Ice reaux, p.1

Ice/Reaux, page 1

 part  #19 of  Bayou Heat Series

 

Ice/Reaux


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Ice/Reaux


  Ice/Reaux

  BAYOU HEAT 19-20

  By

  Alexandra Ivy

  and

  Laura Wright

  Copyright © 2016 by Alexandra Ivy & Laura Wright

  All Rights Reserved.

  No part of this work may be reproduced in any fashion without the express, written consent of the copyright holder.

  Bayou Heat is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed herein are fictitious and are not based on any real persons living or dead.

  ICE

  By Alexandra Ivy

  PROLOGUE

  Despite the chilly January weather, the Wildlands was thriving.

  The home of the puma shifters, known as Pantera, was hidden deep in the swamps of Louisiana. Less than a year ago, the magical land had been tainted by a crazed goddess, nearly driving the Pantera to the edge of extinction. But now the lush vegetation had returned, as well as the Dyesse lily that was found only in the Wildlands and was filled with the magic of the land.

  And even more astonishing, the Pantera were thriving. After fifty years of infertility, they now had nurseries that held a few precious cubs, with more on the way.

  But not everything was perfect.

  After secluding themselves from the world for decades, they’d discovered that an immoral, ruthless human had been kidnapping and using the Pantera in his hidden laboratories.

  They’d managed to rescue several of their people who were tortured for years, as well as the human “lab rats” who were given large doses of Pantera blood and DNA. They’d also succeeded in destroying several of the facilities owned by Benson Enterprises.

  But their enemies were not about to concede defeat.

  Not without a fight…

  CHAPTER 1

  Cammy Taylor hurried toward the sweeping colonial building with a wide, columned terrace and upper balcony. Painted white with black shutters, and topped by a steep roof, it had a distinct “Gone With The Wind” vibe.

  Until the past few months it’d served as the headquarters for two of the Pantera factions. The Geeks, who were in charge of dealing with all technology. And the Diplomats, or Suits, as they were affectionately known. Now, however, the Hunters had started to use the building as well. It made it easier to coordinate the protection of the Wildlands as well as develop a strategy for tracking down their enemies.

  Only the Nurturers still maintained their separate offices, in the nearby clinic.

  Entering the large reception area, Cammy headed directly toward the conference room at the back. She was only distantly aware of the numerous males who halted in their tracks to watch her walk by. She was accustomed to the fascination with her long raven black hair that contrasted with the pure ivory of her skin, as well as her deep violet eyes that were rimmed with long black lashes. Her features were delicately carved and her body lush with feminine curves.

  But it wasn’t just her beauty that attracted attention.

  It was the liquid grace of her movements, which marked her as a lethal Hunter, that seemed to stir the male Pantera’s fantasies. As if the combination of soft femininity and predatory power was some sort of aphrodisiac.

  Entering the room that held a long table in the center of the wood planked floor, and a bank of windows that overlooked the misty bayou, Cammy paused near the door. There were already a dozen Pantera seated at the table, filling the room with an electric tension, but her gaze instinctively sought out the male who was seated next to his mate.

  Rage had been her best friend since they were both training to become Hunters. He was gorgeous, charming, and utterly loyal. And despite the fact that he’d bounced from one bed to another, she’d somehow convinced herself they would eventually settle down together.

  Stupid, of course. Their cats had never been more than friends and casual lovers. Certainly her animal hadn’t scented him as her mate. But her human side had weaved dreams of a future together. Dreams that had been destroyed the second she’d caught sight of him with the tiny female Geek when he’d returned to the Wildlands.

  The two of them practically glowed with their love for one another.

  Cammy clenched her teeth as pain lashed through her. Okay. She’d been an idiot. But that didn’t make it easier to witness Rage totally besotted with his mate.

  Feeling a watchful gaze, Cammy abruptly turned her head to catch sight of the Hunter standing in the corner. Ice Richelieu. A strange sensation tingled through her body as her gaze lingered on the stark beauty of his chiseled features and the shimmer of gold in the hair that brushed his broad, broad shoulders.

  He was a fellow Hunter, but there was nothing about him that reminded her of Rage. He was older, for one thing. And for another, he’d moved around the world with his parents who were Diplomats. His foreign travels allowed him to be trained by a dozen different experts in various fighting styles.

  Oh, and there was the indubitable fact that there was nothing charming about him. He was stoic, grim-faced, and inclined to hold himself aloof from his fellow Pantera.

  Most unnerving of all, there was a savage hint of disdain in his icy blue eyes whenever he glanced in her direction. As if he found her unbearably obnoxious.

  Pressing her lips together, she deliberately turned her back on the Hunter, her inner cat huffing in annoyance. Other females might ooh and ahh over his large, muscular body that looked as hard as granite beneath his black T-shirts and faded jeans. Or shiver at the hint of feral sensuality that promised all sorts of wicked pleasure.

  But not Cammy. Truthfully, she did her best to avoid him.

  Taking a seat at the end of the table, she thankfully turned her attention toward the two males who strolled into the room.

