Rack & ruin, p.18
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       Rack & Ruin, p.18
 

         Part #3 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  were okay. Sloane explained what happened as they ate lunch, and afterward Ash and Dex argued over what was the best sandwich in Manhattan. It almost felt like any other day, though Sloane knew better. Something had changed. His concern for his team was growing. What was going to happen between Cael and Ash? And how would it affect the rest of the team? More importantly, what would Lieutenant Sparks decide? With Hogan still out there, none of them were safe.

  Whatever Sparks decided, Sloane would do whatever it took to protect his team.

  To protect Dex.

  Chapter 13

  “THIS WAS the best idea ever.”

  Dex was floating on a cloud of heavenly post-sex bliss. His body ached, his ass especially, but it was to be expected after Sloane finished pounding into him against the wall of the utility closet. Thanks to Bradley, Dex had his own personal key to the unused space in the quiet hall behind the bar. Now whenever he and Sloane visited Dekatria with the team, they could escape for some sexy-time. And a sexy time they’d had indeed.

  Sloane set Dex back on his feet and pulled him close to nuzzle his temple, his lips brushing down his cheek, leaving kisses in their wake. “We should get back to your party,” Sloane suggested. He delivered another heated kiss before pulling back and helping Dex right his clothes. “Besides, I don’t want to leave Ash on his own for too long.”

  Dex actually agreed. Ash was on leave, recovering from his gunshot wound. It had only been a few weeks, and he had a lot of recovery to do. Sloane had suggested his friend sit this one out, but Ash had been adamant. As of two weeks ago, Ash had been staying with Dex, sleeping on his sofa bed. Sloane refused to leave Ash on his own, and although the stubborn Therian tried to decline—complaining he didn’t need babysitting—Sloane put his foot down and refused to take no for an answer. Since Sloane spent most of his time at Dex’s anyway, and it was easier for Ash to move around in than Sloane’s apartment, Ash had reluctantly given in. Dex put the surrender down to Ash’s medication and need of recovery.

  Sloane slipped out of the utility closet first, giving Dex the okay to follow. They carefully made their way back to the party where Dex had invited fewer people in order to have a more intimate get-together rather than a crazed drunk-fest. Bradley—the new owner of Bar Dekatria as of a week ago—was happy to offer Dekatria as a venue, and it was awesome.

  There was music, food, drinks, karaoke, games, and folks dancing the Hustle while the disco ball above the dance floor leisurely spun, casting a blanket of glittering diamonds across the room. Rosa and Letty came running over to Dex and grabbed his hand, hauling him over to one of the tables where the biggest, most amazing pornographic cake ever was laid out. Dex doubled over laughing.

  Before him was the biggest puckered ass he’d ever seen. It came complete with balls and cock. Across the ass in white squiggly frosting were the words “Happy Birthday, Dex! We know how much you love it.”

  “You guys are fucking awesome.” Dex wriggled his eyebrows at Sloane and stuck his finger into the cake, defiling it while he made moaning noises. At least until Sloane shoved Dex’s face into it. Dex came up gasping and sputtering chocolate cake and frosting. He stared, stunned at his partner who was laughing his sexy little butt off. The sneaky bastard!

  Dex grabbed a piece of cake and smushed it in Sloane’s face. Everyone laughed and teased Sloane, asking him if he enjoyed the taste of ass. Bradley brought them over some wet towels, and they cleaned themselves up. Sloane gave Dex a wink, and everyone broke out into a horrible rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Dex blew out the candles and everyone cheered. He couldn’t remember the last party he’d had where he’d been this happy or had this much fun. Everyone grabbed a piece of asscake, avoiding the actual ass where Dex’s face had been buried. After cake and more booze, everyone went off to the dance floor.

  Dex had chosen a classic playlist with music from the seventies up to more modern tunes, which everyone seemed to be enjoying. Rosa and Letty were with their partners, and even Calvin and Hobbs were dancing. Well, Calvin was dancing, Hobbs was shyly moving along with him. Dex was glad to see Calvin smiling again. He didn’t know if they’d worked things out, but Calvin seemed content for now. Maybe he got tired of moping and missed his best friend. Dex had invited his dad, and after the horrified look left Tony’s face, his dad politely declined, saying he’d leave that sort of thing to the youngsters. Like he was old or something. It was just his way of excusing himself so he wouldn’t be there to see what god-awful situations his sons got themselves into. He made a compromise, stating he’d take Dex and Cael out for a family dinner over the weekend.

