Rack & ruin, p.13
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       Rack & Ruin, p.13
 

         Part #3 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  thing for Cael. Either step up, or someone else will.”

  “Like I said, I’m not gay.”

  “Bullshit. What the hell is going on with you?”

  Ash bolted to his feet. “You and your boyfriend need to get off my fucking back. I know what I’m doing. Just keep those two away from me, okay?” Ash gritted his teeth, his fists clenching before his expression softened. “Please. Keep them away. I know I have no right to ask you for anything, but do me that one favor.”

  Sloane nodded slowly, though he had no idea what he was agreeing to, only that Ash was asking him to do something for him on faith. How was Sloane supposed to keep Dex and Cael away from Ash if they were all on the same team? And why was Ash so adamant about it?

  “Thanks. This was nice. For the most part,” Ash said quietly. Something buzzed, and he flinched. “I gotta go.”

  “Okay.” Sloane watched his friend walk away. The buzz had come from Ash’s pocket. His cellphone. Was it the Coalition calling? Is that where Ash was running off to? He tried not to think about what his best friend would be up to tonight. He picked up the bouquet of flowers tucked beside him on the bench and started walking along the edge of Sylvan Water. He stepped onto Sylvan Avenue, walking past the Egyptian pyramid, its entrance flanked by a statue of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.

  Sloane had numbly walked down this path more times than he cared to remember. Finally he was on Lake Avenue where, after a couple of feet, he veered off to the right. He could close his eyes and still find it. Gently he laid the bouquet of flowers on the freshly cut grass and looked past his reflection to the white letters chiseled into the gleaming black marble. The familiar lump in his throat was accompanied by an equally familiar ache in his chest, and although it still hurt, the pain had dulled. His lungs no longer burned when he inhaled, and his eyes didn’t sting. A part of him felt guilty for it, but his heart told him it was time. He stood, and with a deep breath, he addressed Gabe’s tombstone.

  “You probably know why I’m here. If you could hear me, talk to me, you’d probably ask me what the hell took me so long. Then you’d tell me what’s been in my heart for months now. I know you’d want me to be happy, and I am. When you left, I thought you’d taken everything I had with you. Dex helped me see how wrong I was. You left everything there for me to give to someone else crazy enough to love me. I’ll never forget you, Gabe.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a long chain, the small dog tags clinking together.

  Sloane didn’t bother to hide the tears in his eyes. He smiled and let out a shaky breath before placing the dog tags on the tombstone. He put his fingers to his lips for a kiss before moving them to the black marble. “Good bye, sweetheart. Thank you for everything.”

  Sloane barely slept that night. He was too worried over whether he’d fucked things up with Dex for good. There was only so much someone could take before they walked out on you. At least that was Sloane’s experience. The next morning at HQ after he’d showered, changed into his uniform, and hit the canteen for coffee, he’d been working up his courage to speak to Dex when a call came. Another dead body. The Coalition was at it bright and early, and this time it was really bad. Where Therians were concerned, dead wasn’t the worst that could happen to a victim.

  Initially Sloane had intended on talking to Dex last night, but he’d needed some time. Dex had given him his space. He hadn’t called, but he’d left Sloane a text telling him he was there if Sloane wanted to talk. Even with Sloane hurting him, Dex was still there to offer his support. He met the rest of his team in the armory as they geared up, and he headed for his locker beside Dex’s.

  “Hey.” God, he sounded like such an idiot. He felt like an idiot. And a jackass.

  Dex gave him a solemn smile. “Hey.”

  “Be careful.” He always said that to Dex when they headed out. Usually Dex followed it with a joke or flirty remark. Now Sloane only received a nod. Sloane waited for their teammates to start for the corridor leading to the parking garage before he took Dex’s arm. His partner stopped and patiently waited for him to say whatever he was going to say.

  “I know we don’t have time now, but can I come by tonight? Please.”

  There was a slight pause before Dex nodded. “Sure.”

