The lines of dissonance programming had literally been buried under an avalanche of power. That should’ve been impossible—the pain should’ve blanked her into unconsciousness long before it got to that stage . . . except she was an X. A cardinal. No one knew how her power functioned, not in truth.
Connected as the events seemed, she knew the collapse wasn’t as a result of the emotional impact of the previous two nights—her response to Hawke had been wild and dark and passionate long before they’d shared intimate skin privileges. “Calm,” she said out loud. “Calm.” When she had some kind of a handle on herself, she began to rebuild that which had been burned away . . . only to watch as the cold fire began to devour it at almost the same instant.
Horror filled her veins, speared through her mind.
But at the center of it was a cold, clear understanding.
She’d thought she’d beaten the X-marker, but all she’d done was corral it—there was no way to stop its progression. Her periodic purges had acted as a pressure regulator, but that regulator was no longer big enough. The power had grown in an exponential cascade over the hours she’d slept, until it was a massive beast shoving at her shields, wanting out.
All indications are that your power develops in erratic and unpredictable surges. At some stage, the surge will overwhelm.
She’d forgotten Ming’s prediction, or perhaps she hadn’t wanted to remember it. In this, the bastard had proven right. “No panic, Sienna. Think.” Pacing in the confines of the bathroom, she realized the first thing she needed to do was earth the cold fire, buy some time.
It took her five minutes to sneak outside without waking Hawke, and she was convinced he didn’t rise only because he could scent her and knew she was safe. The instant her bare feet hit the forest floor, she punched her power into it, the ground burning with phantom flames for almost a minute before the X-fire soaked into the earth.
Yet when she looked into her mind, she saw that by morning, the buildup would be close to critical once more. The cold fire was voracious, and it wanted to consume everything in its path, but that wasn’t the most terrifying truth she saw inside the conflagration of her mind. Synergy, the catastrophic crest of an X’s power, wasn’t just possible, it was highly probable.
There was no going back once an X hit synergy.
Glancing behind her at the cabin, she rebuilt a second layer of shields before walking back inside. Her eyes had returned to normal, and so she allowed herself to stay with Hawke, to sleep in his arms this night.
One last night.
MORNING CAME TOO soon, and along with it, the harsh reality of the inevitable consequences of the amplification in her power levels. She was grateful for Riley’s early morning call seeking to talk over a security issue with Hawke. It gave her an excuse to keep the discussion on martial matters on the drive back, a topic she could handle even with her concentration fractured.
Her luck ran out when they reached the den.
“You okay?” Fingers gripping her chin, wolf-blue eyes piercing her through and through. “Did something I do last night—”
“No,” she interrupted, wanting nothing to tarnish the memory of that wonderful, impossible, beautiful night. “I guess I’m just . . . processing.” Not a lie.
A slow smile. “Here’s something else for you to process.” His kiss burned her with a far more welcome fire than the cold that licked through the psychic pathways of her mind. But she couldn’t remain in his arms forever.
“Okay,” she said, pacing from wall to wall inside her quarters. “Time to think.” She couldn’t do anything about the buildup of power, not here, not now, but she could get the hell away from those who had no idea how close they were to an armed and deadly weapon. Once at a sufficient distance, she’d have more room to consider her options, work out solutions.
In spite of the practical, positive nature of her thoughts, her heart was a lump of stone, terror crawling a thousand spidery fingers in her mind. Though she’d earthed it only hours ago, her power was already at over sixtyfive percent. There was no escaping the cold, hard truth that there would come a time when she would turn into a living torch, her body spilling over with too much X-fire to allow even the faintest illusion of control.
He isn’t my mate.
Pain roared through her chest, but for the first time, the idea of never having that bond with Hawke didn’t tear her heart in two, but saved it. If he had been her mate, the shock of her violent death might’ve been lethal. “Thank you,” she whispered to whatever unknown deity had given her that priceless gift.
The LaurenNet, her family, they would be safe. Judd and Walker were strong enough to hold Toby and Marlee in the network after Sienna was gone. If she was less selfish, she’d cut her link to the LaurenNet now, allow her mind to starve to death. “No,” she said, hands fisted. That cold voice was Ming’s, the voice of a man who’d only ever seen her as a thing to be used.
But she was a sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend, a packmate . . . a lover. Suicide would forever haunt those she left behind—Sienna knew that better than anyone. And, even though the odds appeared impossible, she’d never been the giving-up type. She’d fight to the bloody, bitter end to live.
Less than twenty minutes later, she’d packed a small bag and was ready to depart, her power levels having punched up to hit seventy-nine percent. Seeing Hawke was out of the question, no matter how much it hurt her not to go to him—he’d know, and she couldn’t afford for him to stop her.