Chapter 1 - Kaiden's Society
I still can’t believe that Uncle Hernan dragged me out of bed on a Saturday morning to some puny little clan house in Oakland. I am a Royal for God’s sake. Uncle needs to stop playing to the whims of this stupid girl and start acting like the prince that he is. He should have just ordered that Delia return to our properties after the fiasco last night and locked her up for her own damn good. Clearly she isn’t very smart if she was willing to sacrifice herself for some normal clan Val that no one cares about. But that’s okay because the only thing females are good for are to be used as bargaining chips and having babies.
Uncle needs to stop making this street rat think she has any say or power in this matter and tell her that she now belongs to me. Damon already has his female, so clearly it is my turn. Not that Delia is anywhere near as beautiful or dignified as Noemie, not to mention that she doesn’t come with a kingdom. But she is better than nothing. With a female at my side I will have a place within world politics. That combined with my Truth means people will finally give me the respect that I deserve. Because, despite what my family may think, my Gift is far superior to their precious Energy. It is the reason why the all powerful Hernan Collins had to ask for my help. This Delia might be able to somehow block the mind readers and the empaths, but my ability to detect lies is infallible and I am the only Valkyrie in Americas West Kingdom that possesses it. Making me more fucking important than even my female sister.
--Prince Kaiden Collins
I turned over in my sleep and my entire body protested the move. I let out a low groan and tried to remember why I am so sore and where I am, because this bed is much too comfortable to be my sleeping mat on my bus. Despite getting a few solid hours of sleep, I feel like I have been hit by a mack truck and after a few moments, flashes of last night finally start to break through my sleep riddled mind.
The guys and I had been at a bonfire at the beach when Jonas got word that the twins’ father had gone missing with two other Hunters that belonged to the Blade Clan. I had felt partially responsible because I had personally asked Edison Greer, the leader of the Blade Clan, to use their Tracker to find a local shapeshifter that had gone missing. The Hunters were on that mission when they had just stopped communicating and hours later they had missed their check in time.
So even though I was angry with the twins and feeling hurt, not to mention humiliated, by my almost kiss with Blake on the beach, I volunteered to help find their father.
I was able to use my newly discovered Gift of Tracking to find where the three Valkyries and the werewolf were being held. We used the void to take down what we thought were all of the bad guys. But there was a woman with an automatic weapon that we didn’t find until it was too late. She had opened fire on us and Connor, who was the only one of us without Shield, was shot in the chest.
Max had tried to help him with his Healing Gift, but he was too weak. It was obvious that Connor was going to die. So I had had the brilliant idea of funneling my apparently over-the-top strong power into Max by touching his Shield. It had worked and Max was strong enough to fully heal Connor from the brink of death, but it had come at a cost. My hands had been severely burned where I had maintained contact with Max’s Shield and I had forced myself to endure the harrowing pain until I had passed out from the pain.
A healer was able to help with my hands and they are now a mess of white scar tissue, but I had been passed out long enough for a dozen important Valkyries in the Americas West Kingdom to witness my Cloaking Gift. Apparently, Cloaking was such a rare Gift that people now believed it to be something straight out of folklore. This made me a target for people that wanted to use me to gain more power and influence.
There was also the small fact that I was a girl. I didn’t think that being a woman was a big deal, but apparently female Valkyries were also rare and could only be conceived if both parents were Valkyries. Nowadays only the royal lines still had females. This meant that even though I called a broken down bus home and have been in the California foster care system for the last four years, the Valkyrie clans I had ran into over the last two weeks believed that I was some long lost princess.
Personally, I thought the whole fairy tale Cinderella story was completely ridiculous. I just wanted to stay out of trouble long enough to turn eighteen, age out of the foster care system, graduate high school, and hopefully get a scholarship to college. But Max had been right when he told me that I couldn’t go back to hiding in the human world because I wasn’t human, I was a Valkyrie. And Valkyries need to be around others of our own kind.
