Just one touch, p.12
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       Just One Touch, p.12
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         Part #5 of Slow Burn series by Maya Banks
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  “I’m sorry,” she choked out. “You should have never come.”

  As the others let out growls of disagreement and Isaac felt his blood pressure rise to the point of exploding, she simply let go and disappeared from view. Isaac lurched forward, holding on to the edge of the opening, his ears straining for any sound.

  “Got her,” Shadow softly called up. “Move out. We’re on the clock.”

  One by one, the men rapidly shot out of the chute and into the laundry room. The room was musty and neglected, its age evident in the crumbling sheetrock and the cracks in the ceiling and foundation.

  “How often did they check on you, sweetheart?” Dane asked Jenna gently as they moved as a unit toward the kitchen where they’d gained access to the building.

  “They left me alone after the first time when . . .” she trailed off, her gaze dropping and her cheeks turning pink with embarrassment.

  The others exchanged grim expressions. They knew well about that first time and as angry as Isaac was about the son of a bitch who’d put his hands on Jenna, he was relieved that from that point no one had bothered her.

  “They tied me up and left me on the floor,” she said, her chin coming up, defiance glinting in her eyes. Almost as if she’d admonished herself for feeling shame for something she had no control over. Now if he could only get her to see reason in other areas . . . “I don’t think they were overly concerned about me going anywhere. They were busy planning their move to a more secure location.”

  She dropped her head once more, but Isaac saw fury burning in her ice-blue eyes. It was a stunning contradiction. Fire and ice.

  “I didn’t exactly prove a challenge to them. He laughed at me and said I’d made it far too easy and that he was disappointed. Then he told me that I may have been able to waltz right out of protective custody but that where he was taking me I’d never see outside the walls of my prison. He seemed to think he was very amusing. He told me that he might consider torturing those who defied him, just so he could send them to me so I’d have company every once in a while.”

  Her voice dropped to a whisper and became tearful.

  “But he also said he’d never allow me to heal them. He planned only to taunt them with my presence and the knowledge of what I could do so they’d know healing and life was so very close, just a touch away, and he wanted me to watch them die because he knew exactly what that would do to a person like me.”

  She shuddered, and Isaac put his arm around her to squeeze comfortingly.

  Knight eased his head forward to get a sight line down the hallway in both directions, to and from the kitchen, their objective. He gave a simple nod and Isaac urged Jenna forward, wanting her out of this place as quickly as possible.

  Just as he and Jenna were about to step into the hall, where they’d be visible to anyone present there, apprehension rolled down his spine. Without confirming his gut feeling, he slammed Jenna back, inserting his body in front of her. She stumbled, but Shadow caught her against his body and quickly covered her mouth with his huge hand to silence her.

  The remaining group of men slid down the wall from the doorway so they wouldn’t be readily visible. Only if the person walking rapidly down the hall chose to enter the laundry room.

  Shit. Isaac hoped the others had already left the kitchen and were outside waiting because if not, they were all fucked. Isaac watched the outline of a large man pass by the laundry room and pause at the kitchen door. He peered in and then let out a grumble. Then he checked his watch and swore before lifting a radio to the side of his head.

  “When the fuck is Chopper going to cook some goddamn food?”

  “He’s not, fool,” the reply crackled over the two-way radio.

  “Why the fuck not? I’m starving, and I’m sure everyone else is too.”

  “Perhaps you should worry more about doing as you were told and carrying out those orders instead of planning the next time to stuff more food into your lard ass,” a silky, taunting voice sounded low over the radio.

  Jenna went rigid, her hand flying to her mouth as if she were going to be sick. Her eyes were sorrowful and she bit down on her knotted fist just as an involuntary dry heave wracked her body.

  Shadow’s arm went around her for support and then he gently extricated her curled fingers from her mouth, rubbing the teeth marks left by her agitation.

  “I think those hands have suffered enough abuse already,” he whispered next to her ear. “He can’t hurt you, Jenna. We’d never let that happen.”

  Her eyes flew to his, her misery so pronounced that it made Isaac’s own gut clench.

  “What is it, little angel?” Shadow asked, frowning at her extreme reaction.

  “He’ll kill him,” she said, barely managing to form the words.