  Over at one of the tables, Ash sat on his own looking miserable. Dex felt bad for the poor guy. He took a seat across from Ash who was nursing a vodka and lemonade without the vodka thanks to his heavy-duty painkillers. Sloane took a seat beside Dex. He looked concerned for his friend.

  “Hey, big guy.” Dex smiled widely at Ash, receiving a grunt in return.

  “Can’t you two be around each other five minutes without needing to hump like bunnies?”

  Dex held back a smile. “‘Bunnies’ sounds weird coming out of your mouth.” Medicated Ash was more fun than un-medicated Ash. The guy had even had some cake. Of course, that had followed him telling Calvin to fuck off when Calvin asked him if he was going to sing along to “Happy Birthday.”

  “Your ex was looking for you,” Ash grumbled before taking a sip of his lemonade.

  “How is Lou?” Sloane asked Dex. “Did you tell him about Levi?”

  “I told him enough,” Dex replied. He was still trying to come to terms with Levi’s betrayal. Although he could understand the reasons behind it, he stood by what he’d told Sloane. There were other ways. How many people would Levi have sacrificed to get his revenge? “Lou was shocked, but somehow I don’t think he was all that interested in Levi to begin with.”

  Sloane looked surprised. “Really? He seemed interested at your party.”

  “He was being friendly. And I think he found Levi kind of hot. But he had his eye on someone else the whole time.” Dex motioned over to the bar where Bradley was leaning against the outside of it, flirting and laughing with Lou. There was a lot of subtle touching going on, and the space between them appeared to be quickly evaporating.

  “I think he was more interested in Bradley to be honest. He’s been asking me about him since that night he first showed up here.” Why Dex hadn’t realized was beyond him. Every time he’d spoken to Lou, Lou had asked if Dex had been to Dekatria. If he’d seen Bradley.

  “Why didn’t he introduce himself then or ask you to introduce him?” Sloane watched the two at the bar with interest.

  “Lou’s actually pretty shy when it comes to someone he likes. He told me it took him a month to gather up the nerve to ask me out. We’d been going to the same coffee shop and if he hadn’t said anything, I wouldn’t even have guessed he was interested in me. The guy never even made eye contact.”

  “Wow.”

  “I know. Bradley seems pretty smitten.”

  A few minutes later, Bradley had one of his bartenders bring over a tray full of drinks with some snacks for Ash since he couldn’t partake in the alcohol goodness. Cael came bounding over, and Dex wondered how many drinks his little brother’d had. From his wide smile, glassy eyes, and flushed cheeks, Dex would say a lot. That worried him. Cael wasn’t one to get drunk. Charmingly tipsy, yes. But not drunk.

  “Hey, big bro!” Cael threw his arms around Dex’s neck and gave him a squeeze. He looked over at the table and gasped. “Booze!” He grabbed one of Bradley’s foggy “specials” and downed it in one gulp before wheezing and coughing. “That was good.”

  “Hey, trouble.” Dex watched his brother jump up and plop himself down on the edge of the table, his feet not reaching the floor. He swung his legs back and forth and grabbed another drink.

  “Your party is awesome, Dex. Not that I ever doubted you.”

  “I’m glad you’re having fun,” Dex r
eplied, his gaze going to Ash who was concentrating awfully hard on his lemonade.

  “I am. I’ve been hanging out with Seb. The guy’s a fucking riot. And so hot!”

  Uh-oh. “Cael….” He didn’t want to sound like a jerk, but he was really starting to worry about his brother. Cael had a bad habit of making rash decisions when he was hurting.

  “What?” His brother frowned at him. “I can hang with whoever I want. It’s not like I’ve got a boyfriend or anything.”

  Cael’s harsh tone during the last part didn’t get past Dex. Judging by the grimace Ash gave, it hadn’t gotten past him either.