Before meeting the Oakland Clan I hadn’t known what I was missing, but when I am around them I feel healthier, happier, and more powerful. More than that, I feel like for once in my life I might actually belong somewhere. Unless I have no other option, I don’t want to return to the desolation of hiding amongst the humans.
So for now, I am learning everything that I can while staying close to the guys within the Oakland Clan because they are the only ones that I trust.
The trouble with this is that the Oakland Clan is a small relatively powerless clan that no one seems to care about. Everyone I meet is convinced that I am destined for bigger things and expects me to start acting like a royal. Meaning they are expecting me to walk over everyone in my path and demand stupid shit, like unborn children. But like I said before - I don’t want to be a royal. I just was to survive my current situation and make a safe and quiet life for myself.
Now, if only I could get everyone to start believing that fact.
Thoughts about last night reminded me of a part of a conversation that I overheard while still in the void. Edison, the clan leader of a powerful group of Valkyrie Hunters, was talking with a guy that looked eerily similar to the actor that played professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies whose name is Prince Hernan Collins. Hernan is Queen Florence’s brother and apparently the head of intelligence for the territory that the Collins’ Royal line rules over. Hernan said something about me having the same abilities as the Hidden and that he thought I would be the key to finding them.
I have no idea who the Hidden are, but from the conversation it sounded like they are people who also have my Cloaking Gift. Meaning there are other people who can access a plane of existence that overlaps with this one. A place that I call the void.
The void is where I took Max to heal Connor last night. After I blacked out, they along with Blake and Logan in his wolf form had been stuck without me to push them back to the physical plane. After we had reappeared, Hernan asked me to come back to the royal properties, but I had declined. That was how I had ended up in the powder blue guest room within the Oakland clan house with two Valkyrie from the Blade clan as guards.
I checked my cheap dollar store wrist watch and saw that it was already after nine a.m. I didn’t have to work today, but I had promised Logan that I would get him back to his pack. I was guessing that he was more than ready for that to happen.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and stiffly rolled out of the bed while stifling a moan. Jesus I was sore. The moment I opened the guest room door I heard voices, and I didn’t particularly like the authoritative tone traveling down the hallway. Elijah Nilsen was the leader of the Oakland Clan, but I had never heard him talk in the kind of cold voice before. I didn’t think it was him.
I decided to push back into the fabric of reality until I was in the void and sealed the entrance behind me. In this state, I could see and hear everything in the physical plane, but I couldn’t interact with it at all. Conversely, I was completely invisible and inaudible to anyone not in the void with me.
When I got to the end of the long hallway, I saw that the large living room was packed with people. The guys from the Oakland Clan were all there, as was Logan and the two Blade Hunters that had followed us home last night, Tobias Eldridge, and Noland Smith. Unfortunately, the amount of people had increased from last night and standing front and center before the fireplace was Hernan Collins, Kaiden Collins, and Edison Greer. Hernan was the one talking in the cold authoritative voice and after a few moments I surmised that he was interrogating Connor, Blake, and Max about what happened last night.
“How did you find the location of your father and the other Hunters?” Hernan asked while holding a small black leather notepad and fancy pen. I had used my newly discovered Tracking Gift to find the twin’s father, but I had been very clear that I didn’t want the royals knowing about the extent of my power. I trusted that the guys would figure some way to cover for me.
“Valkyrie Olsen has Tracking,” Connor replied without hesitation and my stomach dropped. I thought that I could trust him. Hell it was the Oakland Clan that I told me not to let on about how many Gifts I had in the first place.
As I was sinking into the feelings of betrayal, I saw Hernan look up and make eye contact with Kaiden, who gave him a slight nod of his head. That’s right, Kaiden has Truth like me. And Tobias was a telepath. If Connor or any of the guys lied, Kaiden would know and then Tobias would just read the correct answer directly out of their heads.
This was an interrogation and a lie detector test all rolled into one. There was no way for the guys to cover for me.
