Tuesday, June 30, 2015

ZOMG! It's here! #RomWolf #WolvesofWillowBend Read #ChapterOne #99Cents

It's here! It's here! It's here! Romancing the Wolf is $0.99 for a limited time! Don't miss these ten sexy tales!   

Escape to Willow Bend for small town romance with a bite. I think the best lovers are friends first. Friendship when mingled with passion can create an enduring and magical love. 



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Sexy and we know it! They’re on the hunt after your heart. Discover 10 brand new passionate tales of friendship, desire, wolves, survival, and redemption. Escape to another world, another place, and another romance.

Warning: Contains wild heroes and heroines, tempestuous passion, old secrets, new discoveries, and pack ties binding them together. Sometimes love’s greatest challenge is romancing the wolf…

Including a Brand New Wolves of Willow Bend novella:

Wolf with Benefits (Wolves of Willow Bend) by Heather Long 

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...

Read the first chapter of Wolf with Benefits now!



Chapter One



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 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.”

“Mom…”

“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.

“Hi, Dad.”

“Shiloh.” Chilly.

Damn, dinner would be fun. Maybe her brothers and sister would ignore her, too. She couldn’t wait.


Long after dinner and his parents heading to bed, Matt played a video game on the big screen in the living room. He split his attention, half on the zombies he had to slaughter and the other half on the clock ticking above. Thirty minutes ‘til he could spring Shi from her parents’ place. The Sullivans were good people—way too strict and sometimes Mrs. Sullivan could be cold, but they loved their daughter even when they didn’t understand her.

From their first year in school through graduation, he and Shiloh had been inseparable. She was the best friend a wolf could have. Wild Thing could keep up with a hunt, knew how to tease him out of a bad mood. Hell, she knew how to put him into one, too, like when she took off after graduation without a word for a so-called road trip.

So many questions… His character died on the screen and Matt dropped the controller on the table. Time to go, anyway. After grabbing a jacket and keys, he let himself out into the night. His parents breathing never altered. They slept soundly. The lack of young children in the house probably helped. Matt technically lived at home, though in a room over the garage. The big screen in the living room was better for games.

The jeep started with the first turn of the key and he pulled away without switching on his headlights. He didn’t need them, and they would draw attention. The last thing he needed was attention if he wanted to get Shi out of her place. It took him five minutes to navigate the side streets to Shi’s house. Hell, he could probably have—and had—run it faster, but to make the jailbreak complete, he wanted to take her to the lake.

They could hang out there and talk without worry of interruption or being ‘caught.’ While he could easily run the distance carrying her, she tended to bitch about the wolf and pony show. After parking at the end of her street, he killed the engine, then studied the quiet houses for any sign of movement. The lights were off in her bedroom window, but they would be. She wouldn’t forget he was coming.

Hardly our first illegal midnight stroll. He’d broken her out plenty of times in high school, usually because she wanted to go to a party or had a date with some idiot who didn’t deserve her. Well, only when they were wolves. Her parents didn’t object to her human dating partners, though in Willow Bend she had slim pickings.

At two minutes to midnight, he crossed the street and jogged to her place. Nothing moved—the wolves out and about weren’t back and most in their houses slept. Their families shared one of the town’s original subdivisions, and most of the occupants didn’t have children under the age of eighteen. It made his job easier.

He climbed up the tree then, with a light leap, he landed on the porch roof. Another jump carried him to her open window, where she waited for him with a faint smile. “Oh my God, you could have been here earlier. I saw you pull up.”

She’d pulled her long brown hair pack into a braid, which only emphasized the strain in her hazel eyes. He loved her hair, streaked with red and hints of gold in it when the sun shone. She’d dyed one piece of it pure blond, probably to piss her mother off. Shi did a lot of things to annoy her mother.

With the practiced skill, she slid out the window. He caught her waist to support her as she swung around him and onto his back. Gently closing the window to block the cold as well as maintain their ruse, he waited for her to loop her arms around his neck. Shi knew how to balance her slender weight perfectly, right down to her thighs clamping against his hips. Nothing felt sweeter than her gripping him…except maybe if she rode his front, but they’d never taken that step.

