Next up from the Romancing the Wolf Anthology is Heather Long with her next installment for the Wolves of Willow Bend!
Wolf With Benefits
After graduating college and spending a summer breaking the law, Shiloh Sullivan needs to make amends and accomplish something for Willow Bend. When her best friend, the wolfish and playful Matt Montgomery moves her in with him, she’s hard-pressed to refuse. But pretending a relationship with a wolf is impossible, and while Shiloh might be human, she knows the rules…
After sweeping a glance across the spotless kitchen, Shiloh Sullivan sacked the trash with a tie, then a twist followed by knotting the plastic gathers at the top. Dragging the bag out of the can, she palmed the recycle-only can as well.
“Take those straight out, put them in the right cans—dark green for the trash and blue for the recycling.” Her mother didn’t look away from the stove or the fish she grilled.
“I have put trash out before, Mom.” Shiloh fisted the bag. “Twenty years of experience.”
“Don’t take that tone with me.” Her mother spun and pointed her spatula in her direction. “Take it out, put it in the right cans, then get back in here. Everyone has had quite enough of you lately, and they aren’t going to be particularly friendly at the moment.”
Blowing out a deep breath, Shiloh pursed her lips. She was twenty-four, not four. She had a college degree and plenty of options. Hell, she’d spent an entire half a year coordinating the most daring gamble of the century and been instrumental in forming a new pack—an unheard of sixth pack in the United States. And they were still going…none of those words passed her lips, however, not when her mother glared daggers at her. “Is there anything I can say that won’t piss you off right now?”
Delia paused as though considering her answer, before she shook her head. “No. Do what I told you to do.”
Not rolling her eyes, she hoisted the bag and can higher to show she had the task in hand then escaped from the hall of judgment known as the Sullivan kitchen. Being a human in a wolf pack had never been a picnic, but being a daughter in the Sullivan family made dominance battles look like a walk in the park.
When she jerked the door open with more force than she intended, she winced at the bang it made hitting the wall.
“Shiloh!” Her mother could encompass so many sins within one yell of her name.
“Sorry, Mom,” had become her mantra from childhood onward. Why did she make everything so difficult? Battles with her parents were par for the course, and she never imagined, after she’d shipped out for school, that she would find herself back in Willow Bend. Worse yet, be back to living in her parents’ home.
Walking down to the curb, she deposited the trash in the cans. She’d put them out earlier, thinking she would be a step ahead of her mother’s judgmental tones. Too bad she’d forgotten her mother wanted every scrap of garbage out when the cans were picked up.
Down the street, the Drakes worked in their yard. They paused at her appearance and the weight of their regard struck her. Two houses down, the Yorks were trotting in their wolf forms toward the woods,
but the two paused to glance at her. Disapproval gleamed in their gazes. Knowing better than to get in a stare off, she closed off the trash can, then emptied the recycling into the blue can.
Across the street, Mrs. Sexton walked out onto her porch and folded her arms. Disapproval radiated from her stance. The wolf owned the local grocer and made the best muffins and other sweets. Pissing her off took skill, so apparently Shiloh earned a gold medal. If looks could kill, she would be dead or at least on the ground writhing. The wolves wouldn’t lay a finger on her. She was human, and they were wolves. Mason gave her permission to return, but she was on thin ice with the Alpha. His orders wouldn’t be challenged, but it didn’t mean they planned to make her welcome.
The cold air coupled with the trash being taken care of meant she needed to go inside. “Shiloh!” her mother bellowed and Shiloh closed her eyes, tilted her head to face the sky and counted to twenty. The sooner she got her own place, the better. Living at home sucked.
Hands snaked around her waist and hit her ticklish spots even as she was lifted off the ground. A squeal of surprise burst out of her. “Matt!” She beat at his hands, but he had her, and the gentle squeezes sent laughter through her.
“Hey, gorgeous.” He pressed his cheek to hers and, thankfully, stopped setting off the racing sensation over her skin. “Long time no see?”
“Shiloh Maria Sullivan,” her mother snapped the words like fired bullets.
“Oh boy, you’re gonna get it.” The whispered chant from her best friend didn’t score her any points. Slapping his hands worked, however, and he pivoted both of them to face her mother. “Good evening, Mrs. Sullivan.” Matt’s butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth smile charmed more than one parent over the years. “Sorry about distracting Shiloh. I came over to invite her over for dinner.”
“She can’t.” Her mother’s lips compressed to a thin line. Though her hair had been pulled into a ponytail, gray wisps escaped. Gray hairs she attributed to Shiloh’s choices. “Shiloh, come inside, please.”
Matt didn’t release her. “Aww, Mrs. Sullivan. I know you’re upset, but my mom was really looking forward to seeing her.”
