Sanctuary Unbound

Red Rock Pass, Book Four


Digital

June, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60928-046-8

Purchase Links

Print

this story appears in a print anthology

Sanctuary Redeemed
Sanctuary Unbound

New England is ideal for vampire Adam Dubois. His cozy home in the Great North Woods reminds him of a happier time when werewolves and witches were stuff of legends, and he was a simple lumberjack.

Hiding from past failures has worked for over eighty years, but a life debt owed to the Red Rock alpha has forced him to leave his retreat—and come face to face with a woman who challenges and tempts him on every level.

Hiding secrets is a lonely business, and Cindy Shepherd is lonely with a capital L. Red Rock isn’t exactly crawling with available men, but her interest in the mystery-shrouded new vampire in town seems mutual. After all, it’s only sex—there’s no danger he’ll dig deep enough to unleash the demons of her past.

Casual flirtation turns deadly serious when Adam discovers that the vampire plaguing Red Rock is using his mistakes as a road map. When it comes to his life, he knows Cindy has his back. But in order to secure the future, they both must trust each other with more—even if it means sacrificing themselves to save everything they hold dear.

Warning: This book contains epic werewolf battles, mystical vampire blood bonds, unexpected sex on the kitchen floor and a dangerous attraction between a secret-burdened werewolf and a vampire lumberjack.

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

Cindy gritted her teeth and peeled the backing from the last lead. “I’ll have to see what the EKG shows, but you sure the hell look like you’re having another heart attack.”

Gavin had to move the oxygen mask and unclench his jaw to speak. “It’s not as bad this time.”

He was pale, sweaty and trembling, and she barely managed not to call him a liar. “Put the mask back on and keep it there.” She turned on the machine and checked the signal integrity. “Sit still while I talk to Sam.”

Gavin’s wife hovered in the doorway, tension in her dark eyes even though she’d fixed a stern look on her face. “For God’s sake, do what she says or I’m going to finish you off before your heart gets a chance.”

Instead of arguing, he nodded and leaned his head against the raised headboard of the bed.

Cindy pulled the door shut behind her and watched Gavin through the window. “There’s not much I can do here, Sam. It’s the same as last time. I’m not a cardiologist.”

“Damn it.” Sam squeezed her eyes shut as she lifted her fingers to rub at her temples. “What if I gave him some of my energy? Sasha and the lot of them should be back this afternoon. Maybe if she used magic to bind us…”

“It wouldn’t do anything but hurt you, Sam. Werewolves have accelerated healing, and we live a long time.” But not forever. Gavin’s problems were mundane, and the sort they rarely saw, even in a sanctuary town like Red Rock. “He’s just…not a kid anymore.”

“And this war is killing him.” Sam exhaled sharply. “He can’t keep this up, can he?”

Cindy urged Sam to the chair beside the doorway, keeping tight hold of her hand even after she sat. “There are a lot of things that don’t help, things a werewolf wouldn’t normally have to worry about. The smoking, for one. And yes, his stress level.”

“He doesn’t think Keith’s ready. That’s why he can’t slow down.” Sam’s voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “When Keith found Abby… You know how he’s been. It was the first time we’d seen him alive in years. And Gavin thought he might be ready to take over. But when Keith got hurt…”

No one knew better than she how close he’d come to dying. “Keith is recovering faster than I’d hoped. The hard truth is that, physically, he’s stronger than Gavin now.”

“Then Keith needs to know that.” Sam sat up, her fingers tight around Cindy’s as she gathered the formidable will for which she was known. “Will Gavin be able to come back home tonight?”

“It depends on the EKG. He might need thrombolytics, or just aspirin.” She felt helpless, and she hated it. Even your average small-town doctor could refer patients to a hospital if their condition called for it. All Cindy had was herself. Worse, she was all the town had. “I’ll know more in a little while.”

“Can I sit with him?”

“If you can ignore me while I work.”

“Of course. Cindy, I know this is a lot to ask of you, but I need you to tell Keith. My husband can yell at me over it if he wants to, as long as he’s alive to yell.”

“This evening,” she promised. Once she got Gavin stabilized, she could take the time to visit Keith. “Come on.”