  The fact Dex hadn’t asked what it concerned didn’t bode well. Dex hated waiting, especially when it was in regards to their relationship. There was so much Sloane wanted to say, but now was not the time. They headed out, most of the team chatting away in the BearCat. It was good to see Calvin and Hobbs talking again. Well, Calvin talked, Hobbs mostly listened, but at least the two were communicating again, though there was still something missing. Calvin seemed to have lost some of his lightheartedness, and Sloane wondered what could have caused it. Cael was chatting with Rosa and Letty while Ash seemed to be lost in thought.

  Sloane’s own thoughts started edging toward Ash working with the Coalition. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe Dex, but something had to be going on there. There were a lot of things Ash could be accused of, but a traitor working for the Coalition? Whatever he was mixed up in, Sloane hoped they got to the bottom of it before Ash found himself so deep there was nothing Sloane could do for him.

  The BearCat pulled up to a pizzeria at the intersection of Old Fulton Street and Front Street with the area having been secured by Recon before Defense Agents arrived. There were tactical vehicles and flashing lights everywhere. Additional teams from Unit Alpha had their Defense agents posted around the taped-off area making sure no one got in. Just outside the restaurant was the forensics tent. That could only mean one thing. Sloane and Dex slipped inside the tent and found Hudson and Nina crouched over a zipped-up black body bag. There were bloodstains where all the blood had pooled covering the sidewalk.

  Hudson took hold of the zipper, pausing to look from Sloane to Dex. “I hope you lads had a light breakfast.” He unzipped the bag, and Dex turned away, his fist to his mouth to keep himself from throwing up.

  “Jesus.” Sloane nodded, and Hudson quickly zipped the bag back up. “Where’s the rest of him?” Nina pointed over to a second black bag.

  Fucking hell. The guy had been shredded beyond recognition with his lower body having been torn off. It was clearly the work of more than one feral Therian and, from the looks of it, two large Felids. His thoughts immediately went to the tiger Therian and cougar Therian hunting with the Coalition the day they’d found Cristo.

  “Any ID?” Sloane asked.

  “We’ll have to wait for dental records to come in. There was no wallet or personal belongings found among the remains.”

  “Witnesses?”

  Nina’s frown deepened. “If there were, no one’s come forward. Recon’s working on it.”

  The CSAs mounted the body bags onto a gurney, and they all headed out of the tent. A familiar white-and-blue van rolled up to the scene, and Hudson groaned.

  “Bloody hell. Here we go. Nina, let’s get this body out of here right away.”

  “Got it.”

  “Fucking reporters.” Sloane tapped his earpiece. “Sarge. Press is here.”

  “I’ll handle it.”

  Sloane and Dex kept the area secure while they waited for Maddock to deal with the press. Of course, that didn’t stop reporters from trying to get Sloane’s attention. It’s as if they knew of his aversion to them.

  “Agent Brodie! Are the THIRDS even trying to catch the Coalition? Or are you glad they’re doing your work for you?”

  Sloane pressed his lips together to keep himself from telling the guy to fuck off.

  “Do the THIRDS have any leads on the Coalition at all? Was the victim a member of the Order?”

  Maddock pulled up in his black Suburban, and Sloane thanked his lucky stars. He headed for the BearCat with Dex close behind. Sloane needed to get back to HQ to start piecing this mess together. Their first victim was a member of the Order. The Coalition happened to show up chasing some other members of the Order, and Cristo ended up shot in
the head. Now this victim had been shredded by two large Felids. He needed to know if the Coalition had been seen in the area. He also needed to know the identity of their victim. If he was a member of the Order as Sloane’s gut was telling him, then there was more going on here than they thought.

  The rest of the day had been filled with reports and briefings. Maddock took Sloane’s gut feelings very seriously, and Recon was working on gathering all the intel they could on their latest victim. If these two killings weren’t coincidental, Sloane wanted to know what was so special about these men. Was the Coalition simply escalating the violence, or was it something else? If they were stepping things up, why bother making the first murder look like an accident?

  Chapter 10

  “HI.”

  “Hey.” Dex stood to one side to let him in, then closed the door behind him. Walking into the living room, Sloane noticed the TV was off, which for anyone else wouldn’t have been unusual, but not for Dex. The only time Dex ever turned his TV off was when he wasn’t feeling well or when he was thinking. Sloane had a pretty good idea what Dex had been thinking about, especially since he could hear the drums and cymbals of a power ballad floating up from the speakers. His stomach flip-flopped, and he figured the sooner he got it out the better it would be for both of them.

