Against the grain, p.19
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       Against The Grain, p.19
 

         Part #5 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  you. He’s going to tell you where to take the drug. If you don’t deliver the drug to the location and follow his instructions, he’s going to put a bullet in your boyfriend’s head.”

  Dex let out a shaky laugh. “With all due respect, Lieutenant, Sloane and I aren’t—”

  “Can it, Agent Daley. I work for Therian Intelligence. You really think I’m not going to know when my agents are in a relationship? I know everything. Whole damn team is sleeping with each other. Rosa and Letty are the only ones not breaking protocol. I mean, there’s a lot of sleeping around going on in Unit Alpha, but you guys take the cake.”

  “When you say everything…,” Dex prompted.

  Sparks narrowed her eyes at him. “I mean everything. Your relationship with Sloane, the fact he’s moving in with you, when you decided to play Batman and orchestrated an unsanctioned mission including Sebastian Hobbs and the rest of your team. I know about your naps during assembly, the gummy bears in your desk’s top right-hand drawer, along with the Cheesy Doodles, the Peanut M&M’s, the pretzels, plantain chips, and I seriously hope you listen to Agent Brodie about changing your diet.” She turned and started walking again.

  “Okay, about the unsanctioned mission,” Dex said, catching up to her long-legged strides. “I forced Seb into it. Please, I’ll take whatever disciplinary measures you see fit, but don’t penalize him.”

  “I have no intention of disciplining Agent Sebastian Hobbs. He’s an exceptional Team Leader with the potential to do great things. Now’s not really the time for this. We’re all going to sit down and have a little chat when this is over. Shultzon is going to call and demand you deliver the drug, or he’s going to kill Sloane.”

  “So what do I say?”

  “You say what your heart is desperate to say. Say ‘Where do you want me to deliver it?’ And then you’re going to take it there.”

  “But it’ll clearly be a trap.”

  “Of course it will be. Shultzon has no intention of handing over your teammates or losing the drug. He plans to use it on them and get them transported. Lucky for us, Shultzon is paranoid, and let’s face it, not all there. He didn’t commit the formula to solid medium in hope of keeping it safe. It’s all in his head. There’s no time for him to recreate the drug, which is why he needs the supply we have.” Sparks stopped beside the construction elevator. She opened the steel door and motioned for them to step inside. They did as asked, and she closed the door behind them. “Agent Maddock, I hope you’re ready for what you’re about to face.”

  “Yes, ma’am.” Cael didn’t know what part he had to play in whatever was coming, only that he needed to do everything within his power to get Ash, and the rest of their team, out of there safely. Whatever Sparks wanted from him, he’d do it.

  “Good, because your ex-boyfriend will be there.”

  Cael’s heart plummeted. “Excuse me?”

  “Don Fuller.” Sparks turned to him, her expression void of any emotion. “He’s the mercenary Shultzon hired to grab your teammates. Why do you think he showed up at Dekatria? He wanted to see what he was up against. I trust you won’t let that impede your performance.”

  Cael felt Dex squeeze his arm reassuringly. Fuller was a mercenary? How…. What? Cael was having trouble processing this information.

  “Agent Maddock, Don Fuller was never cut out to be a THIRDS agent, and his connections while in prison allowed him to become a gun for hire. Now before you start blaming yourself for his debut into the world of mercenaries, Don Fuller would have ended up with a gun in his hand one way or another. We have the psych evals to prove it. You, however, are a THIRDS agent, and as a THIRDS agent, it’s your job to bring Therians like Fuller to justice. It’s up to him how he ends up there.” Her steel-blue eyes studied him, her jawline set. “What’s it going to be, Agent Maddock? Are you going to show him the formidable agent you’ve become, or are you going to once again allow him control over you?”

  Cael clenched his jaw. That son of a bitch. Cael could see that bastard’s smug face, reveling in Cael’s heartache and suffering at losing Ash. He knew Fuller. Knew he’d laugh at Cael and tell him how pathetic he was, how he couldn’t save his own boyfriend. How he was weak. Cael felt his anger rising. He met Sparks’s gaze, the words coming from his mouth all but spat out. “I’m going to take him down if it’s the last thing I do.”

