Authors: Becca Dale
Tags: #Book 2 of the Sanctuary Series
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Becca Dale
Cover art by Fiona Jayde
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Also by Becca Dale
Can’t Stop Me
The Millionaire and the Girl Next Door
Book 2 of the Sanctuary Series
To my personal hero, who never fails me no matter the situation.
The white bitch gnawed her foot slick with spit. Holding the iron cuff in her mouth, she jerked her paw until the restraint gave way. Her ankle ached, scraped raw by the band she’d starved herself to escape. Praying her leg would hold up, she leaped the half door on her pen and padded across the wooden floorboards toward the open end of the wolves’ crib. The heavy sighs and night noises of the other females failed to mask the click of her nails as she crept through the breeding shed. The stench of urine and repression burned her lungs while fear thundered in her heart.
She slipped into the dark, panic clawing at her chest. She thought of her mother’s and sister’s bones in the pile behind the big house, of another sister killed and cast away somewhere unknown, of her brother lost to her, dead or enslaved.
. The bitch had no way of knowing, no one to turn to, and nowhere to hide. The mills had been her home from birth, her hell since puberty, but they represented all she had ever known beyond the deep longing to run without restraint.
Life is hope
. The motto often whispered in the darkest hours urged her onward. She slipped past the sleeping guard, the one called Dane by the humans, Diablo by the animals he supposedly protected. He lolled at his post, sprawled in his chair with his feet up and his head thrown back against the crib wall, throat exposed. A trickle of drool dampened his scruffy beard, and the scent of violence rolled off of him, bitter and oppressive. If she had any strength to spare, she’d rip his throat open for the times he’d left his chair to beat or humiliate the helpless females under his care.
Too weak to attack with only bared fangs, she slunk onward, silent and cautious, hugging the buildings to hide her shadow from the harsh, yellow yard lights. Brittle grass and sharp stones cut the tender pads of her feet, leaving a slick blood trail across the dark farmyard. She had made it outside the shed, but liberty remained beyond the compound. Her pulse drummed loud enough to wake the dead and would not settle, its thump the only sound in the mocking silence. A misstep, a startled night bird, anything could shatter the stillness and destroy her chance.
She stopped and scented the air. Something or someone waited beyond the unguarded gate. The subtle whisper of agitated breaths floated on the breeze. Hesitating, torn between escape and whatever lurked in the tall grass, the bitch crouched low. A coyote’s howl echoed through the long valley, emphasizing the distance between hell and the promise of peace.
Then she saw them.
Eyes glowed in the darkness. One, two, twenty pairs attached to unseen enemies. Frightened, she huddled into the niche between the babies’ play yard and the building which housed the nursing mothers. A little one whimpered, and its mother woofed it silent.
She couldn’t stay. Her womb remained barren, and it wouldn’t be long before a bullet ended her misery as it had the suffering of so many through the years. For a fleeting second, death called with sweet relief. Perhaps a similar finish lay beyond the gate in the jaws of hidden beings. Perhaps not. Searching for a path between the unknown creatures, a place to slide though undetected, she waited, trembling with fear and anticipation.
Before the answer came clear, the group rose en masse. Great beasts the likes of which she’d never seen before emerged from the shadows. Fangs gleamed in heavy jaws. Broad hairy monsters with two-inch claws stood upon the legs of men. Growls low and savage rumbled through the group. Then he spoke. The largest of the creatures hushed the others.
Get in, free the animals, and get out.
What if we get caught?
Do what you must
Emancipation had come with glowing eyes and a comforting command.
Ryan Jones tested the air one last time before he gave the signal to attack. His informant claimed the puppy mill housed only dogs and wolves, but the distinct spice of a female shifter teased his nostrils. The bitch smelled of fear and breathless hope.
What is it?
Rip stepped beside him and lifted his head to the breeze.
Someone’s in there.
Then what are we waiting for?
With single nod, he sent a silent message down the line.
The band of raiders surged forward. Rending the six-foot fence with ease, they rushed the darkened buildings. Brittle wooden doors and iron gates yielded beneath claws backed by rage.
Ryan skidded around the corner of a small corral and almost tripped over her. He rose to his full height and growled a warning before he realized who she was. A pure white female trembled in the corner. Fur hung on her thin frame in matted clumps, and her lips curled back over gleaming fangs. Had such a pathetic creature been held against her will? If so, why was she out of her pen? Why didn’t she run?
