Saturday, October 28, 2017

Saturday's Series Spotlight: THIRDS by Charlie Cochet Part 3

THIRDS exists to uphold the law for Humans and Therians without prejudice.

During the Vietnam War, biological warfare spread the Melanoe virus, infecting millions worldwide and changing the course of human history forever. The vaccine, Eppione.8, created using strains from animals immune to the virus, activated a dormant mutation within the virus that altered human DNA and gave birth to a new species: Therians.

In an attempt to restore social order, the US government put new regulations and laws into place, along with a Therian branch of government. In 1990, Human and Therian legislators launched the Therian Human Intelligence, Recon, Defense Squadron aka the THIRDS, an elite, military-funded agency comprised of an equal number of Human and Therian agents .

But THIRDS agents are more than a team—they’re a family through thick and thin, and along the way, some find true love. While every day brings dangers and challenges, one thing will never change: standing up for what you believe in and protecting the people you love is never optional.

Smoke & Mirrors #7
Life for Dexter J. Daley has never been easy, but he’s always found a way to pick himself back up with a smile on his face. Taken from his home, and the arms of his boyfriend and THIRDS partner, Sloane Brodie, Dex finds himself in a situation as mysterious and lethal as the Therian interrogating him. Dex learns what he’s secretly believed all along: his parents’ death wasn’t an accident.

Discovering the whole truth about John and Gina Daley’s homicide sets off a series of events that will change Dex and Sloane’s lives forever. As buried secrets rise to the surface and new truths are revealed, Dex and Sloane’s love for each other is put to the test, with more than their relationship on the line. If traversing the waters of murder and secret government agencies wasn’t enough, something inexplicable has been happening to Dex—and nothing will ever be the same.

Thick & Thin #8
In a matter of days, Dex has been kidnapped, tortured, killed, revived, become half Therian, offered the chance to become a spy, and accepted a proposal to marry his jaguar Therian boyfriend, Sloane Brodie. It’s been a lot to take in, and although Dex is still trying to wrap his head around everything that’s happened, he knows he has to move forward.

After the events of Smoke & Mirrors, Dex and Sloane find themselves in one of the most frightening situations of all: revealing the truth to their Destructive Delta family. When the dust settles, nothing will ever be the same, and it’s up to Dex to prove that in the face of change, the one thing that will always remain the same is family.

Darkest Hour Before Dawn #9
THIRDS Team Leader Sebastian Hobbs and Chief Medical Examiner Hudson Colbourn are as much in love now as they were nearly seven years ago when a tragic event on the job destroyed their relationship. The two drift together only to be pulled apart time and time again. When Hudson draws the interest of dangerous enemies, both within and outside the organization, Seb wants nothing more than to protect the man who still means everything to him.

As life and death events, an uncertain future, and startling truths draw Hudson and Seb to each other yet again, they must make a choice: trust their love and take strength from what they share, or lose what matters most for good this time.

Gummy Bears & Grenades #9.5
THIRDS agent Dexter J. Daley can’t wait to marry his fiancé, Team Leader Sloane Brodie, but first he’s looking forward to celebrating his bachelor party—which he intends to be a shenanigans-free evening of getting his groove on with family and friends.

Of course events don’t work out as planned, but for Dex that’s nothing new. One thing is for sure, dodging drug dealers and hired thugs amid booze, dancing—and even a bear costume—will guarantee it’s a night Dex will never forget. Now he just needs to survive all the fun.

Enjoy this bonus story from the THIRDS universe. These events occur between Darkest Hour Before Dawn and Tried & True in the series timeline. While reading this story would enhance your experience of the THIRDS series, it is not necessary to read before Tried & True.

Tried & True #10
Coming December 2017

Combined Review for Books #7 & 8
Blogger Note: For me, more than any of the series yet these two are so connected that I feel they are almost one super large novel.  Though you must read the whole series in order as the characters and storylines are interwoven, its most important that #7 & #8 are read in order IMO.  I had the luxury of reading them when they were not new releases so I didn't have the "waiting period" between and frankly I'm super glad for it 😉.

Dexter J Daley, lover of all things 80s & all things Sloane Brodie, is about to have his life turned upside down once again but this time he learns new facts about the past which directly effects his future as well as that of all the members of Destructive Delta and their friends.  As much as Dex and Sloane are devoted to each other, will their love survive these new found truths and changes?

As followers to my blog and reviews know, I don't do spoilers and I definitely don't want to spoil any elements of mysteries so I won't touch on any specific plot points for Smoke & Mirrors or Thick & Thin but I will say this: I was blown away and thrown for a loop farther than anything one of Delta's shifters could have hit me with.  "Holy Hannah Batman!" came out of my mouth more than once and considering I was reading these while enjoying the refreshing fall air under my maple tree in my front yard and trying not to scare the neighbors with my sudden outbursts, I think those three little words sums up how I felt reading these two better than anything else I could come up with here.

Even though Dex is at the heart of these two installments, don't think Charlie Cochet has forgotten the rest of the team, their friends, family, and co-workers but we also discover a new enemy who may or may not be what Delta is led to believe.  Yeah, I know I'm being cryptic but its the closest thing you're going to get out of me concerning the plot 😉.

As I said when I reviewed Hell & High Water #1 a few weeks ago, I had this series on my TBR list for a few years but now that I've read it I can't begin to guess what took so long.  Brilliance from beginning to end and I can't wait to see where the author takes these characters in the future but I do know that I will be among the first in line to read any new adventures and they won't be lingering-in-waiting on my TBR list any more.

Darkest Hour Before the Dawn #9
We've learned snippets here and there throughout the THIRDS series about Seb and Hudson's past.  When Seb marked Hudson he thought their love was enough to get them through anything life go throw at them.  He was wrong.  But since Dexter J Daley joined Destructive Delta it seems that Seb and Hudson are continually in each other's orbits.  Now that Hudson is in danger, Seb is determined to keep him safe but can his determination be enough to get the job done and can it possibly be what tips the scales of love back in their favor?

As with the entries that featured Ash/Cale and Calvin/Hobbs, I worried that perhaps I would not be able to get as invested in Darkest Hour Before the Dawn simply because I absolutely love and adore Dex/Sloane so much.  Equally as with Ash/Cale and Calvin/Hobbs, I needn't have worried because even though Seb/Hudson may not be on the same wavelength as Dex/Sloane for me they definitely burrowed into my heart right along side the rest of the THIRDS duos.

Darkest has plenty of what we come to expect from a THIRDS tale: action, lust, mystery, romance, drama, but above all it has the heart that Charlie Cochet continually weaves these other elements together with and add in the whole shifter factor and its a perfect tick to everyone's paranormal box.

Gummy Bears & Grenades #9.5
It would seem that Dex is about to have a bachelor party and Sloane is to spend the evening with his longtime friend and superior but the fact that he is also his soon-to-be father-in-law has him a bit on edge.  Will everything go as planned for Dex's night out or will it go as most things Dex is involved with, chaotic and haywire?

I'm not going to say too much here but I will say that this entry is as all the THIRDS entries are: brilliant and fun.  I don't want to give away any of what Dex and his pals face but I will say that I laughed from the first page to the last.  Don't get me wrong, the whole series is fun even with all the drama the boys face and most of that is down to Dex's love of all things 80s but there is something special about Gummy Bears & Grenades that is beyond even Dex's 80s fetish.  Lets face it, the title alone sets the tone for this tale.

Once again I think "Brilliant" is the only and the best word I can find to describe how much I love these Delta boys, their friends, and family.  A huge thank you to Charlie Cochet for creating the THIRDS universe and I can't wait to see what comes next.


Smoke & Mirrors #7
Chapter One
SOUND EXPLODED in Dex’s ears. His head throbbed, and his face hurt. He tasted blood, and his body didn’t feel like his own as he struggled through the lethargy. His limbs felt heavy, like he was swimming in molasses. With a groan, he forced his eyes open. It was dark save for the halo of light floating somewhere above his head. Where was he? The last thing he remembered was Sloane’s strong arms around him, wrapping him up in warmth, holding him close. Sloane had nuzzled his face in Dex’s hair, then kissed him good night, followed by a soft “I love you.”


Dex bolted upright, a gasp caught in his throat as he surfaced through the haze. His eyes widened, and his heart beat furiously as he realized his wrists and ankles were zip-tied to a chair.

“What the hell is this?” He looked up and reeled from the stabbing white light. It seared his vision, and he shut his eyes tight for several seconds. A halo was all he could see before he was finally able to focus on the stretch of nothingness around him. Shadows surrounded him on all sides, the only light coming from the lamp hanging over his head. “Hello?” It struck him then.

They’d taken him from his home.

Oh God, where was Sloane? His blood ran cold, and he jerked against the restraints. “Somebody answer me!”

“You’re awake. Good.”

Dex froze. He peered into the shadows and could just about make out an outline, along with the glow of eyes. A Therian.

“Who are you? What is this?” Dex demanded, his voice hoarse from his dry throat. It was like his mouth was full of cotton. Most likely a result from whatever they’d given him to knock him out. He did his best to ignore the queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. Someone had broken into his house and taken him from his boyfriend’s arms. He had no idea where Sloane was or the condition he was in. Was he hurt… or worse? Please let him be okay.

“I’ll be the one asking the questions here, Agent Daley.”

“Where’s Sloane?”

A tall wolf Therian in an expensive gray suit emerged from the shadows. “Looking for you, I imagine. I don’t really care. My interest lies with you, not Sloane Brodie.”

Dex had expected a thug or a raging psychopath. The Therian before him didn’t appear to be either, but appearances could be deceiving. Refined, smooth, chiseled jaw, and handsome, with rich black hair neatly styled, he looked to be in his late thirties, maybe early forties. The Therian cocked his head to one side, his sharp gray eyes studying Dex. He seemed to come to some kind of conclusion and pulled a chair out from the darkness to place in front of Dex.

Dex studied his adversary, noting how nonchalantly he unbuttoned his tailored suit jacket and took a seat. He crossed one leg over the other and placed his laced fingers over one knee, as if he were about to have an informal business chat.

“Where is it?” he asked smoothly.

“Why do you spooks always start with such cryptic questions?” Dex frowned down at himself. “Why am I in a suit?” He was pretty sure he’d gone to bed in a T-shirt and pajama bottoms. The suit was tailored to fit. Everything from the black dress pants to the pristine white button-down shirt to the black jacket fit like a glove. Even his shoes hugged his feet comfortably. “How do you know my shoe size?”

“I know everything about you.”

Dex glanced around the room. There were no cameras, windows, nothing but the bare concrete floor and walls. “Why?”

“Where is the file?”

“Why the tie?” This was bizarre. Someone had painstakingly fixed a tie around his neck while he’d been unconscious. Who kidnapped people and dressed them up in fancy clothes?

“Answer the question.”