When they walked in, Gavin opened his eyes and pulled at his mask. “I heard every word you two said.”

“Good. Now that you know how badly you’ve scared your poor wife, you won’t give me as many problems.” Cindy sat in front of the computer monitor and scrolled back through the electrocardiogram. “Definite ST elevation. How’s the pain?”

“Better.”

“Raging headache?”

He grimaced. “Just like last time.”

“That’s the nitroglycerin. If you can stand it, no morphine.”

Gavin glanced at Sam and tried to smile. “I’m all right.”

“And you’re going to stay that way,” Sam whispered, her voice suspiciously thick. “You think you’re going to do Keith any favors if you drop dead and he has to blame himself because you didn’t trust him with this?”

Cindy stared at the monitor. It looked like a heart attack, but she couldn’t be sure how much damage had been done without lab work. He needed angioplasty, but it was beyond her capabilities. “I can give you medications and hope they help, but what you really need is to go to a hospital.”

Gavin shifted on the table and frowned at her. “You know that’s not possible, Cindy. Too many questions.”

“Yeah.” Too many questions. “Okay. You can also lay off the smoking, fatty foods and stress. Which would you like to start with, Sam?”

“I’ve been trying to get the ornery bastard to quit smoking for years.” Sam smoothed her fingers over Gavin’s forehead, brushing back hair that now held more gray than black. “Cindy’s going to tell Keith about the heart attacks, Gavin. And then the two of you are going to decide how to lift some of this burden from your shoulders. I’m not ready to live without you.”

None of them were, which was part of the problem.

* * *

“So she’s going to make him quit smoking, for starters.”

Keith made a rude noise and leaned back against the counter. “Fuck. How long has this been going on, Cindy?”

She gripped the coffee mug. “The first one happened right before you came back. From overseas, I mean.”

“Shit.” All hints of humor faded from his eyes, replaced by guilt and a trace of anger. “How many?”

He wouldn’t like her answer, but the time for secrets was over. Gavin didn’t have the luxury anymore, and neither did the town. “He had a third today. I don’t know how much heart muscle was killed because my facilities here are limited, but he’s getting weaker after every one.”

“Cindy, you should have fucking told me.” Keith pushed off the counter and paced to the other side of the room, leashed energy filling the kitchen in an uncomfortable rush. “He should have told me. God damn it.”

As if the decision had been hers to make. “He’s the alpha, Keith. Beyond that, he’s my patient. I can’t go around telling people he’s on his last legs, not without his permission.”

Keith froze. “Last legs?”

“Apparently I’m doing a bad job of impressing upon you the gravity of his condition.” Her chair scraped over the tile floor as she rose. “Gavin’s led a hard life, and he spends every waking moment worrying about this town and the world outside of it. If he were human, the stress would have killed him by sixty. He’s twice that age now, old even for a werewolf.”

“And he didn’t think I was ready.” Keith swore and kicked a chair out of his way, sending it flying into the table so hard that it rebounded and clattered to the floor. “I am one self-absorbed ass.”

“Uh-huh.” They didn’t have time for guilt and blame. “Was that before or after a crazy woman tried to gut you with a knife and you nearly died?”

Keith turned that hard glare on her. “Before, smartass.”

He’d always been strong, and she had to fight not to shrink away from his anger. “Simmer down. I’m just saying that sometimes life gets in the way of our plans.”

“Yeah.” He bent and picked up the chair. “Joe’s about an hour out with his caravan of road-trippers. I’ve got that much time to figure out how to deal with an alpha who might not be ready to step down, a witch half the town still doesn’t trust, and a vampire some of them won’t believe exists.” His fingers clenched around the chair’s back until Cindy thought the wood might snap. “Could this situation get any more fucked up?”

“Dylan will look after Sasha.” Thinking about her ex-lover and his new flame should have hurt more. “Worry about Gavin and the vampire.”

Keith eyed her as if he wasn’t entirely sure he believed it didn’t hurt more. “You okay with all of that? Dylan and Sasha, I mean. I know he was the first guy you got close to.”

