“Nothing more to discuss yet.” Wolf eyes looking out of a human face, his body so close her own brushed against the implacable strength of him with every breath.
When he moved that tormenting touch away from her lips to close his hand over the sensitive column of her throat, she shuddered. “A physics text.” Part of her said she was letting him have too much control of the situation, but the rest of her waited in strained anticipation to see what he would do next.
“Hmm.” Reaching back, he undid her braid, sliding the dark mass over one shoulder so it tumbled over her breast. “You’re getting straight A’s.”
Surprise cut through the desire so heavy in her limbs, in her blood. “How did you know?”
A slow smile. “Because I know your brain never stops working.”
She didn’t know how to take that. “Are you making fun of me?”
Sliding both hands down to her waist, he said, “No,” and stroked his hands up, back down again. “I like how smart you are.”
It was an unexpected compliment, one that meant far more to her than the most flowery of words. “I like your mind, too,” she whispered as her arms rose of their own volition to wrap around his neck. He was too tall for that, so she curved her hand around the side of his neck, the shift of muscle and tendon a stark intimacy under her palm. “Your thought processes fascinate me.” He could be so icily rational, and yet the wolf was always there, primal and untamed.
“Then we’re equal.” Cupping her nape with one hand, he moved the other to her lower back. And somehow, they were dancing, though the only music was the thudding pulse of her heart, the rough caress of his breath.
JUDD managed to get in touch with the Ghost around three that morning, the other man agreeing to meet him an hour later in the murky confines of an abandoned building project. Black plastic fluttered in the night winds, the solid skeleton of the house providing an illusion of permanence. “You’ve been hard to track down of late,” Judd said to the rebel who was so close to the Net, Judd worried its madness was starting to seep into the Ghost’s brain.
Face hidden in the gloom, the Ghost leaned back against one of the supporting beams. “You asked me once what my reason was for doing this.”
“This” being their combined efforts to topple the Council . . . though no longer Silence. The question had become more complex than that. As evidenced by the second level of dissonance in Sienna’s brain, some Psy needed Silence, or some aspect of it, on a basic level. “Are you ready to share?”
The only thing the Ghost had admitted to date was that there was at least one individual in the Net who had some value to him, one person he did not want dead. That was the solitary thing that kept him from annihilating the entire Council, an act that would cause a psychic shockwave and destabilize the Net, killing millions.
“No,” the rebel said in response to his question. “But I have one, that much you should know.”
Judd understood without further explanation that that unnamed reason lay behind the Ghost’s recent lack of availability. “I need to know if my cover is blown.”
“No. Your entire family is presumed dead.”
“There is a myth of a cardinal X, but you and I both know that to be impossible.”
Judd wondered just how much the Ghost knew and how far the rebel’s allegiance went. But he also knew that while Sienna had gained control of her ability with the sheer, stubborn refusal to surrender, there would come a time when the X-marker would demand more from her than she could give. He had to take a chance on the Ghost’s loyalty, to roll the dice. Because if he didn’t and Sienna’s power did spiral out of control . . . “Have you heard of Alice Eldridge’s second manuscript?”
“The dissertation on designation X?” The Ghost straightened. “Yes. It’s one of the most hidden, yet persistent rumors in the Net.”
“Any indication the rumor might hold a grain of truth?”
A long, quiet pause. “I’ll do a search.”
“I’ll owe you one.”
“No, Judd. Don’t ever say that to me—I may very well collect.” There was a chill darkness to that statement, as if Judd would not like the payment demanded.
“Then I withdraw it.” Hair blowing back in a sudden gust that sent the black plastic flapping, he glanced at the man of whose identity he was ninety-nine point nine percent certain. “Have you ever considered taking the rebellion into the open?”
“It would never succeed. First the foundations must be set. Only then can the wave crest.”
Judd thought of everything they’d done together, everything they’d accomplished, considered the cost. “How is your mental status?” It was a question he’d never asked with such bluntness, but times had changed.
“Sane.” A short answer. “Though sanity is a question of interpretation.”
ALTERNATING BETWEEN CONTENTMENT and frustration at the remembered feel of Sienna in his arms, Hawke was drinking his first cup of coffee the next morning when he got a call from Kenji, the SnowDancer lieutenant based near the San Gabriel Mountains. With his high cheekbones, startling green eyes, and violent magenta hair, he looked like an escapee from a desert rave—or maybe some avant garde catwalk show.
“What the f**k did you do to your hair?” Hawke asked, almost choking on his coffee. Because while he might be channeling a Japanese rock star, the fact was, Kenji was about as avant garde as your average elementary school teacher.