  “Seb’s a nice guy. I like talking to him. He respects me and doesn’t treat me like I’m a stupid kid.”

  Ash’s head snapped up. “I never treated you like you were a stupid kid, and I always respected you.”

  Dex braced himself. He felt Sloane’s hand rest on his knee under the table. Apparently Dex wasn’t the only one bracing himself.

  Cael smiled sweetly. “I’m sorry, Ash. You’re right. You’ve always treated me with respect. What I meant to say is that I like how Seb has the balls to go after what he wants.”

  Fucking hell. Sloane squeezed Dex’s knee. What exactly did his partner think Dex could do? Cael was old enough to do what he wanted. Dex glanced at Ash, expecting the larger Therian to get angry or lash out. Instead, Ash went back to staring at his drink. Now what? Dex was about to make an attempt to diffuse the situation when Seb showed up.

  “Hey, guys.”

  Everyone greeted him, some more enthusiastically than others. Seb didn’t seem to notice. He was too busy flirting with Cael. He poked Cael on his side, making Cael wriggle and laugh.

  “Damn it, Seb. I told you I was ticklish there.”

  “That’s why I do it,” Seb teased, leaning into Cael. “I like to see you squirm.”

  Well wasn’t this just craptastic. Not that Dex was against Seb flirting with Cael. In fact, Seb was a really good guy, aside from the fact he was still in love with Hudson. But then again, if Hudson wouldn’t give Seb the time of day, the guy had every right to move on. Jesus Christ, MTV would make a mint with a reality TV show about their unit. The relationship drama alone would carry the ratings, forget the actual fieldwork. Dex hoped Cael didn’t end up hurting Seb. The tiger Therian seemed genuinely interested in Cael. He took Cael’s hand with the pretense of fiddling with the Pac-Man wristband Cael had on. His brother loved swiping Dex’s stuff when he wasn’t looking. “I was wondering if you wanted to get a drink sometime this weekend. Maybe grab a bite to eat?”

  Dex and Sloane exchanged glances, and Dex noticed his brother’s eyes dart to Ash, the gesture going unnoticed by Seb. This was Ash’s chance. Speak up, Ash. Dex couldn’t believe he was rooting for the guy. The muscles in Ash’s jaw clenched, but he didn’t say a word.

  Hurt flashed through Cael’s face before he smiled up at Seb. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

  “Great,” Seb smiled brightly. “Let me give you my number.”

  Cael reached into his pocket and pulled out his smartphone, tapping the screen before handing it to Seb so he could input his number. Then he called Seb so the guy would have his.

  “How about Friday after work?”

  “That’d be perfect,” Cael replied, his big smile not reaching his eyes.

  “Great! Looking forward to it.” Seb waved to the rest of them before cheerfully, and obliviously, walking off. The table was uncomfortably quiet before Ash cursed under his breath, grabbed his jacket and left.

  Dex came to stand beside his brother. “Cael, are you sure that’s a good idea?”

  “I put myself out there, and he turned me down without so much as a reason why. I deserved that much. What am I supposed to do? Follow Ash around like some lovesick puppy, living off whatever scraps of affection he throws my way? It’d kill me, Dex.” Cael jumped off the table, his silvery eyes cold. “You were right. I should’ve put a stop to it when I saw it coming.”

  Dex didn’t have time to reply. Cael sprinted off to catch up with Seb. He said something, and Seb nodded. He took Cael’s hand and led him to the dance floor.

  “That went well,” Sloane muttered.

  “Do you want to go after Ash?”

  Sloane shook his head. “He needs some time on his own. I’m sure we’ll see him tonight at your place. You sure you don’t mind giving him a key?”

  “I trust him.” Dex turned to Sloane with a smile. “Wanna dance?”

  “After I give you your birthday present.” Sloane wriggled his brows, and Dex couldn’t help but laugh.

  “You look like you’re about to do a striptease.” Dex gasped dramatically and clapped his hands, doing a little bounce. “Are you going to do a striptease? Please tell me you’re going to do a striptease. I’d considered hiring strippers for tonight but then remembered this was a birthday party.”

  Sloane rolled his eyes. “No, I’m not going to do a striptease.”

