Kiss of Snow Page 3

Grabbing a wet hunk of hair, she lifted it to her eyes and swore. The powerful resonance of her ability had neutralized the dye. Again. For the third time in a month. It spoke to a lack of control that worried her. She’d been so good since she began to spend a large amount of time in DarkRiver territory, her Psy abilities so stable that the fear that had locked around her throat since her defection had burned away in a storm of confidence.

Then she’d seen—“No.”

Snapping off the water, she stepped out and picked up a large, fluffy towel Brenna had given her as part of a birthday gift. It was thick and luxuriant against her flesh, a sensory pleasure she couldn’t help but embrace . . . just like she couldn’t resist the compulsion that had led to her current situation.

She clenched her jaw so tight it shot a bolt of pain along the bone. But the sensory shock helped her shake off the gut-deep craving that never quite left her, and she concentrated on rubbing herself dry. The bathroom mirror, when she glanced at it, showed her a female of average height with hair of such a deep, deep red it appeared black when wet.

“Like the heart of ruby,” Sascha had said the last time they’d put in the dye, the empath’s hands gentle on Sienna’s scalp. “Such a shame we have to cover it up.”

Unfortunately, they didn’t have a choice in the matter. Her hair was too distinctive. Then again, Sienna thought—staring at a face that had become refined in a very feminine way, all trace of childish softness having melted away while she hadn’t been looking—maybe it was safe now.

Her hair had in fact darkened in the years since her defection from the PsyNet. Aside from the changes in her face, her body was both noticeably curvier and more muscled. While she carried the muscle in a fluid way that didn’t bulk her up, no one who had known her while she’d been jacked into the Net would recognize her now. Especially given the brown contact lenses she always wore outside of SnowDancer territory.

She hadn’t worn them today. The bruised eyes that looked back at her were those of a cardinal, a genetic marker that set her apart from the world in a way that couldn’t be explained, not even to another cardinal. Perhaps the only person who had ever come close to understanding the violence of what lived within her had been her mother, a cardinal telepath with her own demons. Sienna’s brother, Toby, was a cardinal, too. Three in one family . . . it was extraordinary.

But not as extraordinary as a cardinal X surviving to adulthood.

A hard, rapping knock.

Jumping at the sound, she quickly pulled on underwear, a clean T-shirt, and the soft black pants she liked to wear at home. “I’m coming!” she called out when the pounding started again. Since her door had a note indicating she was confined to quarters, it could only be one of the senior members of the pack.

Damp hair tucked behind her ears, she opened the door to come face to face with a man who was unquestionably lethal. “Judd.” It surprised her that he hadn’t ’pathed to her instead of tracking her down.

Then he spoke. “Can you handle being confined?”

The edge of the door dug into her palm, a hard, cold bite. “He asked you to make sure of that, didn’t he?”

Judd Lauren might’ve been her mother’s brother, but he’d also been an Arrow, one of the Psy Council’s most deadly assassins. He was better at maintaining a mask than anyone she knew, and now his face told her nothing. “Answer the question.” His tone made it clear he was asking not as her uncle, but as a SnowDancer lieutenant.

She came to attention. “I’m fine.” Her emotions were causing her shields to shudder as her thoughts ricocheted in a hundred different directions, but they were holding. That was all that mattered, because without her shields, she’d be a far more destructive threat than any manmade weapon.

Judd’s eyes never moved off her, and she knew he’d made his own assessment of her status even before he nodded. “You know what to do the instant there’s a problem.”

“Yes.” She’d ’path him, and he’d teleport in, shoot to incapacitate. If the shock of pain didn’t splinter her psychic focus, he’d aim for her head next. It sounded barbaric and she knew it would break something in him to do it, but someone had to act as the failsafe, a backup in case she could no longer stop herself. Because the fact was, she was a cardinal with a martial ability. There was a high chance her shields would lock down the instant she went live. Not even an Arrow would be able to break through on the psychic plane.

A physical attack was the sole avenue left. Her certainty that Judd would strike that blow if necessary was the only thing that allowed her to live without constantly fearing for the safety of everyone around her. Though notwithstanding her current situation, she’d achieved near-perfect psychic discipline in the preceding months, something no one, not even she, had expected of an X outside Silence.

The reminder had her steeling her spine. “I’ll use the time alone to augment and refine the controls you and Sascha helped me develop.” Judd wasn’t an X, but as a dangerously strong telekinetic, he understood the bone-deep fear that drove her to keep the vicious strength of her abilities trapped in the steel cage of her mind. It was also why he’d kill her if it came down to it.