Cindy retrieved her mug from the table and finished her coffee. “It wasn’t going to work, and that had nothing to do with Sasha.” The worst part was having to own up to how recklessly she’d pursued Dylan. Maybe if she’d given it a little more time, she could have saved them both the heartache of a failed relationship.

“He was a nice guy,” Keith said, his voice quiet and too gentle. “I liked the idea of you having a nice guy. After all you’ve been through, Cin–”

“Keith, please. I’m a grown woman, and this isn’t overprotective big-brother time.” She rinsed her mug in the sink. “Dylan is a nice guy. He’s just not the one for me, that’s all.”

“Was that code for ‘butt the hell out’?”

“I don’t need to dance around your delicate feelings.”

“Never have before. Life’d be boring if you started now.”

The banter was comfortable, easy. “Is there anything you and Abby need? Abby, especially. I think your convalescence has been harder for her than for you.”

“She’ll be better when her sister’s back in town. Brynn tried to fudge the details of what happened in Maine, but Dylan blew it and spilled the whole story.”

Just the little Cindy had heard from Sam would have been enough to turn Abby’s hair gray. “Her baby sister was out there with vampires and corrupt alphas, and you managed to keep her sane? You deserve a medal.”

Keith grinned. “It helps he didn’t give her the really bad details until they’d already hit New Hampshire. And Joe wasn’t going to let anything happen to Brynn.”

“No, he wasn’t.” It was a side of Joe she hadn’t seen in the years she’d known him. She’d known there was more to him than the easygoing playboy most people saw, but his relationship with Brynn had brought out an intensity and devotion she barely recognized.

Keith’s smile faded. “Hey. Smile for me, sweetheart. If I have to take over Gavin’s place, I’m going to need all the help I can get.”

She managed a small grin. “Just remember that Joe might be burly, but I’m smart. I’d make a damn good second-in-command.”

“Screw second-in-command. You’re the doctor. You’re the boss of everyone.” Keith tugged fondly at her hair. “Now do me a favor and go upstairs and tell my mate that I’m not an invalid anymore, or she’s going to have her own heart attack when I tell her I’m about to move up the food chain.”

“I can do that.” Cindy leaned up to kiss his cheek and headed for the staircase. And all the way up, she told herself it was stupid to feel alone in a town full of people.

* * *

Adam couldn’t decide what was worse–when Dylan or Sasha sat up front and peppered him with endless questions, or when their saccharine puppy love overcame their manners and they ended up cuddling in the backseat of his rental car.

Probably the questions. It had been years since he’d driven a car more than fifteen miles, long enough to admit that he wasn’t very good at handling modern vehicles. They’d made it out of New England before he’d stopped trying to shift gears with the emergency brake, and it was easier to concentrate on keeping the car on the road when he wasn’t fielding questions on the history of vampires in the States.

Dylan had offered to drive more than once, but Adam stubbornly refused to relinquish the wheel. With his quiet, rigidly controlled life spinning out of control, he needed this last illusion of order.

Even if he kept turning on the damn windshield wipers every time he tried to use the blinker.

The road ahead of them had narrowed until towering trees blocked out most of the light. He’d felt the wards ten miles back, layered so thickly across the pass he was amazed humans didn’t notice them. Even knowing what the magic was and why it was there, he’d had to fight to follow Joe’s Blazer off the main road. It had felt unpleasantly like passing through a thick tangle of sticky cobwebs, and the back of his neck still itched.

Dylan had finally detached himself from Sasha’s side, which Adam supposed was indication enough they’d almost reached Red Rock. He cleared his throat to catch their attention and raised his voice. “Do you two feel the wards too? Or do I only get them because I’m a vampire?”

Sasha leaned forward over the seat. “They affect everyone to varying degrees. Do you feel all right?”

She was so damn earnest it made his teeth hurt. He’d never done well with gentle women, and sometimes Sasha reminded him of the well-bred daughters he’d done his best to avoid in the days before automatic transmissions and cars that told you when your gas tank was low. But none of those spoiled rich girls would have looked at him with wide, worried eyes and shouldered into his personal space like she had a right to be there.

Like she needed to help him.

