HAWKE nodded at Lake as he jogged down to the perimeter in the quiet of the hour before midnight. “Any problems?”
The soldier shook his head. “Spotted a couple of falcons in the distance when it was light, but they stayed clear of den territory.”
“Good.” Hawke spent several more minutes talking to Lake, having had a heads-up from Riley about him. Intelligent, Hawke thought, and not only that, but he had the capacity to think outside the box. “Are you happy with your current duties?”
Lake took a deep breath. “If I had the choice, I’d prefer more complex tasks.”
“Talk to Riley tomorrow,” Hawke said, because he didn’t want the talented young male getting bored. “He’ll shift your duties.”
“I understand we’re at high alert after the recent events.” An intent look. “I can wait until we’re better situated to move things around.”
“No. We’re not going to allow anyone to stifle the growth of our pack.”
“Yes, sir.” Lake glanced down, back up. “I wanted to say something—about Maria.”
“She’s still pretty cut up about stepping off watch that time. If you could . . .”
Hawke’s wolf liked the boy better for his request. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you.” A faint smile. “Sienna should be about five hundred meters to the north.”
Hawke pointed south. “Go.”
Lake left with a salute—and a grin.
Jogging along the perimeter until he caught the rich, vibrant scent of a woman who was well and truly under his skin, he drew in a deep breath of the cool mountain air and leashed his wolf. Demands would get neither man nor wolf anything when it came to Sienna. Neither would orders. This was about male and female. Hawke and Sienna.
He found her standing watch on a cliff’s edge, keeping an acute eye on everything that passed. Quiet as it was, it took her the barest instant to detect him. “Would you like a report, sir?”
He narrowed his eyes at her tone, but where the alpha in him would’ve delivered a quick and lethal verbal response to anyone else, that wasn’t the relationship he wanted with Sienna. “No, I’d prefer a kiss.”
Back as stiff as steel, she said, “I’m working,” but then, to his surprise, glanced back. “I heard about Ameline’s miscarriage.” Her expression was solemn.
The memory of his packmate’s silent cries had his wolf wanting to lift its muzzle in a mournful howl. “She’s hurting bad, but she’s strong. So is her mate. They’ll survive this.”
“You sat with her?”
“Yes.” Controlling the impulse to fist his hand in her hair, tug her close until he could breathe in the warm spice of her skin . . . until he could unwind on the deepest level, he focused on the land that was his home. The night was stunning, the velvet sky dotted with diamonds. “Do you wonder if the Council understands why we’d fight to the last breath to hold this?”
“Yes.” Her own face lifted to the sky. “The psychologists will have done a full workup. But they won’t believe you’d refuse to surrender even at the threat of massive casualties.”
“Some things are beyond logic.” Losing their home would rip the heart out of the pack—it wouldn’t matter if they survived. “We both know that.” He stroked his hand down the thick rope of her braid.
She jerked away, the truce over. “You ignored me.”
“Yeah, I did. And I’m not sorry I did it.” Maybe he’d been an ass, but he’d also been right—she had been short-changing herself, had now learned that she could wield and direct the cold fire, choose her targets even at that level of pressure.
“Surprising.” Sarcasm dripped off the single word.
“But,” he added with a growl, “I won’t disregard your views about your own abilities next time.”
Sienna froze at the unexpected statement. “Not much of an apology,” she said, scrambling to reorder her thoughts.
“That’s because I wasn’t apologizing.”
Of course not. “Go away.”
He tugged at her neat braid instead, unraveling it before she realized what he was doing. Gritting her teeth to stop from reacting, she stared out at the hush of the forest as he smoothed out the strands. “You have curls in here,” he murmured from behind her. “Did you braid it while it was damp?”
That sneaky wolf charm was not going to weaken her defenses this time. “I’m working, in case you didn’t hear me the first time.”
Arms sliding around her waist, tugging her back against a warm male chest. “I’ve come to keep you company.”
Reaching back, she pulled her hair out from between them. “I like being alone.”
A quick nip of her ear. “Such a liar.”
Folding her arms, she resisted the urge to kick back at him with a booted foot. “This patch is quiet,” she said. “Lake wanted to run tonight, so I’m standing as sentry.”
Hawke’s arms came up to cross over her chest as he held her impossibly closer, his thighs on either side of hers. “That was one of my first tasks—sentry.” His voice was quiet, full of memory. “The alpha started putting me on watch when I was nine.”
“Nine?” Far too young, according to SnowDancer’s own rules.
Hawke chuckled. “I was making trouble—had too much energy and nowhere for it to go. They tried running me to exhaustion, but I outlasted everyone except Garrick, and the alpha couldn’t spend every day with me.”