“How about we start small,” Dex offered. “What do I call you?” He needed to figure a way out of this. There had to be a door somewhere behind the Therian. The guy hadn’t just materialized out of thin air. Of course, first Dex would have to get himself out of the chair. It was steel and bolted to the floor.

“Don’t act cute with me, Agent Daley.” The wolf Therian smiled pleasantly. “And you can call me Mr. Wolf.”

Mr. Wolf. Right. “Now who’s being cute?”

Wolf chuckled. “I do appreciate a man with a good sense of humor. You’re very charming.” He looked Dex over and smiled warmly. “You’re taller than I imagined, and your photo hardly does you justice. You’re far more handsome in person.” He motioned to his own eyes. “Beautiful color. Absolutely stunning.”

Dex leaned forward, his lips curling up wickedly. “You trying to get information out of me or date me?”

Wolf chuckled. “I can see you’re going to be a handful. All right, Agent Daley—May I call you Dex? Agent seems so formal.”


“Dex, your little ‘I’m just a ditzy blond’ act isn’t going to fly with me. I know perfectly well who you are and what you’re capable of.”

Dex sat back with a smile. “Do you now? FYI, I’m more of a dirty blond.”

Wolf arched an eyebrow at him. The man wasn’t quite sure what to make of Dex. Despite Wolf’s calm and nonthreatening demeanor, something in his eyes warned Dex to tread lightly.

Wolf cleared his throat before continuing. “Dexter Justice Daley, born August 18, 1980. Only child to Gina and John Daley. Adopted by Anthony Maddock. Adopted brother, Cael Maddock. You were an HPF officer before becoming a detective like your father before you. Then you testified against your partner for shooting an unarmed Therian youth in the back. Your boyfriend at the time, Louis Huerta, walked out on you.

“You were hired by the THIRDS and appointed a Defense agent for Unit Alpha’s Destructive Delta. Your Team Leader is Sloane Brodie, a First Gen jaguar Therian who spent the majority of his youth in the First Gen Research Facility being prodded and poked like a lab rat. You’ve been together for a year and roughly two and a half months—he had a few commitment issues to work out. This month he moved in with you. He thinks you need to eat healthier, and he’s correct. You consume copious amounts of caffeine, sugar, and red meat, have a somewhat unusual obsession with the eighties, and enjoy karaoke. Have I left anything out?”

Who was this guy, and how did he know so much? Dex smiled widely. “Yeah, I love dancing, sadly can’t hold my liquor, and give great head.”

Wolf’s eyebrows shot up before his expression returned to its previous impassive state. He shifted in his chair, and Dex held back a grin. He could use this. Dex held Wolf’s gaze.

“Did you know I can make my boyfriend purr in Human form? And I don’t mean figuratively. I mean, I can literally make him purr.”

Wolf peered at him before brushing some nonexistent lint from his suit jacket. “Not possible.”

“Oh, but it is,” Dex replied, his voice low and husky. “I’m good with my mouth.”

Wolf smoothed down his tie before meeting Dex’s gaze. He carried on as if he hadn’t heard Dex. “I know you would risk everything for your loved ones. Your career, your heart, your life. You have a fierce sense of justice. I know at this very moment you’re considering your options and how you can get out of that chair. Those are Therian-strength zip ties, Dex. You won’t be going anywhere, and unlike most, I won’t underestimate you. You’re quite good at discovering your opponent’s vulnerabilities. Fortunately for me, I have none. I know you play the fool, act the class clown, hiding who you really are.”

Dex cocked his head to one side and smiled. “And who’s that?”

“A very dangerous man.”

Here he was tied to a chair, and he was dangerous? “That’s funny.”

Wolf stood and shoved his hands into his pockets. “It is funny, because even you don’t realize it.” He leaned forward, his gaze holding Dex’s. “Others may not see it, but I do. There’s darkness lurking behind those pale blue eyes. You never did quite recover from your parents’ murder.”

Dex opened his mouth to reply when the words sank in. His gut twisted. No. Absolutely not. “My parents weren’t murdered. They were killed in a shoot-out. Wrong place, wrong time.”

Wolf moved his chair closer to Dex and sat. “You didn’t believe it then, and you don’t believe it now. It may be what you were told, what you wanted to believe, but deep down inside, you know the truth you buried long ago.”

“What do you know about my parents?” Why was he asking? It wasn’t as if he could trust Wolf. For all he knew the guy was making shit up to rattle him, to make him talk.

“Do forgive me. I seem to have deviated from my intended path.” Wolf let out a pleasant laugh, as if he were conversing with a friend. “You’re very easy to talk to. Let’s try a different approach. Gina Daley was killed for interfering in business that was no concern of hers. Sadly, she dragged your father into it. I want the file she had in her possession the night she was killed.”

Dex closed his eyes, suddenly nauseated. He needed the room to stop spinning and his stomach to stop turning over. Wolf was right. Deep down, he’d always known, but this… this was just too much. All these years he’d tried denying the fact there might be more to his parents’ deaths than mere coincidence, but he’d never delved deeper. He’d been scared to. Afraid of what he’d find. To him, his parents had been two regular people who’d loved him very much and who’d been taken from him far too early in life. He’d wanted to preserve their memory. Dex opened his eyes and took a deep breath. There was no running from it now. He needed answers.

“It’s been almost thirty years. Why are you looking for this file now?”

“That information is inconsequential. I would very much like that file.”

“If there is a file, I don’t know where it is,” Dex replied truthfully. “This is the first I’m hearing about it. If you’ve been watching me, studying me, you’d know that.”

Wolf stood and removed his suit jacket in no particular hurry. He took hold of his chair, placed it to one side, and draped his jacket across the backrest. Dex observed him, the way he moved, how he smiled warmly as he removed the cuff links from his sleeve cuffs. Once he’d slipped the cuff links into his jacket pocket, he rolled up his sleeves. Not in a half-assed way either. He wasn’t in any kind of rush. The fabric was folded meticulously. First one sleeve, then the other. From his pants pocket he pulled out a pair of black gloves and slipped them on.

“I hear you have quite the pain threshold.”

Dex sat up straight and rolled his shoulders. His heart raced, and his muscles tensed. He subtly closed his hands into fists to keep Wolf from seeing them shake. When he spoke, he made certain his tone gave away nothing of the fear shooting through him. “Moving on to the kinky stuff already. That’s not really my scene, but whatever floats your boat.”

With a chuckle, Wolf stepped in between Dex’s knees. He took hold of Dex’s chin, his smile turning apologetic. “Forgive me, but I’m going to have to bruise this pretty face of yours. I hoped to avoid it, but you’ve left me no choice. It’s nothing personal.”

Dex shrugged. He wouldn’t give Wolf the satisfaction of knowing he was scared. No point in him losing his shit. Wolf wasn’t like anyone he’d faced before. He was a professional given a job to do, a job he took pride in. The steel of his gray eyes told Dex all he needed to know. There would be no mercy coming from Wolf. Any and all pain inflicted on Dex was of his own making for not cooperating.

“Just part of the job description. I get it.”

“Thank you for being so understanding.” Wolf ran his thumb over Dex’s bottom lip. “I like you, Dex. In fact, I like you so much I’m going to start small.”

“That’s really kind of you.” He swallowed hard, his eyes never leaving Wolf’s.

“I know,” Wolf replied sincerely. “Now brace yourself.”

Dex nodded. He clenched his jaw and inhaled deeply through his nose, his fists balled so tight his knuckles were white. Think of home.

The first blow had him seeing stars. For all of Mr. Wolf’s sophisticated charms, he was a Therian, and one skilled in the art of causing pain. That much was evident right away. Wolf also managed to inflict damage without incapacitating. After all, if he wanted information out of his prisoner, a method of communication was key. The most intriguing part was how Wolf managed to beat the shit out of Dex while keeping himself looking impeccable. Even with Dex’s blood splattered over his white shirt, he looked elegant. Dex would have commended him if he could talk.

The worst of it wasn’t the blows to the face, the split lip and brow, the throbbing, or even the taste of his own blood inside his mouth as well as the blood trickling down from his nose. It was the fiery concoction that must have been brewed with the Devil’s piss because it burned like a son of a bitch when Wolf applied it to one of Dex’s open wounds. It scorched his flesh, and when Wolf applied it to Dex’s brow, he cried out. Tears pooled in his eyes from the sting, but he quickly blinked them away and gritted his teeth, pushing through the pain. His heart was pounding, and he jerked in his seat, sucking in gulps of air. Jesus, it burned.

“I know,” Wolf cooed. “I’m so sorry.”

He pressed his lips to Dex’s. It was brief but gentle, startling Dex. He tugged at his arm, instinct propelling him to punch Wolf in the face, but all that did was send more pain up his arm.

“Shhh, it’s okay.” Wolf wiped Dex’s blood from his lips with his thumb before he ran a hand over Dex’s head, soothing him. “Please. You can make this stop. Just tell me what I want to know.” He crouched down between Dex’s knees and slid his hands to Dex’s thighs, then to his hips. Wolf’s dark brows were drawn together, his lips pulled down in a frown. “I’m really not enjoying this. You’re a good man, Dex. I don’t like hurting good men.”

“You could stop,” Dex said with a shaky laugh that verged on a sob, but he pushed past it. His vision was growing blurry again, and he shut his eyes tight. For weeks his eyes had been bugging him, itching, blurring, and until recently it had been a minor inconvenience. He’d put it down to fatigue, but Sloane had been worried, so Dex promised he’d make an appointment with the eye doctor. He wished he’d done it sooner. Now was not the time for his vision to be giving him problems.

“I wish I could, but I have a job to do, and once I give my word, I follow through. Dex, please. Help me help you.”

Dex gazed down at Wolf, his voice a low growl. “You know what? Fuck you. At this point, even if I had the goddamn thing, I wouldn’t give it to you.”

“Such language.” Wolf tsked.

Dex let out a laugh. “Well, get used to it, Buttercup, because it just gets prettier from here on out.”

“I was afraid it would come to this.” Wolf stood and leaned in, pressing his cheek to Dex’s as he slipped one hand around the back of his head. He murmured softly as he stroked Dex’s hair. “I’m going to ask you one more time. Where is the file Gina Daley had in her possession the day she died?”

When Dex didn’t reply, he received a punch to the kidney. Fuck. At this rate he’d be pissing blood for a week. If he survived.

“All right.” Wolf straightened and released a sigh. “Just remember, you brought this on yourself.” He slipped into the shadows and returned with a long, narrow wrap of dark leather. After moving his chair closer to Dex, he pulled the ties loose and unrolled the leather on the chair’s seat. Dex’s jaw muscles tightened at the neat row of long, fine needles. They looked like the kind acupuncturists used. Dex twisted his wrists, the sweat on his skin only allowing for minimal movement, not enough for him to free himself.