His silence had gone on too long, and Dylan watched him in the rearview mirror. Adam shrugged one shoulder. “Fine. But that magic was made to welcome werewolves, and I’m damn near the opposite of a werewolf.”

“I suppose.” She offered him an encouraging smile. “Gavin will be happy to see you.”

The painfully chipper little girl was mother-henning him. As if he hadn’t been alive when her great-fucking-grandmother had been born. “Hope so. Like to wait at least a week between fights with werewolves.”

“We all do.” Sasha sat back and nestled into the cradle of Dylan’s arm. “It’s a bit of a luxury around here sometimes, though.”

Adam eyed them in the rearview mirror again, his gaze sweeping inexorably to the claw-shaped scars that marked her pale cheek. Maybe he wasn’t giving the witchling enough credit. Life in a town full of backwater werewolves couldn’t be any more comfortable for her than it would be for him, but even with the proof of violence carved into her skin, she didn’t turn away from it.

Still, she didn’t have to be so damn cheerful about it.

Dylan nuzzled his nose against the girl’s bright red hair, and Adam jerked his attention back to the road. Love made people blissful. Love made people stupid. The couple cuddling in the backseat had faced down a power-hungry vampire less than two weeks ago, and every indication pointed to the inevitable fact that their next confrontation would be five times as bad. Yet they still looked foolishly, joyfully happy.

For one brief minute, he considered mistaking the parking break for the gearshift again, just to keep Romeo and Juliet from necking in the backseat. Of course, with his luck the car would spin out of control on the loosely packed gravel and they’d end up wrapped around a tree. Dylan might make it out in one piece, but witches were fragile things–and this witch obviously wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, or she couldn’t be half in Dylan’s lap.

Adam tightened his fingers around the steering wheel, gritted his teeth, and promised himself he’d use kamikaze dives toward large trees as a last resort. Like if he saw tongues.

“That’s it up ahead.” Dylan’s voice, quiet and unassuming. At the same time, the Blazer in front of them made a sharp left. Adam jerked the wheel to follow, and the trees on either side disappeared, replaced with a steep hill leading down to an idyllic little village tucked into a picturesque clearing.

The sun had already dropped below the edge of the forest, but Adam had no trouble making out the small cluster of buildings that obviously made up the main bulk of Red Rock. Dirt roads wove into the trees, and lights flickered here and there through the branches like fireflies. The town showed its share of wear and tear, visible even at a distance, but it was easy to see the dream underneath. An old-fashioned, small-town sanctuary. He could have been looking at Bedagi Creek, if Bedagi Creek had been on top of a mountain instead of nestled in the Great North Woods of Maine.

A blonde in jeans and a flannel shirt watched them as they drove down the main street, one hand shading her eyes from the dwindling sunlight. Joe waved at her through the Blazer window, and she smiled broadly as she approached the SUV.

“The town’s doctor,” Dylan said, distracting him from the act of coasting to a stop. He had to slam his foot down on the brakes and nearly rear-ended Joe’s vehicle before he managed to park the car. The blonde’s gaze flickered to him and, for one moment, all he could see in her face was pure, undiluted strength, the kind that came from living through hell and getting up on the other side.

The dark hunger inside him stirred, attracted to the strength of her in the same way the young alpha female in Bedagi Creek had called to him. But he’d known Emily from childhood, leaving his hunger for power strongly tempered by an utter lack of desire. The blonde burned with magic so bright it could turn a man inside out, and had a body that might make him willing to go through the pain, if it meant getting a chance to touch her.

“Oh shit.”

Adam jerked his attention to the rearview mirror and glared at Dylan. “Got a problem, puppy?”

Dylan refused to avert his gaze, which was most of the reason Adam liked the kid. Dylan didn’t care if the man staring him down could break him in half, he’d do what he thought he had to and damn the consequences.

Apparently now he thought he had to be a nosy bastard. “Cindy’s not going to let you snack on her. And if Joe or Keith catches you eyeing her like you’re thinking about it, they’ll get Buffy on your ass.”

“Excuse me?”

“They’ll kill you really, really dead.”

Not an inconsequential threat, but Joe and Keith were still youths, neither of them fifty years old. And Adam hadn’t been thinking about blood for once. Which might be worse. “Mind your own damn business, Dylan.”

