Her Rogue Alpha (X-Ops Book 5) (8 page)

BOOK: Her Rogue Alpha (X-Ops Book 5)
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That was a silly question. Of course Layla did. The moment they were outside, she had to force herself to keep pace with Kendra and not run ahead. She didn’t want to waste even the slightest amount of time.

Zarina was typing something on her computer when they hurried into her office a few long minutes later.

“Is Jayson okay?” Layla asked without preamble.

“He seemed fine when he left,” Zarina took off her reading glasses, then stood and came around the desk. “But that’s probably thanks to the antidote I gave him right before Dick’s doctors injected him with the serum.”

Layla’s eyes widened. “You made an antidote? I didn’t think you even had a sample of the serum.”

“I didn’t,” Zarina said. “I gave Jayson something I’ve been developing for Tanner in the hope that it will reverse some or all the hybrid changes. When I realized I’d never be able to talk Jayson out of taking the serum, I gave him the antidote hoping to counteract it.”

Oh God
. Zarina had essentially given Jayson one untested and dangerous drug in the hopes of counteracting another untested, dangerous drug.

“Did it work?” Layla asked.

“Well, he didn’t die the minute the serum hit his bloodstream, which is probably what would have happened if I hadn’t given him the antidote.” Zarina shook her head, her mouth tight. “Other than that, I don’t know how successful my drug was. It might have completely halted the hybrid transformation or simply slowed it down.”

Layla almost growled in frustration. Damn Dick Coleman. “But Jayson lived. That has to count for something, right? If he was fit enough to go on a mission, that has to mean he’s going to be okay.”

Zarina’s smile was sad. “I wish I could tell you that was the case, but I can’t. Without being able to study his blood and DNA, I have no way of knowing what the hybrid serum will do to him long-term, or how his body will handle the interaction of the serum and my antidote.”

“Could this get any worse?” Layla moaned.

She’d meant the question to be rhetorical, but Zarina answered anyway. “Yes, it can. Jayson’s body could violently reject either drug at any time. It might be the next time he falls asleep or the first time his body goes into fight-or-flight mode. The truth is, I don’t know what’s going to happen to him. I won’t know until we get him back here and I can examine him. The sooner the better.”

From Zarina’s lips to God’s ears
, Layla thought. First, they had to find out where Jayson had gone. Unfortunately, the Russian doctor didn’t know. And Dick, weasel that he was, happened to be out of the office for the next several days. His less-than-friendly secretary wasn’t much help either, but luckily Kendra had a lot of friends in the intel division and tracked down the analyst who’d been in the conference room during the mission briefing.

Layla freaked when the guy told them that Jayson and Powell were on a completely unsupported rescue operation in pro-Russian parts of Ukraine. They hadn’t even taken a satellite phone with them to call for backup if something went wrong. Was Dick trying to get them killed?

“I have to go over there and get him,” Layla said as soon as she and Kendra were in the hallway.

“First, we have to talk to John and tell him what’s going on.” Kendra glanced at her. “Jayson’s going to be okay.”

Not if she didn’t get him out of Ukraine and back here so Zarina could monitor him, Layla thought. But if anyone would know what to do in this situation, it was John. She only hoped he was in his office. She hadn’t seen him around the complex in weeks.

Thankfully, he was. To say he was shocked when they told him about Jayson was an understatement.

“Shit,” he muttered. “I knew Dick was working with Thorn, but I never guessed he’d do something this insane. He could have killed Jayson with that serum.”

“He still might,” Layla said. “Zarina has no idea how Jayson’s body is going to react to the drugs pumping through his veins. He could go into shock, flip out in a hybrid rage, or worse.”

“And if the drug doesn’t get him, the mission might,” Kendra added. “Ukraine is a powder keg just waiting to explode, and sending Jayson in with Powell is worse than sending him in alone. If Jayson doesn’t develop any shifter abilities—and Zarina has no idea if he will—he could end up getting killed over there.”

In addition to all that, Powell was a flipping asshole who hated shifters and hybrids alike. Layla couldn’t imagine him putting all that hatred aside if Jayson got into trouble. Powell would take care of himself first, and if there was one person in the DCO who was a firm believer in the organization’s stupid prime directive about never letting a shifter’s identity be compromised, it was that jackass. The man would kill Jayson just because he could.

“Even though they have a good head start, I’m confident I can find them,” Layla said.

Kendra was already nodding as she made notes on a pad she’d grabbed off John’s desk.

“No,” John said.

Her stomach dropped. “What?” she asked, sure she’d misheard him.

“I said no,” John repeated. “I’m sure you did well over in Glasgow, but you were pulling support duty, not leading a mission.”

