Kiss of Snow Page 24

He halted her with a hand on her wrist, his skin rough against her own, his grip unbreakable. Startled, she froze. Her shock was the only thing that muted her instinctive response to his touch. Because she loved Walker’s hands, loved the calluses that came from what he did in his spare time, the beautiful things he created—including tiny pieces of furniture for his daughter’s cherished dollhouse.

Now, that strong, warm hand held her in place as he leaned forward to put a tray of food on her desk, the dark water and snow-dusted fir of his scent enclosing her in a sensual prison that allowed no escape. “You missed dinner. Again.”

Her wolf’s entire body quivered at what from a male wolf would signal the start of a serious courtship, but Lara squelched that reaction. She wasn’t about to set herself up for more hurt. “I was busy.” In spite of her calm words, when he nudged her back into her chair, she went without argument.

However, when he leaned that tall, strong body back against her desk—so close that she could’ve stroked her hand over his jean-clad thigh, the worn denim stretched taut over firm muscle—picked up the plate, and went to feed her a forkful, she jerked herself free of the lingering tendrils of shock. “Here,” she said, taking the plate. “You don’t want to do that.”


Sliding her chair a little farther from him, she forced herself to answer. “It’s an intimacy . . . like skin privileges.”

Walker didn’t ask any further questions, but neither did he leave—as Lara’s body language indicated he should. He knew he was pushing uninvited into her space, but he also knew he didn’t like it when she didn’t take care of herself and he’d had enough of watching that happen. And though it might’ve been smarter to keep his distance, given her disconcerting effect on him . . . he’d missed her.

“Did you hear,” he asked, because Lara was the one person with whom he’d always found words, “that Marlee joined the children’s choir?” It was the first time he’d made a deliberate effort to initiate—rebuild—any kind of a bond with a woman.

A genuine smile broke through the shadows on Lara’s face. “I heard Ben and her practicing. She’s got a beautiful voice.”

So, Walker thought, did Lara.

SIENNA jerked upright in bed, her plain black tank top stuck to her skin. The nightmare hadn’t raised its ugly head for months, but it had made up for lost time tonight. Shoving off the blankets, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and pushed back strands of hair that had escaped her braid to stick to sweat-damp skin.

“Perfect.” Ming, looking at her as a human might a high-performance vehicle. “You really are the most perfect genetic specimen.”

Perfect—if you wanted a cold-blooded mass murderer. Except of course, her blood no longer ran cold. “Still a potential murderer,” she whispered, trembling so hard her vision wavered.

“We are who we make ourselves.” Judd’s voice, compelling in its very quietness. “Don’t ever give up your will to some idea of genetic predestination.”

She clung to his words. Judd had made it. He’d changed the nature of his gift from death to life, become a healer. That wasn’t a path Sienna could follow, her ability was too much of violence, but she’d forge her own path—and not as the butcher Ming had intended her to be, the butcher he’d spent so many years grooming in the expectation of owning her body and soul. Until she’d proven too dangerous even for him. “You didn’t break me, you bastard.” Not then, and not now.

Rising to her feet, she stripped and walked into the shower, setting the temperature close to boiling point. Only when her skin was pulsing with heat almost painful in its intensity did she step out and rub herself down. A glance at the clock showed her it was five a.m. Dressing and plaiting her damp hair, she logged in to the roster to double-check her schedule and saw a reminder that she was meant to attend a training session from noon until late in the afternoon.

Checking the rest of the roster, she coded in a call to Riordan. It went through with visuals. A rumpled sounding wolf said, “I’m getting up, Mom. I promise,” from under a blanket. “Gimme just a minute.”

Her lips twitched. “You mind if I take your shift this morning?” He was rostered on from six to eleven.

Riordan raised his head to meet her gaze, his hair sticking up in a mess that was mysteriously attractive. “Dear God, you’re showered. Crazy woman.”

“Since I am . . .”

“You sure?”

“Wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t.” If she kept moving, then maybe she’d forget the bleak insight she’d had in the SUV last night, forget that the past stood as an opaque barrier between her and the only man who’d ever broken through her own shields. “You can pay me back later in the week.”

“Sounds good. Thanks, Sin.”

Logging off, she grabbed a small daypack and walked out to the communal kitchen/dining area in this sector of the den. It was empty, the lighting dim. But someone had started the coffee, and there was a still-warm tray of muffins on the counter. The sight made her heart lift.