  “Dex, what you said in the office—”

  “It’s fine. Forget it.” Dex headed for the kitchen, and Sloane followed, gently touching Dex’s arm in case his partner wanted to pull away from him. He didn’t. With a sigh, Dex turned, folded his arms over his chest, and leaned against the counter. Waiting. Was he expecting more excuses from Sloane? An apology that would inevitably lead to yet another apology? A vicious circle of Dex putting his heart out there for Sloane to crush before disappearing and crawling back?

  “I don’t want to forget it. I know things between us would be a lot easier if I wasn’t so fucked-up—”

  “You’re not,” Dex stated firmly. “You’ve been through a lot, and I understand that. I don’t expect you to feel the same, and I don’t want you to say something you don’t mean. Hell, even I know it’s too soon, but….” Dex shrugged and shoved his hands into his jeans’ pockets. “I can’t help it. You made it easy.”

  “Easy? I’ve made it anything but easy for you.” Sloane stepped up to him, his hands slipping around Dex’s waist to hold him. How could he need someone so badly yet be so terrified of getting close to him?

  “You don’t get it.” Dex looked up at him, his eyes filled with so many promises, and unlike Sloane, Dex would never let him down, never run from him or from them. “I know this is going to sound cheesy, but the moment you showed up on my doorstep, drunk off your ass and in so much pain, I was gone, man. I’d like to say I don’t know what it is about you that had me taking a swan dive into an empty pool, but I do know.”

  “Tell me,” Sloane said quietly, not merely wanting to know, but needing to know. His fingers stroked Dex’s jaw, feeling the stubble growing in. Scruffy looked good on Dex.

  “The way you fight with everything you’ve got, even when it’s against yourself. Doesn’t matter how much pain you’re in, you keep fighting. I admire that.”

  “Feels like I’ve been fighting my whole life.”

  “No matter how many times you walk away, you keep coming back. To me. And don’t get me wrong, I hold onto that, but I have to tell you it hurts like fuck when you do that.”

  “I know.”

  “Do you?”

  “I don’t want to hurt you, Dex, and I hate how this is going to sound like an excuse, but it’s not. I want you to understand.”

  “I’m listening.”

  “All my life, whenever something or someone good came along, I couldn’t let myself get too close, because I truly believed nothing good could ever last. Even with Ash, it took me a long time to accept he was going to stick by me as long as it was in his power to do so. At the end of a good day, I’d be too scared to go to sleep, thinking everything would fall apart come morning. I’ve never been in this position before.”

  “Neither have I.”

  “What about Lou? You two were together for four years.”

  “I know. And I cared about him. A lot. Really cared about him. But I wasn’t in love with him. He never gave me butterflies in my stomach just from him looking at me. Never made me feel like a horny teenager itching to touch him every time I saw him. He’d go on trips, and yeah, I’d miss him, but I never felt like he’d taken a part of me with him.”

  Sloane swallowed hard at the last part. Did Dex really feel as if a piece of him was missing when Sloane was away from him?

  “After Lou broke up with me, my dad told me he wasn’t the one. I’d gotten defensive at the time and asked him why he thought that. He said because when I love something, I throw myself into it completely.” The flush on Dex’s cheeks warmed Sloane’s heart. “And he was right. Being with Lou was easy. It was comfortable. With you….” He averted his gaze and shook his head at himself. “I could have held back, but I didn’t want to. The more time I spent with you, the more I knew there was no use fighting it.”

  The eighties power ballad switched to a modern love song, quiet and lulling. Dex started to sway, and Sloane followed his lead. He wrapped his arms around Dex’s waist, and they rested their heads together. Sloane closed his eyes, smiling when he heard Dex’s soft voice singing to him about being there and patiently waiting.

  “I know I don’t deserve it….” Sloane put his fingers to Dex’s lips to stop the protest he was certain would come. “I don’t. But can you say it anyway?” Dex nodded, and Sloane moved his fingers away.

  “I love you.”

