Another growl, this one harsh and from the chest. “You’re my alpha’s mate,” he snapped out with a raw anger she’d never before witnessed in him. “My wolf can’t hurt you.”
It knocked the air out of her all over again. She’d been so focused on how packmates would feel about her now that they knew of the cold fire, she hadn’t really considered the more direct effect of her relationship with Hawke—especially since her closest friend, Evie, had been so easy about it. But the fact was, she wasn’t just Sienna Lauren, novice soldier and Riordan’s friend anymore. She was Sienna Lauren Snow, mate to the SnowDancer alpha.
Stunned by the far-reaching implications of Riordan’s statement, it took her several long seconds to formulate her reply. “An alpha can be challenged,” she said slowly, “so lower-ranked soldiers can get aggressive toward him, and by extension, his mate.”
Sighing, Riordan fell backward, until he lay flat on his back. “Do you know what Hawke would do to me if I hurt you?”
“Not if the injury happened in this context.” No matter his protectiveness, Hawke would never get in the way of her development and growth as a soldier. He’d taken her to the mat more than once when he thought she was getting lazy with her physical training—not to mention, he was the one who’d thrown her into that physical training in the first place.
“If you can’t or aren’t able to grasp that,” she said, “I’ll ask Indigo to make sure we’re not partnered up again.” It wasn’t a threat, but the offer of a friend who understood his wolf’s nature. “No harm, no foul.”
Riordan snapped up into a sitting position. “You’re flicking me off because I don’t want to hit you hard enough to bruise?” Simmering fury.
“I’m saying I can’t get better if my partner treats me like fine china.” Her enemies certainly wouldn’t worry about hurting her when they came after her, and not all of them would use solely psychic methods. “I need to be lethal in every way if I’m going to survive Ming and the rest of the Council.”
Riordan blew out a harsh breath. “It makes me so angry that you have to think about shit like that.”
She was the one who shrugged this time. “It’s part of life.” The good things more than made up for the bad.
Getting to his feet, Riordan held out his hand, tugging her up when she accepted the offer. “Okay,” he said quietly. “I’ll stop holding back. But Sin … I’m a wolf. It might get sketchy at times.” A mock punch to her jaw. “Just thump me around the head to set me straight.”
Her smile was in her heart. “Deal.”
Later that night, when Hawke got into bed after a long comm meeting, she snuggled into the wild heat of him and told him of her confrontation with Riordan. “He was much better after, even pulled me up on a couple of mistakes.”
Hawke folded one arm under his head, the other around her, his fingers tracing curving patterns on her lower back. “I was expecting some of that—you’re the only one who can deal with it.”
Because the instant he stepped in, he negated her power. “Thank you,” she said, running her foot over his shin, “for loving me enough to let me fight my own battles.”
He fisted his hand in her hair. “No—some I’m claiming as my right.”
“Okay. As long as you don’t get greedy and try to handle them all.” Sensing his surprise, she braced herself on one elbow and looked down into the incredible beauty of his night-glow eyes, the translucent blue lit with white fire. “Gorgeous wolf.”
“I like the way you pet me.”
“Before,” she said, stroking her fingers down his chest in a caress that pleasured them both, “I used to fight you all the time because it felt as if you didn’t trust me to do anything, as if I had to force you to see me.” She pressed her fingers to his lips when he scowled, went to speak. “Doesn’t matter if it was true or not—that’s how I felt.
“Now I know different … so I can give in sometimes.” Such conscious surrender wouldn’t change his wolf’s respect for her, wouldn’t make him think her any less. It would simply let that wolf know she trusted him with her vulnerability—and that was as important as her own pride.
Hawke moved with quicksilver grace to press her to her back, his muscled thigh pushing between her own, his hand still clenched in her hair. His kiss, when it came, was a hotly tender thing. “So strong, my Sienna, so beautiful.” His mouth, wet and possessive down the line of her throat, making her body arch toward him. “Thank you,” he said in a rumbling echo of her own words, “for loving me enough to understand my need to take care of you.”
“Shh … Lie back and think of England.”
Laughter reawakened inside of her, bubbling its way past the raw burn of emotion. “I’d rather think of you.”
She felt his smile against the curve of her abdomen, his jaw rough with stubble that made her shiver as he kissed his way oh-so-slowly down her body.
THE DAY OF Hawke and Sienna’s mating ceremony dawned bright and clear. Though Adria had done an evening shift, she was up and awake by ten, ready to pitch in with the final preparations. Nell, the maternal female in charge, assigned her to grunt work in the kitchens. Adria was perfectly happy with that—she liked working with her hands, even if it was only to peel two thousand potatoes.