  Sparks smiled in approval. “Good. Hold on to your socks, boys. This ride’s about to get a little crazy.”

  Chapter 11

  WHERE THE hell was he?

  Ash groaned and rubbed his face. His arms felt heavy and sluggish. Why was he having trouble remembering?

  “Looks like Sleeping Beauty’s waking up.”

  That voice…. Ash’s eyes flew open, and he kicked out, his boots hitting metal bars. He tried to get up, but his body felt heavy, and a wave of dizziness washed over him. Throwing a hand out, his fingers touched cold steel.

  “What the fuck?” A familiar terror washed over him. He was in a cage. He scrambled back and forced himself onto shaky legs. His world spun, his vision blurred, and his stomach threatened to empty itself, but he pushed that all back as he thrust his palms hard against the roof. He kicked at the bars, his panic growing. He was in a fucking cage. It was tall enough for him to stand up in, yet he felt like he was suffocating. Oh God, he remembered the last time he’d been in a cage.

  “Hey, there.”

  Ash’s head shot up, and he snarled, “Fuller.”

  Fuller motioned to the cage around him. “Bring back any memories?”

  Ash launched himself at the bars, throwing an arm out in the hopes of ripping Fuller to pieces. “I’m going to tear you apart with my bare hands, you motherfucker!”

  Fuller threw his head back and laughed. “Oh shit. You’re a funny guy. I can see why Cael likes you.”

  A lewd smile came onto Fuller’s face, and it made Ash sick to his stomach.

  “When you’ve been reduced to nothing but a circus attraction, jumping through hoops at the command of your new master, I’ll be there to console Cael. Poor thing. He’ll be absolutely devastated, vulnerable, in need of someone with a firm hand.”

  “You touch him, and I’ll fucking kill you!”

  Fuller’s smug grin never left his face. “It’s like looking in a mirror.”

  Ash tried to control his anger, but it was difficult when there was nothing he wanted more than to beat the ever-living shit out of the Therian before him. “Fuck you, asshole. I’m nothing like you.”

  “You keep telling yourself that.”

  “Stop antagonizing him.”

  Ash froze. “Shultzon?”

  Shultzon walked into the room and stopped outside of Ash’s cage out of arm’s reach, a warm smile on his face. “Hello, Ash. Look at you. It’s like when we first met.”

  The back of Ash’s eyes stung, but he quickly blinked the tears away and recovered from the blow. “How could you?”

  “You say that like I’ve betrayed you,” Shultzon said, sounding hurt. “Can’t you see? You boys have been chosen. I’ve been so impressed with how far you’ve come, with everything you’ve achieved, there was no question who I wanted for this project.”

  “Project?” Wait, boys? Ash looked to his left, his gut clenching when he saw Hobbs out cold on the floor of the cage next to him. He turned to his right and shook his head. Sloane. Ash rushed to the end of his cage, his fingers gripping the bars tight. He slid down to his knees and tried to reach through the bars into Sloane’s cage. “Sloane! Come on, buddy, wake up!”

  “Congratulations, son,” Shultzon declared. “You’re about to become the next step in Therian soldier evolution.”

  Ash had no idea what the hell Shultzon was talking about, and he didn’t care. What he did know was that he and his friends were locked up like animals while Shultzon prepared to do God knew what to them. Ash couldn’t let them get away with this. He needed to think of a way out of here. Shultzon went off with Fuller in tow, scrolling th
rough a tablet. While they were busy, Ash checked his pockets, not surprised to find they’d taken everything off him, leaving him in his tac pants, black undershirt, socks, and boots. Wait…. He discreetly glanced down. They’d left his belt on. Fuckwits. Ash held back a grin. Now all he had to do was wait for the opportunity to make his move. He took in everything around him. From the large lab filled with equipment similar to the one in the research facility to the same chair Shultzon used to strap him and Sloane to when they were kids.

