Playing with the hair at his nape, she bit the inside of her lip. “I wish we’d done it earlier.” They’d decided to wait until things calmed a little and all the evacuated children had settled back into the den, but the delay had caused her nerves to fray. “It’ll be the first Pack event since…” Since everyone had discovered what she could do, what she was. “Maybe we should do it together with Walker and Lara’s ceremony,” she said, though she knew it was too late, the celebration only days away.
“Each ceremony is unique and suited to the couple.” Hawke bracketed her face in his hands, and she knew he understood what she didn’t say. “They want a quieter affair.”
And he was alpha, the ceremony celebrating his mating one of the biggest events to be held in the den in recent memory. Every packmate, young and old, wanted to contribute, to be part of the festivities, and Sienna wasn’t going to cheat them of that—not even if she wanted to hide in a corner and hope no one would notice her.
Hawke pressed a finger to her lips before she could speak. “I told you, baby, we’re wolves.” Wild affection, the endearment one he used with her alone. “We respect strength.”
“I’m only a soldier.” Hierarchy was a critical component of the pack’s stability—and their relationship fell outside of it. Never would she give it up, but the impact of it on the pack still worried her at times. “Young and inexperienced.”
“It isn’t always about age or experience,” Hawke said, eyes of husky blue holding her captive. “Maybe you’ll have to earn your stripes when it comes to your personal dominance, but you’ve already got their loyalty—because you gave the pack your own, laid your life on the line to protect. That’s what matters.”
Curling her arms around his shoulders, she leaned into his embrace. He hugged her close, stroking a big hand down her back. No one in the pack had said or done anything to make her feel unwelcome after the battle, it was true. There had been more than a few smiles thrown her way and the teasing they received as a newly mated couple was merciless, but—“Some people are scared of me,” she whispered.
Hawke chuckled. “Baby, most people are scared of me.” He nuzzled a kiss into her neck. “It goes with the territory.”
RIAZ ducked his head into Hawke’s office the morning after his confrontation with Adria, but found the alpha missing. “Riley,” he called out, running to catch up to the lieutenant. “You seen Hawke?”
“He’s gone to join Felix’s team.” Riley glanced at the small datapad in his hand. “No set time for returning to the den—try him on his sat phone.”
“No, I think I’ll run down and pitch in.” Hard, manual labor would be good for him. He was strung tight from the primal fury that had raged through his body in the midnight hours. And it wasn’t Lisette’s face that had haunted him. Not last night.
“Felix says the ground is perfect for planting, as if it had been fertilized.” Riley’s eyes were intent. “He’s never seen anything like it. I guess none of us have.”
No, nothing had ever come close to the deadly beauty of Sienna’s cold fire. “I know she’s young,” Riaz said, remembering not just the red-gold glow of that voracious flame but also the screams that had come before, the sickening crunches of bone as SnowDancer after SnowDancer fell, bloody and broken. “But anyone who can control that much power has my respect.”
Riley’s response was unexpected. “Make sure you share that view with packmates when the opportunity rises.”
“Trouble?” He hadn’t sensed anything, but he wasn’t as connected to the heartbeat of the den as Riley. Based here his entire life, the senior lieutenant was not only an anchor for his packmates, Hawke included, he was also a man trusted by everyone from hard-eyed soldiers and busy maternals, to rebellious juveniles, and elders.
“No,” the other male now said. “But the battle was the first time most of the pack became aware of what Judd and Sienna can do. Right now, everyone’s high from the success, but once the adrenaline fades and they start to think about it—”
“—people will begin to realize exactly how dangerous those two are.” Riaz nodded, seeing where Riley was headed. “We need to bolster that good feeling now, so even when the high wears off, everyone will continue to see them as strong packmates who’ll use their strength to protect the weak, not Psy they need to be wary of.” Wolves might be predators, but the majority weren’t dominants. SnowDancer’s most vulnerable members would be all but helpless against the kind of power wielded by Judd and Sienna, and, though most people didn’t realize the strength of his telepathy, Walker.
“Yes.” Riley kept his voice low as they spoke. “I’m probably being overcautious, but”—a rueful smile—“that’s why they pay me the big bucks.”
“No, you’re right. Better to subtly reassure everyone now, when they’re already predisposed to love the Laurens, rather than later, after fear’s crept into the fold.” He made a note to have some quiet, casual conversations with certain people. “You need me for anything today? If not, I’ll head down to join the planting team now.” He needed to do something physical—his skin felt stretched too tight, too thin over the raging need of his body.
It had never been this bad. As a lone wolf, he was predisposed to periods of solitude that would drive his packmates crazy, and could last even longer without touch. He hadn’t been with anyone for roughly four months when he’d met Lisette six months ago and felt that stunning, indescribable kick to the gut that was the instinctive knowledge of his mate.