UNEDITED (This is book 4 in the Reclaiming Honor series [A Kurtherian Gambit series]. Check out books 1-3 on Amazon, all in Kindle Unlimited)

Angel of ReckoningEnforcer HQ

Jackson approached Enforcer HQ, moving his neck to work out the kinks after the way Valerie had tossed him around. Damn, he was going to miss her. It was weird knowing that, on the one hand his body was going to go through withdrawal pangs while she was gone, and yet finally have a chance to heal from her wild passion.

He wasn’t sure if he should laugh at the way he felt, or cry, at what he was going through physically. Mentally though, he was having a hard time dealing with the fact that she was leaving. Having led his people for so long, he’d come to know loss, and he had definitely learned how to not hold out hope when they went off to accomplish something they needed to do. When that involved revenge, they rarely returned.

Then again, this was Valerie. He had seen at firsthand what she was capable of, and had no doubts that it would be incredibly difficult to hurt her, let alone kill her.

But not impossible.

He reached the streets around the building and stopped to stare at the security this place had now. It was no joke. While Strake had ruled with terror, ensuring no one would cause problems because they feared retribution, Colonel Donnoly and the new regime apparently didn’t want to take any chances. With the bombings and other attacks that had happened a couple of months back, he couldn’t blame them.

Along with concrete blockades that the Weres had managed to drag in and set up instaggered positions around the entrance, sniper positions had been set up with sentries,not only on this building, but on several of the surrounding rooftops and in windows overlooking the area.

If anyone tried to rush the building here, they’d be splattered on the ground before stepping two feet. Judging by the reinforced steel and whatnot surrounding the base of the building, explosions wouldn’t do much either. Sure, there were still ways he imagined people could cause damage if they set their minds to it, but he was impressed.

“Mercer, my old pal,” Dreg, the werebear said, stepping up and looking him up and down. The guy was short but built like a tank with muscles thick as trees. Jackson had heard the whole story of how Valerie met the guy selling blood, so wasn’t quite sure how much he liked him or trusted him. The fact that they were giving the guy a job with the cops made him even more wary.

So when Dreg motioned for his weapons, Jackson’s first instinct was to hit the guy in the throat. But he had come here with a purpose, so he handed over his pistol and the blade on his belt.

“You have a reason to be here?” Dreg asked.

“Do you?”

Dreg chuckled. “To turn assholes like you around and kick you to the curb.”

“Try it. Better yet, hurt me while you’re at it, and see if Valerie lets you keep that ugly head of yours.”

That sobered Dreg right up, but as he stepped aside and motioned for him to continue on, he mumbled, “Hiding behind your girlfriend will only save you for so long, pal.”

“I can hold my own,” Jackson said, more to himself, since he was already past, moving for the door.

He went through more rounds of security, saying hello to the various Weres and cops he had come to know over the last couple of months. They trusted him, but still weren’t taking any chances. After everything they had been through with Ella and others, everyone had to be checked.

The elevator ride up gave him time to consider how much he was going to miss Valerie. She had grown on him over the last couple of months, as if she had always been part of his life. Now that she was talking about leaving, he would have more time to spend with his people, to tutor Lorain, and to be the leader they needed. No, the leader they deserved.

Times were still tough, what with Morgan still at large. Too many on both sides had been wounded or worse, and he meant to ensure that stopped as soon as Valerie was gone, even if it meant reaching some sort of peace with Morgan.

He reached his floor and found the door shut, so stood outside of Colonel Donnoly’s office, waiting patiently and staring at a painting of the fight with Valerie’s brother, Donovan. It was dark, with blimp’s filling the sky, lightning shooting in purple and silver streaks.

The fact that anyone had time to paint for pleasure intrigued him. Then again, there were still the elite of society who seemed to be established enough that they could simply have others working for them, and there were still those who would sponge off their parents, while their parents struggled with two or more jobs.

“You like it?” a voice said, and he turned to see Wallace approaching.

“It’s quite well done.”

“Thank you,” Wallace said. “It’s mine.”

“As in… you bought it?”

“As in I painted it.” Wallace shrugged. “Just something I’ve been doing between visits with Ella.”

“I had no idea you had it in you,” Jackson said leaning back into the painting to examine it. Flawless. “That explains the chaotic feel.”

Wallace let out a sorrowful laugh. “It’s the only way I’ve figured out how to cope with all this. I have to believe we can get her back, after she’s proven herself.”

“Proven herself?” Realization dawned on Jackson. “The raids… she’s been giving you all information?”

Wallace nodded. “I hate to use her this way, but… she did betray us, even attacked Valerie in that bar. Why we keep that place open is beyond me—so many problems!”

“Probably because you know Cammie would come in here and bite your head off if you tried to mess with her haunt.”

“My man, that lady is scary.”

Jackson chuckled, staring back at the painting and getting lost in the small strokes near the bottom, in the dark alleys, which he guessed to be the forces fighting.

“And you?” Wallace stood next to him, also assessing his work. “You seem to be… bothered.”

Jackson stared a moment longer, not sure how much he could say about Valerie’s decision. They would have to be let in on it, and he came to do just that and more. But how to explain it?