Gently, Wolf took hold of Dex’s left hand and bent to give his fingers a kiss before taking hold of his middle finger. Dex’s body betrayed him, trembling under Wolf’s touch in anticipation of the pain. Nothing he’d experienced before could prepare him. All he could do was endure. Pray he could somehow find a way to get out of this. To survive. Wolf slipped one of the needles out, crouched down in front of Dex, and placed the tip under Dex’s fingernail. Wolf’s steel-gray eyes met Dex’s. “This is going to hurt a great deal. It’s all right to scream. Again, you’ve left me no choice.”

Dex’s eyes watered as Wolf began to push the needle in. His heartbeat skyrocketed, and he jerked against the restraints. Oh God…. He’d endured a hell of a lot in his life, in his career at the HPF and then the THIRDS, but never anything like this. He focused on his breathing, on finding a safe place inside his head. Sloane….

The needle plunged deeper, and Dex jolted, a strangled cry torn from his lips. He pushed against the floor with his feet, jerked his arms, and twisted his body in an attempt to get away from the agonizing pain, but nothing he did would ease his suffering.

“This is just the beginning, Dex,” Wolf assured him softly. “I will break you.”

“Fuck you,” Dex spat. Sweat beaded his brow, and his fingers shook. It was only going to get worse. With a sigh, Wolf moved on to the next finger, and Dex closed his eyes, his muscles straining and sweat dripping down the side of his face as the second needle was pushed in under his fingernail. Sometime between the third and fourth needle, everything went black.

“Stop! Stop, I can’t take anymore!”

Tears ran down Dex’s cheeks. His face hurt from laughing so hard.

“You give up?”

Sloane’s smile brought little creases to the corners of his amber eyes, making Dex’s heart skip a beat. He was so damned beautiful. New silver strands had appeared in his beard and at his temples, adding to his sex appeal. Sloane was one of those guys who grew even more gorgeous with age, and Dex’s heart swelled at the thought of growing old with the man he loved.

Those amber eyes had been filled with so much pain not long ago, and now they lit up with affection and laughter. With every passing day, despite the darkness they sometimes encountered on the job, Dex witnessed Sloane embrace the growing lightheartedness within him. It was their day off, and they’d been too tired to go out, so they decided to lounge around the house reading, watching TV, eating, and cuddling. In the afternoon they’d made love, then took a nap. Dex had never been happier.

“I give up,” Dex said with a husky laugh, drawing his knees up and pressing them to Sloane’s hips. “I’m tickled out. I’ll eat the rabbit food.”

Sloane planted his elbows on either side of Dex’s head, his eyes bright with laughter. “Am I going to have to tackle you every time I ask you to try a new vegetable dish?”

“If I’m going to start gnawing on bark, I should get something out of it.”

Sloane laughed. “You are getting something out of it. Good health.”

“But why does healthy food have to taste like boiled grass?”

“Hey, my veggie dishes do not taste like boiled grass.” Sloane’s expression softened, he stroked Dex’s hair. “Do you know why I’m always trying to get you to eat healthy?”

“Because eventually I have to be a grown-up and realize gummy bears are not one of the four basic food groups? Even though they should be. I mean, some are green, right? Like vegetables.”

“That’s not why.” Sloane lowered himself onto Dex, mindful of his weight. He held Dex close and planted a tender kiss on his brow. “Because I want you to live a long life. I want to have you with me as long as possible.”

Dex blinked up at him, surprised by Sloane’s heartfelt confession. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”

Sloane kissed Dex’s lips, a soft, lazy kiss that had Dex letting out a sigh. He was so madly in love with this man.

“Are you trying to guilt me into eating healthier?” Dex teased, nuzzling Sloane’s neck.

Sloane’s rumble of a chuckle sent a delicious shiver through Dex. “Maybe a little.”

“You’re evil.”

“I know.” Sloane nibbled on Dex’s earlobe before whispering in his ear. “Time to wake up, babe.”


“Wake up, Dex.”

Dex snapped his eyes open, and his body shrieked with pain. A jolt went through him, and he cried out. His cheeks were wet from tears, his fingertips bloodied and throbbing, his hands shaking. His body was like one giant nerve ending, exposed and in agony. He started to shiver horribly. He was cold, his skin crawled, and sweat dripped down his face. Inside his blood boiled, and he was having trouble breathing. Swallowing past the bile in his throat, he glanced down at the five needles sticking out from under his fingernails on his left hand. His right hand had another two. Oh God, why the hell had he looked?

“Were you dreaming of him?” Wolf asked serenely as he began to slowly remove the needles one by one.

Jesus, what now? Please don’t let me throw up. Please. Wolf sat in the chair again, the wrap of needles now on the floor by his pristinely shined shoes.

“It sounded like a good dream. Your man’s quite something, isn’t he? Despite his time in the First Gen Research Facility, he’s managed to lead a relatively normal life. Friends, love, a successful career? Not everyone who survived was so lucky. Granted, he wasn’t able to leave the demons behind, but it would seem he’s learned how to cope with the darkness inside of him. How are the nightmares, by the way? Better? I think they’re better now that he has you at his side.” Wolf’s smile faded, his expression becoming troubled. “He’s lived through so much pain. I hate to think what would become of him if you were torn from his life.”

Dex didn’t reply. He was pretty sure Wolf could see the loathing in his eyes.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Wolf said with a sigh. “What kind of person feels nothing when bringing another so much pain?” He dropped the last needle onto the floor by his chair.

What time was it? Better yet, what day was it? How long had they been at this? Dex had lost track of how many times he’d passed out. Wolf liked to change things up. He’d alternate between the needles to his fingernails and the ones to various pressure points around his body, to beating the shit out of him one vital organ at a time. His body was bruised inside and out, his skin was caked in blood, and his left eye was all but swollen shut. Dex groaned, feeling his empty stomach lurching. He reeked of sweat, blood, and bodily fluids he couldn’t give a second thought to or he’d retch. Fuck, was Wolf still talking?

“I feel no remorse, take no pleasure in what I do. Breaking you is akin to picking up a gallon of milk at the grocery store or doing my laundry.” Wolf shrugged. “It’s a talent I suppose. Perhaps a rather unorthodox one, but a talent nonetheless.”

“Well, that’s nice,” Dex muttered, feeling his eyelids growing heavy. It was easier to give in to the darkness. It didn’t hurt there, and he could dream about being in Sloane’s arms. He tugged at his wrists and his ankles. Nothing. Maybe if he took a short nap, tried to regain his strength….

“I’m sorry, Dex, but I’m going to need you to stay awake a little longer.” Wolf stood and reached into his jacket pocket—Mary Poppins’s pocket apparently—and pulled out a syringe with a clear liquid.

Fuck me, seriously?

Dex wavered on the edge of the abyss, slightly aware of his head being gently tilted to the side, his hair stroked absently before he felt the tiniest prick to his neck. One minute he was ready to surrender to the encroaching blackness, and the next he feared his heart would explode. He gasped for air and twisted in his seat, his muscles straining as he pulled. Tears welled in his swollen eyes as his senses sharpened. Every dull ache and throb flared into a shrilling agony. His eyesight sharpened, and his breath came out in pants.

“Fuck!” Dex blinked a few times before shutting his eyes tight. Everything was so bright. Even the shadows seemed to fade. “What did you give me?”

“Just a little concoction of mine. Not at all dissimilar to Therian epinephrine. The dose was lower, of course. I don’t want your Human heart to give out on me.”

Dex squinted and tried to open his eyes again. It still hurt, but he was stunned that he could see all the way across the room to the closed door, as if someone had turned up a dimmer switch. There was a steel table next to the door Dex hadn’t seen before because it had been too dark. On it was a pitcher of water and a stack of plastic cups. Whatever Wolf had given him seemed to clear his vision enough to see past the shadows.

“You continue to surprise me, Dex.” Wolf shook his head. “Would you like some water before we move on?”

Dex nodded. At least Wolf was keeping him hydrated. He placed the plastic cup of cool water to Dex’s lips and helped him drink. When he was done, Wolf smiled at him before returning the cup to the table across the room.

“As much as I’m enjoying your company, Dex, we’re going to have to hurry this along.” Wolf came to stand before him. “Your boyfriend or your brother?”

Dex stared at him. “What?”

Wolf walked over to his chair. “I was hoping you would be like the others, eventually look to save yourself and thereby give me what I want, but I see now you’re every inch the man I believed you to be. You have no trouble sacrificing yourself for your cause.” He removed his gloves before turning them inside out, then tossing them onto the chair. With a sigh, he rolled down his sleeves. “I can’t get through to you like this. The only way to get to you is through someone you love.”

Dex’s heart almost stopped.

Wolf finished with his cuff links, then slipped into his jacket. “I’m going to bring back your boyfriend or your brother, I’ll let you choose which, and then I will take him apart piece by piece until you give me the information I want.”

“I’m telling you the truth! I don’t know what file you’re talking about. There was nothing like that left behind. No letter, note, nothing addressing a file. Please.” Dex struggled against the restraints. The thought of Sloane or Cael in this room terrified him. “I’ll do what you want. Just leave them out of this.”

Wolf walked over and bent forward, his gaze holding Dex’s. “Who’s it going to be? The love of your life or your baby brother?” A thought seemed to strike him, and he snapped his fingers. “I have a better idea. How about I bring them both, and then you can look them in the eye when I make you choose who lives and who dies. Either way, I’ll make them both bleed.”

Rage erupted through Dex like a fiery geyser. He let out a fierce cry and wrenched at the zip ties with all the strength he could summon. They snapped. The ones around his wrists first, then his ankles.

Wolf’s eyes went wide, and Dex thrust his head forward, head-butting Wolf and sending him stumbling back. He rubbed his forehead before staring at Dex.

“How did you do that?”

“Guess you don’t know everything,” Dex growled, lunging at Wolf.

The two of them hit the floor, thrashing and trying to do as much damage to the other as possible. Wolf was undoubtedly cursing his luck right now. If he hadn’t pumped Dex with that Therian shit, Dex wouldn’t have had the strength to stand much less fight.

Wolf was a trained professional and a Therian, but Dex wasn’t without skill. Thanks to Sparks, months of special training, of getting his ass handed to him by TIN specialists, of pushing himself beyond his limits, was finally paying off. He was never more grateful to Sparks for kicking his ass like she had than he was at this moment.

They got to their feet and circled each other. How many people had Wolf tortured and killed? And who the hell did the guy work for? Whoever he was, Dex couldn’t let him near his family.

“How did you get out of those restraints?” Wolf demanded.

Dex had no idea, but he wasn’t about to let Wolf know that. “Who are you working for?”