The doctor leaned close to Joe’s window for a few more moments, then nodded and began to walk toward Adam’s car. When she drew closer, he could see the brittle tinge of wariness in her eyes.

Judging by the way the couple in the back separated and surged to opposite sides of the seat, little–if any–of that wariness was directed at him. Adam jerked the keys from the ignition and pushed open the door with a small sigh of relief. He tossed the keys on the front seat and glanced at Dylan. “If the car needs to go somewhere else, you take it.”

“Sure thing.” Dylan opened his own door and climbed out, a cautious smile on his lips. “Hey, Cindy.”

“Dylan. Hi, Sasha.”

“Hi.”

Cindy turned to him and held out one hand. “You must be Adam. Gavin’s told me a lot about you.”

Touching her was asking for trouble, but he did it anyway. Her hand felt small in his, but not soft. She wasn’t Sasha, with her fragile delicateness. Cindy’s smooth skin hid strength, maybe even a hint of danger.

It turned him on more than a little.

“Cindy.” He smiled, the wide, easy grin he used on the rare occasions he wanted a woman to smile back. “So you’re the doctor Sam told me about.” A small lie, since he didn’t think Sam had told him more than that she had a doctor.

She arched an eyebrow and laughed. “The first thing Gavin told me was that you’re a charming, horny bastard.”

Son of a bitch. It figured the old wolf knew him well enough, even after all this time, to know the sort of temptation Cindy would present. “Gavin hasn’t forgiven me for flirting with his wife in the early eighties. He holds a grudge.”

“Right. He and Sam are at my place. Come on, I’ll show you.” She turned on one heel and walked across the street, her hips swaying with each step.

He was still watching those hips when Dylan spoke up from behind them, his voice worried. “Did something happen? Did someone get hurt?”

Cindy spared them only a quick glance over her shoulder. “Gavin’s not feeling well.”

It was the one thing guaranteed to drag Adam’s attention away from the way Cindy’s jeans hugged her ass. Her tone might have been casual, but he’d heard the minute strain, the way her voice came out a little flat. Amusement died and he caught up to Cindy in two long strides. “Then let’s go.”

Her house proved to be close to the center of town, a smart placement for their doctor, he supposed. It seemed like a nice enough little home, but on the inside it looked more like an office. Chairs and a couch lined the walls of the entryway, and the two rooms he could see into could best be described as clinical.

Cindy ignored them both, instead leading him down the hall, past the kitchen into a comfortably homey room where Gavin sat in a recliner, his face ashen.

He’d kept up with Gavin by phone, infrequent calls every month or two, Adam’s only real contact with the world past Bedagi Creek. The last time he’d actually seen Gavin had been over a quarter of a century ago, when his oldest friend had arrived in Maine with a sweet-faced young woman with too many scars and too much power. Time had still been kind.

Gavin and time had had a falling out at some point in the last thirty years. His friend looked old. Rundown and worn out and half-dead. He looked up and grinned when he saw Adam. “‘Bout time you showed up.”

Adam had to fight to smile and keep his voice light, burying his worry deep. “Just biding my time. Figured Sam would leave you and shack up with me if I waited long enough.”

“In your wildest dreams, Dubois.” Gavin jerked his head to the chair beside his. “Have a seat. Never thought I’d get you out here.”

Adam sank into the chair. “Never thought I’d come. But what can I say? Only you would send a moon-crazed wolf, a witch and their boyfriends out to fetch me. You got my attention.”

“Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it?” He leaned his head back and turned his grin to the blonde. “Cindy, love. Tell Sammie I can have a beer, would you?”

“Hell no.”

“You’re a harsh woman, Dr. Shepherd.”

“Mmm.” She winked at Adam over Gavin’s head. “May as well get the truth out there before your guest starts to think I’m a nice lady.”

Adam stretched his legs in front of him, grateful for the chance to do so after so long trapped in a ridiculously small car. “Trust me, Dr. Shepherd. Gavin here is hoping I’ll think you’re a nice lady. Never much fancied them.”

“Cindy can handle the likes of you,” Gavin grumbled. “And she is nice, in spite of that.”

