Kiss of Snow Page 68

“I never said,” Sienna murmured, “but part of me always thought we’d find Alice Eldridge’s book on X-Psy and that it would have all the answers. Stupid, isn’t it? But I guess even an X can believe in fairy tales.” Her hand fisted against him. “I can’t go back. I’m not safe.” Never would be safe.

“Then we stay up here.” An absolute statement.

She’d never felt so cherished, so wanted, but she allowed herself only a moment to revel in the joy of it. “No. The pack needs you.”

Hawke’s hand slid up to her hip. “Pack is built on the bonds of family, of mating, of love. You come first. You always will.”

Tears burned at the backs of her eyes. “You are their heart, Hawke.” Especially now, with Henry and his fanatics about to launch an assault.

“As you’re mine.” Reaching up to stroke the tangled mess he’d made of her hair, he released a breath. “When Rissa died, part of me broke. Even at ten, I knew I wasn’t just losing my best friend, I was losing part of myself.”

“If I could bring her back for you, I would.” In an instant, even if it meant she would have to watch him love another woman.

“Shh.” A shake of his head that said she didn’t understand. “Rissa’s death, her life, shaped me. She’ll always be a part of me, but I haven’t been the boy she knew for a long time. You—and only you—hold the man’s heart.”

Sienna froze. “You mustn’t say that.” They’d never have the mating bond, but this, what he was giving her, it was as precious, as binding. As painfully beautiful. “You mustn’t.”

“Ah baby, you know I do what I want.” Rubbing his chin on her hair, he squeezed her hip. “Man and wolf, we both adore you. No way am I letting you go after the hell you’ve put me through over the years.”

He was teasing, but she couldn’t find any laughter inside of her. “I don’t know how to stop this”—an excruciating, angry helplessness—“how to survive it.” But she would find a way to send him back. Because SnowDancer needed him now, more than ever, this man with a heart so big, he’d held a broken pack together and made it strong again, a man who’d given sanctuary to the enemy . . . a man who’d loved an X.

Chapter 49

JUDD RETURNED FROM checking out a warehouse the novices had fingered in the city to find Walker waiting for him. His brother had wanted to tell him the news about Sienna in person, and now they leaned against one of the huge glacial rocks that littered this region, their backs warm, their blood chilled.

“Hawke’s with her,” Judd said, and it wasn’t a question.

“Has your contact found anything?” Walker asked in a tone so devoid of emotion, it would’ve been easy to believe he cared nothing for Sienna.

The same man, Judd thought, had taken a near-broken teenage boy into his arms and told him he would always, always be family. The fierceness of that quiet declaration had given Judd an anchor in the midst of utter darkness, given him the will to survive. “I have a meeting with him tonight.”

“What are the chances?”

“I don’t know.”

Three hours later, in the otherwise empty nave of an old, abandoned church he got his answer. It was a devastating one.

“There is no second manuscript,” the Ghost told him.

A bleak gray invaded his mind. “Are you certain?”

“Yes. Alice Eldridge had an eidetic memory. According to the records I was able to unearth, she burned her research notes on the X designation when it became clear that Silence was inevitable. The implication is that she did so in an effort to stop the Council using her research in ways it was never meant to be used.”

Judd didn’t need the other man to spell it out. “The only remaining record was in Eldridge’s head.”


It was the final staggering hit. “We’re going to lose Sienna.” A cold, hard rock in his chest, the knowledge that he wouldn’t be able to keep the promise he’d made to Kristine, wouldn’t be able to keep her daughter safe. “There’s no way to halt the buildup of cold fire once an X reaches this level.”

The Ghost considered this, considered, too, what would happen if Sienna Lauren did survive. An X was power. A cardinal X was power without limit. She was a wildcard he couldn’t control, one that might disrupt all his meticulously laid plans.

Then he looked at Judd, at the fallen Arrow who had walked with him even knowing what and who he was, who had kept his secrets. The Ghost knew nothing of friendship, but he understood loyalty and fidelity. He also understood that sometimes, plans needed to change—and that change could be used to a smart man’s advantage.

“Come,” he said to Judd. “I have something to show you.”

Judd followed him down into the crypt, keeping enough of a distance between them that he was never in any danger of seeing the Ghost’s face.

