Hell & high water, p.18
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       Hell & High Water, p.18

         Part #1 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet

  over, but it took twice as long with Dex stopping to say hello to everyone who walked by.

  Finally, inside the packed parking garage, Sloane helped Dex into the passenger seat before closing the door behind him and running around to get in behind the wheel. He adjusted the seat and stuck the key in the ignition.

  “Okay, so where—”

  Sloane inhaled sharply, his gasp cut short by Dex’s mouth on his. The kiss caught him completely by surprise. It was hungry, hard, and tasted of beer. Every alarm he had in his head was going crazy, but instead of pushing the guy away, he gripped Dex tight and deepened the kiss, his mouth taking everything Dex was offering. Their breaths mingled, hot and heavy as desire slammed into Sloane. Dex got onto his knees with some difficulty and before Sloane knew what the guy was up to, Dex was straddling his lap, his erection straining through his jeans and rubbing against Sloane’s raging hard-on.

  God he tasted amazing, and his lips were so soft. Sloane’s hands slipped down to Dex’s waist and under his shirt. All that smooth, firm muscle under his hands had Sloane letting out a deep groan, one that traveled up from his depths. Dex took hold of his face, kissing him until they were both gasping for air. Sloane swallowed hard at the sight of Dex’s kiss-swollen mouth, his face flushed, and his pale blue eyes filled with lust. God, Sloane couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so alive.

  “You’re so fucking sexy,” Dex breathed, his body giving off a scorching heat. He put his lips to Sloane’s neck, kissing and licking, moving his way up to Sloane’s ear.

  “Dex….” Sloane murmured, trying to get a hold of himself. This was wrong in so many ways. First off, Dex was drunk off his ass. Second, they were only starting to tolerate each other. Third, they were partners. The list of why this was a terrible idea was an extensive one that kept growing with every touch of Dex’s warm lips to Sloane’s skin. “Dex,” Sloane tried again, feeling Dex still against him. “Dex?” He placed a hand on Dex’s back, feeling the steady rise and fall. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Dex, you man-child, I can’t believe you.”

  With a heavy sigh, Sloane carefully moved his sleeping partner to the passenger seat. After placing his seatbelt on him, Sloane sat back and studied him for a moment, telling himself this was a good thing. It saved him the trouble of hurting Dex’s feelings, although if it happened again while Dex was sober, they’d have to discuss the matter. What they were going to discuss was beyond him. Chances were Dex wouldn’t even remember any of this in the morning. Question was, did he want Dex to?

  After turning on the car, he pulled out of the parking space and drove to the end of the lot when it hit him. He had no idea where Dex lived.

  “Shit.” He carefully nudged Dex’s shoulder. “Dex, wake up.”

  Nothing. The guy was out for the count.

  “Damn it.” Screw it. He’d take Dex home. The guy could sleep on his couch. At this time of night, his apartment was less than ten minutes away. There was no point in bothering Cael, who probably had his hands full with Ash’s drunken ass. The whole drive home, Sloane ran through various scenarios in his head of how he would deal with Dex if he remembered what happened a few minutes ago.

  Why was he making it into such a big deal? It wasn’t as if it would’ve led anywhere. They weren’t going to have sex in the car in the middle of a parking garage. Sloane chastised himself. They weren’t going to be having sex anywhere, never mind the car.

  In eight minutes, he’d pulled up to a parking spot next to his apartment building. It looked like Dex’s car wasn’t going to get tucked in tonight. Now how the hell was he going to get the guy upstairs? Sloane unfastened his seatbelt and leaned over to tap Dex’s cheek.

  “Hey, McClane, wake up.”

  Dex didn’t stir.

  “I am not carrying your ass, so you better wake up.” He took hold of Dex’s face and tilted it toward him. His lips were still swollen from their kissing, and without thinking about what he was doing, he leaned in and pressed his lips to Dex’s. There was a faint groan and a shuddered sigh before Dex stirred. Brushing a few strands of fallen hair away from his brow, Sloane stared into sleepy eyes. “Hey. I need you to wake up enough to walk. Can you do that for me?”

  “Mm,” Dex hummed, pushing himself to sit up. Quickly taking advantage of Dex’s semiconscious state, Sloane got out of the car, closed the door behind him and ran around to Dex’s side to help him get his seat belt off. Dex leaned into him, inhaling deeply.

  “Smell good,” he murmured, his eyes drifting shut.

