Sienna bit off her words, but Sascha didn’t need them. From the moment she’d seen the young X with Hawke, she’d felt it, that tug between them. It had had no name at the start, no definition. Even now, it remained a raw, nameless thing, but it was powerful. Powerful enough to have Hawke overriding his own decisions about keeping Sienna at a distance, powerful enough to have dragged him out of the shadows.
The first time Sascha had touched Hawke with her empathic senses, she’d felt such blood rage she’d been staggered by it. This man, she’d thought, would never love, not so long as that anger was a red haze across his vision. But then she’d seen him with Sienna. Month by month, year by year, the strange alchemy of their adversarial relationship had removed the poison of that anger until what remained was a gleaming, honed blade, still lethal, but far healthier.
However, Sascha had sensed something else that night when Hawke asked her to prove her claim to the E-designation. It was a truth she’d never say aloud, an empathic secret she’d never share, but there was a deep loneliness within the wolf alpha, a part of himself he kept separate even from his beloved pack. If Sienna could reach that wild, broken heart . . .
“An alpha,” Sascha began, wanting to give the other cardinal all the help she could, “needs his woman to come to him stripped bare of all pretense. No barriers. No emotional shields. I am the one person Lucas knows is his without question, the one person who will stand by him no matter what, who’ll tell him the truth even if it’s harsh.”
Sienna, to her credit, didn’t shy from the frank discussion. Instead, those starlit eyes turned midnight in intense concentration. “What about the sentinels?”
“That, too, is a rare kind of trust, but . . .” The bond was near impossible to explain to someone else, but Sienna needed to understand, so Sascha found the words. “With me, he’s never, ever my alpha. He’s simply Lucas, the man who holds my heart.”
“Isn’t that . . . Doesn’t that depth of vulnerability put you in a weaker position, given an alpha’s natural dominance?”
“No, because he gives the same back.” Loved her with all the untamed power and fierce devotion of the panther’s heart. “He gives more.”
“I don’t know if I can have that kind of a relationship with Hawke,” Sienna murmured, “even if I manage to make him listen, make him see.” Not discouragement, more a contemplative statement. “He’s not like Lucas.”
“I understand Lucas could and would kill me with a single blow if he considered me a threat to you or the rest of the pack,” Sienna said, “but he smiles and laughs and plays.”
“Hawke’s done more than his share of teasing.” Sascha couldn’t count the number of times the wolf had flirted with her in order to annoy Lucas.
Sienna pushed the chocolate slice around her plate. “He never plays with me.”
“Wolves have a strange sense of play according to my mate.” Sascha shook her head. “He lets you drive him crazy, doesn’t he?”
“He punished me.”
Sascha laughed at the disgruntled statement. “You probably deserved it.”
“Yes, I did.” A scowl that Sascha guessed was self-directed. “But he’s given me the green light to ignore the hierarchy while we’re alone together.”
Sascha sat up, her amazement so huge that the baby kicked, wanting in on the secret. Smoothing her hand over her belly at the same time that she soothed their child’s active mind, she used her other hand to touch Sienna’s. “In that case,” she said, hope a brilliant spark inside of her, “ambush him if you have to, but get him alone.”
ALMOST READY FOR her date, Lara smoothed the dress over her hips. It was a bright sunshine yellow, an impulse buy she’d been certain would spend a short life languishing in her closet before she gave it away. But Drew of all people had convinced her to give it a go, and what do you know, it looked stunning against the natural dark tan of her skin.
The design itself wasn’t fancy. The dress had a simple square neck and thick straps, the bodice fitted down to her waist, where it flared out in a gentle swirl. A feminine dress reminiscent of the 1950s, she thought, putting on earrings she’d bought from a street stall during a trip to New York. The tiny fall of sunflowers glinted cheerfully through the corkscrew curls of her black hair.
After slipping on a thin gold bracelet, she pulled on the strappy sandals she’d bought on the same frustration-and-nervous-anticipation-fueled shopping trip that had resulted in the yellow dress. A wrap to ward off the evening air and a sweet little vintage purse beaded with vibrant color finished off the look. Maybe she’d never win any modeling awards, she thought with determined confidence, but she looked pretty.
The knock came a second later.
Opening the door, she said, “You’re right on time,” to the man on the other side.
Kieran flashed that trademark playful smile of his, a deep dimple creasing one cheek. “Wouldn’t want to be late when I finally got the prettiest woman in the den to agree to go on a date.”
With his skin a lighter shade of brown than her own and hypnotic gray-green eyes courtesy of his Tajik father, Kieran was an unashamed flirt. He was also several years younger than her and had broken more hearts in the den than most of the other men combined . . . but Kieran also knew how to make a woman feel beautiful, desired.
Tonight, after not having been out with a man for six months—since the first night Walker had stopped by for a late-night coffee—Lara needed to feel exactly that. “Where are you taking me?”