Rack & ruin, p.8
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       Rack & Ruin, p.8
 

         Part #3 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  boyfriend gift. So instead I thought about what would make an appropriate Dex gift, and this is what I came up with.”

  Dex opened the bag and gasped. “Sweet baby Jesus.”

  “Is that okay?”

  “Okay?” Dex wiped an imaginary tear from his eye before reaching into the bag and pulling out the rainbow-colored, sugar-coma-inducing pastry. He whispered reverently. “You got me a Fruity Pebbles donut. Do you know how much sugar is in this?”

  “Enough to make me diabetic just by looking at it.”

  “I know,” Dex replied in awe. “You’re so good to me.” He gave Sloane a kiss and headed for the kitchen to fetch a glass of milk. Sloane followed. “I take it your visit with the doc went well?”

  “Yeah. I don’t know if it’ll change anything or stop the dreams, but I do know that by the end, I felt… better. Maybe talking to him does help. Either way, I promised I’d drop by for another chat sometime soon. He’d like for you to come, if you don’t mind.”

  Dex gingerly put his donut on a piece of paper towel and smiled at Sloane. “Of course I don’t mind.” He sat at the counter with his donut and glass of milk, eating while Sloane told him about the visit and what they talked about. Once they’d finished, Dex was stuffed. In a little while he’d be on a sugar high so fierce he could probably hear colors. That worked out for both of them because Sloane decided to put Dex’s energy to use. They had sex in the living room, kitchen, on the stairs, and in the shower. It had been fast and hot as fuck. They showered and Dex came crashing down from his sugar high as they lounged on the couch.

  Sloane was stretched out beside him, his head on Dex’s lap, while Dex absently stroked his partner’s hair.

  “I can’t believe your dad actually went through with it,” Sloane grumbled. He’d been lamenting over the loss of his hair for hours.

  “He did warn you he was going to take a pair of scissors to it if you didn’t cut it,” Dex replied. It wasn’t as if Dex hadn’t tried to warn Sloane. Anthony Maddock did not make idle threats. He simply bided his time, waiting for the right moment to make good on them.

  “Yeah, but I didn’t think he’d actually butcher it!”

  “You should’ve known better,” Dex said with a laugh. “At least it’s still long enough to run my fingers through. Either way, you still fiiine. I like it. Marcus did a great job. It’s kind of rockabilly.”

  “I don’t know what it is. I just tell Marcus to deal with it and he does. I’m glad you like it though.” Sloane leaned his head back and smiled, prompting an upside-down kiss from Dex. He didn’t say so, but Dex enjoyed these moments where he got to do nothing but be with Sloane. Being in a secret relationship was more difficult than he’d thought. At work Dex had to be constantly on alert, making sure he didn’t accidently let something slip that would give them away. Friday nights were date nights, and although Dex looked forward to those days every week, it usually involved a lengthy car drive outside the city. They couldn’t afford to be caught by a fellow agent, or worse, the media. At times he wished they could have a normal relationship out in the open, but for now, he’d take what he could get. Which reminded him….

  “So I’ve been thinking.”

  “Uh-oh.”

  “Dick,” Dex chuckled. “We’ve been exclusive awhile.”

  “We’ve been exclusive always. Unless we count your unhealthy affair with coffee.”

  Dex gave a sniff. He wasn’t about to disagree with it. “The goddess of java shall not be denied.”

  “I worry about you sometimes.”

  “You sound like my family.”

  “No. They worry about you all the time. I know. Cael should have it embroidered on his uniform to save him from grumbling it every few hours.”

  Dex worried his bottom lip, telling himself he should just spit it out, or he’d obsess over it until he did something stupid and blurted it out at the most inappropriate moment. “Anyway, I was thinking that maybe we should… ditch the condoms.” Dex braced himself. There was a long pause before he heard Sloane let out a shaky breath. Damn it. He should have known it was too soon. Just because they had awesome sex and Sloane seemed happy to go along with most of Dex’s crazy ideas didn’t mean he was ready to—

  “Okay.”

  “Wait. What?” Dex looked down into Sloane’s amber eyes. “Really?”