“Valkyrie Olsen has demonstrated Weapons, Shield, and an unknown ability that she refers to as Cloaking,” Hernan said with slightly more interest in his voice. “If she does indeed have Tracking then she would possess four Gifts, something that only one living royal can currently claim. To be clear, you are stating that you believe her to have these four Gifts.”
Connor, Blake, and Max all nodded their heads and I could practically hear them trying not to think about my fifth Gift, Truth. Hernan turned his steely gaze towards Elijah and Derik and they both nodded to confirm that they had also known about my extra Gifts.
“Interesting. Do you know how her Cloaking Gift works?” Hernan asked and from the covetous gleam in his eye I could tell that this was the information he really wanted to know. It wasn’t fair to let the guys keep taking all the heat for me, not to mention that I could actually block telepathy. As long as I didn’t lie I might be able to talk my way out of this with some of my secrets still intact.
I walked so that I was standing between the royals and the Three Musketeers and then pushed free of the void. To his credit, Hernan barely reacted to my sudden appearance but Kaiden nearly jumped out of his skin, bringing a slight smile to my lips.
“Prince Hernan,” I stated and bowed my head slightly. “My Cloaking is quite simple. Instinctual like using all of our Gifts are to the Valkyrie that possess them. But in basic terms I can turn myself, or anything else I desire invisible.”
“Yes, that much is clear. However, during the incident last night you and your companions were not merely invisible but completely incorporeal. Would you care to explain?” Hernan said in a tone that clearly expressed that he wasn’t really asking but rather demanding an answer.
I took a moment to consider how to answer. I knew it might not be the smartest move, but the bottom line was that I wasn’t going to let anyone force me into doing or saying something I didn’t want to. I had lived the first thirteen years of my life that way and I would never allow myself to be under the influence of someone else like that again. “With all due respect, Prince Hernan, I would rather keep the details about my Cloaking Gift to myself.”
Hernan didn’t seem surprised or even disappointed with this answer. In fact, I could have sworn that it almost brought a smile to his lips, causing a shiver to run down my spine. What game is the queen’s brother playing at here?
Kaiden, on the other hand, did not take my refusal to answer so well. His face started to turn red and I noticed his hands ball into tight fists before practically yelling, “We are royals! The ultimate authority of this society. You must answer!” Kaiden declared and took a step forward so that we were standing only about a foot apart.
From this distance I could smell his overpowering musky cologne and I wanted to scrunch my nose up in distaste. I held my ground and met the young prince’s eye before replying, “rAe you saying that if I want to be a part of your society I must obey your every request?”
“Yes,” Kaiden hissed out and I knew that this was the real version of him. This was the version that I had witnessed bullying the twins. His more gentleman and polite actions in the past had been nothing more than a political mask. A rather flimsy mask that he didn’t have complete control over.
This was a chance for me to finally get some answers about what the royals had in mind for my future, so I swallowed the first reply that came to mind and kept my face pleasant. My father may have put me through hell as a child, but he did teach me how to work a situation to my benefit.
I gave Kaiden a placating smile and asked in a sweet voice, “And what part would I play in your society?” Hernan must have deduced that his nephew was about to make a political faux pas because he tried to stop Kaiden from continuing, but the prince was on a mission to be heard.
“You would stand at my side and be a princess to Americas West Kingdom,” Kaiden declared with absolute confidence, like if my marrying him was already a done deal. I pushed away my revulsion, kept an iron clad grasp on my rage, and maintained a bullet proof poker face. There was one more answer that I needed.
“And as a princess and your wife, would I be treated with respect where my opinion and desires are considered before any action occurs? Would I be free to make my own decisions, move freely, and associate with whomever I saw fit? Would I be seen as your equal?”
The more words that I said, the more pissed off Kaiden became and he didn’t have my poker face. He would need to work on that if he continued in politics.
“Of course,” Kaiden said in a stiff voice and I Truth checked him. It might have been a stupid move on my part because people with Truth could tell when they were Truth checked, so I had just outed my fifth Gift to the prince, but he had to understand that he couldn’t just get away with lying to me like that. More importantly, Kaiden, Hernan, and Edison needed to know that I wasn’t this docile woman that would quietly stand by and allow others to rule my life.
