An intent gaze, fingers stroking his nape in tender affection. “I think conflict has been inevitable since the instant the packs decided to stand against the Council on any level.”
He took another kiss before changing their positions so that she lay on top of him, his hand on her lower back. Skin, his wolf insisted, skin. So he pushed his hand under the waistband of her pajama pants and panties to lie over the sweet curve of her butt. She jerked but relaxed almost at once. Good. He wanted her to get used to him, to his touch, to his body, since he planned to be indulging her, and indulging in her, on a regular basis.
“We didn’t go looking for war,” he said, caressing her with small, slow movements as he allowed himself a few more minutes of rest. “If the Council had left us alone, we’d have left them alone.” Discussing such a critical issue with Sienna was not something he’d have considered even a few months ago, yet it now felt natural.
“They can’t accept,” she said, playing her fingers over his collarbone, “that you’re a power in the world.”
“That’s always been the problem, hasn’t it?” He placed his free arm under his head.
“Silence takes away everything else,” she mused, “but power—there is nothing in the Protocol that prevents a hunt for more. In truth, Silence rewards those who are cold-blooded enough to go after it with single-minded focus.”
Hawke tried to think of what it must be like to live in the PsyNet, couldn’t imagine it. “I’ve heard people say the Net is beautiful.”
“Yes—in the same way as a perfectly cut gemstone. Pristine and cold.” Her hand stilled on his skin. “I didn’t understand that while I was in there, but even then, I knew it was wrong for a mother to be parted from her child.”
He heard the pain in her, slid up his hand to press against her lower back. “You loved her.”
“She tried to save me, but she was a cardinal telepath with a secondary telekinetic ability”—a hitch—“and in the end, she couldn’t save herself.”
Hawke knew her mother had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, could guess at the scars the tragedy had left behind. “Did her shields shatter?”
A shake of her head, her cheek pressed to his shoulder. “She went mad. It happens with some strong telepaths, even under Silence. It’s as if no shield is enough to protect them, as if other people’s thoughts sneak in under cover of night and take up residence.” A touch of wet on his chest, the taste of salt in the air. “Free,” she said. “That’s what my mother shouted as she jumped—that she was free. Everyone believes she spoke of Silence, but I know my mother would’ve done anything for silence. She wanted only to be free of the voices.”
Such a pragmatic tone hiding so much pain. Such a slender body hiding so much power. Everything about Sienna was a contradiction. But on one thing, he wanted no doubt. “You’re mine,” he said. “Understand that.” He’d meant to reassure her that she need never fear he’d abandon her, but her body was suddenly all tense muscle and bone against him.
“I’ll never be yours until you’re mine.”
He fisted his hand in her hair, tried to make his response gentle. “I can’t give you the mating bond, Sienna.” He’d been honest with her from the start, had hoped she wouldn’t make him hurt her this way.
A taut silence . . . because what else was there to say?
But Sienna spoke again. “I don’t think the attack means the Scotts intend a rapid escalation.”
He didn’t try to force the conversation back to the original topic, though the possessive heart of him didn’t like the answer she’d given, no matter how unfair it was of him to demand more from her than he could offer. “Explain.”
“It’s part of the scattergun approach we talked about earlier.” Self-possessed words, no hint of the tears drying on his chest. “The Councilors are well aware by now of how a changeling pack functions. They’ll expect the attack to motivate you to evacuate your young, your vulnerable—and so they’ll be ready with an ambush.”
Hawke’s heart went cold at the idea of the pups being hurt.
“The targeted strikes, the ships designed to evade your defenses—everything indicates that whoever is behind this has done their research,” Sienna continued. “In my opinion, they’ve figured out that the best way to demoralize the pack to the point of no return would be to wipe out the young.” Her words were cool, crisp, but he didn’t make the mistake of thinking she didn’t care. He knew how many hours she volunteered in the White Zone, how many of the pups called her “Sinna” and raised their arms for a cuddle.
But the fact that she’d seen that stomach-turning prospect, had the background to even consider it, was stark evidence of the darkness in which she’d grown up. She’d spent her childhood with a monster. And still she’d managed to retain her personality, retain her soul. He was so f**king proud of her.
Right at that instant, her phone beeped. Though she made no move to answer it, there was no ignoring the fact that their time together had run out. “I better go,” he said.
“Yes, of course.” She scrambled up to sit on the bed beside him when he rose.
“In one hour,” he said, getting to his feet and glancing at the oldfashioned wall clock she had to have found in a secondhand shop, “I have a lieutenant meeting. I want you there.”