  Shultzon stopped in front of Hobbs’s cage and frowned. “This isn’t Sebastian Hobbs.”

  Fuller crouched down to study Hobbs. “You said Agent Hobbs. This is Agent Hobbs.”

  “You idiot!” Shultzon fumed. “This is Ethan, the younger Hobbs! I wanted Sebastian, the middle sibling!”

  “How many fucking Hobbses are there? You never said anything about there being more than one. Besides, they’re both tiger Therian Defense agents. What fucking difference does it make?”

  Shultzon looked stricken. “Wait. Is this the Hobbs you had Ward give the medication to?”

  “Like I said, I didn’t know there was more than one fucking Hobbs. What does it matter?”

  Shultzon threw his hands up in frustration, looking like he was about to throttle Fuller. “It matters because the older Hobbs is a stronger specimen. His disabilities are physical and easily controlled. I need soldiers with a strong mind as well as physical strength for Peitharchia7 to achieve optimum performance. This Hobbs is broken,” Shultzon spat out. “Absolutely useless.” He tapped his head. “His disabilities are psychological.”

  That son of a bitch. If Ash got his hands on him, he was going to show him broken.

  “So what do you want me to do with him?” Fuller asked.

  “Just leave him. I’ll figure something out. Bring Sloane Brodie. Put him in the chair. I want him prepped and ready to go the moment they arrive with the drug.”

  What? No. Ash dropped down in front of his bars next to Sloane’s cage and kicked at them with both feet. “Sloane, wake up!” He kicked repeatedly, his boots forcing the bars to vibrate and clatter. “Sloane!”

  Fuller tapped his earpiece and called in three men. They opened Sloane’s cage, grabbed him, and dragged him out.

  “No. No!” Ash threw his arm out between the iron bars, his hand managing to grip the tips of Sloane’s fingers. “Sloane, wake up!”

  “Ash….” Sloane groaned, struggling to rouse himself. The men lifted him and carried him toward the chair.

  “Don’t you fucking touch him!” Ash screamed, slamming himself against the bars. The cage remained unmoved. “I’m going to kill every last one of you sons of bitches!” He had to get to Sloane. He couldn’t fail him. Couldn’t let them take him away.

  “Sloane….”

  The name was barely whispered, but Ash heard it clear as day. He stopped and turned to find Hobbs standing in his cage, his hands gripping the bars tight and his green eyes filled with terror as he watched them carrying Sloane to the chair. Ash turned his attention back to the men who’d finished strapping down Sloane’s wrists and ankles. One guy was about to fasten a strap around Sloane’s head when an alarm shrieked. Ash took a step back, preparing for a fight.

  Shultzon smiled. “Looks like the boys have arrived with the package. Fuller, get your men into positon. Retrieve the case. Keep Sparks and her agents busy until I administer the drug. I need to inject Sloane and Ash, get them ready for transport. They’re our priority. Nothing else matters. You’ll receive your payment once we’re successful.”

  “Yeah, yeah. I heard you the first ten times. Maybe you should’ve been a little more careful,” Fuller grumbled. “Then we wouldn’t have a shitload of TIN operatives trying to castrate us.”

  Shultzon pushed his glasses up his nose. “I hardly expect you to understand. I suspected a traitor in the lab, and until I could discover who it was, I couldn’t take any chances with the formula. I need to put in a call to the man upstairs and make sure the helicopter arrives on time.”

  Fuller headed for the door with Shultzon and the rest of the men in tow. Shultzon paused and pointed a finger at Ash.

  “You behave yourself. Those steel bars are Therian strength. So are the straps secured around Sloane. I’ll be back in a moment.” He shook his head as he joined Fuller. “We’re going to have to sedate him. He’s always been temperamental.”

  The moment they left the room, Ash hurried to the door of his cage. “Sloane,” Ash hissed. He swiftly went about removing his belt. “Sloane!”

  Sloane groaned and moved his head, his eyes blinking open. He looked confused and dazed. When he realized something wasn’t right, he tried to sit up but found himself unable to.

