Authors: Heather Long
Wolves of Willow Bend
Wolves of Willow Bend
By: Heather Long
Published by Heather Long
© 2014 Heather Long
Edited by Virginia Nelson
Cover Art by Scott Carpenter
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All characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.
After a dominance challenge ended with his parents deaths, Mason left Willow Bend and his pack behind, choosing instead to live life on his own terms…as a Lone Wolf. A wanderer, he keeps his life simple and carefree until an unexpected encounter brings him face to face with his tragic past and the woman he always adored. Determined to get her out of his blood, he teases her into an easy one-night stand…but one taste will never be enough.
Adopted as a young girl, Alexis Huston lived on the fringe of pack life. She’s never been strong enough, fast enough, or pretty enough—except to Mason, but then he left her. Allowed her freedom as an adult and sworn to keep the pack’s secrets, she’s struggled to fit into the ‘human’ world. A chance meeting turns her hard-won life upside down.
She is left with two options—she can tell the only wolf she’s ever loved that she’s carrying their child…or she can protect him, keep the baby a secret, and run.
For my Mini. She never stops cheering me on, and she’s always willing to help however she can. I couldn’t do it without her.
No book is ever written in a vacuum. This series is one of those ideas I couldn’t get out of my head. So thank you to Rebecca, Virg, and Patti for indulging my muse. Thanks to Scott Carpenter for creating some fabulous covers based on my random notes. Thanks to my readers who stuck with me through a tough and turbulent year. Y’all rock!
The Wolves of Willow Bend
—Lone Wolf, son of Andrew and Melissa Clayborne. (Both deceased)
—Human, daughter of Tiffany Huston, adopted daughter of Ryan, older sister of Kyle Huston.
—Attorney for Willow Bend pack, mate and husband to Tiffany, father of Kyle, adopted father of Alexis.
—Wife and mate of Ryan, mother to Tiffany and Kyle. Turned wolf.
—Enforcer, southern region.
—Alpha, Willow Bend.
—Alpha, Delta Crescent.
—Hunter, Willow Bend.
The scrape of shoes, a grunt, and a woman’s scent spiraling between anxiety and anger dragged Mason Clayborne out of his preoccupation. He scanned the street. All around him, humans rushed around the city, repeating their twice-daily migration. The sun already set, but he didn’t need the streetlights to see the people around him or to hear another grunt of sound and, beneath it, the distress of a woman’s voice.
The scent. The voice.
Both were familiar, but neither mattered as much as the suggestion of
lingering beneath the sound. Pivoting, he stopped pretending not to notice the world around him and followed the scent. One moment walking, the next running, he easily dodged passersby. The sound and scent grew and he raced into a damp alley. The strong stink of refuse made him sneeze and one street over, he saw her.
The woman held onto her purse with surprising ferocity. She’d hooked one hand and clawed the man trying to jerk her bag away. Her attacker drove his shoulder into her and slammed her into a wall. Mason sprinted, sliding between the passing cars, forgetting for a moment that humans couldn’t move at that speed.
“Let go of me, you son of a bitch,” the woman bit out. Fury coupled with desperation darkened her tone and she drove the heel of her hand into the man’s face. A satisfying crunch of bone filled the air and Mason caught the hints of blood—the man’s and the woman’s. Plucking her attacker away, he flung him against the opposite wall.
The would-be-mugger hit the brick with a second satisfying crunch and rebounded to land on his back in a puddle. Not even a flicker of movement behind a thin line of blood trickling down his face. Motion to his left, and he blocked the woman’s swing. Her purse made a glancing blow off his forearm with enough force to make the bone ache.
“What do you have in that thing? Rocks?” His question brought her up short and she stumbled a half-step.
“Mason?” The strangled notes of recognition and disbelief served as his only warning before Alexis gripped him in a fierce hug. Closing his arms around her was the most natural thing in the world. Flashing red and blue lights filled the dim alley and Mason tucked her against his side even as he whirled to squint at the beam of light.
“Release the woman and put your hands up,” an officer ordered.
Alexis slipped free and stepped between Mason and the officer before he could stop her. A low growl rumbled in his throat, but he swallowed the sound. “Mason saved me from that guy.” She pointed to her attacker, still prone in the alley. “So stop pointing a gun at us.”
