Authors: Abi Walters
VEX (Valley Enforcers, #1)
Copyright © 2015 by Abi Walters
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© Can Stock Photo Inc. / artofphoto
modifications were made to these images
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This book can be read independently, but I strongly recommend reading the Stoneclaw Clan Series to get a full picture of the world I am trying to create with my story. The Valley Enforcer’s Series is a spinoff of the Stoneclaw Series. Both series, and the subsequent series that will follow, all take place in the same universe and will reference the other books.
The Stoneclaw Clan Series includes:
Just You (Parker and Callie, #1)
Just Fate (Nate and Orsa, #2)
Just Forever (Dean and Alexis, #3)
Just Mine (Deacon and Elizabeth, #4)
They say when you meet your intended it’s like a dozen fireworks are set off inside your chest.
Others think finding your mate is a slower process. It’s warm and fuzzy, and after a few dates you look at the other person and go, “Where have you been my whole life?”
When I met my mate it was like a beautiful car crash. It was a full on collision, and I didn’t want it to stop. My body prickled with a thousand tiny knife wounds and I forgot how to breathe. Everything around me faded. Like the most overplayed clichés in every romance novel and chick flick, I was oblivious to the world around me. Everything but her.
And I hadn’t even seen her face. Wearing torn black jeans tucked into combat boots and a leather jacket, she was angled away from me as she stapled a piece of paper to a light post. The stack of multicolored stock paper flapped with the light spring breeze and nearly flew from her hands. I tried to lift a foot but I was cemented to the patch of sidewalk in front of the corner store. She adjusted the stack and turned towards me.
I was almost one hundred percent sure seeing your mate wasn’t supposed to be painful but there was an ache in my chest that wasn’t going away. My mate was like a punk rock elf. Her features were strange, but she had such a regal woodland look about her. High cheek bones and almond eyes meshed perfectly with her prominent nose and wide lips. She even had large ears that were a little pointed at the end. There was a line of silver in her visible ear, multiple piercings that glimmered in the soft sunlight. The metal didn’t stop with her ears. A crooked ring went through the septum of her nose. Half of her head had been shaved at one point. The hair that had grown back was unnatural bright blue. The rest of her wavy locks were a jet black color that looked achievable only through a box. I wasn’t typically a fan of makeup, but the way her eyeliner winged to a perfect point and her dark plum colored lips sent my body into overdrive. She was perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Perfect and headed straight in my direction. I had been so wrapped up in staring at her that I didn’t notice that she was getting closer to me. A toothy grin curled onto her face as she came to a stop in front of me. Up close, I could see the light amber color of her eyes. She juggled the items in her arms before thrusting a piece of purple paper at me. Her finger jabbed into my stomach in almost an accusatory way.
“Hi! Are you a werebear?”
All it took was those five words to snap me out of my stupor. My senses were out of whack and I couldn’t formulate any coherent thoughts. I growled, the noise coming out so low that I hoped it passed as a grunt.
“What?” I asked slowly. I finally looked at the paper in my hand. My stomach dropped with each scanning second.
MONTANA SUPERNATURAL SOCIETY
“Was that a growl? Did you
at me?” She rushed, her eyebrows shooting up in the air. She bounced back and forth on her feet with excitement. “Oh my God, you are a werebear, aren’t you?! You’re built like one, and usually when I ask people if they’re a bear they laugh or threaten to call the cops. You didn’t even freak out. What kind of bear are you? I bet you’re a grizzly bear. Can I see your den?”
“What’s your name?”
“Acacia. Acacia Reed.” She pointed a finger at the bottom of the paper. “Co-founder of the Society.”
“Listen to me very carefully, Acacia. You can’t be poking around out here asking people about bears or you’re going to find yourself in a shitload of trouble. You need to drop it. Turn around and go back to...” I looked down at the paper. “Miles City. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I know how to handle myself. Thank you very much.”
“Drop it, Acacia,” I said firmly as I attempted to give her back her flyer.
She ignored me, swatting my hand away. “So you’re not denying that you’re a bear, then? How does it work? There wasn’t a full moon when I had my encounter, and all of the data I’ve collected says that the lunar cycle doesn’t affect the change. Do you have some sort of tribe? Do you live alone? Are all werebears muscular?”
