She took a few moments to gather her thoughts and draw some strength from Gibbs' support. Letting the gentle crackle of the fire soothe her nerves she began recounting the events that she thought she had managed to bury back in her past.
"I was a freshman in college, excited to be on my own, away from my father's unyielding guard. Despite his being deployed for much of my youth he had ways of keeping tabs on everything I did.
"I thought I knew everything, having traveled much of the world and adapting to different cultures. I thought I could handle whatever the world could throw my way. Looking back, knowing all I know today, I would've seen all the warning signs ahead of time."
She paused and took a deep breath. She'd kept all the details of what happened locked away for so long she had to struggle not only with the echo of the emotions, but her determination to be in control.
"His name was Kenneth Townsell. One of those guys that everyone on campus noticed. The girls noticed him because he had the looks and charm to pull them in and the guys because most of them wanted to be him.
"I didn't set out to be noticed by him," Jenny choked on a bitter laugh. "I'm not even sure when I first realized he even knew who I was. One day as I sat in the quad going over some notes for a speech I was preparing for class, he stood behind me. I'm not sure how long it took before his presence caught my attention.
"He must've been waiting until I did because when I began to turn to see who was there he stooped down and whispered in my ear, 'I'm sure you'll do great with that.' As I turned around he smiled, stood up and walked away not ever looking back. It intrigued me."
Gibbs didn't interrupt but inside he already felt the urge to find Townsell and share some words. He had a good idea what he was doing with Jenny and having a gut-wrenching feeling of where this story was heading was bringing out Gibbs' protective, or rather at this stage vengeful side.
Ignoring the obvious tension in the arms around her Jenny continued, "He was setting the trap and I was young enough and more naïve than I care to admit that I fell into it. He was smooth. Over the next few weeks he'd be elusive and surprise me with a wave or a wink when we passed. I never knew when he'd acknowledge me, so when he did I felt like a school girl with her first crush.
"It was embarrassing, yet at the same time I kept hoping that he would notice me. Whether he was hanging around a group of friends or maybe alone with his arm around another girl, it didn't matter as long as he looked my way. It was like he looked into my soul and we were the only two around.
"He played the game so well I couldn't help from playing along and trying to figure a way to be one of the girls he'd put his arm around. I convinced myself that if he'd wave or wink at me when he was with another girl than he must've wanted me more.
"Try as I might to concentrate on my studies he was always in my thoughts. So when the day came that he approached me to ask me to go for a night time walk around campus I could barely keep my decorum and nod a simple yes.
"I day dreamed all day about how the night would be. It was late fall, we'd just returned from Thanksgiving break and the campus was filled with colored leaves covering the grounds. The nights were chilly so I envisioned him putting is arm around me or maybe even offering me his jacket as we walked along the only sound would be the leaves crunching under our feet.
"I didn't tell my roommate about our plans. She had the more astute sense about him. I thought she was mad he never seemed to notice her and she was girl that most guys couldn't help but stop to look at and admire, blond and a body that any model would kill to have. She wanted nothing to do with Kenneth however.
"After dinner I left her a note stating I was going to the library to do some research and I might be late. Kenneth was waiting for me outside my dorm in the shadows. I should've added all the clues up, but even as my gut was screaming at me, I chalked it up to nerves and the desire for the night to be all I dreamed for it to be.
"He cupped my elbow as we walked. My mind was too busy trying to sort through all the conflicting data that I wasn't aware we'd wandered away from all the buildings into an area surround by trees. Though most of the trees had lost all their foliage the trees surrounding us were large and closely grown together.
"He pulled at a few leaves that dangled over our heads and slowly crushed them between his fingers. We had stopped walking so I waited to see what he wanted. As the last of the broken leaves sprinkled from his hand to the ground he glanced up at me and smiled.
"I smiled back, but it was a nervous smile. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't determine what. He sensed my ill ease and motioned with his head to continue walking. He put his hands in his front pockets and looked as nervous as I felt so I followed him.
"I wanted to calm the nerves I thought he was fighting so I put my hand on his arm to show support. He looked sideways at me and nodded taking my hand in his own. He patted my hand and said, 'I'm so glad you came with me Jenny.'
