Kiss of Snow Page 27

“No,” the rebel said in response to his question. “But I have one, that much you should know.”

Judd understood without further explanation that that unnamed reason lay behind the Ghost’s recent lack of availability. “I need to know if my cover is blown.”

“No. Your entire family is presumed dead.”

“Any rumors?”

“There is a myth of a cardinal X, but you and I both know that to be impossible.”

Judd wondered just how much the Ghost knew and how far the rebel’s allegiance went. But he also knew that while Sienna had gained control of her ability with the sheer, stubborn refusal to surrender, there would come a time when the X-marker would demand more from her than she could give. He had to take a chance on the Ghost’s loyalty, to roll the dice. Because if he didn’t and Sienna’s power did spiral out of control . . . “Have you heard of Alice Eldridge’s second manuscript?”

“The dissertation on designation X?” The Ghost straightened. “Yes. It’s one of the most hidden, yet persistent rumors in the Net.”

“Any indication the rumor might hold a grain of truth?”

A long, quiet pause. “I’ll do a search.”

“I’ll owe you one.”

“No, Judd. Don’t ever say that to me—I may very well collect.” There was a chill darkness to that statement, as if Judd would not like the payment demanded.

“Then I withdraw it.” Hair blowing back in a sudden gust that sent the black plastic flapping, he glanced at the man of whose identity he was ninety-nine point nine percent certain. “Have you ever considered taking the rebellion into the open?”

“It would never succeed. First the foundations must be set. Only then can the wave crest.”

Judd thought of everything they’d done together, everything they’d accomplished, considered the cost. “How is your mental status?” It was a question he’d never asked with such bluntness, but times had changed.

“Sane.” A short answer. “Though sanity is a question of interpretation.”

Chapter 18

ALTERNATING BETWEEN CONTENTMENT and frustration at the remembered feel of Sienna in his arms, Hawke was drinking his first cup of coffee the next morning when he got a call from Kenji, the SnowDancer lieutenant based near the San Gabriel Mountains. With his high cheekbones, startling green eyes, and violent magenta hair, he looked like an escapee from a desert rave—or maybe some avant garde catwalk show.

“What the fuck did you do to your hair?” Hawke asked, almost choking on his coffee. Because while he might be channeling a Japanese rock star, the fact was, Kenji was about as avant garde as your average elementary school teacher.

“It annoys Garnet. Reason enough.” He tapped a rolled-up chart on the comm screen. “I’ve had an interesting contact from the BlackSea Coalition.”

Hawke put down his coffee. BlackSea was a changeling pack—in a sense. It was a coalition of all the water-based changelings. As single entities, their population numbers were miniscule, with only one or two recorded instances of some changeling types. However, rather than being powerless, they’d grouped together to form a close-knit network that gave them considerable negotiating and territorial power.


Kenji shook his head. “They want in on an alliance.”

“Send me the data.” It would go to the top of his list, because unlike any other pack on the face of the planet, BlackSea had members worldwide. “Copy Riley on everything.”

“Will do.” Kenji signed off.

Seeing a scrawled message on his desk, Hawke headed out to speak to Indigo about some of the younger pack members she’d had under supervision.

“You’re more balanced,” she said after they’d finished the discussion, long legs crossed on top of her desk while he stood with his back against the closed door of her office.

“Yep.” The contact he’d allowed himself with Sienna had satisfied both parts of him to the extent that his need was no longer bleeding out to everyone around him. More to the point, the wolf was willing to be patient now that he’d decided to go after her—it understood the hunt, understood that sometimes you had to stalk your prey. “I hear Tai’s dating Evie,” he said in an effort to distract Indigo because he wasn’t ready to discuss his decision.

Indigo’s expression said she was onto him, but she let it slide. “I’ve promised to break both his arms if he makes her unhappy in any way, shape, or form.” A pause. “I should promise to do the same to you.”

Hawke narrowed his eyes. “Don’t go there.”

“Of course I’ll go there—that’s why I’m a lieutenant.” Swinging her legs off her desk, she picked up a small datapad. “But not today. I’m late for a session with the novices.” Rising, she waited for him to open the door. “On second thought . . .” She pushed her free hand into his hair and pulled down his head.