Despite the rapid race of her heart, she projected confidence and poise. Where had the pig-tailed girl, with her scraped knees and sassy mouth, gone? And why the hell was she in the city—alone? The cops moved forward and Mason fought every instinct he possessed not to snarl at them.
In the city and amongst humans, he ceded to the authority and never rocked the boat to avoid risking the packs by exposure. Lone Wolves owed fealty to no Alpha, but they were subject to all of the pack laws. Certain he could handle the two officers if they turned out to be trouble, he kept his hands slightly away from his body, palms facing forward.
“Dial it down.” Alexis whispered so softly, he knew he was the only one who heard her. “You’re still growling.”
Surprised, he blinked and silenced the noise. The officer checked on Alexis’ attacker and gave a grunt of surprise. “He’s out cold—and his nose is broken.” He gave Mason a flat, hard look.
The attacker was lucky to not have a broken neck.
“I broke his nose,” Alexis interjected and adjusted her stance to remain between Mason and the cops. Though human, she’d grown up around wolves and had to know it was a bad idea. “He attacked me.”
The second officer approached and it took genuine effort for Mason not to flex his hands and curl them into fists. They were too close to Alexis and his wolf rose to the surface. Glancing down, he concentrated on her heartbeat. The rapid tattoo of her pulse fluctuated, the barest hint of a murmur—one he half-remembered as an elusive dream and it grounded him in the reality of her fragility.
. Caring for those weaker than himself had been instilled in him since he was old enough to walk. He remembered the day Alexis arrived in Willow Bend like it was yesterday. She’d been all of four years old. Mason’s mother had taken him with her to welcome the family. Ryan Huston spent two years in Chicago doing work for the Alpha and he’d sent home an unusual request. He wanted to marry and his bride already had a child.
For some ungodly reason, Mason had been forced to listen to the debate as the Alpha discussed the issue with his closest advisors—including Andrew, Mason’s father. The larger concern had been the phrasing of Ryan’s request. Wolves mated, they didn’t marry.
So, was the woman his mate or not?
As it turned out, yes, they’d mated, but Ryan had phrased the request in such a way that, if denied by his Alpha, he had grounds to break from his pack. It had been Melissa, Mason’s mother, who’d pointed it out in hushed conversation. The clever phrasing and even more devious plan had worked. Toman had no interest in losing the pack’s best lawyer, not to mention Ryan’s ability to move in and out of human situations without trying, so his request had been granted. He’d probably gotten his ass kicked later for trying to pull a fast one, but there were all kinds of games dominants could play.
Dull sorrow knifed through Mason’s soul. Alexis had been a terrified kid surrounded by pack as they welcomed her family. About a week later, Mason realized Alexis had no idea they were wolves.
What a fucked up day
“Sir?” The obsequious voice of the second officer intruded and Mason fought the urge to snarl.
“Can you confirm Miss Huston’s statement?”
Fur ruffled beneath Mason’s skin. His wolf crouched, watchful and wary. If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up scaring the cop. Mason stuffed his impatience down. “I was on the street and I heard her cry out.” From two blocks away, but not a lie. “I looked in the alley and I saw her struggling with that asshole.” Also not a lie. “She broke his nose.” Pride made him grin. “And I knocked his sorry ass out.” He should have killed him, but he’d been more concerned with Alexis’ injuries.
Alexis shouldn’t be on her own in the middle of a fucking city. What the hell was wrong with Ryan? Or Toman? Why wasn’t she in Willow Bend?
The officer was a little too close to Alexis, so Mason took a step forward. The cop glanced from Mason to his notes then jerked his head back up again. The majority of humans had no idea the wolves existed and the wolves liked to keep it that way. That didn’t mean humans didn’t understand a threat when they saw one and the cop made a wise choice when he retreated a step.
“I have your contact information, ma’am. How do I get ahold of you, Mr…?”
“Clayborne,” Alexis said and took the business card the officer held out. “And you can reach him through my number. Mason travels a lot, so it would be easier for everyone. Though…I can’t imagine you’ll need anyone’s testimony but mine, right?”