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Sanctuary's Price : Red Rock Pass, Book 3
He's only been surviving. Her magic can show him how to live.
Red Rock Pass, Book 3
After a decade under a corrupt alpha's thumb, Dylan Gennaro is still reeling from the changes in his life: a new home, a new alpha, a pack at war. Even normal things like an ending relationship. Still, when he's asked to work with an outcast witch, he agrees without hesitation. Maybe by protecting her, he'll rediscover his own inner strength. If, indeed, it exists.
Sasha Wallace lost her mentor in a vicious attack that left her scarred in spirit as well as body. While she's grateful for the refuge offered by the Red Rock alpha, it's tough living with the pack's suspicion. Even though--or maybe because--she's willing to use her powers to help them fight their war. Except for Dylan. When she's finally free to find a new home, he'll be the only one she regrets leaving behind.
Their attraction is a balm to their wounded hearts, until their journey for knowledge brings them face to face with a terrifying vampire. Neither has the strength for this fight--but if they can let go of their pasts and trust each other, they might just be able to do it. Together.
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October 26, 2009
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Excerpt from Sanctuary's Price by Moira Rogers
By the time he managed to set fire to the damp wood in the dusty old fireplace, Dylan had resorted to giving himself half-hearted pep talks. "Could be worse. You could be dead. Could be back in Helena. Could be stuck listening to Bobby bitch about how they screwed up the Battlestar Galactica finale."
The soggy wood in the fireplace smoked at him in agreement. The stench would have been bad enough to a human nose, but for a werewolf...
Dylan sighed and pushed himself to his feet. The rain that afternoon had drenched the stack of firewood out back, but he hadn't thought to bring any of it inside before this evening. Not when the house was still so far from livable.
He'd had ample opportunity over the last month to make it so, but he'd gotten comfortable in Cindy's house. Even when things hadn't been entirely blissful, he'd had the luxury of a roof over his head and the knowledge there was plenty of time to renovate the rundown little house. Plenty of time to make it his.
He eyed the bedroll he'd begged from Brynn--the bag belonged to Joe, and was high quality, at least--and squared his shoulders. The house had four walls and a roof that mostly didn't leak. The plumbing worked sometimes and it wasn't so cold he'd freeze to death hunkered down in the sleeping bag.
Far from livable...but he'd make do. He always did.
With a feeble fire lit, Dylan turned his attention back to the scarred wooden table. The renovation plans he'd been working on had been shoved haphazardly to one side, leaving space for the sack Brynn had pushed on him along with the sleeping bag. Upending it on the table revealed two boxes of toaster pastries, a box of crackers, three cans of soda and a bag of licorice.
The sight made his chest ache even as he smiled. Just snack food, and probably the first things Brynn had put her hands on when she'd realized he had no intention of staying long enough to face any questions Joe might have about Dylan's sudden change in residence. But Dylan had known Brynn for years, maybe even knew her better than her older sister did. Licorice and strawberry pastries--Brynn's nervous comfort food. Something she clung to when life was overwhelming.
And badass warrior alpha wolf Joe Mitchell had obviously been doing his best to make sure she had anything she needed, no matter how silly those things were. It was sweet.
Guilt stabbed at him, and he snatched up the box of crackers and tore open the cardboard top. Brynn had gone through hell, and she had Joe. Her sister Abby had gone through hell, and she had Keith.
Dylan had a smoking fireplace and a toilet that didn't flush consistently.
It really, really sucked.
The soft knock carried easily through the dead quiet of the house, but the door opened immediately. Gavin, Red Rock's alpha wolf, stuck his head through the door. "Busy, Dylan?"
Even if he had been, he couldn't have sent the man away. "No, come on in. I was just..." He held up the box. "Having a snack."
Gavin arched one graying eyebrow as he walked in. "I went to Cindy's. She said you were over here, roughing it. Reliving your Boy Scout days?"
Dylan fought a wince. No word of Cindy being upset, no indication she'd said anything more damning. In a way, it was almost worse. Things hadn't been great with Cindy, but she'd been important. It would be nice to think he'd been important too.
