“Some things need to be broken to become stronger.”
The Ghost left thirty seconds later, called away by something urgent.
Sitting alone in the peace of the church, Judd thought of the murders perpetrated by Pure Psy, the violence done tonight, the blood that would be spilled in the future. Instead of reminding the populace of the value of Silence, the aggression was nudging awake long-buried emotions, fear so dark and from so deep in the psyche that not even the most painful conditioning could keep it imprisoned.
Silence was one crack away from total failure.
Some things need to be broken to become stronger.
“He does not understand friendship,” Judd said to Xavier later, “but I do.”
The priest’s dark skin glowed in the light from the candles that were the sole illumination now that he’d turned off the lights. “Is it mercy to end the life of a friend savaged by torment, or is it a sin?”
“Those are your questions, Xavier. Mine is only this: if he proves too unstable”—willing to extinguish the Net in a rippling wave of endless death—“will I have the strength to execute a man who is a mirror of who I might’ve been in another life?”
TWO WEEKS AFTER the attempted assassination of the San Francisco anchor, and a week after the flurry of bombings on a number of Psy research centers and institutions of learning, it felt to Adria as if the entire world was holding its breath. Seven days had passed with no more signs of a civil war that could devastate the planet, but with Judd Lauren having shared what he knew with the senior members of the pack, Adria knew the lull was nothing but the calm in the eye of the storm.
It was all going to come crashing down, sooner rather than later.
As a soldier, she worked with her packmates and their allies to prepare the pack and the region—and to some extent, other parts of the world. Through their allies’ connections, and their links with the Human Alliance, the BlackEdge Wolves, the water-based changelings, and less formal relationships with other groups, SnowDancer had a worldwide network that disseminated and shared information in an effort to provide people with the means to protect themselves when the storm blew in.
However, within herself, where no one could see, she fought a far more heartbreaking war. Her love for Riaz had come to define her. She knew that no matter what the future brought, she would never again feel this glory, never again burn with such vibrant passion and wild tenderness. It brought her incredible joy to live with him, to laugh with him, to fall asleep in his arms … and every day, she woke up and for a single painful second, wondered if this was the day he’d look at her and realize what he’d given up.
She’d learned to hide that instinctive dart of pain, and today, as they sat on a bench in Golden Gate Park, watching the people out for a stroll among the flower beds on this piercingly bright fall day, she could almost believe that everything was as it should be, that she was with a man who was meant to be her own and no one else’s.
“Are you ever going to talk to me again?” Riaz demanded, his tone that of a man at the end of his patience.
It puzzled her. “Didn’t we just have a conversation about the toy dog we saw in that woman’s purse?” The little yapping thing had gone silent when the woman walked past them, its big eyes watching Riaz and Adria as if it expected to be eaten.
It had made them both laugh.
But no laughter colored Riaz’s voice when he spoke again. “We talk about everyday things, inconsequential things.” Eyes of palest brown met hers, shimmering with a film of heated anger … but his words, they held raw pain. “You’ve shut me out of your heart, amada, and it’s shredding me to pieces.”
It made her blood turn to ice, her breath catch until she had to get up, to walk, so she could find air again. He didn’t try to hem her in, her black wolf, didn’t do anything but watch. When she came back down to sit beside him, she gripped the edges of the bench. “I didn’t mean to.” It was instinctive, this withdrawing into herself, a defensive measure she’d learned in the years she’d been with Martin. “I didn’t even realize I was doing it.” Hurting him in the same horrible way she’d once been hurt, something she’d vowed never to do to anyone.
Devastated, she willed him to believe her. “I never meant to—”
“I know.” He reached out to tuck a flyaway strand of her unbound hair behind her ear in a sweet, familiar intimacy. “And I’m trying so goddamn hard not to push you, but I need you to be mine. Because I’m yours.”
Simple. Unguarded. A lone wolf’s heart in her hands.
Her chest ached. “I’m so afraid,” she whispered, tearing her soul open because his honesty demanded her own. “I try not to be, but I’m so scared you’ll regret letting her go. The fear chokes me up sometimes.”
Riaz didn’t do anything she would’ve expected from a dominant male. He didn’t take her into his arms and try to convince her it would be all right, didn’t growl or snarl until she relented. Instead, he said, “Look over there.”
Following his gaze, she found herself looking across the large flower bed in front to focus on an elderly couple who’d been sitting on the bench opposite them for some time. Adria had watched them take snacks out of a small lunchbox, pass each other coffee from a silver thermos, and hold hands. As they were doing now. “They’re beautiful together.” Their love was age worn and familiar, a groove worn into their lives and hearts. “You can tell they’re a unit.” Like a mated pair, one wouldn’t long survive the other.