Read Lance Online

Authors: Elle Thorne

Lance

Lance
Elle Thorne

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Elle Thorne Newsletter

ABOUT THE STORY

L
ance del Cruz
has just finished his tour with the Shifter Council Compliance Unit. Being an Enforcer wasn’t difficult, it was too easy, actually. He’s had his share of hunting rovers and doling out justice for the Shifter Council. He’s going home to the cabin he’s only managed to visit in short spurts for the last four years while he served the Council.

He’s making one stop on the way to the cabin, to say hi to Mae, the one who gave Cross and his brothers a home during their younger, darker days.

Except Mae has a favor to ask him. And there’s this other little complication… A luscious, curvy thing called Mac—short for MacKenzie. Damned if he can resist her.

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v. 2

Chapter 1

M
acKenzie Clarity
—Mac to anyone who knew her—stood at the counter in the front office of the Bear Canyon Wildlife Reserve Vet Clinic. She was putting together the order for next week.

A disturbance hit her body with the same intensity of a storm brewing.

She knew. Right away.

Lance.

She’d felt him enter the valley. That damned bear shifter was back.

Did he look the same? Had he changed? Those dark blue eyes, almost the color of midnight, that chiseled face, so characteristic of the del Cruz brothers.

Lance.

The middle brother.

The heartbreaker.

The destroyer of souls.

And yet, though he’d destroyed and utterly devastated her when he left four years ago, here she was.

Still standing.

Still alive.

At least on the outside.

On the inside, she’d been an iceberg, working, taking care of the animals.

On the inside, she’d been shredded as if her heart had been shoved into a wood chipper.

The air felt full of electricity, ready to crack with any disturbance.

Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m going to crack.

She kept her eyes on the paperwork in front of her.

Her phone buzzed.

A text from her new best friend Ariadne—though it felt like she’d known Ariadne forever.

Best friend or not, she’d never discussed Lance with Ariadne. She wasn’t sure she could say his name out loud. Not without reliving the agony.

The side of her neck burned with a ferocity that was more than the usual dull throb that persisted.

Another sign he was here.

Fury flew through her. That damned thing was supposed to have been taken care of.

Fucking witch doctor. Took her money but failed to deliver.

She glanced at the text from Ariadne, inviting her to come up for dinner and to check on Buck.

Buck was a fawn whose mother had been shot and the tiny creature had been in a state of shock when Cross, Ariadne’s husband, brought him down the mountain for Mac to treat.

Now the little deer—Cross had named him Buck, to Ariadne’s amusement—wouldn’t leave Cross’s side. It behaved like a puppy following him or Ariadne around, going hiking with them when Cross took Ariadne exploring on the mountain.

Mac was glad Cross found someone. Just because Mac hated Cross’s brother Lance, didn’t mean she’d feel the same way about Cross.

And she really liked Ariadne, the woman he’d saved from the mob’s hitmen less than a month ago.

Interesting how seamless Ariadne’s entrance had been into Cross’s life. The two fit together as if they’d always been that way.

Anger seared through Mac’s veins. She and Lance had never had that. Never that ease, that peaceful coming together.

Nope.

She and Lance were passion fueled by kerosene. No sweet lovemaking for the two of them. It had always been fierce, formidable, and always unforgettable.

She exhaled in fury. Her body sucker-punched by the thought of their sexual history. Her awareness of their chemistry creating a throb, after all those years, after all that heartbreak. She remembered the intense hunger in his nighttime blue eyes, the way his bear had flamed golden amber in the depths of Lance’s gaze.

The reserve, the office, the low hum of the computers, the sound of the radio, it all melted away as her pulse resonated in her mind, her heart, and places south of her navel.

Fuck. Fuck this.

She shoved Lance out of her mind, shoved the visage of their love and their desire far away and picked up her cell and car keys.

Deal, Mac. Just deal.
She pep talked herself, because what the fuck else was she to do?

Chapter 2

L
ance del Cruz
was going home.

Finally.

He punched it, flooring the pedal, though his old pickup truck wasn’t going to give him much more speed. She wasn’t built for speed. She was built for reliability and work.

And his truck was good at both.

He’d kept her stored in the city, at a rental unit, paying a year in advance. He didn’t get to drive her much; his job didn’t offer too many vacations or holidays. And when it did, they were rarely planned.

She waited for him, in that storage unit by the airport, for those rare times when he came home. He had enough supplies in the storage unit to do any repairs needed while she languished in the unit, unmaintained.

