Read Lance Online

Authors: Elle Thorne

Lance (6 page)

Chapter 12

E
xcept now
, Mac was so very near Lance.

Though her body was fighting to recover from the exposure to the cold—

Though her head throbbed from being hurt.

Though her mind was pushing him away—

That damned tattoo felt like it was on fire. Then it felt like it was moving, undulating in waves against her skin.

What the heck?

And her body ached with the need for him. Not just sexually. Not just emotionally. It was an ache that transcended all the different planes of need. It encompassed her very core in a grip tighter than she could bear.

“What have you done, MacKenzie. Why? Why this tattoo?”

His words reverberated, bouncing in her mind, echoing in the chambers of her emotions.

What had she done? No different than he’d done. He’d tried to cut her out of his life by leaving. She’d tried to cut him out of hers in a different way.

She opened her eyes. Lance loomed in front of her. A large vision that still took her breath away, still made her heart beat.

His head was buried in his hands, his profile one that mirrored desolation. The same fucking desolation she’d felt in her heart every day since he’d left.

Mac put her hand on his arm. The surge of energy that traveled through her body and culminated in her nerve endings gave her an awareness as if she’d just opened her eyes to a new dimension.

Lance turned his head slowly, as though dreading what he’d see.

“What is that about?” His voice was a tortured croak.

Mac exhaled. “Don’t worry. It didn’t work.”

“Work?” His brow furrowed. “How was it supposed to work?”

“What does it matter?” She closed her eyes, shutting him out.

“I won’t make it that easy for you.” His words broke through her barrier and hit the bull’s eye of her fury.

Mac’s eyes flew open. “Easy? What did you make easy for me at all? Leaving me to pick up the pieces of my broken heart?”

She cursed herself for telling him he’d left her brokenhearted. Struggling to sit up, she pushed herself only to find she was weak.

Lance tried to help her, his hands on her shoulders.

She shoved his hands away.

“I don’t need your help. I don’t need anything from you now.”

Except…

She didn’t want to admit to herself she did need something. She so did. She needed his love. Despite the failed tattoo, despite Ciara’s failed solution.

First thing I’m doing when I get home is contacting Ciara or Larsen. Someone had better have an explanation why this was such an epic failure.

“You may not need anything, but I owe you something.”

She glanced at him sideways, from the corner of her eye. What did he think he owed her?

“And that would be…”

“An explanation. Why I did what I did.”

“Is that your way of trying to change the way things are?”

Lance glanced down at his hands. She noticed they were clenched into fists, his knuckles white, the forearms she’d loved had tendons popping out, muscles hard with tension. He looked up from his fists, his eyes locking with hers. The tormented deep blue color had shards of amber swimming within. “No. We… I… my bear and I… we both know we’re done. We know you don’t want us and what we did was unforgivable.”

“Go on. Why? Why did you shatter everything we had?”

His gritted his teeth, the sound was painful, a harbinger of the emotions within him.

“I’ve had questions.” Lance rose to his feet, he paced in front of her, quads flexing in those legs that belonged on a professional athlete. He passed in front of the light, eclipsing it, then releasing it to shine as he kept pacing. “I thought I would get the answers when I joined the Compliance Unit.”

Did you?

She was dying to ask but didn’t, because it was clear he still had more to say.

“No. I didn’t but…” He froze, turned to face her. “The recruiter said the Enforcer Unit had a high mortality rate—”

Mac cocked her head. She was sure from the way he paused that something important was coming next.

“I didn’t want to die and leave you—our love—behind.”

“But you didn’t die.” Her voice carried all the poison of four painful years.

“I’m guessing you wish I had.” Creases of frustration and worry lined his face.

Not in a million years. I’d have given my life for yours.
She couldn’t say that. She couldn’t say anything.

The only thing she could do was find out what went wrong with Ciara’s procedure and have it rectified.

“I’d like to go home.”

Chapter 13

L
ance bit back a response
. A damned angry response, at that.

That’s all she has to say?

“You can’t go home now. There’s a blizzard underway. I could barely see well enough to get you here, and now it’s a thousand times worse.”

Mac glared at him.

“I’m not lying. Call Mae. Call Ariadne. Call anyone you want to verify.”

Her look as much as told him to fuck off. She looked around.

“This is the cabin you bought? The one I never got to see?”

“Damn.” He fought to contain his temper. “You don’t have to make it sound like that. When I bought it, it wasn’t much more than a shack I ignored for years. Judge set it up for me. Everything you see here, it’s courtesy of Judge. Well, I paid for it, sure. But he arranged for the renovations and the setup.”

“So you’re back? For good?” She threw her legs over the side.

Lance moved to get out of her way, but not too far, because he wasn’t sure if she was strong enough to stand.

For good?

Was it for good? Maybe. It would depend on her answer. If she wanted nothing to do with him, then he’d re-up with the Compliance Unit. What else could he do?

Lance loved his mountain, loved his cabin, and he loved the valley. But none of those mattered if Mac wasn’t a part of his life.

