Authors: Elle Thorne
a sleepless night feeling Lance’s presence in the near vicinity. Finally, when the sun came up, fatigue and the events from the day before pulled her into a deep slumber.
, judging from the sun’s golden glow, she woke. Hunger pangs made her stomach growl. A knock at the door must have woken her.
Mae and Doc to the rescue.
Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with me. Maybe he’s walking away again. For another four years.
She had to see the witch doctor again. Period.
wo days later
, Mac was back at work in the clinic. She was lucky her cottage home was next to her job. So she didn’t have to drive to work.
Her tattoo still felt alive, then alternately as if it was on fire.
Lance was clearly still in the valley, though he’d vanished when she’d been at his house.
She needed to get this taken care of. She needed to get to Seattle. Like now.
The problem was, she didn’t have a car and the shop guy said it would be another week.
She’d practically screeched in his ear when he’d told her.
It didn’t seem as big a deal two days ago, but now… what with the tattoo acting up.
Yeah, it was a big deal.
Maybe I can borrow Mae’s car for a quick trip.
She was just reaching for the phone to call Mae when the bell above the clinic door pealed, signaling someone had opened the door.
Mac glanced up.
“You.” It was Larsen. The witch doctor’s cousin.
“Yes.” His scar had faded from the last time she’d seen him, though it still marked his face with a white line—just not as white.
“I was going to see your cousin tomorrow. You said you’d help me. You didn’t. She didn’t.”
“I said you’d get what you needed.”
What I needed?
“And that was?”
“To not weaken your bond.”
“So I guess it’s no surprise to you that it didn’t work. That the couplebond hasn’t lessened.”
She controlled her fury. She had to. As much as she wanted to scream at him, she didn’t want him to call his cousin and tell her not to help Mac with a redo.
He nodded. “I figured as much, since the shifter you want to shove from your life is back in it.”
“So you knew that whatever she was doing to me wouldn’t work. That it would be worse. That it’s a sham. That there’s no way to undo a couplebond.”
It was getting harder and harder not to want to rip the man’s throat out for tricking her.
“No, to the contrary. There’s a very definite way to undo a couplebond. I couldn’t have you pursuing that. So, if my ruse made you think that it worked…” He shrugged.
“A placebo. You made me think it was working. Until I found out it wasn’t. The hard way.”
Did he have any idea how difficult life was with this? Without Lance?
“I apologize for that, young lady.”
“Not. Good. Enough.”
“That man needs you in his life. You’re the only salvation for his tormented soul. He’s the salvation for yours.”
“How do you know him?
at Mae’s profile. “Where are we going?”
He was pretty sure he knew the answer to that already. This was the way to MacKenzie’s.
“A quick errand.”
So why was his radar going off then?
“What have you planned, Aunt Mae?”
“Lance.” She glanced at him, taking her eyes from the road for just a moment. “Have I ever done anything that wasn’t for your good?”
He couldn’t argue that. He studied the flying landscape. He should have known when she invited him over for lunch that she had an agenda.
She pulled into the Bear Canyon Wildlife Reserve Vet Clinic. “I promise. This won’t be too painful.”
Yeah. Every time I see MacKenzie is more painful than the previous time.
He saw a car in the driveway. Was that Ariadne’s? Ariadne had told him she and MacKenzie were friends.
Mae parked. Lance got her door, then the door to the clinic.
“What the hell is going on here?”
Cross, Ariadne, Mac—surprise, surprise.
Griz was there.
Cross wore a scowl on his face.
Lance was sure this was from his bear. He fought to keep his bear contained.
“Seems like there’s a party going on here.” Lance’s bear bristled, clearly riled up by Cross’s bear.
MacKenzie looked from Lance to Mae then to Griz. “We were just having a conversation when Cross and Ariadne walked up.” She glanced at Lance and Mae. “Who called this meeting together?”
Griz nodded. “Call me Griz.”
“And who are you, Griz?” MacKenzie seemed to get stuck on the name Griz. Lance wondered what she thought his name was. She continued, “How do you fit in? Why have you called this assembly?”