  Her stomach heaved again, but this time she swallowed it back and balled her fists at her sides.

  “We have to hurry. He’s one of those people I told you about. One of the ones he’ll torture for pissing him off. Then he’ll bring him to me, just like he promised, and he’ll let him die while I have to watch.”

  Tears trickled down her cheeks as everyone else exchanged looks of shock. She spoke with too much conviction for someone who hadn’t seen it happen.

  A noise in the hallway distracted Isaac from Jenna, and he focused on the man who’d been standing there a moment ago. Now two men flanked him, and the man who’d complained about being hungry had gone white as a sheet and was begging. Oh Jesus. What the fuck? He glanced sharply back at Jenna, knowing a hell of a lot more had happened than what Ramie had seen and what they’d assumed when Jenna had said no one had been back.

  “We have to go now!” Jenna hissed with urgency. “We only have a few minutes before they’ll know I’m gone.”

  Bile rose in Isaac’s throat and Shadow didn’t look any better as realization sank in. As soon as the hallway was clear, Isaac yanked Jenna to him and grabbed her hand. Shadow hovered on her other side while the rest took positions in front of and behind Isaac, Jenna and Shadow.

  They rushed into the kitchen and out the back door, knowing they would have been alerted by Dane if the exit had been compromised. Dane looked up in relief from his lookout position when they barged into the night. The others were in similar guarded positions, but now they all turned in the direction of the section of fence that had been cut through.

  “Situation upgraded to ‘get the fuck out as fast as possible,’ ” Isaac barked to Dane.

  Choosing speed over stealth, the men took off at a dead run while Isaac simply plucked Jenna from her feet and tossed her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry and then he too ran, keeping pace with them while bearing Jenna’s slight weight.

  “What the fuck did that sick bastard do to her?” Shadow whispered as he ran next to Isaac.

  Isaac closed his eyes. He responded in a whispered voice to make sure Jenna didn’t hear their exchange. “I think it’s pretty obvious and I don’t want to make her relive that now. I wanted to fucking throw up myself when I realized and Jesus, Shadow, did you see her eyes?”

  Shadow’s features became glacial, his expression icy. “I’m going to find that bastard if it’s the last thing I do.”

  Alarm registered at Shadow’s quiet vow.

  “Need you to stick with me, man. You aren’t going to have to find Jaysus. He’ll be coming for us, and I’m going to need all the protection for Jenna that I can get.”

  Shadow briefly glanced over at Jenna. She was slung over Isaac’s opposite shoulder, but held with extreme care so she was jostled as little as possible as they closed the distance between where she’d been kept prisoner and where Brent waited to drive them to safety.

  “You got it, brother,” Shadow said, his words a quiet vow.

  SEVENTEEN

  ISAAC glanced at Jenna, who sat huddled amid the group of grim-faced DSS operatives in the back of the cargo van, her face pale, eyes wide and swamped with a myriad of emotions, all of which made him seethe. Guilt, fear
and sadness. He wanted to pull her into his arms and never let go, but he couldn’t until he knew why she took off like she did and what the hell was going on in her mind before her flight—and now, he had to keep it under control. Which was pretty hard to do when he was on the verge of losing his fucking mind.

  Silence lay heavy in the interior of the van and avoidance seemed to be the choice of everyone. Except Shadow, who’d apparently become Jenna’s champion. Another thing that he had mixed feelings about. On one hand, he was glad she had Shadow’s protection, but on the other it just pissed Isaac the fuck off. Anything—everything—having to do with Jenna was Isaac’s job and his job only, and his teammate had better not cross the line or they were going to have serious problems.

  Shadow turned to look at Jenna. Her gaze was fixed on a distant spot out the windows of the back door of the large cargo area, her mind obviously a million miles away. Most of the men were slouched in various positions, leaning against the side walls of the van, but Jenna had edged toward the back as if trying to separate herself from everyone. Only Isaac hadn’t let her put any distance between him and her. He’d simply shifted in her direction every time she moved away.

  “You okay, sweetheart?” Shadow asked in a gentle tone.