  “No. No falling asleep yet. Come on. On your feet, Agent Daley.” To his amusement, Dex nodded and grabbed onto Sloane’s arm, pulling himself to stand. Sloane locked up the car behind them and led Dex up the two sets of metal stairs, an arm wrapped around his waist. Arriving at the elevator, Sloane propped Dex against his hip as he pressed the button. A couple of near misses later—where Dex almost slipped out of his grip—they finally reached the seventh floor. He fished his keys from his pocket, unlocked his apartment, and got Dex inside. The guy was like a zombie, dead to the world but somehow still walking. At least he wasn’t drooling.

  With the front door secure, he dropped his keys into the little bowl on the table beside it, and helped Dex through the dining room to the living room, to the plush, black fabric couch. Sloane sat him down, tossing Dex’s leather jacket onto one of the armchairs, and then he tried to lay Dex down on his back, but Dex twisted his body and flopped down on his stomach.

  “Okay, then.”

  With a heavy sigh, Sloane crouched down to pull off Dex’s Converse sneakers and put them on the floor next to him. He shifted Dex’s legs up onto the cushions and stood back, watching as Dex let out a loud groan and turned over, his shirt riding up in the process to reveal flat abs, and a thin blond happy trail that disappeared underneath the band of his underwear just visible from beneath the low-riding jeans. Dex flung an arm over his closed eyes and his shirt rode up farther. This was a test, wasn’t it, to see if Sloane would give in to temptation?

  Well, he was stronger than that. He didn’t care that Dex’s lips were slightly parted as his chest slowly rose and fell, his stomach exposed, his other hand lying dangerously close to his crotch. Sloane’s gut clenched, hit by another spark of desire. He’d been hoping what happened in the car had been a one-off, a momentary slip brought about by Dex catching him off guard.

  What was wrong with him? To make matters worse, Sloane knew what Dex tasted like. He’d dug his fingers into Dex’s skin, held him close for a few agonizing minutes. Sloane couldn’t keep his brain from conjuring up images of Dex naked, in his bed with that amazing ass in the air. He shrugged out of his jacket, hung it on the hooks on the wall beside the door and left his boots on the shoe rack underneath. When he walked back into the living room, his gaze fell on the photo frame on the bookshelf, and he stopped cold. A photo of him and Gabe with the team had his heart sinking to his stomach.

  What was he doing? Walking up to the bookshelf, he picked up the photo. Gabe’s smiling face sent a flash of remorse through him. Was he a terrible person for feeling attracted to Dex? He missed Gabe, no doubt about it, and he still loved him. There were times when he woke up in the middle of the night, rolled over and before the haze of sleep wore off, could feel Gabe there in bed beside him.

  Dex let out a soft groan, capturing his attention. Did he even feel something for Dex or was he lonely? Had he really been so out of it that having someone make him laugh had him believing he was attracted to them? He returned the photograph of Gabe to the shelf, knowing what he had to do. He had to forget about Dex. It wasn’t fair to either of them. Sloane wasn’t ready for a relationship and fucking around for sex wasn’t going to be conducive to their working relationship. The thought was painful, but no more painful than the thought of another broken heart.

  Chapter 10

  CRAP. HE felt like warmed-over crap. Maybe a few more minutes in bed would help.

  Dex rolled over and his bed disappear
ed from under him. He hit the floor with a painful thud and through his haze of confusion managed to roll over, a deep frown coming onto his face at the sight of an unfamiliar ceiling. Bolting upright was immediately regretted. He shut his eyes tight for a moment, willing the room to stop spinning and for the pulse in his brain to go away. When it was clear neither were ready to depart, he opened his eyes.

  Where the hell was he? Shit, had he gone home with someone? He looked down at himself and figured being clothed and sleeping on a couch were good indications he hadn’t had sex. Damn, why couldn’t he remember how he’d gotten here and with whom? Slowly standing, he scanned his surroundings. The living room was hella nice. It had exposed brick walls with black shelving units running along the wall from floor to about waist height where they turned into several large drawers. Books, framed pictures, and knick-knacks filled the units.

  The furniture fit nicely with the loft’s rustic look. There was the dark three-seater Dex had fallen off of, a dark wood coffee table in the center, and a dark loveseat on the other side. Next to the coffee table to one side sat two light-colored armchairs and behind the loveseat, a long wood table with two lamps. The shelves across from him housed a vast collection of movies, along with a sweet flat screen TV. On the far wall were two large windows, and he peeked out to find the apartment building had a great view. It was right on the High Line, which meant pricey. Wherever he was, it was tidy, clean, and elegant. From the corner of his eye, he caught a framed photo of his team.

