THE GHOST LOOKED down at what he’d uncovered. To say that it was an unexpected development would be a distinct understatement. The next question, of course, was what he planned to do with his discovery.
He could let things lie in peace. No one would ever know. Nothing would change. That might be to his advantage. After all, there was a reason for this secret, things the Council didn’t want the world to know—but didn’t want to lose, either. He could take and use that knowledge for himself.
Hunkering down beside the long, rectangular glass box coated with over a century of grime, he considered what Judd would say when he told him there was no second Eldridge manuscript.
HAWKE WENT LOOKING for Sienna after the meeting because he could do nothing less. He found her sitting cross-legged in the White Zone with a sniffling pup in her arms. “Shh,” she said. “He didn’t mean it. You know he didn’t.”
She stroked her fingers through the pup’s soft brownish fur. “Do you want to stay with me?”
A decisive nod.
Smiling, Sienna bent to kiss the top of that furred head. “Well, you can, but you know, I can’t hide as good as your friends. I can’t howl either.” Her head lifted. “Look who’s come to ask you to play.”
The pup pricked his ears, raised his head. Another pup shuffled over, gave an inviting “yip,” and nuzzled at his friend. As Hawke watched, Sienna murmured something to both of them, and the two pups touched noses before the one in her lap wriggled up and ran off with his playmate.
“You never talk to me as sweetly,” he murmured, coming to crouch behind her.
A jerk and he knew she would’ve gotten up if he hadn’t slid his legs to either side of her, locking his arms around her body. “Here.”
Sienna looked down at the box on Hawke’s palm and felt her frustrated anger crumble like so much dust. The box was open, and it held a small mechanical toy—a merry-go-round in motion, tiny lights flashing along the fluted roof and on the posts. There were five horses, each unique and painted in a vibrant splash of color. “This is one of yours,” she said, knowing he wouldn’t have had time to go to the toyshop.
“Now it’s yours.” A kiss on her neck as the toy wound down. “Take it.”
Her ni**les beaded against the cotton of her bra. “I can’t.” He was doing it again, razing her defenses to steal her heart.
Teeth nipping at the sensitive lobe of her ear, making her jump. “Don’t you like it?”
“You know I do.” She touched a careful finger to the detailed face of a black horse with a blue and gold saddle. “But it’s yours.”
He put it on the grass beside them. “I’ll just leave it here then.”
Stubborn, stubborn man. She knew he’d go through with it, too. “Why?” she whispered. “Why are you giving this to me? Why are you here when you’re angry at me?”
A long, quiet breath, his arms hugging her against the muscled breadth of a chest she’d ached with missing last night. “I don’t want to hurt you, baby. Never would I hurt you—but I can’t give you what I don’t have to give.”
A single tear trickled down her cheek at that solemn statement raw with tenderness. Her heart, her damned vulnerable heart, had been his from the day she understood what it was he incited within her. She had no true shields against him. Never had. Never would. “Then give me everything else,” she whispered, because while she could fight a ghost, she couldn’t fight the truth in his voice. “Give me not only your joy, but also your sorrow, your hurt. Treat me as—” She hesitated, because the word mate was a painful wound between them.
“—as my partner, as mine.”
“Yes.” Maybe she would always be second best, but pride was no defense against the soul-deep need she had to claim him, be claimed by him. And if a part of her heart broke at the acceptance, she was old enough to put it away, where it wouldn’t poison the life she could have with this man who was, and always would be, her one and only.
“My father’s name was Tristan,” Hawke said, the words rusty and cracked with age as he rose and pulled Sienna up with him to a more private part of the forest. She was right. They would never have the mating bond, but they could build their own, strong as steel and as unbreakable. “He was taken while he was on solitary watch in the mountains.”
Tristan had been a lone wolf before he mated, but afterward, he’d preferred to remain near his mate, had grumbled about being away. Beyond the primal draw of the mating bond, his parents had loved each other and their son. Hawke had grown up petted and secure of his place in the world, but not spoiled, not with a lieutenant for a father. At four years of age, he remembered thinking, That’s who I want to be when I grow up.
“My mother,” he continued, despite the rock of memory crushing his chest, “felt something through the mating bond on the second day, so Garrick sent out a search party. By the time they found him”—found his strong, proud father—“he’d been missing a week, and it appeared he’d had a bad fall. He recovered from the wounds fast enough, but he came back . . . damaged.” The only time Tristan had touched his son after his return from the mountains was as he lay bleeding to death on the snow. “He attacked Garrick two weeks later.”
Sienna’s hand spread out over his heart, as if she would shield him. “They programmed him to assassinate your alpha.”