Fingers shaking, she opened the top buttons of her maternity smock. Lucas moved to lay their baby skin to skin against her without a word. Tears rolling down her face, Sascha held their baby’s fragile body while her mate cupped her cheek and touched his forehead to hers. “God, I love you.”
Her laughter was tear wet. “Even now you’ve gotten your little princess?”
Lucas’s smile creased his cheeks, brought the cat into his eyes. “I told you it was a girl.”
SIENNA FELT AS if she’d burst out of her skin when she heard the baby’s first cry.
The bedroom door opened what seemed like years later to reveal Lucas holding a tiny—so tiny—bundle wrapped in a soft white blanket. The sentinels and their mates, all of whom had arrived over the past two hours, crowded into the cabin.
“I’d like you,” Lucas said, his smile touched with a fierce tenderness, “to meet Miss Nadiya Shayla Hunter.”
Dorian peered at the baby. “Can I hold her?”
“Don’t flirt,” Lucas said as he handed the baby to the blond sentinel, who was immediately surrounded by his mate as well as the mates of the other men. Stealing the newborn for a cuddle, the women finally handed her back to a scowling Dorian before slipping in to see Sascha. Laughter drifted out of the bedroom soon afterward.
Deciding to take advantage of the lower number of people between her and the baby, Sienna made strategic moves around the room until she ended up next to Mercy—who’d stolen Nadiya from Nate, who’d stolen her from Clay, who’d stolen her from Dorian.
“Here,” Mercy said, “you want to hold her?”
“I’m terrified.” It was the first time in her life she’d ever said that aloud.
Laughing, Mercy showed Sienna how to support the baby’s head, and then Nadiya was in her arms. “She’s so small.” Brushing aside the blanket, she looked at that miniature face, those fisted hands with their tiny fingers and miniscule nails. Lucas and Sascha’s baby had slept through the adoration, but she waved her fists now before settling back down. Sienna was fascinated, could’ve watched her for hours.
Aware, however, that everyone in the room wanted to hold the newborn, she reluctantly relinquished her to Vaughn. The jaguar sentinel touched a gentle finger to the sleeping child’s nose. “Hello, little Naya,” he said. “Aren’t you a pretty darling?”
Lucas smiled. “That’s what Sascha thought for a pet name, too.” Reaching out, he took the baby from Vaughn’s careful hands. “Come on, princess. Mama’s missing you already—you can break hearts later.”
Everyone laughed. And that was the sound Sienna remembered most as she described the events to fellow SnowDancers later that night.
“We got a message both mother and child were doing well,” Hawke said, leaning against the counter of the common room where they’d gathered, “but I figured I’d better not go down just yet.”
Sienna, sitting at a table opposite him, had to fight the urge to get up, cross the distance between them, and reinitiate the contact that had been missing for over twenty-four hours. Now that she’d touched him, kissed him, she couldn’t imagine how she’d survived before. “I think that’s a good idea,” she said. “Lucas is very close to his cat right now.” The alpha’s eyes had been those of the panther—a happy panther, but still a wild thing.
“What does the baby look like?” Brenna asked from beside her, jumpy with excitement.
“Tiny with her eyes scrunched shut.”
“Marlee looked like that, too,” Walker said when the laughter faded. “She cried as if she’d had her favorite toy stolen from her—on both the physical and psychic plane.”
Judd glanced at his brother. “She was loud.”
Sienna hadn’t known her uncles had both been around at the time of Marlee’s birth. Before she could ask about that, Brenna touched Judd’s thigh, where he sat beside her. “How do they handle childbirth in the Net, honeypie?” The last word was clearly a private joke, because Judd reached out to tap his mate’s lips, saying, “Remember the rules.”
It was Walker who answered Brenna’s question. “A strong telepath,” he said from where he sat on Sienna’s left-hand side, “will ease the mother into a near-unconscious state as he or she takes over the fetus’s mind for the duration of the labor.”
A long silence.
Sienna hadn’t known that, found herself asking, “Doesn’t it hurt the baby?”
Walker shook his head. “It’s something our race used to do before Silence—the telepaths are trained to handle developing minds. We had to come up with something since women in childbirth are unable to neutralize their pain on any level.”
Sienna believed him about the birthing process not harming the fetus—Psy cared too much about the mind to risk damaging one. “I think I heard Tammy say that Sascha was talking to her baby to convince her to come out. Wouldn’t that kind of connection be worth the pain?” Her eye caught Hawke’s at that moment, glimpsed the dark, unnamable emotion in the wolf-blue.
She knew without asking that he was thinking of his mate, of the children he would never have with her. But for the first time, Sienna didn’t turn away, didn’t yield to a ghost—she’d listened, she’d learned, so she knew that while it was harder than in a mating, changelings could and did have children in long-term, committed relationships.