Kiss of Snow Page 54

But the fact that she’d seen that stomach-turning prospect, had the background to even consider it, was stark evidence of the darkness in which she’d grown up. She’d spent her childhood with a monster. And still she’d managed to retain her personality, retain her soul. He was so fucking proud of her.

Right at that instant, her phone beeped. Though she made no move to answer it, there was no ignoring the fact that their time together had run out. “I better go,” he said.

“Yes, of course.” She scrambled up to sit on the bed beside him when he rose.

“In one hour,” he said, getting to his feet and glancing at the oldfashioned wall clock she had to have found in a secondhand shop, “I have a lieutenant meeting. I want you there.”

A startled pause, followed by a quick nod. “I’ll be there.”

Reaching over, he gripped her nape, kissing her deep and wet and again. “Next time,” he promised, “I won’t stop with just petting your sweet body.”

Spice in the air, the taste of Sienna. “That assumes there’ll be a next time.”

“You should know better than to dare a wolf, baby.” Nipping at that full lower lip he loved, he pointed a finger at her. “One hour.”

NINE a.m. and decisions were being made. Judd, Riley, Indigo, and a bandaged-up Riaz, along with Andrew, Sienna, and Hawke, were physically present in the conference room that had been designed to connect the lieutenants to Hawke no matter their location. It took a couple of minutes to patch everyone else in. Tomás was the first to spot Sienna sitting unobtrusively to the side.

“Why, Sienna Lauren, as I live and breathe.” A smile that held more than an edge of flirtation. “Aren’t you looking pretty these days?”

Sienna, to her credit, retained her cool. “I saw you doing the chicken dance once, Tomás. It wasn’t sexy.”

That made Kenji hoot with laughter, Alexei flash a megawatt grin. Hawke’s wolf was pleased to see that Sienna’s face didn’t go slack at the sight—most women had a hard time resisting Alexei, even when he wasn’t trying to charm. “No time for play,” he said, and the entire room snapped to attention. “We have the same two choices we did earlier this year. Strike first or wait for them to come to us.”

“Strike first and we might have a slight advantage,” Tomás said, dark eyes incisive, “but if we send out teams, we leave our territory vulnerable. Could be exactly what they want.”

“Agreed.” Judd’s practical voice. “Aside from that, while the compound in South America won’t be an issue, we don’t know how many other operatives the Scotts have under their command.”

“And,” Riaz added, “we know they’re coming. This assault was an attempt to get us to retaliate, squander our resources. They want to soften us up before they attack.”

Matthias nodded from one of the comm screens, the rugged beauty of the Cascade Range visible from the window at his back. “Our previous strikes made sense at the time, but things have changed. I say we wait, we prepare.”

“We need to check something else, too,” Riley said from beside Hawke. “All indications are that they’re focusing their aggression on SnowDancer and DarkRiver, but we need to make sure they haven’t also got plans in place for the city.”

“Any luck tracking down the weapons?” Matthias asked.

Riley gave a grim shake of his head. “No.”

“Their past actions,” Judd said, “would seem to suggest they won’t destroy San Francisco, but given Henry’s recent behavior, there’s a possibility he and Shoshanna may be willing to sacrifice the city if it wins them the war.”

Cooper agreed, his face set in hard lines as he looked out from the comm screen. “Fact is, they get us and the cats out, there’s only Nikita and Anthony left to stand in their way. And neither has any significant military strength.”

“Still,” Drew pointed out, “it might not be a bad idea to scope those two out, see how many offensive Psy abilities they might be able to add to the mix. Even if it’s a few powerful telepaths, they can help hold off the mental strikes of the other side. Anthony’s people might even be able to predict some of the moves.”

“I’ve already asked,” Hawke said. “Seems war throws predictions off course because so many things are done in the heat of the moment. But he says every one of his foreseers, Faith included, are certain the violence is set to hit soon. Might even be a matter of days.”

“So”—Indigo leaned forward—“we take a stand?”

Hawke nodded. “The more we spread out, the thinner the wall they have to breach.”

“Far better to dig in and make them dig us out,” Jem agreed, her blonde hair dull in the cloud-drenched light in her part of the state.

“That leads us to another question.” Riley tapped the twisted piece of metal he’d placed on the table when the meeting began. “According to our records, the single star is Kaleb Krychek’s personal emblem. We decided he wasn’t involved in this, but what if he’s playing everyone for fools?”

