God help him, she didn't remove her soft hand from him, either, not even when his low growl of male need curled up from the back of his throat.


Thoughts of what had happened with her just hours earlier in his quarters flooded back to him on a heated wave of recollection. There had been nothing but a few bare inches between them then, as now. Then he'd wondered if Jenna had wanted him to kiss her. He'd been uncertain about her feelings, about the possibility that she might be feeling anything close to the desire he had for her. Now he needed to know with a ferocity that staggered him.


To be sure he wasn't misreading things, for his own sanity if nothing else, he brought his free hand over and covered her fingers with his. He drew closer to her, coming around the front of her where she leaned her weight against the table.


She didn't flinch away. Not Jenna. She stared him square in the eyes, confronting him head-on, as he should have expected she would. "I really don't know how to deal with all of this," she said softly. "The things that have happened to me since that night in Alaska ... all the questions that may never be answered. I can handle that. Somehow, I'll learn to handle all of that. But you ... this ..." She glanced down then, only briefly, staring at their connected hands, at their entwined fingers. "I'm not very good at this. My husband has been gone four years. There hasn't been anyone since. I've never been ready for that. I haven't wanted ..."


"Jenna." Brock stroked the underside of her chin very gently, lifting her face up toward his. "Would it be all right if I kissed you?"


Her lips wobbled into a small smile that he could not resist tasting. He bent his head and kissed her slowly, easing her into it, despite the intensity of his own need.


Although she'd confessed to being out of practice, he would never have known it from the sensual feel of her lips against his. Her kiss, both soft and direct, giving and taking, set him aflame. He stepped in tighter until he was standing between her legs, needing to feel her body pressed to him as he swept his tongue along the velvety seam of her mouth. He ran his hands down her sides, helping her up onto the conference table when her injured thigh began to tremble beneath her.


The kiss had been a mistake on his part. He'd thought he could leave it at that--just a kiss--but now that he'd started with Jenna, he wasn't sure how he would find the strength to stop.


And from the feel of her in his arms, her pleasured mewls and broken sighs as their kiss ignited into something far more powerful, he was certain that she wanted more of him, too.


Apparently, he couldn't have been more wrong.


It wasn't until he felt moisture on his face that he realized she was crying.


"Ah, Jesus," he hissed, backing off at once and feeling like an ass when he saw her tearstained cheeks. "I'm sorry. If I was pushing you too fast ..."


She shook her head, clearly miserable, but she wouldn't speak.


"Tell me I didn't hurt you, Jenna."


"Damn it." She sucked in a hitching sob. "I can't do this. I'm sorry, it's my fault. I never should have let you--"


The words broke off, and then she was pushing him away from her, scrambling out from under him and all but running for the corridor.


Brock stood there for a second, every part of him tight and aching, raw with need. He should let her go. Chalk this up to a disaster narrowly averted, and put the all-too-tempting Jenna Darrow out of his mind.


Yeah, that's exactly what he should do, and he damned well knew it.


But by the time the thought had formed, he was already halfway up the corridor, following the soft sounds of Jenna's weeping back to his former quarters.


Chapter Thirteen


Jenna felt like the biggest coward--the biggest damned fraud--as she fled up the corridor, sucking back tears. She'd let Brock think she didn't want him. Probably made him believe he'd been forcing himself on her in some way with that kiss, when it had nearly melted her into a puddle on the conference room table. She had let him worry that he'd done something wrong, possibly even hurt her somehow, and that was the most unfair thing of all.


Yet she couldn't stop running, needing to put distance between them with a determination that bordered on desperate. He made her feel too much.


Things she wasn't prepared for. Things she craved so deeply but didn't deserve.


And so she ran, as terrified as she'd ever been and hating the cowardice that pushed her each step of the way. By the time she reached her quarters, she was shaking and breathless, tears streaming in hot trails down her cheeks.


"Jenna."