"'I'm glad I came, too,' I told him.
"He turned to face me, 'No, I'm really glad,'he stared into my eyes and I felt as if time had stopped. He brought his lips to mine and my mind replayed all the daydreams I'd had and I thought they were coming to fruition, but as his lips pressed harder on mine my body tightened up and I wanted to scream, "NO!"
"Before I knew what was happening he had me on the ground. With his weight pressing down I couldn't catch a breath to scream. I tried to remember all the things my father had taught me, but no training prepared me for the unexpectedness of his attack and the fear that seemed to paralyze me.
"As I was trying to find an opening to position myself to push him away, he slapped me so hard I think I lost a moment of consciousness. He was wearing gloves then. I remember thinking about when he may have put them on. I was detaching myself from what was happening and rather then forcing myself to fight I let it all happen.
"I didn't feel much of it physically, but mentally I catalogued every touch, every twist of pain he used to try to get a scream from me. My silence angered him and he punched me in the ribs. I must've screamed when one broke because he smiled down at me saying, 'That's better.' But it wasn't enough. He needed my sounds of pain to keep him going. He pulled at my hair until I thought it would rip from my scalp. He used a twig to lash at my breasts. All the while I did nothing to deter him.
"I laid there waiting for him to finish. I'm not sure how long it went. When he finally got off of me I could hardly move. Where he hadn't beaten me I was numb from the cold. But what he said to me before he turned to leave chilled me to the core.
"He pulled me to my feet and gently kissed my swollen lips, 'Thank you, Jenny. I look forward to the next time.'
"I pulled my clothes back on as best as I could. I trembled from the cold, from what he had done to me and from the fear that it was going to happen again.
"When I got back to my dorm I showered and dressed in my nightgown. I balled up my clothes and threw them out in the trash. I knew I should report what happened, but I was so ashamed that I'd let him get the better of me. Jasper Shepherd's daughter would NEVER have lost the upper hand."
Gibbs uttered, "Ah, Jen." He shook his head not sure anything he could say would be helpful at this point, but he wanted to be able to go back in time and be there for her.
As if he hadn't spoken she continued, "Days passed and it was like it had always been. Though gone was the girl who was thrilled by his waves and winks. Then each time he noticed me I began to doubt it had really happened at all, until I felt the remaining aches my body still suffered. The scratches and bruises that had all been hidden beneath my clothing had healed but the damage done would never completely heal.
"I tried to ignore him and it seemed he'd moved on and forgotten about me. I threw myself into my studies and spent little time away from my room when I wasn't in class.
"There was a group planning a ski trip during the winter break. I decided to decline the invitation. My father was overseas, so I thought I could some time alone on campus to regroup.
"The day after my roommate left, as well as most of the student body I decided to go to the gym and work out. Sitting around had gotten me antsy and left too much time for my mind to wonder back to that moment I was already working hard at burying.
"It felt good to work my muscles and push my body to its limits. The burn released all the weeks of tension that had settled in them. It was quiet, aside from the clank of the weights and my own strains.
"I finished with the last reps of some leg curls when I sensed I was no longer alone. Without seeing or hearing anything instinctively I knew it was Kenneth. I thought he had gone home, but hadn't paid too much attention to whether he had or not. I tried to act like I was alone while toweling off the machine before putting the towel around me neck as I walked toward the ladies' locker room. I wasn't sure where he was, but I could feel him watching me. I entered the locker room and moved quickly to get to the emergency exit not wanting to be trapped inside with him.
"I pushed through the door planning to run to the security office across the street when I was knocked back inside. Somehow he'd gotten out and either figured I'd make a run or was just biding his time until I left.
"My head hit the tiled floor dazing me long enough for him to get inside and drag me toward the showers. When I came to and got past the pain in my head I found my hands tied to the shower head. It was high enough that I had to stand on the balls of my feel to keep from swaying.
He was standing in front of me leaning again the frame of the shower stall, smiling. 'I've been waiting for you,' he said as if I was late for a date. 'You're looking so beautiful,' he pushed off the frame and walked toward me. His finger reached out to caress my cheek.