Quit your bitching, whiner. It had been the motto in his apartment, words repeated in a wry voice by werewolves too low in the pack to be anything but punching bags for unbalanced alphas. He repeated the words silently now and felt that same wry amusement. It could always be worse.
Gavin still watched him expectantly, so he forced a smile. "Figured I might as well get to work on this house, if I want to fix it up any time this decade."
The alpha hummed and jerked his head toward the hearth. "Mind if I sit? I need to ask a favor."
Dylan eyed the dirty hearth and felt a twinge of self-consciousness. "Sure. Want a soda?"
"No, thanks. Sammie's expecting me back soon." Gavin sat down slowly, braced his hands on his knees and took a deep breath. "It's about the witch, Sasha."
For one terrible second, Dylan thought Cindy had complained to Gavin. But their fight over Sasha had been days ago. Besides, Gavin looked too worried for this to be something so petty. "Is she okay?"
"She's fine, as far as I know. Mostly, anyway." He ran a hand through his already-messy hair. "Trying to help. Trying to stay busy."
Sometimes when he closed his eyes he saw Sasha, eyes blank with fear and the pale skin of her neck bearing ugly bruises in the shape of Alan Matthews' fingers. The instincts that had gotten him into so much trouble with Cindy stirred, tingeing his words with a concern he couldn't hide. "Brynn said she's been leaving your house a little. Going to sit with Abby and Keith sometimes?"
Gavin hesitated. "Taking care of chores while Abby takes care of Keith. It's hard for Abby to let people near him."
Dylan had heard as much from Cindy, whose visits to Keith's bedside left her tense and exhausted. "That's good though. I mean, that Sasha's been getting out at all, after everything that happened to her."
"Indeed." Gavin rose and paced a few steps. "It's a lot to ask, this favor. Sasha's learning our ways, but the death of her mentor has left her without a teacher. Most of the wolves here who could teach her can't get within ten feet without making her cringe. But you..." Faded blue eyes focused on Dylan's face. "Sasha trusts you."
It was wrong to feel that thrill at Gavin's words, to feel so proud of having someone look at him and see safety, a protector. But after a decade of being everyone's joke in Helena, Sasha's blind trust was intoxicating.
Which was exactly what Cindy had accused him of being when they'd fought over Sasha. Intoxicated. Drunk on male ego and the thrill of someone needing him. Words hurled in anger that she probably hadn't meant, but they still stung.
Gavin's eyes saw too damn much, so Dylan turned away. "I'll do anything I can to help, but I'm not exactly an expert on our ways. You of all people know that."
"I do know that. But you're picking it up fast, Dylan. It might be good for Sasha, in a way, if she felt you two were taking the journey together."
"Maybe." Noncommittal, and pointless. He'd do it. If it had been any other person, he would have done it because he owed Gavin everything. But it was Sasha, scared, trembling Sasha, and just the thought of her turning that trusting gaze on him stirred something instinctive inside him.
He heard Gavin stand. "I'll understand if you can't do it, you know. If it's going to cause problems for you."
"I don't think Cindy's inviting me back." It was supposed to be a casual statement, maybe even a joke, and he was surprised by the raw pain in his voice.
The heavy weight of Gavin's hand landed on his shoulder. "I'm sorry to hear that. I wish I had something to say that would make it easier, but... All I can tell you is that you'll make it through this, just like everything else."
Dylan closed his eyes and soaked in the comfort Gavin offered, the strength of an alpha who protected his pack, who sheltered them with his strength and compassion. In Helena there had been no comfort in the pack. Survival, maybe. Camaraderie from shared suffering and shared secrets. But nothing like the complicated but reassuring dance of protection and obedience that he'd found in Red Rock.
It made the idea of him being the one to teach Sasha even more absurd. "What things does she need to learn? Because if it's the social crap, I can't do it. I'm still lost."
"No, we'll take care of that." Gavin tapped his fingers absently against the edge of the table. "We have a room in the apartment above the bar, a library of sorts with records and history volumes. Werewolf lore, essentially. Some magical histories too, though not many."