  Jenna looked up with startled eyes, seemingly shocked that anyone had inquired as to her well-being. Did she think they were all pissed at her? Did she think anything about the way Isaac felt about her had changed? Fuck. As soon as they arrived at yet another of DSS’s hidey-holes, they were going to have one serious come-to-Jesus meeting.

  Her eyes watered, becoming shiny and luminous with tears, and Isaac clenched his jaw so tight it was a wonder he didn’t crack his teeth.

  “I’m sorry,” she said brokenly, not answering Shadow’s question. “I didn’t mean this to happen. I’m so sorry I keep causing so much trouble. I didn’t mean for you all to do this, to take this kind of risk. I didn’t know what else to do. You’ve all already done so much and I just keep messing up.”

  She closed her eyes, turning her face completely away so no one could see her features. Shadow’s expression was so black that it looked like he’d blow up at any moment.

  “You’re sorry you’re not still with those bastards who planned to do God only knows what to you?” Shadow bit out. “Jesus Christ, Jenna, do you even realize what could have happened to you? All the ways they could have hurt you and made you suffer? Did you expect us to just walk away and leave you to those bastards? Do you really believe you have so little worth?”

  He sent a look of disgust Isaac’s way as if believing Isaac hadn’t convinced her just how much she meant, not only to him, but to Shadow. Isaac didn’t pretend to know exactly what had happened in that moment when Jenna touched Shadow and healed him, but he knew a bond had been formed, just as an unbreakable bond had been formed the instant Jenna had touched him. She’d changed something in both men, had given them both something they’d never had and never knew they needed.

  “I just don’t want any of you to get hurt or die because of me,” Jenna said, tears now leaking down her cheeks in damp trails. “I couldn’t bear it.”

  “You don’t think we feel the same way about you?” Isaac roared, causing Jenna to jump, her gaze shooting to him, fear sparking in her eyes for a moment. “Goddamn it, Jenna. Don’t be afraid of me. Never be afraid of me. I’ll never hurt you and so help me God, I’ll take apart anyone who ever does.”

  Shadow seemed satisfied with Isaac’s response, but he sent Jenna a stern look. It would likely scare most people, but it also held a glint of tenderness that was completely uncharacteristic of the secretive man.

  “Promise me you’ll never do something that foolish again,” Shadow demanded, holding her gaze even as his features softened at the sight of her tears. “We can’t protect you if you won’t let us.”

  He held up a hand when she started to open her mouth.

  “I don’t want to hear another goddamn word about protecting us or about you worrying about us,” he said, staring her down even harder. “The only words I want out of your mouth right now are that you promise to do what I—we’ve—told you, and that’s to let us do our job.”

  Jenna bit into her bottom lip and turned her face toward the window again, but not before Isaac—and the others—saw a fresh torrent of tears streaking down her pale cheeks.

  Shadow sent Isaac a meaningful look. Hell, every single person in the van, including Brent, who was driving, gave him a stare that said he’d better handle the situation with Jenna and tell her whatever the fuck he had to in order to convince her to stop with her foolish notions of saving them all at the expense of her life. Dane looked like he was about to launch into his own lecture judging by the decidedly unhappy look on his face, but Isaac sent him a look that dared him to push any further. She’d gotten the damn message, or maybe she hadn’t, but she would, because it wasn’t the place of these men to get it through her head that she was the sum and entirety of Isaac’s entire existence. It was his job, god damn it, and if she didn’t get that yet, she’d get it before the night was over.

  Isaac swallowed, his lips pressed into a tight line even though it was killing him to wait. But fuck if he was going to air his feelings for Jenna for anyone but her to hear, and fuck if he was going to tear into her in front of the others, make her even more upset and embarrassed than she already was. He merely sent everyone back a stare of his own that made it very clear he was marking his territory and for them to back the hell off.

  Seemingly satisfied with the silent smack-down that had just occurred, the others turned their attention away from Isaac and Jenna and the rest of the trip was made in silence.

  But Isaac could bear Jenna’s distance no longer. Even if he was going to wait until they were alone to have a long talk with her, he wasn’t about to allow her to think he was pissed at her. He was plenty pissed about a multitude of things, but he wasn’t pissed at her.

  He leaned across the distance to where Jenna was huddled as close to the double doors—and as far away from him—as possible, and he slid one arm behind her back and the other beneath her legs, lifting her and hauling her into his lap.

