“Yes. He was the final one taken.” That knowledge had maddened him as a boy—until he understood that his father had been a dominant, a protector, would’ve never wanted anyone else to suffer in his place. “There’d been trouble in the pack on and off for over two years. Pack members acting erratic, constant fights that led to deaths, men getting violent against their women.” To this day, the idea of it agitated his wolf. “That isn’t who we are, who we ever were.”
“No.” Sienna lifted up her head, such intense empathy on her face that it seemed impossible she’d once been Silent. “It had to do with the experiment, didn’t it?”
He tightened his arms around her. “They wanted to see if they could erode the bonds that held a changeling pack together by pressing on ‘key factors’ until the pack imploded.” The bastards had broken juveniles as well as adults, poisoned so many good men and women.
“It was designed by a small fringe group of scientists.” In the end, that was what had saved SnowDancer, because the survivors had been able to cut off the head of the evil before the data was passed on to the higher echelons. “They weren’t Council, but they felt free to treat us like lab animals because the Council at the time made it clear that that’s what they considered us.”
Sienna wrapped her arms around him in the fiercest of embraces.
Widening his stance, he tucked her impossibly closer. “My father, he went out saying ‘fuck you’ to the bastards.” A grim smile. “During the fight, when another one of the turned tried to shoot Garrick, he shifted to take the bullet.” It had been too late though, the alpha’s injuries severe enough that their already weak healer had been unable to save him.
Sienna shook her head against him. “He must’ve been extraordinarily strong to fight the compulsion enough to do that.”
“Yes.” His father had clawed back his honor at the very end and, in so doing, taught Hawke to never, ever surrender.
“I am so proud of you.” Tristan’s final words to his son as Hawke knelt beside him on the bloodstained snow, his hand gripping his father’s in angry desperation.
Then, as blood continued to pulse out of his chest, Tristan had met his mate’s tender kiss, whispered, “Until the next life, my love.”
“My mother, Aren, simply couldn’t function after he died. She tried so hard, but one day, she went to sleep and didn’t wake up.” Always for him, the joy he’d felt in his parents’ arms would be forever bound with echoes of pain, of loss.
Sienna, this Psy who’d lost her own mother, rose up on tiptoe and wrapped her arms around his neck in silent comfort, her cheeks tear-wet against his own when he bent to meet her halfway. Hawke had never cried for the loss of his parents. Not as a boy. Not as a man. Now, as he buried his face in a fall of silk as dark as midnight rubies, the wolf raised its head in a silent, mournful howl.
WALKER closed the door to the medical storage room behind himself and glanced down the packed rows. According to Lucy, Lara was in here somewhere.
“Walker?” A tumble of corkscrew curls as she leaned out from where she appeared to be sitting on the floor. “Is that coffee I smell?”
Wanting to smile at the greed in her voice, when smiling remained an act that didn’t come naturally to him, he went down on one knee beside her. “What are you doing?”
“Inventory,” she said with a groan, leaning her head against his chest. “I want to double-check we have all the essential supplies since we have a fraction more room to breathe.”
He passed her the coffee, watched her drink. As always, it caused an inexplicable sensation in his chest to know that he was caring for her. “Enough?”
She nodded. “Thanks.”
Putting the mug on a shelf above her, he fought the compulsion to thrust his hands into the silken warmth of her curls, pull her close. Lara was changeling, and changelings needed touch, needed sensual contact. The incident with Kieran had made him realize he didn’t want any other man looking after Lara in that arena either.
“Walker?” Lara lifted a questioning eyebrow.
“Are you dating anyone right now?”
She went immobile. “No.” Her answer hung in the air.
“I want those rights, Lara.” If she said no, Walker had the sudden realization that he wouldn’t back off like a civilized man.
He saw from the way she sucked in a breath that she understood the reference. “You already have most of those rights as my friend. What would change?”
He was no wolf, but he didn’t need to be to understand the challenge from her changeling heart. It was instinct to drop his head, to tug at her hair and arch her neck, to take her lips with his own. He’d never kissed a woman before Lara—such things were simply not done in the PsyNet. He found, however, that he understood the mechanics of it quite well even after a single prior experience.
Lara’s lips were soft under his, and they parted on a gasp when he ran his tongue along the seam. She tasted of a sweet femininity that was already tied to his thoughts of her, but there was a hint of something darker beneath, a deep vein of sensuality. It made him hunger. If, he thought, he planned to be selfish and keep her all to himself in spite of the fact that he wasn’t in any way good enough for her, he might as well indulge.
Tugging her more firmly against him, he stroked his tongue to hers, felt her hands clench against his chest, her body strain against his own. He repeated the act, wanting to incite further caresses from her. This time, Lara moaned, a low, pleasure-drenched sound that made his erection tighten to a near-painful level.