He jumped and hit the ground. The force rippled through his calves and thighs as he absorbed the shock. Shi hopped off, and he took her hand to hurry her toward the car. It hadn’t snowed in a couple of days, so the sidewalks remained clear. At his jeep, they separated. He made it in the driver’s seat and reached across to open her door before she could reach the handle.

“Show off,” she snarked before climbing inside. Despite her sweatshirt, jacket and jeans, she already shivered. Starting the engine, he turned the heat to unpleasant for him. The temperature would be warm for her though. Satisfied she’d be comfortable, he backed out, lights off, and headed out of the subdivision. Three streets away, he turned on the lights.

“Better?”

“Oh, yeah.” She sighed and rested her head against the seat. All the stress in her scent dissipated. “Remember the night I spent in jail when we were seventeen?”

They’d gone drinking a couple of towns over—Shiloh’s idea—with her ‘borrowed’ I.D. She’d gotten busted and, rather than bail her out, her parents left her there overnight to teach her a lesson. His parents ordered him to stay out of it when he asked them to bail her out. Pack life in a nutshell—the Alpha ruled, but within families? The parents were alpha. “We’re not going to jail tonight,” he promised. “And if we do, I’ll bail you out.”

“Aww, you lubs me.”

Matt laughed. “Either that or I don’t want you trying to get even with me if I was the one who left you there.”

“I’m not that mean.”

He snorted, but the smile in her voice relaxed him.

At the lake, he grabbed two six packs from the backseat and tossed her a blanket. “Go make yourself comfortable. I’ll grab some wood for the fire.”

She stared across the silent forest and the even quieter lakeside. “Wow, I know it’s cold, but I kind of thought more people would be here.”

Pulling the tarp off the cut wood they stored for campfires, Matt shrugged. “Full moon isn’t for another two weeks, some of the year groups have winter training…and it’s a Wednesday.”

Technically a school night and after midnight…drinking at the lake in the middle of the week was for teenagers and reprobates. The teenagers were off to bed, so it fell to them.

“Is it really Wednesday?” Disgust curled her lip. “I feel like I’ve lost all track of time.” She used her foot to clear one of the large sunning stones. Once she’d kicked all the snow off, she spread out the blanket before moving the six packs onto the blanket. She was rubbing her hands together. Why hadn’t she brought gloves?

Joining her, he set the wood into the fire pit then shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it at her. She hugged it to herself and shoved her hands into the sleeves. The cold wouldn’t bother him nearly as much as it did her. “That’s what happens when you get your ass grounded.” Getting the fire started, he glanced at her. “Have a beer. Two of those and you won’t feel the cold.”

Easy laughter flowed out of her, and she shook her head. “I’ll still be cold. I won’t feel the cold—you do know that’s how people die of hypothermia?”

“Flimsy humans and your excuses.” Sitting next to her, he slid an arm around her. “Come snuggle the wolf. I’ll keep you warm.”

She elbowed him. Even expecting it, she got him good in the gut. Exhaling hard, he goosed her in return. Her yelp was reward enough. Twisting open one beer for her and a second for himself, he held the bottle for a toast.

“To old friends.” She didn’t miss a beat and they clinked their bottles together.

“Who are you calling old?”

A smirk before she said, “You, you’re the responsible one.”

The snort escaped him before he could help it. “Where do you get I’m the ‘responsible’ one?”

She uncurled one finger. “Volunteer firefighter, as needed.” A second finger. “Electrician by day.” Finally, she added a third finger. “Scout leader for the kindergarten cubs.”

Tipping the beer bottle back for a long drink, he shrugged. “Electrician was a needed field, since our two primary electricians wanted to scale back their work and I had lots of practice with cabling from interning with my dad.” His father had been instrumental in laying fiber optics across the Midwest and worked for a tech company in managing huge sections of the backbone across the U.S. “We can’t all be rebels desperate for a cause.”

“Ouch.”

Maybe it came out harsher than he’d intended, but still… “Hey you take off after graduation, don’t say a word and spend months ‘vanishing’ wolves.” The hunt for those missing wolves brought his sister home, albeit briefly, and introduced her to her mate. Not all bad, he supposed. “If you haven’t noticed, having that new pack on our doorstep is not winning anyone friends.”

