I have the most exciting news. While I’m currently completing my thesis on E-Psy, I’ve just gained funding to do a second study on the rare X designation! The grant committee referenced my two papers last year and said that my outsider’s view on Psy abilities had given rise to some unique conclusions—I suppose they’re right. I’m not Psy after all. My Es never made me feel like an outsider, but that’s their gift, isn’t it?
George, who will soon be a colleague rather than my supervisor, says I’m setting myself up for failure with this project since the Psy Council has been getting harder to deal with of late. Plus, so little is known about the Xs. But that’s the point of it, I tell him. I might not be an archaeologist like you, Dad, but I’m exploring my own strange lands.
Speaking of George, he’s working on a paper about the development of the Internet. He’s adamant it wouldn’t have developed as fast as it did had we not had the PsyNet as an example and impetus, and I have to agree—funding alone came thick and fast in the early days because businesses wanted informational parity. He wants another anthropologist’s take on it, so I said I would forward it to Mom (will you tell her?).
I hope the sands of Egypt are being kind to you both.
HER CALM FACADE shattering like so much glass the instant she was behind closed doors, Sienna kicked the back wall of the quarters she’d been assigned in the area of the den set aside for unmated soldiers. She rarely used this room, preferring to live with her brother, Toby; uncle Walker; and cousin, Marlee. But now she was stuck in this small, sterile space for the next week.
Sienna, I’ve given you a long leash since you came into the pack, but that ends today.
She flinched at the echo of memory. There’d been nothing but the most cutting anger in those eyes of a blue so very pale, they were those of a husky given human form. Paired with that mane of silver-gold and, most of all, that alpha personality, Hawke was a man who invited female attention without effort.
Her hand fisted. Because today, he hadn’t seen a woman in front of him, but an unreliable member of the pack, one who’d put SnowDancer in danger with her actions. No punishment he could’ve given her could compare to her own self-recrimination. The ice-cold knot of shame in her gut was a chill reminder of just how badly she’d messed up. All this time and work, and when it came down to it, she’d allowed her temper to overrule her rational mind.
“Damn it, Sienna.” Thrusting her hands into her hair, she grimaced at the dried mud that flaked down her face, and began to strip. It took her less than a minute to bare herself to the skin. Stalking into the tiny shower, deeply grateful that the pack-minded wolves had set it up so everyone had private facilities, she washed the dirt, grass, and blood off her body before beginning to untangle the long, mud-stiff strands of her hair.
It took a long time.
Through it all, frustration—at herself, at her inability to let go of something that was tearing her apart piece by painful piece—raged like a caged tiger within her. If the changelings had a beast inside of them, then so did she, and it was a far more vicious thing, far colder in its ability to destroy. Right now, that beast was focused inward, raking at her with searing claws. Lowering the water temperature, she shampooed her hair twice, then ran the conditioner through it, bringing it forward over her shoulder to make sure she got the ends. It was only when she was almost finished that she realized what she was seeing.
Grabbing a wet hunk of hair, she lifted it to her eyes and swore. The powerful resonance of her ability had neutralized the dye. Again. For the third time in a month. It spoke to a lack of control that worried her. She’d been so good since she began to spend a large amount of time in DarkRiver territory, her Psy abilities so stable that the fear that had locked around her throat since her defection had burned away in a storm of confidence.
Then she’d seen—“No.”
Snapping off the water, she stepped out and picked up a large, fluffy towel Brenna had given her as part of a birthday gift. It was thick and luxuriant against her flesh, a sensory pleasure she couldn’t help but embrace . . . just like she couldn’t resist the compulsion that had led to her current situation.
She clenched her jaw so tight it shot a bolt of pain along the bone. But the sensory shock helped her shake off the gut-deep craving that never quite left her, and she concentrated on rubbing herself dry. The bathroom mirror, when she glanced at it, showed her a female of average height with hair of such a deep, deep red it appeared black when wet.
“Like the heart of ruby,” Sascha had said the last time they’d put in the dye, the empath’s hands gentle on Sienna’s scalp. “Such a shame we have to cover it up.”
Unfortunately, they didn’t have a choice in the matter. Her hair was too distinctive. Then again, Sienna thought—staring at a face that had become refined in a very feminine way, all trace of childish softness having melted away while she hadn’t been looking—maybe it was safe now.
Her hair had in fact darkened in the years since her defection from the PsyNet. Aside from the changes in her face, her body was both noticeably curvier and more muscled. While she carried the muscle in a fluid way that didn’t bulk her up, no one who had known her while she’d been jacked into the Net would recognize her now. Especially given the brown contact lenses she always wore outside of SnowDancer territory.
She hadn’t worn them today. The bruised eyes that looked back at her were those of a cardinal, a genetic marker that set her apart from the world in a way that couldn’t be explained, not even to another cardinal. Perhaps the only person who had ever come close to understanding the violence of what lived within her had been her mother, a cardinal telepath with her own demons. Sienna’s brother, Toby, was a cardinal, too. Three in one family . . . it was extraordinary.