Authors: Heather Long
Wolves of Willow Bend
Wolves of Willow Bend
By: Heather Long
Edited by: Virginia Nelson
Published by Heather Long
© 2014 Heather Long
Cover Art by Scott Carpenter
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All characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.
Gillian Whitford, darling of Willow Bend, brings out the protective instincts in all the dominants, but none more so than Owen Chase, the pack’s Hunter. A loner by nature and calling, Owen spends less time with his pack mates and more time on the borders of their land. Not even the change in the Alpha and the swearing of a new oath kept him around long.
Winds of change still drift through Willow Bend as they adjust to their new Alpha. When the Hudson River pack requests a fill-in healer to replace their own, Gillian, journeymen apprentice to their Pack healer, is the obvious choice to help. Owen forbids her to accept, but the sweet natured wolf rebukes his selfishness and volunteers anyway.
Risking a challenge, Owen faces off against his Alpha to appeal her decision and finds himself charged with her safety. Now, the loner will be escorting one of his pack’s most precious into foreign lands. He’s all that stands between her and a dozen potential threats…and if he doesn’t stake his claim, he may lose more than his heart.
For Mini and my pack.
The list of whom I want to say thank you to you continues to grow. To my Nikki and Kim, friends who never fail to reach out and make sure I’m okay. Ruthie and Jaime, we go months without seeing each other and pick up like it was yesterday. Jeanie who brings magic with coffee and smiles. Patti who teaches me everyday about southern gentility and unflinching support. Then there’s Becca who cheers me on, encourages me, and makes me laugh. Virg, from editing to listening to my complaints to pep talks to telling me it’s okay to take a break—couldn’t do it without you my rainbow haired chica. Sheri, Brandy, Mel—the list goes on and on. So many people who touch my life and make it a better place, they’re my pack. My peeps—y’all make this possible.
Wolves of Willow Bend Characters
—Alpha of Willow Bend, mate of Alexis, father of Melissa, son of Andrew and Melissa Clayborne (both deceased).
—Mate of Mason, mother of Melissa, daughter of Ryan and Tiffany Huston (adopted by Ryan), older sister to Kyle Huston.
—Attorney for Willow Bend pack, father of Alexis (adopted) and Kyle, mate and husband to Tiffany. Counselor to Mason.
—Wife and mate of Ryan, mother to Tiffany and Kyle. Turned wolf.
—Enforcer, southern region.
—Former Alpha of Willow Bend (Deceased)
—Widow Mate to the former Alpha of Willow Bend, counselor to Mason.
—Alpha, Delta Crescent
—Hunter, Willow Bend, counselor to Mason.
—The eldest of the Buckley triplets. Willow Bend Second, First Lieutenant and counselor to Mason Clayborne, mate of Vivian
—Second eldest of the Buckley triplets. Linc is training with the Hunters.
—Youngest of the Buckley triplets, Tyler works with the juvenile boys for training and anger management
—Mother of A.J., Linc, Tyler, and Ranae. Mate to Virgil.
—Father of A.J., Linc, Tyler, and Ranae, Mate to Claudia. Virgil works as a vehicle mechanic
—Youngest Buckley sibling, student
—Software programmer, mate to A.J. Newly turned wolf.
—Journeyman Healer, apprenticed to Emma
—Alpha of Hudson River
Beams of sunlight raked through the clouds, offering a tentative promise of the end of four straight days of torrential downpours. Owen parked across the street and down a couple of houses from the Alpha’s place. Christina Tate, the house’s owner, glanced out her window. He raised his hand in greeting, then nodded to his truck. Though Mrs. Tate was one of the oldest wolves in the pack, and a natural submissive, Owen had no problem asking for her permission to leave his vehicle parked in front of her house—it was polite.
Mason Clayborne’s driveway was full and three more cars occupied spaces right in front of his place. A meeting of the Willow Bend council—Mason’s council—meant everyone who could be there had already arrived. Mrs. Tate gave him a benevolent smile and nodded. She retreated from window, probably to watch one of her shows or to work on some project for one of her fifteen grandchildren. Hers remained a huge family within the pack structure, something he knew gave Mrs. Tate enormous pride and joy. Had it been earlier in the day, he wouldn’t have been surprised to see the youngest of her grandpups out running and playing on her massive lawn.