  “We’ve both got a clean bill of health, get tested every quarter, don’t mess around with anyone else, so why not?” Sloane gave him a smile, though Dex wasn’t fooled. He could see Sloane was nervous about it. But he could also see how much Sloane wanted to do this for them, and Dex didn’t take the gesture lightly.

  “Wow.”

  Sloane tilted his head to one side, studying Dex. “You thought I was going to get cold feet?”

  Dex felt his face grow hot. “To be honest? Yeah.”

  “You’re so cute.”

  “I don’t know what to do when you say things like that.”

  “Should I make a serious face when I say it?” Sloane’s brows drew together, and he schooled his expression, his voice gruff. “You’re so cute.”

  Dex let out a laugh. “And you’re such a dork.”

  “Says the guy who owns Star Wars Lightsaber chopsticks.”

  “Sushi tastes better when you use the Force.”

  “You’re only strengthening my case,” Sloane said with a wink.

  “Does that mean you don’t want the ones I ordered for you?”

  Sloane peered at him. “You ordered me Lightsaber chopsticks?”

  “Yep. But if it’s too dorky for you….” Dex tried hard not to laugh at Sloane’s wary expression.

  “Which ones?”

  “I have Luke’s, so I ordered you Yoda’s.” Dex held back a smile, watching as Sloane thought about it before giving him a curt nod.

  “I approve.”

  Dex rubbed his fingers over the stubble on Sloane’s jaw when he heard it. Wait, was that…. No, it couldn’t be. Could it? He discreetly lowered his gaze to Sloane’s, meeting his lover’s wide eyes and confirming Dex wasn’t hearing things.

  “Holy shit, you’re purring!”

  Sloane bolted up right, turning to stare at Dex. “I was, wasn’t I?”

  “I take it that’s sort of a new thing for you.”

  “I… I’ve never done that before. Not while Human anyway. I didn’t even know I could do that. I shouldn’t be able to do that! It’s….” Sloane looked like he was at a loss for words.

  “A little creepy?” Dex offered sympathetically.

  Sloane nodded.

  Dex reached out, and Sloane pulled back, eyeing him. “What are you doing?”

  “I want to see if you do it again.”

  “I can’t make it happen, Dex, it simply… does. You can’t force a Felid to purr.”

  “Okay, then, lie down.”

  “Dex,” Sloane huffed.

  “Come on. Aren’t you curious?”

  With a heavy sigh, Sloane lay down, his head on Dex’s lap.

  “Relax,” Dex said, running his fingers through Sloane’s hair. “Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax.” He continued to run his fingers through his lover’s hair, caressing his jaw and stroking his cheek until Sloane’s breathing evened out. Then Dex heard it again. A faint rumbling coming up from Sloane’s chest, vibrating against Dex’s leg. Sloane opened his eyes, his bottom lip jutted out.

  “I’m fucking purring.”

  “But you know what?” Dex lowered his head toward Sloane’s and cupped his face.

  “What?”

  “It’s kind of adorable.”

  Sloane’s frown deepened. “You would think that wouldn’t you. You’re weird.”

  “And you’re a Therian who can purr while he’s Human.”

  “Shut up.” He pinned Dex with a glare. “If you tell Ash, so help me I will reassign you and make you his partner.”

  Dex put a hand up in promise, though he felt a hint of pride in the fact he was the only
one to have brought that out in his partner. Sloane was able to lose himself to the point where even his Therian form—no matter how deeply buried, was able to express its content. He leaned forward and kissed Sloane. Inside he was doing a jig. Sloane turned and sat up so he could pull Dex against him. Their kissing grew more urgent when Sloane’s phone went off. With a growl, Sloane snatched it up off the coffee table.

  “Brodie here. Yep. We’re on it. Pick us up and bring our gear.” He hung up and sighed. “I’ve never worked for an organization so set against me getting laid.”

  Dex laughed and got to his feet, pulling Sloane up with him. “Come on. Hobbs will be here any minute. I swear that dude was like a NASCAR champ in another life. Where are we heading anyway?”

  “Someone called in a Coalition sighting.”

