“That shocks you.” No, Sascha thought, that wasn’t quite it. “It stuns you that she’s able to hold out against you.”
Hawke scowled. “You make me sound like an ass.”
“Not an ass—just a man who rarely has anyone stand up to him.” She felt the baby’s searching mind, sent reassurance as she did a thousand times a day. “Tell me why she’s not talking to you.”
After Hawke finished, she said, “I see.”
Pale eyes pinned her to the spot, his dominance a staggering wave. If she hadn’t been used to living with Lucas, she might’ve wilted. As it was, she touched her fingers to his jaw and pushed a fraction. “Stop that.”
The wolf continued to prowl behind that icy gaze, but he glanced away.
“Let me ask you one thing,” she said, wondering if she’d be able to get through to him, this man who, from what she knew, had become alpha at an even younger age than Lucas. “If Judd told you to keep your distance, would you?”
He folded his arms, biceps pushing against the sleeves of his white T-shirt. “The two situations aren’t the same.”
“She’s a cardinal, Hawke.” Gentle words, but Sascha was a cardinal, too, and the statement held a piercing power as it settled on Hawke’s skin. “If you’re to have any kind of a relationship with her, you must accept what she is—ignoring her when she makes a decision about her own power is about as far as you can get from acceptance.”
Hawke’s wolf paced inside his mind, wanting to tear at her words with its claws. “I have to get back.” There were a hundred things he had to handle today, but the most critical, he thought as he said good-bye to the leopard pair, would take some careful planning. There would be no more doors slammed in his face—of that much, both man and wolf were certain.
RESPONSE FROM ESTES PARK POLICE DEPARTMENT TO QUERY BY GEORGE KIM ON BEHALF OF PROFESSORS MAE AND ELLISON ELDRIDGE: JANUARY 8, 1975
We regret to inform you that Alice Eldridge appears to have suffered a fatal accident during her most recent climb. A search-and-rescue unit is attempting to recover the body, but it is lodged so deep inside a crevasse that it may not be safe to proceed. Telekinetic assistance has been denied.
ACCORDING TO A packmate, Lara had headed down to the waterfall, but Walker found no sign of her when he arrived. In the end, it was the crimson of her wool coat that gave her away—she was sitting tucked into the trees, her face turned toward the wild fury of the water.
Knowing she’d catch his scent, he walked to sit by her side, his shoulder touching hers. “You have shadows under your eyes.” He wanted to reach across and wipe them away, even knowing that to be impossible. When she didn’t reply, he said, “Talk to me, Lara.” He wasn’t used to silence from the woman who had become his closest friend.
“I had an emergency call from one of the women this morning. She was three months pregnant.”
Everything in Walker went quiet. “Something was wrong?”
“She had a miscarriage.” She took a ragged breath. “There was no warning, nothing to indicate a problem. I keep a careful eye on the pregnant women, but I didn’t catch this—” Wet in her voice. “I couldn’t fix it.”
He touched his hand to the wild energy of her curls. “Some pregnancies terminate without any apparent reason, you know that.”
“Intellectually, yes. But . . . She’s in so much emotional pain right now.”
Stroking his hand down the stiff line of her spine, he rested it on her hip. “I saw Hawke in the infirmary with a young couple when I went to find you.”
Lara nodded. “I called him in. He’ll be able to help her wolf to an extent, help her mate, too.” She wrapped her arms around raised knees. “She’s strong, healthy, will heal. I just hate that she’s having to go through this hurt. I hate it.”
Walker wasn’t female, would never carry a child, but he was a father. “Yelene,” he found himself saying, speaking a secret he’d never shared, “was pregnant with our second child when we got the rehabilitation order.”
Lara sucked in a breath. “She lost the baby.”
Of course she’d think that, this healer who worried so much about her pack. “The order was for everyone who bore Lauren blood. She’d already aborted the child by the time I came home.” Everything else, he would have accepted, would have survived, but that act, it broke something inside him. Because even in the PsyNet, he’d worked with children. Dangerous, gifted children, but children nonetheless, and he’d done everything in his power to protect them. Yet—“I couldn’t protect my child.”
Hearing Lara’s quiet sobs, he turned and took her into his arms, weaving his fingers into her hair. She buried her face against his chest and cried as if her heart was splintering. She understood, he thought, knew that it wasn’t only his unborn child that had died that day. But . . . as Lara cried for the child he’d lost, as she gave voice to the grief he couldn’t express, the tight knot of sorrow inside him began to unravel fragment by jagged fragment.
“I sometimes wonder,” he whispered, the soft skin of her nape delicate under his palm, “what my son would’ve been like.”
Lara’s hand spread on the fabric of his shirt. “Tell me what you imagined.” Her voice was raw with weeping, but her strength, it was an enduring flame.
It took him a long time, but as the water continued to thunder into the pool below, Walker held the warmth of her close and spoke of the son who lived deep within his heart and always would.