Forcing herself to wait, she stashed a water bottle in her pack, along with a sandwich she put together using the fresh ingredients in the cooler. That done, she poured herself a glass of milk—a habit for which both Evie and Riordan teased her unmercifully—chose the biggest muffin on the tray and sat down to indulge. Her eyes almost rolled back into her head at the first bite.

Cream cheese and peaches—her favorite.

Licking her fingers after finishing it, she glanced at the tray, bit her lower lip. Food was the most innocent of sensual pleasures but one she never took for granted, remembering all too well the nutrition bars that had been the mainstay of her diet for so many years. It was Hawke, she remembered with a stab of pain deep within, who had given her her first bite of something that had set her senses humming.

She’d been shaky, on her knees on the grass, her arms around the kids as they’d blacked out after Walker cut their connection to the PsyNet.Judd had stood in front, Walker at the back, both of them giving her time to make certain Toby and Marlee wouldn’t break away from the newly created familial net into which Sienna had pulled them, wouldn’t seek to rejoin the Net.

So blue, she remembered thinking as she raised her head and met the gaze of the man who stood opposite Judd’s protective form, his hair brilliant even in the dull sunlight that fateful morning. So lethal, had been her next thought. They’d done their research, and so she’d known who he was, what he might yet do to the adults, herself included.

But Toby and Marlee, they were children, and wolves loved children. Judd, Walker, and Sienna had bet the kids’ lives on that bit of knowledge, hoping against hope that the two youngest members of the family would find some way to gain the necessary biofeedback from the wolf pack once the adults were gone. Because though—once he’d realized they’d fetch no ransom—the wolf alpha had ordered them to cut their PsyNet links if they were to have any chance of gaining sanctuary, none of the adults expected to live through the day.

It was only later, with the children secured in the LaurenNet, that Sienna realized the wolf alpha was biting out clipped orders to his men and women. Blankets had already appeared for the children in the time she’d spent on the psychic plane. Sienna stood with Marlee in her arms, while Walker took Toby, and Judd stayed as their shield. Her body swayed.

The wolf alpha’s eyes snapped to her. “Give her to me.”

She should’ve let Judd answer, but she was a cardinal who’d effectively been on her own since she was five—she knew a challenge when she heard it. “No.”

A single raised eyebrow. “You’ve defected, sweetheart. No use worrying about the big, bad wolf now.”

She was aware of Judd speaking, but her attention never shifted off the man who was a predator, for all that he wore a human skin. When he peeled open and held out a bar of some kind, she took it, aware low energy levels could be dangerous when it came to her ability to keep a handle on the cold fire. “Thank you.”

A faint smile, a strange amusement in those icy eyes. “You’re welcome.”

It was the most polite interaction they’d ever had.

HAWKE spent the morning in a business negotiation—the other party was attempting to get SnowDancer to increase its offer by dangling a bullshit competing bid in front of them, an underhanded tactic, but one Hawke understood. What he had a problem with was the fact the Psy conglomerate thought SnowDancer too stupid to know the difference between a fair if tough price and a scalping.

“I’m sorry,” the Psy negotiator said from the comm screen, her face pristine in its lack of expression. “I’m afraid we can’t accept anything less than a fifteen percent increase.”

“In that case,” Hawke said, having had enough, “I guess this negotiation is over.” Ending the call before she could respond, he glanced over at Jem, who’d sat in on the session from L.A. “Find us another supplier.”

“I’ll have a short list by tonight.” The lieutenant’s eyes narrowed. “They really think we got to where we are by being dumb shits? You’d think they’d know better by now.”

Hawke shrugged, ignoring the flashing message that said the negotiator was trying to reinitiate contact. “They will, when their shares take a nosedive.” SnowDancer was the largest pack in the country and had the attendant economic power. While Hawke had a preference for dealing with changeling or human companies—for the simple reason that the Councilors had interests in, and control over, so many Psy businesses—Psy were the only option in certain sectors. Except—“That small human start-up, what was it called . . .”


“Yeah, that’s the one. Can they supply us?”

Jem took a moment to check her files. “They have the intellectual know how, but it’ll stretch their capacity.” A pause. “Of course, with a contract this big, they’ll be able to afford to expand.”

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