Wolf Next Door

By: Heather Long

Chapter One





His life was perfect.

“Coffee or beer, boys?” Vivian asked as she strode into the kitchen. Stew simmered on the stove and bread baked in the oven. If his nose didn’t lie, she’d used their mother’s recipes. A delicate, fragile looking woman with a spine of steel, Vivian Buckley proved one-hundred percent devoted to one of Tyler’s favorite people—his brother A.J. Having A.J. home made everything right in his and Linc’s world.

“Beer,” Linc answered. Tyler stretched out his legs and set his feet on the table, one atop the other. Vivian picked out all the furniture in the house, but the tables and end pieces. Like the house itself, they’d been a project for Tyler and his brothers. A.J. wanted to give Vivian the home she’d always craved, they’d made it happen.

Watching his brother’s mate from beneath lowered lashes, Tyler grinned. Vivian didn’t give a rat’s ass about the things, she cared because A.J. did them. She was the perfect mate. She loved A.J., loved his family and made him whole. Since their mating, his brother had finally begun to thrive again. His strength, so unrivaled throughout their childhood, had never been in question. But the bleakness in him when he’d come home, the lost will to survive, left Tyler’s wolf anxious.

“Beer sounds good,” Tyler agreed as she delivered an icy bottle.

“Good, because you took too long to answer.” Then she tapped his nose. “Dinner will be ready in a few.”

Hints of vanilla, sugar, and chocolate coated her fingers despite their clean state. “You made cookies.” He twisted in his seat to scan the kitchen. One thing Vivian did better than any woman he’d met was bake cookies. She even trumped his mother.

“I did.” She laughed, her wolf flashing in her eyes. She met his gaze and the struggle to hold it between woman and wolf always ended with the wolf backing away.

Neither she nor her animal thought he’d hurt them, which was good. He’d cut off his own arm before he allowed a drop of harm to touch his brother’s mate. But wolves were wolves. His wolf, like Linc’s, might not be as strong as A.J.’s, but they were fierce, dominant and more than capable of handling a challenge.

A challenge she didn’t present, except to say, “I didn’t make them for you. They’re for A.J.”

“Why does he get so lucky?” Linc groused then prowled after her as she returned to the stove. Not to be left behind, Tyler follow as far as the bar separating the kitchen from the living room and leaned against it. Studying the kitchen, he considered where she would hide fresh baked cookies. In the Buckley household, if they found them they were fair game. Their mother understood their healthy appetites and had discovered some fairly ingenuous ways to hide their sweet treats.

A canister of protein sat near the fridge, the type some used to supplement their diets. It made sense. A.J. had lost a lot of muscle mass while being incarcerated for over six years. The time in prison left its mark on all of them, but none more so than A.J. and his mate. A.J.’s wolf seemed damaged when he came home, his body emaciated from lack of sunshine, running—and separation from his mate. Both were better now, but still, it could have gone horribly awry if their newly minted alpha, Mason, hadn’t ordered Vivian be brought to Willow Bend.

To think he and Linc had plotted to prevent such an eventuality out of ignorance because they’d wanted to protect the woman their brother suffered for… Had they been successful in their good intentions—he refused to think about how badly it could have gone.

His wolf bristled. A.J.s loss had carved out an important part of his soul. Triplets, they’d been together through everything until the prison sentence. Tyler and Linc had still had each other, and they’d done their best, but they couldn’t deny the missing part. Vivian froze and Linc swung around to glare at him. The first hint of fear soured his sister-in-law’s scent.

A rumbling noise escaped his throat and he clamped down on the emotion. “Vivian,” he said, swallowing the growl. “I’m not angry at you.”

Nervousness flitted across her expression, and her wolf’s golden eyes cut away so she wouldn’t meet his gaze. Dammit. Losing A.J. atop everything else had been nearly the last straw, but his brother was home. More importantly, he was happy.

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