawn sketches of young women--faces of a few of the missing, whom the Order and their diligent Breedmates were determined to find.
No, Jenna thought as she took in her surroundings, this was no mere meeting room.
This was a room devoted to strategy, mission, and war.
Jenna welcomed the energy of the place, especially after the disturbing news she'd gotten about her blood work. She had also needed a distraction from thinking about the unexpectedly heated moments she'd shared with Brock in his--or, rather, her--quarters in the compound. She had all but jumped at the chance to get out of there after he'd left. It had been Alex who came looking for her not long afterward, and it was Alex who brought Jenna with her to the Breedmates' war room for some companionship and conversation.
She hadn't wanted to get interested in the work the women of the Order were involved in, but as she sat there among them, it was next to impossible for the cop in her to ignore the scent of a good information chase.
She sat up a bit straighter in her chair at the conference table as Dylan walked over to a laser printer and grabbed the sheet of paper that slid into the output tray.
"What've you got?" Savannah asked.
Dylan slapped the printed page down on the table in front of the gathered women. "Sister Margaret Mary Howland."
Jenna and the others leaned in to look at the scanned image. It was a group photograph of a dozen or so young women and girls. From the style of their clothes, it appeared to have been taken perhaps twenty years ago. The group was gathered on the lawn below the steps of a wide covered porch, the kind of organized pose that schoolkids were sometimes corralled into for an annual class picture. Except in this case, it wasn't a school behind them but a large, unassuming house proclaiming itself to be the St. John's Home for Young Women, Queensboro, New York.
A kindly faced, middle-aged woman wearing a cross pendant and a modest summer dress stood just to the side of the group assembled under the white eave that bore the painted sign. One of the youngest girls stood with the older woman, her thin shoulders held in a caring grasp, her little face upturned and beaming with affection.
"That's her," Dylan said, pointing to the woman with the maternal smile and sheltering arms. "Sister Margaret."
"And she is?" Jenna asked, unable to hold her curiosity in check.
Dylan glanced over at her. "Right now, assuming she's still alive, this woman is possibly our best bet for finding out more about the Breedmates who have gone missing or ended up dead at Dragos's hands."
Jenna gave a small shake of her head. "I'm not following."
"Some of the women he's killed--and probably many that he's still holding prisoner now--came from runaway shelters," Dylan said. "See, it's not unusual for Breedmates to feel confused and out of place in mortal society. Most of us have no idea just how different we are, let alone why.
Besides our common birthmark and shared biology, we've all got some kind of unique extrasensory ability, too."
"Not the stuff you see on TV talk shows or commercials for psychic hotlines," Savannah interjected. "Real ESP talents are often the surest way to spot a Breedmate."
Dylan nodded. "Sometimes those talents are a blessing, but a lot of times they're a curse. My own talent was a curse for most of my life, but fortunately I had a mother who loved me. Because I had her, no matter how confused and scared I got, I always had the security of home."
"But not everyone is that fortunate," Renata added. "It was a string of Montreal orphanages for Mira and me. And, from time to time, we called the street home."
Jenna listened in silence, counting her own blessings that she had been born into a normal, relatively close-knit family, where her biggest childhood problem had been trying to compete with her brother for approval and affection. She couldn't imagine having the kinds of problems females born with the teardrop-and-crescent-moon birthmark had to bear. Her own issues, as incomprehensible as they were, seemed to diminish a bit as she considered the lives these other women had lived. To say nothing of the hell the ones who were dead or missing had been made to endure.
"So, you believe that Dragos is preying on young women who end up in these kinds of shelters?" she asked.
"We know he is," Dylan said. "My mom used to work at a runaway shelter in New York. It's a long story, one for another time, but basically it turned out that the shelter she worked at was being funded and directed by none other than Dragos himself."
"Oh, my God," Jenna breathed.
"He'd been hiding behind an alias, calling himself Gordon Fasso when he moved within human social circles, so no one had any idea who he truly was ... until it was too late." Dylan drew in what seemed to be a fortifying breath. "He killed my mom after he realized he'd been unmasked and the Order was closing in on him."
"I'm sorry," Jenna whispered, meaning it completely. "To have lost someone you love to that kind of evil ..."
The words drifted off as something cold and fierce bubbled deep inside her. As a former police officer, she knew the bitter taste of injustice and the need to right the scales. But she tamped the feelings down, telling herself the Order's fight against their enemy, Dragos, didn't belong to her.
She had battles of her own to face.
"I'm sure Dragos will get what's coming to him in the end," she said.
It was a lame sentiment, knowingly offered from an emotional arm's length. But she hoped she would be proved right. Sitting with these women now, having gotten to know them all a bit better in the short time she'd been at the compound, Jenna prayed for the Order's success against Dragos. The thought of someone as perverse as he being loose on the world was beyond unacceptable.
She picked up the image printout and glanced at the warm expression of the nun who stood like a good shepherd next to her vulnerable flock.
"How do you expect this woman--Sister Margaret--might be able to help you?"
"Staff turnover is high at youth shelters," Dylan explained. "The one where my mom worked was no exception. A friend of hers who used to work with her there just gave me Sister Margaret's name and that photograph. She says the sister retired a few years ago, but she'd been volunteering in several New York shelters since around the 1970s, which is just the kind of person we need to talk to."
"Someone who's been around the shelters for a long time and might be able to identify past residents from a basic sketch," Savannah said, gesturing to the hand-drawn faces tacked to the walls.
Jenna nodded. "Those sketches represent women who've been in area shelters?"
"Those sketches," Alex said from beside Jenna, "are Breedmates being held by Dragos as we speak."
"You mean they're still alive?"
"They were a couple of months ago." Renata's voice was grim. "A friend of the Order's, Claire Reichen, used her Breedmate talent for dreamwalking to locate Dragos's headquarters. She saw the captives--
upward of twenty of them--locked in prison cells in his laboratory. Although Dragos relocated his operations before we could save them, Claire has been working with a sketch artist to document the faces she saw."
"In fact, that's where Claire is right now, she and Elise both," Alex said. "Elise has a lot of friends in the Breed civilian community here in Boston. She and Claire have been working on a couple of new sketches, based on what Claire saw that day in Dragos's lair."
"Once we have faces of the captives," Dylan said, "we can start looking for names and possible family members. Anything that can help bring us closer to who these women are."
"What about databases for missing persons?" Jenna asked. "Have you compared the sketches to profiles listed with groups like the National Center for Missing Persons?"
"We did, and we've come up empty everywhere," Dylan said. "A lot of these women and girls in the shelters are runaways and orphans. A lot of them are throwaways. Some of them are walkaways, who deliberately cut all ties with family and friends. The end result is the same: They have no one to look for them or miss them, so there were no reports filed."
Renata grunted softly in acknowledgment and seemed to speak from some experience. "When you have no one and nothing, you can vanish and it's like you never existed in the first place."
From her years in Alaska law enforcement, Jenna knew how true that could be. Folks could disappear without a trace in big cities or small interior communities alike. It happened every day, although she never would have imagined it happened for the reasons that Dylan, Savannah, Renata, and the other women were explaining to her now. "So, what's your plan once you have identified the missing Breedmates?"
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com