Turquoise Trail (Desert Dragons 1)
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Copyright ©2015 Julia Talbot
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Chino hadn’t felt this lonely in well over five years.
He sat at a small campfire somewhere deep in the Chihuahua desert. He had a feeling these days he was on the Mexico side, even if he’d started out in Arizona. This was the place the news stories bitched about, the barren wasteland where so-called “coyotes” plied their trade.
Christ, people sent their babies out here to survive through this nightmare wasteland? Insane. Fucking insane. Insane and empty.
Which was exactly how Chino felt. No team. No backup. Just his lonely ass and a directive from the big dragon he’d grown to admire, Damien. Go to the desert below Ice. Find your bonded.
That directive should have been way more mystical, but Ice, the leader of the black ops team Chino had been a part of, was from Phoenix originally. Not tough to figure out. He felt a little like he was running around going, “Here dragon, dragon, dragon.”
Why he was the only member of the Elemental Ops team who didn’t bond with a dragon on Dragon Mountain, he didn’t know. All he knew was he was tired of freezing his nuts off at night and broiling during the day while he searched for his so-called bonded.
Maybe this was just a wild goose chase.
Send the guy off to look for imaginary dragons.
He shivered, but Chino didn’t dare build up the fire. Those news story coyotes wouldn’t hesitate to attack one man, alone in the desert. Not like the animal they were named after.
Help? The single word was soft, scared.
Chino bolted up off the camp stool he’d set up, drawing his weapon. “What?”
Help? Help us? Hear us? They’re dying. Oliver. Azul. Turquesa.
His head echoed with the noise, and Chino clapped his hands to his ears.
Ow. Okay, no one was there, and no one was speaking out loud but him. “Where are you?”
Here. This time it was odd, an echo, but just the tiniest bit off. Here-here-here-ere-ere-ere.
He tilted his head. “Do you see me?”
You’re pretty. A warrior. We see.
Pretty? Right. Chino just needed a hairnet and a gold tooth to go full-on cholo. Well, maybe he dressed up better than that, but no one had accused Chino of being pretty.
“Where are you? I can help.”
Here. There was a twitch, a slither, and then two pairs of bright green eyes blinked at him from over the top of his pack.
Two. Whoa. If he hadn’t just come from Keon’s dragon’s den, he would have thought they were lizards. They weren’t. They were poquito dragons. Like his teammate Gig’s girl, like a feathered serpent, but these were teeny. Teeny and the color of sapphires.
Wow. He blinked. “Who’s dying, chicas?”
Oliver. Our Oliver and Azul and Turquesa.
Oliver. That was a nice, normal name, huh? Kinda old-fashioned. “Take me.”
They nodded together and began to move low over the desert, and he had to call to them. “Guys? Guys, hold up. Let me grab my stuff.”
They pulled up, hovering together and, Christ, their tails were twined around each other’s. Lord have mercy. They might melt a heart as frosty as his if he wasn’t careful.
Come? Please. They bobbed together, sharp little faces so eager.
“I said I would.” Reluctantly, he put out his fire by the simple means of dumping earth over it. No sense setting the damned desert on fire.
Fire fire fire. At our house there’s a fire. It was like singing, somehow.
They were like the Siamese cats in that Disney movie. The one about the dogs.
Hopefully less destructive than those cats. Somehow he doubted it, though. They emanated pure mischief. Worried mischief right now, so Chino shouldered his pack and waved. “You lead, I’ll follow.”
They took off like fuck-starved jackrabbits, leading him deep into the desert. A man could die out here. Lots of men had. Hell, just knowing where to put his booted feet when it was night like this made him crazed. Arroyos loomed on both sides of him, cutting off his sight line.
A soft moan seemed to float up, the sound made of pure pain.
Oliver! The baby dragons screamed, sliding down into the arroyo to the left.
Chino changed direction abruptly, and went ass over teakettle down the side of the canyon wall. Ass over teakettle was one of Ice’s expressions, and now Chino knew what it meant. He came up hard against something that wasn’t a rock, but he didn’t get a chance to see what it was because two more feathered beasts — these guys aqua blue and glowing — were bashing at him with their little wings.
“Hey! Hey, come on. I’m trying to help. Ayudarte.” He tried Spanish, hoping they’d understand.
The wee sapphire dragons — who were glowing now too — got in between him and the pale ones.
We found him! We did! He’s ours to help! Oliver needs help!
“I can help.” Chino hoped. “Take me to Oliver so I can see what’s wrong.”
To his surprise the little ones began to giggle, the sound a touch insane. Beside you!
“Beside?” He turned, looking about, trying to understand what they meant.
Sure as hell, he was leaning against a body. A body. Shit.
Chino rolled up to his knees. “What the fuck?”
It was a shirtless redhead, pale as milk where the sun didn’t normally shine. What was this guy doing out here, in the night, with no gear? “You said there was a fire.”
At the house. Fiiiiiiiiiire. Warm.
The aqua dragons were fading, the light barely there. His sapphires ones were bright enough to see the way the guy’s foot was trapped under a fucking boulder.
“Shit.” Chino grabbed his emergency flashlight from his pack. It would give a little circle of light bright as daylight so he could see what he was doing. Then he grabbed his survival blanket and shook it out, covering the man. “We need to get you inside, buddy.”
A rock. A rock. A rock.
He was going to lose his mind with the random singing. He swallowed back nausea from the sudden headache and got to work clearing the smaller rocks surrounding the big one. Oh, man, he needed a lever.
“Big strong stick, guys. Need one.”
Stick. Azul. Turquesa. For Oliver.
The aqua dragons — who were about twice the size of the others — followed, tails brushing the ground. Poor babies looked exhausted.
Stick. Here. Together the four dragons brought him a piece of twisted cedar that could work for sure.
“Good job!” The praise made his dragons glow, but the aqua ones settled on the redheaded guy’s chest.
Oliver. His name was Oliver.