“Stop talking so loud!” I hissed. “For fuck’s sake, lady. You don’t listen very well. Go away. Scat. Scadoodle. Get out of here, and take your friends with you. Forget all about this place and whatever you think about it and
I hated that term. There was a new ache in my chest and I didn’t think it was going to stop until I was dead or Acacia was mine. Neither of those seemed likely. There was no way that I could have her. I didn’t doubt her sanity or her ability to take care of herself but she was treading into murky waters. If the council got word of a human sniffing around a clan or attempting to out shifters they would take her out. It wasn’t as if humans were completely unaware of shifters. It wasn’t banned to mate with a human. But they were sworn to secrecy. Acacia? She didn’t know she was my mate, and I couldn’t tell her without giving her proof that would fuel her little society and out shifters. My mind was cluttered with all the possibilities of what could happen.
Knowing I could never have my mate filled my veins with ice, but knowing that Acacia would be in harm’s way if she stuck around hurt even more.
“This is a solo operation, and I’m not giving up that easily. Get used to seeing me around because I’m not stopping until I have proof that werebears exist.” She pushed the paper back into my chest. “Keep it. If you suddenly remember that you’re a bear, call me.”
With her head held high, Acacia turned and walked across the street. Half of me wanted to chase after her and the other half reminded me just how bad of an idea that was. She disappeared around a corner and I let go a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. I crumpled the flyer and tossed it in the plastic grocery sack that threatened to fall from my grasp.
I spent the next fifteen minutes combing the streets of the Valley tearing down the brightly colored papers displaying the information for the Montana Supernatural Society. Acacia stayed on my mind long after. What was worse? Having her hate me or having her dead? I was going to have to run her out of town before she did something stupid.
Her being here is stupid enough
. Why had the fates brought her to me only to take her away?
At thirty-two, I was okay with the fact that I was probably going to never find my mate. My job as an Enforcer didn’t allow much time for travel, and we rarely got visitors from other clans. Hell, I didn’t even run to town that often. I knew everyone in the Valley and they all knew me. I knew by the time I hit twenty that my mate wasn’t from my clan. Taking a human mate wasn’t a big deal for me, but I hadn’t found anyone in the Valley that sparked a fire inside me. In my earlier years I dated a few humans thinking that maybe when I found my mate it would be the slow and fuzzy connection. I’d even gone a round or two with some of the ladies in my clan thinking that I’d missed the insta-connection. My bear was never happy, and in the end, neither was I.
By the time I got back to my cabin, nestled miles away from anyone else in the clan at the edge of the property line, I was surprised I hadn’t gotten a call from Deacon. If Acacia was as bold with the other townspeople as she was with me, there was no way she’d go the whole day without interacting with another shifter.
Deacon and his mate, Elizabeth, had just returned from their honeymoon in Vegas. Their mating ceremony took place as soon as the snow cleared up on the reserve and the dirt solidified. The ceremony was a bitch to monitor, security wise, as there were visitors from every corner of the state. There were shifters from six different clans and a sassy human who was part of a council appointed protection team at the ceremony. I was shocked when Deacon said he was taking a week off work for a honeymoon. I was even more surprised when he said Elizabeth wanted to go to Vegas. When they came back, she was wearing a ‘
What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas
’ shirt and claimed to be the queen of the slot machines.
I had been born into the clan and watched Deacon go from young boy to eager trainee to Alpha, and in that entire time he had never taken a day off, let alone a whole week. Having Elizabeth around was good for him. He was still a hardheaded asshole, but he was a lot calmer than he used to be.
Regardless, he wouldn’t put up with a human poking around for information. I didn’t want to lie to him, but deep down I knew I would.
I poured myself a shot of whiskey and started dinner prep. A few hours later my shot of whiskey turned into five and a cold brew. The alcohol couldn’t get rid of the fruity scent of Acacia’s shampoo or the way she smiled at me from across the street. For a perfect few seconds we both were oblivious to the jagged rocks that were sprouting between us. I snorted into my drink. I talked to the girl for less than ten minutes and I was already mourning her loss. She probably brushed it off as another encounter with a skeptical asshole and was well on her way to forgetting I existed. If only I could do the same.
