A startled pause, followed by a quick nod. “I’ll be there.”
Reaching over, he gripped her nape, kissing her deep and wet and again. “Next time,” he promised, “I won’t stop with just petting your sweet body.”
Spice in the air, the taste of Sienna. “That assumes there’ll be a next time.”
“You should know better than to dare a wolf, baby.” Nipping at that full lower lip he loved, he pointed a finger at her. “One hour.”
NINE a.m. and decisions were being made. Judd, Riley, Indigo, and a bandaged-up Riaz, along with Andrew, Sienna, and Hawke, were physically present in the conference room that had been designed to connect the lieutenants to Hawke no matter their location. It took a couple of minutes to patch everyone else in. Tomás was the first to spot Sienna sitting unobtrusively to the side.
“Why, Sienna Lauren, as I live and breathe.” A smile that held more than an edge of flirtation. “Aren’t you looking pretty these days?”
Sienna, to her credit, retained her cool. “I saw you doing the chicken dance once, Tomás. It wasn’t sexy.”
That made Kenji hoot with laughter, Alexei flash a megawatt grin. Hawke’s wolf was pleased to see that Sienna’s face didn’t go slack at the sight—most women had a hard time resisting Alexei, even when he wasn’t trying to charm. “No time for play,” he said, and the entire room snapped to attention. “We have the same two choices we did earlier this year. Strike first or wait for them to come to us.”
“Strike first and we might have a slight advantage,” Tomás said, dark eyes incisive, “but if we send out teams, we leave our territory vulnerable. Could be exactly what they want.”
“Agreed.” Judd’s practical voice. “Aside from that, while the compound in South America won’t be an issue, we don’t know how many other operatives the Scotts have under their command.”
“And,” Riaz added, “we know they’re coming. This assault was an attempt to get us to retaliate, squander our resources. They want to soften us up before they attack.”
Matthias nodded from one of the comm screens, the rugged beauty of the Cascade Range visible from the window at his back. “Our previous strikes made sense at the time, but things have changed. I say we wait, we prepare.”
“We need to check something else, too,” Riley said from beside Hawke. “All indications are that they’re focusing their aggression on SnowDancer and DarkRiver, but we need to make sure they haven’t also got plans in place for the city.”
“Any luck tracking down the weapons?” Matthias asked.
Riley gave a grim shake of his head. “No.”
“Their past actions,” Judd said, “would seem to suggest they won’t destroy San Francisco, but given Henry’s recent behavior, there’s a possibility he and Shoshanna may be willing to sacrifice the city if it wins them the war.”
Cooper agreed, his face set in hard lines as he looked out from the comm screen. “Fact is, they get us and the cats out, there’s only Nikita and Anthony left to stand in their way. And neither has any significant military strength.”
“Still,” Drew pointed out, “it might not be a bad idea to scope those two out, see how many offensive Psy abilities they might be able to add to the mix. Even if it’s a few powerful telepaths, they can help hold off the mental strikes of the other side. Anthony’s people might even be able to predict some of the moves.”
“I’ve already asked,” Hawke said. “Seems war throws predictions off course because so many things are done in the heat of the moment. But he says every one of his foreseers, Faith included, are certain the violence is set to hit soon. Might even be a matter of days.”
“So”—Indigo leaned forward—“we take a stand?”
Hawke nodded. “The more we spread out, the thinner the wall they have to breach.”
“Far better to dig in and make them dig us out,” Jem agreed, her blonde hair dull in the cloud-drenched light in her part of the state.
“That leads us to another question.” Riley tapped the twisted piece of metal he’d placed on the table when the meeting began. “According to our records, the single star is Kaleb Krychek’s personal emblem. We decided he wasn’t involved in this, but what if he’s playing everyone for fools?”
They all looked to Judd. Who picked up the fragment of hull and turned it over in his fingers. “Kaleb is difficult to predict, but my gut says this is a deliberate attempt to implicate him, confuse the picture.”
Indigo took the piece of debris from her fellow lieutenant. “Any way to confirm?”
“I asked Luc to call Nikita,” Hawke said, still put on edge by the idea of any kind of a relationship with a Psy Councilor. But distrust aside, they agreed on one thing—this region was theirs, and they would hold it.
Glancing at Sienna, he gave a nod. “There’s something else you all need to hear.”
SIENNA had spoken to Councilors without flinching, grown up with an Arrow for an uncle, and had just spent the night with a wolf alpha. Yet her throat was dry, her tongue threatening to tie itself into a thousand knots. Because of Hawke. Because by bringing her into this, he’d tied his pride to hers.
With that thought came the sense of balance she needed. No matter what she’d said this morning, the truth was, she loved him, and in a way that wouldn’t allow distance, not even if that distance would save her pain. He wouldn’t, couldn’t, accept her as his mate, but she would give him everything. It was the only way she knew how to be.