Her gaze darted to the side before she slipped around him and through the tattered fencing his brothers had left in their wake.
Wait! Let me help!
The emaciated bitch did not stop. With luck, her pack waited somewhere out there, ready to take her in and let her heal. The scents of uncertainty, optimism, and anger gripped him, but beneath it all lay the faint, moldy musk of sadness. It weighted the wind and tugged at his protective nature.
Run, little girl. Get the hell away from here
She crouched outside the fence, waiting and watching, while the dogs and wolves were released. Some ran, freed by the simple opening of a gate. Others remained immobile, subjugated too long to understand what freedom meant. The mothers would not leave their pups behind. Giant creatures with gentle paws lifted the little ones, carrying them to waiting vehicles and assisting weary females inside. The large black male orchestrated it all with barked commands and soothing words.
“What the hell’s going on?” Diablo stood inside the gate, a rifle clutched in his hands.
The pack leader stepped around the end of the van and snarled.
Was he insane? Did he not understand death lived inside that barrel? She crept closer, unsure what to do. Desperate to try anything to help the animals escape.
Diablo lifted the gun to his shoulder, the opening pointed at the stranger’s heart. The black beast rose to its full height, and panic glistened in the guard’s wild-eyed stare. If he fired, the shot would warn the people who lived in the big house. Worse, the giant beast would be dead and freedom would be snatched from the pitiful group he attempted to aid.
Without thought, she leapt. Clenching the rifle barrel in her jaws, she allowed momentum to rip it from Diablo’s hands. Barbed wire blazed a trail of fire from her shoulder to her hip, but she rolled away from the fence, dragging the weapon beyond the human’s reach.
She needn’t have bothered with the last. By the time she found her feet, an enormous black wolf stood on Diablo’s chest. The bastard twitched, eyes wide in horror before glazing over in death. Blood shone sickly orange beneath the yellow lights. A howl of joy spread among the onlookers.
The wolf leaped from the corpse to land at her feet. Red gore highlighted its massive muzzle, and anger gleamed from dark eyes.
You could have been killed
She blinked at his harsh tone, and fear slashed the gentle image his companions’ actions had created. Necessary or not, he had killed without hesitation. A shiver set her hackles on edge. Such a creature could not be trusted, no matter how comforting his scent or noble his cause.
Turning from the mill, she left the craziness of the night behind. The click of his nails on the gravel followed her for a moment, but someone called, and his footsteps grew faint as he turned back to the others.
Certain her companions had found safety beneath such fearsome protection, the she-wolf ran until pain and hunger gnawed incessantly. Swamp mud matted her fur, leaving dried clumps to itch her tender skin. A long scrape oozed blood from shoulder to hip, and her fatigued muscles tightened. Three days of running had kept the wound open; sapping her strength as her blood cleansed the angry flesh.
Finally, she left the valley behind and climbed toward higher, drier ground. Civilization peeked above the horizon. Friend or foe? Rooftops shimmered in the hot sun though heat did not weaken the panicked joy in her chest. She had escaped. No one had followed. Freedom teased, unknown and bittersweet. By the time the sky darkened, she would reach the strange village.
An image of her savior popped in her head. Over the miles, the wolf and beast had become one, though she had missed it at first. Animal and monster had the same pure smell of birch and sage. Underlying compassion warmed both the rich brown eyes that had rousted her from hiding and the dark orbs of the snarling wolf.
Thoughts of nuzzling into his silken midnight fur and feeling the seductive scratch of his teeth against her ruff sent shivers skipping along her spine. So many males had been placed with her, but she’d refused to lift her tail for any of them. The big house should have sent the black wolf. She would have gladly accepted the seed of such an animal.
Shaking off the unexplainable draw of the massive creature, she limped painfully onward. When she topped the final hill, hope spread before her in glorious wonder. The town lay miles to the left, but potential relief squatted, unpretentious and unexpected, in the quiet basin. Pine and birch painted the valley shades of blue, green, and white. A long, low cabin crouched not far from a small fenced-in group of buildings, and the air carried the presence of humans and animals both. She almost panicked, but the sweet scent of contentment drifted to her, calling her onward. The valley did not reek of terror and degradation, but perhaps she simply wasn’t enmeshed in the place deeply enough to grasp it. For a moment, fear paralyzed her, making her hesitate at the edge of the clearing. What if she had left one prison for another, equally bad or worse?