Greg's eyes bulged. "I won't tell, I swear."
Turning, Judd put his hand on the knob, pushed it open, and stepped inside. She came at him in a silent hail of teeth and claws, slamming his body against the door and causing it to shut with a violent bang. He grabbed her wrists barely in time to save his eyes.
His hold made her fury go from red to molten. Restraints, he realized at once. Santano Enrique had used restraints on her. "Retract your claws and I'll let you go." He made his tone adamantine, so hard it was pure unbreakable metal.
Still eerily silent, she tried to use her legs to trip him up, but he was too fast, shifting his stance before she could get a lever. It made her shove forward in a rush of angry energy, the razor-sharp blades of her claws coming an inch closer before he stopped her. There was nothing sane looking back at him from the wild blue-brown of her fractured eyes. The Brenna he knew had retreated to a safe haven in her mind, the same place that had allowed her to survive Enrique. The rest of her was trapped in memories of brutalization.
Sascha could've taken those memories from her, but Brenna had been resolute - she wanted her scars. And as if to prove that those scars didn't weaken her, she'd recovered with such spirit that she'd turned herself into a miracle. But the very speed of her recovery had worried both Sascha and Lara. The two healers had been concerned about a possible relapse - but no one could've predicted this.
When she bared her teeth at him and began to twist and struggle, he knew she was going to hurt herself if he didn't stop her. Taking a chance, he released her wrists at the same time as he pinned her arms in a tight hug. Her claws scraped his sides, tearing his sweater and cutting through the upper layers of skin before he got her immobilized against his body. Her teeth clamped over his carotid artery. But she didn't bite through.
"Brenna, you will come back. If you don't, Enrique wins." He could feel the blood beginning to trickle down his sides, but it was Brenna's teeth that posed the real danger. He could disable her - if he was prepared to hurt her. He wasn't.
"He's winning right now," he told her. "Making you a whimpering, clawing mess everyone thinks is insane." Cruel words, but the only ones that would provoke her enough to snap her awake. "Is that who you are? A broken wolf? What he made you?"
Snarling, she released his carotid. "Shut up." Blind rage.
"Why? Everything I've said is true." He kept pushing where others would've stopped. "You have bloody claws, your face is feral and your clothes torn. You look like a woman who's jumped the ledge into madness."
She stamped on his boot with her bare foot. "I bet you learned your bedside manner the same place you learned your charm - the Council gulag."
He released her arms, able to hear the real Brenna in that biting statement. But she remained in place, face pressed to his chest. Chancing aggression, he put one hand on the back of her head in a gesture that was as instinctive as his knowledge of what to do and say to this changeling female. Another breach of the Protocol, another ice pick of pain through his cerebral cortex, but nothing dangerous enough to set off his murderous abilities. Not yet.
Brenna put a palm over his heartbeat. "I bled you."
"Surface lacerations. They'll heal."
"Too bad. You deserve to be clawed hard enough to bear scars." Callous words, but she was still tucked against his body.
The complexities of emotional interaction often eluded him but not with Brenna. Not here. Not now. "That would be a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face - you seem to have a distinct liking for my body as it is."
Her free arm went around his waist, the satin of her robe passing over his cuts like a cool breeze. "Maybe I like my men scratched up. Maybe I like to scratch them up."
"Is that why you chose Greg? Because he likes violence?" he asked, and suddenly realized that the chain that had broken inside him was nowhere close to being repaired.
"I figured if I was going to go bad, it might as well be in style." Her fingers dug slightly into his chest. "I wanted to make you notice."
Her honesty was unexpected. "You succeeded - I did."
"But you care about as much as you did before. Zilch." Liquid anger in every breath. "You strung me out to dry at the cabin!"
Now he understood exactly how powerful a rule he'd broken. "I almost killed Greg," he said. "In fact, I still have a connection to him. One thought and pieces of his skull will implode into his brain."
Brenna went very, very quiet against him. "Pull back," she whispered. "Pull back."
"Does he matter so much to you?" He could taste the structural strength of Greg's skull, knew precisely how much pressure it would take to collapse it.
She snapped up her head, eyes frightened. "No. You're the only one who matters. You kill Greg and Hawke might have to execute you!"
He considered it. "He kissed you."
"He tried. Damn it, Judd. Pull back!" Giving a frustrated cry when he didn't reply, she stood on tiptoe and pressed a row of kisses along his jaw.
Soft. So unbearably soft. He'd never felt anything like it. "Now you've had ten times what he didn't come close to getting." Another kiss on his throat. "He matters nothing. So pull back or you're going back in my bad book."
"Was I out?" He broke the psychic thread that had kept him aware of Greg's physical status and position.
"Maybe." She nuzzled at his throat. "Did you let Greg go?"
"Yes." He slid his hand down to her nape. "He was in your family's living area when I came in, but I'm guessing your brothers have gotten rid of him by now."