  It was the shy smile afterward that broke Sloane. Cupping Dex’s face, Sloane kissed him with all the hunger and tenderness he possessed. He might not be able to define what he was feeling, to make sense of the overwhelming emotions Dex brought out in him, or to explain the hope that flowed through his veins telling him that maybe he wasn’t as fucked-up as he believed, but he could show Dex that whatever was inside him was fierce and threatening to tear him apart. All for the man in his arms. Because of him. He’d been honest with Dex, telling him he’d never been in this position before, but damn, he was glad he was here.

  Dex kissed him just as passionately in return and pressed his body to Sloane’s, silently pleading. Fire raged inside Sloane, and he couldn’t get close enough to Dex. He wanted to feel Dex inside him. Wanted to be consumed by him. He pulled back, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he tried to catch his breath. With a smile, he took Dex’s hand and rushed to the stairs with him. They ran up to the bedroom and tore at each other’s clothes, leaving a trail of shoes, jeans, and shirts on the way to the bed before they dropped down onto it.

  Sloane rolled over Dex, his fingers in Dex’s hair as he did his damnedest to devour Dex. He trailed kisses over Dex’s face, down his jaw to his neck where Sloane closed his mouth around Dex’s collar bone and sucked. He wanted to mark Dex. Even if no one else could see, Sloane would know the mark was there. That Dex was his. Dex trembled beneath him as if he was privy to Sloane’s thoughts. He tilted his head back, exposing his neck further to Sloane. To a Felid, the neck was the most vulnerable part of the body. Sloane’s hand slid up Dex’s smooth, tan skin to his neck, and his fingers wrapped around it. Dex moaned. Did he know how he was exposing himself? The Felid inside Sloane stirred. At that moment Dex’s eyes opened, and he looked right into Sloane’s eyes.

  “I’d put my neck in your jaws without a second thought,” Dex said hoarsely, his eyes reflecting fire and a trust the likes of which Sloane had never seen. Without hesitation, Sloane reached over to the nightstand, dug in the top drawer and came back with the bottle of lube. He handed it to Dex.

  “Fuck me.”

  Dex stared at him. He took the bottle from Sloane and nodded.

  Sloane had never bottomed before. Not because he had any kind of hang-ups about it. He simply never felt comfortable enough with someone
to let his guard fully down. To trust someone so completely he’d give himself over to them. Now he did. He trusted Dex completely. Sloane changed his position. He grabbed a pillow and shoved it under his hips, hearing Dex’s soft curses behind him, followed by a sharp intake of breath when Sloane lowered himself to his stomach and spread his legs.

  The mattress shifted as Dex positioned himself between Sloane’s legs. Sloane concentrated on steadying his breathing and relaxing the tension in his muscles. He heard the pop of the lube’s cap, heard the liquid being squeezed out and the cap once again closed. The mattress shifted again, and he felt Dex’s lips press to his searing skin. Sloane groaned and squirmed as Dex left kisses on his neck, shoulders, down his back, his tongue poking out to trace a line down Sloane’s spine to his ass. A slick finger pressed into him, and Sloane bucked.

  “Dex, please.”

  “Relax. It’s okay. I’ve got you.”

  It was an odd sensation, feeling Dex’s fingers inside him, but Sloane relaxed just as Dex asked because he believed Dex. The sound of Dex moaning as he spread the lube over his dick had Sloane painfully hard, and he thrust against the pillow. Soon, a warm hand pressed gently down on Sloane’s lower back. A sharp sting that had Sloane hissing followed it. He gritted his teeth at the pain of being penetrated. Dex moved slowly, taking care with him, murmuring soft words of encouragement as he pushed inch by excruciating inch. Sloane sucked in a breath, and Dex paused.

  “Don’t stop,” Sloane pleaded and was relieved when he felt Dex once again pushing in until his partner was buried to the root, stretching and filling him. The pain soon gave way, and Sloane pushed his ass up and back, hissing at the delicious friction. “Oh God. Dex….”

  On his cue, Dex moved his hips, sliding in and out until he had a steady rhythm. His hands caressed Sloane as he moved against him. He draped himself over Sloane’s back.

  “You don’t have to run anymore,” Dex murmured, his fingers lacing with Sloane’s. “Stay. Right here with me.” He gave Sloane’s fingers a gentle squeeze before letting go to move down Sloane’s body. Dex pressed his lips to the back of Sloane’s neck again, his kisses sending a shiver through him. His skin beaded with sweat, and he felt as if he might melt through the mattress.

