Shadows moved across those rugged features. “That’s why they put me in charge of the telepathic children drafted into the Arrow Squad.”
Lara wasn’t shocked. Part of her had always known he’d been no ordinary teacher. Linking her arms around his neck, she leaned her head against his shoulder and said, “I’m here.”
As the minutes passed, Walker relaxed against the sofa, his hand smoothing up and down her back. Then he began to speak, telling her of being taken from his classroom as a twenty-two-year-old barely out of college and assigned to a school that offered intense one-on-one sessions to its students. “Ages four to ten,” he said. “I didn’t know then that the children were apprentice Arrows, but I saw at once why they’d been segregated, understood that they needed dedicated training.”
Lara didn’t know much about Arrows, but she knew Judd had been one, and so she could guess. “Their strength was dangerous.”
“Yes.” He tugged her closer, his hand rubbing the sensitive skin of her thigh. “I had no problem with my reassignment, with helping the children harness their abilities.”
She nuzzled at him, the act affectionate, nonsexual. “Something changed.”
Leaning into the tiny kisses she brushed over his neck, he said, “Day by day, I began to see the light go out of my students’ eyes in a way that was more profound than could be attributed to the Protocol.” The hand on her back slid down to clench on her hip, hard enough that she knew he wasn’t aware of it. “Then I began to notice how many of them missed a day or two for medical reasons.”
Lara’s eyes burned, her healer’s heart able to guess what was coming.
“Arrows are taught from childhood not to feel pain,” he continued. “The easiest way to do that is to put them through such excruciating pain that the mind learns to shut it out. The side effect, of course, is that it turns them into merciless killers.”
Lara swallowed her tears. “Judd.”
“As a Tk, he had a different teacher in a different location. His name was wiped from the family records, and according to the PsyNet he no longer existed.” The people who had sired Walker, Kristine, and Judd had signed away their rights to their child when he became too difficult to handle. “I had no idea where he was until he was old enough to skirt the psychic safeguards of his trainers, locate and teleport to my apartment.”
Walker thought of the first time he’d seen his now teenaged brother, glimpsed that same dead expression in Judd’s eyes that he saw daily on the faces of the children he taught. The only thing that had kept him going was that Judd had come home. Even after everything they’d done to him, he had come home.
Lara’s hand curved gently around his nape. “He came to you, not your parents.”
That she understood the words he didn’t say, couldn’t speak . . . “We had no connection to them beyond our biology.” Fisting one hand in her springy curls, he anchored himself to the present. “Defection wasn’t something we even considered at that time. There was nowhere for us to go, the Council was so powerful.” All he’d been able to do was ensure that his brother knew he hadn’t been forgotten, would never be forgotten.
Then history had begun to repeat itself with Sienna, and it was the final straw. “Lara, I need you to know”—because he didn’t ever want her to look at him and wonder—“I never hurt a child in my care.” He’d risked everything to teach his students telepathic tricks they weren’t permitted to know, and then he’d taught them how to hide the knowledge. It had been the only weapon he could give those small, vulnerable minds.
“Oh, Walker, I know you would never harm a child. I know.”
The unswerving conviction in her voice, it destroyed something hard and dark and ugly inside of him, sanded away more and more of those jagged edges. His lips were on hers before he knew he was moving, the warm strength of her a benediction he’d never expected.
SIENNA didn’t realize anything was wrong until after Hawke fell asleep, having first exhausted her into limp incoherence. When she’d recovered after that second loving to complain that she hadn’t gotten a chance to explore his body yet, he’d laughed and promised that she could have her turn—after he got the edge off.
“Pretty long edge,” she’d gasped ten minutes later, hair falling around her face as he slid into her from behind for the second time.
That had earned her a kiss on the back of her neck, his fingers curving down to flick the tight bundle of nerves at the apex of her thighs. “You have no idea.” A knowing touch circled her cl*t as she quivered from the shock of his first caress. “See that chair? Having you astride me is next on my list.”
The rough greed in his voice had sent heat rocking over her body, a darkly pleasurable sensation. However, this, what she felt now, was uncomfortable, as if her body was boiling from the inside out. Wiggling out from under Hawke’s arm, she muttered, “Bathroom,” when he would’ve stopped her, and made her way to the private alcove at the back of the cabin. Throwing water onto her face, she wiped it with a towel, but her skin continued to burn.
That was when she looked in the mirror.
And stopped breathing.
Her eyes were gold—blazing, flickering gold. Swallowing, she tried to quiet the panic that had her pulse in her mouth. The second level of dissonance hadn’t kicked in, so whatever had caused this, it didn’t indicate a dangerous loss of control. With that reassuring thought, she went within her mind, ready to reinforce the shields that contained the buildup of X-fire. To find them burned out. Oh, God.