The sound of his deep voice behind her was like a caress of warmth against her skin. She turned to face him, astonished by the speed and silence that had brought him there not even a second after she'd arrived. Then again, he wasn't human. Not really a man at all--a fact she had to remind herself of when he was standing so near, the sheer size of him, the raw intensity of his dark gaze, speaking to everything that was woman inside her.


Her mouth still smoldered from his kiss. Her pulse was still thrumming heavily, heat still kindling deep into the core of her body.


As if he knew this, Brock moved closer. He reached out to her, took her hand in his, saying nothing. There was no need for words. Despite her slowing tears and the tremble of her limbs, she couldn't hide the desire she felt for him.


She didn't resist as he drew her nearer, into the heat of his body. Into the comfort of his arms. "I'm scared," she whispered, words that didn't come easy to her, and never had.


His eyes locked on hers, he gently stroked the side of her face. "You don't have to be afraid of me. I won't hurt you, Jenna."


She believed him, even before he bent his head and brushed her lips in an achingly tender kiss. Incredibly, impossibly, she trusted this man who was no man. She wanted his hands on her. Wanted to feel this connection to someone again, even if she wasn't at all ready to think beyond the physical, yearning to touch and be touched.


"It's okay," he murmured against her mouth. "You're safe with me, I promise."


Jenna closed her eyes as his words sank into her, the same words he'd soothed her with in the shattered darkness of her Alaskan cabin, then again in the compound's infirmary. Brock had been her steady link to the living world after her ordeal with the Ancient. Her only lifeline during the endless nightmares that had followed in the days after she'd been brought to this strange place, changed in so many terrifying ways.


And now ...?


Now she wasn't sure where he fit in the confusion that remained of her life. She wasn't ready to think about that. Nor was she at all certain she was ready to give in to the feelings he stirred in her.


She pulled back slightly, doubt and shame welling up from the part of her that was still in mourning, the open wound on her soul that she had long ago come to accept might never fully heal.


Pressing her forehead against the warm solidity of his chest, the soft cotton of his gray T-shirt laced with the exotic scent of him, Jenna drew in a fortifying breath. It leaked out of her as a quiet, broken sigh. "Did I love them enough? That's what I keep asking myself, ever since that night in my cabin ..."


Brock's hands skated lightly over her back as he held her, strong and compassionate, the steady calm she needed in order to relive those torturous moments when the Ancient had pressed her to decide her own fate.


"He made me choose, Brock. That last night in my cabin, I thought he was going to kill me, but he didn't. I wouldn't have fought him if he had. He knew that, I think." She was sure of it, in fact. She had been in a bad place the night the Ancient invaded her cabin home. He'd seen the nearly empty bottle of whiskey on the floor beside her and the loaded pistol in her hand.


The box of photographs she brought out every year around the anniversary of the accident that had robbed her of her family and left her to carry on alone. "He knew I was prepared to die, but instead of killing me, he forced me to speak the words out loud, to tell him what I wanted more--life, or death. It felt like torture, some kind of sick game he was making me play against my will."


Brock ground out something coarse under his breath, but his hands remained gentle against her back, a tender, soothing warmth.


"He made me choose," she said, recalling every unbearable minute of her ordeal.


But even worse than the endless hours of imprisonment and being fed upon, the horror of realizing her captor was a creature not of this earth, was the awful moment when she heard her own voice rasp the words that seemed torn from the deepest, most shameful pit of her soul.


I want to live.


Oh, God ... please, let me live.


I don't want to die!


Jenna swallowed past the lump of anguish in her throat. "I keep thinking that I didn't love them enough," she whispered, miserable at the thought. "I keep thinking that if I really loved them, I would have died with them. That when the Ancient forced me to decide if I wanted to live or not, I would have made a different choice."


When a sob caught her breath, Brock's fingers brushed the underside of her chin. He lifted her face to meet his solemn gaze. "You survived," he said, his voice firm yet infinitely tender. "That's all you did. No one would blame you for that, especially them."


