"I don't remember asking what you thought," she said, trying not to let his grim expression and sober tone of voice sway her. He was worried--
deeply worried, about her--and part of her responded to that worry with an awareness she wanted to ignore. "I don't remember putting you in charge of what I do or don't do, either. I make my own decisions. You and the Order may think you can keep me on some kind of a leash--or under a damned microscope so long as it suits you--but don't confuse compliance with control. I'm the only one in control of me."
When she couldn't hold his thunderous gaze any longer, she turned away from him and went back over to the sofa, busying herself with picking up the collection of books she'd been thumbing through in her restlessness of the past few hours.
"Christ, you are hardheaded, aren't you, lady?" He blew out a low curse. "That's your biggest problem."
"What the hell does that mean?" She threw a scowl in his direction, surprised to find he had moved up right behind her. Close enough to touch her. Close enough that she felt the heat of him in every awakened nerve ending in her body. She steeled herself against the masculine power that radiated off his big form, hating the fact that she could still be wildly attracted to him even when her blood was simmering in anger.
His stare penetrated, seeming to bore right through her. "It's all about control with you, Jenna. You just can't stand to give it up, can you?"
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"No? I'll bet you were like this from the time you were a little girl."
She turned away from him while he was talking, determined not to let him goad her. She grabbed an armful of books and carried them over to the built-in shelves. "I'll bet you've been like this your whole life, haven't you?
Everything's got to be on your terms, isn't that right? Never let anyone take the reins, no matter what. You don't budge an inch unless you've got your sweet, stubborn ass planted firmly in the driver's seat."
As much as she wanted to deny it, he was hitting very close to home.
She flashed back through the years of her childhood, all the playground fights and daredevil stunts she'd gotten dragged into just to prove that she wasn't afraid. Her time in the police force had been more of the same, though on a grander scale, upgrading from fists to bullets, but still struggling to show she was as good as any man--better, even.
Marriage and motherhood had presented another set of obstacles to master, and that was the one area in which she'd failed miserably. Paused in front of the bookcase, Brock's verbal challenge hanging behind her, she closed her eyes and remembered the argument she and Mitch had the night of the accident. He'd accused her of being stubborn, too. He'd been right, but she hadn't realized that until she'd woken up in the hospital weeks later without her family.
But this was different. Brock wasn't her husband. Just because they'd had a few moments of pleasure together--and despite the attraction that still crackled between them whenever they got near each other--that didn't give him a license to impose himself on her decisions.
"You want to know what I think?" she asked, her movements clipped with irritation as she filed each book back in its rightful place on the shelves.
"I think you're the one with the problem. You wouldn't know what to do with a woman who doesn't need you looking after her. A real woman, who can survive just fine on her own and not let you hold yourself responsible if she gets hurt. You'd rather blame yourself for not living up to some imaginary bar you've set--some unattainable measure of honor and worth. If you want to talk about problems, try taking a good look at yourself."
He had gone so quiet and still, Jenna thought he might have walked out of the room. But when she turned around to see if he had left, she found him standing near the sofa, holding the old photograph that she'd first discovered tucked into the pages of one of his books. He was staring at the image of the pretty young woman with the ebony hair and large almond eyes. His jaw was held tight, a tendon ticking hard in his smooth, dark cheek.
"Yeah, maybe you're right about me, Jenna," he said finally, letting the photo drift out of his grasp to the sofa cushion. When he looked over at her, his face was schooled and sober, the consummate warrior. "None of this changes the fact that I am responsible for you. Lucan made it my duty to keep you protected while you're in the Order's custody--"
"Custody?" she balked, but he spoke right over her.
"--and that means whether you like it or not, whether you approve or not, I do have a say in what you do, or who you come in contact with."
She scoffed, outraged. "Like hell you do."
He stalked over to her, barely three long strides before he was standing right up against her, the nearness of him sucking all the air from the room. Glittering heat lit his eyes from deep within. His fierce stare likely should have cowered her, but she was too hot with indignation--and too very much aware of the way her senses reached out to him in longing, despite the anger that made her chin jut upward. When she glared at him, casting inside herself for the tough-as-nails attitude that might have given her the strength to shove him away with harsh words or prickly defiance, she found it had deserted her.
All she could do was hold the breath that had suddenly gone shallow in her lungs. He ran his fingertips along the side of her cheek, such a skating, tender touch. His thumb lingered on her lips, stroking in a lazy pattern as his eyes drank her in for what seemed like forever.
Then he gathered her face in his palms and drew her toward him for a sizzling, and all-too-brief, kiss.
When he released her, she saw the sparks that glimmered in his eyes had now grown to bright, smoldering embers. His chest was firm and warm against hers, his arousal pressing bold and unmistakable against her hip. She staggered backward on her heels, a blaze of desire racing in her veins.
"You can fight me all you want on this, Jenna, I don't fucking care."
Although his words were all business, his low voice vibrated through her like the coming of a storm. "You are mine to protect and keep safe, so make no mistake: If you leave the compound, you leave with me."
Brock made good on his intent to accompany her to the FBI meeting in New York.
Jenna didn't know what he'd said to Lucan to persuade him, but later that morning, instead of Renata driving the Order's black Range Rover through four hours of unfamiliar highway from Boston to Manhattan, it had been Jenna behind the wheel, with GPS on the dashboard and Brock trying to help navigate from the far back of the vehicle. His solar-sensitive Breed skin cells and daytime UV concerns had kept him from even thinking he could sit beside her up front for such a long trip, let alone do the driving.
