“The cats are holding off on any evacuations, same as us,” he told her as they walked. “Right now, everyone is safer within our protections.”
“It’ll be quiet,” she said. “When the children are eventually moved.”
Hawke’s wolf hated the idea of a silent den. “It won’t be forever.”
Sienna began to turn left as they reached a fork in the corridor.
“No.” He gripped her hand. “This way.”
She didn’t say a word, and neither did anyone else who saw them along the way. A few days ago, they’d have been teased, whistled at, and otherwise hassled in the most playful of ways. Today, the mood was somber, everyone aware what was coming. The corridors were emptier than usual, many pack members having gathered in the common areas to talk, take strength from one another. There was no one at all in the corridor paved with river stones and painted with images of wolves at play, in sleep, during a hunt.
Hawke knew why Sienna avoided this particular exit from the den. She’d damaged the mural once by accident, her X-fire acting as a laser to fracture a small area of the wall, destroy the paint. “I was never angry with you for that,” he said as they entered the painted wonderland.
“This place . . . it’s important to you.” Her hand curled around his.
Tugging her to a particular section, he said, “Look.”
Sienna leaned forward. “It’s a sleeping pup—Oh!” He watched as she traced the second pup hiding behind the broad green leaves, waiting to pounce. “I never noticed him.”
“She hid a lot of things in the mural,” he said, the ache inside him an old grief. “It was meant to be an artwork that made the pack laugh, linger, want to play.”
“Speaking to the heart of the wolf.” Dropping her hand from the wall, Sienna raised her head. “It was your mother, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” His gifted, laughing mother. “She was a submissive wolf.”
Sienna’s eyes widened. “I just assumed . . .”
“I think it surprised my father, too.” Inside, his wolf howled at the bittersweet memories. “He first saw her here. She’d flown in from a different sector, started the mural only hours earlier.” Hawke could almost see her, her white-blonde hair tied back with one of those colorful scarves she’d favored, a streak of paint on her nose or across her cheek. “He came running through from the outside in wolf form with an urgent message for Garrick. And he just stopped.”
“He knew straight away?” Wonder in Sienna’s voice.
It made Hawke tighten his fingers on her own. “He said it was like being hit by a two-by-four.” His father had always shaken his head at the memory, laughter creasing his face, lighting up eyes two shades darker than his son’s. “He was covered in mud and he had somewhere to go, but all he could do was stare at her.”
“What did your mother do?”
Hawke laughed, recalling the way his mother would always pretend to bare her teeth at his father when she told her side of the story. “She dropped half a tub of green paint on herself when he came racing in and had turned around to give him a piece of her mind when the air just went out of her. She was submissive, should’ve dropped her gaze, but she couldn’t do it, couldn’t break that connection.
“Garrick found them an hour later, her splattered with paint, him with dried mud turning his coat stiff. They were just sitting there, looking into each other’s eyes. Their mating was complete, and it was one that held firm until the last.” Until his father’s death and his mother’s heartbreak.
Unable to continue speaking of it, he tugged her out of the den and to the pool below the waterfall, its surface a frothy white from the crash of the water. Shadowed by the jut of the cliff above, the sandy area was a haven of privacy.
“This is a makeout spot,” Sienna said as she finished clambering down. “Evie told me. I think Tai sneaks her here.”
His lips tugged upward. “Why do you think I moved that rock at the top? It’s a time-honored signal that the pool is occupied.” The stresses of the day falling away under the caress of her responding smile, he took a seat on the ground. “Did you manage to see your family today?” He tugged her close when she settled next to him.
“Yes, I spent time with Marlee and Toby after we returned, but Walker was busy.”
“Speaking of Walker,” he murmured in her ear, “I saw him glaring at Lara a few minutes ago.” Hawke had slipped away before either of them had seen him, certain the Psy male would take care of the healer. They’d had a few injuries today, and she was already worn thin after the events of the previous night.
“Walker doesn’t glare,” Sienna said, shifting so that she faced him on her knees. “He just looks at you until you obey.”
Laughing, Hawke moved to bracket her between his thighs and touched his forehead to hers, oddly content. They talked of other matters, of Toby and Marlee, of Cooper and his new mate, until Hawke ended up lying next to her seated form, his arms crossed under his head. “It’s good to have four lieutenants mated now,” he said, his eyes on the rocky ledge above, but his attention on the compelling, textured scent of the woman by his side. “We’ll need that stability in the leadership structure even more after this is over.”
“May I ask about her?” A quiet, unexpected question.
The wolf was very much in Hawke’s eyes when he glanced at Sienna. “Her name was Theresa, but I called her Rissa.”