  Raphael was the leader of the Suits. He was tall and lean, with a golden beauty that was emphasized by his elegant suit. In contrast, Parish, the head of the Hunters, was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. He had long black hair, broad shoulders and his handsome face was marred with scars that bisected his cheek from his right ear down to his mouth. The two couldn’t look more different, but they both possessed the thunderous power of alpha cats.

  Instantly everyone in the room sat and stood a little straighter.

  “Is everyone here?” Raphael demanded.

  It was Rage’s new mate who answered.

  “Xavier wasn’t able to come. He’s still trying to decrypt the files from the computer we brought back from Bossier City,” Lucie explained. Xavier was the leader of the Geeks and lately rarely left his offices upstairs, even to sleep. He was convinced there was vital intel in the data that could help them track down their enemies. “He said to send him an email.”

  Parish rolled his eyes. “Typical.”

  Raphael nodded, his eyes darkening with the power of his cat as he glanced around the room. “Let’s get this started,” he stated in grim tones. “We all know why we’re here. Sadly, we’ve underestimated our enemy.” Low growls rumbled through the room in agreement. “We originally thought they were nothing more than a small group of humans who could be hunted down and eliminated. Now we realize they’re an international corporation with bottomless funds and friends in powerful positions. Worse, we now know they’ve been taking our people and creating serums out of our blood for longer than we ever imagined.” Raphael’s face tightened with the frustration they all felt. “Which means we have to get our asses in gear and play catch-up.”

  Ice spoke from the corner. “Do we have any hard targets?”

  “Not yet,” Raphael admitted. They’d managed to discover a few “clinics” and burn them to the ground. Frustratingly, however, there were still more out there. And worse, the enemy’s leader continued to elude them. “But we have the Healers working with those who were held in the various labs. We’re hoping they ca
n remember something that will lead us to Christopher.”

  Parish’s eyes glowed with the golden power of his puma. “Then it’s our turn for games.”

  There was a short pause as they all savored the day the Pantera would destroy their enemies once and for all.

  Finally Cammy asked the obvious question. “What do you want from us?”

  It was Raphael who answered. “Until we can go on the attack I want to make certain the bastards don’t get their hands on any more of our people. I’ve called back all Pantera to the Wildlands.”

  Cammy nodded. The leader of the Diplomats didn’t need to say that there would be Pantera spies still out looking for the bad guys. They all knew this temporary retreat didn’t mean surrender. More an opportunity to regroup so they could strike even harder the next time.

  “The guard patrols will be doubled,” Parish said. “I don’t want anyone scouting the perimeter alone.”

  “What about the new pack members?” Ice demanded.

  The new pack members included the Pantera they’d discovered in the various Benson laboratories, as well as the human “rats” and “brood mares” who’d been used and abused by their captors.

  Over the past weeks they’d been building several new cottages, as well as a small community center for them along the edge of Wildlands. It allowed them to travel in and out of their section without worrying about the Wildlands’ magical barrier that kept out most humans.

  “What about them?” Raphael asked.

  “Shouldn’t they be moved deeper into the interior?” Ice demanded, his voice low and laced with an authority that revealed the dominance of his cat. “They’re dangerously exposed.”

  “I agree.” Raphael grimaced. “Unfortunately the humans, and even a few of the hybrids, are still not entirely comfortable at the thought of being behind our magical shields where they can’t move in and out without help from a Pantera. They spent too much time locked behind bars to accept we’re not trying to put them back in a prison.”

  Ice nodded his head, his chiseled features impossible to read. “Understandable, but they need to consider the safety of their children.”

  Raphael nodded. He was a fierce leader, but he was always willing to listen to the suggestions of his trusted advisors, whether they were Suits or Hunters or Nurturers.

  “I’ll speak with them again,” he promised. “Maybe we should think about having a public meeting where they can express their concerns, and we can do our best to meet their needs. If they’re to become a part of our clan they need to have a voice in their future.”

  Cammy smiled with wry admiration. Raphael’s skill as a Diplomat would be as important to their future as Parish’s skill as a warrior.

  The conversation turned to the rotation of guards, as well as starting a training program for the Pantera who’d been held by their enemies. Cammy, however, found her attention drifting toward the male in the corner.

  It wasn’t the first time her gaze strayed in Ice’s direction. Or lingered on the compelling beauty of his face. She told herself it was out of self-defense. How could she avoid him if she didn’t know where he was?

  It didn’t explain why her attention lingered…but hey, who cared?

  She was still watching him when he abruptly tensed, his gaze locked on something outside the window.

  “Intruder,” he snarled, his low voice attracting the attention of everyone in the room.

  “Where?” Parish demanded, moving with liquid speed to stand at Ice’s side.

  Ice pointed. “There.”

  There was a rush of movement as the various Pantera hurried to get a glimpse of who had captured Ice’s attention. Cammy was short enough that she had to wiggle through the bodies pressed tightly together before she could finally catch sight of the man who was running at top speed toward the building.

  Cammy frowned. He wasn’t Pantera, although he was moving with more grace than any mere human. A hybrid? There were a few who had enough Pantera in their blood to pass easily through the magical shield.

