Rack & ruin, p.2
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       Rack & Ruin, p.2
 

         Part #3 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  “All right, team. It’s been a long day. Let’s head back to HQ. Hobbs, get us out of here and stop by a drive-thru on the way. I’m starving.” Sloane took a seat on the bench next to Rosa, and Dex dropped down beside him. They buckled up as Hobbs drove them out of the park.

  Dex noticed his partner lean back against the truck’s padded wall, then abruptly sit forward. Rosa and Letty didn’t notice as they were chatting away, and Cael was secured behind the console, though he was staring off into space. Now that Dex thought about it, he never saw Sloane sit back against the wall like everyone else did. Dex leaned into his partner, his voice low.

  “Hey you okay?”

  Sloane’s smile went straight to Dex’s groin. “Yeah, why?”

  “The way you pulled away from the wall all of a sudden.”

  “You noticed that, huh?”

  “Yep.” There wasn’t much Dex didn’t notice about his partner, whether on the job or off. They might not have been officially dating for long, but they’d been seeing each other for nearly eight months. In that time they’d been through a hell of a lot together.

  Sloane seemed to think about Dex’s observation before answering. “It makes me feel sick.”

  “Motion sickness?” That couldn’t be right. Surely if his partner felt motion sickness, Dex would have figured it out long before now.

  Sloane shook his head and leaned into Dex. “It feels too much like that chair.”

  Chair? What chair would make Sloane feel sick? An image flashed through Dex’s mind, and he winced. Right. That chair. For years Sloane had been strapped down into a padded chair at the First Gen Research Facility while scientists did God only knew what to him and countless other Therian children in order to learn more about Therians. Dex could only imagine what the government had put Sloane through, and he saw enough pain in his partner’s eyes to know it was horrifying.

  Dex’s experience with that damnable chair had come only recently, and although he was certain it couldn’t compare to what Sloane had suffered, Dex was still finding it difficult to forget. His ankles, wrists, and head had been strapped down to the padded medical chair. It was the last thing he remembered from that day at the facility before Isaac Pearce plunged a needle into his neck and pulled his strings like a puppet, with Dex eager to please.

  Instinctively, Dex rubbed the small, newly healed scar on his leg. If Sloane hadn’t shot him and taken him down, Dex would have done exactly what that bastard Isaac had asked him to do. He would have killed an innocent man and then himself. Months later he still couldn’t remember anything no matter how hard he tried. All he knew was what Sloane had told him. It frustrated the hell out of Dex.

  “Dex?”

  Dex snapped out of it to find Sloane watching him worriedly. “Are you okay?”

  “Sorry. Just thinking. My next dentist appointment should prove interesting.”

  Sloane’s expression softened, and he gave Dex’s leg a pat, allowing his hand to linger a few seconds longer than necessary. “It’ll get easier.”

  “Thanks.”

  Five minutes later they’d pulled up at a fast-food drive-thru, and Dex said a silent thanks to Austen for forcing Sloane to shift. The only time his partner indulged in anything remotely unhealthy was postshift when his Therian body demanded meat and lots of calories. Hobbs waited patiently while Dex sat on his lap, facing the drive-thru speaker, putting in the team’s order. This particular fast-food chain offered Postshift meals that had enough double quarter pounders to send a Human heart screaming for the hills. Dex put in everyone’s order, then turned to Hobbs.

  “What do you want, big guy?”

  Hobbs pointed to the Therian specials and a meal with an Angus beef burger that looked like it was the size of Dex’s head.

  “You got it. Cal?”

  “I’m not hungry,” Calvin muttered. Dex twisted to look at Calvin who was staring moodily out his window. Turning back to Hobbs, Dex arched an eyebrow at him, and Hobbs shook his head. He pointed to the regular Human sized menu and held up four fingers.

  “Number four it is.” Dex put in the order, Calvin protesting behind him.

  “Damn it, Ethan. I said I wasn’t hungry.”

