Kiss of Snow Page 56

“He knew straight away?” Wonder in Sienna’s voice.

It made Hawke tighten his fingers on her own. “He said it was like being hit by a two-by-four.” His father had always shaken his head at the memory, laughter creasing his face, lighting up eyes two shades darker than his son’s. “He was covered in mud and he had somewhere to go, but all he could do was stare at her.”

“What did your mother do?”

Hawke laughed, recalling the way his mother would always pretend to bare her teeth at his father when she told her side of the story. “She dropped half a tub of green paint on herself when he came racing in and had turned around to give him a piece of her mind when the air just went out of her. She was submissive, should’ve dropped her gaze, but she couldn’t do it, couldn’t break that connection.

“Garrick found them an hour later, her splattered with paint, him with dried mud turning his coat stiff. They were just sitting there, looking into each other’s eyes. Their mating was complete, and it was one that held firm until the last.” Until his father’s death and his mother’s heartbreak.

Unable to continue speaking of it, he tugged her out of the den and to the pool below the waterfall, its surface a frothy white from the crash of the water. Shadowed by the jut of the cliff above, the sandy area was a haven of privacy.

“This is a makeout spot,” Sienna said as she finished clambering down. “Evie told me. I think Tai sneaks her here.”

His lips tugged upward. “Why do you think I moved that rock at the top? It’s a time-honored signal that the pool is occupied.” The stresses of the day falling away under the caress of her responding smile, he took a seat on the ground. “Did you manage to see your family today?” He tugged her close when she settled next to him.

“Yes, I spent time with Marlee and Toby after we returned, but Walker was busy.”

“Speaking of Walker,” he murmured in her ear, “I saw him glaring at Lara a few minutes ago.” Hawke had slipped away before either of them had seen him, certain the Psy male would take care of the healer. They’d had a few injuries today, and she was already worn thin after the events of the previous night.

“Walker doesn’t glare,” Sienna said, shifting so that she faced him on her knees. “He just looks at you until you obey.”

Laughing, Hawke moved to bracket her between his thighs and touched his forehead to hers, oddly content. They talked of other matters, of Toby and Marlee, of Cooper and his new mate, until Hawke ended up lying next to her seated form, his arms crossed under his head. “It’s good to have four lieutenants mated now,” he said, his eyes on the rocky ledge above, but his attention on the compelling, textured scent of the woman by his side. “We’ll need that stability in the leadership structure even more after this is over.”

“May I ask about her?” A quiet, unexpected question.

The wolf was very much in Hawke’s eyes when he glanced at Sienna. “Her name was Theresa, but I called her Rissa.”

Rissa. It was strange to finally know the name of the ghost who owned Hawke’s soul. “What was she like?”

“Sweet—in nature and in spirit.” Hawke’s hair slid over his forehead as he pushed himself back up into a sitting position, arms hooked around his knees. “Even as a toddler, she’d give her toys to other kids if they cried. I never saw her throw a tantrum, never saw her without a smile.”

Sienna clenched her hands in the sand. It was becoming plain that Hawke’s Rissa had been nothing like her. “It’s why you’re drawn to Sascha,” she said, hiding her pain, hiding everything. “She must remind you of Theresa in some way.”

“I guess.” He frowned, shoved back his hair. “The thing is, I don’t know what Rissa would’ve grown up to be—she never had the chance to spread her wings.”

“Yet you’re certain she would’ve been your mate?” It just slipped out, that plea disguised as a question.

A pause. “That can’t be altered, Sienna.” Gentle words. Implacable words. “It’s a knowing nothing can erase.”

She fisted her hand against her abdomen in a vain attempt to hold the pain inside. “I can’t argue with that,” she said. “But the fact is, you never mated with her.” They’d been too young to love that way.

“The wolf chooses only once.” Curving his hand over her nape, he pulled her close, until his lips almost brushed her own as he spoke. “I can’t change that, baby.”

Gut-deep need drove her response. “That’s a pretty excuse, don’t you think?”

Eyes gone night-glow, dangerous and merciless. “Enough, Sienna.” Squeezing her nape, he released her.

She wondered if he thought that was the end of it. “It tore your heart out when you lost her,” she said, insistent because she had to be, because this was important enough to forever break her. “It devastated you when you were a child—is it any wonder that you refuse to allow yourself to be that vulnerable again?”

