“Good.” He kissed her hard. “Now explain to me what the hell you thought you were doing turning yourself into a human torch!”
Outraged by the accusation, she almost forgot what she’d been going to say. Almost. “You idiot!” She pushed at his shoulders, didn’t manage to move him an inch. “It was safe! I was wiped out; the flames would’ve consumed me alone.” She’d known after the X-fire slipped her grasp—cold, such cold inside of her—that it was the only way to ensure she’d never again cause that kind of carnage. “Why did you stop me?”
“I took what was mine.”
“What I did”—sheer, unrelenting horror—“might’ve wiped me out for a short period, but I’m not stable, Hawke.”
“You wanted me to watch you burn? Fuck that!” The wolf stared out at her, arrogant and insulted and furious.
But she wasn’t about to back down. “Yes! You should’ve let me decommission the weapon.” That was what she was, how she should be treated. “Cut it,” she ordered. “Cut the mating bond.” She’d already tried to do it, found she couldn’t—it wasn’t a Psy construct, followed no rules of psychic power that she knew. “Cut it!”
“I’m changeling, baby.” A growling statement. “I couldn’t cut it if I wanted to.”
“I’ll do it,” she said, shivering with panic. “There must be a way. I’ll have to go into your mind and—”
His face was suddenly in hers. “Try it.”
Flinching, she went to do just that, because she would not hurt him, hurt any of them . . . and found she couldn’t. He was inside her, her mate—that impossible, beautiful word—and the idea of violating him was anathema. “I’m sorry.” Her shoulders slumped. “For what I did before.”
Bloated with power, she’d torn through his shields and into his mind on that field of battle in a final, failed attempt at saving her packmates even as she incinerated the enemy. Hawke’s wolf knew each and every one of his people, every inch of his land, every one of the wild wolves—she’d thought to keep them safe by “showing” the cold fire that they weren’t to be touched. “How many—”
“You hurt no one in the pack.” A ruthless tone that forced her to listen. “Not a single singed hair aside from your own, you extraordinary, crazy, beautiful woman.”
Her lower lip shook, and then she found herself being wrenched forward into a crushing embrace, her face buried in his neck, her arms gripping at him. “I was so scared,” she whispered, because she could admit that to him, to her wolf, who saw her through to the very soul. “Everyone’s safe?”
A pause. “We have a number of injured. Lara collapsed earlier, will get up in a while, start again. The healers from the other sectors have begun to arrive.”
She recalled the sickening crunch of bone as Henry’s men smashed weapons into the backs of skulls. “Will it be enough?”
“No.” The harsh truth of an alpha. “But we won’t give up as long as they’re hanging on.”
“Is there—” She swallowed the huge lump in her throat. “My friends?”
His arms clenched around her. “Tai’s critical. So is Maria.”
No, no. “Evie’s heart will break.” And Lake. Strong, capable Lake. He loved Maria with a tenderness that seemed to gentle even her reckless spirit.
“No surrender.” Unrelenting. Inexorable. “Never do we surrender.”
“No surrender,” she echoed, then took a long, shuddering breath.
“Does the word valve have any specific meaning to you on the psychic plane?” he asked, and when she shook her head, he told her what Alice Eldridge had said.
A sound of sheer rage escaped her mouth, and then she was punching her fist over and over against his chest. He let her expel the bitter anger, held her when she lay breathless against him. “I almost wish we’d never found her,” she said, her chest rising up and down as she tried to gasp in air. “I told myself not to hope, but I did.” A tiny secret part of her had been convinced the scientist would wake with the answers just in time to save her.
Other men might’ve given her pretty words of comfort, lies that meant nothing, but Hawke, he spoke to her martial mind, talking through the battle. “We weren’t prepared for that sonic weapon.” His tone told her that wouldn’t happen again. “But because of you, we held the mountains.”
“The city?” she asked, her voice hoarse.
“Leopards held it. A bit of structural damage but limited injuries thanks to the Rats, Judd, and Anthony’s and Nikita’s people. The Pure Psy operatives who survived turned tail and ran.” He stroked his hand down her hair, long and slow and again. “I can feel the cold fire along our bond.”
“Yes.” The battle had only wiped her out for a time. It had done nothing to change the fundamental truth of the power amplification. “It’s at fifty percent.” And it was frigid, until it froze her bones. “It feels stronger.” Darker. More cruel. Fear curled around her throat, tight as a noose. “Can we get farther away from the den?”
Hawke didn’t question her, simply said, “I know a good spot.”
They’d just stepped out of the tent when the power inside of her surged in a violent rage. Her knees locked, then gave out. She would’ve crumpled to the grass if Hawke hadn’t clamped his hands on her upper arms as the X-fire threatened to shove out of her very skin.