  Their sex was usually heavy, hard, and fast. It was fun and hot as hell. This time was different. This time it shook Sloane down to his core. He felt every breath against his skin, every fiery caress. His muscles bunched and strained, his body felt as though it was about to shatter, his heart ready to break. For a slip of a moment, he almost panicked, afraid he couldn’t take the intimacy or unspoken promises Dex offered. Just as the thought entered his mind, he felt Dex’s weight once again, as if he’d known what Sloane was thinking. Kisses landed beneath his ear before Dex snapped his hips, and Sloane gasped.

  “Again,” Sloane pleaded, reaching underneath himself to wrap a hand around his painfully hard erection. Dex did as he asked, snapping his hips over and over, driving himself deep into Sloane with each thrust. Their breaths came out ragged, and Dex craned his neck to kiss Sloane, their lips delivering sloppy urgent kisses. The bed moved beneath them, and Dex’s movements grew erratic.

  “Sloane….”

  “Yes. Fuck. Do it.” Sloane was on the verge of coming himself, and he felt the pressure rising as Dex’s hips lost all rhythm. Dex straightened, and his fingers grabbed Sloane’s hips.

  “Oh God,” Dex moaned, the sounds of his heavy breaths and moans sending Sloane over the edge. He came, his muscles tightening around Dex’s cock. Dex let out a strangled cry as he came inside Sloane, the sensation drawing out Sloane’s orgasm. He fell into his release, loving the feel of Dex coming inside him. Once Dex was spent, he draped himself over Sloane again. His fingers tenderly stroked Sloane’s arms, his cheek nuzzling Sloane’s back.

  “We’re definitely doing that again,” Sloane said hoarsely.

  Dex chuckled, the rumble felt against Sloane’s back. “Any time.”

  “So what happens now?”

  “What do you want to happen?” Dex asked softly. It tugged at Sloane’s heart knowing Dex would do whatever Sloane needed. The only problem was, Sloane didn’t know what he needed.

  “Nothing. Everything. I don’t know.”

  “How about, we keep doing what we’re doing and see where it goes?”

  Sloane’s heart swelled in his chest. How had he wound up with such an amazing guy? Dex rolled off him, and Sloane followed. “Okay.” He reached behind him, took Dex’s arm, and pulled him close. He laced their fingers together and kissed Dex’s hand, smiling when Dex snuggled up close. As he closed his eyes and drifted off with Dex pressed up against his back and his arms around Sloane, he was reminded that not only did he trust Dex, but he was also coming to learn he could trust Dex to catch him when he fell. The thought wasn’t frightening at all. It was comforting. It was time he learned how to do the same for Dex.

  A sharp buzzing woke Sloane up in the middle of the night, and he reluctantly moved away from Dex to answer his phone. If it hadn’t been his work ringtone, he would have been tempted to ignore it.

  “Hello?”

  There was a groan, sharp intake of breath, followed by a low plea. “Sloane….”

  Sloane sat up, his pulse skyrocketing and his eyesight sharpening. “Austen? What’s wrong? What happened?”

  “I got too close. Can you… I think I might need some help. Lots of blood.”

  “Fuck. Okay. Where are you?” Sloane threw back the covers and jumped out of bed. He ran to the other side of the room to grab his clothes off the floor. “I’ll be there fast as I can. Why haven’t you called an ambulance?”

  “No. No hospitals.”

  “Austen—”

  “No hospitals. Bring one of your sexy medics.”

  Sloane couldn’t help his smile. “You got it. Hang in there.” The moment he hung up with Austen he called Rosa. She answered with a groggy “¿qué pasó?” but was instantly awake the moment Sloane relayed the information and Austen’s location. Sloane finished zipping up his jeans just when Dex sat up with a fierce yawn.

  “What’s going on?”

  “I have to go. Austen’s hurt. I think those Coalition assholes got their hands on him.”

  “Shit.” Dex shot out of bed and started getting dressed. “I’m coming with you.”

  It took a moment for Sloane to snap himself out of his flabbergasted state.
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