It took a moment for Kaiden to accept what his Gift was telling him, but before long his face morphed from indignant to disbelief to majorly pissed off.
“That’s not possible,” Kaiden muttered under his breath and I dropped my happy facade to show him that I was just as angry as he was. I was not some possession for him to keep to increase his standing in the Valkyrie society. I would never give my freedom up. Not for him. Not for a title. Not for anything.
While I was staring Kaiden down with my small victory he did something I hadn’t been expecting. He summoned a dagger and executed a smooth lunge with the tip pointed straight at my heart. It was only my quick reflexes that saved my life. I spun away from the blade and instead of impaling my chest, the knife cut a deep gash to my left bicep. I maintained my momentum, grabbing his right wrist and twisting his weapon out of his hand, and pushing him off balance so that he stumbled into the coffee table. Kaiden was unable to regain his balance and ended up tripping head first onto the ground.
Before I could advance on the prince, the Three Musketeers and Logan jumped into the space between us, effectively erecting a protective wall. Blake called twin short swords, Connor had a giant battle ax in his grip, and Logan was emitting a menacing growl that sounded crazy coming from a human throat.
Edison and Noland were now standing protectively in front of the still prone prince with their own blades facing off against my guys while Tobias had his eye closed and his fingertips pressed to his temples. If I had to guess, I would say he was trying to make sense of what just happened through the jumble of everyone’s thoughts. I am impressed that he was willing to close his eyes in this sort of situation. He must really trust that his clan brothers will protect him.
“Prince Hernan, Valkyrie Olsen is under the protection of the Oakland Clan. I do not care who your nephew is. We will not allow her to be attacked in an unprovoked way within this house!” Elijah practically bellowed into the chaos and everyone fell silent.
I glanced over to see him standing to my left next to Derik and both of them were also armed. This room was a powder keg of testosterone filled men with sharp edges that was a hair’s breadth away from exploding. I prepared to push my guys into the void to ensure their safety and held my breath as I looked over at the elder prince that was still standing. Hernan looked like he had swallowed a lemon but did give a slight head nod acknowledging Elijah’s words.
“Tell your men to stand down,” Elijah demanded in an authoritative voice that I was proud of. The royals may not think much of Elijah, but he was a clan leader and had a backbone of steel.
Hernan took a moment to look over the room filled with people ready to fight, paused briefly on me and for some reason stared at Kaiden’s dagger that was still in my right hand before giving another barely noticeable nod. Edison and Noland each dematerialized their weapons and then Noland reached down to help Kaiden to his feet. Hernan stepped up to Kaiden blocking my view of his nephew and said in a voice laced with unspoken threats, “Explain yourself.”
Kaiden was either too ashamed to explain or still too upset with the knowledge that he wasn’t the only person in his kingdom to have the Truth Gift anymore, because he kept his eyes down and remained silent. When Kaiden failed to answer, Hernan turned his unforgiving gaze on Tobias, but the mind reader just shook his head. He was unable to make heads nor tails of all of the thoughts in the room. Maybe telepathy wasn’t as infallible as I thought it was.
Hernan took a moment to stare down his nephew and then turned so he was now facing me with a blank face. Now this man had a damn impressive poker face.
“My deepest apologies Valkyrie Olsen. I am at a loss to explain the actions of Prince Kaiden, but I can assure you that the Collins’ Royal Line does not wish you any harm. In fact, I came here today to extend an invitation into our home and our clan. Do you have any insights into why my nephew attacked you?” Hernan asked me and I could tell that he was holding onto his temper by the skin of his teeth.
Despite his clear restraint, Hernan’s words were true. The Royals didn’t want me harmed, they wanted their newest trophy to be undamaged as they took possession.
By now the blood from my wound had soaked down my long sleeve shirt and was dripping off the tips of my fingertips. I met Hernan’s cold stare and refused to be intimidated by him. I had done nothing wrong here. “I have many insights. One of them is that if this is what your society has to offer then I want nothing to do with it,” I said in a calm cold voice that did nothing to showcase the rage boiling inside of me.
