Beside Judd, Sienna, her hands on her hips, said, “Judd, this is an inefficient use of your—” A startled cry as she found herself floating, too.
Grinning, Hawke walked over to rescue her, grabbing her around the h*ps to pull her back down to earth. “That’ll teach you to sass a Tk.”
“I’m an X. Why does no one have any respect?” she said, rubbing her nose against his as Judd and Brenna—back on her feet and with her hand linked to her mate’s—disappeared toward the house.
He tucked her deeper into his body, his legs splayed. “You’re late.” A warning nip on her lower lip.
Sienna nipped back. “You knew I was on my way.”
Yes, he had, having allowed himself the rare luxury of keeping an eye on her through the mating bond. She’d known, had understood. “So?” He’d permitted everyone to believe Sienna and Judd were undertaking a normal session of psychic combat, had even forced himself to remain in the den rather than going with them, so as not to raise suspicions.
In truth, Judd and Sienna, as well as Walker, had been attempting to gauge her psychic stability. The psychic “valve” in Walker’s mind was an external control on the X-fire, but Sienna’s power remained an unknown for the most part. It was impossible to predict how it might develop and grow. None of them were just going to sit back and hope it would all work out for the best.
“It went really well,” she said with a relieved smile. “I’m emitting energy at a constant rate, but the level’s so low it’s being absorbed into the SnowDancer Web without having a discernible impact on any one individual.”
“I’m more interested in you, baby.” It infuriated him that he couldn’t protect her on the psychic plane, but he had rock-solid faith in Sienna’s capacity to master her incredible abilities.
“My shields are airtight, and Judd says the energy transference between me and Walker is becoming smoother as our brains adapt to the process.” A tender kiss, her fingers playing with the hair at his nape.
He bent his head so she could reach him more easily. “Any problems?”
“I don’t want to jinx it, but … so far, so good.”
He understood why she couldn’t give him a concrete answer—because no one had any neat solutions for an X, much less a cardinal. But his wolf didn’t panic, able to see the crimson and gold flame of her through the mating bond. Though always dangerous, it was stable. Yet in spite of that, he continued to sense a deep vulnerability and quiet fear within his mate. He hated that such fear lived in her even now, but Sienna was glad of it.
“I should be afraid of my strength,” she’d said fiercely. “It stops me from ever becoming lazy in my control.”
Hawke could follow her reasoning, accepted that she’d never be able to be as carefree as other women her age, but that didn’t alter his instincts when it came to her. Now, his wolf rubbed against his skin, nuzzling at her. “Since when are you superstitious?” he teased in an attempt to subdue the vestiges of fear and worry that lingered in her eyes.
“Since Evie made me watch three horror movies in a row the other night while you were on mountain patrol.” Her look of faux terror made him chuckle. “I missed you when you were gone. I’d like to come next time if I’m not on shift.”
He didn’t like being away from her overnight, but that particular patrol section was difficult, even for SnowDancers in wolf form. As a result, the duty was rotated between him, Riley, three of the more experienced senior soldiers, Riaz, Indigo, and a surprisingly nimble Tai. Judd could’ve done it, too, but Hawke had made an alpha decision to conserve the lieutenant’s telekinetic strength where possible, in case of unexpected attack or emergency. “It’s too dangerous,” he said now. “If you fall, you’ll shatter your bones.” Sienna’s psychic power might be immense, but physically she was far more breakable than a changeling.
Stubborn intransigence. “And you won’t?”
He growled. “You’re meant to be Psy. Be rational.”
“I can wait at base camp while you do the sweep. See, a compromise? It’s that shiny new word we’re trying to learn.”
“BRAT.” FRUSTRATED THOUGH he was, man and wolf both laughed, delighted with the woman who was his own. “I’ll talk it over with Riley,” he said, placing a finger on the lush fullness of her lips when they parted. “Rules.”
Biting lightly at his finger, Sienna tugged on his hair. “I hate that stupid rule.”
“Serves you right.”
“Riley’s so fair,” Sienna muttered, “I can’t ever argue when he decides something in your favor.”
“And vice versa.” It was integral to his and Sienna’s relationship that Hawke not be able to use the fact he was alpha to overrule her. However, Sienna’s place in the hierarchy meant the pack wouldn’t accept her as a free agent. Neither would such sudden lack of discipline be good for her—she’d made that point herself.
“Just like a wolf, I need the structure provided by the hierarchy,” she’d explained. “It suits the military way my mind was trained, helps me manage the X-fire.”
It had been decided that Riley, the most senior person in SnowDancer after Hawke, would be the one who gave Sienna her orders as a novice soldier, and who okayed or vetoed things Hawke would normally handle for anyone else in SnowDancer. In effect, Riley acted as her alpha.