Genre(s): Paranormal Romance
Heat Level: 2 (Mainstream)
Winnie loves her son and would do anything for him, even apply for demeaning jobs, if it means putting a roof over his head. Spending their days in her car, and their nights at a shelter, hasn’t been easy, but she does whatever she must to keep him safe, even if it means sleeping with one eye open. She’s never asked for a handout, and she’s never expected one. Hard work is all she’s ever known, but sometimes that isn’t enough. It’s been so long since she has believed in fairy tales that the last thing she expected was for Prince Charming to come along and save the day.
Braxton has no idea what it is about Winnie that draws him like a moth to a flame, but his wolf is intrigued by her, and that’s more reaction than he’s ever gotten from the beast where women are concerned. When he overhears her conversation with her son, he knows he can’t let them spend the night somewhere as unsafe as their car or a shelter. But getting Winnie to let him help is another matter. A woman like her isn’t going to trust easily.
Despite her hesitancy, Winnie allows the wolf to help for the sake of her son, even though she knows getting close would never be wise. But the more she gets to know the stubborn man, the more she realizes the kindness showing in his eyes isn’t a mask. Sawyer doesn’t want anything from her that she isn’t willing to give, which makes him all the more intriguing. Can Winnie put her past behind her and trust a man again? Sawyer makes her want to believe that fairy tales really do come true.
Sawyer Braxton sipped his beer as he looked out over the crowd at Lagoona’s. He’d been watching the woman at the bar, for the last fifteen minutes, as she filled out an application. There was something about her that drew his attention. Her clothes were worn in places, her hair unkempt, but her tiny stature and dainty features made his protective urges rise to the surface. Even from the span of the four tables that separated them, he could see a dirt smudge on her cheek, and he wondered where it had come from.
She handed the application over to the bartender and then turned to leave. She hadn’t taken three steps before the asshole behind the bar ripped her application in half and tossed it. Sawyer bit back a growl as he rose to his feet, intent on going after her. Something didn’t seem right, even if he couldn’t figure out what. She cleared the door before he could catch her and he raced into the parking lot. Scanning the bumper to bumper cars, he saw her slip into an older hatchback with more than its fair share of dings and scrapes. A small figure moved in the backseat.
Not wanting to scare her, he walked slowly toward her car, his keen sense of hearing picking up the conversation she had with what he assumed to be her child. He’d never been one to chase after a single mom before, assuming she was single, but for some reason, he wanted to get to know this woman better.
“I’m sorry, honey,” she told the child. “We missed curfew at the shelter. We’re going to have to sleep in the car again tonight.”
What the hell? Was she living out of her car, with a small child in tow? He didn’t know how she’d fallen so far, but Sawyer knew that he couldn’t leave them in this parking lot with their future so uncertain. If anything happened to them, he’d never forgive himself.
Sawyer approached the vehicle and hunkered down next to the door, in hopes he wouldn’t frighten them. The woman was turned toward the back, still talking to her child.
“Benjamin, I’m doing the best I can.” She sounded tearful. “We’ll get to the shelter on time tomorrow, okay?”
“I don’t like the shelter,” a small voice said. “Why can’t we have a house again?”
“Soon, baby. Mama just needs to get a job first.”
Sawyer tapped on the window, making the woman jump. It was cracked enough that he could talk to her, without her fearing for her safety.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” he said, “but it seems you’re in a bit of a bind.”
Her lips thinned, and her eyes flashed. “And let me guess, in return for certain favors you’ll get us a motel room for the night.”
He sat back on his heels. “Um, not exactly.”
“Then what do you want in exchange for a place to stay?” she asked, distrust etched on her lovely features.
“Nothing. I just want peace of mind from knowing that your son and you are safe for the night. I heard you say something about sleeping in your car, and despite how small Ashton Grove is, that still isn’t the safest thing you could do.”
“You really just want to help us?” she asked, seeming uncertain.
“That’s all I want. I’m in the blue truck over there,” he said pointing to his new ride. “Why don’t you follow me? I’ll get you a room at the motel for the night, and then I’ll pick you up for breakfast in the morning, and we can figure out something more permanent for you.”