Although it was probably beyond immature for her to be amused, Jenna had to admit she took a certain satisfaction in his mandatory banishment to the seat behind her. She hadn't forgotten his accusation about her always needing to be the one in charge, but judging from the impatient driving advice and muttered commentary about the apparent lead in her foot, it was obvious that she wasn't the only one who had a problem surrendering control.
And now, as they sat inside the dark cavern of an underground parking garage across the street from the FBI field office in New York City, Brock was still giving her orders from the backseat.
"Text me as soon as you're past security." At her nod, he went on.
"Once you're in your meeting with the agent, text me again. I want periodic text check-ins, no less than fifteen minutes apart or I'm coming in after you."
Jenna huffed out an impatient sigh and shot him a look around the driver's seat. "This isn't a middle school dance. It's a professional office meeting in a very public building. Unless something goes totally off the rails in there, I'll text you when I get into the meeting and when it's over."
She could tell he was scowling behind his wraparound UV-blocking sunglasses. "If you won't take this seriously, then I am going in with you."
"I'm taking it very seriously," she argued. "And as far as you walking into that government building? Please. You're dripping with weapons and covered in head-to-toe black kevlar. You wouldn't make it past the front door security--assuming the daylight didn't fry you first."
"Security wouldn't be an issue. I would be nothing more than a cold breeze at the back of their necks as I passed through."
Jenna barked out a laugh. "Okay, then what? You're going to skulk in the hallway while I meet with Special Agent Cho?"
"I'll do what it takes," he answered, utterly serious. "This information-gathering exercise ultimately belongs to the Order. It's our intel you're going after. And I still don't like the idea of you going in there alone."
She pivoted away from him, stung somehow that he didn't seem to see her as part of the Order, as well. She stared out the window at a flickering yellow light in the cavernous garage. "If you were so concerned I couldn't handle this meeting by myself, maybe you should have let Renata come with me instead."
He leaned forward, stripping off his shades and coming between the seats to take hold of her shoulders. His strong fingers grasped her firmly, his eyes blazing in a mix of deepest brown and fiery amber. But when he spoke, his voice was nothing but velvet. "I am concerned, Jenna. But not as much about the damned meeting as I am about you. Fuck the meeting. There's nothing we can get out of there that's even half as important to me as making sure you're okay. Renata's not here because if anyone's gonna watch your back, it's gonna be me."
She grunted softly, smiling despite her aggravation with him. "You'd better be careful. You're starting to sound an awful lot like a partner to me."
She meant patrol partner, but the remark she'd intended as wry humor now hung between them full of dangerous innuendo. A heavy, unspoken tension filled the cramped space of the vehicle as Brock held her gaze.
Finally, he heaved a dark curse and released his hold on her. His cheek pulsed as he stared in lengthening silence.
He sat back, withdrawing from the front of the Rover and settling once more into the shadows behind her.
"Just keep me informed, Jenna. Can you give me that much?"
She let out the breath she'd been holding and reached for the handle on the driver's-side door of the vehicle. "I'll text you from inside."
Without waiting to hear his growled reply, she climbed out of the SUV and headed for the FBI field office across the street.
Special Agent Phillip Cho didn't keep her waiting so much as five minutes in the eighteenth-floor reception area. Jenna had just fired off her text message to Brock when the clean-cut agent in a black suit and conservative tie emerged from his office to greet her. After declining a cup of stale afternoon coffee, she was led past a sea of cubicles to a conference room just off the main office area.
Agent Cho gestured her toward a swivel chair at the oblong table in the center of the room. He closed the door behind him, then took the seat directly across from her. He set a black leather notepad down in front of him and offered her a polite smile. "So, how long have you been retired from law enforcement, Ms. Darrow?"
The question surprised her. Not only for its directness, but for the fact that her FBI friend in Anchorage had offered to keep her civilian status under his hat. Of course, it shouldn't surprise her that Cho would do some homework on her in preparation of their meeting.
Jenna cleared her throat. "Four years ago, I resigned from the AST.
Due to reasons of a personal nature."
He nodded sympathetically, and she realized that he'd already known the answer and her reasons for leaving the Staties.
"I must admit, I was surprised to discover that your inquiry into TerraGlobal wasn't an official investigation," he said. "If I had known, I probably would not have agreed to this meeting. I'm sure you understand that using state or federal resources for personal interests is illegal and can carry severe consequences."
She lifted her shoulder in a faint shrug, not about to let him cow her with threats about procedure and protocol. She'd played that card too many times herself back when she wore a badge and uniform. "Call me inquisitive.
We had a mining company in the interior go up in smoke--literally--and no one from the parent corporation has bothered to offer even so much as an apology to the town. There's going to be a hell of a bill attached to the cleanup, and I'm sure the town of Harmony would appreciate knowing where to send it."
Under the stark light of the fluorescent lamps overhead, Cho's unblinking stare put an odd buzz in her veins. "So, your interest in the matter is primarily that of a concerned citizen. Do I understand you correctly, Ms.
"That's right. And the cop in me can't help wondering what kind of management a shadowy outfit like TerraGlobal Partners employs. Nothing but ghosts and phantoms, from what little I've been able to find."
Cho grunted, still holding her in that unsettling stare across the table.
"What exactly have you found, Ms. Darrow? I would be very interested to hear more."
Jenna tilted her chin down and gave him a narrowed look. "You expect me to share my intel when you're sitting there giving me nothing in return? Not gonna happen. You first, Special Agent Cho. What's your interest in TerraGlobal?"
He sat back from the table and steepled his fingers in front of his thin smile. "I'm afraid that's classified information."
His air of dismissal was unmistakable, but she'd be damned if she'd come all this way for the meeting only to be stonewalled by a smug suit who seemed to be enjoying the fact that he was jerking her around. And the more she looked at him, the more his flat expression seemed to make her skin crawl.
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