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Her Sanctuary

Her Sanctuary

A woman surviving on the edge of a dark frontier strikes a sensual bargain with a handsome stranger hiding a dangerous secret…

In a post-apocalyptic future, creatures who’ve hidden in the shadows for millennia are freed to roam in a world shrouded in darkness. Rancher Kate McKinnon runs Sanctuary Ranch—a last refuge on the western frontier. While running herd over her cowhands and integrating refugees into their self-sufficient refuge, she escapes her responsibilities the only way she has left—via radio to pockets of other survivors. One man, Ty Bennett, is her confidante, and she thinks she might be falling in love with his deep, rasping voice. Although they’ve never met, he seems to know her heart.

On a patrol to scavenge supplies, Kate and her cowboys are surrounded by a gang of renegades intent on claiming her. Rescue comes unexpectedly by a militaristic band led by the man she’s spent so many hours talking to through the dark nights. She brings him home only to discover she’s brought vampires inside the refuge.

Already half in love with the human woman, Ty offers added muscle to her defenses and promises to move her people to safety. Fighting his own nature and appetites, he seeks redemption for his many sins but can’t control his hunger to possess Kate. Getting past her prejudice and choking responsibilities tests his seductive powers.

Note: This story was previously released under the title Undeniable. It has since been revised and expanded.

Read an Excerpt

Kate McKinnon pulled up the collar of her old leather duster to ward off the chill wind that bit the back of her neck. One glance at the darkening sky reminded her of the passage of time. Daylight was a-wastin’. Soon, she’d have to head back to the safety of the ranch house.

She cinched her stampede string tighter under her chin to prevent her hat from flying away and nudged her horse forward to follow the fence line, looking for any breaks that might indicate trouble.

She wasn’t worried that cattle might have slipped through a hole in the fence. Most of the herd she’d run roughshod over since her father’s death was gone. More worrisome than a cow slipping out was what might have come inside. The dense cloud cover above hadn’t allowed even a glimpse of sunlight to peek through all day.

Perfect conditions for the monsters to come out and play.

Any one of her men could have been assigned this duty, but Kate liked being on her own. Every once in a while, she needed to ride the fence to harken back to a time when the worst thing she might find was a cow mired in the mud or a calf circled by buzzards. On the open range with only herself to argue with, she found some peace. Not that she could ever really escape her problems for long.

The radio squawked from where she’d clipped it to the bridle of her horse. “The southwest corner’s clear, boss,” said Sam Culpepper, her ranch foreman. “I’m headin’ back to the ranch house.”

She unclipped the mike and held it to her mouth. “I’ll turn back at Wasp Creek. Almost there now.”

“Hope you found somethin’ for Cass’s stew pot. I didn’t see sign of deer or rabbits.”

Kate grimaced and pressed the talk switch. “Well, I found a bird.”

“Turkey?” he asked, a hopeful note in his voice.

She glanced at the black-feathered carcass hanging upside down from a string tied to her saddle horn. “You got that half right.”


She grinned. A buzzard to flavor the broth was better than nothing at all. They’d used up the last of the smoked beef jerky they’d harvested from a sickly cow a month ago.

“Something’s got to give,” Sam said, his tone indicating he wasn’t holding out any hope.

What had once been lush grasslands where cattle had thrived was now a wasteland with sparse tufts of grass and gnarled leafless trees. Not enough to sustain what remained of the herd. They’d have to section out a couple more cattle soon to keep the few they had somewhat healthy. The only wildlife that seemed to flourish these days were the turkey buzzards that fed off the remains of small animals that hadn’t survived the changing weather patterns.

Not for the first time, Kate was glad her father hadn’t lived to see the decimation. Tugging at her horse’s reins, she decided she might as well head back to the ranch house. That was when she spied slackened barbwire and knew they had a problem. “Sam, we have a break.”

“I’m right behind you. Wait for me,” he rasped.

“Wait? Yeah, right,” Kate replied, knowing any delay in catching the varmint was unacceptable. The creature could wipe out the rest of their meager herd as well as endanger the lives of those living at the ranch. What pissed her off most was Sam wouldn’t have issued that order to any other ranch hand. At times like these, she regretted ever asking him into her bed.

“Goddammit, Kate, I’m on your ass! Wait!”