Wolf charged him, using his elbows in the hopes of inflicting as much damage as possible, but Dex remembered Sparks’s training. Wolf’s blows were continually blocked, with Dex quickly picking up on the guy’s technique. He matched Wolf’s speed, anticipating where Wolf would hit rather than reacting. It was something Dex discovered he was good at. Sparks had noticed right away, so rather than simply teaching him new techniques, she had him mimic his opponent’s and use what he’d learned against them. Dex threw his hands up, blocking the blow Wolf intended for Dex’s ears. Recovering swiftly, Dex threw an uppercut, catching Wolf under his chin, followed by an onslaught of fierce punches before Wolf could get his bearings.

Dex’s muscles pulled and burned, but his adrenaline had spiked. He was so close to freedom he could taste it, so he reached even deeper, putting all his strength behind every blow, making sure not to get too cocky. Wolf let out a fierce growl and lashed out, snatching a hold of Dex’s jacket. Dex went with the momentum, spinning and pulling his arms out of the sleeves. With a frustrated grunt, Wolf chucked the jacket to one side and lunged at Dex, who spun out of the way. If Wolf got his hands on Dex, it’d be over. He couldn’t allow that. Sloane…. He had to get back to Sloane.

“You won’t make it out of here,” Wolf warned, his breath unsteady.

Dex met Wolf’s eyes and grinned. “Like how I wouldn’t be getting out of that chair? How’d that work out for you?”

Wolf smoothed back his hair, and Dex readied himself. The guy was rethinking his strategy. Dex gingerly inched away from the door, his eyes locked on Wolf. He didn’t have to wait long. Wolf’s gray eyes turned hard, empty, and he charged Dex, fangs elongated as he attacked, just as Dex had hoped.

Dex had maneuvered Wolf exactly where he wanted him. Before Wolf could grab him, Dex snatched hold of Wolf’s chair, swung it around, and slammed the steel piece of furniture into Wolf. The guy hit the floor hard, his head banging against the concrete. He didn’t stir. Dex quickly rummaged through Wolf’s pockets. There was nothing.

Leaving the guy on the floor, Dex ran farther into the shadows, and he immediately spotted the faint light coming in from under the door. He grabbed the handle and carefully cracked it open. There was no one on the other side. Slipping out, he closed the door behind him. More darkness and more concrete walls. Where the hell was he? Why was it so damned dark?

It was time to get the hell out of here. His body protested every movement, his head was killing him, but he got moving, sucking in a sharp breath and holding on to his side in a feeble attempt to keep some of the pain at bay. His ribs were bruised, and his lungs burned as his breath quickened. He wouldn’t be able to stay on his feet much longer, but the thought he might blow his only chance at getting out of here, at getting back to Sloane, had him pushing forward.

The corridor seemed to stretch on forever, and he stilled when he caught a whiff of something familiar. It was faint, but he could smell it. Something mixed with licorice. Dex hated licorice. One too many shots of Sambuca in college. Ahead of him in the shadows, he spotted movement. Shit. Had he really thought he could just walk out of here? Several pairs of glowing eyes grew nearer, and Dex stopped, leaning against the wall for support as the figures stalked forward, their shapes soon becoming visible. Three Therians. Dex grinned. One of them had a tranq gun holstered to his belt.

Dex pushed away from the wall and put his hands up in front of him. “I don’t want any trouble, fellas.” He turned his gaze on the lion Therian with the tranq gun and motioned to his face.

“You know, I got a friend with that same scowl. Is that, like, a lion Therian thing, or are you both members of the same Scowler’s Association? No? Okay.”

The guy was short-tempered. Not surprising. The lion Therian lunged at him, and Dex dropped to his knees, twisting his body despite the cry from his muscles. He swiped the guy’s tranq gun, then shot him in the back and sent him stumbling forward. Not skipping a beat, Dex jumped to his feet and fired at the two Therians charging him. One managed to grab him by the neck, lifting him off his feet. Dex grabbed the guy’s wrist while shooting him a second and third time in the chest. Another gasp for air later, Dex was released. He dropped to the floor and coughed before staggering forward. A red light flared to life up on the ceiling, and Dex cursed under his breath. The jig was up.

“Time to get out of Dodge,” Dex grunted, willing his feet to move faster. It was like running through a fog. His vision blurred, and he alternated between squinting and shutting his eyes tight in an attempt to clear them. He took a wrong turn and ended up in a dead end.

“Fuck.” He doubled back quickly, the tranq gun held close. Rounding a corner, he was met with two more Therian goons. He fired, taking one down, and then he was out of darts. Fucking fuck fuck! Tossing the gun to one side, he charged the leopard Therian. He had no idea what the hell he thought would happen, but when he tackled the guy and sent him slamming into the wall behind him, Dex was just as surprised as his foe. Swiftly recovering, Dex pulled back a fist and punched the guy across the head. The guy crumpled to the floor, out cold.

“Holy shit.” Had Wolf given him fucking steroids or something? Whatever it was, Dex was glad for it, though he feared what the repercussions would be. Pushing that aside for now, Dex hurried down the corridors. Up ahead he saw the Exit sign. He could have cried he was so happy. Not waiting for any more goons to show up, he pushed through the door and ran down the dark corridor, not questioning how it was he could see through the darkness. He rushed up the stairs, ignoring his burning lungs.

Bursting out into the night air would have brought him to his knees if he hadn’t kept pushing. He had to get away from this place. Phone. He needed a phone. Trees surrounded him on all sides, and he glanced back to find the door he’d come from was set in a brick wall hidden by grime, moss, shrubbery, and foliage. In the distance he heard the faint sounds of city traffic. Was he still in the city? He was certainly in a city. As he moved quickly through the trees, he spotted a small road with a narrow sidewalk at the bottom of an incline and beyond that, homes. He’d never make it to any of those houses. Voices carried through the air, and Dex hurried down the incline to the sidewalk, trying his best not to fall, because if he did, he wouldn’t be getting back up.

Hunching himself over, he stumbled by the two Humans walking by, bumping into one of them.

“Watch it, asshole,” one guy grumbled as he kept moving. Yep, definitely still in New York City.

“Sorry, man.” Dex staggered toward the small hill he came from and climbed back up, his legs growing shaky. Normally the darkness would make him nervous, but now it was his sanctuary. There was plenty of light for him to see movement, in case someone tried to get the drop on him. The expanse of trees stretched on for miles, and he kept going as long as he could. When his knees gave out from under him, he dragged himself over to a tree and sat up against it. He pulled out the phone he’d swiped from the guy he’d bumped into. After one ring, Sloane picked up.

“Who is this?”

“It’s me,” Dex choked out, tears filling his eyes. It was so damned good to hear Sloane’s voice.

“Oh thank God. Dex, where are you?”

“I… I have no idea. There’s lots of trees. I don’t see any signs. There was a road, but I don’t know what it was. Can you get Cael to find my location using the phone’s GPS?”

There was some faint murmuring before Sloane’s voice returned.

“He’s on it. Are you okay? Talk to me. What happened?”

“It’s a really, really long story. I just… I need you.” He let his head fall back, and a tremor went through him. His need for the man he loved was crushing, and he blinked back his tears.

“I’m on my way, sweetheart. Are you somewhere safe?”

“Home was safe.”

There was a long pause. “We’ll sort that out. Right now, let’s get you to me, okay? I’m your home.”

Dex smiled despite his split lip. That’s right. Sloane was home. It didn’t matter where they were. As long as Sloane was with him, he was home. “Thank you. I really needed to hear that right now.”

“We have your location. I’ll be there soon. Stay on the line with me.”

“I’m tired.”

“Stay awake, sweetheart. Please.”

“I don’t think I can. I’m kinda in bad shape here.” His adrenaline was crashing and with that his strength, causing his whole body to shake violently. He’d be lucky if he didn’t go into shock. It was so cold all of a sudden.

“Sing with me.”


“Come on. Listen.”

Sloane turned up the radio, and Dex smiled at the familiar sounds of strumming guitar followed by clapping. It was the Romantics’ “What I Like About You.” Sloane sang and urged Dex to sing with him. Dex did his best to keep up with the lyrics. He loved this song. He’d danced to it around the kitchen last week while making dinner. Sloane had even joined in after Dex grabbed him and begged him to dance with him. It was the most fun Dex had ever had making baked potatoes.

“Keep singing, sweetheart,” Sloane pleaded.

Dex tried. His voice was rough, his words barely audible, but he tried to keep from slipping into the darkness threatening to drag him under. He wanted to be awake for Sloane, wanted to see his beautiful smile and glowing amber eyes. The light around him seemed to dim, and he couldn’t tell if it was the last of whatever Wolf had given him leaving his system or if he was beginning to lose consciousness. It was all so quiet, or at least it appeared that way, as if time had stilled. His sharpened senses dulled, and he tried to push himself up, but his body refused to cooperate. He had no idea how much time had passed or at what point the phone had slipped from his blood-caked fingers.

“Dex! Dex, where are you?”

“Sloane,” Dex croaked.

Was Sloane really there, or had he simply heard what he was desperate to hear? One moment there was quiet, nothing but shadows, and the next dozens of lights burst through the trees. Sloane emerged alongside three figures in black suits, and when he spotted Dex, he sped over. He dropped to his knees and cradled Dex in his arms. Dex was aware of more people calling his name. Cael? Ash? Thank God they were safe.

“Dex, I’m here, sweetheart. I’m here.” Sloane gently hugged him close, one hand around Dex’s back, the other cradling Dex’s head to him, enveloping Dex in warmth. Sloane was always so warm.

“I stayed awake,” Dex murmured, nuzzling his face against Sloane’s shirt, inhaling his scent. He smelled so good.

“You did good, babe. It’s okay.”

Dex nodded, or at least he thought he did. There was chaos around him, quiet chaos. He could hear the many whispers, the orders given to span out and search. All Dex cared about was that the man he loved had come for him and he was once again in Sloane’s arms. Now safe, the darkness came for him.

Thick & Thin #8
Chapter One
BREATHE. JUST breathe.

Hadn’t he been here before?

Dex leaned against the bathroom counter, studying himself in the mirror. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he’d stood in a bathroom not dissimilar to this one, staring at his reflection, wondering how his life had taken such a turn. So much had happened since then. A lot of bad, but a hell of a lot of good too. Much like that day at the courthouse, he now faced an uncertain future. The last few weeks had gone by in a blur—a whirlwind of chaos, heartache, and pain—like he’d been swept up in a tornado of what-the-fuckery only to be spit out abruptly into an alternate universe. His existence was sharper. Images, colors, sounds, and sensations were brighter, louder, more profound.

On the outside, he looked like any other Human. His eyes were still blue, the same pale shade they’d always been. On the inside, however, he was anything but Human. He stared down at his hands, the same hands he’d used to kill Moros. Actually they weren’t. He sucked in a sharp breath at the pain of unsheathing his claws. Fuck. He had claws. Jaguar Therian claws, to be exact, and they were razor-sharp, capable of shredding through Human flesh with ease.

