Read Lance Online

Authors: Elle Thorne

Lance (2 page)

Chapter 3

M
ac pulled
up in front of Cross’s cabin at the top of Crag’s Peak on the Bear Canyon Mountain Range. She opened the Jeep’s door.

Buck stood next to the front porch. His ears twitched when she called his name. Walking toward Mac, Buck’s tail flicked wildly.

He wasn’t a dog, and it wasn’t like a dog wagging his tail, but there was something about the way the little deer did it that made her think he was glad to see her.

“Hey, there.” She leaned down, touching his soft fur. “You’re doing well.” He was. The little deer was flourishing.

“Mac!” Ariadne flew out the cabin’s front door, took the few stairs in one leap and wrapped her arms around Mac. “Good to see you.”

“Stir crazy? Missing people? What gives?” Mac laughed.

“No. Just…” A blush crept to Ariadne’s cheeks. “Will it sound crazy if I say you’re the closest thing to a sister—to family—except for Cross?” Sadness crossed her face.

Mac knew the story. The same thugs trying to kill Ariadne had killed her father, leaving her without family.

“No, it’s not crazy at all. You’ve become like a sister to me.”

And she had.

Mac didn’t have siblings. She had a mother who traveled the globe with her millionaire husband, spending tons of money on procedures and products, forever trying to look like she was decades younger.

It’s not like Mom wants a constant reminder she has a daughter the same age as she’s trying to appear.

And Mac had a father too, somewhere in one of the federal prisons that doubled as a country club. But he’d never really been her father. He’d cut out of her life before Mac could walk.

“Totally like a sister,” she hugged Ariadne with a tight squeeze.

“What am I missing out on?” Cross laughed as he approached.

Mac’s heart skipped a beat, like it did every time she saw Cross. He reminded her of Lance way too much. On the outside, anyway.

Lance was far more intense, and far more dangerous. Rebellious, too. A maverick. She was surprised he hadn’t ended up in front of the Shifter Council with charges brought against him for his reckless ways.

But no, he’d gone and followed his brother’s footsteps, joining the Compliance Unit, sent out to take care of those who were breaking shifter law and code.

And he’d left her behind.

After he’d couplebonded with her.

After he’d marked her as his for life.

After he’d given her the ability to heal quickly like a shifter.

Except she wasn’t a shifter.

She was marked as his mate. Forever.

Or so she thought. Until she found out about the witch doctor.

Maybe the joke’s on me. He’s back in the valley and I can feel him.

The witch doctor said I wouldn’t be able to.

Does that mean I’m still bonded to him? That he’s still bonded to me?

Bonded to the man I hate. Just fucking great.

Maybe it was time to pay that damned snake oil salesman of a witch doctor a visit.

At the very least, I’m due a refund.

Or maybe it was supposed to be like vaccinations—you needed a booster every so often.

Either way, I spent $500 to be free of him and I’m not.

“Mac?” Ariadne’s hand was on Mac’s shoulder, a concerned look in her eyes.

“Yeah.”

“Are you okay? You look like you were a million miles away.”

I wish.

Her body pulsed. God, did she ever wish.

T
hey talked Mac into it
. God knows, when the last thing Mac wanted to do was be around people, somehow Ariadne and Cross talked her into going to Astra and Kane’s for dinner.

“You can’t be a hermit forever,” Ariadne told Mac.

Wanna bet? I can give it a good run for its money.

But she didn’t want to disappoint Ariadne. And though Ariadne said she’d become close to the other shifters’ mates in the valley, Mac could tell she was closer to her.

She plastered a smile on her face as she stood behind Cross and Ariadne in front of Astra and Kane’s cabin at the top of one of the mountains that hugged Bear Canyon Valley.

Mac had met Astra and Kane, though she couldn’t say she’d hung out with them much.

Can’t say I’ve done that with anyone.

True. Since she and Lance split up, she’d dedicated her time to the Bear Canyon Wildlife Reserve. She spent more time traveling the region seeing to injured wildlife and rehabilitation than she did in her modest little cottage.

Assistants covered the clinic and the reserve while she traveled. More often than not, these days, it seemed Mac was being called to places outside the region. Even outside the state.

Twice she’d actually visited South America to help with a case. She had a passion for helping wildlife and a passion for getting away from the valley and the reminders of her time with Lance.

The front door opened. Astra, with her stunning glowing eyes and spun gold hair squealed with delight.

“You made it! And you’ve brought Mac!” She hugged Ariadne then hugged Mac.