Ryan Huston, the pack attorney and their current Alpha’s father-in-law, pulled in to park right behind Owen. His spotless, dark blue Lexus made a powerful counterpoint to Owen’s muddy, beat-up Ford. The attorney must’ve taken the time to change into the jeans and t-shirt he was currently wearing before the meeting, as he normally favored overpriced three thousand dollar suits.
“Hey, Owen.” The wolf nodded to him and slid an envelope into Mrs. Tate’s mailbox. No doubt a gift of some kind. Mrs. Tate’s mate passed away more than twenty years before, and they liked to make sure she was getting on okay.
It was the mark of a strong pack—children who played in the streets without fear, widows and widowers who were cared for, and dominants having conversations instead of pissing matches. Task accomplished, Ryan paused to stretch out his hand. Owen met his gaze and held it for a few seconds longer than necessary. Their wolves didn’t have a problem with each other, nor were the men particularly unsettled about their places in the pack.
Old habits, however, died hard. Grinning at the thought, Owen shook Ryan’s hand once before nodding toward Mason’s. “I thought I’d be the last to arrive.”
“I just got back from the city and wanted a shower first.” A reasonable choice from a reasonable, if very crafty, wolf.
The front door opened the moment they hit the steps. Alexis danced outside and threw her arms around her father. He caught the Alpha’s mate in his arms and lifted her. “Hi, Daddy!” she said.
“Hello, little girl.” Ryan’s demeanor gentled and his voice softened. He pressed a kiss to her temple. After setting her down, he gave her a once over. “You’re dressed up.”
“Going shopping with Vivian and Claudia, and I’m late.” She gave her father a kiss on the cheek and waved to Owen. “Go on in, make yourselves comfortable. We brought fried chicken, loads of mashed potatoes, veggies, and there’s even ice cream for dessert.” With that she headed down the sidewalk and leapt over the gate with the smoothness of a natural born wolf—a vast improvement that spoke volumes for how much Alexis had adjusted since being turned. But the Alpha’s mate was not going to wander from Willow Bend alone without protection; it flew in the face of every instinct Owen possessed.
“Don’t worry,” A.J. Buckley said from inside the doorway. Owen’s wolf went predator still inside him. A.J. was pack and a friendly, but their wolves still had a few issues to settle. “Linc and Ty are going with them.” The line of tension in Ryan’s posture eased a fraction and Owen relaxed. “She’s walking over to my place and—” As if on cue, Linc met Alexis on the sidewalk and fell into step with her. “They were going to pick her up, but Melissa is sleeping and she didn’t think she’d go if the baby woke up.”
Not even a year old, and the baby ruled her parents. As though reminded, Ryan surged forward, into the house, only pausing long enough to clap A.J. on the shoulder. Owen followed at a more sedate pace, his wolf in his eyes.
Not six months before, they’d come to blows over A.J.’s intention to pursue his mate into the woods. Owen’s orders had included keeping A.J. and Vivian contained to the guest cabin on the Carlyle property. They’d fought to a near standstill—an impressive achievement for a wolf as battered as A.J. had been at the time. Even now, neither felt the need to look away. Strength of personality and dominance did not always equal physical strength, but A.J. had recovered in the intervening months and his chest, shoulders, and arms had thickened.
He’d be a hell of a good fight now.
As if reading the direction of his thoughts, A.J. grinned slowly. “Later.”
. “Mason wants to get started.”
“Sounds good.” He allowed A.J. to lead, but Owen scanned the street before shutting the front door. He’d been a Hunter since he’d left high school. Trained by his father, he’d grown up on the fringes of pack life and made his peace with it. He didn’t want a position of power or the responsibility of contact, preferring to stay on the edge, ever watchful, and keep them all safe.
Hunters like Owen ensured the children could play safely in the streets and that widows like Mrs. Tate enjoyed their golden years without fear of invasion, attack—or worse, discovery. A number of familiar scents alerted him to the presence of the other council members.
Mason stood in the center of the living room, his daughter in his arms. The baby had been asleep, huh? Yes, she was sound asleep with her head cushioned on her father’s bare chest. Having the baby present at the meeting wasn’t that unusual. Normally surly tempers cooled in the presence of the young, and level heads—and voices—prevailed.