  From the corner of his eye, Dex saw Hobbs give Calvin a pointed, no-nonsense look. Come to think of it, Dex couldn’t remember Calvin having had anything when they’d stopped for lunch earlier that day. They’d been called out on a Coalition sighting, but as Austen had remarked, by the time they got there the group was long gone.

  “Fine,” Calvin grumbled, then pulled out his iPhone from one of his pockets along with his in-ear headphones and stuck them in his ears. Dex got off Hobbs so the guy could drive up to the next window.

  “What’s eating him?” Dex asked Hobbs, his voice lowered. “You two still haven’t worked things out?”

  Hobbs shook his head, his expression troubled but he didn’t “say” anything else. He simply pointed forward to let Dex know the line was moving. He clearly wasn’t ready to share.

  “Okay, but if you want someone to talk to, you just come find me.” “Talk” being a relative term where Hobbs was concerned, though by now Dex had learned Hobbs could communicate just as easily with little to no words than most people did with whole conversations. Dex enjoyed Hobbs’s company. The silence was never uncomfortable, and although Dex knew he fell into the category of people who talked too much, he appreciated Hobbs’s sedate nature.

  After they picked up their food, Hobbs parked the BearCat across a row of empty parking spaces, and they all got busy eating. Dex noticed how Hobbs reached over and plucked the closest ear bud out of Calvin’s ear. That earned him a scowl, but Hobbs smiled widely. It was a sort of crooked schoolboy smile that was hard to stay mad at. Dex was glad Calvin wasn’t immune either, and the blond agent’s frown faltered before he laughed. He affectionately called his friend an asshole before stealing some of his fries.

  “So how long has your brother had pre-birthday-party parties?” Sloane asked Cael.

  “Since he was a kid.”

  “And Maddock went with it?”

  “This is Dex we’re talking about. It’s better to surrender and go along for the ride than try and fight him on something he wants. Am I wrong?” Cael gave him a knowing smile.

  Sloane hung his head as if in shame. “You’re not wrong.”

  “You’re so screwed,” Rosa said, letting out an evil cackle.

  “Thank you, Rosa. I appreciate that.”

  “Welcome to my world,” Cael added.

  Dex waved a hand at them. “You guys realize I’m sitting right here. Still, I enjoy listening to how fabulous you all think I am.”

  “More like what a pain in the ass you are,” Cael said with a snort.

  “But I’m a cute pain in the ass. Admit it. Look at these dimples.” Dex pointed to his cheeks and grinned.

  Sloane laughed before catching himself. “Crap. I am screwed.”

  Rosa, Cael, and Letty laughed over Dex’s antics, and Dex leaned over Sloane to defend his honor when he felt Sloane’s hand slip under his ass cheek and squeeze. Dex gave a start and blinked at his partner. With a wicked grin, Sloane leaned over to whisper at him.

  “I might be screwed, but tonight you’re going to be fucked.”

  Dex sat back and did his best to fight the hard-on Sloane’s growly threat was giving him. The bastard. He knew they still had to get back to HQ, shower, and change before heading home. It’d be at least another couple of hours before Sloane could make good on his threat. Dex told himself that was okay. He’d have two hours to devise a way to get back at his lover. The thought alone had Dex grinning. Yep, Sloane was most certainly screwed.

  Chapter 2

  “OH YEAH. That’s it, baby.” Dex shimmied over to Sloane, bumping him with his hip. “Dude, come on.”

  Sloane shook his head, smiling as he took a sip of his beer. “Nope.” He had to admire his partner’s tenacity. Whether on the job or off, when Dexter J. Daley wanted someth
ing, he went after it until he got it, and he used whatever means necessary. If someone had pointed to Dex that first day they’d met and told Sloane they were going to end up together, Sloane would have ordered an immediate psych eval on them. Now, it was hard to imagine his life without that crooked boyish grin or infectious laugh.

  “Can’t or won’t?” Dex pulled some funky disco moves Sloane was certain would make any other guy look like a giant douche, but not his boyfriend. Boyfriend. There’s a word he was still getting used to. His boyfriend was the only guy he knew who had pre-birthday-party parties. Dex leaned into Sloane, talking low. “Come on, man. Everyone’s drunk off their asses. No one’s going to care that we dance together. I’ve danced with half the Defense Department. Even Hobbs danced with me.”

