Kiss of Snow Page 28

Hawke had the feeling that while Sienna might have argued with her uncle, she obeyed the lieutenant—albeit with a tight set to her jaw—sliding past Judd and into the corridor. Only when she was gone, the door shut, did Hawke raise an eyebrow at the Psy male who’d returned to stand opposite him.

“You have my loyalty,” Judd said in the quietest of tones, “but she has a piece of my heart.”

Hawke had known this was coming, was ready for it. “I won’t hurt her.”

“Sienna is strong,” Judd continued as if he hadn’t heard Hawke’s vow,

“older than she should be. But in many ways, she’s far more vulnerable than any other female in this den. She broke Silence at a critical age, and it altered her emotional psyche.”

Hawke’s wolf wasn’t pleased at being taken to task, but he listened. “From what I see,” he said, thinking of her empty eyes when she’d walked into the office, “she seems damn good at reining in emotions.”

It should’ve made him happy that she had the capacity to maintain that distance—he always chose lovers who wouldn’t be hurt by his inability to give them everything. But last night, as he indulged himself by claiming the first level of intimate skin privileges, he’d discovered something—when it came to Sienna, he was beyond selfish, beyond possessive. She was his. And he wanted all of her.

“That’s not what I’m worried about.” Judd’s eyes were arctic blue with intent when they met Hawke’s. “She has no off switch when it comes to those she loves. She will do anything to protect them, even murder. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

Hawke curved his lips in a faint smile.“Sounds like a predatory changeling.”

“Yes. Except unlike a changeling, she didn’t grow up around simple kindness, much less touch and affection.” A harsh reminder that Sienna hadn’t even had the cold childhood of most Psy. “On an intellectual level, she might understand that intimate physical contact doesn’t mean a commitment, but when it comes to you, that isn’t going to matter a damn.” Cool words no less forceful for being delivered in a tempered voice. “Once you turn that key, be sure you’re ready.” It was a warning.

Hawke’s wolf heard it loud and clear—but it also heard what Judd didn’t say. “Why aren’t you telling me to stay the fuck away from her?” he asked, because while it was too late for that, it angered him that her family hadn’t thought to protect her.

Judd’s own anger was an icy whip. “You insist on seeing her as a child when the truth is, she was forced to make adult decisions long ago. She’s earned the right to live her life as she pleases.”

“Doesn’t that piss you off? That she was never allowed to be a child?” It sure as hell pissed him off.

“Yes—but she survived.” Not even by the flicker of an eyelash did Judd betray the depth of emotion that had to be riding him, but the chair next to him turned into a pile of splinters between one breath and the next.

Hawke’s wolf saw, understood. “You’d kill them all if you could.”

“Sienna could do that herself.”

SIENNA knew they were talking about her in there, and though it frustrated her to be shut out, she’d been part of the pack long enough to understand hierarchy. The truth was, annoyance at situations like today’s aside, she appreciated it.

SnowDancer, at its core, operated very much like a military unit—albeit one with a warm emotional center, and that was a pattern of behavior her mind understood and accepted, the strict nature of it acting as an outside restraint on her abilities. Sienna was deathly certain she wouldn’t have survived in a more laissez-faire environment.

However, that didn’t mean she wouldn’t be letting both Hawke and Judd know what she thought of their arrogance in excluding her from a conversation that had her as its focus. The irritated thought had just passed through her mind when a brilliant spark of joy burst onto her psychic senses. Toby. Her brother had phenomenal shields, but he tended to broadcast when in high spirits. What’s got you so happy?

Sascha’s here.

Sienna frowned. Really? It didn’t fit with what she’d witnessed of Lucas’s protective nature.

Lucas is with her. And like a hundred other soldiers.

That made more sense. Be good.

Drew says I should be bad sometimes.

He’s a terrible influence. But she let Toby feel her laughter, hear that she was joking. Just don’t be too bad.

A starburst of love from a brother who’d had this aspect of his abilities buried in the Net. Then Toby was gone from her mind and the door to Hawke’s office was being pulled open. “Sascha and Lucas are here,” she said to Hawke when he followed Judd out into the corridor.

“I know.” He held up a sleek black phone. “Riley will handle anything they need. We”—his eyes locked to Sienna’s—“are heading out for a while.”

