"You're so beautiful," he murmured, his touch roaming all over her sensitive flesh.
She opened her eyes and stared down at him. "I want to be beautiful to you. That's how you make me feel." She held his unwavering amber-flecked gaze, forcing herself to not shy away from the emotion that was swamping her. She felt safe with him. Safe enough to tell him what was in her heart. "I feel happy, Brock, for the first time in a very long time. Because of you, I'm feeling so many things ..."
"Jenna," he murmured, frowning now, his expression turning very serious.
She forged on, having already stepped past the edge of this cliff and determined to take it all the way down. "I know you said you don't like complications or long-term relationships. I know you said you don't want to get involved--"
"I am involved," he said, running his hands down her sides, resting them on her hips where their bodies were intimately joined. He rocked into her slowly. "It doesn't get more involved than this. God, I never planned on you, Jenna. I thought I was playing it safe, but you've changed everything."
His touch was light as he caressed her cheek and jawline. "I don't have the answers when it comes to you ... to us ... and what we have together."
She swallowed, shaking her head in mute denial.
"I didn't want to fall in love," she whispered. "I didn't think I could ever again."
He held her in a tender gaze. "And I told myself I wouldn't."
Jenna parted her lips, uncertain what she meant to say. An instant later, it didn't matter. Brock drew her down to him and kissed her, wrapping her in his arms. His mouth pressed hers, his tongue pushing past her lips and driving her mad with the need for more. She ground against his hips, heat flaring brighter in her core and flowing out to her every nerve ending.
She rose up, panting now, unable to keep from moving on him as her need swelled to a fever pitch.
"You're in control, baby," he said, his voice thick and raspy. "Take whatever you want."
She eyed his throat, watching the vein that pulsed so strongly at the side of his neck. Hunger kicked deep inside her, startling her with its ferocity. She pulled her gaze away and met the glittering heat of his transformed eyes.
"Anything," he said, looking more than eager for her to have her way with him.
She rocked on him, savoring the feel of their joined bodies, and half dizzy from arousal already. Her orgasm roared up on her quickly. She tried to stave it off, but sensation flooded her as she rode the heat and power of Brock's sex.
He watched her with avid interest, his lips pulled back off his fangs, the ropelike tendons in his neck strung tight as he arched his shoulders up off the bed. Jenna couldn't keep her eyes from the frantic beat of his pulse. It echoed in her bones, in her own veins. In the impatient rhythm of her body as she shuddered with the sudden detonation of her release.
"Yeah," he groaned, splaying his hands at her back and not letting her draw away when the hunger bore down on her like a tidal wave. "Let it go, Jenna. Anything you want."
With a snarled cry she couldn't hold back, she buried her face in the side of his neck and bit down hard. Blood surged into her mouth, hot and thick and spicy-sweet.
Brock hissed a rough curse that sounded anything but sorry. His body shook as he drove deeper inside her, every hard thrust increasing her pleasure, driving her hunger to even greater heights. He shouted as his orgasm racked him, his strong pulse drumming against the tip of her tongue as Jenna closed her lips around his open vein and began to drink.
Two days had passed since the attack on Lazaro Archer's family and the rescue mission that saved young Kellan. The boy was recovering physically from his capture and mistreatment, but Jenna knew as well as anyone that his emotional scars--the reality of all he'd lost in one hellish moment--would be with him long after the cuts and bruises had healed. She only hoped he'd find a means of coping with them in less time and self-defeating agony than it had taken her to deal with her own.
She wished the same for his Gen One grandfather, too, although Lazaro Archer hardly seemed the kind to need anyone's sympathy. Once the funeral ceremony for his son, Christophe, had taken place at the compound, Lazaro had refused to so much as speak of that violent night. In the time since, he'd devoted himself to working closely with the Order. The Gen One civilian now appeared as determined as any of the warriors to see Dragos and his entire operation destroyed.