“Never mind.” She spat her sentiment out as she put her weight on her legs.

Clearly he’d taken too long to reply.

He studied her silhouette. The curves he’d loved so much four years ago still had the same effect on him. He couldn’t imagine anyone else with her.

“MacKenzie.”

“What?” She snapped her head to face him. “What? I don’t want you saying something you don’t mean. I don’t want anything from you.”

“I’m not going to say something I don’t mean. You know me better.”

“Then what?”

“I’d stay in a heartbeat.” He paused. “I’d stay if you didn’t hate me.”

“I can’t be with you. I’m not doing heartache again.”

Again.

First her parents disappoint her. Now I did. I don’t blame her.

She studied him, looking up and down. “What happened to you?”

Shit. He’d forgotten to change clothes from the fight. Gaze stayed focused on the blood and ripped shirt, the abrasions on his arms, a scratch on his lip that had already begun its shifter-quick healing.

“It’s nothing. No big deal.”

“Tell me.”

Why?
Yes, he wanted to be hostile. To ask her why. To know what she
wanted from him
since she clearly didn’t
want him.

The look on her face brought him up short, shattering his hostility, melting his resolve. The innocent, hurt Mac he’d met years ago, vulnerable from her parents’ neglect stared back at him, in the depth of her eyes, where she probably didn’t even realize it resided.

“Cross. His bear. Mine.”

“The same thing from before?”

“The same thing from all my life. Our bears and their consummate hate, their determination to kill each other.”

“I’d have thought that would have gone away. Have you seen each other much since you—he—since you both left?”

“We haven’t seen each other at all.” Lance moved and leaned against the bed. “His bear is hell-bent on killing mine.”

“And you still don’t know why?”

He didn’t know five years ago when he’d discussed it with Mac, and he didn’t know now.

“No clue. He attacked me when I was coming after you. It caused Mae a bit of distress.”

“I thought your bears couldn’t shift without you allowing them to?”

A long exhaled breath was ripped from his lungs. “There seems to be a time when we can’t control them. I know my brother wouldn’t want to kill me. But his bear does. And so his bear clearly wrestles control from him. My bear does the same. I can’t stop his appearance when Cross’s bear comes out.”

Definitely a good thing, since Cross’s bear could kill me in my human body.

“Still no clue why that happens?”

MacKenzie’s pulse changed. Her scent had changed too. Lance’s bear realized it before Lance did, and alerted him. Gone was the scent of her intense displeasure with being around him. Her scent was friendlier; her pulse had normalized—almost completely.

Could they at least be cordial? Could Lance hope for a friendship?

“None. What’s the tattoo about? What do you mean—it didn’t work?”

MacKenzie eyed him, reminding him of a wild animal that wasn’t sure if it could trust.

She strode toward the desk he had set up in the corner and sat in the chair, leaned forward, elbows on knees, knuckles on chin. This was the farthest place she could sit in the whole room.

So much for the cordial and friendlier thing.

“A man said he could help me.” She paused. “He gave me an address.”

“What man? What are you—” He pushed back the jealousy that reared its dark and ugly head. He’d walked away. He had no right to be jealous. No right to be pissed.

“Just a man. I met him through a friend. He clearly knows shifters.”

When did she get to know shifters and when did she meet someone who clearly knew shifters?

“So what did this man who clearly knows shifters do?” He wasn’t sure he kept the jealousy or irritation from his tone.

“He has a cousin in Seattle. She put some sort of solution into the ink of a tattoo gun. Then she did this.” MacKenzie waved at the tattoo.

“What was it supposed to do?” He hadn’t heard of this before. “Did you pay them?” Was she suckered?

MacKenzie shook her head, as if disappointed. “Five hundred.”

Five hundred dollars? For what?
“What was supposed to happen?”

She looked away, as if she didn’t want to tell him. “Break the couplebond. Set me free of you.”

The searing heat of pain drove through his chest. He couldn’t breathe. His lungs were paralyzed, immobile. They left him struggling for air. She was trying to break their bond. Lance turned to face the window so she couldn’t see the expression on his face. He studied the whiteness outside.

A whiteness so void, so empty, it was like looking into the reflection of his heart, his life, and anything that involved MacKenzie not being a part of it.

Chapter 14

M
ac wished
she’d been sitting anywhere but where she was.

Why?

Because she could see Lance’s face in the window’s reflection. The whiteness outside made his reflection and his face easily read.

His expressions told of his pain. He looked as if he’d had the worst news ever.

How can this possibly hurt him when he walked away, never looked back, never reached out?

She thought of the Lance she’d always known. The Lance who took a long time to open up, even though they’d been together. The Lance that didn’t want to share his pain, didn’t want to let anyone into his chamber of demons.

That’s what he’d called his weaknesses—his chamber of demons. She’d tried to tell him what he thought was a weakness was not. It was a normal reaction to life’s curveballs.

Then again, who was she to speak? She had her own chamber of demons. It just happened that her demons were different from his.