Kate grinned and spurred her horse into a canter. When the troubles began, Sam had appointed himself her guardian. Since caution didn’t appear anywhere in her vocabulary, she’d made it her mission in life to make his job as onerous as possible.

Not that she was foolhardy. Raised on a ranch, she had the same skills and grit as any other cowboy.

She followed the fence and kept her gaze alert to any movement in the brush around her. Her horse didn’t appear nervous in the slightest—Kate had learned to trust Lucy Liu’s instincts.

The break, when she found it, was small and low. The creature had crawled in on all fours. Prints leading into the brush indicated one animal, but she wasn’t ready to celebrate just yet.

The thunder of hooves, more than she’d expected, came from north along the fence line. She drew her rifle from its scabbard and turned it sideways to double-check her load. Mentally, she counted off her earlier shots—three rounds were all she had left.

Sam pulled to a halt beside her, his expression promising retribution. Danny’s horse ground to a halt behind him, his two pit bulls close on his buckskin’s hooves. The dogs whined, and their tails wagged frantically. They’d already picked up the scent, but they’d wait until Danny gave the order to track.

“Don’t you have a lick a sense?” Sam ground out.

Kate smirked. “You only live once. Sometimes.”

Sam shook his head, narrowing his eyes. “We’ll talk about this later.” Then he took the lead, following paw prints in the dry dirt until they entered an arroyo.

He nodded to Danny, and the ranch hand swept out his arm, index finger extended, giving the command to the dogs to follow the creature into the ravine.

Sam slipped off his horse and grabbed his rifle. “You stay put. Watch the horses. Danny, follow me.”

Kate tamped down her impatience at Sam’s overprotective streak and dismounted. So, she was stuck watching horses again. She settled her rifle barrel on her shoulder, kicked the dirt, and listened to the radio as the men talked between themselves while they tracked the animal.

The wind shifted—a subtle turn that blew west then east, like a lazy wag. Lucy Liu whinnied, and Kate felt goose bumps prickle her skin.

Suddenly, the radio squawked. “Kate, he doubled back! Get the fuck out of there!”

“Get out, my ass,” she whispered. She had three horses to protect and her daddy’s old rifle in her arms.

Resisting the urge to check her chamber one more time, she waited while the horses whinnied nervously and pulled at the reins tied to a scrubby oak, causing it to creak and obliterating any possibility she might actually hear the beast’s approach.

Instead, she took her cues from the horses’ actions—the direction their ears pricked, which way they instinctively pulled against their reins. She faced the mouth of the arroyo.

When it burst snarling, from beneath the cover of brush, she was ready. She slammed the stock of her rifle into her shoulder and fired off a shot, then cocked the lever down and up to load the next cartridge into the chamber and fired a second round.

Still, it came—launching into the air toward her, teeth bared, its long ears flattened against its skull.

Too close to get off another round, she turned the gun and grabbed the barrel, swinging it like a baseball bat. She slammed the rifle against the creature’s head, knocking it to the side, and then braced herself for the next attack.

Only the wolf never regained its feet. It twisted in agony on the ground as the silver load finally did its work. Poison gripped its body, causing it to convulse and forcing red-tinged foam to spill from its lips.

When it relaxed, expelling a final labored breath, the body transformed, shifting in a dark blurred instant into a man. A young man, as innocent and naked as the day he’d been born.

Kate’s jaw firmed, tamping down regret for the waste of a life. No matter how many times this same scenario played out, she never got used to it.

The dogs burst into the clearing and circled the dead werewolf, whining and snapping, but never actually biting. Then Sam barreled out of the brush, coming to halt as he took in the scene in one sweeping glance. He bent double and rested his hands above his knees as he dragged deep breaths into his lungs. “Goddammit, Kate. When I tell you to run…”

She shrugged and pretended her own heart wasn’t racing like a thoroughbred’s. “Well, he’s dead, ain’t he?”

He shot her a glare. “You know, Kate, you are one stubborn cuss.”

She grinned and lifted a single eyebrow.

His gaze swept down her body. “Did he bite you?”

“Not so much as a nibble.”

Danny raced up the arroyo and called off the dogs. “So, do we bury him?” he asked, once he had them under control.

Kate shook her head and looked away. “The buzzards have to eat, too.”