It had been days since his transformation. Since he’d… died. He hadn’t been able to process that before his dad was shot and Moros gutted. Now here Dex stood in a hospital bathroom, trying to find the courage to explain something to his family he had yet to wrap his head around. Then his eyes caught the silver band around his ring finger. He was getting married.

Dex’s heart swelled, and he couldn’t help his stupidly wide grin. That news would be much easier to share with his family, though Tony was obviously aware, considering he’d given Sloane the ring to give to Dex. His dad’s ring.

“You okay?” Sloane stood by the door, looking worried.

Man, how long had Dex been in here?

“Yeah.” The moment the word left his mouth, he shook his head and dropped his gaze to the sink. “No. No, I’m not.”

In two strides, Sloane was at his side, his arm around Dex’s back. The strength radiating from Sloane and his gentle touch soothed Dex like a balm to his soul, offering the solace he needed. Sloane turned Dex to face him, his arms wrapping around Dex’s waist.

“Talk to me.”

Dex inhaled deeply and released it slowly. It was okay. He was okay. “How am I supposed to explain to them what’s happened to me when I still don’t understand it myself? I mean, I understand what happened, but….” He lifted his gaze to Sloane’s. “We don’t know the full extent of it yet. We haven’t even had a chance to talk about it. I died, went to work the next day, Dad got shot, I killed a guy, got engaged, went to visit my parents’ grave—all in a span of two days. I’m trying not to freak out, and oh my God, what the fuck? What the fuck, Sloane?” He gulped a lungful of air. Oh shit. Was he having a panic attack? He laughed at the thought. He was not having a panic attack. He did not have panic attacks. Dexter J. Daley did not lose his shit. Fuckbunnies. “I think I’m about to lose my shit.”

“What would you like me to do?” Sloane’s voice was calm.

“I don’t know.” Dex pulled away and paced. This had never happened to him before. He got worked up. He had “diva fits” and blew his top, but he never panicked. Then again, he’d never been half Therian before. Or engaged. Or seen Tony bleeding out. “It’s too much.” His pacing picked up speed. “What do I do, Sloane?” He bent over and placed his hands on his knees, breathing in and out through his mouth. What the hell was going on? He was fidgety at the best of times, but this was different, like he was restless inside. His eyes widened as realization struck.

“What is it?” Sloane placed his hand on Dex’s back, and Dex straightened, facing him.

“This is how you feel, isn’t it? When shit gets too much for you? Like your insides are going to explode if you don’t move, if you don’t do something.”

Sloane stared at him, snapping himself out of it before nodding. “Yeah. My inner Felid gets restless.”

Dex swallowed hard. “Do you think… do you think I have one?”

“An inner Felid?” Sloane visibly shivered, and Dex cocked his head. “Sorry, I um, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I mean, when you’re born a Therian, you’re born with your feral half. Some believe it’s like a second soul. It’s a part of you. If he was there, you would know it. Believe me.”

“But scientifically,” Dex said as he started to pace again, “it’s part of your DNA, which is now part of my DNA. So would I have one? And if I do, would he be yours, or would he be mine, or a mix of both?”

Oh God, his head hurt. What if he did have a feral half somewhere deep inside him? He’d have to, wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t that explain his claws and fangs and—

Dex came to an abrupt halt. “What if that’s what was happening when I lost it with Shultzon? When my fangs came out for the first time and I hissed, it was like I wasn’t myself. What if I wasn’t myself?” Crap, he just made things worse. He could handle his DNA changing, and with time he’d get used to being part Therian, but to have an inner Felid? To have another… soul? Was that possible?

“Babe, stop.” Sloane pulled Dex into his arms and held him tight. Dex tried to push away at first, too restless to stop moving. But Sloane’s warm breath against Dex’s temple, the feel of Sloane’s strong arms, and the sound of his heartbeat stilled Dex, calming something inside him. He closed his eyes. Sloane was right. All he was doing was driving himself crazy with unanswered questions. He’d find out the answers in time.

Sloane stroked Dex’s hair and swayed gently, comforting. His scent was thick, enveloping Dex in a bubble of familiarity and safety. Whatever happened, Sloane would be at his side to help him work through it.

“It’ll be okay,” Sloane promised.

Dex sighed and wrapped his arms around Sloane. His future husband was right. The thought made him smile. He was such an idiot. Here he was worrying about something he had no control over, rather than embracing it. Yeah, it was kind of terrifying, but he had Sloane to understand him and help him through all the crazy. Everything would be okay. He pulled back just enough to look into Sloane’s amber eyes. They were filled with so much love.

“You have every right to be nervous, but think about it for a second.” He kissed Dex’s temple, nuzzling his hair afterward. “They’re your family, Dex. They love you.”

With a smile, he met Sloane’s gaze. “You mean our family.”

“Our family,” Sloane agreed, giving Dex a kiss that was both sweet and sinful. When Sloane pulled away, he inhaled sharply as he looked into Dex’s eyes. “Shit.” He let out a soft laugh. “That’s going to take some getting used to.”

Dex needed to learn to control that if he was going to keep his secret. His eyes seemed to change when he got emotional or worked up. “What do they look like?” He tried not to appear too nervous.

Sloane didn’t hesitate. “They look beautiful, but then everything about you always is.”

“Well, now you’re just trying to get in my pants.”

Sloane laughed. He placed his hand to Dex’s cheek, his lips brushing over Dex’s in a feathery kiss before he brought Dex up against him, his mouth gentle but hungry, like he couldn’t get enough of Dex or the taste of him. It made Dex’s toes curl, and he dug his fingers into Sloane’s arms, allowing himself to be consumed by the man’s love and warmth.

“You two wanna get a room or something? People shit in here.”

Dex wrinkled his nose and pulled away to peer around Sloane at Ash making his way to one of the urinals. “You’re a paragon of gentility.”

Ash shrugged. “Hey, I know you get off on doing it in other people’s bathrooms, but this is a hospital, man. Just saying.”

“On that note,” Dex grumbled, giving Sloane a quick kiss. “I’m gonna go. I’ll call you when I’m done. Make sure he washes his hands.”

“Fuck you,” Ash growled at him from over his shoulder. “I always wash my hands. And I respect people’s bathrooms, you turd.”

“Well, you’re in the right place for that.” Dex laughed, running out of the bathroom to the sound of Ash’s curses and threats. Outside, he let out a sigh of relief. That was more like it. He felt like himself again. Straightening his shoulders, he held his head high and strode toward his new future.

“All right. Let’s do this.”

Darkest Hour Before Dawn #9
Chapter One
“SPREAD OUT, and watch your backs.”

Seb motioned for his partner, Dom, to follow him as the rest of Theta Destructive split off into pairs, with Peyton, Brianna, Lee, and Zoey in their Therian forms. They spread out through the trees, and Seb was grateful for the sunny day despite the biting chill in the air. In a couple of days, March would give way to April, which accounted for the temperature rising from polar ice caps to just above meat locker. In Seb’s opinion, spring couldn’t come quickly enough. Winter wreaked havoc on his joints, especially his bad knee.

“What did you get your boy for his birthday?” Dom asked from behind his raised tranq rifle as he scanned the woods around them.

“I still have two weeks.” Seb held his rifle at the ready as they approached the pagoda where the four tiger Therians had last been spotted. “Sort of. I’ll find something this weekend.”

They were getting closer. Seb could feel it. They needed to round up these assholes before anyone else got hurt, especially since the perps were running out of places to hide. THIRDS agents managed to shrink the original perimeter around Prospect Park down to the boathouse, the pagoda, and Binnen Bridge. Cornering Felid Therians never went well.

“You’re the only guy I know who buys presents for his ex,” Dom said, stopping in his tracks. “Did you hear that?”

Seb didn’t tear his gaze away from the path ahead as he tipped his head toward a tree to his left. “Squirrel.”

Dom nodded, then moved forward, muttering something about furry pains in the ass.

Theta Destructive along with several other teams had been called after a shooting outside an auto club on Empire Boulevard led to one death, two injured, and four tiger Therians leading THIRDS agents on a chase through Prospect Park. Human agents cleared the park while Therian agents in their Therian forms sniffed out the perps, formed a perimeter, and hastily began to close in to reduce the square footage. Everyone knew parks provided the best cover to hide in. Unfortunately, parks were filled with citizens, tourists, pets, and wildlife. It was a security nightmare.

“Dex buys presents for his ex,” Seb pointed out, smiling at Dom’s snort.

“Are you seriously using Dexter J. Daley as an example of rational behavior?”

“Right.” Seb chuckled. “What was I thinking. Anyway, you know Hudson is more than an ex-boyfriend.” Dom knew a hell of a lot more than that. He was one of two people Seb had bared his soul to in his lifetime. Hudson was the first, and as of three months ago, Dom became the second.

“Cutting it kind of close, aren’t you? What did you get him last year?”

Seb peered into a thick brush of shrubbery, but nothing stirred. He needed to be careful, making sure to sniff out their fellow agents so he didn’t accidently shoot a tranq into one. Of course, that would only happen if the Therian attacked, pretty much assuring him it wasn’t one of their own.

“I got him this really nice, soft, blue robe that matched a pair of TARDIS boxer shorts he loves, and some fuzzy slippers.”

Dom snickered. “The doc is such a nerd.”

Seb couldn’t help his dopey grin. “Yeah.”

“Did he like it?”

“Are you kidding? He practically lives in it. He’s a wolf Therian, remember? They love fluffy, cozy stuff.” Unlike Seb, Hudson’s favorite seasons were fall and winter. During the cold weather, Hudson wasn’t content to simply sit or lie on the couch under a blanket. Nope. He’d draw his legs onto the couch and wrap up like he was cocooning himself, with only his face exposed, and even then he’d pull the blanket over his nose so it wouldn’t get cold. Hudson hated having a cold nose. Fuzzy blankets brought out his Therian side like nothing else. It was the most adorable thing Seb had ever seen. Movie nights always included a host of snacks and a nest of blankets.

The air changed, and Seb stilled. Dom followed his lead, coming to a halt beside him. Seb tapped his nose and motioned ahead to the woods behind the pagoda. He was picking up two very distinct tiger Therian scents—neither THIRDS agents. Dom motioned to the right, and Seb gave him a curt nod. Seb would take the left.

Silently he stalked through the trees, listening for sounds not meant to be there. Wind rustled the leaves, water trickled somewhere in the distance, and birds chirped. A squirrel bounded from one tree to another. Seb’s pulse picked up, and his muscles tensed as he hunted. The scent drew closer, and he followed it to a thick patch of shrubs. Finger on the trigger, Seb approached as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He spun on his heel, and a near three-hundred-pound tiger Therian barreled into his knee head-on.


