LOGAN WRAPPED his arms around the animal’s strong neck and wrestled her to the ground.
“Shoot her!” he shouted. “Jenna, shoot her now!”
His assistant hesitated.
The animal struggled again and roared in distress. Logan wriggled onto his side and slung his thigh over its waist, opening up a space for Jenna to stick the tranquilizer dart.
Finally—finally—she got her shit together and fired the dart into the meat of the dinosaur’s flank. A second later it went limp in Logan’s arms.
“I’m sorry,” Jenna said, wincing. “She was just moving around so much, I was scared I was going to shoot you instead.”
“Definitely don’t shoot me with that stuff,” Logan said grimly. Though the tranquilizer would only sedate the dinosaur for a few minutes, it was strong enough to knock Logan out for a couple of hours.
He gently laid the young parasaurolophus down on her side, careful to leave her airways clear. The curved crest on her head was only a little stump now, though still distinctive. He liked the parasaurs. They were cute.
Logan worked quickly, taking the tiny tagging device and injecting the tracker into the animal’s neck. It was similar to the microchips used in domestic cats and dogs, and allowed the ranger team to track the herds as they moved through the islands.
The juvenile was about four feet tall when on all fours, well over five feet when she stood on her hind legs. This tag was particularly important—the parasaurs hadn’t had a successful breeding season for several years, and this youngster would be one of only half a dozen juveniles in the herd.
A long, low trumpeting sound came from deeper within the forest, and Logan moved even faster.
“Is that—” Jenna started.
“Her mom, most likely, yeah. Let’s move.”
The tranq would last a few more minutes, plenty of time for them to pack up and get out of the area before the rest of the herd noticed one was missing. They still had two more of the juvenile parasaurs to tag, but that would have to wait for later. Tagging was a bitch of a job.
“I thought you were supposed to be taking a blood sample too?” Jenna asked as they loaded their equipment back into the truck.
“Shit,” he muttered, knowing he’d take hell for forgetting once he got back to base. “Okay, get in the truck. Get it started. I’ll make this quick.”
He grabbed a pair of gloves and struggled to put them on, keeping his eyes on the young dinosaur’s breathing. Logan was meticulous about prepping his equipment, so he had a vial and syringe set aside, ready for the procedure. He grabbed them and moved back to the animal. Her breathing was fine and she wasn’t moving, apart from the steady rise and fall of her chest. Logan took a moment more to observe her before leaning in and taking the vial of blood. She didn’t twitch. A good sign.
Another soft rumbling drifted through the trees, and this time Logan didn’t hesitate.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” he said, jumping back into the truck and shutting the door as quietly as he could. When they’d rolled up to this area, Logan had noticed some strange marks on the trees he’d guessed were caused by another species—the protoceratops—managing their horns, but there wasn’t time for him to hang around now to examine them more closely. He made a mental note to check it out next time he was in the area instead.
Jenna pulled away, directing the truck back out to the perimeter road around the island. Once they were a safe distance from the parasaur, she pulled over.
“She scratched you up a little.”
Logan shrugged. “Not the worst I’ve dealt with. Let me store this safely.”
He’d been clutching the capped syringe in his gloved hands as they bumped through the undergrowth, quietly praying it wouldn’t break. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d found himself covered in dinosaur blood, but he’d really rather avoid it.
Now they switched sides, Logan going via the trunk to label and store the vial, then dispose of his gloves.
“So,” he said as he slid into the driver’s seat and put the truck back into Drive, “how do you think that went?”
Jenna made a face. “I fucked up.”
“No, you didn’t,” he said lightly. “There’s a reason we start you off with the herbivores. We got in there, tagged her, and got out again before the rest of the herd noticed. She’ll be up and moving again already, and we got our blood sample. I think that was a successful run.”
Jenna nodded. She was twenty-six, a recent veterinary graduate from Tennessee. Logan liked her. Despite being young and having a lot to learn, she was eager and listened. He didn’t ask for much more in his interns.
As they drove, she pulled the elastic from her dark hair and twisted it up again.
“Are we going to do any more today?”
Logan shook his head. “We’re about two hours out from base now. I want to get back before it gets too dark.”
Jenna nodded. “Okay.”
“We’ll pick it up again next week. I want to make sure you get to see all of the species at least once.”
“There’s a dozen dinosaur species here, right?”
Logan made a noncommittal sound. “It’s difficult to say. Some of the animals have evolved considerably from what we recognize from the fossil record. An animal we might once have classified as a particular dinosaur breed might now belong in a new classification.”
“Like the dissimosaurs.”
After a few minutes, Logan picked up his phone and plugged it into the Aux lead. There was no radio out here, but he had a few podcasts downloaded. Jenna had pulled out her notebook and was scribbling furiously.