“I should have done this long ago.” His face grew sad. “Long, long ago.”
Griz looked at Lance. “I was your father’s brother.” Then he turned to Cross. “And your father’s too.”
“We had the same father,” Lance countered.
Griz shook his head. “No. Your father and his father were half-brothers. Your father—” he pointed to Lance, “—killed Cross’s father, then took the baby—you—” he pointed to Cross, “—to raise. Cross’s father wasn’t the best sort, but one brother killing the other—I’m thinking Cross’s bear remembers that. And in the way of bears, it wants retribution.”
That’s a lot to fucking absorb. My dad killed Cross’s dad? We had different dads?
Lance shook his head. “What about my parents, who killed them?”
“Cross’s father’s family. Vengeance.”
Cross squinted at Griz, then Lance. “So, we’re not brothers?”
“You are cousins. Raised as brothers.”
This was too much to process.
“So his family,” he pointed to Cross, “killed my family.”
“Yes, after your father killed his father.”
Lance crossed his arms over his chest. “And you’re another brother.”
Cross stepped forward. “And you’ve been here all along, in the mountain.”
“I am. I was born Larsen del Cruz. I go by Griz. I’m merely doing my duty. Keeping my nephews safe. From the world. From each other. From bad choices.”
Mae, Ariadne, and MacKenzie were silent, standing next to each other, at the counter. Lance wondered what they thought about this.
Lance turned his attention back to Griz. “What about Judge?”
“He’s your brother. Same parents as you.” He nodded at Lance.
Lance was curious. “Does he know about you?”
“You all do. But I asked each of you to keep it a secret.”
“And we all did.” Cross looked at Lance.
“That you did,” Griz agreed.
Griz heaved a long harsh breath. “Been quite a burden. Glad to let it out.”
they’d just learned a lot. That they’d had a bombshell dropped on them. She didn’t want to be disrespectful, but she had her own problem.
Everyone’s arrival had interrupted her talk with Larsen—Griz—whatever the hell his name was.
They all turned to look at her.
“You—my—there’s another unresolved matter.”
Lance’s face was stoic, but in the depths of his eyes, his bear flashed golden flames.
She couldn’t bring herself to say what she had to say. She couldn’t voice her failed attempt to break their couplebond. Not in front of all these people.
Lance cleared his throat. “Could I have a minute with MacKenzie, please?”
He opened the door, and one by one they all filed out. Mae, Griz, Ariadne.
He turned toward Mac.
A roar erupted in the room.
On hind legs, Cross, in his bear form swiped at Lance.
Lance never stood a chance. He couldn’t back up, he was against the filing table that held brochures and business cards.
Cross’s claws slashed through Lance’s shirt.
Blood bloomed scarlet on Lance’s shirt.
Cross’s bear roared and reached for Mac.
Another roar filled the room.
A huge grizzly with a jagged scar on its muzzle stood between Mac and Cross’s bear.
Griz reared back, standing taller, he towered over Cross’s bear. He bellowed, mouth wide, saliva dripping from canines that were lethally long.
Her waiting room was going to be a blood bath. Mac didn’t know what she could do. Just outside the door, Mae and Ariadne watched, eyes wide.
Mae’s dark eyes were a brilliant indigo blue, sparkling, though her face was pale. Mae raised her arms. Behind Mae, lightning flashed across the sky and the rumble of thunder crashed through the bears’ roars.
Griz’s bear swiped at Cross’s bear, connecting with Cross’s flesh and fur. Blood spurted,
Lance was leaning against the counter, his face ghostly white beneath his olive complexion.
Mac’s tattoo had gone ice cold, chilled fingers of dread pierced her skin. Her veins coursed with glacier water. She could feel Lance’s heartbeat begin a slow fade.
He needed to go into a healing hibernation. Oh yeah, Mac knew all about healing to hibernate. Lance had told her all about hibernation healing, the day after they’d faced the wolves.