  “Sloane!”

  “Ash?” Sloane pulled against the straps. “What the fuck?” He gritted his teeth and jerked at his restraints. “Ash, what’s going on? Where are we?”

  “We’re in Shultzon’s lab. Motherfucker was behind this shit all along. We need to get the fuck out of here before he comes back. I think the control drug is back in the building. Shultzon’s going to inject us with it for some fucking program. I don’t know. What I do know is Shultzon was the one working on the drug, and that asshole Fuller is here.”

  “Sloane?”

  Sloane stilled. “Hobbs?” He cursed under his breath. “It’s okay, buddy. We’re here with you. We’ll find a way out of this.”

  “Sloane, you have to shift,” Ash said, taking apart his belt buckle.

  “I can’t.”

  “You have to.”

  “I don’t know if I’ll be able to control him. What if I can’t, and I end up hurting you or Hobbs?”

  “Fuck that,” Ash spat out. “You can control him. Look at me.”

  Sloane turned his head, his eyes filled with worry and fear. Ash understood. He was right there with his friend, but the alternative was worse. So much worse.

  “Shultzon said the drug was here. Who do you think brought it? Who would be the first person to give everything in order to save you?”

  Sloane’s eyes widened.

  “Your mate is out there. He needs you to get your shit together. Are you going to lie there and let those assholes get their hands on Dex? Do you know what Fuller will do to him for the sheer fuck of it? Dex helped put him in jail. Fuller will make him suffer. If you don’t get your ass out of that chair right fucking now, the next screams you’re going to hear will be coming from your boyfriend as Fuller tears him apart.”

  “No….” Sloane shook his head. He stared up at the ceiling, his teeth gritted. Sweat beaded Sloane’s brow, and he flexed his fingers at his sides.

  Ash hated what he was doing to his best friend, but it was the only way either of them had a chance of getting through this in time.

  “Another Alpha is going to put his hands on your mate. Right now Fuller’s probably already smelled you on Dex. We both know how ugly these things can get, and with no one there to stop him….”

  Sloane pulled at the restraints, his canines elongating as he let out a feral roar. His back arched up off the chair as he bucked and convulsed, his claws piercing through his skin as he shifted. His black fur grew in as he screamed and roared, twisting his body in a frenzy to free himself. His mass shifted, and he was able to pull his paws free before rolling onto his stomach in his Therian form. Sloane hissed, massive fangs bare, before he let out a roar that echoed through the facility.

  Ash turned to look at Hobbs. “You too.”

  Hobbs shook his head, his arms wrapping around himself as he backed into the farthest corner of the cage.

  “Hobbs, look at me, pal. You need to shift and get the hell out of that cage. Your teammates—your friends need you. You can do this. Fuck that asshole. He doesn’t know shit about you. You’re not broken. So you take meds. Who the fuck doesn’t these days? Don’t let that judgmental prick make you feel like shit for it. Does Calvin think you’re broken?”

  Hobbs shook his head.


  “No, he doesn’t. He thinks you’re the coolest fucking guy to walk this earth. He’s crazy about you, man.”

  Hobbs’s head shot up to look at him, his eyes wide.

  “Come on, bro. You can’t hide that kind of shit. He’s probably in a hospital somewhere terrified, wondering where the fuck his best friend is.” Ash snapped the last piece of metal in his buckle, his fingers bleeding, but he didn’t care. He had the pin. He wiped his hands on his pants, reached an arm through the bars, and stuck the pin in the lock to the sound of Hobbs screaming and shifting. Ash concentrated on trying to get the lock picked, his gaze landing on Sloane, who was pacing the floor in front of his cage. Ash had no idea if it was his friend pacing before him or the feral Therian inside Sloane, but right now he had to believe Sloane was stronger than that.

  The lock on Ash’s cage door clicked open, and he hurried out, coming to a halt when Sloane appeared in front of him. He sniffed the air and Ash before letting out a low mewl and sitting on his haunches. Relief washed through Ash, and he quickly went to work on the lock of Hobbs’s cage. Hobbs hissed and paced back and forth.

