TUCKER: Valley Enforcers, #3

BOOK: TUCKER: Valley Enforcers, #3
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Tucker (Valley Enforcers, #3)

Copyright © 2016 by Abi Walters

 

 

Photo credit goes to:

flickr.com/leeco

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / mvaligursky

modifications were made to these images

 

 

 

Cover Design & Promotional material:

Grassman Media

Grassmanmedia.com

@Grassman_Media

Author’s Note

 

This book can be read independently, but I recommend reading the first two books in the series as well as the Stoneclaw Clan series to get a full picture of the world I am trying to create with my stories. The Valley Enforcers 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

Just You (Parker and Callie, #1)

Just Fate (Nate and Orsa, #2)

Just Forever (Dean and Alexis, #3)

Just Mine (Deacon and Elizabeth, #4)

 

 

The Valley Enforcers Series

Vex (Vex and Acacia, #1)

Hakeem (Hakeem and Naya, #2)

Tucker (Tucker and Emily, #3)

Chapter One

Emily

 

You learn a few things about yourself when you’re inching down an icy road in the middle of a snowstorm. One, closing your eyes doesn’t make the snow go away. Two, neither does turning up the happy go-lucky indie pop pumping from the speakers. Three, if you don’t check the weather before embarking on a four hour journey to a middle of nowhere town to drop off a refurbished dollhouse a week before Christmas, you’re stupid. Four, bursting into tears does not solve a damn thing.

I looked over at the now empty spot in my passenger seat where the beautiful Victorian dollhouse used to be with the adorably (and painstakingly) wrapped handmade parts and accessories. When I found it at a flea market over the summer it had been covered in crayon, faded Pokémon stickers and missing most of the furniture. I turned it into my special project – putting way too many hours into fixing it up. If I couldn’t find a piece of furniture that fit with the overall aesthetic, I made it. Too many hours were lost on YouTube and random forums for DIY projects. Then again, most of my free time was spent on those same forums for other projects.

The dollhouse was special, though. It reminded me of one I had when I was younger. My heart tugged when I saw it, and despite the five year old voice in my head telling me to keep it for myself, I couldn’t turn down an offer over the list price with an extra hundred bucks tacked on for express personal delivery. When Marla Hope contacted me wanting to buy it, I was ecstatic. Three lines down in the email, I was tapping anxiously at my desk. She
really
wanted the dollhouse before her family Christmas party. Like, tack on an extra one hundred dollars to her already high offer in exchange for a personal delivery. We lived in the same state, so I looked up Brown Bear Valley on Google maps. It was only a four hour drive from Missoula.

With Christmas a week away and the stack of gifts under my tree a lot smaller than I wanted it, I agreed. My hours at Hewitt Nursing Care Center took a nosedive when a fresh batch of perky nurse aids were hired. I gave them six weeks before they quit, but that still meant I had six weeks of a short paycheck. More free time meant I had more time to spend on my true passion – finding and refurbishing old pieces of furniture. My online store, Emmy Lou’s Creations, was my baby. Some months I barely turned a profit. Other months I felt like my dream of solely running my shop were within arm’s reach.

So Marla Hope’s offer had dollar signs in my eyes and a spark of determination in my heart. I burnt rubber getting out of work so I could run home and feed Echo, my rescue Husky, change out of my smelly drab scrubs, and load the dollhouse into the passenger seat of my hand me down Jeep. Smooth sailing and an easy four hundred and fifty bucks.

At least, that’s how my night was supposed to play out.

The snow storm was in full effect as I was found the small, mountainside town. It took me off guard and while counting out crisp hundred dollar bills, Marla rattled off the forecast and told me about a motel on the other side of town that would be a good place to camp out for the night. I thanked her for her business, pocketed the money, and jumped back in my Jeep. I couldn’t leave Echo at home by herself overnight, and I definitely didn’t want to spend the night at a creepy motel. Instead of wasting time checking the rest of the forecast, I programed my GPS and started the lonely drive home.

The weather took a turn for the worse – as if the big clumps of starburst snowflakes weren’t bad enough. My wipers were moving as quickly as my heart inside my chest. When the storm knocked out my GPS and I effectively got myself lost in winding mountainside, I started praying to baby Jesus. My methods of ignoring the snow and scaring it away with my totally off-tune voice didn’t work, and I was afraid my tears would freeze to my face.