It felt like meddling. "Did Abby tell you?"
Gavin cocked his head. "Tell me what?"
The confusion seemed honest, and it brought with it a rush of longing. God, he'd missed books. Studying. The dusty-smelling manuscripts in the stacks at the college library, ancient stories of history and legend that he'd pored through on Friday nights...
Ten years ago. When he'd been twenty-one and human, and his reputation had been that of an up-and-coming scholar of history instead of a passable carpenter.
Dylan clenched his fingers around the box of crackers, and the thin cardboard buckled under his grip. "I used to like to study things. History, mostly. But it wasn't really considered a viable contribution to the pack."
It took Gavin a moment to answer. "Well, it is here. If you can handle the lore, you'll be doing more than your share already. Twice that if you and Sasha can manage to determine how our legends and hers dovetail."
"Sure." It would be better than sitting out here by himself all day long, but the house wasn't going to fix itself while he spent his days reading through old history books. He glanced around the pathetic little living room. "Might need to hold off a few days, though, at least until this place is livable."
"Why don't you just stay in the apartment? Rain should last through the week, anyway."
The walkie-talkie on Gavin's belt crackled to life, and his wife's voice spilled out. "Gavin, you need to come back here now. Bring Dylan. Cindy's already on her way. Justine just showed up and she's in bad, bad shape."
Gavin snatched up the radio as he turned toward the door. "On our way. What happened, Sammie?"
"Damned if I know, baby. She's babbling and I hope to hell she's wrong, because she's talking about vampires."
Dylan stumbled. "Vampires?"
"Damn it." Gavin shoved the radio back onto his belt and caught Dylan's arm. "Thought there weren't any left around these parts. Come on. We have to hurry."
He found his footing and moved to keep up with Gavin. "Justine--does she mean our Justine? The one who lives in Helena?"
The alpha's jaw hardened. "Yeah."
She'd always been an anomaly in the Helena pack, a woman who stood outside the harsh realities that dominated the lives of most of the pack's females. In his ten years in the pack, Dylan had seen one man lay a finger on Justine. That finger--and the arm attached to it--had ended up torn from the man's body. Their late and unlamented pack leader had always favored the swift and brutal method of teaching lessons to his pack.
And I emptied a clip into his head a few weeks ago. Dylan could live all of the hundred and twenty years attributed to Gavin and not accomplish anything else as satisfying as killing Alan Matthews.
Except doing so had obviously revoked whatever protection kept Justine safe within the Helena pack. Dylan refused to feel guilty as he followed at Gavin's heels--not to the alpha's house, as he might have expected, but instead to the large bar that seemed to serve as Red Rock's unofficial meeting spot.
A crowd had gathered outside the building, but the way cleared as Gavin stomped toward them. "Where are they?"
A man Dylan vaguely recognized flashed them a worried look. "Sam and Joe took her into the back office."
Which explained why Joe hadn't been home while Brynn had been busy loading Dylan down with snack foods and camping supplies. Gavin started forward, but Dylan hesitated, unsure what part he was supposed to play in a meeting of some of the strongest wolves in the pack.
Gavin made it two steps into the bar before turning. "Now, Dylan."
The office door hit the wall, and Gavin growled. "A binding ceremony?" he demanded. "Sammie, have you lost your mind?"
The bulk of Joe's body blocked Justine from sight but, from the worried look on the man's face, Dylan surmised the situation was bad. He eased into the office and closed the door just as Samantha's temper evidenced itself in a wave of power terrifying enough to make him cringe.
Gavin's wife was every inch as tall as Dylan and looked forty of her reputed seventy years. Before coming to Red Rock, Dylan had never met an alpha female; their life expectancy tended to be short in Helena, a fact that had spurred his desperation to get Abby out of town.
It was hard to imagine anyone threatening Samantha. She turned to glare at her husband, her eyes dark as she slammed a white pillar candle down on the desk. "She's going to die if someone doesn't do something fast, and I'm not watching that happen."
Gavin spun and caught Dylan's gaze. "Go to our house and get Sasha. Hurry."