“I took down two of the Scottish buyers without help from anyone on the team,” she protested. “I can do this.”

“You don’t have the training or experience to handle a solo operation like this,” John insisted. “Worse, you’re too close to the situation. I can’t have you going over there and making a mistake that gets you in trouble because you’re worried about Jayson. You’re not going.”

Layla’s control over her inner feline started to slip again. Before she realized it, the tips of her fangs had elongated and her claws came out. She didn’t even try to hide them. She’d never been this scared, frustrated, or angry in her life. The man she loved was in danger, and John was sitting there telling her she couldn’t go help him.

“Who are you going to send, then?” she demanded, biting back a growl.

“I’ll get a message to Clayne and Danica. They’re closer to Ukraine than any other team, so I’ll tell them to divert and go to Donetsk.”

Layla wanted to point out that it could take a while for Clayne and Danica to be able to divert from wherever they were to get to Ukraine. Who the heck knew where those two had gone in their search for Kojot after he had escaped? If the last mission had taught her anything, it was that the arms dealer was slippery—and that Clayne was obsessed with catching him. If Kojot had disappeared down a dark hole in the ground, it was likely that Clayne would go in after him, and Danica would follow.

But it would be useless to say any of that to John. He wasn’t going to let her go, no matter what she said. So she waited for him to leave for the operations center so he could get a message to Clayne and Danica, then she turned to Kendra.

“If Declan were the one in danger, would you be okay waiting around for someone else to go over there and help him?” she asked.

Kendra regarded Layla in silence for a long moment, then sighed. “John’s going to have my head for this. Go get ready. I’ll have you booked on a flight to Ukraine by the time you get to the airport.”

Chapter 5

“I could have gotten as much out of that old man in three minutes as you did in thirty just by punching him in the gut,” Powell grumbled as they walked down the rubble-filled street. “Another complete waste of time.”

Jayson ignored the DCO agent as he scanned the occasional damaged and blown-up building looking for a particular Russian Orthodox Church with a broken bell. It was where Dylan Palmer was supposedly hiding. Or rather, where someone was hiding him, if the information they’d slowly been gathering since reaching the small town of Oktyabrsky was correct. Jayson hoped he could trust the info, because he sure as hell wasn’t going to get any help from Powell when it came to finding the diplomat’s kid.

They’d landed in Kiev late last night, then taken a series of trucks and cars to get to the Donetsk region. Sitting that much had seriously tightened up Jayson’s back, but the pain was nowhere near as bad as it used to be. If the hybrid serum did nothing but give him some relief from the discomfort, he’d consider it a win.

Unfortunately, while getting into the region had been easy, finding Dylan had turned out to be a lot more difficult than Jayson had hoped. It hadn’t taken him very long to figure out this mission wasn’t going to be the quick track, bag, and drag Dick thought. First, Jayson didn’t speak more than a few words of Russian, which made talking to people difficult. And while Powell spoke the language better, Jayson didn’t exactly trust him when he translated. Second, the citizens living in this part of the country were scared to death of strangers. And third, Powell was a steaming pile of shit.

The other DCO agent’s idea of a plan was walking up to nervous people in the middle of the street and flashing a photo of the kid in their faces. If the person acted like they hadn’t seen the boy, Powell generally resorted to threats of violence to get them to talk. Shockingly, Powell couldn’t understand why that didn’t work.

Of course, if he opened his eyes and looked around, Powell might have figured out why locals were so hesitant to talk. If Dylan were looking for a dark, soul-sucking place to write about in his blog, he’d definitely found the right town. It was hard to find a single building that hadn’t been damaged in the fighting, and many of them were completely destroyed. The worst part wasn’t the physical damage though. It was the fear that filled the face of every man, woman, and child.

According to the people who had talked to them, this particular area of the Donetsk People’s Republic—or DPR—was under the control of an independent militia group run by a former Russian army colonel named Zolnerov. Normally the way places like Donetsk governed themselves would be none of Jayson’s business, but when he saw people like Zolnerov using the situation to become powerful, it pissed him off.

Jayson had seen this before in half a dozen different places. The scared and suspicious looks, the locked doors and windows, the vacant shops, the nearly empty streets—even at midday. People who once praised the militia were now terrified of them. But no one would stand up and call them out because they feared being labeled a sympathizer, a traitor, or a spy. Many people had already left the town, and more were leaving every day. At this rate, a city that had a population of nearly two million would be a ghost town in a few years.

“This is stupid,” Powell groused as they moved through another dilapidated block of houses and into the next neighborhood. “We’ve been at this for hours and the sun is going down. Face it, there is no church with a broken bell. That old man sold you a load of crap just to get away from you. How about I pick out the next person we talk to and question them my way?”

