Home > Kiss of Snow (Psy-Changeling #10)

Kiss of Snow (Psy-Changeling #10)
Author: Nalini Singh

Chapter 1

HAWKE FOLDED HIS arms and leaned back against the solid bulk of his desk, eyes on the two young females in front of him. Hands clasped behind themselves and legs slightly spread in the “resting” stance, Sienna and Maria looked like the SnowDancer soldiers they were—except for the fact that their hair straggled in a wild mess around their faces, matted with mud, crushed leaves, and other forest debris. Then there was the torn clothing and the sharp, acrid scent of blood.

His wolf bared its teeth.

“Let me get this straight,” he said in a calm tone that had Maria turning pale under skin that was a warm, smooth brown where it wasn’t bruised and bloody. “Instead of staying on watch and protecting the pack’s defensive border, you two decided to have your own personal dominance battle.”

Sienna, of course, met his gaze—something no wolf would’ve done in the circumstances. “It w—”

“Be quiet,” he snapped. “If you open your mouth again without permission, I’m putting both of you in the pen with the two-year-olds.”

Those amazing cardinal eyes—white stars on a background of vivid black—went a pure ebony, which he knew full well indicated fury, but she clenched her jaw. Maria, on the other hand, had gone even paler. Good.

“Maria,” he said, focusing on the petite changeling whose size belied her skill and strength in both human and wolf form. “How old are you?”

Maria swallowed. “Twenty.”

“Not a juvenile.”

Maria’s thick black curls, heavy with mud, bounced dully as she shook her head.

“Then explain this to me.”

“I can’t, sir.”

“Right answer.” No reason they could offer up would be a good enough excuse for the bullshit fight. “Who threw the first punch?”

Silence.

His wolf approved. It mattered little who’d incited the exchange when neither had walked away from it, and the fact of the matter was, they’d been meant to work as a team, so they’d take their punishment as a team—with one caveat.

“Seven days,” he said to Maria. “Confined to quarters except for one hour each day. No contact with anyone while you’re inside.” It was a harsh punishment—wolves were creatures of Pack, of family, and Maria was one of the most bubbly, social wolves in the den. To force her to spend all that time alone was an indication of just how badly she’d blundered. “The next time you decide to step off watch, I won’t be so lenient.”

Maria chanced meeting his gaze for a fleeting second before those rich brown eyes skated away, her dominance no match for his. “May I attend Lake’s twenty-first?”

“If that’s the use you want to make of your hour on the day.” Yeah, it made him a bastard to force her to miss most of her boyfriend’s big party, especially when the two were taking the first, careful steps into a relationship, but she’d known exactly what she was doing when she decided to engage in a pissing contest with a fellow soldier.

SnowDancer was strong as a pack because they watched each other’s backs. Hawke would not allow stupidity or arrogance to eat away at a foundation he’d rebuilt from the ground up after the bloody events that had stolen both his parents and savaged the pack so badly it had taken more than a decade of tight isolation for them to recover.

Holding on to his temper by a very thin thread, he turned his attention to Sienna. “You were,” he said, the wolf very much in his voice, “specifically ordered not to get into any physical altercations.”

Sienna said nothing in response. It didn’t matter—her rage was a hot pulse against his skin, as raw and stormy as Sienna herself. When she was like this, the wildness of her barely contained, it was hard to believe she’d come into his pack Silent, her emotions blockaded behind so much ice, it had infuriated his wolf.

Maria shifted on her feet when he didn’t immediately continue.

“You have something to say?” he asked the woman, who was one of the best novice soldiers in the pack when she didn’t let her temper get in the way.

“I started it.” Color high on her cheekbones, shoulders tight. “She was just defending—”

“No.” Sienna’s tone was steady, resolute, the anger buried under a wall of frigid control. “I’ll take my share of the blame. I could’ve walked away.”

Hawke narrowed his eyes. “Maria, go.”

The novice soldier hesitated for a second, but she was a subordinate wolf, her natural instinct to obey her alpha too powerful to resist—even though it was clear she wanted to remain behind to support Sienna. Hawke noted and approved of the display of loyalty enough that he didn’t rebuke her for the hesitation.

The door closed behind her with a quiet snick that seemed shotgun-loud inside the office’s heavy silence. Hawke waited to see what Sienna would do now that they were alone. To his surprise, she maintained her position.

Reaching forward, he gripped her chin, turning her face to the side so that the light fell on the smooth lines of it. “You’re lucky you don’t have a broken cheekbone.” The flesh around her eye was going to turn all shades of purple as it was. “Where else are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.”

His fingers tightened on her jaw. “Where else are you hurt?”

“You didn’t ask Maria.” Stubborn will in every word.

“Maria is a wolf, able to take five times the damage of a Psy female and keep going.” Which was the reason Sienna had been ordered not to get into physical confrontations with the wolves. That and the fact that she didn’t have her lethal abilities under total control. “Either you answer the question, or I swear to God I really will put you in the pen.” It would be the most humiliating of experiences and she knew it, every muscle in her body taut with viciously withheld anger.

“Bruised ribs,” she gritted out at last, “bruised abdomen, wrenched shoulder. Nothing’s broken. It should all heal within the next week.”

Dropping his grip on her chin, he said, “Hold out your arms.”

A hesitation.

The wolf growled, loud enough that she flinched. “Sienna, I’ve given you a long leash since you came into the pack, but that ends today.” Insubordination from a juvenile could be punished and forgiven. In an adult, in a soldier , it was a far more serious matter. Sienna was nineteen going on twenty, a ranked novice—letting her actions slide wasn’t even an option. “Hold out your fucking arms.”

Something in his tone must’ve gotten through to her because she did as ordered. A few small cuts on that creamy skin kissed gold by the sun, but no gouges that would’ve spoken of claws. “So Maria managed to rein in the wolf.” If she hadn’t, he’d have kicked her right back into training. Losing control of your temper was one thing; losing control of your wolf was far more dangerous.

Sienna’s hands fisted as she dropped them to her sides.

Looking up, he met those eyes of absolute, unbroken black. It was clear she was fighting the elemental impulse to go at him, but she continued to hold her position. “How far did you go?” Her control was impressive—and it irritated him in a way it shouldn’t have. But then, nothing about Sienna Lauren had ever been easy.

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