“I almost let the best thing that ever happened to me slip away because I was hung up on ideas of what I ‘should’ want. Sometimes there is no ‘should,’ there’s only a single chance to grab on to happiness.” Pressing her lips to his in a fast, affectionate kiss, she let go and strode off.

Her parting statement, however, didn’t disappear as easily.

SOMEHOW fighting the distraction of last night’s memories, Sienna had just sent in a completed physics project using the computronic resources in the den library when she ran into an elderly changeling. “I’ve got it,” she said, catching the book she’d knocked from his grasp. “I’m so sorry, sir.”

Dalton chuckled as he accepted the book, his white eyebrows bushy over dark, dark brown skin marked with a thousand laugh lines. “Makes me sound about a hundred years old.”

Sienna wasn’t sure Dalton wasn’t exactly that age. The man the kids in the den affectionately called a whitebeard wasn’t a librarian, he was the Librarian, the repository of Pack knowledge. “Were you undertaking research?”

“It’s all up here.” He tapped his temple, his sparkling eyes the same warm tawny brown as his granddaughter’s. “I came to get some light reading.” Holding up the heavy tome she’d caught, he beamed. “In the original French!”

Sienna nodded as if she knew what he was talking about. “I hope you enjoy it.”

“I’m sure I will.” Tucking the book under his arm, he touched her on the shoulder as he passed.

Sienna blurted out, “Wait,” before her courage deserted her.

“Yes, dear?”

“The Pack archives—are they accessible to anyone?”

Dalton’s eyes were piercing when he looked at her, leaving no doubt that whitebeard or not, his brain was as acute as it had always been. “Yes. But certain truths, while written, are kept out of reach—because there are some wounds that don’t need to be reopened.”

Sienna felt her fingers curl into fists. “I understand.”

“Do you, young one?” Dalton shook his head. “The histories I write give the facts, but for the heart of it, you must ask those who were there.”

Sienna didn’t move for several minutes after Dalton left, remembering the way Hawke had shut her down the one time she’d brought up the past. He’d held her last night, danced with her until the entire den seemed to go quiet, as if they were the only two awake in the hushed time between midnight and dawn. She’d never felt more alive, more a woman. However, Dalton’s words made her confront a stark truth: that despite the escalating physical contact, Hawke hadn’t yet—might never—trust her with his secrets.

Sienna. Judd’s telepathic voice, slicing through the bleakness of her thoughts. Hawke’s office. We need to discuss what you told him about the cold fire.

The reminder of the danger stalking them was an icy trickle down her spine. I’m on my way.

HAWKE noted Sienna’s expressionless face, the flat ebony of her gaze, and scowled. “You release the X-fire to keep from reaching synergy, correct?” he asked, figuring he’d get to the bottom of the emotional change in her as soon as he had her alone.

A crisp nod, her stance that of a SnowDancer soldier in front of her alpha. “Earthing helps me maintain a stable psychic balance.”

“How often do you earth?” Judd had told him to ask the question, though the Psy male had refused, “until he had more answers,” to say why. It was a measure of Hawke’s trust in the lieutenant that he’d left it at that—for now.

“Several times over the past few months,” Sienna admitted. “Before that, I was only doing it once or twice every half year. My theory is that the change is linked to my increasing control—I’m no longer releasing power inadvertently, so it builds up faster.”

Judd spoke for the first time. “Do you foresee doing it again soon?”

“No, I don’t think so.” However, there was a hesitation in her words, a crack in her confidence. “The pattern’s become less predictable of late, but that could be due to a simple fluctuation in my abilities. That’s happened once or twice before, and it’s always subsided without any discernible aftereffects.”

Hawke pinned her with his gaze. “You’ll tell me the next time you need to earth.” He wasn’t letting her head out alone, not when the Psy might have her in their sights.

“Yes, sir.”

He’d never been called “sir” with such insulting politeness. Wolf settling at the return of the acerbic edge in her voice because he didn’t like seeing her lost and unsure, he turned to Judd. “Anything else I should know?”

“No, I’m still working my contacts.” Turning toward the door, he said, “Sienna?”

Hawke held up a hand. “We have something to discuss.”

Judd looked up, met his eyes, but spoke to Sienna instead. “Wait outside.” There was a command in his voice, that of a lieutenant speaking to a lower-ranking soldier.

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