, no,” she whispered, not audible above the thunder and the bears’ growls.
Mac ran to Lance.
“Go. This is—” He gasped for a breath and more blood flowed onto his already saturated shirt. “—go, MacKenzie. I don’t want you hurt.”
He didn’t want her hurt? He was dying. She could feel his essence and strength flowing out of him. She could feel it from the couplebond between them that was stronger than ever.
riz is going
to kill Cross.” She didn’t know this for sure, but the look in Griz’s bear eyes petrified her.
“No. I can’t let him kill my brother.”
Lance stumbled forward between the two bears. He faced Griz, his back to Cross.
Time stood still.
It was as if they were in a tunnel that was getting smaller and the spotlight was on the two bears and the mortally wounded man who stood between them.
The bears were frozen. Griz’s claw was raised high, ready to strike Cross’s bear. Cross was lunging forward.
Then there was Lance.
In the middle.
In his human body.
“No.” Lance stumbled forward. “You will not hurt my brother.” He almost pitched face forward into Griz’s fur covered body.
Mac couldn’t just sit back and watch the catastrophic train wreck that was happening between the bears and her mate.
“Stop this!” she yelled. She ran between them, wrapped her arms around Lance’s waist to keep him from collapsing.
She heard the creaking sounds, the bones crunching. She knew that sound all too well.
Cross and Griz had shifted into their human forms.
They reached for Lance, helping Mac hold him up.
“He needs to shift.” Cross’s tone caught Mac off-guard.
She glanced at his face. Remorse was the only emotion there.
“Is this over?” Griz’s tone was gruff. “Can I count on this being done? For good?”
“And your bear? Where does he stand on this?” There was enough of a growl in Griz’s voice to let Mac know his bear was close to the surface.
Cross looked at Lance. Then he glanced at Ariadne. Something changed in his face.
“Family.” Cross kept his eyes on Ariadne. “Family is the most important thing. My bear is coming to a realization. What Lance and I do, who we are, has nothing to do with the mistakes our fathers made. We are brothers.”
Mac felt Lance’s heartbeat falter. That meant he was losing the battle. His blood loss was too much for his body. “He needs to heal. Now. Let’s get him to the back.”
The idea of losing Lance ripped her to shreds, far more than his vanishing from her life had. She couldn’t bear the notion of Lance being dead.
No. That she couldn’t do. Ever. If he wanted to live life without her—well that wasn’t in her control. But having him dead was simply not an option.
Griz and Cross carried Lance to the large examination room in the back, the one reserved for large animals, with no table, but with hay in the corner. Where horses and cattle, and even a deer had been brought. They gingerly placed him on the hay.
Mac put a folded blanket under his head.
“Shift. You need to heal. Shift.” She begged of him.
She looked up at Griz. “What?”
“He has no reason to heal. He has no reason to live.”
It dawned on her. Lance had no idea her heart had changed.
Nah, my heart never changed.
Her heart had always been his.
Seeing him almost die. Knowing that she almost lost him
She leaned close to his cheek, her hand on his head, tucked in his hair.
“Come back to me, Lance. I want you. I need you.”
Then she said the words she’d never spoken. Not once. The words she couldn’t have spoken and couldn’t have been dragged out of her by wild horses.
“I love you.”
She felt his morphing. She felt his heartbeat skip then give a strong beat. In her mind, where she was the closest to Lance, she felt his sinew and tendons stretching. She sensed his bones lengthening.
Mac backed up, but kept her hand on his head. She closed her eyes and rested her head against his, let her breathing synchronize with his.
Her fingers were in plush fur.
Mac lay with him, not rising to eat or drink. She lay with him for hours and hours until sleep took her.
She heard voices, somewhere in her subconscious.
“Let her be.” This came from Griz.
“Is she okay?” Mae’s voice was colored with concern.
“She’s finally going to be.”
“And Lance?” Cross asked.
“He will heal,” Griz said. “It will only be hours, now that he’s shifted. “Let’s leave them. They have a lot of catching up to do.”