“You mind?” he asked, gesturing to the radio.
“Hmm? Oh. No. That’s fine.”
Logan set the podcast up and leaned back in his seat, making himself comfortable for the drive back. They had been out since around seven thirty that morning, and it was closing in on five now. Seven tags in total, which made for a good day. Tracking down the animals to tag was the hardest part.
He winced as he shifted in the seat. No, wrestling with them was the hardest part.
The main road back to base was at the outermost ridge of the island, which was the second and most westward in the chain of three islands that made up the South Pacific Archipelago. Most of the dinosaurs lived between this island and the biggest one, northeast of where they now were. At low tide there was a sandbank, almost a kilometer wide, that connected what locals called the North and West Islands. The sandbank was the most unusual feature of this string of islands and, in connecting the two islands, allowed the dinosaurs nearly twenty thousand square kilometers of uninterrupted roaming area.
Base camp was on another island in the chain, smaller again and the most southern of the three, this one around the size of Jamaica. Back in the eighties, some enterprising contractor had won the job to build the bridge connecting the West and South Islands, allowing easy access for humans between the two.
As the sky darkened, Logan watched the storm clouds rolling in. It would rain tonight. It rained a lot on these cloudy, stormy islands. It wasn’t the South Pacific paradise some had anticipated the Archipelago might be.
Logan didn’t care. He wasn’t here to get a tan.
When he approached the bridge, he cast a look over at Jenna. She was sleeping lightly, her head tipped back against the seat and her pen still clutched in her fingers. He smiled and pulled over to check that it was safe to cross.
Weather conditions on the islands changed quickly, and if a storm blew in, it could mean trouble. There was a signal mounted on one of the posts, now holding a steady green light. Logan edged forward onto the plate, waited for the barrier to lift, and then drove slowly over the bridge.
Once they were across, it was another twenty minutes or so before they made it to base. Out on the North and West Islands, it was possible to pretend the area was largely untouched. Apart from the essential maintenance roads, there were few signs of modern life. The animals were allowed to roam freely, just like they’d been doing for the past sixty-five million years.
On the South Island, things were different. When the island started to become truly inhabited by research scientists in the eighties, it wasn’t long before dinosaurs and humans started to butt up against each other. Sometimes literally. It was clear that the main two islands to the north were where the majority of the animals were contained, with only a few—presumably the strong swimmers—based on the smaller island. With dinosaur genetic and evolutionary research considered so vital, the decision was made to round up the small colony on the South Island and relocate them, leaving the smallest island solely for human habitation.
Now it had a small city that housed all the research facilities, an apartment complex, a grocery store, and a Starbucks, plus a few other modern essentials.
Late on a Friday evening, it was fairly bustling. Logan directed the car onto the main street that led to the research facilities, and let Jenna wake herself up when he turned the engine and the podcast off.
“You can go from here, if you like,” he said as Jenna rubbed her hands over her face.
“Yeah. Go enjoy your weekend.”
She snorted softly. “Because the nightlife is so hopping.”
Logan chuckled. “Right.”
“Have a good weekend,” she said, gathering her things into her backpack and zipping it up.
“Thanks, Jenna. You too.”
Once she was gone, Logan drove around the complex and parked the truck in his assigned space. It was well after office hours, but the lab bunnies were known to keep working until someone physically removed them from the building. Logan wasn’t too worried that he wouldn’t find a nice lab assistant to log his work.
Logan’s pass gave him unrestricted access to the entirety of the South Pacific Archipelago, including all its buildings. That had given a few of the higher-ups stomach ulcers, but he’d insisted and eventually won the argument.
As the head ranger on the islands, it was important for him to be able to contain an animal if it wandered outside its territory, and safely return it. That had happened a few times since he’d started working here, most famously when an enterprising ornithomimus had wandered onto the South Island and caused havoc.
That was when Logan had been given his unrestricted access.
He hummed quietly under his breath as he walked through the familiar corridors. The labs had an almost hospital-like feel—white walls and an antiseptic smell. There was a small infirmary within the building, but Logan rarely went there. He’d worked out in the field long enough to be able to patch up most of the scrapes he sustained on the job.
“Hello?” he called as he headed into the waiting area of the main lab. It was still but not quiet. Equipment hummed and churned from deep within the bowels of the building. It never got truly silent in here.
He dumped the big Styrofoam box on the counter and used his pass to let himself into the lab itself, only vaguely aware he was tracking mud everywhere.
Logan was often covered in mud. It sort of came with the job. In the labs, he always felt lumbering, too big, like he didn’t belong here. He wasn’t like the swarm of scientists who worked their incredible genius in clean long white coats. Logan was tall and broad and wore a lot of khaki. He felt like his hands were too big for the delicate equipment in the labs.
