We cut our familial ties, Sascha. A statement so cold, it was beyond cruel. She means nothing to me.
Once, the words would’ve made her bleed. Now, Sascha saw the truth buried beneath the lie. No, of course not. Because if Nikita acknowledged Nadiya as her grandchild, the baby became a target. Mother, the trust fund—
Is a private matter in which I bear no interest.
A single tear trickled down Sascha’s cheek. All right.
The telepathic connection ended in silence.
“Sascha.” Lucas’s arm curled around her chest to hold her against his side, the tension in him communicating itself through the mating bond. “What did she say?”
“Nothing hurtful.” Turning, she rubbed her face against his chest as she watched Naya’s fragile body rise and fall in innocent sleep. “I’m a mother now, Lucas. I would do anything to keep Naya safe, even if it meant she would hate me for the rest of her life.” Swallowing, she touched a finger to their baby’s plump cheek. “It makes me wonder if that isn’t exactly what Nikita did.”
STILL able to feel the canvas of Sienna’s body against his own the next afternoon, and wondering why the hell he’d given in to his good side and stopped, Hawke finished clearing the decks. He and Kenji had had an interesting conversation with the BlackSea Coalition this morning, and the lieutenant was following up on the details.
In Los Angeles, Jem was doing the same with Aquarius. Shooting back a reply to an e-mail she’d sent, he checked the other things on his mental list. The novice teams were scoping out the warehouse district, Brenna was building the remotes, while Mariska and Judd were going over video footage. Riley had the rotation of soldiers in hand, Indigo and Riaz the newly revised training schedule.
Finding Lara, he got an update on everyone who’d been injured in the attack. Simran was almost recovered and resting at home, as was Riordan. Elias, however, remained in the infirmary. “I almost broke a scanner over his head today,” Lara muttered. “Never knew it would be Eli who drove me to drink.”
Hawke grinned. “So he’s on the way to being healed?”
“Yes.” A faint smile. “I have to keep him here because his new skin is so fragile, but he’ll walk out with no scars in less than a week.”
“You do good work, Lara.” He kissed her on the cheek, then popped in to see Riley.
“No one else needs you today,” the lieutenant said and pointed to the door. “Take advantage of it while you can.”
Doing exactly that, Hawke went tracking his favorite prey. “Toby,” he said, catching the young boy as he ran outside with a soccer ball in his arms, school having let out half an hour earlier. “Have you seen Sienna?”
Toby shook his head, his hair—not yet as dark a red as Sienna’s—getting into his eyes. Hawke narrowed his own eyes. “When was the last time you had a haircut?”
Pushing back the strands, Toby shifted from foot to foot, his face flaming a shade perilously close to that of his hair. “Um . . .”
“Toby.” Never before had Hawke needed to use that tone with the preteen who was so well-behaved, it left his wolf a bit bemused.
“I don’t like scissors,” Toby blurted out. “Near my head, I mean.”
“Walker’s okay with this?” The Psy male wasn’t the type to let things slide.
“Sienna kind of got me out of it.”
That, Hawke understood. Sienna was fierce in her protectiveness when it came to Toby. Maybe too much so. Hawke understood taking care of those who were his own, but he also understood that a boy needed to explore and be proud of his own strength. “Come on, you’re having a haircut today,” he said, shifting his priorities because no matter the searing depth of his need to see Sienna, this young member of his pack needed him. “How can you get anything done if you can’t see?”
Toby dragged his feet, but he obeyed. Hawke had him dump the soccer ball in the backseat of the truck as he started it up.
“Where are we going?”
“To see Sascha.” His wolf’s curiosity about the baby was too strong for him to wait any longer, and he knew the empath would be happy to tidy up Toby’s hair.
Except Toby went stiff at the idea, the scent of his distress slapping against Hawke. Stopping the truck at once, he reached out to rub the kid’s down-bent head. “What’s the matter?”
“I like Sascha. A lot.”
“I know.” That’s why he’d figured the whole haircut deal would go down better with the empath’s help.
Fisted hands on tense thighs. “I don’t want her to think I’m a baby.”
Oh. “Same with Riley?” The kid worshipped the lieutenant, who treated him like a much younger brother.
Toby’s nod was hard and fast.
“Hmm. In that case, I’ll have to do it.” Driving to park the car deeper in their territory—and aware of Toby gaping at him—he had the boy get out, then rummaged around in the storage well until he found a pair of scissors in the first-aid kit. When Toby gulped, he pointed to the bed of the truck and said, “Sit.”
The boy clambered up onto the tailgate, legs hanging off the edge and words tumbling out at high speed. “My mom used to use Tp to make me sleep when I had a haircut. I never liked it.”
Happy to hear that the fear was a harmless remnant of childhood, not based on hidden trauma, he said, “We’re not using the sedatives in the first-aid kit, so forget about it.”
Toby’s face fell. “Those look really sharp.”