Elemental Ops, Book 1
by Julia Talbot
eBook ISBN: 06833-02200
Ice won’t let his team at Elemental Ops go with him on what’s supposed to be a suicide mission to uncover a new biological weapon. Imagine his surprise when the biggest danger he finds himself in is being bonded to a baby dragon, and falling in love with said dragon’s Guardian, Keon. Keon isn’t worried about things like guns and governments. He has a whole host of problems in all shapes and colors. When Ice accidentally bonds with one of his baby dragons, Keon is more worried about getting the man to come in from the cold and find a place in their bizarre little family. Can these two find common ground, and keep the dragons safe?
Ice stared down the barrel of his rifle, a muscle jumping in his cheek. He had a bad feeling about this mission. Like a really bad one. So bad that he’d left the team behind to a man. Jacques and Gig had protested, but he’d snarled at them just like he’d been snarling since Spider had officially left the group, sniffing after a couple of shifters who seemed to draw him like a moth to the flame.
Although, Spider had been their fire elemental, and it was tough for him to be ice without fire.
The target on this mission was a son of a bitch who was hoarding weaponry of the unusual kind and was classified as Armed and Talented. It had taken Ice a month just to find his hideout. It was a fortress, really, a huge thing built into the side of a mountain. The terrain made recon difficult, all shale and other craggy rock deposits, and the whole place smelled like brimstone, the occasional glow of a fiery light tempting Ice to come in out of the cold. His feet were like blocks of frozen snow, even with toe warmers in his boots.
Ice wasn’t sure if the guy had demons in there or maybe just a hole into Hell. That would be interesting…
Whatever it was, the directive had been serious enough about the danger that he’d gone Oscar Mike in the middle of the night, leaving his team behind while they slept. They could go on without him, but he needed them to be safe.
A truck rumbled up toward the place, shocks rattling and shaking over the rough road. Whoever was driving had to be losing his fucking mind. Ice would have left the damned truck and hoofed it in. Lord.
A guy got out when the truck parked — someone who looked oddly familiar, although he couldn’t place the face — carrying a… pet crate? What the fuck? This was so not a dog rescue or anything. This was a weapons stockpile. Right?
He stared, relaxing his eyes so the scope didn’t flatten out his vision.
A lean, mostly naked man with the wildest mass of jet-black hair he’d ever seen came out of the building, peered into the crate. The two men began talking — maybe negotiating? Hell, this was the most action he’d experienced since he’d been on point. He focused on the truck driver for now, trying to place the man.
The truck driver pulled a piece, drew a bead on the guy, who snorted and stared at the man like he was an idiot, not an ounce of fear on the hawk-like face.
Okay, that was interesting. Ice focused on the other guy for a moment. That fearless bastard stirred something like admiration in him. That mostly naked body stirred something a little farther south.
The pistol was grabbed, tossed away, then the pet carrier was snatched up and the man headed inside. The driver took a step forward and stopped suddenly, eyes going wide before he scrambled for the truck. The truck bounced twice as hard going out, the driver damned near wiping out at the turn that took him out of range of the rifle’s sight. The niggling idea that he knew who the driver was made him wish he had Gig, his tech guy, to run facial rec.
The huge door began to swing shut, slowly, proving how heavy it was.
He couldn’t get a look at what lay inside, either, which meant more damned recon. He’d have to get up close and personal, which started with freezing up those cameras he could see.
Something was in there, something big, and he was going to have to figure out how to get in. This was not just a search and destroy, it was information gathering on the weapons that had everyone running so fucking scared, including the guy who had just made a drop of some kind of animal.
Whatever the fuck they were. They were obviously biologicals. That was always a goddamn disaster. Living things were uncontrollable as fuck. Look at dudes who made movies with dogs, and that was no comparison to what biologicals could do in wartime. He’d seen this werewolf once who ripped the throat out of two soldiers before turning on his supposed handler, the guy’s silver-tipped Taser doing no damned good in the bloodlust.
Mr. Lean and Hairy appeared again, looking up at the sky, muttering to himself, giving Ice a look at a tiny, fine ass. Sweet. At least the scenery would be good.
Something shot across the sky, something akin to a comet. Weird. He would have to check his comms to see if anything was expected in the way of meteor showers. He hadn’t seen anything on the recon reports, but intel wasn’t always one hundred percent.
The man waved to the sky, grinning up like an idiot, then turned back and hurried inside.
Ice blinked, pulling his long-range binocs out to see if he could get a better glimpse of what was up in the ether. The thing was moving like lightning, flying across the sky like a burning jet. What the fuck? It was no plane, glider, or helicopter.
Nothing he’d ever seen moved that fast. Ever. He gave up trying to figure out what it was and went for deciding where it would land, instead. The trajectory was heading toward the peak of a mountain, then suddenly, it turned left. He watched it plunge downward, then disappear. Damn. He marked the coordinates down.
