Rissa. It was strange to finally know the name of the ghost who owned Hawke’s soul. “What was she like?”
“Sweet—in nature and in spirit.” Hawke’s hair slid over his forehead as he pushed himself back up into a sitting position, arms hooked around his knees. “Even as a toddler, she’d give her toys to other kids if they cried. I never saw her throw a tantrum, never saw her without a smile.”
Sienna clenched her hands in the sand. It was becoming plain that Hawke’s Rissa had been nothing like her. “It’s why you’re drawn to Sascha,” she said, hiding her pain, hiding everything. “She must remind you of Theresa in some way.”
“I guess.” He frowned, shoved back his hair. “The thing is, I don’t know what Rissa would’ve grown up to be—she never had the chance to spread her wings.”
“Yet you’re certain she would’ve been your mate?” It just slipped out, that plea disguised as a question.
A pause. “That can’t be altered, Sienna.” Gentle words. Implacable words. “It’s a knowing nothing can erase.”
She fisted her hand against her abdomen in a vain attempt to hold the pain inside. “I can’t argue with that,” she said. “But the fact is, you never mated with her.” They’d been too young to love that way.
“The wolf chooses only once.” Curving his hand over her nape, he pulled her close, until his lips almost brushed her own as he spoke. “I can’t change that, baby.”
Gut-deep need drove her response. “That’s a pretty excuse, don’t you think?”
Eyes gone night-glow, dangerous and merciless. “Enough, Sienna.” Squeezing her nape, he released her.
She wondered if he thought that was the end of it. “It tore your heart out when you lost her,” she said, insistent because she had to be, because this was important enough to forever break her. “It devastated you when you were a child—is it any wonder that you refuse to allow yourself to be that vulnerable again?”
Rising to his feet, he strode to the edge of the pool, glanced back. “You can’t talk the truth away, no matter how many words you use.”
She got up, too, bracing herself against the dominant force of his personality. “I’ve seen the effects of the mating bond,” she said, looking into that face shaped by adversity and determination, until he was a man few dared challenge. “I can understand why a changeling who’d been mated once would never ever seek the same with anyone else.”
“Then why the hell are we having this conversation?”
“Because you weren’t mated! ” Her voice rose in spite of her vow to keep this discussion tempered, rational. “Have you ever considered that it isn’t the wolf stopping you from mating, but the human half?” The part that understood that to open himself up to the chance of a mate would mean opening himself up to the chance of the same soul-shattering pain.
“It’s not a choice.” He looked like he wanted to shake her.
Sienna wanted to pound at him with her fists, force him to listen, to see. “Bullshit! Drew made Indigo see him, Brenna fought for Judd, Mercy and Riley’s relationship took years to grow, so don’t you dare take the easy way out by saying it’s all predestined! Don’t be a coward!”
SOMEONE HAD OUTTHOUGHT him, Ming realized, switching off the comm after a clipped discussion with Henry Scott. There weren’t many people on the planet capable of doing that, especially when it involved military strategy.
Sienna Lauren was on the shortlist.
He’d suspected she was alive ever since he’d seen the report filed by one of Henry’s men, flagging a curious psychic energy pulse inside SnowDancer territory. The description of that pulse hadn’t sounded odd to Ming—it described the power of an X. While his team had failed to get the SnowDancers to admit to offering sanctuary to Psy defectors, today’s events further strengthened his suspicions.
If Sienna had lasted this long, the girl had either figured out a way to circumvent the inevitable consequences of the X-marker, or she was about to go completely active. Since the former had never before been done, Ming was betting on the latter. Which meant everyone in the world would soon know if Sienna Lauren was alive. And Henry would get what he wanted after all—carnage on a scale that would dwarf anything the Council had ever done.
GOD, SHE MADE him angry. Two hours after the confrontation by the pool, Hawke remained pissed at Sienna. Maybe he should’ve felt some softer emotion—perhaps even pity—because she was asking for something he couldn’t give, would never be able to give. But the fact of the matter was, she’d made him steaming mad, and that was how he stayed. The only good thing was that driven by angry energy, he’d canvassed almost everyone involved in making sure the pack was ready for any further assaults.
Riley had a few things he wanted to double-check, but he’d already adapted the rotation schedule to take the injured into account—and Matthias was on his way to the den with a unit of skilled fighters, as well as a sniper team trained by Alexei. The group was flying in under the radar by hopping onto a private plane owned by Nikita Duncan. Even if the enemy realized Nikita was assisting the changelings, the plane’s true ownership was hidden behind so many sub-corporations that no one would give it more than a cursory glance. Territorially speaking, the other lieutenants would cover Matthias’s sector.
Indigo’s novices were drilled and well able to provide the necessary support if needed, while Riaz had inventoried their weapons and pronounced that everything was in pristine shape. In the best news of the day, the techs had found enough in the wreckage of the Psy stealthcraft that they’d complete the modifications to the pack’s air-detection systems tonight, plugging that security hole.