“Mm-hmm.” He met Cindy’s gaze. “So what did the old bastard do to put himself in this state?”

“The old bastard is sitting right here.”

Cindy ignored him. “Had another heart attack. It’s one of the hazards of being an old bastard.” Again, a thread of tension bled through her nonchalant words.

Another heart attack?” Adam looked back to Gavin. “Hell, man, how many have you had?”

“Three.” His friend fidgeted with the upholstery covering the arm of the recliner. “It’s like the lady says. I’m not as young as I used to be.”

Neither was Adam, but time had a way of passing him by in his tiny remote cabin. Before young Emily had taken a shine to him, he’d gone for months at a time without seeing anyone besides the casual bedmates who came to him to feed a man’s hunger as well as a vampire’s.

Footsteps sounded in the hallway, and Adam got another shock when Sam stepped through the doorway. Granted, few women well into their seventies possessed Sam’s strong body and ageless complexion, but worry had left its mark on her face and fear in her eyes.

She hid it well as she swooped down to kiss his cheek. “Welcome to Red Rock, you impossible man.”

Flirting with her when Gavin looked like he had one foot in the grave seemed like overkill, but he didn’t know how else to handle the shock of seeing two of his oldest friends looking old. “I thought we agreed you’d leave this sorry ass and come live with me. I waited twenty years.”

“Only twenty? You’re too impatient.” Her voice sounded strained, and Adam felt the first stirrings of panic. Nothing put that edge of fear in Sam’s voice. Combined with the doctor’s tension, it painted a sorry picture for Gavin–and for Red Rock.

Cindy leaned close to Sam, one comforting hand on the taller woman’s shoulder. “I have to head to Keith’s and check on Joe. Radio if you need anything, and I can be back here in a minute.”

“Thanks, Cindy.” Sam squeezed her hand, and Adam caught the look that passed between them. Samantha considered the doctor a friend, someone from whom she’d accept support, and it said more about Cindy’s inner strength than anything else he’d seen.

His attraction to that strength made it so much harder to watch her leave.

*

It took Cindy five minutes, halfway down Main Street, to stop trembling.

You’re doing it again, damn it. It was the only explanation. She was letting her hormones overrule her good sense, indulging an attraction to an unsuitable man.

The pull had been there, instant and undeniable, and she wanted to kick herself for flirting with him. He was attractive, tall and dark and rugged, but there wasn’t time for that sort of thing. Not with Gavin sick and Keith taking over and a new threat in Helena.

Not just any threat–a vampire. And she’d do well to remember that Adam Dubois had come to Red Rock to teach them how to fight that threat.

“Cindy!” Dylan appeared from between two buildings. “Hey, I was just dropping the rental car off at Sam and Gavin’s. You headed to Keith’s?”

“Yeah, I want to make sure Joe’s okay.” Seeing Dylan jolted her a little. She wasn’t pining over him, and she certainly didn’t begrudge him his happiness, but he’d been her lover not terribly long ago. “What about you?”

“That’s the plan.” He sounded different, more confident. Whatever had happened in Maine had healed some of the slowly bleeding wounds he’d come to Red Rock with a few months before. She could see it in his face as he glanced at her. “What’s really going on with Gavin?”

She’d told Keith because Sam had asked her to. Sam hadn’t asked her to tell everyone. “The stress, mostly. I think Keith’s going to be taking over a lot of things.”

Dylan frowned. “If it’s not my business, just say it’s not my business. Don’t lie.”

She blew her bangs out of her face with an exasperated breath. “Okay, Dylan. It’s none of your business.”

“Fair enough.” He stayed silent as they reached the end of the street and turned toward Keith’s house, his boots crunching loudly on the gravel. It wasn’t until they’d passed another two houses that he cleared his throat. “So. We brought a vampire home with us.”

“I noticed.” At least the deepening shadows cast by the setting sun might hide her blush. “Gavin seemed happy to see his friend.”

“He’s…” Another pause, and this one felt apprehensive. “Watch out for him, Cindy. He may be friendly with Gavin, but he’s dangerous. The kind of dangerous you don’t see coming.”

