However, that didn’t mean she wouldn’t be letting both Hawke and Judd know what she thought of their arrogance in excluding her from a conversation that had her as its focus. The irritated thought had just passed through her mind when a brilliant spark of joy burst onto her psychic senses. Toby. Her brother had phenomenal shields, but he tended to broadcast when in high spirits. What’s got you so happy?
Sienna frowned. Really? It didn’t fit with what she’d witnessed of Lucas’s protective nature.
Lucas is with her. And like a hundred other soldiers.
That made more sense. Be good.
Drew says I should be bad sometimes.
He’s a terrible influence. But she let Toby feel her laughter, hear that she was joking. Just don’t be too bad.
A starburst of love from a brother who’d had this aspect of his abilities buried in the Net. Then Toby was gone from her mind and the door to Hawke’s office was being pulled open. “Sascha and Lucas are here,” she said to Hawke when he followed Judd out into the corridor.
“I know.” He held up a sleek black phone. “Riley will handle anything they need. We”—his eyes locked to Sienna’s—“are heading out for a while.”
Per their agreement, she didn’t question the order until Judd left them at the junction. “You were talking about me,” she began. “I—”
“Uncles,” Hawke interrupted, “brothers, fathers have always had and will always have private ‘discussions’ with males who want to touch their women. You’re never going to win that argument”—a playful tug on her braid—“so give it up.”
Glaring at him, she pulled her hair from his grasp. “That is the most sexist statement I have ever heard.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s not true.” He shrugged. “Ask Riley sometime about the nice little chat Mercy’s brothers and father had with him.”
Irritation derailed by curiosity, she said, “What about Indigo?” The lieutenant was the third-highest ranking individual in the pack, needed no one’s protection.
“You know Abel,” he said, referring to Indigo’s father. “What do you think?”
Sienna knew right then that the arrogant wolf had won, because Abel adored his girls, had probably threatened to rip out key parts of Drew’s anatomy. “Where are we going?” she asked, foul-tempered and not bothering to hide it.
“In a bit.” Nodding his head toward one of the conference rooms, he said, “Toby’s in there.” An unasked question, silent consent if she needed to go to her brother.
“He’s fine,” she said, wondering how the wolf-eyed male could be so infuriating and so very wonderful at the same time. “He loves his lessons with Sascha.”
“She gets something out of it, too, you know.”
“She’s a cardinal empath. Toby’s E abilities are barely 3 on the Gradient.” Her brother’s cardinal status came from his telepathy.
“But he is an E in some part,” Hawke pointed out. “He exists.”
Yes, she thought, Hawke was right. It explained the hereto inexplicable depth of Sascha’s joy whenever she was with Toby. “I’ve never met another X.” She didn’t know why she told him that.
Hawke didn’t respond until they’d exited the den and were heading out on a path that would lead eventually to the training run that had gotten ever more fiendish since Riaz’s return from a stint abroad. “How about a weak X?” he asked, his face lifted up to the clean, bright Sierra sunshine.
Beautiful man. “It’s such a rare designation,” she said when he shot her a questioning glance, “that there’s probably less than ten of us at any given time.” Even that was a generous estimate, considering what she’d gleaned about their life expectancy. “The theory is that Xs below 2 on the Gradient don’t manifest, so no one ever realizes. As for the others . . . I know of one who died during my teen years. I heard of another two who died before I was brought in.”
So much sadness, so much death.
“Of the two other living Xs I knew of in the Net,” she continued, “one was psychotic and the other hypersensitive.” It felt strange to talk of the X designation without feeling the vicious spear of pain down her spine that was the first level of dissonance, a warning not to speak of things the Council would prefer to keep secret. “It was possible I’d set him off if we came into close contact.”
“Didn’t that volatility make him a danger?” Hawke pushed silver-gold strands off his face, catching her eye.
“Yes,” she murmured, “but he must’ve been useful in some capacity because they permitted him to live.” Hawke had, she thought, the most fascinating hair, unusual and beautiful as his pelt in wolf form. “Why don’t you grow out your hair?”
“You mean like Luc?” He shrugged. “Not me, I guess.”
She had to admit she loved the way the strands brushed his nape, just long enough to be rebellious . . . to invite the caress of a woman’s fingers. Unsure where they were in terms of a relationship, what he’d accept, she tucked her hands under her armpits. “Why are you so like your wolf in human form?”
“There was a time when I needed it to be the dominant aspect even when I was in human form—the wolf was more mature than the boy.” He led her past the training run and into the trees. “My wolf was always near the surface. The experience heightened the effect.”