  Sloane cringed at the memory. “I’m pretty sure your horrifying attempt to teach him the Running Man does not qualify as dancing. Besides, Ash isn’t drunk.” Sloane made sure no one was watching before subtly squeezing Dex’s side, making him squirm with a husky laugh that went straight to Sloane’s dick. Then again, there wasn’t much about the sexy blond that didn’t get Sloane hard. Usually all it took was that disarming smile. That smile was dangerous. Coupled with those pale blue eyes and those plump soft lips…. Sloane really needed to get a hold of himself.

  “That’s because Ash’s blood is made of acid or something equally toxic.” Dex took Sloane’s beer from him, his eyes on Sloane as he put the bottle to his lips and took a couple of gulps, exposing his neck. The little bastard. He knew exactly what he was doing.

  “Damn it, Dex.” Sloane forced himself to look away. The last thing he needed was to walk around with a hard-on in an apartment filled with fellow agents.

  “Dance with me.”

  “I don’t dance.” Why are you even trying? You know he’s going to get his way. He always gets his way. Sloane figured he should at least make it look like he’d tried. He started by swiping his beer back from his sexy partner.

  “Ash is busy threatening people with imminent death if they puke on his floor. I still can’t believe he volunteered to have my pre-birthday-party party at his place.” Dex narrowed his eyes in suspicion, and Sloane tried not to laugh. His partner hadn’t stopped questioning Ash’s motives since their gruff friend offered to have the party at his apartment. Ash was a neat freak and hated having his stuff touched.

  “He said there’d be more space.” And there was. But it was still Ash’s space.

  Like most lion Therians, Ash didn’t take kindly to having his space invaded by outsiders. Sloane tried to think of an instance where anyone who wasn’t part of their team had been extended an invitation to the large, modern-style apartment. The place was spacious and open with cream-colored walls, except for the wall on the far end. That one was brick, with two huge windows extending from the dark-wood staircase up to the ceiling that overlooked the city. At the top of the simplistic staircase was Ash’s office with a hallway that led to a bathroom and his bedroom.

  Downstairs, the living room consisted of dark browns and reds. It was beside the open kitchen, which continued the brown color pattern with its dark cabinets. The appliances were all stainless steel along with the island counter chairs and cabinet door handles. The floors were wood, and there were several potted plants around the room. The apartment was minimalistic but bold, much like its owner.

  Sloane was as curious as Dex was regarding the reasons behind Ash’s kind gesture. Of course, there had been some rules. Ash put Cael in charge of the music, which meant no Billy Ocean, no Hall & Oates, and certainly no Journey. Dex had pretend-fainted over the news, and Sloane had soothed his partner while doing some pretending of his own—as in pretending it was a shame Cael had rejected the pre-1989 playlist. In the end, it had cost Sloane. Dex’s pouting usually did, and a few minutes later Sloane found himself agreeing to let Dex program his favorite eighties station Retro Radio into the Impala’s stereo. His partner had also somehow managed to make it the default station, which meant whether Dex was in the car with him or not, it was the first thing he heard when he turned on his car’s stereo each and every time.

  Dex clapped his hands to the beat of something that sounded suspiciously like an eighties song before singing about friends not dancing and leaving them behind. Dex grinned knowingly. “He let me have one.”

  “And this is the one you picked?”

  “I thought it appropriate.”

  “Still no.”

  “Fine,” Dex said with a sigh. “Guess I’ll have to dance with Taylor.”

  Sloane couldn’t help his low growl. “Really? That’s your game plan?”

  “I can only say no to him so many times. Besides, it’ll give me an excuse to punch him if he grabs my ass again.”

  “He grabbed your ass?” That sleazy asshole.

  Dex grinned slyly. “Has anyone told you how cute your jealous boyfriend face is?”