After that fairly dramatic declaration, I pushed back into the void and started to pace as the room descended into a tense silence. I mean who the hell did these people think they were? I understood that they were rich and powerful but did they really think that I would just give them my freedom on a silver platter for a nice place to live and a fancy title? Or that I would just forgive that Kaiden just tried to stab me in the heart and marry the spineless bully? Well fuck that.
“Elijah is worried that she is a flight risk. She has had thoughts of running away before. Derik is thinking that there is nothing we can do to stop her if she wants to leave. The boys don’t think she would leave without talking to them first. Kaiden is finally making sense and wants Delia to leave because she has the Truth Gift,” Tobias said in a monotone voice as he translated a room full of thoughts into information that Hernan could use. Okay, so telepathy really was a useful Gift.
That little bombshell of information took a moment to sink in, but when it did Hernan turned to Elijah and demanded, “Did you know?”
“Yes,” Elijah said without flinching and his voice was still inlaid with a fierce anger.
“So you decided to keep the fact that the most powerful Valkyrie alive was living unknown in our territory to yourself?” Hernan asked in a disbelieving tone, clearly at the end of his patience.
“Valkyrie Olsen came to this clan for help and protection and we will continue to provide that in any way that we are able,” Elijah declared and a small part of my anger thawed. None of this drama would be happening in their house if it wasn’t for me. The Oakland Clan had done nothing but try to support and educate me on the confusing world around me. Not once had I felt that they were trying to use me or trap me in anyway.
I had to remember that there were good and bad Vals just like there were good and bad humans.
“The Royal Clan will provide all of the help and protection that child needs,” Hernan growled and Derik actually scoffed.
“The second that you found out, the prince tried to kill her. If not for her fast reflexes we would be having this conversation over her dead body. Clearly, she has reason not to trust you,” Derik said causing Hernan to clench his jaw so hard that a vein started to pop out of his forehead.
While Hernan was composing himself Tobias called out, “Delia, please come back. We swear no more harm will come to you. Please allow young Max to heal your wounds and we can discuss everything.”
When I didn’t come forward Hernan added that Kaiden would be punished for his actions, making my stomach turn. I didn’t want to know what that man had in mind for punishment. In fact, I didn’t want anything to do with this entire situation anymore. The only thing I had to do was keep my promise to Logan to get him back to his pack. After that, I didn’t owe these people anything.
I cloaked Logan and in the chaos no one even noticed that he disappeared from sight. Everyone was too busy trying to get me to return to concern themselves with the lone wolf that had spent the last several days in a cage getting his blood drained. He was the real victim here, but just because he wasn’t one of their precious Valkyries the royals could care less about him or what he has been through. In fact there was the whole, we had found a moondust drug cook lab thing that I would like to know more about. Just another situation was being overlooked because they were more interested in me.
These people made zero sense.
It didn’t take Logan long to spot me pacing by the front door and he didn’t hesitate to step up to my side and take a protective stance between me and the agitated people on the physical plane. I was surrounded by testosterone filled men who all believed I needed someone to save me.
“I am so over this. Let’s go. You need to get back to your pack,” I told him in a tired voice and walked through the front door as if I was a ghost.
“Fuck,” I heard Logan mutter when I passed through the physical door but within seconds he followed my lead and jogged until he caught up. I didn’t know where I was going. I only cared about putting distance between us and the shit show that was going down inside the Oakland Clan house.
“Ray, stop. I need to look at your arm,” Logan said in a worried tone.
I paused and looked down at my arm that was still dripping blood. Now that I was thinking about it, my shoulder was pulsing with pain and I was starting to feel a little light headed. I couldn’t even remember the last time that I ate something. I went to touch the bloody gash only to find that I was still holding Kaiden’s dagger. Because I could summon a dozen different weapons with just a thought, I never really used weapons that weren’t my own. I couldn’t dematerialize a weapon that wasn’t mine, but I also didn’t have anywhere to put it.