When my front door opened without warning I glanced up and at the clock above the oven. My vision blurred for a few seconds before the red numbers came into view.
“You’re going to miss me that much, big boy?”
I lifted a middle finger to my visitor. Hakeem stepped in front of me and grabbed the bottle of whiskey. He didn’t even bother pouring himself a shot and instead took a long gulp directly from the source.
“What has your panties in a twist?” He asked as he pulled the lid off the crock pot and sniffed. “Smells good. Is it done?”
“Yes master, and there’s slaw in the fridge just like you requested.”
“Hell yeah!” Hakeem let out a mild cheer and started pulling dishes out of the cabinet. “So you aren’t going to tell me why you’re day drinking? Really? I’m leaving in twelve hours for the fucking North Pole and I may never come back. You can’t leave me hanging.”
“I think they’ll be offended if you show up and start calling it the North Pole.”
“I’m risking my life to keep them protected. If I want to call the place Gum Drop Mountain they should let me.”
“You volunteered,” I reminded him ruefully.
Before Deacon left for his honeymoon he called a meeting with the Enforcers. We had routine meetings to discuss changes and training schedules, as half of our team dealt with the basic training all teens go through. However, when we arrived, Deacon and Dean informed us of Stoneclaw’s alliance with the White Ice Clan, the same clan that had attacked us two years prior. Furthermore, the White Ice Clan had been locked in a vicious civil war and we had been providing aide and council to the clan. After months of battle, they were finally stable enough that Deacon felt comfortable sending in one of our team members to help restore order. Hakeem volunteered within seconds.
“I am the only one who can go. You’re the head of the team. Deacon would never let you go. Tucker and Justin are too young and inexperienced. They’d come back in body bags. Sam and his mate just had a new cub. Xavier has a family. George and Barrel need to be here for training, and they have families, too. I couldn’t let them go into a potentially hostile territory. It has to be me, Vex. At least I have a chance… and if I die, the only thing I’m leaving behind is a well-stocked liquor cabinet and you, brother.”
“What about Ronnie? Willa? Ma?” I questioned, crossing my arms.
Hakeem and I weren’t brothers by blood, but my mother had taken him in when both his parents died in battle. It was the same battle that took my dad. The fight was the last that took place before Deacon and Dean’s father took over as Alpha and restored order. My mother raised my sister Veronica and me, as well as Hakeem, on her shopkeeper salary. ‘Keem and Ma received stipends for having lost family in battle, but even that was barely enough to keep us afloat. The salary attached to being an Enforcer was what drew Hakeem and me to the position. If we hadn’t been brothers before we took the oath of protection, we became brothers at that moment. It had been over a decade since we took that pact. A hell of a lot longer since we sliced open our palms as kids and vowed to be blood brothers ‘til the end. Things had changed. Veronica mated a shifter in Iowa, and when she got pregnant with Willa Ma moved in with them to help raise the baby. ‘Keem and I weren’t living off of Ramen noodles and cereal or sharing the same tiny cabin because it was all we could afford. But he was still my best friend and my brother. That would never change.
“I’m coming home, so we don’t have to worry about that,” He said with a weak smile that told me he wasn’t so sure he’d make it back alive. “If everything goes smoothly I’ll be back in time for Willa’s fourth birthday. We should go dutch on something big that’ll piss Ronnie and Steven off. A huge ball pit or something.”
“Steven would probably have more fun with that than Willa,” I snickered.
“Hell yeah he would. Shit.” Hakeem tipped his beer bottle. “Gotta be home for that.”
I didn’t want to admit that I was afraid. The report Deacon and Dean gave us on what was going on up with the White Ice Clan was explicit. Their own Beta had been assassinated while he was sleeping. Trained rogues had died. Innocent people slaughtered. Their Alpha, Orson, was barely twenty and was leading the fight. I didn’t want to send my brother into that. We pledged allegiance to
clan. The Stoneclaw Clan.
Was Hakeem willing to die for strangers? Better yet,
was Hakeem willing to die for strangers? It wasn’t something we had talked about. We fought after he agreed to go. It was a flesh stripping, bone breaking, hard bleeding kind of fight that left us both with a few new scars and whole mess of unresolved issues. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever know why he volunteered, but I knew I had to support him.