Dylan reached for the doorknob, but froze when Sam's voice lashed through the air. "Wait. She's been through enough."
Caught between conflicting instincts, Dylan turned a pleading look on Joe, asking silently who he was supposed to obey.
Before Joe could speak, Gavin's roar cut through the quiet, along with a lash of power that left Dylan fighting the urge to back into a corner. "Goddamnit, go!"
Gavin was more than capable of handling his wife. Dylan wrenched open the door and ran.
The knock at the door was light and even, but Sasha still nearly dropped her bowl of popcorn. Gavin and Sam were both gone, and all she had to do was go to the door and tell their visitor. They're not here. I'm--
Her hands shook as she set down the bowl and walked to the front door. Glancing through the window, she caught a glimpse of dark clothing and short red hair.
Dylan. She relaxed and opened the door. "Gavin and Sam aren't here."
The tension around his eyes brought back her nervousness. "I know. Gavin sent me. I think he needs your help."
Her heart in her throat, Sasha reached for the borrowed jacket hanging on the rack by the door. "What's wrong?"
"A woman from the Helena pack showed up looking for help. Samantha said--" Dylan broke off and rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. "Well, I don't know what's going on, except Sam's talking about vampires and Gavin's...upset."
Sasha swore as she pushed past him. "She was attacked by a vampire?"
Dylan dragged the door shut before hurrying to catch up with her. "So you're saying there are vampires? Because I was living a Dracula-free existence until about ten minutes ago."
"There aren't many." Most of the ones she'd met would never have risked a fight with a wolf. It was little better than suicide. If this one had won... Her hands shook. "You said the woman was alive?"
"Yeah. Sam said she was in bad shape, and it looked like she was getting stuff ready to try a binding ceremony."
Sharing energy through a bond with another wolf might buy the woman some time, but the sickness that came with a vampire's bite would affect the other wolf as well. "It's not the safest plan."
Dylan shifted closer to her until his arm brushed hers with every step, and too late she noticed a man watching them from the shadow of a nearby building. His gaze felt unfriendly, but he looked away when Dylan fixed a pointed glare on him.
After a tense moment, the man dropped back, disappearing around the building. Dylan kept walking as if nothing had happened. "Tell me about the vampires. What happens to someone who gets bitten?"
"My mentor said a vampire's bite can kill a wolf slowly, like a poison."
He seemed to mull that over as they passed two more houses and slipped into the alley between the motel and the general store. "Is it a physical thing? Like actual poison? Or something magical?"
She wished she knew. "I'm not sure. It could be either. I've never seen--"
Her breath cut off as they came out of the alley to face a gathered crowd. Sasha fixed her gaze on the bar's door and tried to ignore the wolves' chilly stares. They didn't trust her, but it wasn't personal.
It didn't make it easier. The crowd's distrust evidenced itself in prickly power that flowed from the strongest ones. Dylan's hand came up to rest against her lower back, and his power was steady and unwavering.
He kept her moving forward as he prompted her to continue talking. "You've never actually seen a vampire? Or just never seen someone who's been bitten?"
It took her a moment to speak through the fear closing her throat. "I've met vampires, and I've seen bitten humans. Just not wolves."
Maritza's voice echoed in her head as they pushed through the door and made their way to the back hall of the bar. A vampire can feed on a werewolf's magic, but the beast will usually fight it. It makes them feverish, sick. They often die.
A throbbing wall of tense magic spilled out of the office, and Sasha stumbled. "I can't--" She swallowed her own words and gripped Dylan's hand.
"It's okay." Dylan rubbed his thumb over her fingers in a soothing gesture before tugging a little on her hand. "It's just Gavin and Sam being pissy at each other."
"Okay." You can do this, Sasha. "Okay."
An anguished moan met them in the doorway. Joe Mitchell stood at the end of Gavin's desk, restraining a pretty, petite blonde lying on the desk.
Sasha had expected blood and rent flesh, some sign of a struggle or fight. Instead, dozens of rows of small puncture wounds marked the insides of the woman's arms. Her stomach turned, and she pressed the back of her hand to her mouth. Had the woman let herself be bitten? "What's going on?"
