Kiss of Snow Page 66

Leaning into the tiny kisses she brushed over his neck, he said, “Day by day, I began to see the light go out of my students’ eyes in a way that was more profound than could be attributed to the Protocol.” The hand on her back slid down to clench on her hip, hard enough that she knew he wasn’t aware of it. “Then I began to notice how many of them missed a day or two for medical reasons.”

Lara’s eyes burned, her healer’s heart able to guess what was coming.

“Arrows are taught from childhood not to feel pain,” he continued. “The easiest way to do that is to put them through such excruciating pain that the mind learns to shut it out. The side effect, of course, is that it turns them into merciless killers.”

Lara swallowed her tears. “Judd.”

“As a Tk, he had a different teacher in a different location. His name was wiped from the family records, and according to the PsyNet he no longer existed.” The people who had sired Walker, Kristine, and Judd had signed away their rights to their child when he became too difficult to handle. “I had no idea where he was until he was old enough to skirt the psychic safeguards of his trainers, locate and teleport to my apartment.”

Walker thought of the first time he’d seen his now teenaged brother, glimpsed that same dead expression in Judd’s eyes that he saw daily on the faces of the children he taught. The only thing that had kept him going was that Judd had come home. Even after everything they’d done to him, he had come home.

Lara’s hand curved gently around his nape. “He came to you, not your parents.”

That she understood the words he didn’t say, couldn’t speak . . . “We had no connection to them beyond our biology.” Fisting one hand in her springy curls, he anchored himself to the present. “Defection wasn’t something we even considered at that time. There was nowhere for us to go, the Council was so powerful.” All he’d been able to do was ensure that his brother knew he hadn’t been forgotten, would never be forgotten.

Then history had begun to repeat itself with Sienna, and it was the final straw. “Lara, I need you to know”—because he didn’t ever want her to look at him and wonder—“I never hurt a child in my care.” He’d risked everything to teach his students telepathic tricks they weren’t permitted to know, and then he’d taught them how to hide the knowledge. It had been the only weapon he could give those small, vulnerable minds.

“Oh, Walker, I know you would never harm a child. I know.”

The unswerving conviction in her voice, it destroyed something hard and dark and ugly inside of him, sanded away more and more of those jagged edges. His lips were on hers before he knew he was moving, the warm strength of her a benediction he’d never expected.

SIENNA didn’t realize anything was wrong until after Hawke fell asleep, having first exhausted her into limp incoherence. When she’d recovered after that second loving to complain that she hadn’t gotten a chance to explore his body yet, he’d laughed and promised that she could have her turn—after he got the edge off.

“Pretty long edge,” she’d gasped ten minutes later, hair falling around her face as he slid into her from behind for the second time.

That had earned her a kiss on the back of her neck, his fingers curving down to flick the tight bundle of nerves at the apex of her thighs. “You have no idea.” A knowing touch circled her clit as she quivered from the shock of his first caress. “See that chair? Having you astride me is next on my list.”

The rough greed in his voice had sent heat rocking over her body, a darkly pleasurable sensation. However, this, what she felt now, was uncomfortable, as if her body was boiling from the inside out. Wiggling out from under Hawke’s arm, she muttered, “Bathroom,” when he would’ve stopped her, and made her way to the private alcove at the back of the cabin. Throwing water onto her face, she wiped it with a towel, but her skin continued to burn.

That was when she looked in the mirror.

And stopped breathing.

Her eyes were gold—blazing, flickering gold. Swallowing, she tried to quiet the panic that had her pulse in her mouth. The second level of dissonance hadn’t kicked in, so whatever had caused this, it didn’t indicate a dangerous loss of control. With that reassuring thought, she went within her mind, ready to reinforce the shields that contained the buildup of X-fire. To find them burned out. Oh, God.

The lines of dissonance programming had literally been buried under an avalanche of power. That should’ve been impossible—the pain should’ve blanked her into unconsciousness long before it got to that stage . . . except she was an X. A cardinal. No one knew how her power functioned, not in truth.

Connected as the events seemed, she knew the collapse wasn’t as a result of the emotional impact of the previous two nights—her response to Hawke had been wild and dark and passionate long before they’d shared intimate skin privileges. “Calm,” she said out loud. “Calm.” When she had some kind of a handle on herself, she began to rebuild that which had been burned away . . . only to watch as the cold fire began to devour it at almost the same instant.