  “Dang it.” Dex smiled, watching Sloane become all bashful. Ooh, that meant it was going to be good. He did his best to rein in his excitement when Sloane reached into his pocket and pulled out a small velvet bag. Had Sloane gotten him jewelry? Dex was so excited he could barely contain it.

  “I thought rather than some flashy gift, you might like this better.” Sloane handed him the bag. It was incredibly light. And flat. He opened the bag and dropped the contents into his hand. It was a silver key and a folded-up piece of paper. Puzzled, Dex opened the piece of paper. It said, “Top right-hand drawer.”

  “Um… I don’t get it. Is it like a scavenger hunt?” Dex cocked his head to one side and wondered why Sloane was getting all red in the face.

  “That’s a key to my apartment, and that’s the drawer I emptied out so you can put your stuff in it. For when you stay over, which can be whenever you want. You don’t even have to ask.”

  Dex’s jaw almost hit the floor. “I have my own drawer?”

  “Yeah.” Sloane shrugged and shoved his hands in his pocket. “Is that okay?”

  “Okay?” Dex shoved the key and note into his jean pocket and motioned toward the bar. “You better get your ass in that utility closet before I blow our cover.”

  A huge smile split Sloane’s face, making his amber eyes sparkle. He gave a nod and quickly went off. Dex lingered a minute or two behind to make sure no one was watching. He headed off after Sloane unable to believe what his partner had done. It wasn’t uncommon for agents to give their partners keys to their apartments in case of emergency, but the only one to have a key to Sloane’s apartment was Ash. Not just that, but Sloane had given Dex his own drawer, which meant he not only liked having Dex around, he was thinking about their future. Dex had wanted to suggest keeping an overnight bag or something similar at Sloane’s, but he hadn’t wanted to push it. His partner had already agreed to no condoms during sex. He really needed to learn to restrain himself and not spring things on Sloane. Maybe if he could ease things in, Sloane wouldn’t feel so jittery over them.

  Like a schoolboy on prom night, Dex stood outside the utility room door and took a deep breath. He gave a knock, his heart skipping a beat when Sloane answered, a beautiful smile on his face. Sloane leaned against the doorframe, his arms folded over his chest.

  “How can I help you?”

  Dex squealed internally. “I’m sorry to bother you, sir. But my car broke down in front of your house. Can I borrow your phone?”

  Sloane raked his gaze over Dex, his expression positively sinful. “Sure. You’ll have to use the one in the bedroom. The one in the kitchen isn’t working.” He stepped aside and motioned for Dex to come in. As soon as Dex was inside the room, he heard the click and lock of the door. Sloane stepped up close behind him, practically pressed up against him. He bent his head close to Dex’s.

  “Let me show you where it is. It’s a little hard”—Sloane grabbed Dex’s hips and jerked him back so Dex could feel his erection—“to find.”

  Dex let out a gas
p, his whole body shivering with anticipation. First a key to Sloane’s apartment, then his own drawer. Now his own porno fantasy.

  Best. Birthday. Ever.

  “THIS IS so wrong.”

  Dex took a sip of his coffee at the kitchen counter beside Sloane. “You have to do something.”

  “Like what?” Sloane asked, his gaze on Ash who was sitting on Dex’s couch in the living room just a few feet away.

  “I don’t know, but I can’t stand seeing him like this. I’d rather he be cursing at me, threatening to kill me, trying to kick my ass. Anything is better than this. It’s… sad.” Ash had been fast asleep by the time Dex and Sloane stumbled drunkenly into Dex’s house. The sight of beer bottles on the floor around Ash had sobered them up real quick. Sloane had rushed to Ash’s side to check his vitals, waking his friend up. Ash growled at him and told him to fuck off. The two got into an argument with Sloane telling Ash off for drinking alcohol with his medication. Ash had sulked and apologized. This morning when Dex and Sloane had come down to make breakfast, they found Ash wide awake and watching TV. They had no idea how long the guy had been up, but he hadn’t moved since. He refused any breakfast that wasn’t beer.

  “I don’t know what you expect me to do,” Sloane said quietly. “He’s like this because of your brother.”

  “No, he’s like this because my brother told him he was in love with him, and he couldn’t deal with it. He’s trapped himself in his fucked-up little closet.”