  Sloane grabbed Dex’s wrist and led him to the center of the living room where everyone was pressed up against each other, dancing and grinding in a drunken orgy of frivolity. The majority of their teammates were so far gone by now and squished together, it was unlikely anyone would even be able to tell who Sloane danced with. He doubted they’d remember come morning. Sloane turned and pulled Dex close, letting his hand rest on Dex’s hip. Dex lip-synched along with the catchy Daft Punk song as he moved, wriggling his eyebrows when it came to the part about getting lucky.

  Sloane loved watching Dex dance. The easy way he moved. The way his body responded to the music, like it was a natural-born instinct. One that couldn’t be helped. Sloane found himself smiling as he watched Dex’s body, studying his movements, the fluidity in which he adapted to the beat changes. Dex pulled some more disco moves that fit with the song and Sloane laughed.

  “How long have you been dancing?” Sloane asked, aware of Dex inching closer.

  “Since I was a kid. My mom used to dance with me around the kitchen when she was baking. On weekends, my dad would put on his records, and we used to jump around the living room until we were so tired we’d collapse from exhaustion. Then mom would bring us lemonade. They were both great dancers. Totally part of the swinging sixties crowd.”

  “Even your dad?”

  “You kidding? He rocked the British Invasion. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Dusty Springfield, the Who. I’ve seen pictures of him and my mom. You should have seen him in his black turtleneck and mop top.” Dex chuckled, shaking his head, but Sloane could see how much the loss still pained him. His partner adored Tony and Cael—his adoptive dad and adoptive brother—but that didn’t make the death of his biological family any easier.

  Sloane gave Dex a playful poke in his belly. “They’d have been proud of you.”

  “Thanks.” Dex beamed, his smile disappearing the moment Taylor’s arm landed around his shoulders. The guy never quit. He was always gravitating toward Dex, despite Sloane’s obvious displeasure or the fact Sloane had already warned the guy once about trying anything funny. Agent Ellis Taylor was a good Team Leader, but he made it no secret he enjoyed a “fuck ’em and leave ’em” lifestyle. He slept around with teammates, indifferent to the consequences. As long as it didn’t have an adverse effect on his own career, it didn’t matter what happened to anyone else.

  Taylor threw his arms up, drawing attention to himself as usual. “Holy shit, someone call the fucking press. Sloane Brodie’s dancing.”

  There was a collective drunken cheer, and Sloane gave them a smirk before flipping them off.

  “How’d you manage that, Daley?” Taylor threw his arm back around Dex only to have it swiftly removed.

  “I have my ways.”

  “I bet you do.” Taylor brazenly raked his gaze over Dex. “I bet you’re full of surprises. Maybe Brodie will let me borrow you for a dance.”

  Unbelievable. “Maybe Taylor will remember our little conversation in the locker room not long ago,” Sloane replied through his teeth.

  Taylor squint
ed as he tried to recall. “Refresh my memory?”

  Sloane flashed his teeth, feeling his inner Felid wanting to come out and play. “I’d love to.” He grabbed a fistful of Taylor’s shirt ready to oblige when Dex pushed himself between them. He turned Taylor around and sent him moving. The guy started to protest when something shiny, or who knew what, got his attention, and he disappeared into the crowd. Sloane braced himself, even managed a pleasant smile when Dex turned back to him with an arched eyebrow.

  “So, what exactly had that conversation been about? You look just as pissed now as you did then.”

  There was no point in trying to hide it. “It was about you. I didn’t appreciate the way he was talking about you.”

  Dex gave a snort. “That dude’s a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.” A slow smile crept onto his face as he started dancing again. “I was right, then.”

  “About what?”

  “When I said you didn’t want other dudes checking out my ass.”

  Sloane held back a smile as he tried to think up an excuse. In the end he gave up. “I got nothing.”

  “Aw, you were all jealous then, too,” Dex said quietly, shimmying closer to Sloane until they were almost touching.