“I’ll call and apologize for her, then.” Delia Sullivan didn’t bend, not even for Matt’s charm. “Shiloh, go inside please.”
“Wow, Mommy Dearest is pissed.” His faint whisper had been meant for her ears.
Elbowing him, Shiloh pushed free and reclaimed the recycle bin. “You’re not helping,” she hissed.
“Call me.” He bumped her shoulder as she cut around him to jog up the path to her mom. When she didn’t respond, he raised his voice. “Call me, Shiloh. Call me. Call Me. Call me.”
Pausing, she swung around and stared at him. “I heard you the first time, Matt. I’m not deaf. I’ll call you after dinner.”
His face lit with a broad grin. “Can’t wait. I knew you missed me.”
Despite her irritation, she rolled her eyes and laughed. He was her best friend. Of course she’d missed him.
“Go away now, Matt.” Delia shooed him, then gave her a rather forceful nudge. “Get inside and stop embarrassing me.” The low-voiced utterance would carry. They’d lived around wolves long enough to respect their sharp hearing. Shiloh’s face heated. Half the street watched them…no, they watched her.
Door open, she slid inside, then held it for her mother. Her gaze collided with Matt’s and his cheerful face softened. He winked at her, then held his thumb and pinky toward his face. She nodded.
After pushing past her, Delia tugged her away and closed the door. “Look, I get that you don’t fully understand everything you did, Shiloh. You’re a grown woman, making passion-based decisions. Passion leads to foolish choices…like that sixth pack.”
“Don’t Mom me. You made the choice to go against your family and the pack that shelters us. You made a crazy call, risked your life, your future, and our position…you don’t just walk back from that.” Anger cooled every word and, for a brief second, tears glimmered in her eyes. She took the recycle can from her hands, then nodded to the stairs. “So, do as I ask you to do and go wash for dinner.”
Chewing the inside of her lip and maybe some of her pride, she nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” Taking the stairs two at a time, she headed for the bathroom where she washed then ducked inside her bedroom. From there, she stole a peek from her window. Sure enough, Matt leaned against his car across the street.
He straightened, and his gaze met hers as though he’d been expecting her. In fast strides, he crossed the yard, climbed the tree and alighted on the ledge outside her window before she could even get the locks undone. “You said to call you, dumbass. If my mother catches you up here…”
“She won’t,” he said with a grin, crouching to peer inside. “Damn, with the My Little Pony Shi. You still keep that crap?”
“Ignore the girly frills since I have photos proving you played with ponies, too.” Had in fact given her several over the years for her birthday.
“Stalking them is not the same as playing.” He winked, then settled his arm as if he planned to hang out. “So, how you doing?”
“I’m doing great. Everyone is so happy to see me they can only stare. My mother can barely look at me, and I’m on probation. How much better can it get?”
Scratching his chin as though to give the matter some thought, Matt scrunched his face. “Break any mirrors lately?” At her snort, he grinned again. “What? You asked me. How much better it could get?”
Her mother yelled from downstairs, and she sighed. “I gotta go. She’s freaking out and, until she accepts that I’m not going to go rob a bank or something, she’s going to keep freaking out.”
“Okay. I’ll be around. Call me later. After they go to sleep, I’ll stage a jail break, and we can get a beer.”
“Oh man.” A drink sounded like heaven. “I don’t want to make her any madder.”
The sharp, hard syllables of her name reverberated from downstairs.
“Yeah, not thinking that’s possible.” Matt winced, the rubbed his ear. “Beer. You. Me. Let’s say midnight to make sure she’s really asleep.”
A slamming pot jerked through her. A motor down the street caught her attention. Dad was home. “You got it. Go, before they see you.”
“Later, babe.” Matt didn’t leap to the ground. Instead, he climbed higher, then over the house. Damn, he could move. Weird as it seemed, he’d gotten taller, or at least she thought so. Maybe she’d forgotten how tall he was. Retreating from her room, she made it to the first floor as her father came in from the garage.
Damn, dinner would be fun. Maybe her brothers and sister would ignore her, too. She couldn’t wait.
National bestselling author, Heather Long, likes long walks in the park, science fiction, superheroes, Marines, and men who aren’t douche bags. Her books are filled with heroes and heroines tangled in romance as hot as Texas summertime. From paranormal historical westerns to contemporary military romance, Heather might switch genres, but one thing is true in all of her stories—her characters drive the books. When she’s not wrangling her menagerie of animals, she devotes her time to family and friends she considers family. She believes if you like your heroes so real you could lick the grit off their chest, and your heroines so likable, you’re sure you’ve been friends with women just like them, you’ll enjoy her worlds as much as she does.