  Her wide eyes found his and the way she stared up at him damn near broke his heart. Her gaze was so full of apprehension, as if she expected him to lash out at her. He wrapped both arms around her and crushed her to his chest, holding her so tightly he doubted she could breathe. Fair enough, since it felt as if he hadn’t breathed from the moment he’d awakened to find her gone from his bed.

  He buried his lips in her hair, pressing them tightly to the crown of her head, inhaling her sweet scent. He savored the feel of her in his arms, her precious weight finally setting his world to rights after hours of enduring hell.

  “Never do that to me again, Jenna,” he whispered. “God, baby, I can’t breathe when you aren’t with me. Swear you’ll never leave me again.”

  She didn’t respond, but she slowly relaxed, tension bleeding from her taut muscles, and her body melded to his like the missing half of a whole. He closed his eyes and sucked in deep breaths through his nose until all he could smell was her, until all he could feel was her. Never, never did he want to experience the agony of not knowing where she was, if she was hurt or afraid. Dear God, he wouldn’t survive it.

  How in the hell did Caleb and Beau endure what their wives went through at the price of their gifts? How had Zack survived over a decade of not knowing where Gracie was, torturing himself every hour of every day wondering what had happened to her, if she’d been hurt, if she needed him or if she was even alive?

  And sweet Jesus, but how had Sterling not gone completely over the edge after seeing Eliza throw herself in front of him, taking the bullet that would have killed him when she’d spent days in a coma, so close to death that the doctor had given her only a five percent chance of surviving?

  Seeing the woman you loved suffer the unimaginable marked a man in a way that was never truly forgotten, just shoved back,
only to return in unguarded moments and in nightmares never shared for the sheer rawness of having to recount them.

  Isaac shuddered at just how close he’d come to losing Jenna. Already she was so much a part of his every waking thought that he couldn’t imagine his world without her in it. Sweat formed on his brow and he mentally shook away the lingering terror that still gripped tenaciously at his throat.

  She was here. In his arms. He was holding her and she was unharmed.

  Thank God.

  They pulled into the underground parking garage of a thirty-story building that looked like any other downtown structure, complete with a directory of businesses listed by floor. Only there was just one actual business, and it was directly in the center of the building, fifteen stories up. That entire floor had been converted to a fortified sanctuary, complete with a full kitchen, a dining area, two large living rooms, half a dozen bedrooms and an entire armory that held every weapon in their arsenal, many of which the military didn’t even have access to.

  The building could withstand just about anything but a direct hit by a missile. Isaac didn’t even want to imagine the kind of money it had cost to fortify an entire skyscraper into an impenetrable fortress. In the past he’d made jokes with the best of them about the paranoia involved in creating such a massive safe zone, but right now he wasn’t laughing, and he was damn grateful for Dane’s meticulous, always-prepare-for-the-worst personality.

  DSS’s front man was a secretive man and there was likely only one person in DSS who even knew his story—Eliza. But Isaac doubted even she had the entirety of it. Dane came from obvious wealth but he didn’t flaunt it and instead adopted a low-key appearance, quiet and very observant. He had connections most intelligence agents would orgasm over, but he never gave up his sources of intel—classified or not—and neither did he ever say how he got his hands on the high-tech weapons or intelligence he produced at extremely opportune moments.

  His motto wasn’t prepare for the worst. It was expect the worst and be damn ready to kick its fucking ass. Isaac would never crack another joke at Dane’s expense again.

  This building wasn’t technically owned by DSS. It, and everything it contained, was brought to the table by Dane. Someone as wealthy and as well connected as Dane could easily be arrogant and attach strings or conditions to what he offered DSS and anyone working for him, but that wasn’t who Dane was. He considered every single agent his family and he protected them as ferociously as a mother lion. Which was why he was slouched among the rest of the DSS men in the van. Because he was intimately involved in the majority of the missions, and perhaps what Isaac admired most about his leader was that he didn’t insist on leading every time.

  Isaac had seen how some of his other teammates had benefited from Dane’s vast stockpile, but he’d never considered how important the extent of Dane’s protection of those he considered his own was until now, when it extended to Jenna. Dane already had his absolute loyalty and dedication, but now he had his deepest gratitude because he was protecting the most important thing in the world to Isaac, and he’d never be able to repay that kind of debt.

