Cpl. Guillaume “Gator” Arnaud did some terrible things while he was with Project Zed. He’d followed orders, battling the enemies he’d been trained to fight. Now a part of the shifter army, he’s worked to atone for the things he did. Along the way, he’s also fallen for one of the human elementals, Dario.
When a dragon shifter arrives on base, he throws a wrench into Gator’s well laid plans. Gator feels an intense attraction to Jaeger—and then learns Dario senses that same attraction to the shifter. Yet when he sees the bond forged between the two other men, he worries he’ll be left out in the cold.
Jaeger doesn’t know about Gator’s past. He fears once the dragon knows the truth, his chance at love will evaporate. Does he go the easy way out and focus on Dario? Or does he throw caution to the wind, and aim for both men—and possibly lose them both?
Chokurdakh, Siberia, Russia
Jaeger drained the shot glass. With the back of his hand, he scrubbed the remnants of the cheap vodka from his lips. The alcohol burned as it went down, not especially to his liking. Having acquired a taste for the finer things, rot-gut alcohol wasn’t something he necessarily appreciated, but there was a purpose for it. Across the table, a Slavic man stared back at him, chuckling under his breath.
“I’ve not met one who could drink as heartily as I,” the man spoke in his native Russian. Any other person wouldn’t have seen the telltale signs that the man was beginning to weaken.
There was a slight hitch to his voice.
A barest of sways to his body.
A slight drop in his eyelids.
Jaeger smiled back before pouring them both another round from the bottle. He believed it was their thirtieth. Or was it the thirty-first? He’d lost count along the way. No matter, as he wouldn’t be the one to lose the bet.
Dragons couldn’t get drunk, although as quickly as they’d gone through the empty bottles on the table, he might be testing that theory.
Men? They weren’t quite so fortunate.
Jaeger eyed the meager handful of rubles on the table between them, disliking paper money. Gold, that was better, but a bet was a bet was a bet.
Especially when he had ulterior motives.
He lifted the shot glass. “Za zdorovje.” Jaeger downed the shot and slammed the glass onto the table.
The human parroted the phrase and drained his glass. Jaeger watched the slight wobble to the man’s hand before he lowered the glass to the table. He smiled, pouring another round and finishing off their third bottle.
Jaeger had to give it to the man. He hadn’t seen a human able to drink so much in the space of two hours and barely show signs of drunkenness.
Barely being the operative word.
Well, he is Russian.
Jaeger eyed the man across from him. A Russian captain of one of the boats docked outside at the river’s port.
A boat that was carrying a painting that would soon be in Jaeger’s possession. After being stolen in Boston over a decade before, it had bounced around on the black market, always one step ahead of Jaeger. When he’d learned of the Russian oligarch who’d purchased it, he was well pleased. Once he’d bribed enough people to learn the route it would travel, he learned it would be passing near his Siberian hideaway on its trip to St. Petersburg.
It would look far better on his walls than the oligarch’s.
His castle was farther north, closer to the Arctic Circle, and the perfect setting for Rembrandt’s lost masterpiece. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee… Jaeger had been present in the painter’s studio as the human had finished his only known seascape, and Jaeger had fallen in love with it that very moment.
He’d already fallen a little for the handsome painter and spent many a night in the man’s bed, along with Rembrandt’s friend and art dealer, Hendrick. Not long after, Rembrandt had married Hendrick’s cousin, Saskia, to quell the rumors circling the trio and thus, ending their torrid affair. The Netherlands still held special memories for him even now, remembering the young lovers he’d had there. Possessing the painting would allow him to reach into the past…
As his future grew more and more bleak. Jaeger clenched his jaw, willing the human to yield.
The years pressed on without end.
Jaeger was a dragon without purpose.
A dragon without purpose was a dangerous thing. It heralded the shifter’s end of days…
The painting… that gave him something to hold on to.
A little piece of him almost didn’t want to find it. If it was lost to him once more, it would prolong his search.
Give him something to look forward to.
The moment it was in his hands, the chase was over.
And he might be over, as well.
