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Excerpt from Wolf with Benefits

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.”
“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.

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