Pain exploded through Seb’s body as he slammed onto the ground, his helmet cracking against a cluster of rocks, momentarily stunning him. The blow to his head was nothing compared to the electrifying burst of sheer agony shooting through his leg. He blinked away the tears and sucked in a sharp breath. His lungs burned from the gulps of air he rapidly dragged in. He couldn’t black out. Not now. A feral growl got him moving, and his adrenaline spiked. If he stayed on the ground, he was dead. The tiger Therian shook himself before charging again, and Seb was still down.

Three tranq darts to the neck and a punch across the muzzle, and the tiger Therian was out. Good thing, considering Seb was still seeing stars. His muscles rippled with spasms, and he gritted his teeth. He felt as though his ligaments and tendons were being torn from his bone. As though someone had taken a hammer to his kneecap. He cursed his genetics for the thousandth time—not that it helped.

Seb was always careful in the field, as careful as someone in his position could be, and although he’d suffered plenty of injuries, it was the first time some asshole had head-butted his knee. If Seb had been a Human, something would have shattered. Instead, it only felt as if it had. The pain was blinding, and he was faintly aware of Dom hauling ass in his direction. Damn it, what now?


A roar had him rolling onto his side, plowing through the pain and pushing up onto his good leg, putting all his weight on it. He needed a second to get his bearings, but the tiger Therian speeding toward him wasn’t going to give him that chance. Two darts stuck out of its neck, but adrenaline was helping it push through, and with Dom being chased by a third tiger Therian, Seb was left to deal with this bastard. One wrong move, and it was over.

Seb readied his rifle, cursing under his breath when the last tiger Therian showed up, barely missing Dom as it leaped from the shrubbery.

“Fucking fuck!” Dom pulled a move worthy of any NFL running back, turning sharply and throwing his gloved hand to the ground to keep from keeling over face-first. He regained his balance and took off toward Seb just as a round of hair-raising roars resounded through the trees. Seb grinned.

Lee was the first through the trees, his mane providing protection when one of the perps tried to snap at his neck and got nothing but a mouthful of fuzzy mane. A second bite was thwarted by Brianna, her slender cougar Therian frame landing on the larger tiger Therian, claws outstretched. The perp’s pained roar shook the trees around them.

Peyton and Zoey leaped from the greenery, fangs bared as they each faced off against a perp. Zoey was slightly smaller than the three male tiger Therians around her, but she was by no means the least fierce. In fact, Seb was glad he wasn’t on the receiving end of her fury. Zoey could take down a Therian twice her size, no matter what form they were in, and she wouldn’t even break a sweat.

Peyton eclipsed everyone, a gentle giant who stood at seven and a half feet tall and weighed three hundred and twenty pounds. He was the largest Felid Therian in Unit Alpha. Of course, right now, Peyton was anything but gentle. Not when defending his team.

“Get on the ground!” Dom demanded over the roars and hisses, his rifle aimed at one of the tiger Therians circling Peyton. The guy was hesitant to attack Peyton—so not a total idiot.

Realizing they were outmuscled, the three tiger Therian perps submitted, mewing and backing away to flop on the grass. Dom radioed for backup, and two BearCats pulled up onto the path to their right. Their back doors opened, and Human agents flooded out. Seb left them to round up their perps and get them into the cages. He turned to his Therian teammates.

“Collect your partners and get PSTC.”

Lee trotted off, his mane swishing majestically, while Brianna bounced behind him, playfully swatting at his tail. Lee didn’t pay her any mind. Zoey whizzed by them, and Lee grunted. He took off after Zoey, unwilling to be left in her dust, and Brianna was quick on their heels. Peyton, as usual, wasn’t interested in his teammates’ shenanigans. He released a huff and leisurely sauntered after them. Dom stayed behind, and Seb braced himself. He knew what was coming.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Seb assured him. “Just knocked the wind out of me.”

Dom pressed his lips together in a thin line. He wasn’t buying it, but Seb was in too much pain to care. With teeth gritted and jaw set, Seb headed in the direction his team had gone. Thankfully, Angel hadn’t parked the BearCat very far. Instead of fighting the pain, Seb let it wash over him. He’d lived with physical discomfort and pain the majority of his life. It went with being a Pre–First Gen Therian. Granted, this was a hell of a lot worse than his usual bad days, but he wouldn’t let his team know the extent of it. He straightened to his full height and squared his shoulders as he walked.

They all knew about the nerve and tissue damage to his leg. He was hardly the only Pre–First Gen at the THIRDS with health issues, but if his leg gave up the ghost, he’d be pulled off Defense, and he’d worked too damned hard to make Team Leader to give it up now.

“You okay, boss?” Cat asked, studying Seb as he approached.

Seb smiled and gave her shoulder a pat. “I’m good. Wasn’t expecting to be used for a bowling pin.”

“Must have learned it from Lee,” Zoey said with a delicate snort. Having received PSTC and not eaten anything substantial yet, Zoey was in rare form, and as usual, Lee was the target.

Oh boy. Here we go.

“Fuck off,” Lee grumbled before taking another swig of his Gatorade. “Not all lion Therians do that.”

“What? Use their heads?” Zoey arched an eyebrow at Lee. “Ain’t that the truth.”

“Screw you, Z,” Lee snarled.

Screw was what those two needed to do before they drove everyone nuts. The only ones who seemed oblivious to the attraction were Zoey and Lee. They were always giving each other a hard time. Seb hoped his team wasn’t going the route of Destructive Delta. He loved Sloane like a brother, but if he had to deal with all the relationship drama Sloane did, he might start thinking about early retirement.

Zoey rolled her eyes. “In your dreams.”

“All right, everyone in the truck,” Seb grumbled. He needed to sit his ass down. Of course, he wouldn’t be doing that until he reached his office, because once he sat down, getting up would require help, and weakness was something his team didn’t need to see in him.

As soon as they reached HQ, his team escorted the perps into their holding cells, where they’d be ordered to shift back into Human form. They’d receive Postshift Trauma Care, then get processed. Seb dropped his equipment off at his locker in the armory before heading upstairs to his office, greeting fellow agents along the way.

Beside him, Dom was quiet. Not a good sign. As the youngest of four sons born to a Cuban mother and Italian father, Dom joked he only had three volume settings—“loud,” “louder,” and “make sure they heard you over in Jersey.” When someone told him to bring it down, he just laughed in their face.

Finally they reached the office, and Seb gritted his teeth as he attempted to sit behind his desk. It required gripping the desk hard enough to turn his knuckles white and his good leg to ache in protest. Once his ass was in his chair, he felt marginally better.

“Let’s see it.”

“Dominic, we’ve discussed this,” Seb replied gently, schooling his expression. “I like you, but I don’t, like, like you.”

Dom was not impressed, judging by his expression. “Don’t be an ass. I know that’s going to be a real stretch for you, but just give it a try. Now let me see.” He reached for Seb’s knee, and Seb smacked his hand away with a growl.

Next to Hudson, Seb trusted no one more than Dominic Palladino, and no one was a bigger pain in his ass. Dom was a mother hen. He fussed over the team, treated them like his baby birds, even Peyton who could easily crush Dom’s skull with his bare hands. At some point, the team had lost the will to fight him on his mothering and accepted him as their surrogate father, some more begrudgingly than others.

“I said I’m fine. Stop fussing. What’re you, my husband?”

Dom let out a snort. “Fuck no. I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last dick left on the planet. I’d end up smothering you in your sleep.”

“Like you haven’t tried that already,” Seb said with a grunt, amused when Dom threw up his arms, cursing in Spanish, then Italian—meaning Seb was really trying his patience. Seb tried not to look so happy about it.

“Seriously, bro?” Dom’s face flushed a deep red, and he folded his arms over his expansive chest. “How many times do I have to tell you it was an accident? I knew I shouldn’t have bunked with you. Is it my fault you take up so much fucking space? I could’ve bunked with Peyton and still had more damn room in that bed than I did with you.”

“So now it’s my fault you pushed a pillow into my face while I slept?” Seb kept his features stoic, even if he was laughing his ass off on the inside.

During one particularly bad snowstorm, Theta Destructive and several teams in Unit Alpha were forced to sleep at HQ in the sleeper bays. The agents outnumbered the bays, so teams had to share. Seb got the bed, not because he had senior status on his team, but because of his leg and lower back. Dom decided to bunk with him because, well, it was Dom and he wasn’t “sleeping on the damn floor if there’s a bed”—he didn’t care who was in it.

Seb held back a smile. “I don’t know anyone who moves that much in their sleep and takes their pillow with them,” he managed with a straight face.

“So what? You’re the one who kept trying to spoon me.”

Seb shrugged. “I’m a cuddler.”

“Fine. Whatever.” With a huff, Dom marched over to his desk and dropped down in his chair. Seb grinned. Winding Dom up was too much fun. Of course, Dom gave as good as he got. Seb pulled up the file of today’s incident and added his account of events. An hour later and it was time for his team’s afternoon coffee run, this week being Angel’s turn. The man popped his head in with a smile.

“Hey, boss. The usual?”

“Yeah, thanks, Angel.”

Angel nodded. He turned his attention to Dom. “Dom Corleone?”

“No matter how many times you say it, Herrera, it still ain’t funny,” Dom griped. “If anything, I’m Clemenza.”

Seb and Angel looked at each other before having a good laugh.

“What? Seb’s obviously the Don, which makes me his oldest and dearest friend.”

“We haven’t known each other that long,” Seb reminded him, holding back a smile, “but continue.”

Dom flipped him off. “Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve known you for fucking eternity. Anyway, I’m also a great judge of character, have a keen eye for talent, and possess an unparalleled training record.”

“Nope.” Angel shook his head.

“I don’t see it,” Seb teased.

Angel snapped his fingers. “I know. Sonny.”

“You know what? Fuck the both of you. Go get me my cappuccino, and tell Dex if he hogs all the powdered chocolate, I’m going to tell Sloane how his midafternoon coffee runs include scarfing down a frosted donut bigger than his head. Seriously. How is that dude still alive with what he eats? I’ve never seen a Human polish off a whole Therian-sized burger, fries, and still have room for a milkshake.”

Angel nodded his agreement. “I think whoever put him together got the parts all mixed up and gave him a Therian stomach.”

Or he got mutated by his jaguar Therian boyfriend and is no longer Human. Of course, Seb wasn’t about to mention that.

Angel went off to get the rest of the team’s orders, and on his return, he was accompanied by a scowling Dex.

“How dare you try to come between me and my afternoon donut?” Dex placed his hands on Dom’s desk and leaned in to peer at him. “That powdered chocolate is mine, Palladino,” Dex rasped. “Debbie brings it for me as a thank-you. I practically delivered that woman’s child.”

“You stepped in as a Lamaze coach, like twice,” Dom drawled.

Dex straightened with a sniff. “That’s why I said practically. You’re not listening.”

“Oh, I’m listening all right. Listening to all the reasons I should call Sloane this second. Today was triple chocolate frosting with bacon bits, wasn’t it?” Dom put a finger to his earpiece, and Dex all but launched across the desk to grab Dom’s wrist.


