Kiss of Snow Page 58

“I’ve told them an hour, no more.” Smoothing out a wrinkled map after picking it up off the floor, Matthias put it on Hawke’s desk with pointed care. “Alexei says his snipers are ready if we can set them in position ahead of time. They’re not trained to get themselves through enemy fire yet.”

Hawke nodded. “Riaz can handle that.” The lieutenant was an excellent sharpshooter.

“Have you made a decision about the den?” Matthias asked, his expression now devoid of any humor.

“It can’t fall.” Even if SnowDancer survived, seeing the enemy in their home would savage them. “We blow it up if necessary.”

“I’m not going to argue. No one will.”

“Yeah, but let’s make sure it doesn’t come to that by kicking their asses.”

As it happened, things didn’t go quite as expected.

“Some kind of viral infection,” Judd said to him the next day. “Eighty percent of the troops in the Pure Psy compound are down. From the medical chatter the techs were able to intercept, it looks like the bug’s going to lay them out for three, maybe four days.”


“Yes. Henry’s not playing us.”

“We could hit the compound now,” Indigo said when he pulled his lieutenants—and Drew—together for a meeting. “Force Henry to move.”

“Yeah, but we still haven’t discovered the weapons cache in the city,” Riaz pointed out. “This could be our chance. Henry’s people might get sloppy because of the delay.”

“If we don’t find that cache,” Judd said, “and they strike, what they have in there could give them a decisive advantage.”

In the end, it was decided that since eliminating the compound now as opposed to later didn’t give either pack any tactical advantage, they’d hold off and spend the extra time intensifying the search for the weapons. “If we do locate the cache,” Riaz said, “the teams need to know not to let on.”

Alexei was the first to catch Riaz’s meaning. “If Henry doesn’t realize the warehouse has been compromised, he won’t hesitate to launch the assault even after he loses the Pure Psy compound.”

“Yes,” Judd said. “Riaz is right. Henry and his supporters won’t mobilize if he feels they’re at too much of a disadvantage.”

That was not an option they wanted Henry to consider, because fact was, the packs couldn’t remain at “red” status forever. It would wear out their people, leave them vulnerable when the assault did come.

“I’ll brief our teams and the Rats, too,” Indigo said, then glanced at Judd. “I meant to ask—can Tks ’port in with bombs?”

“Components, yes. Functional bombs, no. They’re too unstable and tend to go off during the teleport.”

“The vulnerable,” Jem said to Hawke after Judd finished speaking. “You still planning to wait to evacuate them?”

Hawke nodded. “Less chance of Henry discovering their location and changing the focus of his attack.”

“I’ve been talking with Mercy,” Riley said as Jem nodded, “and we both realized that there’s a last-ditch alternative if something goes wrong and we can’t get the children and elders a good distance away.” He pulled up a holographic map that showed the abandoned subway tunnels beneath San Francisco. “We get them down to the city—Rats will make sure the enemy never finds them.”

Indigo shuddered. “Wolves inside those narrow tunnels? In the dark?”

“We can tell them it’s an adventure.” Riley’s voice was pragmatic. “The elders will make sure the young ones are okay. And it’s not dark. The Rats have a nice setup down there—better than you’d believe.”

“My wolf’s not a fan, but it’s a good plan to have in hand,” Hawke said, then looked around at his men and women. “We’ll not only survive this, we’ll come out of it stronger than we went in, because we have something the enemy can’t imagine: heart.”

RILEY waited until after Hawke had left the room with Andrew—who’d been told to make certain the alpha was the first to leave—before speaking. “I realize this isn’t the best time,” he said, “but we need to do something for Hawke.” He told them his idea. “It needs to be finished before everything goes to shit. He deserves that much after everything he’s done for the pack.” They hadn’t had time before, but the virus had just given them at least a three-day reprieve.

“He deserves a hell of a lot more,” Indigo said to a round of nods, then grinned. “He’ll fight better when he’s not in such a bad mood anyway.”

Matthias shook his head. “I dunno, feral and mean is how I like him.” But it was clear he was joking. “Tactically speaking, we’re set—so, hell yeah, we can take a few hours to complete this project.”

“The pack’s morale could use a boost, too,” Riaz pointed out. “Once word gets out about this . . .” His smile was broad.