  “It’s not that easy for him.”

  “Why? People don’t give a shit anymore. Not like they used to back in the day.”

  “True. We Therians kinda stole the spotlight on the whole ‘abomination’ thing,” Sloane replied dryly.

  That much was true. Back before Therians, being gay was at the top of every bigot’s and zealot’s shit list. There had been riots and protests. Then Therians had come along, and suddenly the Human zealots were singing a different tune. At least most of them. There was a new threat. A new stronger, more resilient, faster, bigger, different race had emerged, knocking Humans off the top of the food chain. The Human race needed to reinforce their numbers, and the scriptures changed. Suddenly Therians were the real threat to morality and the destruction of mankind. Not that there still weren’t some old-school homophobes around. Dex wondered if Humans would ever stop acting so damn self-righteous. He shook those thoughts from his head and concentrated on the huge, unshaven, scruffy, smelly lion Therian on his couch.

  “Sloane. What aren’t you telling me?”

  “Look, we’ve all got our demons, and that includes Ash. It wouldn’t be my place to tell you.”

  “Well he can’t continue like this.” Dex got up and walked over to the living room. He sat down on the coffee table in front of Ash, making sure not to block his view of the TV. “Hey, buddy. You, uh, you planning on putting on some pants today?”

  Ash let out a grunt and took a sip of his beer.

  “You realize it’s not even 10 a.m., and you’ve had….” Dex’s gaze went to the three empty bottles on the floor. Fuck. Okay. Dex stood and swiped the bottle from Ash.

  “What the fuck?” Ash got to his feet, looming over Dex who scrunched his nose and waved a hand in front of his face.

  “You fucking reek.” He handed the bottle to Sloane who was looking on anxiously. “Okay, here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to get your stank ass off my couch, take a shower, put on pants that A, do not contain an elastic band, and B, are thick enough to hide the fact you go commando, because frankly, some of us don’t want to know.” Dex let out a shudder, then grabbed Ash’s arm and started hauling him toward the stairs. “Come on. Don’t do this to yourself. You know you can hang with us as long as you want, but you can’t go all hobo on us. Cael’s dealing with it. You need to do the same.”

  Ash stopped in his tracks but didn’t turn around. “He’s not dealing with it. He’s pretending to.”

  “Well, you’ve not really given him much of a choice. How’d you feel if he was doing what you’re doing? Drinking and wallowing in his own misery.”

  “Shitty,” Ash muttered.

  “That’s right. So hit the showers.”

  With a heavy sigh, Ash headed upstairs.

  Dex turned to find Sloane gaping at him. “What?”

  “He didn’t tell you to fuck off or threaten to punch you.”

  “I know!” Dex threw his arms up. “You see why I’m worried?” He never thought he’d see the day where he actually wanted Ash to be an asshole to him.

  “You’re right,” Sloane sighed and pulled Dex into his arms. He let his head rest on Dex’s. “But there’s nothing we can do. The only one who can do anything about this is Ash.”

  Ash padded back down, a pathetic pout on his face. “My bag’s in my truck.”

  “Relax, big guy.” Dex headed for the front door. “I’ll get it.” Sloane caught up to him and swiped the keys from him. He gave Dex a kiss.

  “I’ll get it. I need to get my backpack from my car anyway.” He ran a hand down Dex’s back until he got to his ass and gave it a squeeze. “How about when I get back, we get into bed for a little post-birthday-party party?”

  Dex moaned against Sloane’s lips. God, he was such a lost cause. Sloane had him wrapped around his little finger, and Dex loved it. “Okay.”

  “You two make me sick,” Ash called out, followed by, “The alarm’s on.”

  Sloane held up Ash’s keys. “Got it.” He gave Dex a wink and headed outside, closing the door behind him.

  Dex was feeling all swoony. He couldn’t wait to get back into bed with Sloane. He picked the beer bottles off the living room floor and carried them into the kitchen. He had just dropped them into the recycling bin when an explosion rocked the foundation of Dex’s house, causing the front window to shatter. Dex ducked behind the counter on instinct, for a moment thinking the place was going to come crashing down around him. He heard footsteps thudding
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