top of page
3 Willowbrook Embraced.png
COMING SOON
WOLF EMBRACED

 

Willowbrook Wolves Book 3

In a world where wolf shifters turn feral without their fated mates, one cursed pack is running out of time...

Mechanic Jake has always felt a void in his life, a longing for the fated mate he fears he may never find. But when Maya, a guarded woman with deep-seated trust issues, breaks down just outside Willowbrook, his inner wolf instantly recognizes her as the one.

Maya, on the cusp of a dream job in marketing, never planned to fall for a mysterious mechanic in a hidden mountain town. Haunted by a past of disappointment and abandonment, she's learned to keep her walls high and her circle small. But as the attraction between her and Jake ignites, Maya finds herself drawn into a world of magic, shifters, and a love that could heal her wounded heart - if she's brave enough to embrace it.

Jake knows he must tread carefully with his wary mate, even as his animal instincts grow more unstable by the day. But when the feral threat targets Maya, Jake will risk everything to protect the woman destined to complete his soul.

Fated mates, instant attraction, and a dangerous paranormal world collide in this steamy, action-packed tale of wolf shifter romance.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Maya

 

I tap my phone with the hope that I'll somehow magically gain a signal, but the bars on my phone remain empty. Letting out a frustrated sigh, I lean my head back against the headrest and stare out at the empty crossroads.

Not a car in sight.

What was I thinking, taking that shortcut?

I knew better. But no, I just had to be clever, didn't I? Trying to shave a few minutes off the drive. Well, look where that got me. Drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, I mutter to myself. “Lost in the mountains with no cell service. Fuel running dangerously low. Brilliant move, Maya. Just brilliant.”

I really need to stop talking to myself. It's a habit I picked up as a teenager, back when Mom would pass out drunk on the couch, hugging her whiskey bottle instead of me. I'd chat away to myself, just to hear a voice in that quiet house. Pathetic, right? But it was better than the alternative—her screaming at me until she finally drank herself into a stupor.

Dad was never around to buffer her nastiness. His work trips got longer and longer, until one day, surprise, surprise, he just didn't come home. He ran off to play happy families with his other wife and kids on the opposite coast. Took two years for the divorce to go through. Two long years of living alone with her.

I shake my head and try to focus on the positives. "But hey, it wasn't all bad, I guess." Her neglect gave me plenty of time to study. I managed to get myself a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. And when the grandma I never knew I had passed on, I inherited enough to buy a little house near campus. I finally had a place of my own, although it came with a hefty mortgage.

I worked my butt off at my first marketing job to pay it off. Three years at Innovate Marketing Solutions. I thought I'd stay in that house forever until this latest job offer came along. It was too good to refuse, even if it meant selling the place and moving cross-country.

In the end, it was an easy choice. That house was the only thing tying me to Pittsburgh. At least it came through for me one last time and gave me enough cash from the sale to relocate without going broke.

Looking out the window, I inhale the crisp mountain air and take in the stunning scenery. I'm surrounded by majestic snow-capped peaks that pierce the vivid blue sky. Tall, proud evergreens stand sentinel on the mountainside, their needles whispering secrets in the breeze. A carpet of wildflowers in vibrant yellows, purples and whites blanket the alpine meadows.

The air is so fresh and clean, it almost hurts my city-girl lungs. I breathe in deeply, savoring the sweet scent of pine and the slight tang of snow from the highest elevations. A bubbling stream winds through the valley, its crystal clear waters tumbling over mossy boulders. Birds call to each other in melodic tones and a hawk circles lazily overhead, riding the thermals by the look of him.

It's like something out of a fairytale. Or a painting. Definitely not the concrete jungle I'm used to. Taking another appreciative look at the stunning views, I have to admit, there are worse places to be stranded. If my phone wasn't dead as a doornail, I'd snap a few pictures.

But the tranquil beauty isn't doing much to calm the dread churning in my stomach. I'm still lost. Still alone. No one knows I'm out here. I was stupid to try taking a shortcut through the mountains without telling anyone my route. Without even glancing at a map. Go me.

The stones in my stomach stop rolling and a strange pull tugs at my gut. I don't often give in to gut feelings, but this one is so strong and so strange that it cements my decision. With a slight frown, I chew on my lower lip, pondering the weird sensation that grips me.

