Kiss of Snow Page 33

He ignored her to undo the laces and remove her boots with quick, steady hands before tugging off her socks. She gave up trying to stop him, gave up trying to fight the need tearing her apart, and simply indulged in the sight of those strong shoulders below her, the fabric stretched taut over solid muscle.

A teacher, that’s what everyone said he’d been in the PsyNet. But Lara had always wondered if there was more to it—there was something about Walker that spoke of shadows, of hidden truths. Things she knew he’d never share. Not Walker.

“Sleep.” A single deep word as he rose and picked up the blanket from where it had fallen off the couch.

Surrendering both to exhaustion and to his indomitable will, she laid down her head and closed her eyes. She felt the blanket being unfurled over her, felt his fingers push rebellious curls off her face with a tenderness that made her throat lock, but she didn’t open her eyes. For this single, shimmering moment, she’d indulge in a fantasy in which Walker wasn’t broken. Tomorrow would come soon enough.

ONCE in the break room, Hawke grabbed a seat at the small table and pulled Sienna into his lap. She turned stiff. “What are you doing? Anyone could walk in.”

His wolf peeled back its lips, a low growl rumbling in his chest. “Do you think I’m planning to hide this, hide us?”

“No.” Yet the edgy distance remained.

Neither part of him liked it. “You’ve seen me holding packmates.”

“Never me.” The absolute lack of emotion in that simple statement killed him.

“No,” he agreed, stroking his hand over the dark beauty of the hair. “Let me hold you tonight.”

It took time for her to soften, to curve her hand over his shoulder, settle her head against him. And he knew—because he knew her—that that would be all she’d give him unless he pushed. Sienna was used not only to keeping secrets, but to fighting her battles alone. No more.

One arm around her shoulders, the hand of the other on the sleek muscle of her thigh, he said, “Eli’s injuries got to you.” He’d been focused on Simran, but his wolf had sensed Sienna arrive, had him glancing up to see her eyes turn to midnight when they landed on the injured soldier.

There were no words from her, not for a long time. When they did come, they were brittle shards. “I could do that. I have done that . . . and worse.” Sienna said, not knowing why she was admitting to the true horror of her nature. “No one knows.”

Hawke’s hand stilled on her thigh for a fraction of an instant before he began to pet her again with those small, slow movements. “Talk to me.”

She’d kept the secret for so long, not wanting anyone to see her as a monster, but tonight, she knew that to be a false hope. She was a monster. That could not be changed. “When I was five years old,” she said, her mind acrid with memory—the lash of cold fire, the agonizing sound of a high pitched scream, the nauseating scent of burned flesh and melted plas as the datapad fused into the soft flesh of a hand that had only ever touched her in gentleness, “I set my mother on fire.”

“Ah, baby.” The tenderness in his voice almost broke her.

“That’s how it happens with the lucky ones,” she said, the piercing echo of her mother’s screams something she would never forget. “The unlucky ones immolate themselves the first time the X-marker kicks in.” Unlike with the majority of other designations, it was near impossible to identify an X while the ability lay dormant.

“I know your mother survived.”

“Yes, she was a powerful telepath.” Sienna’s shields had been basic at that stage, with her mother providing the necessary psychic protections. As a result, Kristine had had full access to her mind. “After the first shock, she did the only thing she could and knocked me unconscious.” The medics had been able to repair all but the damage done by the datapad. Kristine had carried a fused patch of skin and plas on her palm until the day she died—and never once had she blamed Sienna for it.

Hawke settled her deeper against him, the hand that had been on her thigh moving up to cup her face. The guilt inside of her made her want to avoid his gaze, duck her head, but she’d never before done that with him, recognizing instinctively that to bow down in such a way was to signal something to his wolf that she did not want. “That was when Ming came,” she said, meeting those wolf-blue eyes though shame curdled her stomach. “He wanted to cut me off from my family at once, except that my mother had been unconsciously subduing my urges since birth.”

No judgment on his face, nothing but an intense concentration. “Is that normal?”

“In a way. Psy children often don’t know what they’re doing with their abilities, so most parents keep a psychic eye on them.”

“The same way adult changelings make sure pups don’t claw each other by accident.”

