“You were right,” he said and saw a storm of emotion in those extraordinary cardinal eyes.
It would’ve been easy for her to smile, to accept the admission at face value, but that wasn’t who Sienna was. “About what?” she asked, watching him with an expression that had turned a little guarded.
His wolf wasn’t surprised. Sienna had her own scars, and it would take time for those to fade. Hawke was okay with that—because he was planning to be there for the long haul, ready to battle any nightmare that dared touch her. “About the mating bond.” Rising up into a sitting position, he braced one elbow over a drawn up knee. “It wasn’t the wolf holding me back.
“When Rissa died,” he said, giving Sienna this last secret corner of his heart, “it was like having a part of me ripped out. I didn’t speak for a month, didn’t do anything but sit by her grave.” Boy and wolf, they’d both kept hoping that if he wished hard enough, Rissa would come back. “It took me a long time to accept that she was gone, that the only thing I had of her was the hole she’d left inside me.”
Sienna moved close enough to curve her hand around the calf of the leg he’d raised, her eyes inky black. But she didn’t interrupt, this woman who understood him in ways he wasn’t sure he understood himself, who’d forced him to face the cold, hard truth of the lies he’d told himself over the years. That didn’t make it any simpler to rip the scab off this wound—hell, he was alpha for a reason. Vulnerability wasn’t a sensation he enjoyed.
It made his next words rough, almost harsh. “It was easier to believe that my shot at mating died with Rissa than to risk that kind of pain again.” Thrusting his hand into her hair, he shook his head. “Except I never had a prayer when it came to you. You’re in my every breath and every thought, intertwined so deep inside me that love’s not a strong enough word—you have my devotion, your name branded on my soul, my wolf yours to command. A hundred years? It’ll never be enough. I want eternity.”
Tears, slow and quiet, ran down Sienna’s cheeks.
He wasn’t finished. “You have the power to tear me to pieces, to wound me so deep and true that I’ll never recover. What Rissa’s death did to the boy I was? You have the ability to do a thousand times worse to the man I’ve become. Some part of me knew that was a possibility from the instant you walked into my life—so I tried to keep you at arm’s length even as I demanded everything you had. I was a coward.”
“Hawke, no.” On her knees in front of him, she shook her head in open distress, wiping away her tears with the backs of her hands. “I should’ve never said that.”
“You called me on my bullshit,” he said, raising his other knee and bringing her in between. “Made me mad as f**king hell, and it’ll probably do the same in the future when you do it again. Fair warning.”
Her lips lifting up at the corners in a shaky smile, she twined her arms around his neck. “You mean you’re not going to become tame and well-behaved now that we’re mated?” Tiny kisses on the corners of his lips, on his cheeks, on his jaw. “Damn.”
Leaning into the affection, he allowed her to soothe the sharp edges within. “I can pretend if you want.” He petted the sweet curve of her behind, na**d beneath the tails of the shirt she’d commandeered.
A husky laugh. “I wouldn’t know you.” Her next words were solemn, her expression intent. “I know we had an agreement about no alpha stuff between us while we were courting. But that’s going to change. I accept my rank, and I’ll continue to take orders from those who are more senior. But never you.”
She continued to speak before he could interrupt, her hands moving to cup his face. “I’m yours. No limits. I’ll give you everything you ask, anything you want, except this one thing—obedience because of rank. You will never be my alpha. Not in public, not in private. You’re Hawke to me. Just Hawke. Do you understand?”
His wolf shuddered, relaxed as he bent to touch his forehead to hers. “Understood and accepted.” Mine, he thought, mine. For the first time in his adult life, he had someone who was his—and with whom he could engage in a way he couldn’t with any other member of his beloved pack.
They sat like that for a long time, his wolf peaceful on a level it hadn’t been since he’d picked up the mantle of leadership at fifteen. And that wolf, it wanted her touch, too. He shifted without telling her, heard her gasp. But when the wolf laid its head in her lap and closed its eyes, her fingers clenched, soft and possessive in his fur. Content, he slept.
SIENNA sat stroking the silver-gold pelt of the huge wolf who slept with his head in her lap, her heart filled with a depth of wonder and joy she couldn’t comprehend. The words he’d given her, the power he’d given her . . . she hadn’t expected either.
I love you beyond life. It was a thought sent down the mating bond, and when the wolf seemed to sigh, it was clear some part of him heard her. That bond was so deep, so visceral, she knew there would never be another for either of them if one died. The changelings were right—mating was only once and forever.
A silent tear touched her cheek . . . a tear for Rissa. If Hawke ever wanted to visit the girl who had held his heart as a boy, Sienna wouldn’t stop him. Rissa’s ghost had been laid to rest—what remained were memories that should be cherished and held close. In a way, she thought, Rissa belonged to both of them now, as did her mother, Kristine. Pieces of the past that had shaped them, made them, brought them to this moment.