I was a wolf, for stars sake. I was supposed to love the snow. I was supposed to be cunning and level-headed and smart enough to figure out how to get home without a useless piece of technology.
Must’ve missed the lessons on how to be a proper wolf shifter.
Despite my cloudy eyes and totally desperate situation, I huffed out a laugh. My Alpha already saw me as a disappointment to the Silver Shadow Pack because I didn’t want to play along with some bogus test his airhead bachelor sons put together to find mates. The trio of Silver sons failed to tell their dad their ‘tests’ were sexual compatibility tests. Dozens of women were tripping over their tails to sleep with the heirs to the throne, but I wasn’t one of them. The trials weren’t set for another few weeks, but I was willing to bet that none of them would end up with a mate at the end of the month long session.

I didn’t think it was possible for the storm to get any worse, but the wind started swirling the thick drifts into the already snow covered road. Gripping the steering wheel tighter, I could feel the droplets of sweat slide down my face. The rational part of my conscious was telling me to pull over and wait out the storm, but I had no idea how long it was going to last and I needed to get home to Echo. I left her with plenty of water and food but she needed to go out, and the thought of leaving her alone overnight made my stomach churn.

Animals and shifters didn’t go well together. There was a weird dynamic that either had the animal afraid or alert. But it wasn’t that way with Echo. I was eighteen and still living with my parents when I found the abandoned pup on the outskirts of our pack land, starved and staring down two younger wolf shifters in my pack. It was twenty degrees out and I was a shy high school grad, but I changed into my human form and blocked them from the pup. Naked and most definitely looking crazy, I shielded her with my tiny frame and snarled like a mother protecting her young. I got an earful from Alpha Matthew about the incident and my subsequent adoption of Echo, but there was no way I was going to leave her or put her in an overcrowded humane society. Echo was mine.

Setting my pride aside, I put my emergency lights on and pulled to a stop as close to the edge of the snow covered road as I was willing to get. There wasn’t any traffic – I was the only person stupid enough to be out on the roads – but I didn’t want to risk someone barreling into me. I fished my phone from the center console and quickly called my best friend and neighbor, Kate.

“Emily? Where the hell are you? It’s crazy out!”

I groaned. “Yeah, I know. Remember that delivery I was making to Brown Bear Valley?”

“Wait – you’re still there?! They’re calling this the worst snow storm of the season!”

“There’s hardly enough room for it to be the worst of the season. It’s only December. We have at least three more months of this hell. Listen, I’ll be fine. I just need you to check on Echo… maybe keep her at your place tonight.”

“You’ll be back, though, right?” Kate sounded nervous.

“There’s supposed to be a motel in the Valley. I might just turn around and try to find it. I’m stupid, but I’m not stupid enough to try to finish this drive right now.”

“Just be safe, okay? Echo and I will have a sleepover and watch
Balto
.”

I chuckled, despite my unpleasant situation. “She doesn’t like that movie. I’ve told you a thousand times.”

“I know, I know. It’s like, rule one in the dog world that you have to like movies that feature dogs. Especially if it’s your own breed! She’ll come around. Until then, I’ll use her fur to dry my tears.”

“She makes an excellent bed warmer,” I commented.

I heard a few drawers open and close, probably while she tried to locate her spare key to my place. “That she does. Promise you’ll text me when you’re somewhere safe?”

“Yes, mother.”

We said goodbye and I chucked my phone in the passenger seat before attempting to pull back on the road and turn around. I had no idea where I was, let alone how to get back into town, but I decided to try to backtrack. I didn’t want to forfeit some of my fresh dollhouse money on a motel room, but I wasn’t so stubborn that I thought I could outsmart the snow storm. That ship sailed the moment my GPS froze.

The blizzard like downpour of snow seemed to take a step back. It was still heavy enough to keep my wipers on high and my ass on the edge of my seat, but I could actually see the road. Or, rather, where I assumed the road was. A blanket of white covered every inch of land in front of me.

Snow crunched under my tires as I pushed down on the gas a little harder. My eight hour nurse aid shift paired with the drive to Brown Bear Valley and the entire situation surrounding the snow storm was catching up to me. I was tired, irritable, and in desperate need of a liter of wine and a warm bath.

