When she threw both arms around his neck in a spontaneous embrace, it only caused the tightness in his chest to grow—until it filled every part of him. Wrapping his own arms around her, he rose to his feet. She made a startled sound. “I’m too big!”
“You’ll always be my child.” He wished he could say the soft, sweet words he heard changeling parents say constantly to their children, but he’d been an inmate of Silence for four long decades. The words were hard to form, to get out. But it was incredibly easy to lift his hand, to stroke away the baby-fine strands of hair that had escaped Marlee’s ponytail, to press a kiss to her temple.
When she said, “Can we go see if Toby’s volcano is ready?” he could no more deny her than he could stop breathing.
It was another punch to the heart to walk into the large rec room near the family quarters to see Toby and Sienna with their heads bent together over a lopsided volcano. This, he thought as Marlee wiggled out of his arms to join her cousins, all of them frowning over the lack of symmetry, this was why he’d survived defection from the PsyNet.
To watch over his daughter and the son of a sister he’d never been allowed to love. And Sienna, too, for all that she’d been forced to be an adult before she’d ever been a child. They were his reason for being, for existing. As for the kiss that had threatened to make him forget the rest of the world for one blinding, pleasure-drunk moment . . . he’d made the right decision.
Even if the sensations from that single searing contact continued to haunt him two long months later.
HAWKE stared at Matthias’s face on the comm screen the next morning. “You’re certain?”
“Yes,” the lieutenant answered. “Definite indications of weapons coming into the country on a large scale. They’ve been doing it bit by bit—I’m guessing some of it has been teleported in. But they’ve also been bringing in armaments via ship.”
“Any idea who?”
“I’ll check with Nikita and Anthony.” It was odd to say that, odder yet to know that SnowDancer had any kind of a working relationship with two members of the Psy Council. “Any reason why I shouldn’t share this with the cats?” The SnowDancer-DarkRiver alliance was all but cemented in stone; however, they were still two predatory changeling packs. Total, unquestioning trust would take decades.
“No. They have good contacts, better than we do in the city.” Matthias frowned. “I think you should also tell the falcons to keep an eye out—they see things from up high that we might not.”
Hawke agreed. The alliance with WindHaven was new but very much functional. “Send me the details. I’ll have a look and pass on the necessary info.”
“You’ll have it in the next couple of hours.” Matthias went to sign off, then paused. “How’re Indigo and the young pup?”
The “young pup,” Drew, was Hawke’s eyes and ears in the pack, as well as SnowDancer’s tracker. “I caught them in a storage closet not long ago. They weren’t exactly looking for supplies.” His wolf bared its teeth in amusement.
Matthias howled with laughter. “Don’t you f**king try to convince me you didn’t scent what was going on?”
“I was very discreet.” Hawke grinned. “I just opened the door a crack and asked them to keep it down.”
“And got a mop thrown at your head, I bet.”
“Actually, it was a giant roll of thread—mending supplies closet.” Shaking his head, he answered the question more seriously. “Their mating, added to Riley and Mercy’s, Cooper’s with Grace, and Judd’s with Brenna, is good, really good for the stability of the pack.” Having his lieutenants in such strong pairings soothed his wolf’s frustration at not being able to give SnowDancer the security of a mated alpha pair.
“Yeah, everyone’s more settled.” Matthias leaned back a little. “I might head down to the den sometime next month. That work?”
Hawke nodded—all his lieutenants passed through the den at least once every couple of months, to ensure the pack stayed connected in spite of the massive breadth of their territory. “Have you spoken to Alexei lately?”
“You caught that, did you? Told him you would.” Matthias’s expression was wry. “He’s fine, just frustrated at the recent dominance challenges from out-of-towners.”
Unfortunately for Alexei, he had the face of a young golden god. People who didn’t know him had a tendency to focus on that face and ignore the fact that his dominance was a quiet, powerful pulse beneath the skin. “Anything I need to discuss with the other alphas?” Dominance challenges between packs happened every so often, mostly when a strong wolf was seeking to create a new pack or searching for a mate, but poor Alexei tended to bear the brunt of them.
“Naw.” Matthias shook his head, dark hair catching the light. “Our Russian Bridegroom wipes the floor with the idiots—then ropes them in as senior soldiers.”
“He know you call him that?”
“Do I look like a moron? Alexei might be pretty, but he’s also a mean sucker.”
Laughing, Hawke ended the call after a few more quick words. His wolf had been prowling beneath his skin the entire time, if not content, then at least not snarling. Now, it urged him to get outside, to shift and run through the wild heart of SnowDancer territory. Hawke growled low in his throat, fighting the instinct.
The wolf pushed. The human held firm. However, the strength of the urge made it plain he could no longer avoid taking this step—he had to do something about his sexual hunger before the primal part of him seized total control. Picking up the phone, he made a call.