  “If someone called it in, they’ll probably be long gone by the time we get there.”

  “Either way, you be careful.” Sloane pulled him close, and they kissed until they heard a deep honking. Hobbs arrived in record time, stopping just long enough for Sloane and Dex to lock up, rush out into the street, and hop into the back of the truck. Once inside, they both got into their uniforms and gear.

  According to Tony, the 911 dispatcher stated armed Therians in masks were spotted on Pitt Street just a block away from the HPF’s Seventh Precinct. These guys had balls. Even if the HPF didn’t have jurisdiction, it wasn’t as if they were going to sit back and twiddle their thumbs while a bunch of armed thugs gunned people down.

  Hobbs parked the BearCat off Delancey and Clinton Street where the Williamsburg Bridge started, making sure to stay away from the parking spots right beside the stone structures, a.k.a. the pigeon crapper. Hobbs detested pigeons, mostly because they had a habit of shitting on the BearCat within moments of it getting washed and waxed. Everyone readied themselves while Sloane addressed the team.

  “Cael, I want you and Hobbs in your Therian forms. Remember what Austen said. The Coalition always travels with two members in their Therians forms. I want to be prepared.”

  Cael and Hobbs gave Sloane a curt nod before Cael hit the release button on the privacy screen and Rosa stood by to assist. They moved fast, with the rest of the team scrambling out of the truck while Cael and Hobbs finished shifting. Tony stayed behind to provide surveillance. Cael jumped down from the truck and circled Rosa, rubbing against her leg with a purr. She chuckled and scratched him behind the ear, giving it a playful tug when Hobbs joined them. Just as Calvin joined his partner, a series of pops resounded. Everyone quickly fell into formation behind Sloane who tapped his earpiece.

  “Shots fired. Destructive Delta, we’re moving in.” They used the cars parked down the street to give them cover before crossing to the other side and rushing toward the gunfire. “Sarge, what can you see?”

  Maddock’s voice came in over their earpieces. “Five Therian suspects are heading your way. They should be coming up on Delancey Street any minute. Looks like they’re chasing a couple of Humans. Be careful, two of the Therians are in their Therian forms. We’ve got a tiger Therian and cougar Therian.” As soon as Maddock finished talking, they saw two men sprint onto the street two blocks ahead of them. The two Felids and three Coalition members quickly followed them.

  “Move out!” Sloane ordered, and they all broke into a run after their suspects with Cael speeding off ahead and Hobbs close behind. If Cael managed to get close enough to one of the Therians in their feral form to trip him up, Hobbs could move in. Since the rest of the team didn’t stand a chance of catching up to the tiger and cougar, they concentrated on the other members. A series of gunshots echoed through the air, and any pedestrians that were around cleared out. There was a loud roar, and the Coalition members split up. “Shit. Everyone fan out!”

  Dex took off after one of the masked Coalition members running down Delancey Street. He was forced to duck behind a parked minivan when the large Therian aimed at him and shot off a round. Not hearing a second round of gunfire, Dex peeked out from behind his cover and saw the guy make a left onto Willett Street under the Williamsburg Bridge. Shit. He couldn’t lose this guy. Dex resumed the chase, spotting the Therian climbing the fence into the enclosed area under the bridge where there were plenty of places to hide. Dex followed, letting his tranq rifle hang from its strap so he could jump on the fence and climb up. He deftly scrambled over it, landing on his feet. His boots kicked up dust and dirt when he landed. For a moment he thought he’d lost the guy, but he caught movement up ahead of him and took off, his rifle once again in his hands.

