The five-and-half-year-old, who happened to be one of Hawke’s favorite people in the den, nodded. “Didja really put Sinna in jail?”
Hawke bit the inside of his cheek. “Yep.”
Brown eyes the same dark shade as Ben’s mother’s, turned wolf-amber in shock. “How come?”
“She didn’t follow the rules.”
Ben thought about it for a second, lines wrinkling up that baby-smooth forehead. “Is it like time-out for grown-ups?”
“Oh.” A decisive nod. “I’ll tell Marlee.”
“Is Marlee sad?” The girl was Sienna’s cousin and part of his pack—Hawke wouldn’t allow her to be hurt.
Ben shook his head. “Her dad said that Sinna had been naughty and that’s why she got put in jail, but Marlee said you wouldn’t put Sinna in jail and that Sinna was probably just grumpy and didn’t want to talk to anyone.”
Having—somehow—followed all that, Hawke rose to his feet and tousled Ben’s dark hair, the little boy’s head warm under his touch. “She’ll be out in a few days.” And working in the nursery. The work itself, he knew, wouldn’t be a chore for her. She was a natural protector, and like any protector, wolf or not, she enjoyed watching over the pups. They, in turn, felt utterly safe with her.
So no, it would be no hardship for her to work in the nursery. It was the fact that she’d been taken off the duties befitting and expected of her rank that was the punishment—a public indication that he didn’t have trust in her ability to do the job. The blow would strike hard at the pride she wore like armor, but his wolf had no doubts about her steel spine, her iron will. Sienna wouldn’t allow anything to crush her, especially not Hawke. On principle.
The thought made his wolf bare its canines in a feral grin. “Go on home, Benny.”
The pup fell into step beside him instead, those short legs pumping as he ran to keep up. “Where’re you going?”
“Can I come?”
Leaning down, Hawke picked Ben up under one arm like a football. “Because you’re too short.”
Ben giggled and pretended to swim. “I’m taller than I was last week.”
Hawke’s lips curved at the sheer love in that single word. “I guess it must be true, then. But you’re still too short.”
A huge sigh. “When am I going to be tall enough?”
“Before you know it.” Placing Ben down in front of the door that led to the White Zone, the safe play area for the kids, Hawke nudged him forward. “Go kick a ball around. It’ll make you grow.”
Ben ran over to a clearing in the left section of the White Zone, to join in a game already in progress, one being watched over by an off-duty dominant who’d come to hang with the little ones. Half the pups were in human form, the other half wolf. Clearly this was changeling-rules football, which included judicious nipping to make those in human form drop the ball.
Normally, the sight of a wolf streaking away with a football in his mouth as his friends tried to bite down on his tail would’ve made Hawke laugh, join in. Today, his skin was too tight over his body, his own wolf edgy. Turning away, he headed into the hush of the forest, intending to work off the tension with some hard physical exercise. He hadn’t made it more than a hundred meters beyond the White Zone when he froze.
The damn cub had his hands on Sienna.
His claws were slicing out of his skin before he’d processed the thought.
As he watched, Kit angled his body to tuck Sienna even closer, his hands cupping her face to draw her in for an open-mouthed kiss that lasted long enough to have Hawke considering dismemberment. But the young leopard male broke the kiss before Hawke’s wolf took control, clasping Sienna’s hand to tug her deeper into the dark green firs that covered this area, the spaces between the tall, straight trunks shadowed by late afternoon sunlight.
Hawke didn’t have to be a genius to figure out what the boy planned.
Retracting his claws, he attempted to wipe his expression clean as he turned to face a woman who was one of his most trusted friends.
And could be a royal pain in the ass.
Indigo frowned as she closed the distance between them. “Was Kit here?” A pause as she obviously caught a second scent. “Ah, Sienna’s using her free hour.”
“Did you need me for something?” He held his hand out for the datapad by her side. “Is there a problem with the extended patrols?” They’d set up the patrols deep in the forested interior and along the isolated mountain edges of den territory, after Councilor Henry Scott’s games a couple of months back—games that had almost stolen the life of Indigo’s mate, Drew.
Things had been quiet since then, but the pack wasn’t about to drop its guard, especially when it appeared the Psy Councilors had their knives out for each other. Like it or not, the Psy were the most powerful race on the planet. If they imploded, the repercussions would make everyone bleed. “Indigo, I don’t have all day.” Sharp words.
The lieutenant’s response was to fold her arms, her namesake eyes bright with challenge. “The young males are starting to show signs of aggression. You know why.”
“I’ll take care of it.” It was a statement brimming with dominance, one that would’ve made almost any other individual tuck tail and run.