Judd rose to his feet. “It isn’t a done deal, you understand.” Quiet, solemn words.

“We know.” Tipping back his chair, Riaz met the other lieutenant’s eyes. “But we have to hope. None of us likes the alternative.”

Loneliness, Riley thought, absolute and unending, that was the alternative. No life for any wolf, but particularly not for an alpha who’d given his blood, his sweat, and his soul to the pack since he’d been little more than a child. “Then we begin in an hour. I ordered the materials two weeks ago.” Just in case.

Chapter 42

THE GHOST LOOKED down at what he’d uncovered. To say that it was an unexpected development would be a distinct understatement. The next question, of course, was what he planned to do with his discovery.

He could let things lie in peace. No one would ever know. Nothing would change. That might be to his advantage. After all, there was a reason for this secret, things the Council didn’t want the world to know—but didn’t want to lose, either. He could take and use that knowledge for himself.

Hunkering down beside the long, rectangular glass box coated with over a century of grime, he considered what Judd would say when he told him there was no second Eldridge manuscript.

Chapter 43

HAWKE WENT LOOKING for Sienna after the meeting because he could do nothing less. He found her sitting cross-legged in the White Zone with a sniffling pup in her arms. “Shh,” she said. “He didn’t mean it. You know he didn’t.”

More sniffles.

She stroked her fingers through the pup’s soft brownish fur. “Do you want to stay with me?”

A decisive nod.

Smiling, Sienna bent to kiss the top of that furred head. “Well, you can, but you know, I can’t hide as good as your friends. I can’t howl either.” Her head lifted. “Look who’s come to ask you to play.”

The pup pricked his ears, raised his head. Another pup shuffled over, gave an inviting “yip,” and nuzzled at his friend. As Hawke watched, Sienna murmured something to both of them, and the two pups touched noses before the one in her lap wriggled up and ran off with his playmate.

“You never talk to me as sweetly,” he murmured, coming to crouch behind her.

A jerk and he knew she would’ve gotten up if he hadn’t slid his legs to either side of her, locking his arms around her body. “Here.”

Sienna looked down at the box on Hawke’s palm and felt her frustrated anger crumble like so much dust. The box was open, and it held a small mechanical toy—a merry-go-round in motion, tiny lights flashing along the fluted roof and on the posts. There were five horses, each unique and painted in a vibrant splash of color. “This is one of yours,” she said, knowing he wouldn’t have had time to go to the toyshop.

“Now it’s yours.” A kiss on her neck as the toy wound down. “Take it.”

Her nipples beaded against the cotton of her bra. “I can’t.” He was doing it again, razing her defenses to steal her heart.

Teeth nipping at the sensitive lobe of her ear, making her jump. “Don’t you like it?”

“You know I do.” She touched a careful finger to the detailed face of a black horse with a blue and gold saddle. “But it’s yours.”

He put it on the grass beside them. “I’ll just leave it here then.”

Stubborn, stubborn man. She knew he’d go through with it, too. “Why?” she whispered. “Why are you giving this to me? Why are you here when you’re angry at me?”

A long, quiet breath, his arms hugging her against the muscled breadth of a chest she’d ached with missing last night. “I don’t want to hurt you, baby. Never would I hurt you—but I can’t give you what I don’t have to give.”

A single tear trickled down her cheek at that solemn statement raw with tenderness. Her heart, her damned vulnerable heart, had been his from the day she understood what it was he incited within her. She had no true shields against him. Never had. Never would. “Then give me everything else,” she whispered, because while she could fight a ghost, she couldn’t fight the truth in his voice. “Give me not only your joy, but also your sorrow, your hurt. Treat me as—” She hesitated, because the word mate was a painful wound between them.

“—as my partner, as mine.”

“Yes.” Maybe she would always be second best, but pride was no defense against the soul-deep need she had to claim him, be claimed by him. And if a part of her heart broke at the acceptance, she was old enough to put it away, where it wouldn’t poison the life she could have with this man who was, and always would be, her one and only.

“My father’s name was Tristan,” Hawke said, the words rusty and cracked with age as he rose and pulled Sienna up with him to a more private part of the forest. She was right. They would never have the mating bond, but they could build their own, strong as steel and as unbreakable. “He was taken while he was on solitary watch in the mountains.”

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