I make a right turn at the T-intersection onto the road that winds higher up into the mountain. The tires crunch over the gravel as I leave the main highway behind. Tall evergreens loom on either side, their branches forming a canopy overhead that blots out the sky. The encroaching trees press in closer, their shadows deepening as the road narrows. A deep ravine yawns on my right, the sheer drop making my stomach lurch. On my left, jagged rocks rise far above the car in steep, unforgiving cliffs. The trees are thick here, their trunks gnarled and twisted into menacing shapes, creating a claustrophobic tunnel over the road.

Hours pass, and I'm more than worried. At this stage, if I could turn my car around and backtrack the two hours I've just driven into this increasingly ominous wilderness, I would. But the road is too narrow, the turns too sharp. I'm forced to keep driving forward into the unknown. My heart pounds, the shadows seeming to shift and dance in the corners of my vision. The hairs prickle on the back of my neck as instinct screams that something isn't right here.

This is crazy, Maya.

I'm really uneasy, fighting the urge to just stop the car and get out to escape the unsettling tightness gripping my chest. But then I come across a sign welcoming me into a town called Willowbrook. It's strange because I can't recall seeing any town of this name when I planned out my trip, poring over maps and brochures.

The sign looks sparkling and new, the red paint shining in the sunshine. The word, Willowbrook, is written in curling white brush script that beckons me onward. As I pass under the sign, a strange electrical charge runs over my body, raising the fine hairs on my arms in a prickling wave.

"What the hell was that?" I mutter aloud, shooting a wary glance in the rearview mirror at the innocuous-looking sign receding behind me. My skin still tingles with an energy I can't explain.

Get a grip. It was just static electricity buildup or something, nothing weird about it. Maybe I'm more tired than I thought from being cooped up in the car all day. Maybe my nerves are just frayed from the stress of the move and everything that led up to it. This long, winding road through the dense forest is just messing with my head, playing tricks on my eyes and senses.

That has to be it. I'm just projecting all my anxieties onto my surroundings, letting my imagination run away with me as usual.

Nodding to myself, I force my white-knuckled hands to loosen their death grip on the steering wheel, flexing my fingers. I need to stop psyching myself out over nothing. I'll roll into this Willowbrook, wherever the hell it is, refuel, grab a snack and a coffee to perk myself up, and be back on the highway in no time. Easy peasy.

I drive a little further down the road, the knot of unease growing tighter in my gut as I wonder exactly where this mysterious town called Willowbrook could possibly be. Then, as abruptly as the suffocating trees closed in, they fall away and I coast into town down the main street, the sudden normalcy of it all giving me metaphorical whiplash.

"Well, I'll be damned..." I murmur, taking in the neat, quaint buildings lining the road ahead. They've been lovingly maintained, their window boxes overflowing with bright flowers lending a rustic charm to the place. Shops of all kinds beckon, their windows displaying an assortment of wares—antiques, art, handmade crafts.

A few cars pass me heading the other way, their occupants glancing my way with obvious curiosity. Of course my beat-up old sedan loaded down with boxes and my rooftop cargo carrier stands out like a sore thumb here.

People meander along the sidewalks too, some pausing to stare as I coast past. So much for blending in. I hunch my shoulders self-consciously, trying to shrink down in my seat.

My growling stomach distracts me from the prying eyes. I realize it's been hours since that pitiful granola bar I scarfed down as a sad excuse for breakfast this morning. As if summoned by the thought, I come upon a quaint 1950s style diner simply marked, "Sally's Diner" in bright neon. Fries and a burger are definitely needed.

My fuel tank is perilously close to empty anyway, I reason as I pull up and park in front of the well-tended building. Potted plants and an honest-to-God window box overflowing with red geraniums line the entrance. Through the large front windows, I can see people inside relaxing in red vinyl booths and tucking into hearty meals. Definitely looks like a good place to refuel while I'm at it.

The little bell over the door jingles cheerfully as I head inside, announcing my arrival. All conversation grinds to a halt, heads swiveling to openly stare at me. I freeze in the entryway, ears burning, and wonder if I’ve somehow sprouted another head.

"Well, good grief, everyone! Quit your gawking and mind your own business!" A friendly voice scolds, making me jump. A woman with shoulder-length brown hair streaked with gray emerges from the back, ushering me inside with a warm smile. "Welcome, welcome! Take a seat anywhere you like, honey."

I'm utterly self-conscious as she directs me to an empty booth along the window. The vinyl creaks as I slide into the worn seat, trying not to squirm under the weight of so many staring eyes.