Samantha turned, and the friendly, encouraging look Sasha had come to expect from the older woman was gone. Fury stood plainly in her face, and her entire body was rigid. "They've had her since the day after Matthews died. Five weeks. Justine's been my contact inside the Helena pack for more than a decade, and someone wanted to find out just how much she knew about us."
In spite of her fear, Sasha stepped forward and touched the raised welts on Justine's arm. The bites were infected and hot. "What could a group of vampires want to know so badly?"
"Not a group. One vampire." Sam returned her gaze to Justine, and power twisted dizzily around the room as the alpha reached down and cupped Justine's cheek with a whispered word. The power soothed the woman momentarily, and her struggles reduced to soft whimpers. "She's been in and out of consciousness. I can't keep her calm," Sam whispered. "This is the fourth time I've had to quiet her. I want you to bind her to me so it isn't so difficult."
If Sam hadn't spent the last few weeks telling her over and over to trust herself, Sasha would have stayed put. Instead, she moved to the end of the desk and laid her hands over Justine's chest. "Step back."
Joe let go of the woman's shoulders, but Sam barely edged out of the way. Sasha waited until Sam let go before bending her head and calling forth the magic that slept inside her.
The calming spell was simple, one of the first an apprentice could master during her training, and she whispered the words confidently now. She felt it begin, the swathe of comforting, quieting magic that would grow and envelop Justine.
The spell complete, Sasha straightened and shook her head. "You can't bind yourself to this woman. She's dying."
Sam's jaw tightened. "I can give her more time. Maybe enough time for someone to find a way to save her."
Sasha glanced at Gavin. "It's dangerous. If the bond isn't broken before--"
"I'll do it," Gavin interrupted. "I'm stronger."
"Barely!" Sam took a deep breath and moderated her tone. "You may be a little stronger, but you're the alpha and we're at war. You're not expendable."
"Damn it, Sammie, neither are you!"
The woman on the desk didn't react to the surge of power in the room, but the other wolves did. Sasha caught Dylan's gaze, and she could feel his tension clear across the room. "Isn't there someone else?"
It was clear from his expression that he didn't know. "Keith's not completely healed yet, and Cindy--" His tiny hesitation made her remember the doctor was his lover. He wouldn't want to put her in danger. He cleared his throat. "She's busy trying to keep Abby sane since she won't bind herself to anyone else. And Joe's got his hands full with Brynn."
"It doesn't matter," Sam said, her quiet voice cutting through their conversation. She spoke to Sasha, but her gaze stayed locked on her husband. "Gavin knows there's no one else, but he doesn't deal well with me putting myself in harm's way. So I'll compromise. One week. If we can't find a way in one week, I'll let her go."
Justine might have a week left, if she could draw on Sam's strength, but it could take months of research to find some esoteric spell or therapy to help her.
Still, Sam was willing to risk it. Sasha closed her eyes. "This will hurt." With those words, she drew Sam's energy toward and into herself, shuddering when the full force of it hit her.
It was intoxicating, this magic, but it felt foreign in her body, and it wasn't hers to keep. She murmured the incantation and laid her hands on Justine's head.
The pain must have been intense, but Sam did nothing more than grunt softly as the bond settled into place. The scrape of boots on the floor and a muffled curse were the only sign something more had happened. Sasha opened her eyes in time to see Gavin catch Sam as she listed forward, deep lines of pain etched on her face.
Dylan appeared at Sasha's shoulder, so close she could feel the slightest hint of his aura even though he wasn't quite touching her. "Are you all right?"
She fought the urge to lean into his strength. "I'm fine. But I need to get to work." She needed to get upstairs to the library, to the collection of records and histories Gavin had been telling her about the last few weeks. "Can I do anything else, Gavin?"
He waved her away, one arm still holding his wife. "Joe and I will take care of Sammie and Justine. Dylan, can you?"
It didn't seem to be a full question, but Dylan answered it nonetheless. "Yes. Of course. Should I stay here tonight?"