They all looked to Judd. Who picked up the fragment of hull and turned it over in his fingers. “Kaleb is difficult to predict, but my gut says this is a deliberate attempt to implicate him, confuse the picture.”

Indigo took the piece of debris from her fellow lieutenant. “Any way to confirm?”

“I asked Luc to call Nikita,” Hawke said, still put on edge by the idea of any kind of a relationship with a Psy Councilor. But distrust aside, they agreed on one thing—this region was theirs, and they would hold it.

Glancing at Sienna, he gave a nod. “There’s something else you all need to hear.”

SIENNA had spoken to Councilors without flinching, grown up with an Arrow for an uncle, and had just spent the night with a wolf alpha. Yet her throat was dry, her tongue threatening to tie itself into a thousand knots. Because of Hawke. Because by bringing her into this, he’d tied his pride to hers.

With that thought came the sense of balance she needed. No matter what she’d said this morning, the truth was, she loved him, and in a way that wouldn’t allow distance, not even if that distance would save her pain. He wouldn’t, couldn’t, accept her as his mate, but she would give him everything. It was the only way she knew how to be.

“Sienna,” he said as she rose so everyone could see her, “tell the others what you told me.”

She laid out her theory about the likelihood of an ambush targeting SnowDancer’s most vulnerable.

“You sound very confident,” Cooper said. It was the first time they’d ever spoken, though she’d seen him in passing when he visited the den. The jagged scar on his left cheek was a distinctive marker against his bronze skin, but it was the near black of his eyes that held her attention. “I respect your intelligence, but you’re young and you’re no longer in the Net.”

She didn’t shy, because if there was one thing she understood, it was war. More, she’d lived in the dark long enough not to discount even the most sickening of possibilities. The wolves had a primal core of honor they didn’t realize, just didn’t expect certain actions. “I know you’re working on the assumption that it’s Henry and Shoshanna Scott behind this,” she said, “and they do appear to be the primary aggressors from what I’ve picked up. However, the strategy? It’s pure Ming LeBon.”

Judd shook his head. “Nothing points to Ming being involved. According to both Nikita and Anthony, he spoke against the Scotts on the Council.”

Under normal circumstances, Sienna would’ve bowed to Judd’s experience, but her uncle hadn’t spent ten years with Ming, hadn’t lived and breathed the Councilor’s ideas of military tactics, hadn’t seen the many faces he was able to wear with ease. “Henry Scott,” she said, focusing on the facts, “has done a number of aggressive things over the past year, but he’s never approached anything of this magnitude.

“Whatever happened to turn him aggressive, he doesn’t have the training or the skill to pull off such a big military op without serious help.” While she didn’t mention it right then, she was starting to have the disturbing feeling that Ming had been involved in the previous incursions on SnowDancer land as well—in truth, he may well have given Henry a “guiding hand” for longer than anyone knew.

Jem spoke for the first time, frown lines marring her brow. “She’s right. I’ve sort of made a hobby of keeping track of the Council—”

“Some hobby,” Riaz muttered, scratching at the bandage hidden under his chocolate brown shirt—until Indigo reached over with a pen and tapped the back of his hand.

“Yeah, real scintillating stuff.” Jem rolled her eyes and carried on. “A couple of years back, Henry was linked, in most cases, to things Shoshanna spearheaded. It’s obvious that’s changed, but I’m with Sienna. No way he’s become a military mastermind all of a sudden.”

Hawke turned those wolf-pale eyes to Judd. “We need more data from the PsyNet.”

“Understood—but I can’t go to my contact with this.”

Having had a very interesting conversation with Judd a few months ago, where the Arrow had trusted him with the identity of the Ghost, Hawke wasn’t surprised. The lieutenant had shared the name because he’d wanted Hawke to be able to understand some of his decisions without further explanation, to be able to filter his responses through the lens of knowledge.

“Not worried about me being compromised?” Hawke had asked, aware of the lengths the Council would go to uncover the rebel’s identity.

“No. If they capture you, they’ll kill you. Even Psy know not to mess with certain predators.”

Now, Hawke said, “Do the best you can.”

Glancing at Sienna, he saw her tense her shoulders, rise to interrupt the buzz of conversation. “There is,” she said, “a foolproof way to figure out if my theory about their plans is correct.”

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