"I closed my eyes this time prepared to not let him gain power over me. He'd removed all my clothes as well as his own, putting both of us at the same disadvantage.
"I let him talk trying to get me on the defensive while I worked my hands from their restraints. As he made his move to grab my head and kiss me I brought both hands down fisted onto his back.
"He fell grunting from the surprise. Before he could make another grab at me I brought my knee up into his face and heard the satisfying crunch of bone breaking.
"He fell to his side holding his nose. I leapt over him and ran out to the locker room. He caught up as I get to the door, pulling it shut as he shoved me to the side.
"I fell but caught myself from falling back and hitting my head again. He wiped the blood from his nose and laughed as he looked down at me.
"'You'll pay for that,' he laughed without humor.
"I glanced around hoping to find something to use to distract him, but before I could he grabbed me by my hair and pulled me to my feet.
"I clenched my fingers and quickly scraped at his eyes letting my nails tear at his skin. He screamed and I felt the thrill of beating him at his own game.
"I didn't stop. I continued to use every move I'd ever learned. When I tired I looked down to see he wasn't moving.
"I was breathing hard from the exertion and tried to calm myself so I could decide what to do next. He was still breathing but it was shallow, so I knew he needed medical attention. I hurriedly dressed and ran to the security building yelling for them to call 911.
"As one guard made the call I explained what had happened as best I could. It took weeks to finally sleep through the night. He was arrested when he was released from the hospital. I didn't think I could handle testifying at a trial and was relieved when I heard he agreed to a plea.
"I never told anyone about the first incident. There were those who considered me a heroine of sorts, but others who thought I'd falsely accused Kenneth of assaulting me. At the end of my freshmen year I transferred to another college and put it all behind me. Or so I thought.
"This case brought back all the fear and anger I felt at the time. Not to mention that I discovered Kenneth only served about three years and was let loose on unsuspecting women again."
Gibbs asked, "You don't know what happened to him since then?"
Jenny shook her head against his shoulder, "I had graduated and was finding my career path when he got released. I was on the other side of the country. I didn't want to have any thoughts of him."
Gibbs looked off thoughtfully wondering if he could find out where Townsell lived today.
"Don't bother," Jenny read his mind. "I tried at the beginning of this case to track him down. I couldn't find any details. Once his parole ended his trail ceased to exist. The last report stated he was headed south. I think his father was going to hide him away."
Gibbs pulled her closer. Having told her tale she relaxed into his embrace. He traced her jaw with his fingers lifting his chin lightly to look into her eyes. Gone was the fear he'd seen before, her inner strength regaining its hold. He gave her a half smile and lowered his lips to hers.
She let him kiss her for a moment before allowing herself to return a kiss of her own. She pulled back and stared into his eyes. She had loved him once and left him in her past as she pursued her dreams. She couldn't imagine he'd ever truly forgive her for that.
He saw her assessing him and didn't want her to leave. Her story made him wonder how she ever let anyone get close to her, but realized maybe she never truly let anyone love her.
"I should go," she spoke softly. "The snow is still coming down and I have a bit of a drive to get home."
"You can stay Jen," he held her hand tightly. "I'll take the couch," he smirked. He doubted anyone knew it was where he spent most of his nights.
"I don't want to put you out," she argued but internally was grateful for his offer.
"Stay," he spoke softer. "I'd like you stay."
She smiled. The thought of spending time in his arms and the security that it offered made her decide to agree. "I'll stay."
"Good," he pulled her back to him and kissed her gently.
"You don't have to sleep on the couch either," she smirked.
Gibbs chuckled silently tilting his head back on the rear of the sofa. He wasn't sure what the night would bring, but knew she was in need of feeling sure of her safety and sense of being. He lifted her from his side as he stood deciding that there was some place more comfortable they could be.
He offered his hand and she smiled placing her hand on his. He pulled her gently to her feet and kissed her. As he turned to lead her toward the stairs she glanced at the fire that had burned back down to embers.
She followed him as he led her up the stairs leaving for good the memories she'd kept hidden as embers in her soul. Tonight, whatever transpired with Jethro would be a night that she could remember with no regrets.