Jenna knew that feeling. It was maddening to think that evil like Dragos was loose in the world. He was stepping up his operation, which meant the Order could not afford to let any opportunity to gain an upper hand slip away. After what he'd been willing to do to Lazaro Archer and his family, Jenna couldn't help worrying even more about the group of Breedmates known to be kept under his control.
At least on that front, there was a glimmer of hope. Dylan had gotten a call that morning from the administrator at Sister Margaret Howland's retirement home in Gloucester. The elderly nun had been told about Dylan's request for a visit, and she was excited for a little company and conversation.
Jenna had been first to volunteer when Dylan announced the afternoon excursion. Renata and Alex had also offered to ride along, everyone eager to see if Claire Reichen's sketches of the captive Breedmates would bear fruit.
Now, as the four women drove into Gloucester in a black Rover from the Order's fleet, all they had to hope for was a few moments of mental clarity from the aging sister.
Even Lucan had agreed that if they could get just so much as one female's name, it would make the entire mission worthwhile.
Brock hadn't been thrilled about the prospect of Jenna leaving the compound, particularly so soon after the violence perpetrated on Lazaro Archer and his kin. He worried, as always, and where it used to rankle, now his concern warmed her.
He cared about her, and she had to admit, it felt very good to know that she had someone guarding her back. More than that, she believed Brock was a man who would guard her heart every bit as carefully as he did her safety and well-being.
She hoped he would, because over the past few days--and incredible nights--she had laid her heart openly in his hands.
"Here we are," Dylan said from the front passenger seat of the Rover as Renata turned into the retirement home driveway. "The administrator told me that Sister Margaret takes her afternoon tea around this time in the library. She said we could just go on in."
"There it is." Alex pointed toward a bronze sign sticking out of a snowbank in front of a modest little clapboard cottage.
Renata parked in the half-empty lot and killed the engine. "Here goes nothing, eh? Jenna, will you grab that leather tote bag from the back?"
She pivoted to pull the collection of file folders and notepads out of the cargo area, then climbed out of the vehicle with her friends.
As Jenna came around the front of the Rover, Dylan took the tote bag from her and held it against her chest. Pursing her lips, she blew out a heavy sigh.
Alex paused next to her. "What's wrong?"
"All my research the past few months is coming down to this moment.
If this turns out to be a dead end, you guys, then I don't have a clue where to begin to looking next."
"Relax," Renata said, taking Dylan's shoulders in a sisterly hold.
"You've been busting your ass on this investigation. We wouldn't even be this far without you. You and Claire both."
Dylan nodded, although not quite buoyed by the pep talk. "We just really need a decent lead. I don't think I could handle it if we end up back at square one."
"If we have to start all over," Jenna said, "then we just work harder.
Renata smiled, her pale green eyes twinkling as she buttoned up her leather duster to conceal the blades and gun belt that studded her fatigues-clad hips. "Come on. Let's go have tea with the nice old ladies."
Jenna thought it wise to zip up her own coat, too, since Brock insisted she carry a weapon whenever she left the compound. It felt strange to wear a firearm again, but it was a different kind of strange from the way she'd felt back in Alaska.
Everything about her felt different now.
She was different, and she liked the person she was becoming.
More important, she was learning to forgive the person she'd been in Alaska.
She'd left a part of herself back in Harmony, a part she could never get back, but as she stepped into the warm cottage library with Renata and Dylan and Alex, she couldn't imagine returning to the woman she'd been before. She had friends here now, and important work that needed to be done.
Best of all, she had Brock.
It was that thought that made her smile a little brighter as Dylan brought them over to a frail elderly woman who sat quietly on a rose-patterned sofa near the library's fireplace. Cloudy blue eyes blinked a couple of times from beneath a fluffy crown of white curly hair. Jenna could still see the kind expression of the nun in the shelter photograph in the lined face that peered up at the Order's women.
"Sister Margaret?" Dylan said, holding out her hand. "I'm Sharon Alexander's daughter, Dylan. And these are my friends."