“Here, let me,” Logan said and slowly approached me like if I was a wounded animal that would run away at any sudden movements. He used the tips of his fingers to open up the slice in my sleeve and probe my damaged skin. I hissed out a breath as a bolt of pain burst down my arm. It was a clean slice. About four inches long, running diagonally on the outside of my bicep and it was deep. “Jesus, that dude nearly cut you to the bone.”
“Nothing in this world is sharper than a Valkyrie blade,” I replied as Logan reached back behind his head and pulled off the black t-shirt that looked like it belonged to Derik. When he revealed a defined six pack encased in creamy brown skin I flashed back on the full frontal view I had glimpsed after he changed back into his human form last night and if I wasn’t suffering from blood loss I am sure I would have started blushing. Logan was about as tall as Derik at five eleven, had clearly defined features with thin lips and a buzz cut revealing a strip of tribal tattoos that traveled from his upper back up into his hairline. He was a lean slab of muscle and had an attitude that screamed ‘bad boy’.
“Every time I see you in your human form you seem to be lacking proper clothing,” I murmured as Logan started tearing strips of material from the bottom of his shirt. Maybe it was the blood loss or the sight of seeing a half naked man in front of me, but it occurred to me that I really didn’t know Logan. Last night he had been trapped as a wolf so we hadn’t even really said a word to each other. Now I was alone and injured with a man I didn’t know and had no reason to trust.
I usually didn’t make poor life choices like this, but even as I grew apprehensive about the situation none of my alarm bells were going off. For some reason, I felt comfortable with the good looking Shifter.
“Well I needed to do something to distract you from the pain,” Logan purred while giving me a flirty smile.
I glanced back at his defined adonis belt and admitted to myself that the view had definitely distracted me. “You want to tell me how you got into this whole mess in the first place?” I asked. “Your brother, Kace, said that you were on your way to Oakland to square something with Lawrence and the local pack when you disappeared. How did you end up locked in a cage within an abandoned factory in your wolf form?”
Logan took several of the strips of material and tightly tied them around my arm to stop the bleeding. Once he was done he stepped back and looked me in the eye for a moment like if he was considering if he should tell me the truth or not. I wondered what I looked like through his eyes. Probably like a silly teenage girl who was way over her head.
“What’s your play here, Sweetheart? Why would a female Valkyrie get on her hands and knees in front of a cage with a frantic werewolf? Why did you protect me back at the factory? Why are you bleeding on the street with me instead of demanding to be healed from the herd of men tripping over themselves to get your attention inside that house?” Logan asked gently, like if he was unsure it was wise to be asking such questions.
Here we go again. Yet another person who is too caught up in the preconceptions of how I was supposed to act and who I supposed to be, to ever really get to know the real me. When Logan looked at me he wasn’t seeing Ray Olsen, the foster child who is just figuring out the rules of this world. He only saw a female Valkyrie.
I pulled my cheap pay-as-you-go flip phone out of my back pocket so that I could call a taxi to take us to Fremont only to find that it was dead. I glanced around, but this wasn’t the kind of neighborhood where taxis waited for fares, especially in the new Uber age. “Do you know the bus routes that go to Fremont?” I asked instead of answering any of his questions.
“What?” Logan asked with confusion heavy in his tone as if I had just asked him to explain string theory or something else just as complex.
“I promised I would get you back to your pack, but my phone is dead and I don’t have a car. There is a bus stop about a half mile away, but I don’t know the routes that would take us to Fremont,” I explain in a tired voice. I really needed to eat something.
“We are not taking a bus to Fremont,” Logan hissed out like if I had just suggested that we eat rats off the street. I never understood why people looked down on public transportation. Thousands of people used the bus system everyday. Yes, it wasn’t as convenient as owning a car, but it worked just fine.
Logan walked down to the corner and looked at the street signs before making a left turn and strutting down the sidewalk. When I didn’t immediately follow he turned and yelled back, “Come on my little Val protector, I have an idea.”