Mac yielded to the hug, though she wasn’t really the huggy type.

“Sure you have enough food?” Cross laughed. “I brought my appetite and my bear’s appetite, too.”

“No worries.” Astra opened the door wider. “Mae and Doc are on their way over. And you know how much Mae cooks.”

Mac knew, too. She’d gotten to know Mae well, since Mae had raised Lance and his brothers. It was only natural; Mae was a part of her relationship with Lance.

A surge of guilt traveled through Mac. She’d avoided Mae—a lot. It was simply too difficult to be around a constant reminder of Lance.

Plus, after their breakup, then Lance moving away to work with the Compliance Unit, Mae had stopped in often to check on her, to see if there was a chance they’d get back together, insisting that Mac and Lance were fated mates, and all that other garbage.

If we were so damned fated, he wouldn’t have walked out on me. Especially not after couplebonding.

Especially that—it had ruined her ability to think of another man.

Ever.

Mac kept the smile plastered to her face, though she wanted to grimace at the idea of seeing Mae and thinking of Lance.

As if he ever leaves my mind for long, anyway.

Inside the cabin, a small cabin at that, though Kane had already begun to build an addition onto the back, the brothers Teague and Tanner—also taken in by Mae for a time during their younger years, were there with their mates, Kelsey and Marti. Missing was Marti’s son, Dominic, a young polar bear shifter.

Mac enjoyed the spirited little tyke’s sense of humor. “Where’s Dom?”

“Sleepover,” Marti said with a smile.

“Date night,” Tanner added, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Marti gave him a playful smack on the arm. “Quit that.”

Mae and Doc were noticeably absent.

“Let’s start. We’ve got appetizers,” Astra said with a singsong in her voice, clearly excited.

“Astra’s been practicing with puff pastries,” Kane expanded.

They sampled Astra’s crab puffs—damned good, as far as Mac was concerned; she’d be Astra’s guinea pig any day of the week.

The buzzing sensation she knew was Lance’s connection to her hadn’t waned all day, but now…

Holy buckets! The buzzing turned to an electrical charge coursing its way through her body.

No. Hell no. Say it isn’t so.

A knock sounded on the door.

It is so.

She didn’t need anyone to tell her Lance was outside the door.

Sweat broke out on her forehead and her upper lip. Not the sexy kind that was tiny drops, she knew it was the ugly kind of I just worked out like an MMA fighter kind.

Fuck.

She grabbed a napkin and dabbed.

Quit this. Quit this now.

As if chastising and scolding herself would yield the results she wanted.

Kane opened the door.

The air was sucked out of the cabin and out of her lungs. Everything began to spin, the room began to tilt.

Chapter 4

L
ance stood
outside the front door of Kane and Astra’s cabin with Mae and Doc. He breathed deeply, sucking oxygen in, willing himself, his heart, his bear and his soul to settle down. To not react.

Lance knew.

He’d have liked to not have known.

He’d have liked to not have felt.

He’d have liked to—

Who the fuck am I kidding?

The only thing I’d like is to have my fucking mate back.

MacKenzie Clarity.

He knew she was inside the cabin. He could sense it. He’d seen a Jeep just like hers when they’d first pulled up but he wasn’t sure…

Now he was.

His nerves were on fire with the awareness of her. He wondered if she were in the valley when he’d first come in, their bond, it wasn’t as strong as it used to be.

Has she found someone else? Is that why I’m not feeling her as intensely as I used to?

Once upon a time—long ago—before he fucked everything up by walking away from her, he could feel her from miles and miles away. Hell, the very day he left, he felt their connection even as his old faithful truck led him out of the valley and onto the life course he’d chosen. The Shifter Council’s Compliance Unit recommended Enforcers be unattached. Unmated.

He’d lied on his application. He never got caught.

He said he wasn’t couplebonded. Would telling the truth have gotten him barred? He didn’t want to find out.

Cross had joined. Lance followed.

Or so everyone thought. They didn’t realize Lance had an agenda.

He wanted to access their records. He wanted to know if the ones who killed his parents were punished.

If they weren’t—he wanted to do the punishing himself.

“What?”

Mae had asked something, something he completely missed because he almost couldn’t hear anything due to the sound of the ocean’s tide filling his head.

His bear roared, trying to compete with the tidal wave in his mind.

She was here.

Deal with it, moron,
he told himself.

As if he could. As if he could even look at another woman. Think of another woman. Hell, even be with another woman.