  “I’ll deal with him,” Parish snapped, stepping back as he prepared to unleash his puma.

  Raphael grabbed his arm before he could shift. “Wait, Parish,” he warned, nodding toward the intruder. “Look.”

  At that moment the stiff January breeze tugged open the man’s jacket. They all gasped in horror. Strapped to the intruder’s slender body was a series of long, narrow tubes held together by narrow wires.

  “Suicide bomber,” Parish ground out in disbelief, reaching for the handgun holstered at his lower back. “Hit the alarm,” he snapped toward Rage before turning his attention to Ice. “Get the building evacuated.”

  Parish shoved up the window and opened fire. The man faltered but continued forward, his dark hair tousled and his eyes wild. Cammy was turning away when an explosion rocked the ground beneath her feet.

  Crap.

  Obviously realizing he wasn’t going to make it inside the building, the suicide bomber must have set off his charges. And while he hadn’t managed to do the damage he no doubt wanted, the explosion was large enough to blast a massive hole in the wall, collapsing the back of the building.

  Cammy darted toward the doorway even as the upper floor came crashing down, threatening to crush them. The sound of furious snarls and the piercing shrill of the siren deafened her, making it impossible to hear the shout of warning as a heavy beam fell directly toward her head.

  One moment she was urging the last of her friends through the doorway, and the next she was flat on her back with Ice perched on top of her. She went rigid with shock. What the hell was he doing?

  Then she heard the beam hit the floor only inches from her head with shattering force. Holy shit. If Ice hadn’t shoved her out of the way…

  She glanced up at the hard face, her breath snaring in her throat at the ice blue eyes that studied her with an emotion she couldn’t decipher.

  Without warning, her cat restlessly stirred beneath her skin. Almost as if it wanted to rub against Ice, and coat itself in his raw, male scent.

  Good…Goddess.

  Thankfully unaware of her baffling reaction to the feel of his large form pressing her against the floor, Ice was rolling upward and tugging her to her feet.

  “Are you okay?” he demanded, his tone clipped.

  “Yeah, I’m fine.” She glanced around the shattered room that now looked like a war zone. “What the hell was that?”

  Ice’s expression was grim as he reached to grab her hand, tugging her out of the room.

  “First we make sure everyone is safe. Then we’ll figure out who attacked us,” he growled. “And how we intend to punish them.”

  ***

  Ice was stronger, faster, and more ruthless than most Pantera. Which was what made him such a good Hunter. But after hours of searching through every inch of the Wildlands to make certain there were no enemies lurking in the gathering dusk, he was exhausted.

  Still he forced himself to make another sweep to search for any wounded Pantera before he at last headed toward the communal area where the majority of his people were gathered. His gaze instinctively sought out his parents who’d returned home the previous week. They were with his grandmother as she moved among the wounded, using her Healer gifts on the handful of injured people. Next, his gaze skimmed toward Cammy as she stood guard over a group of young who were huddled in the center of the clearing.

  At a distance she looked as weary as he felt, but she was standing with her spine straight and her head high. Which assured him she wasn’t injured.

  A tightness he didn’t even realize was wrapped around his chest slowly eased.

  He didn’t know when his cat had decided Cammy was his to protect. It’d come on so slowly he hadn’t recognized the danger until it was too late. Now he simply accepted that his cat wasn’t going to change its stubborn mind.

  Even if she was obsessed with Rage.

  Shaking his head, he veered around the edge of the mossy area. He
had returned to report to Parish. Once he finished speaking with his leader he was going to grab some food and head back out to do another search of the outer perimeter.

  It didn’t matter how tired he was. There would be no sleep for any of them tonight.

  At last finding his leader near the badly damaged Headquarters, Ice waited for Parish to finish his conversation with Raphael and Xavier. Five minutes later Parish was moving to stand directly in front of him, his expression grim.

  “You finished your sweep?”

  “Yeah. They’re gone,” Ice assured him. “I count at least a half dozen entered, although it was impossible to determine if they all left.”

  “You checked the caves?”

  Ice nodded. The magic of the Wildlands included several deep caverns, despite the swampy landscape.

  “I searched them,” Ice said. “And then I returned to search them again before heading back here in case they doubled back.”

  “How many entry points?”

  “One on the northern edge.”

  “That matches with Keira,” Parish said, referring to his sister who was one of the best Hunters in the Wildlands.

  Ice glanced toward the Headquarters, which was leaning at a drunken angle and still smoldering. “What’s the damage here?”

  Parish folded his arms over his chest, his jaw clenched. “It’s going to have to be bulldozed and rebuilt, but that’s not the worst part. Xavier’s equipment was trashed when the floor collapsed. Plus we had to use water to put out the fire that was started by the explosion.”

  Ice grimaced. Fire and water wasn’t a good combo for electronics. “What about the computers that belonged to Benson Enterprises?”

  “Destroyed.”

  Ice’s breath hissed through his teeth. Fury scoured through him like lava, but he was doing his best to keep his emotions leashed. He’d learned from his sensei that anger was the enemy.

  Only a clear mind could reveal a pathway to success.

 
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