But he knew it couldn't keep up with what was happening inside him. Sooner rather than later, he'd have to shut down every facet of emotion, every glimmer of passion. Because otherwise, his brain would look exactly like those of the hyena children he'd seen.
Bloody. Battered. Irrevocably broken.
Several hours after her cleaning frenzy, Brenna found herself bad-tempered from lack of sleep, lack of touch, and a sensual need that refused to quit. It probably wasn't the best of times for her to be charting a hack, but she'd made a promise. So here she was with Dorian in the second subbasement of DarkRiver's business HQ.
The blond sentinel had growled at her several times, but she'd just snarled back.
"You're going about it ass-backwards," he said for the fourth time in an hour.
Brenna's eyes narrowed. "The whole plan is to sneak in, not stampede so loudly that everyone from the Psy Council to your uncle in Poughkeepsie can hear us."
"Where the hell is Poughkeepsie anyway?" Dorian pushed into her personal space, standing with his hand on her chair as he leaned over her shoulder to look at the screen.
Brenna was itching for a fight after the frustrated night she'd had. But there was something she had to talk to Dorian about. "Can I ask you a question?"
"What?" He scowled, tapping at her screen and threatening to shift the pathway she'd mapped out. "You should've gone - "
Her tone must've gotten through to him because he swung around to take a seat in the chair beside her, swiveling so he faced her profile. "What is it, kid?"
He was the only one she let get away with calling her that - she had guessed that Dorian, who had lost his sister to Enrique, saw her as another baby sister. It was the reason he acted so bossy with her. That was more than okay with her, because while Dorian was hard to read, if he was anything like Drew and Riley, then his sister's murder had to have devastated him, tearing into the protectiveness at his core.
"First, Judd knows but that's all. Don't tell anyone else, okay?"
His surfer-blue eyes were piercing. "I can't make that promise until I know if it'll affect either of our packs."
"It won't." Glancing over her shoulder to double-check that no one was listening, she turned back to the DarkRiver sentinel and simply asked what she needed to know. "How do you deal with not being able to change into animal form?"
Dorian's face reflected surprise. "Most people dance around that. Like they're afraid of hurting me." His voice said that that was a ridiculous worry.
"Please tell me." She held his gaze. "Please, Dorian."
Realization dawned. "Oh, damn, sweetheart. That bastard messed you up, didn't he?" Reaching out, he stroked a hand over her hair. "How bad?"
The gentleness brought tears to her eyes. "I can use my teeth and claws, but I can't shift fully. No loss of strength, speed, or flexibility."
Dorian dropped his hand to lie on the back of her chair. "I grew up latent - I never had anything to lose." His tone was matter-of-fact. "But you're different. Are you sure it's permanent?"
"I don't know anything. But I want to prepare myself for the worst-case scenario." That way, her heart couldn't break all over again.
"Alright." Dorian's handsome features settled into decisive lines. "The first thing you have to do is stop feeling sorry for yourself."
She swallowed but didn't defend her emotions. This was why she had asked him. Dorian might see her as a sister, but he was the kind of brother who'd give it to her straight.
"You survived," he said, "and you aren't a basket case. You should be f**king proud of yourself. He tried to cripple you, but he didn't succeed."
"No. But he stole something precious from me...he stole my wolf."
The depth of pain in those words stopped Judd in his tracks. He'd raced down here after discovering Brenna's absence from the den, ready to face the consequences of last night's critical breach. But he wasn't prepared for this. For a Brenna with trembling hands and a whisper of a voice.
Moving soundlessly out of the doorway, he leaned his back against the wall and hoped they were too distracted to scent him. He knew he should leave, should allow her privacy. But he couldn't. Brenna should've asked Dorian's opinion while Judd was with her - but she hadn't. Because Judd was Psy and couldn't give her comfort.
Not only had he never truly understood the staggering depth of her loss at not being able to shift, he'd left her in the early morning hours when she had needed him so desperately. How could he blame her for going to another man for succor? Yet he did.
"Enrique stole a lot from you." Dorian's voice cut through the air. "But you can get some of that back."
"Build on your strengths, Brenna. Become so damn good at those things that no one dares to hold the other against you."
Good advice, Judd thought, his fingers curling into fists.
"Okay. Okay." Brenna sounded as if she was putting that will of hers to good use.
"Anytime you need me, just call. Alright, kid?"
Judd's fists were so tight, he was in danger of fracturing his own bones. He understood why Brenna had needed to talk to Dorian. He even understood that the leopard saw Brenna as a young sister, not a potential lover. None of that made any difference. Judd wanted to be the one she turned to when in need.
Ice picks of pain shoved through his skull, dissonance so vicious it nearly shut down his consciousness. The countdown was getting inexorably closer to the end. Uncurling his fingers with sheer force of will, he watched the blood rush back in. Last night had made it clear that he'd already crossed too many lines, broken too many rules. Soon, it would be too late to draw back.