“You think he’s out to get me?” Even as a joke, the words felt illicit. “Should I string garlic around my neck?”

He dropped his gaze–only for a second, but long enough to acknowledge she was far above him in the pack hierarchy. “I’m just saying, power makes him hungry. Sometimes he looks at Brynn and I know he sees food.”

“Yeah, well. If he tries to suck my blood, I’ll punch him in the balls. How’s that?” Not that she was making any promises if he wanted to put his mouth anywhere else.

“Never should have doubted.”

“Uh-huh.” Cindy stopped walking and shoved her hands in her pockets. “I appreciate that you’re trying to look out for me, Dylan. But you can’t do that anymore, not for a while. You know that, right?”

“Wasn’t all that great at it before.” He turned to face her and grinned. “I get it though. And I’m sorry. Don’t beat me up.”

“Right.” She jerked her head back toward her house. “What’s his story?”

Dylan shrugged and resumed walking. “Vampire. Old, maybe older than Gavin. We found him making a living carving handmade furniture in a cabin that barely had running water and electricity.”

“Should be right at home in Red Rock, then.”

“Guess so. Don’t think he’s been out in the world in a while. You should have seen him trying to manage the rental car.”

Laughing felt too much like mockery, and Cindy’s amusement faded quickly. “I’m just thankful he came. Gavin could use an old friend around right now.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I kind of like him. Joe, on the other hand…” Dylan trailed off uncomfortably. “Those two are never gonna be friends.”

If there was tension there, she needed to know. “Did something happen?”

It took Dylan a second too long to answer. “No. Adam’s careful not to look at Brynn most of the time. But back in Maine he made it clear that the way she got turned is going to make her vampire bait. And not in a ‘be my queen of the night’ sort of way. More like, ‘yum, dinner’.”

If the raw power appealed to vampires, it was no wonder. Brynn was half-feral, wild with it. “I imagine Joe wouldn’t be too fond of that.”

“Doesn’t seem like it. And I don’t know if he’s thought ahead, but I have. It means Brynn can’t be involved in whatever goes down in Helena. She’s too big a target. And unless Joe’s willing to transfer her bond to someone else, it takes him out too.” Dylan kicked at a rock and sighed. “No wonder Gavin feels like shit. Things are looking pretty damn dire.”

“What kind of shape is Joe in now?” Joe was proud and a little pigheaded, but he also possessed a refreshing pragmatism. If he was in no shape to fight, it wouldn’t be hard to convince him he’d be better off tending to Brynn.

Dylan flashed her a weary smile. “You’re the doctor. I guess you’ll have to tell me.”

“Of course.” She didn’t want to keep walking toward Keith’s house. She didn’t want to hear the details of what had happened, see the extent of Joe’s lingering injuries. She wanted to go home and climb into a hot bath.

Fingers brushed her arm, a tentative touch that only lasted a moment. “You okay, Cindy?”

Not long ago, Dylan’s touch would have been more than welcome. Now, she shied away from it. “I’m exhausted. We all are.”

“I just…” His voice trailed off, as if he knew there was nothing he could say. Not anymore. “Let’s go. Joe’s waiting for you.”

Guilt made her tremble. She’d been the one to end things, and it wasn’t fair to punish him for it. “I’m sorry, Dylan.”

“Don’t be. Things are awkward. Just means we’re… Well, maybe not human. But normal.”

Cindy stopped walking and rubbed her hands over her face. “Tell me one thing. Tell me you’re happy.

“I am. Not just living. I’m happy.”

The truth of the words was written on every line of his face. He wore a contentment that hadn’t been there the last time she’d seen him, and she dragged in a relieved breath. “Then that means us splitting up was the right thing to do. That’s enough for me.”

“I’m glad.” He tilted his head toward the road that led to Keith’s place. “You ready to face this?”

Not in a million years, but there was no avoiding it. “I need to check on Joe, and we all need to talk.”

“Yeah we do, but cheer up. We brought souvenirs.”

And a vampire. She almost told Dylan she’d prefer the cheap trinkets, but the image of Adam Dubois’s flashing green eyes rose in her memory, giving lie to the thought. “Let’s go.”