Brenna's hand curled around his, separated only by the blanket. He felt her warmth. It wasn't enough. He was starving for her, a clawing, almost animal hunger inside him.
"Judd - I smell blood." She jerked upright and reached to switch on a lamp.
He stopped her with his other hand. "It's just a nosebleed."
A small silence, then she pulled away from him. "No." A pained whisper. "It'll kill you if we don't stop being together."
He wiped away the blood with the sleeve of his turtleneck, able to tell it was dark and rich. "There is another option, as you once said. I have to disable the Protocol." And somehow keep from turning into an inadvertent murderer.
The first body was found twenty-four hours after the Council meeting. The young male - who turned out to have been an inmate at a pre - Rehabilitation Center prior to his early and unexpected release - had died of massive neurological trauma.
Kaleb put down the report and turned to look at Nikita, who was staring out at the city of San Francisco. They were in the office area of her private penthouse, safe from prying eyes. "They're tying up the loose ends."
Nikita shook her head. "The autopsy showed a localized implosion in the segment of his brain that would have held the implant. It failed and destroyed itself in the process."
Kaleb wasn't so certain. "The timing's too convenient."
"Yes. There is that."
"Either way, it appears the problem is being buried."
"It doesn't matter." Nikita's voice was low, measured. "Ming has to have his suspicions if not outright proof. He'll withdraw his support of any further propositions on the part of the Scotts."
"Do you think they were foolish enough to have themselves implanted?"
"If the implants are indeed failing, we'll know the answer soon enough."
Kaleb nodded, looking out at the morning sun glittering off the water that edged this city. He couldn't help comparing it to his landlocked home. Two very disparate cities, but power felt the same whether here or there.
Brenna's heart was a twisted knot of pain and fury when she ran into Hawke the next day. Damn the Council for putting that poison into Judd's brain. Touch and emotion were the cornerstone of who she was, but they were toxic to him. He'd left early this morning, saying he had to consider how to break the chains of Silence without becoming a danger to her or anyone else, but she was no longer sure that that was the right thing to do - what if the attempt proved lethal?
Hawke frowned when he saw her. "What's the matter?"
A sense of pure strength, unvarnished dominance, came over her. It didn't feel like her - as her previous episodes hadn't felt like her. Shaking off her panic that the madness was returning, she said, "Nothing."
"Come on, darling, you doing okay?" A rough question.
She put her arms around him. "I need a hug." He immediately gave her what she wanted. She sniffed, knowing this was a side of Hawke the soldier males and females never saw. "Can I ask you something?"
He rubbed a hand over her back. "Go on."
"Why haven't you taken a mate?"
He went still around her. "Where did that come from?"
"The subject of mating's been on my mind," she said truthfully. "I got to thinking what a good mate you'd make, but only for a woman tough enough to take you on." He was an alpha wolf and he could get brutal, but she somehow knew he'd never harm a hair on his mate's head. Just like her fallen Arrow.
"You know mating isn't that simple."
She knew. The same way she knew that something was "missing" between her and Judd, something important. Yet he was hers. She refused to believe he wasn't her mate. "Lots of people take permanent partners when they don't find a mate by a certain age." Mating was a magical, wonderful thing, but fulfilling relationships could be had aside from it.
Hawke chuckled. "I'm only thirty-two, not quite in my dotage."
She snarled softly. "That's not what I meant and you know it. I hear the women talking, you know. They say you don't even attempt to form long-term relationships, that as soon as anyone tries to get even a little possessive, you move on."
"Should I tell you this is none of your business?"
She hugged him harder. "It is, too." As her alpha, he belonged to her as much as the pack belonged to him. "I want you to be happy and I don't think you are." Maybe because she was hurting so badly herself. The idea of a life without Judd was a nightmare.
Hawke didn't respond for a long time. "She was two years old when we met. I was seven. I knew she was my best friend straight away. As I got older, I also knew she would grow up to become my mate."
Brenna didn't want him to continue, a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach - she knew what had happened to SnowDancer two decades ago, the bloodshed, the loss. She held on to Hawke, held on hard, trying to anchor him with the bonds of Pack.
"She fit me in a way no one else ever will. And she died when she was five and I was ten."
A single tear rolled down her face. She wished anything that she could turn back time and save that life, because mating was a one-shot deal. Though Hawke had been too young for the bond to actually materialize, he had found the woman who was meant for him. That didn't happen twice. "I'm so sorry."
"I've learned to live with it." He nuzzled the top of her head with his chin. "But you don't have to. If you've mated with Judd, you won't get any shit from me."
She couldn't admit to him that she felt only a dull emptiness where the mating bond should've been. It wasn't fair - she loved Judd. Why didn't her wolf recognize him as her mate? Taking a deep breath, she pulled out of Hawke's hold. "I won't tell anyone."