Jayson ground his teeth. He could only imagine the kind of person Powell would want to question—young and female.

Sure enough, Powell was already heading toward a girl who couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, hurrying along the nearly deserted street, when a flash of gold in the distance caught Jayson’s attention. He grabbed a handful of Powell’s jacket, hauling him back.

“What the hell are you doing?” Powell demanded.

Jayson really didn’t want to get into a fight out here on the streets, not with all the DPR militia troops congregating on every block, but decking Powell was hard to resist. He ignored the urge and pointed at the building down the street on the left.

“What?” Powell asked stubbornly.

“Fancy building. Golden dome on one side, blown-out bell tower on the other.”

Powell still seemed to be clueless.

“Russian Orthodox Church with a broken bell,” Jayson said.

Powell stared at the building like he was translating a foreign language, then grunted. “Maybe you’re not so worthless after all.”

The black-robed priest near the altar turned when they walked into the church. Unlike the people on the street, the bearded, gray-haired man didn’t look frightened, but instead seemed resolute and defiant. Luckily, the priest spoke English, and when Jayson showed him Dylan’s photo, he nodded and motioned for them to follow. Powell slipped his hand behind his back and rested it on his gun but nodded to Jayson.

The priest led them out of the church proper and across the hallway to a room. He knocked twice on the door, then opened it to reveal a small office. Dylan was sitting on a couch against one wall along with two other teenage boys. He looked exhausted and scared, but at the sight of them, he immediately jumped to his feet and snatched up a heavy candlestick from a nearby table.

“Who are you?” he demanded, moving to stand in front of the other teens.

“Relax, killer,” Powell said while crossing the room to look out the window at a group of militia soldiers across the street. “We’re here to take you back to daddy. Get your shit together. We’re getting out of here.”

Not exactly the smoothest way to announce the plan, but Jayson had to admit Powell’s simplistic approach got to the point quickly. Unfortunately, Dylan didn’t seem impressed with either the approach or the plan.

“I’m not going anywhere.” He set down the candlestick, an expression of youthful defiance on his face. Tall and lanky, with blond hair and brown eyes, Dylan looked ready to fight him and Powell with his bare hands. “Not without my friends—and not without Anya.”

“We’re not here for your friends,” Powell said tersely. “And who the hell is Anya?”

“Anya is the Ukrainian girlfriend,” Jayson reminded Powell. “Dick mentioned her during the briefing.”

Powell looked at Jayson like he had no idea what the hell Jayson was taking about. Jayson shook his head. Why did he even bother?

“Where is she?” Jayson asked Dylan.

“She got captured by the militia last night,” the curly-haired kid on Dylan’s right answered in heavily accented English.

Powell’s eyes narrowed suspiciously at the kid. “Who the hell are you?”

“Mikhail Ivanov.” He jerked his thumb at the stocky, dark-haired kid next to him. “And this is Olek Rudnik. We’re friends of Dylan’s.”

“Mikhail is a blogger I was in contact with back when Anya and I were in Russia.” Dylan swallowed hard, close to tears. “All we wanted was to show the world what they were doing to the people over here, and now they’re going to put her in prison for the rest of her life for supposed crimes against the new republic. If they don’t execute her for being a Ukrainian spy. I can’t leave until I get her back.”

“We were trying to figure out how to break into the local militia headquarters when you two busted in here,” Mikhail added.

The priest explained that one of the many problems with the plan was that Dylan and his friends weren’t even sure Anya was actually being held there. But logic didn’t seem to apply in this case. Anya was in trouble, and Dylan was young and in love. Jayson couldn’t blame him. Hell, he’d have probably done the same thing.

“If my dad sent you, that must mean you’re CIA,” Dylan said. “Can you help us get her out?”

“This is bullshit,” Powell muttered. “Your girlfriend is probably already dead, kid. And as for you two”—he pointed at Olek and Mikhail—“you’d better get yourselves some paddles because you’re going to have to row your own canoe up the damn creek.”

“Canoe?” Olek frowned, clearly confused by the metaphor. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“He means that they’re not going to help us,” Dylan muttered.

“We didn’t say that—” Jayson began, but Powell cut him off.

“Damn right we did. Let’s go, kid. We’re taking you home.”

Dylan lifted his chin, the rebellious look back in his dark eyes. “I’m not going anywhere with you, asshole.”

Jayson swore. If he didn’t know better, he’d think this was a fake scenario Dick and those old doctors had come up with to drive his blood pressure through the roof and bring on phase two of the hybrid process.

