Riaz’s wolf knew there was only one choice. “Like it or not,” he said, “as the most powerful group in the area, we have a responsibility to the region now.” As Riley had pointed out, changeling packs were insular for a reason, but they were not and had never been, blind to the outside world.
“Riaz is right.” Cooper’s voice. “We can’t just look away while our neighbors are slaughtered.”
“That’s not who we are.” Jem’s statement was echoed by every single lieutenant in the room.
Hawke’s nod held a quiet pride that said he’d expected no other answer. “But, it can’t be permanent.” Implacable words. “Our wolves aren’t made for that kind of political maneuvering—and I have no desire to rule this region or any other. We protect, and when the dust settles, we help the Psy population find their feet.”
An immediate round of agreement, and then they got down to the hard question of exactly how they could protect themselves and the anchors from a Tk. Judd had a simple answer. “Attack with deadly force as soon as they ’port in. No warning.”
HAWKE walked into his office to find Sienna standing to the right of his desk. Her attention was on the wall and the map that showed the land currently in the process of being replanted—work that was set to hit completion this week. Knowing how it haunted her, what she’d almost done to SnowDancer, the lives she’d taken to protect the pack, he didn’t offer her any platitudes. Instead, tugging her against his chest, he rubbed his chin over her hair, his wolf soothed by her mere proximity. Her arm came around his waist in return, but when she spoke, the words her voice shaped were unexpected.
“Judd gave me the latest update on the deaths in Cape Dorset.” Quiet. Solemn. As she’d been when he’d woken her to tell her the news. “If they obliterate an anchor point in this region, the casualty count will be catastrophic.”
He should’ve learned by now how good she was at ignoring her own emotions to focus on harsh reality, but she still surprised him at times. Would continue to do so, he thought, as long as he lived. There was nothing predictable about Sienna … except for the love he saw in her eyes every single morning, his own personal dawn. “We’ve agreed to help with the protection detail.”
“I want to—”
Pulling away, she frowned. “I know you’re worried about Ming, but he’s got to have other priorities right now. I can wear a disguise like I did when I went out with Evie and her family.”
He folded his arms. “That disguise only worked because of the context.” It was the sole reason he’d been able to let her go—because no one would expect Sienna Lauren Snow, cardinal X, to be walking around the city shoe shopping. “You think the people planning to attack an anchor won’t scan the area? The instant after they figure out you’re Psy, they’ll know who you are.” They’d also know the value of that information to those who sought to harness the fury of an X.
Stubborn tension marked her jawline. “I can’t hide forever.” She folded her own arms, feet set slightly apart. “I’m strong enough to take on even a cardinal telekinetic.”
“And I should just forget about the big fat target on your back?” Anger crept into his voice, his wolf’s hackles up.
“Oh, you mean to match yours?” Narrowed eyes. “I’ll stay if you’ll stay.”
Blowing out a breath, he growled.
Sienna stepped closer instead of farther away, dropping her arms. “I thought we already worked this out?”
He’d permitted her to go into battle, permitted her to put her life on the line. That didn’t mean he’d liked it. “Did you forget the fact that I’m a dominant wolf as well as your mate?” He was not sane when it came to the idea of her being hurt.
She rolled her eyes at him, then smiled. One of those sudden, brilliant smiles she gave him every day, smiles that made him feel ten feet tall even as they cut him off at the knees. And when she cupped his face and tugged him down to rub her cheek against his own, her br**sts pushing against his folded arms, man and wolf both knew they were sunk.
Unfolding his arms, he ran his hands down her back as she pressed a line of kisses along his jaw. “Not yet,” he whispered, his voice stripped to the core.
Sienna drew back, lines between her eyebrows. “Hawke?”
He was wolf, was alpha. Revealing vulnerability, even to his mate, didn’t come easy. “I almost lost you,” he said, the memory making him want to rage, as he relived how close he’d come to never again seeing Sienna’s smile. “I need—” He couldn’t complete the sentence, his emotions too raw.
Cardinal eyes devoid of stars stared back at him. “I understand,” she said, and he felt the depth of her perception along the mating bond. “We, both of us, need a little more time to convince ourselves we made it.” Stroking her hands over his chest, she wrapped her arms around him to rest her cheek against his heart.
He hadn’t expected it, that she’d surrender to the violent depth of his need to hold her safe, if only for a fleeting whisper of time. And he knew he couldn’t allow her to do it, couldn’t steal her freedom to assuage his need. “Go,” he said, forcing the words out, “speak to Riley. Ask him to pair you with someone senior and experienced.”
Pushing away from his chest so she could meet his eyes, Sienna touched her fingers to his face. “Beautiful man.”