“Oh, I noticed.” She wiggled from beneath his arm, then pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Frowning, he watched her knock one free. No sooner did she set it to her lips, than he plucked it away and snapped it in half. “What the hell?” Outrage filled her eyes.

“They’re bad for you, human. Not to mention you had asthma as a kid.” He’d seen her through three asthma attacks, including one which hit her in the middle of the woods, miles from town and without her inhaler.

“You’re not my father, Matt.” She tapped out a second one, so he took it before he snatched the pack and crushed it. Scowling, she balled up her teeny-tiny fist and slugged him.

“Ow.” With a grin, he took another drink. “So, other than cancer sticks, what’s up with you?” He’d waited long enough, but curiosity ate at him. For weeks after word reached them of her involvement—her and four other humans from Willow Bend—in the formation of the sixth pack, Matt had tried to reach out to her as quietly as possible.

Picking at the crumbled remains of her cigarettes, she sighed. So much emotion punched through the lonely little exhale. Sliding his arm around her shoulders again, he tugged her close. Cold air, the stars sprawling above, snow on the ground and a crackling fire added to the illusion of solitude in the night. Only she wasn’t alone and, since she’d returned home, she wouldn’t be alone anymore. Matt would watch her back.

“I’m on probation, which is as ugly as it sounds. My parents seem to have forgotten I’m an adult, and they’re grounding me. Apparently I forgot I’m an adult, too, because I had to have you sneak me out. Not sure when or if I’ll be able to get a job in town…no one except you is really speaking to me.” She rubbed the side of her nose, an old trick to stymy her tears. “I really don’t want to clean houses or do general maintenance work.”

The Sullivan family cleaned several houses in Willow Bend, their handyman service proved valuable to the pack from the former Alpha’s residence to the more modest homes. The pack took care of their own and if they ever felt the Sullivans needed more help, another family found a reason to hire them. Spring cleaning, holiday sprucing, or general work like deep cleaning kitchens and bathrooms—anything to keep the family going if word slipped out among the pack that they needed money.

Hell, Shiloh and her siblings attended college on the money her parents put away from work generated by the pack. Though, he like every other wolf, never discussed those facts with the Sullivans. They had as much pride as any wolf, but their determination to remain human in the wolf pack included avoiding the most obvious connections—like the fact they were pack as far as the rest were concerned.

“You’ll get a job,” he assured her. Someone in the pack would find work for her. “You have a fancy degree.”

“For social work.” She drained her beer and he opened a second one for her without waiting for her to ask. They traded bottles, and she sighed. “I’m qualified to work with troubled kids, troubled families…” With a sigh, she took another long pull. Her scent teased him, fresh air with a touch of tangy citrus blended with sea spray and a hint of lily. Her scent reminded him of a world traveler, every time she went away to school and came home, she added another nuance to it.

Being around Shiloh reminded him of standing on the shore of the big lake with the wind ruffling his hair. Her scent carried freedom with the promise of more. Giving her a squeeze, he said. “So you can work with the kids at the school or around the pack. We have our own issues you know.”

“Oh yeah, I do know. But we don’t have domestic violence or kids cutting school or...homeless issues. Crisis intervention and community organization from a human for wolves? Not really something I see happening.” 

Giving into his curiosity, he finished his beer before asking, “Is that why you did it?”

“Did what?”

“Abandoned all of us to help form an illegal sixth pack?” The question came out a blunt, but he still couldn’t wrap his mind around Shiloh’s rebellious activities.

“I don’t see it as illegal.”

“How can you not see it as illegal? You’re Willow Bend. You fostered the violation of laws by Lone Wolves and helped cover…” Shock went through him. “Bleaching the houses. That was you.” Why the hell hadn’t he seen it? The details remained sketchy and on a need to know basis, but Margo mentioned it after their last dinner with her mate before she went to Italy. The Sullivans knew how to clean houses for wolves, how to eliminate unwanted scents and more. Shiloh grew up with them and her family specialized in house and handy work.

Holy shit. Does Mason know? Choking on his beer, Matt didn’t want to know. It meant Shiloh had done more than support the effort to unite the Lone Wolves on their journeys around the country—she’d also helped them accomplish it.