His words, the attempt to find common ground between them, thawed a little of the frozen lump in her chest. “Yes. But my mother, she was a cardinal telepath, very, very strong—she didn’t realize just how much power she’d been utilizing to block me. If she’d been weaker . . .” She shook her head, the chill returning to infuse her very bones. “I would’ve killed either myself or another child much earlier.”

Hawke sensed the gut-deep pain behind the calm, almost flat words. Five years old. A baby, and she’d been in Ming’s care. “Your mother went with you?”

A nod. “I didn’t know then, I didn’t realize, but my mother was different. Most women would’ve handed me over to Ming and released themselves of all liability, but even after he was able to take over what she’d been doing to help me on the psychic plane, she refused to sign away her rights as my mother.” Gleaming pride melded with a furious depth of tenderness.

“However,” Sienna continued, “she couldn’t teach me control. She was a communications specialist, not gifted in mental combat like Ming. It took him four months to safely isolate and contain me behind his own telepathic shields. Then he taught me. It was hard.”

Such a simple statement. Such a terrible statement. “I hate Ming for what he did”—because that isolation, that containment, Hawke understood it had been a prison cell around the mind of a scared child—“but he helped you stay alive.”

“No,” Sienna disagreed, “he helped me become Silent. Most Psy graduate the Protocol at sixteen. I was Silent by age nine. Sometimes, I think that’s why my mother decided to have Toby—because she knew I was gone from the instant Ming walked into our home.”

And yet, Hawke thought, Sienna had never lost her soul. She’d retained the capacity to love Toby with a fierceness that was wolf in its strength, retained the loyalty to family that had seen her defect to save the children’s lives. It staggered him to realize the incredible will she must’ve had even as a child that she’d been able to hide and protect that part of her psyche from a Councilor.

About to speak of the depth of his pride in her, to tell her she had no reason to carry any shame, he heard a slight sound. “I think Simran is up.”

Sienna flowed off his lap, concern replacing the heavy darkness that had fallen over her face as she spoke of her mockery of a childhood. “Should I fetch Lara?”

“No, let me check first. But why don’t you look in on the others?”

When he walked into Simran’s room, it was to find the injured sentry smiling weakly at the woman who sat by her side, a lanky soldier so fleet of foot that Hawke often used her as a messenger across den territory. “Inés,” he said, running the back of his hand over her cheek. “When did you get back?”

“Ten minutes ago.” Her body trembled as she leaned in to rest her head against his side. “Simran won’t tell me how badly she was hurt.”

Simran said, “No need,” her throat husky.

Making a hushing sound, Inés reached for the bottle of water on the bedside table. “I’m talking to my alpha, if you don’t mind.” The words were chiding, the tone affectionate as she put a straw into the bottle so the wounded sentry could take a sip.

Hawke pressed his lips to Inés’s temple when she put down the bottle. “It was bad,” he said, ignoring Simran’s scowl, “but I had her and I wasn’t letting go.”

“I’m so glad you’re a stubborn bastard.” Inés’s thin arms hugged him tight before she leaned over to brush the hair off Simran’s face with fingers that were exquisitely tender.

Riordan, when Hawke glanced into the novice soldier’s room, remained in a sedated sleep, but Elias had regained consciousness, his hand on his mate’s head as she pressed it to his uninjured side. Thank God. Figuring Lara would forgive him for not waking her up since it was good news, he was about to leave the couple in privacy when Sienna brushed past him and into the room. “Here,” she said, putting a warmed-up cup of soup in Yuki’s hand. “Drink it or you know he’ll keep fussing.”

“I don’t fuss.” Rasped-out words. “Now drink it.”

Deep shadows lingered beneath the liquid dark of Yuki’s expressive eyes, the lids swollen and red, as was the tip of her nose, but there was no lack of energy in the face she made at her mate. “Bossy man.”

“You’re stuck with me.”

“Yeah.” A smile so intimate, it felt wrong to witness it. “For the next century, at least.”

Lara appeared in the doorway beside Hawke right then, her cheek bearing marks of sleep. “What’s the ruckus?” she asked with a beaming smile before shooing both Hawke and Sienna away. “Get rested in case I need you tomorrow.”

Seeing that Walker had returned to the infirmary, Hawke acquiesced. “I want to grab some fresh air,” he said to Sienna.

“Good idea.”

It wasn’t until they were outside, with her leaning up against a gentle knoll in the White Zone, that she said, “It must be nice, don’t you think?”

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