He glanced at the main doors

“Come on,” Wallace said, nodding to the doors. “Let’s tell the big guy he can’t keep you waiting.”

Jackson nodded, but paused. “Wallace, more assassins… And this time, one was at the café, waiting. I think we have a mole.”

“Damn.” Wallace looped his thumbs into his belt, looking in deep thought. “Someone’s telling the Forsaken where they can find Valerie?”

“Or where to get to her loved ones, yeah. Can you…?”

“Oh, of course. We’ll double up security there and in the area. But, damn.” He glanced over to Jackson and his brow furrowed. “Wait, you’re not saying, Ella?”

Jackson shook his head. “I have no idea. Does she have outside access?”

“No, and her issue was with allowing vampires to be in charge, not so much a loyalty to the CEOs. In fact, I’m pretty sure she wants to see them go down as much as the rest of us.”

“Keep an eye out for anything suspicious from the others then.” Jackson nodded to show he was ready, and together they walked to the large oak doors. “If it’s one of my people, you might have to arrest me or there’s going to be a trail of blood in this city from where I drag this traitor’s corpse behind me for all to see.”

“Jackson, that’s nasty.”

Jackson laughed. “We need to show these people that the old days are gone.”

Wallace paused, hand on the left door. “By filling them with terror? I’d say rule of law, show them that we’re different than the last lot. That we stand with them to see this city safe, not over them.”

“And that’s why you wear the uniform, isn’t it?” Jackson gave a curt nod to show he was done with this conversation, and just then the elevator dinged behind them.

The elevator slid open and then Royland and Cammie entered, sharing a laugh.

“I miss something? Donnoly’s voice came from behind, where Jackson hadn’t realized, but the man had opened the door and now stood, waiting.

Cammie glanced between him and the others, and just shrugged. “Nothing that’s any of your business.”

Royland blushed.

“Well then, if you’d all come in.” Donnoly didn’t seem to care one bit that Cammie had her little secrets, though it ate at Jackson. Everyone else seemed to be partnering up, based on the look Royland was giving her, while he and Valerie would soon be taking a break. So that she could rush off to arguably the most dangerous situation she had ever found herself in, while many of her allies who had helped her along the way would stay back here, wondering if she was safe.

It would be tough, but it wasn’t like he had never dealt with loss and grief. Plus, if anyone could survive, it was Valerie.

They entered and Donnoly took his spot at the head of the table. “Sorry to keep you all waiting. We’ve just had a raid on one of the underground compounds, and guess what we found?”

“Blood,” Royland said, sure of his guess.

Donnoly nodded. “Strake might be gone and the CEOs off doing who knows what, but the blood trade is still alive. Ella might even be able to earn back my trust, if she keeps giving us tips like this one. We might need her out on the streets eventually.”

“You can’t be serious?” Wallace leaned forward, hands out at his side like he was trying to grasp something. “I mean, I want her to have changed more than any of you, but it’s only been a couple of months.”

“The need outweighs the risk,” Donnoly said. “But the purpose of this meeting,” he gestured to Jackson, “why don’t you tell us?”

Everyone shifted to look at Jackson, and he paused, trying to think of how to say this. Better out than in, and out as soon as possible. So he just spat it out, “We have to plan Valerie’s death.”

The entire room held their breaths, staring at him like he was a madman. Wallace’s hand started moving slowly for his gun.

And then Jackson realized his mistake.

“Oh, God,” he laughed, “no, I don’t mean we want to actually kill her. Sorry. I mean she wants to fake her death so she can go after the CEOs without them expecting her. So we have to figure out how to make it plausible, realistic. Believable.”

“You fucking shit for brains,” Cammie said, laughing. “I was about to leap across this table and tear your larynx out.”

“Wow, yeah,” Donnoly said. “You might want to work on your delivery there. And you,” he addressed Cammie, “language here? We’re professionals.”

She just looked at him like she couldn’t tell whether he was serious or not. A sparkle in his eye made Jackson pretty sure he wasn’t.

“Again, my mistake.” He held up his hands in surrender, figuring he better ease the tension somehow. “Sorry.”

They all started laughing, except Cammie who said, “Wait, leaving? We’re going with her, right? I mean, this is the CEOs. She’ll need our help.”

He shook his head. “I tried that one, but no. She thinks we’re all too vital to this city. And let’s be clear here, this city needs us. My force needs me, and each of you has a responsibility.”

None of them could argue that, nor stand up to Donnoly’s look of authority.

Jackson had to admit, Donnoly sure seemed the leader at that moment—maybe Valerie was right, and by the time she left, at least, these folk could be enough for this city to stand on its own. With his help, of course… unfortunately.

“Well now that that’s decided,” Donnoly turned back to Jackson, “let’s plan Valerie’s death, shall we?”

They all smiled at that, and leaned forward to start tossing ideas around.

FROM JUSTIN >>> I had my first day to write (1/2 day) in quite a while – because of work and kids and all that, but since I’m going full-time in April, I’ll have a lot of these good news is that I wrote 7,000 words in 3 hours, which is pretty good! I got a new ergonomic keyboard, and it helps SO much.

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