“Yes?” Dom smiled sweetly.

Dex let his head hang in defeat. “I may have been a little hasty.” He straightened and wrinkled his nose. “Fine. I’ll tell Debbie I’m willing to share.” With a grunt, he walked out the door, then spun on his heel to glare at Dom, a finger pointed at him menacingly. “But this isn’t over, pal. I’m watching you.”

Dom waved a hand in dismissal. “Yeah, yeah. Less watching, more sprinkling chocolate powder on my cappuccino.”

Dex let out a snort of disgust before turning his attention to Seb. “Your partner’s a jerkface.”

Seb chuckled. “It must be my shower gel. I think it attracts them.” He thanked Angel for his coffee and told Dex to get lost.

“I know you love me,” Dex said in a singsong voice as he skipped off—literally skipped—to make mischief elsewhere. How Sloane kept up with that man was beyond Seb. He was already exhausted from the interaction.

Ignoring the crazy around him, Seb got back to work on his report and enjoyed his latte. He’d just signed off on the first set of documents when he looked up at Dom. He narrowed his eyes. Why was Dom grinning? Dom leaned back in his chair, his hands behind his head. Shit.

“What did you do?”

Dom waggled his eyebrows, and Seb’s frown deepened. This wasn’t good. What the hell had his asshole partner done now? Seb loved the guy, but sometimes he wanted to strangle him.

“Sebastian Hobbs!” a familiar voice demanded.

Seb’s jaw went slack. “You didn’t.”

Dom’s grin got bigger.

“You did! You narced on me?”

“Aw, are you mad?” Dom put a hand to his heart. “Well, tough shit. You brought this on yourself.” Dom jumped from his chair, smiling widely as he patted Hudson’s back. “Give ’im hell, Doc.” He moseyed off, leaving Seb to face one very pissed-off Brit.

Hudson planted his hands on his hips. He had that narrow-eyed, thin-lipped glare on his face. Seb was very familiar with it. There was a time Seb could coax that stern frown away with a few strategically placed kisses. The good doctor wasn’t easily deterred, but neither was Seb. He could be just as stubborn as his spirited little wolf. Especially when it concerned Hudson’s happiness. Unfortunately, happy was not what Hudson was at the moment.

“I have half a mind to give you a right earbashing. Get in my office. Now.”

Seb groaned. He waited for Hudson to turn around, but as Seb expected, Hudson didn’t budge. He studied Seb, waiting. The man was too smart for his own good. Unwilling to show Hudson how right he was, Seb clenched his jaw, put his weight on his good knee, and stood. The only Therian more pigheaded than Hudson was Seb, and Hudson was well aware of it. Hudson turned, cursing under his breath, and Seb did his best not to limp as he followed him out into the bull pen.

The agents didn’t bother pretending not to notice what was going on, and the majority of them looked on in amusement. Seb had a reputation for being a hardass, albeit a fair one. His fellow agents respected him for a variety of reasons. No one would dare challenge him, disrespect him, or fuck with him. Which was why they found this situation so damned entertaining. There was only one man in this building Sebastian Hobbs didn’t stand a chance against. One sole little wolf Therian who could make him quake in his boots.

Hudson Colbourn.

The best part? After all this time, Hudson still had no clue the power he had over Seb. His Lobito simply was who he was, and in Hudson’s eyes, Seb wasn’t a tiger Therian who had one hundred and thirty pounds on him or stood a foot taller than he did. Hudson was the only Therian Seb knew who didn’t tremble at Seb’s roar. He wagged his tail.

“What are you smiling at?” Hudson scolded. “I’m very cross with you.”

“I was just thinking about you wagging your tail.” Crap. He probably shouldn’t have said that.

Hudson stopped to gape at him. The few agents who’d heard Seb snickered. Poor bastards. Hudson turned his glare on them. It was pretty spectacular as far as glares went.

“Something you’d like to share, Agents?”

The huge Felid Therian agents stumbled and practically mowed each other down in their haste to get away. Seb pressed his lips firmly together to keep from laughing. For a sweet wolf Therian, Hudson could be pretty scary.

The elevator ride down to the forensics department was a silent one. Seb knew better than to make things worse by speaking. Once they arrived, he followed Hudson out and greeted the medical examiners and agents he passed. Most noticed Hudson first before giving Seb a sympathetic look, though he was pretty sure a few of those looks meant “better you than me.”

As Chief Medical Examiner, Hudson’s lab and office were the largest on the floor, taking up the whole end of the corridor. Although Hudson was part of Destructive Delta, his title and status meant he could oversee and take over any case in Unit Alpha. Sparks often had him working on several cases at once for various teams. They finally reached the last room on the right, Hudson’s private office. Once inside, Hudson hit the security panel, and the door swished closed behind them. He turned to face Seb and folded his arms over his chest, one eyebrow arched before he spoke.

“Drop your trousers.”

Gummy Bears & Grenades #9.5
Chapter One
SLOANE WAS overreacting. At least that’s what he kept telling himself. The situation wasn’t as dire as he was making it out to be. Plus, he had a whole support team in place, the majority of whom were highly trained agents. One was a TIN operative, for crying out loud. They all had his back. They knew what was at stake. How much trouble could one man get into?

“I think I should wear my work boots. They’re flame resistant.”

Oh dear God.

Sloane had to sit down. He sank into the armchair beside the closet while Dex tried to decide between his black designer boots and his THIRDS-issued military-grade combat boots.

“Babe?” Dex turned and chuckled. “Would you stop freaking out? It’s going to be fine.”

“Then why do you need the work boots?” How could Sloane not freak out when Dex was going to be out there without him? It wasn’t so much that he worried about Dex. Despite his mate being marked, Dex could handle himself. Sloane was confident in Dex’s skills. In fact, Sloane was proud of him. Proud of how far he’d come since his rookie days at the THIRDS. Dex had escaped Wolf, for heaven’s sake. No, he wasn’t worried about Dex. He was worried about everyone else. Their city was in danger of being thrust into chaos the likes of which it had never seen. Sloane wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready for his half-Therian mate to be out there without him.

Dex straddled Sloane’s lap, which made Sloane feel marginally better. A sweet kiss to his cheek, then the other, certainly helped. He closed his eyes as Dex brushed his lips against his temple, a feathery touch before Dex slipped his fingers into Sloane’s hair. The tension in Sloane’s shoulders eased, and he inhaled deeply through his nose, his mate’s scent like a soothing balm.

“It’s just a bachelor party,” Dex assured him.

“Your bachelor party,” Sloane murmured, enjoying Dex’s fingers in his hair. He’d have to cut it soon before Tony ended up doing it for him. He shuddered at the thought.

“You just thought about my dad cutting your hair again, didn’t you?”

Sloane opened his eyes to meet Dex’s sparkling blue gaze. He frowned. “He didn’t cut it. He butchered it. It was a traumatizing experience.” The snip of scissors still made him flinch.

“I know it was. It’s okay. No one’s going to lay a finger on your precious locks while I’m around.” Dex brushed his lips over Sloane’s. “Just think, in less than six months, you’re going to be Mr. Sloane Daley.”

Sloane couldn’t help his dopey grin or the way his heart soared at the thought. A part of him still couldn’t believe it was happening. He was getting married. Him. After Gabe’s death he’d resigned himself to a life without love, believing he was too broken to ever find someone who would want to keep him. Dex had challenged him in every way and proven to him how wrong Sloane was about himself, life, everything. Sloane couldn’t imagine his life without Dex. Smiling wide, Sloane slid his hands up Dex’s thighs to his waist, then wrapped his arms around his beautiful man. How had he gotten so lucky?

Glowing amber surged from Dex’s pupils, spreading through the brilliant blue. It stole Sloane’s breath every time. He put his hand to Dex’s cheek, mesmerized by the change. Everything about Dex enthralled him.

“You’re so beautiful.”

Dex’s sultry smile went right to Sloane’s groin. “Aw, you’re so smitten with me. I kinda like you too.”

“Yeah?” Sloane laughed softly. He took Dex’s hand and brought it to his lips for a kiss.

“Just a little,” Dex teased, wrapping his arms around Sloane’s neck.

Sloane hummed. “That so?” He slipped his hands down to Dex’s ass and gave his cheeks a squeeze before bringing Dex against him and his growing erection, making Dex moan. “Guess I’m going to have to try harder to change that.”

“Speaking of hard….” Dex ground his hips against Sloane’s, his breath hitching. “You trying to seduce me, Agent Brodie?”

“Trying?” Sloane stood with Dex in his arms, loving the quiet gasp Dex let out. He carried Dex over to the bed, then dropped him onto the mattress before swooping down to capture that pouting smile. God, he loved Dex’s mouth. Loved kissing his lips until they were pink and swollen. Sloane fumbled with Dex’s belt buckle as he growled against Dex’s mouth, “Maybe you need a little something to remember me tonight.”

Dex arched his back, his reply a gasp. “Yes.”

Sloane jerked Dex’s dress pants and underwear down before he got off the bed and grabbed the back of Dex’s knees. He tugged Dex over to the edge of the bed, yanked his pants off, and tossed them to one side of the bed. Needing to see as much of Dex’s naked body as possible, Sloane shoved Dex’s button-down shirt up his torso. He licked his lips at the muscles of Dex’s chest and the six-pack he now sported thanks to months of intense TIN training. Dex’s whole body was stronger, more defined, his biceps thicker, but that delicious tapered waist, the leanness Sloane loved, was still there.

“Sloane,” Dex moaned, his head back and his eyes closed as he palmed his hard cock. The sounds coming from Dex were decadent and sinful, moans and gasps he made because of Sloane only. Sloane grabbed the lube from the nightstand and quickly poured some onto his palm. He slicked himself before lining up. With a feral growl, he pushed inside Dex.

Dex’s mouth fell open in a silent cry, and Sloane sank deeper and deeper until he was settled against Dex’s ass. He wrapped an arm around Dex’s leg, his eyes never leaving Dex’s face as he pulled out and plunged back in. He leaned in, using his weight to pound into Dex, intent on making sure Dex felt him for hours.

“Feeling seduced yet?” Sloane asked, changing his angle and hitting Dex’s sweet spot.

“Oh God, yes!” Dex arched his back again, and Sloane moaned at the sight of Dex’s muscles tensing and the sound of his ragged breath as he came over his hand and abdomen. Running his fingers through the sticky mess, Sloane thrust his hips over and over, his release barreling through him. He growled out Dex’s name as his body tensed. He came inside Dex, and the heat and tightness around him, along with the force of his orgasm, had him doubling over between Dex’s legs. Needing to catch his breath, Sloane let his brow rest against Dex’s, smiling when Dex tipped his head back to brush his lips over Sloane’s.