Jaeger watched as the man across from him began to sway ever so slightly. He lifted a hand to the barkeep. “Another bottle,” he said in his perfectly accented Russian.
Before the bottle could be delivered, the captain began to sway even more. Finally, he fell onto the floor in a heap, an “oof,” coming from his ruddy lips. A smile played at Jaeger’s lips. The man at a nearby table close to the captain reached down to check the man as Jaeger scooped up the rubles.
He rose from his seat with the captain’s heavy woolen trench coat and hat in hand, handed the barkeep the rubles to pay for the bottles and the mess, and headed for the door. As soon as he was outside in the cold, he inhaled, loving the chill to the air. It wasn’t yet winter, but already it was a brisk -22 C° outside. Barges and boats lined the nearby river, the sound of their prows crushing through ice reverberating in his ears. Above, the sky was pale and gray, the sun fighting to be seen through the clouds.
Jaeger felt his scales shimmering across his body, his ice dragon pleased with the temperature. He slid on the captain’s coat. Typically, he only wore winter gear to appease the people out on the street. He could easily walk down the street naked without freezing, but in order to hide amongst the humans, one had to act like one. Today, he needed the disguise. After donning the fur-lined ushanka on his head, he reached inside the pockets and pulled out the scarf and gloves to cover his identity more.
Jaeger sighed. He much preferred to feel the cold wrapping its icy fingers around him. Once ready, he began walking toward the docks, in search of the ship. The ice and snow crunched under his leather boots with each step.
A scent suddenly crossed his nose.
He froze, rooted to the spot. Jaeger dragged in a deep lung full and his dragon roared within. He felt the tingling of his skin, the excitement of his dragon.
Turning, he scanned the vicinity, trying to determine where the scent was coming from. Unable to determine a source, he followed the scent. His dragon rumbled deep, urging him to move faster. This wasn’t a paltry piece or two… what he was smelling was substantial. The small port town wasn’t known for its riches. Quite the opposite.
Onward he walked, until he spied a small Russian Orthodox Church. At some point, the building had been something else. After the break-up of the USSR, the Russian government had become lenient on the practicing of religion, and many new churches had opened their doors. If he was correct, this one had been a Soviet office building.
The closer he grew, the richer the scent and the louder his dragon became. He reached the door, a knot to his stomach.
Yet he couldn’t stop his dragon from moving forward.
He slid the door open slowly, the creaking of it echoing through the sanctuary. Almost immediately, he saw the hoard upon the altar. Salivating, he held back, listening for a sound out of place.
He heard nothing. Sensed nothing. A tremor raced through his body, the scales flittering over his flesh for a split second before hiding again. His cock grew thick and hard, the desire for gold almost as strong as his desire for sex. Blood pounded in his veins, urging him closer.
It’s a trap.
No one leaves gold out to be so easily stolen.
He took a few steps in. Inhaling, the rich scent of gold filled his nose. Even if he wasn’t alone, he likely couldn’t sense anyone above that delicious smell.
Now, before it’s too late.
Yet, Jaeger couldn’t help taking another step closer. He searched the interior. It was dark, the gray of the day not allowing much light in through the stained glass windows. No one seemed to be about. Turning his head, he stared at the pile of gold, the need making him weak. A rivulet of sweat coursed down his forehead.
He took one more step—before utter pain slammed into him.
Molten magma came from above, burning the flesh of his shoulders and back. Jaeger dropped to his knees, a roar of pain coming from his lips. His jacket fell around his feet, and his shirt hung limply before him, the back of it destroyed. The scent of his skin and muscle cooking filled the air, masking the gold smell that had dragged him there.
He attempted a shift, but his body refused to cooperate. His claws came out, but his body failed him. The pain was too great. Again, he tried, but another wave of hot, liquid flowed over his body.
He fell to the floor, sweat coating him. Jaeger gasped for air between the screams of pain.
One last time, he attempted to shift.
They’d poured metal all down his back. It already felt it begin to harden.
Pain seared through him as he fell to the floor.
The blackness soon took him, but not before he saw booted feet surrounding him.
This can’t be how it ends.