  “Yeah, hold your fucking horses,” Ash grumbled. He went as fast as he could, satisfied when there was a click. He’d barely gotten the door open when Hobbs propelled himself against the door, knocking Ash onto his ass. Hobbs landed over him and licked his cheek.

  “Fucking gross. Yeah, I’m happy too. Come on, get off.” Ash stood and turned to his friends. “Ready?”

  There was a collective round of hisses.

  “Okay. Let’s do this.” He had no weapons, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t get his hands on some. He sidled up to the door and peeked out. The hall was wide, with several closed doors and too many corridors leading into other corridors. At the end there was another door, and on the other side of it an armed guard. It was now or never. He had to find Dex and whoever had come with him. As much as he wished Cael hadn’t come, he knew Cael was somewhere in this building. Taking a deep breath, Ash broke into a run down the hallway, his feral teammates behind him. With a growl, Ash slammed into the door at the end, sending the guard on the other side tumbling down. One kick to the head, and the guy was out.

  A guard came barreling through a glass door into the hall to his right, and Ash instinctively ducked for cover. An agent dressed in a black suit, tie, and shirt rolled out, got to his feet, and kept running, crossing the corridor and disappearing into another hall with two of Fuller’s men on his tail. Who the fuck was that? All at once, everything went to hell, with Fuller’s men and agents in black beating the tar out of each other.

  Sloane sniffed the air and took off, with Hobbs darting after him. His best friend was trying to pick up Dex’s scent. Wherever Dex was, Cael and Fuller would be there.

  Ash ran as fast as he could after Sloane and Hobbs. His feral half wanted to break free, but he needed to be Human to confront Fuller.

  Those who didn’t want to die made a run for it. Feral Therian agents didn’t handcuff their attackers. They put them out of commission.

  Hobbs launched himself at an asshole with an MP5 machine gun. The guy hit the floor, the gun skidding away from him. Ash made a dive for the gun, snatching it up as he rolled, and kept running. Behind him the sounds of men screaming and Felid roars echoed through the hall. Ash shot at anything that moved who wasn’t his team or some dude dressed in a black suit. He had no idea who the hell they were, but if they were fighting Fuller’s goons, then they were okay in Ash’s book. For now. Ash managed to pick up some more ammo and a handheld tranq gun. He shot one large asshole in the leg before dragging him behind a wall. He jabbed the barrel of the MP5 against the guy’s neck.

  “You have five seconds to give me your vest. Five…. Four….”

  With a flurry of movement, the guy went to work removing his tac vest.

  “Three…. Two….”

  “Here!” The vest was shoved at Ash, who snatched it up.

  “Thanks.” He slipped into it and fastened all the straps, finishing just as Hobbs and Sloane sped past him. Ash removed the tranq gun from his waistband and shot the guy in the neck. Hobbs roared, and Ash flinched. Fucking tiger Therians. He’d never get used to their roar. Lion Therians roared louder, but tiger Therians had the fucking scariest roars of all the Felids. There was something about it that turned your blood to ice.

  Ash rushed out into the hall, not wasting more than one bullet per bastard. Then the piece of shit jammed on him. That was fine. He didn’t need it. A small group of Humans approached, and Ash held back a smile. He tossed the gun before he held his hands up high in surrender. Five Humans against one Therian. Ash let out a snort.

  “What’s so fucking funny?” one growled, approaching him.

  “I’m picturing what your face will look like after I’ve kicked your ass.”

  “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but you’re outnumbered. You’re going down.”

  Ash grinned. Outnumbered but not outmatched. He puckered his lips and blew the guy a kiss. “I hope you plan on taking me out to dinner first. I may be fine, but I ain’t easy.”

  The guy charged with a right hook. So fucking predictable. Clearly they’d been ordered to take him alive, or they’d have shot at him by now. Too bad for them. Ash grabbed his wrist with his left hand and thrust his right elbow in the
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