"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.

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***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

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