Just a charge this time, and she picked up reliably, roaring to life, ready to take him home.

Home.

Lance looked at the horizon, picked out the peaks of the Bear Canyon Mountain Range.

There was Cross’s—Crag’s Peak.

Next in line was his own—Devil’s Horn.

Funny how it all worked out, in their younger days, there’d been three brothers and three peaks.

Now all three had their own peak.

And each brother had picked his own without a squabble.

Too bad all things that were meant to be didn’t happen quite so seamlessly.

He rolled his window down, inhaling, letting his bear savor the scent of home.

It hadn’t always been home to the del Cruz brothers. They’d been teens when they were dropped off on Mae Forester’s door step.

Mae had stridden outside, took one look at the raggedy, underdressed, underfed, and definitely unkempt boys and she’d done the one thing Lance hadn’t expected.

She opened her arms and wrapped them in a hug.

“Welcome home,” she’d said.

And home it was.

Bear Canyon Valley.

Mae had become their aunt, though more like a foster mother. The beautiful, widowed brunette had opened her heart and home.

To many, it seemed as her home was always teeming with shifters—kids and adults, orphaned, injured, starving, you name it.

Lance breathed in deeply again. God, he’d missed the scent of this place. No other place on earth smelled like Bear Canyon Valley.

Home.

Cross was probably already home. He joined the Shifter Council Compliance Unit before Lance did.

Shifter Council Compliance Unit. SCCU for short. Those who were a part of the unit were called Enforcers. And they weren’t loved by all.

Especially not the wrongdoers.

If the Shifter Council convened and determined an individual had done wrong or needed to be punished, the Enforcers were brought in to do the punishing.

Yeah, Lance went in a little after Cross did, four years ago.

Okay, okay truth was, after his big brother left Bear Canyon, Lance couldn’t stay.

It wasn’t because he and Cross were all that close. Nah, it was more like, he didn’t want to miss out on all the fun he knew Cross would be having.

Fun.

Hardly.

A life of killing and capturing rovers, murderous shifters, and douche bags.

When he first signed up, Lance didn’t understand the terms of being an Enforcer.

Four years of service.

One year off.

Paid.

Who the hell could resist that? It was a gift.

Only he was wrong. The time off was going to be very necessary. A man—or a shifter couldn’t go through this much time of tracking, hunting, and sometimes killing, without losing a piece of his soul day in, day out.

So, without a doubt, this year’s hiatus would be very welcome.

Another deep breath.

A left turn.

The road curved to the right.

Bear Canyon Valley
, the sign read.

He should have veered to the left, taken the seldom traveled road up to the mountains, then turned right toward Devil’s Horn.

But he didn’t.

He couldn’t

He wouldn’t feel right going home without stopping by Mae’s house for at least a quick hello.

And maybe she had some of that apple pie he’d missed lying around.

He glanced at the clock on the dash. Yeah, she’d be home by now. Lance turned off the main road, drove a few miles down, then pulled into the driveway.

His stomach grumbled in anticipation. Whatever she had on the stove, he knew it’d be good. And he was damned hungry.

Lance leapt from the truck, his nose picking up the scent of pot roast, vegetables, and—

He took another deep breath while snatching plenty of real estate with long strides.

—apple pie.

He froze, a grin stretched across his face, the inside door was open, nothing but the screen door stood between him and what was cooking inside.

A large form appeared before at the door. Lance braced, ready to kick the door in on top of the mountain of a guy on the other side.

“Lance?” the silhouette asked.

Lance paused, pushing back his instinct to defend himself and inflict harm.

“Doc?”

Jake ‘Doc’ Evans was the valley’s doctor, who doubled as a shifter doctor. Lance remembered Doc. He and his wife used to live in the valley with their daughter Astra—actually, she was Doc’s stepdaughter. Then Lance remembered the day Doc’s wife was killed. Not long after that, he’d moved away.

Seems now he was back. Or visiting.

Doc pulled the door open. “Come on in.” He extended his hand. “Man, haven’t seen you in years. Heard you were with the SCCU.”

Lance nodded. It wasn’t common to discuss working in that field. Most Enforcers kept their work on the down low. Kept the enemy count down.

“Good to see you.” He shook Doc’s hand. “Mae around?” He made a point of sniffing. “It smells like she is.”

Doc laughed. “She went upstairs to change. Gravy splashed on her top.” He pointed to the table.

Casserole dishes covered with foil, a pie plate, and an assortment of containers sat next to an oversized basket.