It happened quickly – too quickly to process what was happening until it was too late. My lead foot got a little over zealous on an opportunistic patch of ice hidden under a few inches of pillow-y snow. The back of my Jeep kicked out, tires spinning and pulling me towards the white abyss. Ignoring everything I learned in drivers ed., I gripped the wheel tighter and tried to correct my spinning car. My poorly executed plan may have worked… but my foot slamming on the gas pedal in a moment of panic ended any hope I had of successfully saving myself.

I squeezed my eyes shut as I lost control. My heart plummeted and my wolf jumped to my throat, anxious and afraid. I was right there with her. My Jeep fish tailed and I felt myself go over an edge. With everything covered in a heavy layer of snow, I had no idea just how far I’d be falling. I was seconds away from shifting, knowing that I’d be more likely to survive a fifty foot fall if I was in form, when a dense thud stopped my fall. It probably lasted a few seconds but it felt like I’d been falling for hours. I was jostled in my seat, my body lurching forward and straining against the seatbelt. A searing pain warmed my ankle and I cried out in surprise. Miraculously, my airbag didn’t deploy.

I saw nothing but white in every direction outside my windows. I had no idea how bad the damage was, but based on my semi-suspended position I wagered my Jeep was just as banged up as I was… if not more.

I let myself cry for a few seconds – okay, maybe a few minutes – before I took a few breaths and tried to figure out my game plan.
I should’ve joined Girl Scouts
. Little wolf girls didn’t join Girl Scouts, though. I didn’t have a badge in climbing out of a car after you stupidly drove it off the road in the middle of a snow storm, but I did have the basic survival instincts of my wolf.

I was in the process of jamming my hand down the sliver that separated my body from the door so I could undo my seatbelt when a quick succession knocks on my window startled me into a high pitched scream. Basic survival instincts, my ass. Mentally kicking myself for getting myself into the situation and not hearing someone approach, I took a steady breath.

Maybe it was a good thing someone found me; I was lodged in an uncomfortable position and couldn’t quite reach the seatbelt. Then again, the stranger could be an axe murderer who preyed on women who were stupid enough to drive in the middle of a blizzard.

There was another quick knock and then the handle clicked and the door was being opened. The inside lights turned on and I squinted out into the darkness. It was still snowing and the onslaught of frigid air prickled my skin with goosebumps. And then I smelled it.

Bear.

“You okay?” The voice was deep, but not in an unsettling way. It was sexy… not that I’d willingly admit a bear was sexy. I tried to blink the stars out of my eyes, but my vision still blurred a little. There was a quick pause and I heard him take a sharp breath. “You’re a wolf.”

“Oh man, I never noticed that,” I snapped, probably a little too viciously.

Shifters intermingled. My clan wasn’t too keen on it, but I went to school with a cougar shifter who was adopted by a boar and lion when her parents died. It wasn’t uncommon to see or hear of different shifter species mating. But bears and wolves? Our kind never got along. There were only a few bear clans in Montana, and I should’ve been smart enough to make the connection that a place called Brown Bear Valley would be the home to a clan of burly bears.

My unfortunate savior made a low growling noise that should’ve put my wolf on alert, but it didn’t. “That’s no way to talk to someone who planned on rescuing you.”

“Planned? You’re going to leave me here because I pissed you off? Wow – way to make your people look good.” I wasn’t typically a sarcastic bitch, but I was tired and injured and so ready to be done with probably the worst Thursday of my entire life.

He squatted and I finally got a good look at him. I was willing to retract my earlier statement about never publicly admitting a bear shifter was sexy. Even with a beanie and the hood of his thick winter jacket covering parts of his face, I could tell he was handsome. His voice definitely matched his looks. Deep, a little mysterious, and totally sexy. Long and hawkish, his face was characterized by sharp planes. High cheekbones and a defined nose with a slight crook, like it had been broken and somehow didn’t heal properly. His lips were thin and pressed into an unhappy frown. He inched forward a little and the light caught part of his face that previously had been hidden in the shadows. I bit the inside of my cheek. A strip of damaged skin ran from the inner part of his left nose across his cheek.

“I’m not going to leave you here,” He said, his voice a lot softer than it had been moments before. His hand was so close to mine on the seatbelt. My heartbeat was so loud that I knew he could hear it. “You’re going to fall forward if I let you out.”

BOOK: TUCKER: Valley Enforcers, #3
12.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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