“Do you know what social work means, Matt?” The rich hazel of her eyes shimmered even under the sliver of light offered by the waxing crescent moon. “It means we work to better those suffering from social disadvantages—poverty, mental illness, physical disability, sickness, and social injustice. Do you know what constitutes social injustice in a pack? Or in all of the packs?”

Dropping his chin to his chest, he sucked in a breath. “Shi, stop talking.”

“Because whatever I tell you, you may have to tell Mason?”

“Exactly.” He wouldn’t betray his best friend, not for anything in the world. Yet, if his Alpha asked…

“He knows.” Her admission shocked him. Jerking his gaze to her face, he searched her eyes and expression. “What? You think I spent three weeks with the Hunters being interrogated on every step of every action I took and I held back my contribution to cleansing the scenes of every Lone Wolf’s house? I knew if they couldn’t pick up scents, we’d hold the Enforcers off. I knew what Enforcers did, Matt…what Margo did.” Another shrug. “I did what I felt was the right thing to do. Lone Wolves need more than what they have been allowed. If that makes me a pariah, so be it.”

“So why did you do it?”

“Because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help those wolves. I’ve met a few, you know, over the years and while I was at college. Mason was a Lone Wolf and he came home and Willow Bend is a better place for him being here. I think the other packs will be better for Three Rivers existing…and so will the Lone Wolves.” Passion filled her voice, then her grin turned wry. “Or maybe I’m an emotional cripple and not fit to make those kind of decisions. Either way, it’s done. 
I’m on probation, my family hates me and the rest of pack doesn’t really want me here, but I’m not sorry I did it.”

“You’re not an emotional cripple…my mom, now she’s an emotional cripple. She hates the fact Margo moved to another continent. Resents that she mated outside the pack, and she can’t seem to get past it. She’s pissed at Dad, pissed at us and that’s on good days.”

“On bad days?”

Matt drained his second beer and accepted Shiloh’s empty. Only after he opened two more bottles and they tapped the necks together did he say, “She spends her evenings moping, looking at family pictures and sighing.” The sighing was the worst. A breath of sound filled with sad wistfulness. They all wanted to make Mom smile and none of them seemed to know how to make it work. She wanted Margo home in Willow Bend, not in Seven Hills, Italy.

“Sorry, Matty.” Shiloh squeezed his arm. “I always thought mating was the best thing that could happen to a wolf. It always seemed like something everyone celebrated.”

“It is and Margo’s happy…happier than I’ve ever seen her. Her mate’s a cool enough guy, kind of scary if you look too close or try to piss him off for fun, but he adores her. It’s a great thing for Margo. Mom misses her though, and they were always—butting heads.” They’d shipped Margo off to boarding school when Matt was five. As far as he was concerned, his sister had always been gone.
“Maybe they can visit. Maybe she and Margo can reconnect in Italy.”

“Sure, they have an invitation, but when you mention it to Mom, she sighs…” And her grief seemed to surge to the surface all over again.

“Wow, it’s kind of my fault then.” She bit her lip.

Gaze sharpening on Shiloh, Matt quirked his eyebrows. “How do you figure?”

“I helped them to make the sixth pack, which helped Luciana and Rayne, and kept them from Salvatore and Margo. They spent a lot of time chasing us. Maybe if they hadn’t, Margo would still be here.”

Damn, she really was neck deep in it. Matt shook his head. “If she were still stateside, she’d still be an Enforcer and not here Willow Bend. You didn’t break anything.” If anything, his mother would continue to mope until one of her sons took a mate and gave her a daughter to… “Huh.”

“What?” Shi went still, suspicion in her eyes. As well as he knew her, she knew him. “That look on your face never bodes well.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think I know how to fix things for my mom and get the pack to forgive you at the same time.” Laughter wound through him. He took another long swallow. No way would Shi buy into it, so he’d probably have to pester her into submission, but it would work.

“Care to share?” Irritation punched each syllable of her question.

“You’re going to be my mate-to-be…”

She choked and spewed beer out onto the snow. He patted her back, still grinning. The idea was perfect. She could stick it to her parents and help him fix his. 






  

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