"Name's Sally and you've found yourself in our little town of Willowbrook, if you didn’t already see the sign," Sally informs me as she places a laminated menu in front of me. "If you need anything at all, just give me a holler." Her smile is genuine, crinkling the corners of her eyes.

"Uh, thanks..." I murmur. I don't know this overly-friendly woman, and after...well, just in general these days, I much prefer my own company. Still, I can't shake the nagging feeling that there's something more to her welcoming act, some deeper meaning or undercurrent that I'm not picking up on. But then, I'm probably reading too much into someone merely being friendly.

I shake my head. Get a grip, Maya. You've been too isolated for too long—you're not used to simple friendliness anymore. I steel myself, firmly pushing aside my unease. It doesn't matter what I think. I'll be on my way soon enough and out of this little town, never to be seen or heard from again.

The burger really is thick and juicy when it arrives, the fries piping hot and crispy. I devour the meal hungrily, barely even tasting it in my haste to refuel and get back on the road. When I'm done, I head to the front counter to pay for my lunch.

"Where's the gas station here?" I ask Sally as I dig through my purse for my wallet. The purse’s contents spill out across the countertop in my haste.

Sally smiles at me. "Well honey, the gas station is the same as the local mechanic's garage. It's owned by a fella named Jake. Real nice guy. You’ll like him."

Her words barely register as sheer panic sets in. I can't find my wallet no matter how frantically I paw through loose tampons, crumpled receipts, and lipsticks. Dread coils tight in my belly as the memory comes crashing back in vivid detail. 

The busy travel station on the outskirts of Jacksonville where I last filled my tank, somewhere back on the highway hours ago now. The jostle of the lunchtime crowd, somebody bumping hard into me from behind only to turn with an apologetic smile and effusive apologies as they hustled away. At the time, I brushed it off as just another inconsiderate idiot in a hurry, too absorbed in my own thoughts to give it a second thought.

But now, with horrible clarity, I realize that bumbling fool had been anything but. He'd deftly slipped my wallet from my purse while diverting my attention with a fake jostle. I can’t believe I fell for the oldest set-up in the book. The reality is that my hard-earned cash, credit and debit cards and ID are all gone in a careless blink.

"I...I can't find my wallet," I manage numbly, my face flushing hot with mingled shame and anger at my own obliviousness. How could I have been so stupid?

Sally's lined face falls into concerned lines as I raise my head to meet her gaze, my cheeks burning. "No need to worry about settling up right this minute if you can’t."

I have my phone, but a quick check at the reception tells me what I already knew—it’s still as good as dead. I can’t even use my bank app to transfer funds.

"No, you don't understand." The words come out choked, my throat tight with tears of frustration rapidly welling. "Someone stole my wallet at the last place I stopped for gas. I don't have any way to pay you."

The full weight of my predicament sinks in like a lead weight, crushing the air from my lungs. No cash, no cards, not even any ID left. I'm utterly defenseless out here in the middle of nowhere.

Humiliated tears prick the corners of my eyes despite my efforts to blink them back. I can't break down here, not in front of this stranger and her gaping diner crowd. I'm better than this, stronger than this crushing sense of violation and despair clawing at my throat.

Sally's weathered hand reaches across the counter to pat my own reassuringly. "Now don't you worry one bit about that. We'll get it all sorted," she soothes, her warm hazel eyes shining with sincere empathy.

I shake my head helplessly. "But I also have no phone to call the bank and cancel my cards or report the theft," I say miserably. Every protective barrier has been stripped away with that one stupid mistake. I'm utterly vulnerable out here on my own with no resources whatsoever.

"Even if your phone wasn’t dead, there’s no reception here, either. The best thing you can do is report it to Sheriff Mitch down at the station. He'll not only help you get everything squared away, but he can let the other gas stations know about the theft, too." Sally's smile doesn't falter, her tone so brightly reassuring it's almost painful and… why is she not more worried?

I nod dumbly, my scrambled thoughts still struggling to catch up. "I...thank you. I really appreciate it. And as soon as I can, I'll make sure to pay you back for the meal."

"Take your time, hon. Things have a way of turning out fine around here." Sally waves me off with a kind smile.

With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I get back in my car, letting the driver's side door creak shut behind me. I have maybe a quarter tank of gas left, hopefully just enough to make it to the sheriff's station she mentioned. But after that...how am I going to afford to pay for the rest of my travels, let alone get new IDs to set up my new life?

READ WOLF EMBRACED TODAY...

bottom of page