"Oh, my goodness," exclaimed the sweet old nun. "They told me I was having company for tea today. Please, sit down, girls. I so rarely have guests."
Dylan took a seat on the sofa next to the sister. Jenna and Alex sat on either side of the coffee table, in a pair of worn wingback chairs. Renata positioned herself with her back to a wall, her eyes on the door--a trained warrior, ever on guard.
Never mind that the only people in the room besides the four of them and Sister Margaret were a couple of cotton-topped ladies hobbling behind metal walkers and wearing emergency call necklaces along with their rosary beads.
Jenna listened idly as Dylan attempted a bit of small talk with Sister Margaret, then delved into the purpose of their visit. She pulled out a handful of sketches, trying desperately to jump-start the aging nun's failing memory. It didn't appear to be going very well.
"Are you sure you don't remember any of these girls being clients of the shelter?" Dylan slid a couple more sketches in front of the old woman.
The sister peered at the hand-rendered faces, but there was no glint of recognition in the kind blue eyes. "Please try, Sister Margaret. Anything you recall could be very helpful to us."
"I am sorry, my dear. I'm afraid my memory isn't what it used to be."
She picked up her teacup and took a sip. "But then, I never was any good with names and faces. God saw fit to give me enough other blessings, I suppose." Jenna watched Dylan deflate as she reluctantly began to gather up her materials. "That's all right, Sister Margaret. I appreciate that you were willing to see us."
"Oh, my word," the sister blurted, putting her cup back down on the saucer. "What a terrible hostess I am! I forgot to make you girls some tea."
Dylan reached for her tote bag. "It's not necessary. We shouldn't take up any more of your time."
"Nonsense. You came for tea."
As she got up from the sofa and shuffled into the cottage's little kitchenette, Dylan sent an apologetic look at Jenna and the others. As the sister rummaged around in the other room, putting on the water and rattling cups, Dylan swept up all of the sketches and photographs. She stuffed everything back in the tote bag and placed it next to her on the floor.
After a few minutes, Sister Margaret's reedy voice filtered out to them. "Was Sister Grace able to help you at all, dear?"
Dylan glanced up, frowning. "Sister Grace?"
"Yes. Sister Grace Gilhooley. She and I volunteered at the shelter together. We both were part of the same convent here in Boston."
"Holy shit," Dylan mouthed silently, excitement glittering in her eyes.
She got up off the sofa and walked into the kitchenette. "I would love to talk to Sister Grace. You don't happen to know how we can find her, do you?"
Sister Margaret nodded proudly. "Why, of course, I do. She lives not even five minutes from here, along the coast. Her father was a sea captain.
Or a fisherman. Well, I don't quite recall, to tell you the truth."
"That's okay," Dylan said. "Can you give us her phone number or address, so we can contact her?"
"I'll do better than that, dear. I'll call her myself and let her know you'd like to ask her about some of those shelter girls." Behind Sister Margaret, the teakettle began to whistle. She smiled, as pleasant as a sweet little granny. "First, we're going to have that cup of tea together."
They'd gulped their tea as quickly as they could without seeming completely rude.
Even so, it had taken more than twenty minutes to get away from sweet Sister Margaret Mary Howland. Fortunately, her offer to phone Sister Grace had proven useful.
The other retired nun was apparently in better health than her friend, living without assistance, and, from the one-sided conversation Jenna and the others had been privy to, it sounded like Sister Grace Gilhooley was willing and able to provide whatever information they needed about her work in the New York shelter.
"Nice place," Jenna remarked as Renata wheeled the Rover along a stretch of shoreline road that led to a cheery yellow Victorian secluded on a jutting peninsula of rocky land.
The big house sat on about two acres of land, a postage stamp compared to home sites in Alaska, but clearly a luxury setting here on the coast of Cape Cod. With snow filling the yard and clinging to the rocks, the steel blue ocean sprawling out to the horizon, the bright canary Victorian looked as wholesome and inviting as a spot of warm sunshine in the midst of so much cold and winter.
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