Per their agreement, she didn’t question the order until Judd left them at the junction. “You were talking about me,” she began. “I—”

“Uncles,” Hawke interrupted, “brothers, fathers have always had and will always have private ‘discussions’ with males who want to touch their women. You’re never going to win that argument”—a playful tug on her braid—“so give it up.”

Glaring at him, she pulled her hair from his grasp. “That is the most sexist statement I have ever heard.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s not true.” He shrugged. “Ask Riley sometime about the nice little chat Mercy’s brothers and father had with him.”

Irritation derailed by curiosity, she said, “What about Indigo?” The lieutenant was the third-highest ranking individual in the pack, needed no one’s protection.

“You know Abel,” he said, referring to Indigo’s father. “What do you think?”

Sienna knew right then that the arrogant wolf had won, because Abel adored his girls, had probably threatened to rip out key parts of Drew’s anatomy. “Where are we going?” she asked, foul-tempered and not bothering to hide it.

“In a bit.” Nodding his head toward one of the conference rooms, he said, “Toby’s in there.” An unasked question, silent consent if she needed to go to her brother.

“He’s fine,” she said, wondering how the wolf-eyed male could be so infuriating and so very wonderful at the same time. “He loves his lessons with Sascha.”

“She gets something out of it, too, you know.”

“She’s a cardinal empath. Toby’s E abilities are barely 3 on the Gradient.” Her brother’s cardinal status came from his telepathy.

“But he is an E in some part,” Hawke pointed out. “He exists.”

Yes, she thought, Hawke was right. It explained the hereto inexplicable depth of Sascha’s joy whenever she was with Toby. “I’ve never met another X.” She didn’t know why she told him that.

Hawke didn’t respond until they’d exited the den and were heading out on a path that would lead eventually to the training run that had gotten ever more fiendish since Riaz’s return from a stint abroad. “How about a weak X?” he asked, his face lifted up to the clean, bright Sierra sunshine.

Beautiful man. “It’s such a rare designation,” she said when he shot her a questioning glance, “that there’s probably less than ten of us at any given time.” Even that was a generous estimate, considering what she’d gleaned about their life expectancy. “The theory is that Xs below 2 on the Gradient don’t manifest, so no one ever realizes. As for the others . . . I know of one who died during my teen years. I heard of another two who died before I was brought in.”

So much sadness, so much death.

“Of the two other living Xs I knew of in the Net,” she continued, “one was psychotic and the other hypersensitive.” It felt strange to talk of the X designation without feeling the vicious spear of pain down her spine that was the first level of dissonance, a warning not to speak of things the Council would prefer to keep secret. “It was possible I’d set him off if we came into close contact.”

“Didn’t that volatility make him a danger?” Hawke pushed silver-gold strands off his face, catching her eye.

“Yes,” she murmured, “but he must’ve been useful in some capacity because they permitted him to live.” Hawke had, she thought, the most fascinating hair, unusual and beautiful as his pelt in wolf form. “Why don’t you grow out your hair?”

“You mean like Luc?” He shrugged. “Not me, I guess.”

She had to admit she loved the way the strands brushed his nape, just long enough to be rebellious . . . to invite the caress of a woman’s fingers. Unsure where they were in terms of a relationship, what he’d accept, she tucked her hands under her armpits. “Why are you so like your wolf in human form?”

“There was a time when I needed it to be the dominant aspect even when I was in human form—the wolf was more mature than the boy.” He led her past the training run and into the trees. “My wolf was always near the surface. The experience heightened the effect.”

Startled at getting a straight answer, she scrambled to gather her thoughts. “I’ve heard changelings say it can be dangerous to spend too long with the animal in control.”

“It couldn’t be helped. I was fifteen when I became alpha.”

“So young?”

“Our alpha was dead, and so were most of the lieutenants and senior soldiers.”

“That’s why SnowDancer has such a young population.” Nowhere near the level of older people you’d expect. She went to ask another question when she realized they’d stopped in the shadow of a slender tree, its branches hung with elegant leaves that shimmered in the wind.

“I’ll give you,” he said, “a twenty-minute head start.” A pale-eyed wolf watched her out of a human face.

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