“If I could bring her back for you, I would.” In an instant, even if it meant she would have to watch him love another woman.
“Shh.” A shake of his head that said she didn’t understand. “Rissa’s death, her life, shaped me. She’ll always be a part of me, but I haven’t been the boy she knew for a long time. You—and only you—hold the man’s heart.”
Sienna froze. “You mustn’t say that.” They’d never have the mating bond, but this, what he was giving her, it was as precious, as binding. As painfully beautiful. “You mustn’t.”
“Ah baby, you know I do what I want.” Rubbing his chin on her hair, he squeezed her hip. “Man and wolf, we both adore you. No way am I letting you go after the hell you’ve put me through over the years.”
He was teasing, but she couldn’t find any laughter inside of her. “I don’t know how to stop this”—an excruciating, angry helplessness—“how to survive it.” But she would find a way to send him back. Because SnowDancer needed him now, more than ever, this man with a heart so big, he’d held a broken pack together and made it strong again, a man who’d given sanctuary to the enemy . . . a man who’d loved an X.
JUDD RETURNED FROM checking out a warehouse the novices had fingered in the city to find Walker waiting for him. His brother had wanted to tell him the news about Sienna in person, and now they leaned against one of the huge glacial rocks that littered this region, their backs warm, their blood chilled.
“Hawke’s with her,” Judd said, and it wasn’t a question.
“Has your contact found anything?” Walker asked in a tone so devoid of emotion, it would’ve been easy to believe he cared nothing for Sienna.
The same man, Judd thought, had taken a near-broken teenage boy into his arms and told him he would always, always be family. The fierceness of that quiet declaration had given Judd an anchor in the midst of utter darkness, given him the will to survive. “I have a meeting with him tonight.”
“What are the chances?”
“I don’t know.”
Three hours later, in the otherwise empty nave of an old, abandoned church he got his answer. It was a devastating one.
“There is no second manuscript,” the Ghost told him.
A bleak gray invaded his mind. “Are you certain?”
“Yes. Alice Eldridge had an eidetic memory. According to the records I was able to unearth, she burned her research notes on the X designation when it became clear that Silence was inevitable. The implication is that she did so in an effort to stop the Council using her research in ways it was never meant to be used.”
Judd didn’t need the other man to spell it out. “The only remaining record was in Eldridge’s head.”
It was the final staggering hit. “We’re going to lose Sienna.” A cold, hard rock in his chest, the knowledge that he wouldn’t be able to keep the promise he’d made to Kristine, wouldn’t be able to keep her daughter safe. “There’s no way to halt the buildup of cold fire once an X reaches this level.”
The Ghost considered this, considered, too, what would happen if Sienna Lauren did survive. An X was power. A cardinal X was power without limit. She was a wildcard he couldn’t control, one that might disrupt all his meticulously laid plans.
Then he looked at Judd, at the fallen Arrow who had walked with him even knowing what and who he was, who had kept his secrets. The Ghost knew nothing of friendship, but he understood loyalty and fidelity. He also understood that sometimes, plans needed to change—and that change could be used to a smart man’s advantage.
“Come,” he said to Judd. “I have something to show you.”
Judd followed him down into the crypt, keeping enough of a distance between them that he was never in any danger of seeing the Ghost’s face.
“Why do you do that?” the Ghost asked. “You know who I am.” Perhaps the only one who did. Even Father Xavier Perez, the third part of their curious triumvirate, had never made the connection.
“If I am ever taken,” Judd said, his words those of a man who knew danger could come as a silent shadow in the dark, “my mind is set with triggers that’ll erase your name from my memory banks at a single mental command. Images are more difficult to remove.”
So he’d made sure he didn’t have any images to erase. “You could’ve ruled.” For all of Judd’s power, the Ghost had never before considered that possibility.
“It would have killed what remained of my soul.”
The Ghost couldn’t recall ever having had a soul, didn’t know if he even understood what it was. “There,” he said, pointing to a shadowy corner of the old and musty crypt.
Judd went motionless as his telepathic senses registered an unknown mind. “Who?” And what had the Ghost done?
The rebel leaned against the crumbling brick wall. “I don’t think you’ll believe me if I tell you.”
Unable to detect any movement from the corner, Judd retrieved a slender penlight from his pocket and walked over to find a dust-coated glass box sitting neatly in the corner. It was about six feet long, a couple of feet deep if that, had fixtures that denoted a number of missing cables. Noticing someone had wiped away the sticky coating of dust near the top, creating a tiny window of clarity, he angled the cutting brightness of the light toward it.
A face looked out at him from within.
It was that of a small, fine-boned woman of mixed ethnicity. Her skin was a pallid brown, her eyes tilted up at the corners even in sleep, her skull smooth. Her hair had been shaved off, he realized, though there was no evidence of any electrodes ever having been attached to her skull. “Who?” he asked the Ghost once more.