“We were just heading over to Astra and Kane’s.”

Astra. Doc’s daughter. “Kane?” Who was that? And then it clicked for Lance. The way he said
we
were just heading over.
We.
“I missed something. We?”

“Well damn, it didn’t occur to me she hadn’t told you. I’m guessing maybe you two haven’t talked in the last few months?”

Lance shook his head, guilt setting in. “I’ve been out of touch. Assignment and stuff.”

Not that out of touch
, he reprimanded himself. Sure the assignment put him out of contact, but he’d been back for a while.

Doc shifted weight from one foot to the next. “Well, so Mae…”

That’s when Lance picked it up. The bond. They’d couplebonded, the way shifters do when they mate, bonding for life, forever.

“I’m sorry.” Lance felt dense. “I should’ve noticed.” He really should have picked up the aura. “Congratulations.”

“It’s no problem. I’m sure your job keeps you busy.”

That and I still find it hard to talk to anyone in Bear Canyon Valley.

It still reminded him of her.

Reminders he didn’t need.

It’s not like he didn’t already have enough reminders. The sky on a stunning spring morning brought to mind her eyes.

The glimpse of a head with blond hair the same shade as hers made him do a double take, looking for her, missing her, needing her.

Every blond head that reminded him of her, wasn’t her. It was some other woman. A woman who could never measure up to the woman he knew was the only one for him.

A warm summer’s breeze would remind him of her breath, hot and seeking when she took him into her mouth, her tongue tracing the rim of his cock.

Lance clenched his teeth together. He had to get her out of his mind. Out of his system.

I think I came to the wrong place to do that.

No, he could do it. He could avoid her. He would do it. He’d hole up in his cabin on Devil’s Horn. He had more than enough provisions in the back of his truck to last him a long, long time. He wouldn’t have to come off the mountain.

Maybe he’d see Cross. He’d missed his brother, though they didn’t get along.

Okay, that’s not exactly accurate.

Cross’s bear and Lance’s bear didn’t get along, making it difficult to hang out.

That sums it up.

Hard to visit with someone when you’ve got an angry grizzly bellowing in your head.

“Lance!” Mae threw her arms around him.

Lance hugged her tightly, inhaling the scent of her. Mae’s scent was like coming home, like warm apple pie, hot cocoa, stories by the fireside.

Mae’s scent was balm to an orphaned, homeless bear cub of a shifter.

“Aunt Mae.” His lips curled into a smile.

“How’s my favorite nephew?” She leaned back, holding him at arm’s length. “I swear, Lance. Who would have thought you’d be such a handsome man? I bet the ladies in the city can’t get enough of you.”

He shrugged.

Ladies. Yeah, right.

He avoided all females. He’d had and lost the best thing—the only thing—he’d ever wanted.

“You two get caught up?” Mae slipped away from Lance and into Doc’s arms.

“Sure did. Congratulations.” Lance was genuinely happy Mae had someone now. He’d watched her living a lonely existence, even though her life was full of the shifters she’d given a home. And Doc had always seemed a good one.

“Looks like you two are heading out. I only stopped by to say hi. Don’t mean to hold you up.”

“Just going to Kane and Astra’s. You remember Astra?” Mae didn’t wait for him to answer. “Why don’t you join us? Have you eaten? Are you hungry?” She speared him with a barrage of questions.

Lance laughed. “No. I’m fine.” Then his damned stomach had to go off and rumble in protest.

Mae laughed.

A smile crept to Doc’s face. “You sure? You’d be welcome.”

“I’ve got supplies in the truck. I’m good.”

“Nonsense.” Mae stomped her foot. “You’re going with us. If you can’t stay long, at least stick around long enough to make a plate to take with you.”

“Astra’s been practicing with new recipes. She’ll love having another guinea pig to practice on.”

“Looks like you have enough food right here.”

“Everybody’s bringing something.”

Lance froze. The smile vanished from his face. “Everybody…”

“Yeah, Teague, Kelsey, Tanner, and Marti.” Doc looked at Mae. “That’s everyone isn’t it?”

“As far as I know. Unless they got a hold of Cross and Ariadne.”

Ariadne?

Seems I need to talk to my brother. He didn’t tell me he was involved.

Mae was appraising him with a knowing eye. “Still?”

She knew about Lance’s and Cross’s bears.

Hell, when they were little, their bears had taken over and damned near killed each other in a fight.

He gave her a nod.
Still.

“I’ve never seen anything like that, not to this degree—and not with siblings.”

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