  Instead of helping Jenna from the vehicle when they’d parked, Isaac simply picked her up and cradled her in his arms, as the others scrambled out to provide a protective circle around them. They strode rapidly toward the secure elevator that would take them to the fifteenth floor, while Dane made a quick call to Caleb to assure him of their success in retrieving Jenna and made sure that all was well at the secondary location where Caleb, Beau, Zack and Sterling had stayed behind with their wives and the youngest Devereaux sister, Tori.

  Dane and Isaac both had lost their minds when not only Beau and Zack but also Lizzie had insisted on going on the retrieval mission. As far as Isaac was concerned, with so many unknown variables, and the fact that they were all targets now, the wives had to be protected at all costs.

  The women had all endured far too much pain and suffering, and the last thing Isaac wanted was for them to be dragged into his fight. He and the rest of his teammates and Dane would provide more than adequate protection for Jenna without endangering any of the resilient women who possessed astonishing gifts. Just like Jenna.

  Isaac held it together, maintaining a tight grip on his composure as he carried Jenna to one of the far bedrooms. His teeth ached from the force of his clenched jaw, but he wasn’t about to say another goddamn word until he and Jenna were alone and assured of privacy.

  Dane would want a full briefing and he’d want to plan and coordinate their efforts, but he could damn well wait until Isaac had the most important thing under control and decided. Making sure Jenna never tried to run from him again, even if in her mind she was doing it for all the right reasons.

  Try as he might, he couldn’t calm the turmoil swirling around in his belly like a bad case of food poisoning. With every passing second, it intensified, until it threatened to burst out of him regardless of whether they had privacy or not.

  When he finally reached his destination, he kicked the bedroom door shut behind them and turned to lock it, using the hand underneath Jenna’s thighs. He was reluctant to even let her down, but he knew he was about to explode and he didn’t want to do it when she was this close to him.

  He set her down on the bed and then took several steps back, his nostrils flaring as he inhaled several times in succession.

  “Why are you so angry with me?” Jenna asked softly, looking up at him with troubled eyes.

  He cupped the back of his head and blew out his breath. “I’m not angry with you, baby.”

  She sent him a disbelieving look. “Okay, then why are you angry?”

  He sent her an incredulous look, then closed his eyes and shook his head, praying that he didn’t completely lose it. He was literally shaking with fury. Fury that she thought so little of herself. Fury that he’d failed to protect her. Fury over the helplessness and uncertainty he felt over whether he would be able to ensure her absolute safety until every last one of the dirtbags who considered Jenna property—their property—were either ambushed and taken out when they came for Jenna again—and they would come—or were hunted down like the animals they were and a healthy dose of poetic justice was dispensed on their sorry asses. The latter was certainly Isaac’s preference, but he couldn’t leave Jenna. Not even for a second, because there were two distinct and very powerful entities after her and they both had eyes and ears everywhere.

  “What the ever-loving fuck were you thinking, Jenna? You walked right into their goddamn hands, and there wasn’t a fucking thing I could do about it. I didn’t even know you were in danger, afraid, being hurt until it was too fucking late for me to act. You have no idea how that feels, baby. No. Fucking. Clue. Because if you did, you wouldn’t be able to breathe, just like I haven’t. You wouldn’t be able to stand, sit or do anything without your knees feeling so weak you were about collapse, your hands shaking so bad that you couldn’t hit a target at ten yards with a goddamn grenade launcher! I’ve never felt so helpless in my life!”

  His skin was clammy with sweat as all the pent-up terror finally found its release. It was all he could do to remain standing and not fall to his knees right now, he was so damn weak with relief.

  “God, you can’t comprehend all I imagined could be happening to you and I was helpless to prevent it. Helpless, Jenna. Sweet mother of God, I never want to feel that kind of fear again. I can taste it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get rid of the taste of it. Six hours, baby. For six hours I lost you, and I didn’t know if I would get you back or what shape you’d be in if I did. I thought the worst and when I say the worst, I mean the worst. You can’t possibly understand the horrific things I imagined and what that did to me.”

 
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