“You’re coming with us if I have to knock you out and drag you home in a fucking sack, you silver-spoon brat,” Powell said, advancing on Dylan.

Just like that, the argument went from heated to out of control. Olek started shouting in Ukrainian while Mikhail did the same in Russian even as Dylan and Powell threatened each other in English.

Shit
.

Jayson stepped between Dylan and Powell, shoving them apart just as the priest hurried over from the door where he’d been standing. He said something urgently in Russian, making frantic gestures with his hands, but Jayson was too busy trying to keep Dylan and Powell separated to pay attention. Suddenly, the front doors of the church burst open and slammed against the stone wall. The sound reverberated through the whole building and Jayson froze along with everyone else.

What the hell?

Powell immediately started for the door of the office, but Jayson stopped him with a gesture. Motioning everyone to be quiet, he walked over to the office door and opened it a crack. His stomach clenched. Five men dressed in the modified Russian uniforms of the local independent DPR militia were making their way up the center aisle. Two of them were carrying Vityaz submachine guns while the other three had AK-74M automatics.

Shit
.

Jayson quietly closed the door. He and Powell weren’t equipped for this. All they had were small P-96 pistols with a few spare clips. They’d come in here for a simple rescue, not a firefight. But it looked like they were going to get into one whether they wanted to or not because those troops were coming their way fast and there was nothing to slow them down.

Jayson reached around behind him and slipped his 9mm out of the holster, then jacked the slide back and chambered a round. He gripped the doorknob and started to turn it when he felt a hand on his arm. He looked over his shoulder to see the priest standing there looking at him intently. The older man pointed at Jayson and the others, then at the row of windows behind them before gesturing at himself, then to the door that led to the main part of the church and the oncoming soldiers.

Jayson shook his head, knowing full well what the priest was suggesting. But the older man shouldered past him and pulled open the door before Jayson could stop him. Back straight, the priest strode boldly into the church, saying something in Russian as he advanced on the soldiers.

If there weren’t three terrified teens depending on Jayson to get them out of there, he would have gone after the priest, all that firepower out there be damned. The old man was going to get himself killed. Refusing to waste his sacrifice, Jayson turned and quickly motioned them toward the window. With the exception of Powell, no one moved.

“Go!” he hissed.

Powell opened the window just as the chatter of automatic weapons firing filled the church, echoing off the walls. In the silence that followed, something heavy hit the floor. Dylan and his friends stared at Jayson in horror, panic leeching the color from their faces.

Knowing they only had seconds until the soldiers charged into the office, Jayson grabbed Dylan and forcibly shoved him out the window. At least the kid was smart enough to keep quiet when he hit the ground. Olek and Mikhail quickly followed him out. Being the ass he was, Powell made sure he went next, forcing Jayson to wait to escape. The door of the office opened just as he dived out the window. The stab of agony in his back as he hit the ground brought tears to his eyes and a curse to his lips, but he didn’t have time to lie there and wait for the pain to subside. There was no way the soldiers could have missed seeing him.

Ignoring the numbness in his lower body, he scrambled to his feet and took off running. If he hadn’t taken the hybrid serum, he’d have still been lying on the ground waiting to get shot. As it was, he barely made it to the corner of the church before bullets chewed up the ground around him. He swore and ran harder, getting to cover before he took a round through the spine.

Powell and the kids were fifteen feet ahead of him. Dylan and his friends slowed, waiting for him to catch up.

“Don’t stop!” Jayson shouted.

He didn’t have to look behind him to know that the militia soldiers were on their tail. There was no way he and Powell could shoot their way out of this situation, not with three kids in tow.

“Mikhail!” he shouted as he followed them across a dimly lit street. “If you know a place nearby where we can hide, now would be a good time to show us.”

The Russian kid nodded and sprinted ahead, motioning with his hand for everyone to follow him.

Jayson hadn’t done a lot of cardio since his injury, and it showed. His lungs and throat were on frigging fire as he raced to keep up with them. It didn’t help that he had to slow down and pop off a few shots at the soldiers chasing them every so often. A few of the men went down, but reinforcements quickly took their place. Cursing, he emptied the remainder of his clip at them, then turned and sprinted after Powell and the kids.

Jayson started to wonder if Mikhail had a clue where the hell he was going when all four of them suddenly disappeared right in front of him. He dug into what reserves he had left—which wasn’t much—almost falling on his butt as he careened down a concrete-lined aqueduct that ran between a grimy industrial complex on one side and a slow-moving river on the other. A few seconds later, he slid to a stop at the bottom. Powell and the kids were bent over, their hands on their knees, gasping for breath.

BOOK: Her Rogue Alpha (X-Ops Book 5)
4.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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