He braced one arm on the grassy surface beside her head, his wolf strangely content in spite of the skin hunger that continued to be a constant ache at the back of his mind. “What?” Twining a strand of her hair around his finger, he rubbed it between fingertip and thumb.
“To have a hundred years with someone.” Her voice held such haunted need it shook him. “I never imagined that was possible before I came here.”
“Most folks live at least three decades beyond a hundred,” Hawke said, stepping close enough that one of his thighs brushed hers, “so it’s not unusual.”
Sienna didn’t pull away, the scent of her an unintended caress across his senses. “But together . . . imagine how deeply you’d know someone after all that time, how very complex the love would be between the two of you.”
It was time, he thought, to lay things out into the open. “No hypotheticals, Sienna. Me and you. Is that what you want?”
“I’ve made that pretty clear.” An acerbic reply accompanied by arms folded across her chest.
His wolf liked the bite of her, but he had to be certain she understood the implications of being with him. All of them. Fisting a hand into her hair, he pressed in close until she had to unfold her arms, her hands landing on his waist. “Do you know what it would mean for you if I take you as mine?”
Though her pulse was a frantic beat he wanted to lick, she stood her ground.
“No matter what, I can’t give you the mati—” he began, because he would not lie to her.
“I know,” she interrupted. “I heard . . . I put things together.”
Of course she had, his smart Psy. But that wasn’t the only thing he had to say. “No more flirtations with boys your own age,” he said, gripping that stubborn jaw with his fingers. “No more dancing with any male but me. No more time to learn who you are before you have to hold that personality against mine. No more freedom to explore your sensuality before I own it.”
Right at that moment, face-to-face with the dominant force of his personality, Sienna realized exactly how much Hawke had been holding back, and part of her hesitated. The fact was, while she was intelligent and off the charts when it came to psychic strength, she had no true knowledge of how to deal with males . . . no, with this male. He was the only one who’d sliced through her every shield to impact the very core of her, the part she’d protected with single-minded determination even as the rest of her turned Silent.
“Scared?” Hawke’s smile held no humor. “You should be, baby.” Then he kissed her, and it was no tender exploration, no playful tease. This was the kiss of a man who knew precisely what he wanted and had no compunctions about getting it. Using his grip on her jaw to angle her how he wanted, he nipped at her lower lip hard enough that she gasped, opened her mouth.
Making a deep sound low in his throat, he swept in, tasting her with a proprietary thoroughness that caused a tremor to shiver through her frame. Instead of easing up on the kiss, he pressed deeper into her, letting her feel every hard inch of him as he licked and tasted and demanded. Never had she realized how soft her body was in comparison to his, how much hotter he burned.
It was a lesson, and when it was over, she had kiss-swollen lips, a body so sensitized to his touch that it burned a craving across every inch of her . . . and a sudden awareness that maybe, just maybe, she hadn’t thought this out as well as she’d believed.
THE GHOST THOUGHT of the uses he could make of a cardinal X, fully cognizant that he was more than capable of double-crossing Judd. Except for one thing—his reason for building the fires of rebellion, for not executing the entire Council in a bloody burst of violence, it held him back, acting as the conscience he didn’t have.
As a result, instead of spending his time strategizing about how to gain control of the rogue X, he dove into the slipstream of the Net, the psychic network created by the minds of millions of Psy across the world, each mind an icy white star on an endless spread of black. The Net existed in every place on the earth, a vast sprawl that had no limits.
In this infinite system ran rivers of data, millions and trillions of pieces of information uploaded each and every day by the minds hooked into the network. It was the biggest data archive on the planet, the storehouse of knowledge for their entire race. The unwary could get buried under the weight of it, but the Ghost was a shark gliding through the slipstream in lethal silence, filtering data with a speed and specificity that was almost preternatural.
Rumors, whispers, conspiracy theories centered around the time and manner of Alice Eldridge’s death, all of it floated to the top of his consciousness as the Net gave up its secrets. None held anything of substance. Either the Arrows had done an immaculate job of wiping Eldridge from the Net, or the data had degraded in the years since her death.
That left him with the Obsidian archive. Created by the NetMind, the neosentience that was the guardian and librarian of the Net, the Obsidian archive was a backup in case the PsyNet ever suffered a catastrophic failure. The Ghost had named it Obsidian because the complexity of data within it made it all but a wall of black. Only a rare few individuals had ever realized the Obsidian archive existed.
Even fewer knew how to access it.
If there was anything to find on Alice Eldridge’s second manuscript, it would be buried in that immense hoard of information. Otherwise, Sienna Lauren was on her own.
SIENNA CAUGHT HAWKE as he was heading out of the den early the next afternoon. “Wait.” The tense line of her spine told him she’d forgotten nothing from the previous night.