“Why do you do that?” the Ghost asked. “You know who I am.” Perhaps the only one who did. Even Father Xavier Perez, the third part of their curious triumvirate, had never made the connection.

“If I am ever taken,” Judd said, his words those of a man who knew danger could come as a silent shadow in the dark, “my mind is set with triggers that’ll erase your name from my memory banks at a single mental command. Images are more difficult to remove.”

So he’d made sure he didn’t have any images to erase. “You could’ve ruled.” For all of Judd’s power, the Ghost had never before considered that possibility.

“It would have killed what remained of my soul.”

The Ghost couldn’t recall ever having had a soul, didn’t know if he even understood what it was. “There,” he said, pointing to a shadowy corner of the old and musty crypt.

Judd went motionless as his telepathic senses registered an unknown mind. “Who?” And what had the Ghost done?

The rebel leaned against the crumbling brick wall. “I don’t think you’ll believe me if I tell you.”

Unable to detect any movement from the corner, Judd retrieved a slender penlight from his pocket and walked over to find a dust-coated glass box sitting neatly in the corner. It was about six feet long, a couple of feet deep if that, had fixtures that denoted a number of missing cables. Noticing someone had wiped away the sticky coating of dust near the top, creating a tiny window of clarity, he angled the cutting brightness of the light toward it.

A face looked out at him from within.

It was that of a small, fine-boned woman of mixed ethnicity. Her skin was a pallid brown, her eyes tilted up at the corners even in sleep, her skull smooth. Her hair had been shaved off, he realized, though there was no evidence of any electrodes ever having been attached to her skull. “Who?” he asked the Ghost once more.

“There is no second manuscript,” the Ghost said, walking to stand beside him, “but you have no need of it. I’ve brought you Alice Eldridge.”

HAWKE had made Sienna promise to stay in place when he left to get supplies. She’d broken that promise. But since he’d found her again before he got too grumpy and hungry, he didn’t snarl as he said, “Put up the tent,” and rolled the compact package to where she lay flat on her back, staring at the soft gray of the evening sky. “It’s your punishment.”

Clearly exhausted, she glared at him. “Do you never run out of energy?”

He pushed up the sleeves of his sweatshirt. “I’m alpha. Right now, I’m a hungry alpha who wants to take a bite out of you for making me run the extra miles. Put up the tent.”

She sat up but didn’t touch the tent. “Go bite yourself.”

So, she was feeling pissy. That was fine with him. He liked it much better than the defeated pain he sensed had come close to breaking her earlier today. “Actually, I’d prefer to use my teeth on softer flesh.” He was reaching out to snag her when flames erupted along her back, in her hair. “Sienna!”

She slapped up her hands. “I’m fine, I’m fine. Don’t touch.”

It was sheer hell to obey the order. He hauled her into his arms the instant the lick of red and yellow disappeared. “How bad?” he asked, seeing the pain at the corners of her eyes, knowing of the second layer of dissonance now.

“Bad. But not the dissonance. As soon as the power builds to a certain level, the dissonance either disengages or somehow short-circuits.” Her throat moved as she swallowed. “And it’s building faster and faster—I earthed after you left.”

He felt a lingering sense of ice—cold enough to burn—against his palm as he ran it over the silk of her hair. “Sienna, can the X-fire burn you?” His wolf wasn’t pacing anymore, its focus, the same focus that had helped a fifteen-year-old boy hold together a shattered pack, acute.

“That’s how Xs usually die, and if it reaches that point, then there’s no predicting how far the resulting explosion will spread.” Her smile was tight, painful. “It’s why we’re considered the most perfect weapon on the planet. An X can ‘scorch the earth,’ eradicating all that came before, but the damage to the environment is minimal. Much like after a real fire, the earth bounces back stronger and healthier—and the aggressors have a clean slate on which to build their own empire.”

He saw through the rational speech. “What aren’t you saying?”

“Ming had a theory—that if I could somehow purge my power on a level I can’t achieve with the earthing, I could initiate a restricted burst from the nascent buildup that would consume only me.” Her eyes met his. “If the flames ever turn blue . . . it means he was right. Promise me that you won’t come near me if that happens.”

“Come on,” he said instead of giving her a promise he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep. “Change of location.”

“Where are we going?” She grabbed the tent.

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