  “Dex….” Despite Sloane’s concern, he didn’t push Dex away. No one seemed to care about their proximity. It wasn’t all that different at the office. No one batted an eye when Dex flirted with Sloane or joked about their closeness. Then again, it was hard to be suspicious of Dex. The guy was genuinely affectionate and playful by nature. Sloane supposed to their teammates, Dex was simply being himself around Sloane, and Sloane went along with it because Dex was his partner. Everyone was aware they’d become close friends. Sloane didn’t feel offended their teammates chalked that up to Dex’s likeable personality rather than any effort on Sloane’s part. Apparently, not even Team Leader Sloane Brodie could resist Agent Daley’s charms. Well, they were right.

  “Hi, Dex. Hi Sloane.”

  “Lou, you made it.” Dex hugged Lou and gave him a squeeze, making Lou chuckle. Seeing Dex so affectionate toward his ex-boyfriend didn’t bother Sloane. It had been a different story that first night Lou had shown up in Bar Dekatria and started flirting with Dex under the pretense of “talking”. Dex had been the only one who seemed to have any interest in talking. But that had been before Lou walked in on Dex and Sloane making out in one of the empty hallways. Sloane had decided getting to know Lou and his intentions would be wiser than trying to scare Lou off. It had paid off, and now that Sloane was certain Lou posed no threat, the guy had become a friend. He was also a fountain of knowledge when it came to Dex, which, of course, drove Dex nuts.

  “I couldn’t miss one of your crazy pre-birthday-party parties. You sure it’s okay my being here? I don’t know anyone except you guys and the team.” Lou glanced around the room and fidgeted—his demeanor at odds with his outward appearance. Lou was attractive, like one of those Hispanic soap stars. He dressed fashionably and gave off an air of utter confidence. He was lean and toned with a body that said he worked out often. He had dark hair with dark eyes and long lashes, full lips, and was a few inches shorter than Dex. Sloane estimated roughly five seven. He was also a few years younger than Dex. Lou was the opposite of Sloane in every way. Sloane could see Dex caring for Lou. But there was something missing, and Sloane could see that too.

  “Of course it is,” Dex replied cheerfully. “Want something to drink? It’s open bar.”

  “Speaking of bar…. Isn’t that the bartender from Bar Dekatria?” Lou motioned over to the far end of the room where Bradley was serving in his signature snug black T-shirt. His bare arms displayed impressive tattoo sleeves. At that moment, Bradley looked up and flashed them a big smile followed by a wink.

  Dex waved at Bradley before turning back to Lou. “Yep. I invited Bradley, and he insisted on bartending. Said he wouldn’t come otherwise. It might have had something to do with the fact that when he asked what kind of beer I’d be serving, I said ‘cold.’ Seriously, you should have seen his face. Like I insulted his mother.”

  Lou and Dex both laughed. They started chatting, and Sloane offered to get Lou his JD and Coke. On the way to the bar, Sloane caught sight of Beta Pride’s Team Leader, Agent Levi Stone, heading his way.

  “Hi, Sloane.”

  “Hey, man.” Sloane shook Levi’s hand. “Having a good time?”

  Levi held up the bottle of beer in his hand with smile. “I’m not much of a party guy, but it’s nice to get out and mingle every once in a while. I appreciate Dex inviting me. Can I—would it be all right if I asked you to introduce me to your friend? The one talking with Dex.”

  “You want to meet Dex’s ex-boyfriend?” Sloane certainly hadn’t expected that.

  Levi nodded. “You don’t think Dex would mind, do you?”

  “I think he’d be okay with it.” He sure as hell hoped so. Sloane motioned over to the pair, and Levi followed him over. The two stopped chatting when Sloane and Levi approached.

  “Hi, guys. I wanted to introduce Lou to Agent—”

  “Blarney,” Levi finished, his expression unfaltering.

  Dex gaped at him. “Your name’s Blarney Stone?”

  There was a short pause before Levi answered with a solemn, “No,” causing Lou to burst into laughter.

  What the…? Sloane and Dex exchanged puzzled glances. They watched Levi hold his hand out to Lou.

  “Agent Levi Stone. It’s a pleasure.”

  Lou smiled widely and took Levi’s hand. Sloane might not have known Lou for long, but he could tell the younger Human was interested.

  “Louis Huerta. You can call me Lou.”

 
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