Rising to his feet, he strode to the edge of the pool, glanced back. “You can’t talk the truth away, no matter how many words you use.”

She got up, too, bracing herself against the dominant force of his personality. “I’ve seen the effects of the mating bond,” she said, looking into that face shaped by adversity and determination, until he was a man few dared challenge. “I can understand why a changeling who’d been mated once would never ever seek the same with anyone else.”

“Then why the hell are we having this conversation?”

“Because you weren’t mated! ” Her voice rose in spite of her vow to keep this discussion tempered, rational. “Have you ever considered that it isn’t the wolf stopping you from mating, but the human half?” The part that understood that to open himself up to the chance of a mate would mean opening himself up to the chance of the same soul-shattering pain.

“It’s not a choice.” He looked like he wanted to shake her.

Sienna wanted to pound at him with her fists, force him to listen, to see. “Bullshit! Drew made Indigo see him, Brenna fought for Judd, Mercy and Riley’s relationship took years to grow, so don’t you dare take the easy way out by saying it’s all predestined! Don’t be a coward!”

Chapter 40

SOMEONE HAD OUTTHOUGHT him, Ming realized, switching off the comm after a clipped discussion with Henry Scott. There weren’t many people on the planet capable of doing that, especially when it involved military strategy.

Sienna Lauren was on the shortlist.

He’d suspected she was alive ever since he’d seen the report filed by one of Henry’s men, flagging a curious psychic energy pulse inside SnowDancer territory. The description of that pulse hadn’t sounded odd to Ming—it described the power of an X. While his team had failed to get the SnowDancers to admit to offering sanctuary to Psy defectors, today’s events further strengthened his suspicions.

If Sienna had lasted this long, the girl had either figured out a way to circumvent the inevitable consequences of the X-marker, or she was about to go completely active. Since the former had never before been done, Ming was betting on the latter. Which meant everyone in the world would soon know if Sienna Lauren was alive. And Henry would get what he wanted after all—carnage on a scale that would dwarf anything the Council had ever done.

Chapter 41

GOD, SHE MADE him angry. Two hours after the confrontation by the pool, Hawke remained pissed at Sienna. Maybe he should’ve felt some softer emotion—perhaps even pity—because she was asking for something he couldn’t give, would never be able to give. But the fact of the matter was, she’d made him steaming mad, and that was how he stayed. The only good thing was that driven by angry energy, he’d canvassed almost everyone involved in making sure the pack was ready for any further assaults.

Riley had a few things he wanted to double-check, but he’d already adapted the rotation schedule to take the injured into account—and Matthias was on his way to the den with a unit of skilled fighters, as well as a sniper team trained by Alexei. The group was flying in under the radar by hopping onto a private plane owned by Nikita Duncan. Even if the enemy realized Nikita was assisting the changelings, the plane’s true ownership was hidden behind so many sub-corporations that no one would give it more than a cursory glance. Territorially speaking, the other lieutenants would cover Matthias’s sector.

Indigo’s novices were drilled and well able to provide the necessary support if needed, while Riaz had inventoried their weapons and pronounced that everything was in pristine shape. In the best news of the day, the techs had found enough in the wreckage of the Psy stealthcraft that they’d complete the modifications to the pack’s air-detection systems tonight, plugging that security hole.

DarkRiver, too, had locked its defenses. Mercy’s and Riley’s work together meant that instead of doubling up, the packs would function as a single cohesive unit in any attack. According to Lucas, Nikita and Anthony had provided lists of their people who might prove helpful in any skirmish. The two Councilors would also utilize their own psychic abilities to assist.

“If it looks like the Scotts are going to hit San Francisco,” Hawke said on the phone to the leopard alpha, “we position the Psy there.” There was no way to evacuate the entire population of the city, which meant they’d have a higher risk of sustaining casualties.

“Are you sure?” Lucas didn’t sound convinced. “Henry’s going to throw his strongest at SnowDancer.”

“We’ve got weapons and a sizeable number of trained people.” The leopards had charge of city security, but even they couldn’t cover all of the vulnerable. “It might also free up some of my people.”

“I’ll have Vaughn work Anthony’s and Nikita’s people into the city’s defenses, get back to you.”

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