“Good.” Leaning forward, he cupped her cheek, the gesture no longer as startling as it once might’ve been—before Judd mated with a wolf who had survived her own nightmare. “I did wonder when you were going to push Hawke too far.” Stroking his thumb over her cheekbone, he brushed a kiss on her forehead. “Take some of this time to think, Sienna, figure out where you’re heading.”

Her emotions a tight knot in her chest, she closed the door after he left and walked back to the bathroom to pick up the brush on the shelf by the mirror. “Hawke’s mate is dead,” she made herself say to the woman who was her reflection, her fingers clenching to bloodless tightness around the carved wood of the handle. “He buried his heart with her.”

Even in the face of that harsh truth, the brutal compulsion inside of her refused to be extinguished, to be contained. Like the destructive power of an X, it threatened to consume her until only ashes remained.

LARA was on her way out of the den when she ran into Judd Lauren. “Here,” he said, hefting the medical kit she was in the process of slinging over her shoulder.

“Thanks.” Noticing the direction he’d come from, she said, “I heard Sienna and Maria returned from their watch hurt, but no one’s called me. They okay?”

The Psy lieutenant followed her lead out of the den and into the searing sunshine and crisp air of the Sierra Nevada before answering, “Scratches and bruises, nothing major.”

Her healer’s heart settling, she lifted her face to the painful clarity of the chrome blue sky. “It’s days like this that make me glad to be a SnowDancer.” To be a wolf.

“Brenna and I went for an early morning run, when the mist was rising up off the ground.” Judd’s tone gentled in a way she knew he wasn’t aware of when he spoke of his mate.

“I love that time of day.” When everything was fresh, the entire world a hushed secret. “Which direction did you go?”

“The other side of the lake,” he answered as they moved on. “So—who’s injured?”

She rolled her eyes. “Two of the juveniles were doing God knows what, and now I have a broken arm and three cracked ribs to heal.”

“You don’t usually need this.” He tapped the medical kit.

“Juveniles,” Lara muttered, “occasionally need to learn a lesson about the fact that maybe they should take better care not to break their limbs. I’ll do some healing to ensure everything is as it should be, then cast the arm, strap the ribs.” It would take longer to mend than if she used her gift to fully repair the injuries, but would do the boys no harm.

“The peripheral benefit is it keeps my medical skills from getting rusty, plus it allows me to hold my healing abilities in reserve in case we have a sudden critical injury.” While Hawke could share his strength with her through their healer-alpha bond, her own body could only handle so much before it collapsed.

“Here.” Judd pushed up a branch so she could pass underneath. Which was why she was in front when they entered the clearing, where one of the injured boys lay propped up against a tree, cradling his arm. The other sat cross-legged, clutching at his ribs. Brace was tall and lanky, though Joshua had put on a bit of muscle over the past couple of months. Right now, however, both looked like shamed six-year-olds.

The reason, Lara guessed as her heart thudded hard against her ribs, was the man standing with his arms folded, looking down at the two miscreants. “Walker.” She’d scented the dark water and snow-dusted fir of his scent as she and Judd neared but had put it down to the fact that he was often in this area with the younger teens—having been put in charge of the ten-to-thirteen-year-olds. A tough age for wolves, but Walker handled them without so much as raising his voice.

She could understand why—quiet, intense Walker Lauren had a presence akin to that of any dominant wolf. “I didn’t expect to see you here.” Her voice came out a little husky to her own ears, but no one else seemed to notice.

Walker’s pale green eyes held hers for a long, tense second. “I was passing by when I glimpsed these two.” His gaze shifted over her shoulder. “I’ll carry it back.”

“We need to speak—bring the kids for dinner.” Judd melted away into the forest so fast, Lara didn’t even manage to turn around in time.

“Lara, it hurts.” It was an almost apologetic voice.

Wrenching away the suffocating web of want and anger and hurt that had wrapped around her, she went to her knees. “Let me see, sweetheart,” she said, checking first Brace, then Joshua. “Hold still for a second.” Using the pressure injector, she gave them each a shot of painkiller.

She was vividly conscious of Walker hunkering down beside her, his body big, the scent of him as cool and reserved as the man himself. As she worked, he spoke to Joshua and Brace. Whatever they’d done to get into trouble, the boys’ wolves relaxed at once under his attention. Lara only wished her own wolf wasn’t so hypersensitive to his presence, until its fur rubbed up against the inside of her skin—but sensitivity aside, the wolf maintained a wary distance. Both parts of her had learned their lesson when it came to Walker Lauren.

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