His cock swelled, because of Mac.

And years of no Mac.

And simply because—Mac.

He smiled at Mae and caught the look in his foster mother’s eyes.

It wasn’t pity; pity would have been kind. It was a soul-wrenching sadness.

Aunt Mae gets it.

Of course, she would, she lost Brad, her first mate. Look how many years it took for her to take another mate.

“I’m fine,” Lance said gruffly, giving her a hug. He knocked on the door, louder than he should have, with more ferocity that he’d planned.

Blame it on the bear.

Kane opened the door.

The aroma of crab and baked goods whooshed out of the room. It went completely unnoticed by Lance.

There was one scent, and one scent alone that stuck to him with more tenacity than the fiercest adhesive known.

He assessed the room swiftly, his eyes instantly drawing a bead on her face.

My MacKenzie.

Her eyes, that blue of the Caribbean sky on the very best of days, were locked on him. The intensity of her gaze was ferocious. He noticed her hair, the long blond mass she used to have was a shorter bob, barely touched her shoulders.

And damned sexy, that hair style.

He squared his shoulders, deliberately avoided looking at her mouth. He couldn’t handle seeing the lips that used to curve into a stunning smile with innocent glee. He couldn’t handle the same lips that tilted into a seductress’s pout, just before she’d take him into her hot mouth and then take him to places he never thought existed. Places that resulted in ecstasy and groans of release.

Yeah, need to stay away from that mouth.

Same high cheekbones, full, same strong jaw. Same defined eyebrows that expressed more emotion than some people’s entire face.

He was back. He’d been gone for four years, but now he had a year to consider re-enlisting.

Except there was nothing to reconsider—not really. He knew what he wanted. Completely. Totally. Forever.

Except there was one problem.

The expression in her eyes said,
no chance in hell.

He stepped in, operating on autopilot, following Mae and Doc into Kane and Astra’s cabin.

Lance deliberately pushed his focus away from Mac. He had to. It was that, or become transparent and let everyone read his emotions.

Astra hadn’t changed much. Same eerie eyes. Same light blond hair. Same quirky smile. Except now she was a woman, not the little girl he’d remembered before Doc took her to Florida to raise after her mother was killed.

“Lance!” Astra gave him a hug. “You haven’t changed.”

“You either. Nice to see you happy.” And it was good to see a smile on her face. Good to see her with a mate who clearly cherished her.

Poor Astra, losing her mother, going through a depression, Doc having to move her away from the memories and the pain, and even the danger, perhaps. Lance never did find out what was behind the attack on Astra’s mother.

He was introduced to a couple of grizzly shifters and their mates. Teague, Tanner, Kelsey, and Marti. Lance had heard of the shifters. They were two more of Mae’s “nephews.”

He glanced at his aunt Mae. The woman was incredible. Too bad she never had kids of her own. Or maybe this was why she didn’t. Perhaps some grand design made it so she could be the foster mother she was.

Mae was giving Cross a hug.

Cross.

Lance would need to face this as well. Here we go. He took a step closer. “Hey, brother.” He greeted his older sibling.

“Lance.” Cross’s smile was strained. “How are things?”

Lance knew why his brother’s face looked like he’d just taken a sip of unsweetened lemonade, because he was sure Cross was going through the same thing Lance was.

For some damned reason their bears hated each other with such passion that the roaring and snarling in their heads was overwhelming, often drowning outside noises.

Lance put his hand out to Cross, ignoring his bear’s bristling growly protests.

Cross grabbed his hand, but instead of shaking it, he pulled him into a hug. “It’s good to see you, regardless of this…”

This. The bears. The hatred. The enmity. The competition.

“Yes, it is,” Lance agreed, ignoring his bear.

Mae put her hand on each of their shoulders. “You’re both home for a year. Can we figure this out? It’s not healthy.”

It sure as hell hadn’t been healthy. The two brothers had nearly killed each other when they were younger and shifted into their bears.

Though both of them were in the Shifter Council Compliance Unit, but they didn’t work anywhere near each other. Oh, at first the Unit Commanders had tried to put them together in the same squad, thinking brothers would be good together, and of course, like everyone else, they’d assumed Lance was following his big brother Cross’s footsteps.

He and Cross had been adamant about the fact they would
not
work together. Period.

And they hadn’t. Four years, they hadn’t seen each other.

They’d texted once or twice during the holidays or birthdays.

Nothing more.

No emails.

No calls.

No “where are you working this week, bro?”

None of that.

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