“Permanent?” The distrust was back in her voice.
“I work construction for the local wolf pack. My boss and alpha might know of a place where you could stay while you get back on your feet.”
Her eyes widened. “You’re a-a-a wolf?”
He nodded. He scented the air and didn’t smell fear. Curiosity and a hint of…arousal? Interesting. Maybe she was just as intrigued with him as he was with her. The boy in the backseat gazed at him with a bit of wonder in his eyes.
“I’ll wait to make sure your car starts, and then I’ll get my truck,” he said.
“Since you’re helping us, I should probably introduce myself. I’m Winnie, and this is my son, Benjamin.”
“It’s nice to meet you both. I’m Sawyer, and I promise you’re safe with me.”
She nodded, gave him a slight smile, and cranked the engine. Or tried to. After three attempts, it finally caught and sputtered to life. Sawyer walked over to his quad cab truck and got behind the wheel. As he pulled out of the lot, he made sure the little hatchback was in his rearview mirror. He didn’t think she’d accept a room at the nicer hotel, even though he’d have gladly gotten her a suite, so he went to the motel instead. He’d stayed there when he first arrived in town and knew the rooms were clean and the service was decent.
The parking lot was only half full when he pulled up in front of the motel office. He got out and went inside to procure a room for the night, then came back out with the key card in his hand. He knelt beside her driver’s side window.
“It’s room fourteen,” he said and passed the key card to her. “I’ll follow you over there to make sure you get inside okay. What time does your son usually get up?”
“Seven or so,” she said.
“Then I’ll be here at eight to take the two of you to breakfast. Maybe I’ll have some answers for you by then. I’ll call my alpha tonight and see what he says. With some luck, he’ll know about a furnished place, and you’ll be able to move in right away.”
She smiled a little. “As wonderful as that sounds, I’m not going to hold my breath.”
Sawyer went back to his truck and followed her down to room fourteen. He watched as she slid the keycard into the slot and let herself into the room. He didn’t pull away until she’d gathered her son, and their belongings, and closed the door behind them. When he got back on the road, he pulled out his phone and called Connor. He knew if he called Gabriel, the alpha would offer his spare room to the little family, but he didn’t think Winnie would be comfortable staying with strangers, not after the distrust he’d seen in her eyes. He didn’t know how they’d come to be homeless, or what had happened to them since, but he’d bet it wasn’t good. Her comments led him to believe that men had been offering to help her in exchange for sexual favors. Sick bastards.
Connor picked up on the fifth ring, just as Sawyer was about to hang up.
“This had better be good,” Connor said, a hint of a growl in his voice.
“Did I interrupt baby-making time?” Sawyer asked with some humor.
“You’re not funny.”
“I have a situation and could use some help. But if you’re busy, I can call back later.”
Connor sighed, and he heard sheets rustle. “What’s up, Sawyer? Please tell me you didn’t get into another fight at the bar. I don’t want to bail your ass out of jail. I thought that stupid shit ended when Cain settled down.”
Sawyer grinned. “No. I don’t need that kind of bail-out. I ran into a little family tonight who could use some help. The mom looks kind of young, and the boy doesn’t even look school age. I found them living in their car. She’d applied for a job at Lagoona’s, and the bastard bartender ripped up her application.”
“And you’ve decided to develop a hero complex and rescue them?” Connor asked.
“Something like that. I couldn’t leave them on the streets. I got a motel room for them for the night, but she’s going to need something more permanent. I think I have enough to pay first month’s rent if you know of something furnished that would be big enough for two people.”
“Christ, Sawyer. You can’t come up with something that has an easy solution, can you? Since you’re so gung-ho over helping them, why not just move them into that Craftsman house you bought?”
“I think she’s been offered some questionable assistance. She was leery of even accepting a motel room for the night. No way she’d move in with me.”
Not that he would mind if she did. He had the room to spare, and if the two of them were under his roof, he could keep an eye on them. If they were living on the streets, it was doubtful they were getting regular meals. Way to go, asshole. You didn’t even think of food when you got them a place to stay.