She closed her eyes, feeling the weight of her regret ease a bit with his soothing words. But the void in her heart was a cold, empty place. One that gaped even wider as Brock gathered her close, comforting her. His warmth and caring seeped inside her skin like a balm, adding deeper emotion to the desire that hadn't lessened for the nearness of his body to hers. She curled into the shelter of his arms, resting her cheek against the solid, unwavering strength of him.


"I can take it away, Jenna." She felt the warm press of his mouth, the riffle of his breath through her hair, as he kissed the top of her bowed head.


"I can carry the grief for you, if you want me to."


There was a part of her that rebelled at the idea. The tough woman, the seasoned cop, the one who always charged to the front of any situation, recoiled at the notion that her grief could be too much for her to bear on her own. She had never needed a helping hand, nor would she be the one to ask--not ever. That kind of weakness would never do.


She drew back, denial sitting at the tip of her tongue. But when she parted her lips to speak, the words wouldn't come. She stared up into Brock's handsome face, into his penetrating dark eyes, which seemed to reach deep inside her.


"When was the last time you allowed yourself to be happy, Jenna?"


He stroked her cheek so lightly, so reverently, she shivered under his touch.


"When was the last time you felt pleasure?"


His large hand drifted down, along the side of her neck. Heat radiated from his broad palm and long fingers. Her pulse kicked as he cupped her nape, his thumb caressing the sensitive skin below her ear.


He brought her toward him then, tilting her face up to meet his. He kissed her, slow and deep. The unhurried melding of his mouth against hers sent a current of liquid heat arrowing through her veins. The fire pooled in the center of her, the raw core filling with bright, fierce longing.


"If this isn't what you want," he murmured against her lips, "then all you have to do is tell me. At any time, I'll stop--"


"No." She shook her head as she reached up to touch his strong jaw. "I do want this. I want you--so much right now, it's scaring me half to death."


His smile spread lazily, those sensual lips parting to reveal the white flash of his teeth--and the growing length of his fangs. Jenna stared at his mouth, knowing that basic human survival instincts should be throwing off all sorts of alarms, warning her that getting too close to those sharp canines could be deadly.


But she felt no fear. Rather, her mind recognized his transformation with an inexplicable sense of acceptance. Excitement, even, as the absorbing brown of his eyes began to glitter with fiery amber light.


Above the crewneck collar of his gray T-shirt and beneath the short sleeves that clung to the knotted bulge of his smoothly muscled biceps, Brock's dermaglyphs pulsed with color. The Breed skin markings deepened from their usual dark bronze hue to shades of burgundy, gold, and deepest purple. Jenna ran her fingers along the swirling curves and tapered arches of his glyphs, marveling at their unearthly beauty.


"Everything I thought I knew is different now," she mused aloud as she stood in the circle of his arms, idly tracing the pattern of the glyphs that tracked down his thick forearm. "It's all changed now. I'm changed--in ways I'm not sure will ever make sense to me." She glanced up at him. "I'm not looking for more confusion in my life. I don't think I could handle that on top of the rest of it."


He held her stare, no judgment in his eyes, only patience and an aura of unerring control. "Are you confused right now, when I'm touching you ...


or when I'm kissing you?"


"No," she said, astonished to realize it. "Not then."


"Good." He bent his head and claimed her mouth again, suckling her lower lip, catching it between his teeth as he stroked her back, then palmed his hands along the curve of her ass. He squeezed her possessively, hauling her electrified body up against the hard ridge of his groin. He nuzzled into the crook of her neck, his lips warm and wet on her skin. When he spoke again, his voice was thicker than before, edged with the same kind of need that was roaring through her. "Let yourself feel pleasure, Jenna. If you want it, then that's all this needs to be between us. No pressures, no strings. No promises neither one of us is ready to make."


Oh, God. It sounded so good, so tempting to give in to the desire that had been crackling between them ever since she woke up at the Order's compound. She wasn't ready to open her heart again--she might never be ready for that vulnerability again--but she didn't know if she was strong enough to resist the gift Brock was offering her.

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