What the fuck was that? What moved that fast when it was that frickin’ big? That had to be some sort of experimental weapon, man.
He started breaking down his little camp. He had to move closer to the hot guy with all the hair. He wanted to know how the hell this whole compound thing worked.
Time to go do his job. Even if it killed him.
* * *
Krystal was crying, chuffing out piteously, and Keon padded over to her bed, plopping down beside it. “Oh, baby girl. What’s wrong?”
She crawled into his lap, pink scales warm and smooth on his lap. She was surprisingly light for her size, and loneliness poured off her in waves.
“Missing Momma, I bet. It’s okay, baby girl.” Dragons were incredibly sensitive to change, and Krystal had been through enough for two lifetimes, let alone her short one.
Her momma had been displaced, and there were shockingly few places left for creatures as big as a full-sized dragon. Krystal needed raising, at least until her mom got new digs. Literally. A bunker would have to be excavated.
The wee one, though, was scared and alone, needing support and a little attention. “Don’t worry. Tomorrow I’ll show you the new baby, and you and Serena and Malachi can play outside.”
Nine babies under ten.
He was going to lose his shit. That was bad. Dragons needed a stable environment.
Krystal started whimpering again and Keon forced himself to breathe, to let it go. These babies needed him. He reached out to scratch her eye ridges, listening to her noises become a purr almost.
“Such a pretty girl. You’ll have to teach the new little one all about being happy.”
She blinked at him, so sleepy now that her eyes wouldn’t stay open. He sang softly, rocking her, needing her to settle so he could do his evaluation on the new hatchling. That baby boy was the youngest he’d ever had, both parents murdered like beasts, just because some poacher thought he deserved a dragon. Fuck.
And Sergei acting like some bigwig, threatening him. Asshat. He was a Guardian. He didn’t deal in human politics. All Sergei had to do was deliver eggs and babies when the man found them.
A deep rumble came from Chi, the yearling who was just learning to cast out with his senses. He chuckled and eased Krystal into her bedding before heading over to his blue boy. Blue. How rare was that? “What’s up, baby boy?” He reached out to Chion, too, knowing touch would help.
Chion whimpered and growled, twisting under his hands. Ice. Ice ice ice.
“Are you thirsty?”
Chion grumbled and grunted, skin so hot it steamed.
“Poor baby. I’ll get you something. Hold on.” No fevers. None. Zero.
Visions of icicles slammed into his head.
“Okay. Okay, bath. Let’s get in the water, baby.” He picked Chi up, heading toward the pool. The silly boy started to struggle, fire building up in that small body. The little guy was never hot like this. Not like so many of the others. “Baby. Baby, easy.”
The wee one hit the ground and ran for the window, crying piteously, wings flapping even though he couldn’t fly yet — wings weren’t big enough to hold his weight up.
“Shit.” He scrambled for the window, trying to figure out what was up. There wasn’t anything out there that he could see. Nothing but trees and sky. The night was clear enough he could see all the way to the ridge.
Chi pushed against the window, crying hard, tiny leather wings beating the glass. A crack appeared, right at the bottom of the lowest pane. “Chi, stop. You’ll hurt yourself.” He had to get the baby boy to calm down before he went to see what was up. “Did you see something out there?” The icicles came again, sharp and pointed, almost driving him to his knees. “Okay. I’ll go look, but you have to stay here. Right here?”
The tiny dragon whined, but sat, tail flicking.
Keon grabbed a baseball bat and headed outside. Guns did funny things around dragons. He checked the perimeter, frowning mightily. No footprints. No sounds. No — whoa. What was that on the eastern security camera?
He headed over, frowning. Ice? Ice, coating the lens of the camera. It was easily sixty degrees out here, even as dark as it was.
Shit. Ice. Now he got it.
He sighed. Just what he needed, a baby dragon imprinting on… someone. Something? Someone was in the compound, and the only way Chi could imprint on them was if they’d been peering in windows, using the cover of those iced-up cameras to sneak around.
“Okay, I know you’re out here. What do you want?” It might just shock someone into answering. All he heard was chirping crickets. And a crying dragonet. “I swear to all that is holy, if you hurt him, I’ll make you pay. Leave us alone.”
He stopped short of shaking his fist at the night, but honestly, this could make his life impossible. Imprinting could be dangerous. Hell, it could kill the dragon if the imprinter refused the connection, and this was obviously someone with less than honest intentions. Hopefully it wasn’t Sergei, who’d wanted to trade the new hatchling he’d brought in for an older dragon to take home with him.
Whoever it was, if they refused the connection his sweet boy was going to be inconsolable. Keon sighed. “Look, I have a baby in there who won’t stop crying until he sees you. If you’re a decent human being, come on and knock on my door. I’m not here to hurt anyone. I’m just a Guardian.”
“Not only that, but the headache you have? It won’t go away until you do.” He turned on his heel and went back inside. He knew whatever happened would have to come in its own time.
Until then, he had a baby boy to comfort and a newborn to deal with.