  “THIRDS! Stop or I’ll shoot!” Dex called out, speeding past rusted metal containers, parked trucks and street maintenance equipment. His warning went unheeded. In fact, Dex was forced to make a sudden detour to avoid getting struck by a bright orange cone. Fucker threw a traffic cone at him! Back on course, Dex came skidding to a halt, aimed his tranq gun, and fired. The roar of the Therian told Dex he’d hit his target. Unfortunately, he realized too late that one tranq wasn’t enough to bring the nearly seven-foot Therian down, only enough to give him a limp as the drug went through his system. Hoping to catch up, Dex made a run for his perp. He was close. A little more and—

  A hard body slammed into him, knocking the wind out of him when Dex hit one of the metal containers. His adrenaline and training kicked in. Dex thrust an elbow up, catching the new masked Therian in the chin. Not allowing his larger opponent to recover, Dex delivered a right hook. He was going for a left when a fist came at him. Dex used his left arm to block the punch and came back with a right uppercut, satisfied by the painful growl released by the large Therian. The bulletproof vest the guy wore made it difficult for Dex to get a good shot in. In the distance, Dex saw his quarry. The guy had stopped to see what was going on, and that’s when Dex saw Ash coming his way. Dex struggled with the Therian in front of him but motioned frantically to the one he’d shot. “Suspect is tranqed!”

  “Affirmative.”

  Dex watched Ash take after the guy and ducked just as the Therian in front of him threw a punch at Dex’s head. The guy’s fist collided with the container instead, and he let out a fierce howl. Jackass. Austen had been right. These guys were trained but not officially. Had the guy really been expecting Dex to stand there and get punched in the head? He grabbed the guy’s wrist, sidestepped, and twisted his opponent’s arm behind his back before kicking the back of his knee and shoving him up against the container. He moved to grab his perp’s left arm to twist it behind his back when it came at him with a gleaming blade. Dex pushed out of the way, the edge of the blade slicing at Dex’s sleeve and leaving a sting behind. In that instant, Dex was kicked in the thigh with enough force for his leg to go dead. He hit the ground hard, but he refused to stay down. As he pushed himself to his feet, his assailant made a run for it and disappeared into the shadows.

  “Motherfucker!” Dex punched the gravel beneath him and forced himself to sit up. Moments later, Ash showed up looking out of breath and sans Therian suspect. “What the hell happened?” Dex pushed himself onto his right leg, hopping back so he could use the container to steady him.

  “I lost him.”

  Dex stared at his teammate. “What do you mean you lost him?”

  “Do I need to paint you some pretty pictures in crayon?” Ash snarled. “I fucking lost him.”

  “How can you lose him? He was right in front of you!”

  Ash got up in Dex’s face, pissing Dex off further. “Next time you go after the perp, and I’ll stay back to get my ass kicked. Oh wait, that won’t happen because I’m not a fucking Hobbit!”

  “Fuck you, Simba!” Dex shoved Ash back away from him or at least attempted to.

  Ash pulled back a fist when Sloane materialized between them. “All right you two. That’s enough.”

  Dex couldn’t believe it. They’d almost had one. How the hell could Ash let the guy get away? What a fucking disaster.

  “What happened?” Sloane asked looking from Dex to Ash and back, the rest
of the team catching up, including Cael and Hobbs who were both panting and huffing. Guess his brother and teammate hadn’t had much luck either.

  “Ash pulled a Wes Welker and dropped the ball,” Dex spat out.

  “Fuck you, Daley. Welker wouldn’t have dropped the ball if Brady hadn’t fucked up the throw.”

  Unbelievable. “Oh, so now I’m the one who fucked up? And since when are you a Patriots fan?”

  “I’m not. Doesn’t mean I’m not gonna call out a shitty play, and Brady pulled a shitty play. So did you. Why the fuck are you bringing up a two-year-old game anyway?”

  Dex had no idea. What he did know was that he was mighty pissed off at Ash and wanted so bad to plant one in his face. “I shot the guy!”

  “Once! The guy was as big as Hobbs. One tranq dart is gonna sting and piss him the fuck off, but it ain’t gonna take him down, genius. You should have gotten off at least three shots!”

  “For fuck’s sake, give it a rest, both of you.” Sloane paused long enough to answer his earpiece. “Brodie here. Copy that, Sarge.”

  “What?”

  “Everyone into the truck. We’ve got a dead body.”

  “Someone’s going to have to carry the damsel. He’s got an ouchie,” Ash sneered walking off before Dex could tell him to go to hell. Sloane slipped an arm around Dex’s waist and helped him hop toward the gated exit.

  “How’s your leg?”

