Leaving Brenna might not fix anything, but it would keep her safe. From him. He'd known that should she say that last word, it would push him too far. He continued to feel the texture of her skin under his fingertips - warm, smooth, touchable. Gritting his teeth, he walked deeper into the winter-cloaked night, hoping the snow would chill the fire in what should have been the pure, unbroken ice of his heart.
Brenna threw her boot against the wall. "Men!" She considered running after Judd - she was fast even if she couldn't go wolf - but abandoned the idea in a fit of female fury. She was through with chasing him! He could chase after her for once.
Except that two hours later, he still hadn't made an appearance. "Fine," she said, turning over in the bed she'd appropriated. "I'll leave tomorrow if that's what he wants." How dare he say those things to her?
You need to examine the reasons behind those emotions.
His words wouldn't leave her alone, no matter how much she tried to forget them. Was that what she was doing - using Judd to get past her own fear? And she was afraid. Everyone thought she was so brave and strong because she'd survived with her sanity intact. It made her want to laugh, but with nothing even close to happiness. Because as she'd told Judd, and no matter what he'd said to the contrary, she was broken. Enrique had destroyed her spirit, made her suspicious and insular, where before she'd been easy to extend the hand of friendship, easy to smile, easy to see joy.
Today she faced the horror that he'd made her such a weak woman, she'd been ready to use another man to find her own courage. Something told her that Judd Lauren had been used quite enough. She didn't have to know the facts. She saw the truth in the shadows behind his eyes - he expected her to take what she needed and then leave.
She pulled the blanket up her body in a vain effort to warm the cold in her soul. "No. This isn't about Judd being Psy." It if had been, she would have gone to Walker. He was no less Psy and far more approachable. Or was that the attraction, another part of her asked - the fact that Judd was so damn dangerous, more than tough enough to take on her demons?
"So what if I'm attracted to him because of what happened?" She'd changed in her fight to survive the evil that had touched her, lost part of her innocence. But she'd also gained knowledge, learned who she was and what she could endure. The new woman she'd become found Judd Lauren fascinating.
Well, she had. Now she was too mad to care.
Judd didn't return until he was confident Brenna would be fast asleep. He entered to find her cuddled up in front of the fire - in the middle of a camp bed she'd apparently dragged out of storage. She made a noise at the soft click of the door closing and he paused, waiting for her to wake up. But she continued to breathe in the rhythms of sleep.
Relaxing, he took off his jacket and quietly removed his boots and socks before going down on his haunches by the fire. Even his skull ached from the dampness caused by the snow - he'd deliberately not used his abilities to protect himself. But despite his need to regain control, he hadn't gone far from this woman who threatened him on a visceral level, unable to leave her alone in the darkness. So he'd stood watch and attempted, once again, to repair the most critical of the new flaws in the wall of Silence around his mind.
He wasn't a stupid man. He understood that Silence had been imposed on him, and was in no way natural. For most of his people, it was a violation of their freedom to choose. Protocol I, with its aspiration to cut into the Psy brain itself, would only further that violation. But notwithstanding all that, he also understood and accepted that for a small minority, Silence was a choice they would have made if given the option.
He was one of them.
For him, Silence was the answer to a prayer, a gift that allowed him to live a full life, not be caged behind bars or banished to complete isolation. His eyes fell on Brenna's slumbering form. No, he thought, he was wrong. His life wasn't full, not when he couldn't have her in it. But at least Silence allowed him to talk to her, to protect her, to be with her even if it was for mere fragments of time. Without the conditioning, he wouldn't have trusted himself within sight of her.
Unable to resist this chance to get even closer, he crossed the carpet and looked down at her. Under her lids, her eyes moved in the rapid movements that denoted deep sleep, perhaps a dream, but there was no sign of fear in either her face or her body. In other words, she was perfectly fine and didn't need him standing watch. He told himself to move, that this fascination he felt was exactly what he'd been trying to head off out in the snow.
Instead, his fingers curled as he fought the urge to reach out and test the fragile shadows thrown on her skin by her lashes. At that moment, Brenna gave a choked little cry, her skin suddenly marred by wrinkles that spoke of pain. Shivers followed, her whole body trembling despite the warmth of the laz-fire.
He knew what a changeling male would've done in this situation. It was the same thing his instincts were telling him to do, no matter that the action would undo any good the cold outside had done. The dissonance disagreed, shooting hot darts of pain into his eyes.
Then a sob caught in the back of her throat, making his decision for him.
Getting on the bed, he propped himself up on one elbow beside her and stroked his free hand over her hair in a gentle caress, excruciatingly aware that his body was a bare inch from hers. "Shh. Sleep. I'll keep you safe." It was a promise he'd give everything to honor.
Her trembling stopped after a few seconds and she closed that one-inch gap to press into him. The heat of her seeped through her T-shirt, the blanket, and his sweater to burn his skin. Impossible. Yet with Brenna, it wasn't. When her hand rose out of the blanket to curl between their bodies, it was all he could do to keep from taking her into his arms.