She studied his face, his back, the way his spine was stiff, his shoulders squared. She knew him too well. She knew exactly what he was doing. He was trying to work his way through the notion she wanted him out of her heart and out of her life.

A part of her ached for his pain. She knew it too well.

Shit. She’d lived it for four years.

“I did this to you.” His voice was low. “I pushed you to that extreme.”

She wanted to tell him something to make him feel better. She couldn’t. It would be a lie. Yes, he did push her to this. He was the solitary driving force behind her misery.

“I’m going back to Seattle. Back to that witch doctor woman.”

“You should get a refund.”

A refund from a witch doctor?

The notion was so damned wacky a smile made its way to her face, though she could see he was dead serious. Sometimes he said the funniest things.

“I owe you. Let me go with you.”

She did a double take. “Why?”

“Seems the least I could do. Were we too young when we couplebonded? Did I rush you?”

Every pore in her body screamed no, but she remained silent.

“The thing that kills me…” He whirled around. “How much I still want you, need you, crave you. And my bear’s the same way.”

It kills me too.

The tattoo burned, the sensation traveling throughout her body.

“I’ll take you home in the morning or as soon as the snow stops and the roads are clear. I’ll make sure you stay safe.”

Lance strode toward the door, opened it, and closed it behind himself.

Mac then heard the front door open, and close.

Not even two minutes after he’d walked out of the room, she saw his grizzly lumbering through the snow, passing the same window he’d just been staring out of.

His bear’s stride was slow, his posture dejected.

Chapter 15

L
ance stayed
in his bear form, took cover in a cave, and watched the cabin, tuned into MacKenzie’s heartrate. He knew she’d spent a sleepless night, tossing and turning. On occasion he saw her silhouette in the window, looking for him.

He knew when she fell asleep.

Lance concentrated, pushing his bear back, the bone crunching, sinew realigning creaking sounds echoed in the little cave. He snuck into the cabin, and made a call to Mae. Gave her a quick rundown of the situation, told Mae he wouldn’t be there when she got there, then slipped out when he heard Mac stirring.

Lance resumed his watchful spot, staying in his human form, bundled in his coat, listening to MacKenzie’s heartbeat, slow and steady in her slumber.

He heard the footfalls, coming from the back of the cave. He recognized the shuffle of an old friend. The cave had a tiny opening in the back, where the footsteps were coming from, one that led to all the tunnels that had been in place under the mountain range for more than a couple hundred years.

Story had it, one of the local shifters, a Native American and grandfather to one of Bear Canyon Valley’s residents had put the system in place to keep shifters safe from attack.

Lance was now fully shifted into his human body. “Griz.” He called out to his old friend.

The old shifter he hadn’t seen in ages—more than four years—approached.

“Quite a storm.” Griz waved toward the cave’s entrance, where the sun reflecting off the snow blinded their vision.

“Yeah.” Lance studied the broad-shouldered, shifter. The scar on the older man’s face, splitting his eyebrow and reaching to his jawline had become lighter in color.

Lance hadn’t seen Griz since he’d made the decision more than four years ago to join the Compliance Unit.

“You show up at the damnedest times.”

Griz had always been elusive, rarely crossing into Lance’s life except at times when it seemed Lance needed advice or guidance.

“That right?” Griz cleared his throat, raised his brows.

“Seems like.”

“That would mean you’re in a dilemma, right now, wouldn’t it?” Griz cocked his head. “Are you?”

“No.”

“Sure. Because everyone wants to sleep in a cold cave when they could be in their warm cabin.” His laugh was low, but not overly derisive. “It’s what I’d do.”

“Maybe a small dilemma.”

“This involves the scent coming from the cabin?”

Lance narrowed his eyes. The older man always had too good a handle on matters. “Yeah.”

“That’s the one you couplebonded with years ago. What gives?”

“She got some kind of bullshit voodoo tattoo that’s supposed to break our couplebond. But it didn’t work. So now she’s going back. And…” Lance scrubbed his face with his hands, his days’ growth making scratchy sounds. “Hell, I don’t know.”

“Someone’s approaching.” Griz had the look of a man who heard something no one else could hear. Which was exactly what Lance was feeling, because he couldn’t hear anyone approaching.

He turned his back on Griz, stepped out of the cave and into the snow to get a look down the mountainside.

“I hear an engine. I don’t see anyone—” He turned back. “Griz?” The older shifter was gone. “Griz?”

Silence greeted him from the back of the cave.

Mae and Doc stepped out of Doc’s truck.

Doc glanced around. “Judge did a fine job with the cabin.”

Lance had to agree. His little brother did it up right.

Mae knocked on the cabin door. “Lance?”

MacKenzie opened the door. “Mae? Doc? What are you doing here?”

“We came to get you. The weather’s cleared, the roads aren’t too bad. We called a tow truck for your Jeep.”

“But Lance—”

Mae wrapped a blanket around MacKenzie’s shoulders. “Lance had to go.”

Lance thanked his lucky stars for the best goddamned foster mother a guy could ask for.

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