  “It’s fine. Just needs a massage,” Dex grumbled. He was aware of Sloane taking most of his weight so Dex didn’t have to. Beside him, Cael bumped his head against Dex’s hand before giving it a lick. “I’m fine. What happened to the Therians you were chasing?” Dex received a series of chirps, as if he was supposed to understand. Then again, he had asked. “Sorry. Did you lose them? One chirp for yes, two for no.” One chirp. Fucking great. “Did you get close?” Again he received one chirp. Well, at least that was something. “Did they have a backup plan?” One chirp. Bastards.

  Sloane helped Dex into the BearCat with Cael and Hobbs hopping in after them. Cael settled in beside Dex, purring and snuggling his head against his dead leg as they drove roughly two blocks over to Broome Street, stopping outside a deli. Sloane told Dex to sit this one out, but Dex refused. He wasn’t about to give Ash the satisfaction. He told Sloane he was fine, gritted his teeth and limped over to where Hudson and Nina were inspecting the body. Cael didn’t leave his side.

  “What have we got?” Sloane asked, crouching down for a closer look. Dex decided he’d stand and keep watch. If he got down, he might not be able to get back up with any kind of dignity, and Ash was two feet away giving him a knowing sneer. At least until his gaze landed on Cael. With a frown, Ash turned away and Dex noticed Cael’s tail give a restless twitch. He let out a soft mewl and Dex rubbed his ear like he used to do when they were kids whenever Cael needed comforting.

  “Human male, Caucasian, midforties. Victim’s name is Alberto Cristo,” Hudson replied. “According to witnesses, our vic was exiting the deli when two Human males cut through that building there.” Hudson pointed to the twenty-four-story apartment building across the street. “They were being followed by the Coalition. The Humans pulled out their weapons and fired on the masked Therians. Everyone ran and ducked for cover, and this Human ended up with one in the head. So far no one witnessed our victim get struck.”

  “Anyone else injured?” Sloane asked.

  “No.”

  “We believe he may have been hit by a ricochet,” Nina offered and pointed to two bullet holes in the deli’s doorframe.

  “Okay. Thanks, Nina. Let me know if you find anything else.” Sloane tapped his earpiece. “Sarge, can we get background info on our victim?”

  “Copy that.”

  They left Recon and the medical examiners to do their thing and climbed back into the BearCat. The ride back was silent with the majority of the team doing its best to avoid eye contact. They’d fucked up, and now they had their first casualty.

  Dex was still fuming when they reached HQ. His leg was sore as hell, and his arm stung where that asshole had cut him. Luckily his uniform had taken the worst of it. There had been very little blood and the cut didn’t need more than a small bandage. Too bad his shower hadn’t managed to wash away his pissy mood. He slammed his locker shut and dropped down onto the bench, his bare feet protesting the cold tiles. “We were so fucking close.” Sloane took a seat on the bench beside him, and Dex leaned slightly toward him so he could feel Sloane’s warmth. The locker room was mostly empty at this time of night with a couple of agents a few rows back talking quietly before they headed off.

  “What’s going on, Dex? I haven’t seen you this pissed off in a while.”

  “Come on, Sloane. You know I’m right.”

  “Okay, and then what? What are you saying?”

  What was he saying? He wasn’t saying anything except the same damn thing, and that wasn’t going to change the outcome. “I don’t know. I’m sorry. This whole Coalition thing’s got me frustrated. We’ve been after these assholes for two months and haven’t caught one break. Now some poor bastard is dead.” He lowered his voice for the next part, not willing to chance anyone overhearing him. “Someone out there—one of our own—is a traitor. We finally got close and fucked it all up. If I’d only gotten off more shots—”

  “Okay, stop. No what-ifs. You did your best. I don’t know what happened on Ash’s end, and you know what he’s like when he fucks something up. He’d never admit it. He’s probably feeling as shitty as you are.”

  Sloane was right. No one liked to admit they’d screwed things up, especially Ash. Dex wasn’t so great at it either. Maybe he needed to give his teammate a break. He wouldn’t be surprised if his real anger toward Ash was stemming from
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