The Mating Need (Werewolves of Montana #15) - Bonnie Vanak


There’s no place like home, they said. Except when you had no home, and no one wanted you at their home, either.

Guarding his duffel bag with his booted feet, Troy Gilbert leaned on the bar. Few in this seedy place for OtherWorlders this late at night. Then again, most Lupines in Seattle belonged to packs and were out carousing or running with the full moon. Country music played softly in the background. Someone wailing about losing a horse or a woman. Or both. Spilled wine, cheap perfume, sour beer and something feral lingered in the smoky air

The face in the mirrored wall in front of him looked nice, he supposed. A woman he’d met in California once told him he had a movie star looks. Dark brown hair cut short because he believed in haircuts, even with his wandering lifestyle. Bristles on lean cheeks and chin, dark, even brows set over brown eyes.

He looked about thirty.

He felt like two hundred these days.

Troy sipped his whiskey, relishing the burn down his throat. Inexpensive, watered down. Wouldn’t expect anything else. Not that he deserved the fine stuff. Not him.

Two other Lupines sat at the far end of the bar. A female sidled up to them, chatted and then sashayed toward Troy. He eyed her over the top of his whiskey glass. She had a calculating look in her eyes, wore a low-cut dress and high heels that could dig into a male’s back as he rode her long into the night, hard and rough. Troy liked it rough. But lately he found himself longing for more than a one-night stand.

Sipping more whiskey, he almost laughed. More what? Another pack, a place to settle down, a mate who would kiss him and love him in the morning instead of sneaking away as the sun rose?

“Hey handsome,” she purred. “What’s a good looking wolf like you doing here? Want some company?”

He almost said yes, and checked himself, looking her over. Really looking her over instead of studying her impressive attributes. Her eyes weren’t calculating, they were weary. Tired. Her skin was soft, and tanned, contrasting to the cheap blonde wig she wore.

Tired as he was of the games. Tired of roaming and having no place to go.

“What’s your name?” he asked gently.

“What do you want it to be?”

He gave her a pointed look and she sighed. “Zoe.”

Up close, she looked much younger than he’d first thought. Troy dug into his wallet, found a couple of hundred dollar bills left over from his last day job shoveling dirt. He handed them to her. “Zoe. Go buy yourself a bus ticket and go home, wherever home is. This place ain’t it.”

For a moment she looked angry as she shoved aside his hand. “I don’t have a home.”

“Everyone does.” Except me.

Still, she didn’t leave. A hopeful sign. Troy patted the stool next to him. “My name is Troy. Talk to me.”

Troy waited, and finally her story spilled out after she sat.

Her mouth wobbled. “I did have one back in Montana. I ran away two months ago. My alpha emailed, telling me to come back. He said whatever made me run away, we can work it out. I don’t have the money. Soon as I earn it, I spend it. I can’t go back crawling without… showing something of what’s left of my pride.”

Troy understood pride and the struggle to stay on your feet when everyone else kicked you in the back of the knees. “And you don’t want to ask him for money so you can get there.”

She shook her head.

“He sounds like a good Lupine.” Troy reached for her hand, placed the money into it. “Take this, buy yourself a couple of nice outfits, and go home, back to your pack, your people. You don’t belong here.”

Moisture gathered in her dark eyes. Zoe nodded as she clenched the money. “I don’t like it here. I want to go home. But…”

Troy felt a need to keep her talking, get her out of here. Maybe he’d been a colossal screw up, but he could do one right thing.

“Tell me about home. You said Montana. A ranch?”

“A place called the Mitchell Ranch. Aiden Mitchell runs it.” Zoe stared at the money in her hand. “I screwed up.”

He waited. Hard to admit when you made a mistake.

Zoe clenched the money. “I accidentally shifted into a wolf around the horses and spooked them while the cowboys were rounding up the cattle. It was a mess. I was so scared I ran off.”