“Hello?” he called again.
Some big gray machine to his left was making a hell of a lot of noise, which was probably why he managed to walk straight into one of his colleagues.
“Oh my God.”
Logan jumped back, holding his hands up, and felt immediately guilty for stepping on the guy.
“Dr. Sterling,” he said. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you.”
He felt the blush crawl over his cheeks, down his chest.
Because Kit Sterling was a certified hottie.
“Can I help you?” Dr. Sterling asked, his voice soft and inviting.
“Yeah. Sorry. I brought in my samples from today. I just wanted to log them with you.”
Dr. Sterling nodded. “No problem. Let me just go and turn my equipment off, and I’ll meet you at the hatch.”
Logan nodded and turned away.
Because, God. Dr. Sterling.
Logan didn’t often admit his crushes, even to himself. It wasn’t like their little string of islands was an international hotbed of gay action—it was more like a summer camp. The strict no-fraternization policy meant all the juicy stuff was done in secret, which only served to intensify the salaciousness of the gossip.
That was part of why Logan kept his crush on Dr. Sterling quiet. No one needed to know Logan got all flushed and tingly every time he ran into him. Because Kit Sterling really was perfect. And small. Logan guessed he was probably about five six, maybe five seven, tops. His skin was creamy pale, and his honey-blond hair was always flopping over his forehead. He wore tortoiseshell glasses. Even though Kit was short, his body was toned and compact.
It didn’t help that Dr. Sterling was the biggest pain in Logan’s ass in his career to date. They were professional because they were colleagues and outright antagonism would be frowned upon by the higher-ups and make things supremely awkward in their day-to-day interactions.
But Dr. Kit Sterling knew how to push every single one of Logan’s buttons, and aroused a good deal of Logan’s kinks too. He was determined and passionate and defended his theories and beliefs with an aggression that Logan had definitely not expected. There had been more than one occasion when their debates had gotten a little too loud and lab security had been called to break up a fight, only to find Logan and Dr. Sterling screaming at each other in his office over some research paper.
Logan was just a little obsessed.
And now he’d stepped on the guy.
Because he was a huge, lumbering jerk.
At the hatch, he lifted the lid on his box and poked around at the contents, making sure his labeling was all done and his record sheets were complete. These samples were vital. One of the key principles of research on the islands was to interfere with the lives of the animals as little as possible. Even if they were tagged as infants, the dinosaurs wouldn’t come in contact with Logan or his team again unless there were serious complications. Life, disease, injury, and death had existed since before the research teams had arrived. Logan fervently believed it wasn’t his job to unnaturally prolong the lives of the animals in his care, but to protect them from the outside world.
He looked up sharply and smiled at Kit through the hatch.
“We got four of the juvenile parasaurs,” he said in a rush, hands flitting over the carefully packed contents of the box. “Two more to go, but I think they were from a second hatching because they’re smaller and sticking close to the mothers. We’ll get them later. Got two of the ornithomimus, and a protoceratops.”
“A protoceratops?” Kit sounded impressed. The ceratopsians were mostly solitary animals and really didn’t like the ranger team getting too close.
“Yeah.” His fingers touched the vial of blood gently. “She’s injured. Kind of hiding out deep in the forest in quadrant four. We came across her almost by chance.”
“Will she heal?” Kit asked.
Logan shrugged. “Maybe. If a predator doesn’t come across her. It’s not any predator territory that I know of, though, so she might be okay.”
“Any update on predator nesting?”
“Nope,” Logan said with a grin. “I’m keeping an eye out for the oviraptors, though. They’re the only predators I’ll get close to when they’ve got infants around.”
“How about the dissimosaurs?”
Logan laughed. “I’ll take you out there, and you can go poke about in their nests, if you like.”
“Ah, I’m a laboratory scientist,” Kit said and quirked an eyebrow. “No field research, please.”
Logan felt his hackles rise and took a slow, careful breath. This was one of their main points of contention—Kit’s refusal to get his hands dirty, and Logan’s refusal to wash up and learn.
“Anyway. If anything is missing, just give me a call.”
Kit was already turning away, the box in his arms, when Logan blurted—
“Do you have any plans for the weekend?”
Oh no. Oh fuck.
Kit turned back. He had a polite smile plastered on his face.
Logan wanted to die.
“Um, no, not really. It’s not like this place exactly has a lot to do.”
Logan nodded. “Yeah.” His face was burning. “Anyway. Have a nice weekend.”
He thought Kit might have said “You too,” but he was too busy rushing to leave to hear it.