“I love you,” Dex said softly, his fingers caressing Sloane’s jaw.

Sloane swallowed hard and turned his head, reluctant to give voice to his growing fear.

“Sloane? Talk to me, babe.”

“What if you get tired of it?”

Dex gently turned Sloane’s face so he could meet Sloane’s eyes. “Tired of what?”

“Of my feral half being so… possessive of you. Some guys hate it. I’m trying. I really am.”

“Sloane, I’m not ‘some guy.’ I’m your mate, and in a few months, I’ll be your husband. No one knows you and your feral half like I do. I know when you say I’m yours, or that I belong to you, you don’t really think I’m your property. You’re a good man, and I love how you love me. If I didn’t love you and all you are, just the way you are, I wouldn’t be here. We’re about to start a whole new adventure together, in more ways than one. I’m ready. I’m more than ready.” Dex’s beautiful smile, his eyes filled with so much adoration and certainty, chased the looming shadows from Sloane’s heart, like he always did. Even on his darkest days, Dex was a source of warm, radiant sunlight.

Dex’s smile grew wicked. “What do you say? Ready to unleash a whole new level of kickass on the world?”

“I’m a little terrified right now,” Sloane teased.

Dex waggled his eyebrows. “Come on, you know you want to.”

Sloane snickered. He nodded, sealing the deal with a kiss. “Wherever you go, I go,” Sloane promised.

“Sloane? Dex?” Seb called from downstairs, and Sloane sighed. Ash must have used his key to let himself and Seb in.

“I got no pants on,” Dex replied, and Sloane snorted out a laugh.

“We’ll wait down here.”

Sloane chuckled. He told Dex to stay put before grabbing the wet wipes from the nightstand, then handing them over so he could sort out Dex’s pants. With a smile, he handed Dex his bright orange boxer briefs, followed by his pants. Dex quickly dressed, tucking his shirt in and smoothing it.

Dex held out his arms. “How do I look?”

“Like you just got thoroughly fucked.”

Dex opened his mouth to reply, but no words were immediately forthcoming. “I’ll take it.” Chuckling, he walked over to the closet and picked up his dress boots. “I promise not to do anything that’ll make you regret asking me to marry you.”

“Nothing would ever make me regret asking you.”

Dex smiled sheepishly. “Can I get that in writing? Signed by a notary?” Sloane’s eyes went wide, and Dex patted his arm. “I’m kidding.”

Sloane followed him out of the bedroom and downstairs into the living room, where Seb and Ash were talking. They both stood and turned. Ash’s sniff was followed by a snort of disgust.

“Really, bro? One night. He’s out of your hair for one night and you couldn’t keep it in your pants?”

Dex winked at Ash on his way to the kitchen, where he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. Seb coughed and averted his gaze, his cheeks slightly flushed. Dex’s scent was kind of heady, but it would fade some as the night went on. It had been happening a lot more since the change to his DNA. He didn’t quite smell like a Therian, but he didn’t completely smell Human either.

Sloane shrugged. “Why should I?” Like he needed an excuse to have sex with his beautiful, sexy partner.

“You wanna maybe piss on him and mark your territory some more?”

“I wasn’t—” Sloane shut his mouth when he realized what Ash had said. In the kitchen, Dex almost choked on his water. He coughed and wheezed. Shit. Sloane took an interest in his boots, ignoring the silence in the room. At least until Ash burst into laughter.

“Holy shit, you didn’t? You did! You squirted Daley?”

“Charming.” Sloane wrinkled his nose. “It was a long time ago. I was in my Therian form, and we ran into some guy Dex had slept with in college or something. My feral half got a little… carried away, and it just sort of happened.” It had not been one of his better moments. God, he’d been mortified after he’d shifted back to Human form, and that was after several hours of Dex coaxing him to shift back.

Seb and Ash exchanged glances before falling into peals of laughter.

Sloane crossed his arms over his chest. “Whatever. Like you two aren’t as bad.”

Ash waved a hand as he got control of his laughter. “I have never had the urge to piss on Cael.”

“Because Cael’s a Therian and so is Hudson.” Sloane narrowed his eyes at his friends. A thought occurred to him, and he smiled evilly. “Maybe you haven’t had the urge to mark your boyfriends that way, but just try and deny that your feral halves haven’t had the urge to jump them while you were both in your Therian forms.”

The laughter died instantly.

Sloane grinned smugly. “That’s what I thought.”

Dex gaped at Ash. “Ew, dude, seriously? You want to jump my brother’s bones while he’s in his cheetah Therian form?”

“I don’t. My feral half wants to, and only while I’m in my Therian form. Jesus, Daley, what the hell’s wrong with you?” Ash shook his head as if he were trying to get away from the very idea.

Dex shuddered, then gagged. “Oh God, why? Why did you have to tell me that?”

Ash held up a hand. “Hey, in our felid forms, it’s perfectly natural. You know our animal instincts are at their strongest when we’re in Therian form.”

“There’s nothing natural about your lion ass humping a fluffy Chirpy.”

Ash rolled his eyes. “You’re an idiot.”

“This conversation has turned incredibly disturbing,” Seb said, shaking his head. “Why do things always get weird with you guys?”

Ash pointed to Dex. “That’s why.”

Seb’s expression was pained. “Can we not talk about humping in our feral forms? I would really appreciate that.”

The front door opened, and Hudson greeted them cheerfully. His smile quickly faded. “Why does everyone look so… distressed?”

“Because Ash wants to do my brother when he’s in his feral form,” Dex offered.

Hudson’s eyes went huge, and he gaped at Ash. He blinked and was suddenly in doctor mode, his expression turning sympathetic. “That’s not uncommon. Many Therians suffer from such conflicting emotions with regard to their feral halves and their partners. Perhaps if you discuss the matter with Cael, and even arrange for some roleplaying, you might—”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Ash grabbed Hudson’s shoulders. “Now you listen here, Doc. I am not going to fuck my boyfriend while he’s in his Therian form. I was talking about my Therian half and his Therian half.”

Understanding crossed Hudson’s features, and he let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, well that is perfectly normal. Every Therian goes through that, especially when a relationship is new.”

Dex studied Hudson. “Really? Did Seb ever try to mount you?”

Seb groaned and dropped his head into his hands. “Why are we still talking about this?”

Cael walked in and looked around. “What’s going on? What are you guys—”

They all shouted simultaneously, “Nothing!”

Cael started. “Geez, okay. Sorry I asked.” He turned his attention to Dex. “Everyone’s on their way. ETA five minutes.”

Dex nodded, and in all honesty, Sloane was a little relieved they were leaving. Who was he kidding? He was a lot relieved.

“I’ll see you guys outside. I just want a quick word with Seb and Ash.”

Dex nodded and ushered Cael and Hudson out, then closed the door behind them. Sloane turned to the only two who could possibly keep this evening progressing without incident. As soon as Cael had sent out the invites to Dex’s bachelor party, Sloane had contacted Seb and Ash and asked them to prepare.

“All right. What contingency plans have you two put in place should any Threat Level Fuchsia scenarios arise?”

Seb and Ash glanced at each other before turning their gazes back to Sloane. Their expressions didn’t bode well. Seb spoke up first.

“When you said prepare for tonight, I thought you meant make sure your boyfriend doesn’t get so drunk he strips down to his underwear and starts dancing on the bar, or try to keep him out of jail. I didn’t realize you meant put together an emergency tactical strategy.”

Sloane pinched the bridge of his nose. “Okay.” He looked up at Ash. “What about you?”

“Relax, bro. We got this.”

Sloane narrowed his eyes and leaned into Ash, sniffing him. “Have you already started drinking?”

Seb snickered, his laugh turning into a cough when Ash arched an eyebrow at him.

“No, smartass. I can handle your dorky fiancé.”

Seb didn’t even attempt not laughing this time. “You are so delusional, Keeler. We’re toast.”

“Speak for yourself. Cael might not be able to hold his booze, but your Brit is worse.”

Seb frowned at Ash. “Which is why you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re going to be able to keep an eye on Dex the whole night. The second some guy tries to put the moves on Cael, you’re going to lose your shit.”

“First, Cael can take care of himself. Second, excuse me while I laugh my ass off at you telling me I’m going to lose my shit over some dude hitting on my boyfriend. Since you got back from your honeymoon, you’ve been even more of a sap over Hudson than ever. It hurts my teeth just looking at you.”

Sloane sighed. “You two done arguing over who’s more ridiculous?”

“You’re right,” Ash said, smiling sweetly. “Because the answer to that would be you.”

How long had they known Dex? Had they not been present for the last three and a half years? The number of incident reports he’d filled out in the last year alone was staggering. Everything ranging from squirrel invasion to not-so-spontaneously combusting baked goods. How his boyfriend managed to get a scone to bring down a building was beyond him. Sloane didn’t care how stale the thing was, it shouldn’t have demolished an entire building. Thankfully the place had been condemned, and they’d received a minor scolding rather than getting their asses handed to them by Sparks.

“You think I’m overreacting?”

“Just a tad,” Seb admitted.

Oh, Sloane was so going to enjoy throwing their words back at them. “Okay. Go on. Have fun. I’ll notify my bank to have some bail money ready. If something blows up or comes crashing down, it’s on you two.”

Ash rolled his eyes. “And I thought Dex was the drama queen.”

“Get out,” Sloane grumbled, shoving them toward the door.

As soon as they were outside, Dex came over and kissed Sloane’s cheek. “Oh, I almost forgot. Dad’s expecting you for dinner.”

“Wait. What?” When did that happen?

“Dinner. Tony’s house. Have fun. If he asks you to play air hockey, just say no. He’s a wee bit competitive. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Sloane murmured absently. Dex headed back to Hudson and Cael as if he hadn’t just told Sloane he’d be hanging out with Tony the rest of the evening. On his own.

Sloane had known Tony for years, and yes, the man had been like a father to him, but this was completely different. Tony wasn’t just his sergeant and a father figure; he was Dex’s dad, his fiancé’s dad. Sloane quickly shook himself out of it. He was being a drama queen. Like he couldn’t handle Anthony Maddock. Whatever some believed, Tony wasn’t so scary. He was a regular guy who worked his ass off and loved his boys. Sure, he could be intimidating, but that was on the job, or if Sloane did something to warrant being on the other end of his wrath, like when Dex was kidnapped and tortured. This was good. They could talk. No problem. But first….

Sloane shot Tony off a quick text. Before he headed over to dinner, he had somewhere to be. And he wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Author Bio:
M/M romance author by day, artist by night, Charlie Cochet is quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse. From Historical to Fantasy, Contemporary to Science Fiction, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From hardboiled detectives and society gentleman, to angels and elves, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!


Smoke & Mirrors #7

Thick & Thin #8

Darkest Hour Before Dawn #9

Gummy Bears & Grenades #9.5

Tried & True #10(Coming December 2017)