Horror filled her veins, speared through her mind.

But at the center of it was a cold, clear understanding.

She’d thought she’d beaten the X-marker, but all she’d done was corral it—there was no way to stop its progression. Her periodic purges had acted as a pressure regulator, but that regulator was no longer big enough. The power had grown in an exponential cascade over the hours she’d slept, until it was a massive beast shoving at her shields, wanting out.

All indications are that your power develops in erratic and unpredictable surges. At some stage, the surge will overwhelm.

She’d forgotten Ming’s prediction, or perhaps she hadn’t wanted to remember it. In this, the bastard had proven right. “No panic, Sienna. Think.” Pacing in the confines of the bathroom, she realized the first thing she needed to do was earth the cold fire, buy some time.

It took her five minutes to sneak outside without waking Hawke, and she was convinced he didn’t rise only because he could scent her and knew she was safe. The instant her bare feet hit the forest floor, she punched her power into it, the ground burning with phantom flames for almost a minute before the X-fire soaked into the earth.

Yet when she looked into her mind, she saw that by morning, the buildup would be close to critical once more. The cold fire was voracious, and it wanted to consume everything in its path, but that wasn’t the most terrifying truth she saw inside the conflagration of her mind. Synergy, the catastrophic crest of an X’s power, wasn’t just possible, it was highly probable.

There was no going back once an X hit synergy.

Glancing behind her at the cabin, she rebuilt a second layer of shields before walking back inside. Her eyes had returned to normal, and so she allowed herself to stay with Hawke, to sleep in his arms this night.

One last night.

Chapter 48

MORNING CAME TOO soon, and along with it, the harsh reality of the inevitable consequences of the amplification in her power levels. She was grateful for Riley’s early morning call seeking to talk over a security issue with Hawke. It gave her an excuse to keep the discussion on martial matters on the drive back, a topic she could handle even with her concentration fractured.

Her luck ran out when they reached the den.

“You okay?” Fingers gripping her chin, wolf-blue eyes piercing her through and through. “Did something I do last night—”

“No,” she interrupted, wanting nothing to tarnish the memory of that wonderful, impossible, beautiful night. “I guess I’m just . . . processing.” Not a lie.

A slow smile. “Here’s something else for you to process.” His kiss burned her with a far more welcome fire than the cold that licked through the psychic pathways of her mind. But she couldn’t remain in his arms forever.

“Okay,” she said, pacing from wall to wall inside her quarters. “Time to think.” She couldn’t do anything about the buildup of power, not here, not now, but she could get the hell away from those who had no idea how close they were to an armed and deadly weapon. Once at a sufficient distance, she’d have more room to consider her options, work out solutions.

In spite of the practical, positive nature of her thoughts, her heart was a lump of stone, terror crawling a thousand spidery fingers in her mind. Though she’d earthed it only hours ago, her power was already at over sixtyfive percent. There was no escaping the cold, hard truth that there would come a time when she would turn into a living torch, her body spilling over with too much X-fire to allow even the faintest illusion of control.

He isn’t my mate.

Pain roared through her chest, but for the first time, the idea of never having that bond with Hawke didn’t tear her heart in two, but saved it. If he had been her mate, the shock of her violent death might’ve been lethal. “Thank you,” she whispered to whatever unknown deity had given her that priceless gift.

The LaurenNet, her family, they would be safe. Judd and Walker were strong enough to hold Toby and Marlee in the network after Sienna was gone. If she was less selfish, she’d cut her link to the LaurenNet now, allow her mind to starve to death. “No,” she said, hands fisted. That cold voice was Ming’s, the voice of a man who’d only ever seen her as a thing to be used.

But she was a sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend, a packmate . . . a lover. Suicide would forever haunt those she left behind—Sienna knew that better than anyone. And, even though the odds appeared impossible, she’d never been the giving-up type. She’d fight to the bloody, bitter end to live.

Less than twenty minutes later, she’d packed a small bag and was ready to depart, her power levels having punched up to hit seventy-nine percent. Seeing Hawke was out of the question, no matter how much it hurt her not to go to him—he’d know, and she couldn’t afford for him to stop her.

Toby. Marlee.

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