  Shit, he was in Sloane’s apartment? What was he doing here? Oh my God, please tell me I didn’t try to sleep with him. Not that Sloane wasn’t absolutely and totally fuckable, but that would bring on all sorts of drama neither of them needed right now. He tried to remember last night. He’d been drunk, but not amnesia-inducing drunk. Taking a moment to calm himself, he sat down on the edge of the couch, mentally retracing his steps from the moment they’d left work.

  Work! Holy shit, what time was it? He looked at his watch. “Oh my God!” It was past ten in the morning. “Sloane!” Dex jumped up, took one step and toppled face first into the carpet. “Son of a bitch.” He gave his stupid sneakers a kick. “Sloane!”

  There were a series of thumps from somewhere to the right, and then Sloane came through one of the doorways, Glock drawn.

  Dex sat up, his eyes wide at the sight of Sloane in nothing but snug black boxer briefs and a loose gray V-neck shirt, his hair sticking up in every direction looking like he was ready to kick some ass despite being in his undies. Fuck. That was hot. Sloane quickly scanned the room until he found Dex on the floor.

  “What are you doing down there?” He put the safety on his gun before helping Dex to his feet.

  “Uh, I tripped.”

  “You tripped?” Sloane gaped at him. “Is that why you’re screaming bloody fucking murder?” Sloane whacked him in the arm. “You scared the shit out of me.”

  “Sorry.” He remembered why he’d been screaming and grabbed Sloane’s arms. “He’s going to tear us a new one!”

  “What? Who?”

  “My dad. We’re like three hours late!”

  Sloane’s lips broke into a smile before he started laughing. “Don’t you think I would have woken you up? Jesus, Dex, I called Maddock this morning and let him know we were going to be in late.” Sloane slid his Glock up on the highest shelf out of sight before walking off, chuckling.

  “Wait, we can do that?”

  “I can do that, but not often so don’t get used to it.” Sloane motioned for him to follow and Dex did, happily, his eyes glued to Sloane’s ass. Sweet Aunt Jemima, what he wouldn’t give to have a piece of that tasty—

  “You hungry?”

  “Starved,” Dex muttered, clearing his throat and tearing his gaze away. At the end of the living room was the dining room, and to the right, the kitchen. Dex came to a halt inside. It was as impressive as the rest of the loft, all exposed brick with wood floors, white cabinets with dark wood accents, and stainless steel appliances. In the center of the floor was a large white island counter with white marble surface and three round stools. It looked… homey.

  “Have a seat. I’ll make us some coffee and breakfast bagels. We can eat on the way in.”

  Dex took a seat at the island counter. “You mean you’ll make us some coffee and breakfast bagels, which we can eat here. On this nice wipeable surface,” he said, petting the marble counter.

  Sloane paused when it seemed to dawn on him. “Right. Car. Precious child.”

  “You’re a fast learner. I like that.” Dex gave him a wink and leaned his elbows on the counter as he watched Sloane move around the kitchen. “Your apartment is awesome.”

  “Thanks.” Sloane flipped the switch on the fancy cappuccino/espresso machine and soon the heavenly aroma of freshly brewed java filled the kitchen. He pulled out a pan and walked to the huge stainless steel fridge.

  “How long have you lived here?”

  “Since college,” Sloane replied, pulling out a carton of organic eggs, milk, cream, and butter that he placed on the counter beside the fridge. “You like cheddar? Real cheddar, not that radioactive powder on your Cheesy Doodles trying to disguise itself as cheddar.”

  “Yes,” Dex said with a chuckle. “College? Wow. Must have cost you a pretty penny.”

  “If that’s your way of asking how I can afford a place like this, I don’t.” Sloane moved the ingredients closer to the pan. “The THIRDS paid for it.” Sloane turned away from him, his rough tone telling Dex it wasn’t something he was comfortable discussing, but he continued regardless. “It was part of the initial conscription package.”

  “Pretty sweet. Did they do that for all First Gen recruits?”

  Sloane turned to him, his brows drawn together. “How’d you know about that?”

  “Pearce mentioned something about it.”


  Crap. Nice going Dex. Way to stick your size tens in it. “Uh, yeah, Isaac Pearce.”

  “When was this?” Sloane put his hands to his hips, a deep frown on his face.

  “A few weeks ago,” Dex muttered, busying himself with the bowl of fruit on the counter. He took an apple and studied it. Anything not to look at Sloane and his angry laser beam stare. “We met up for a drink.”

  “You two are friends?”

  Dex tried to act casual, rolling the apple across the counter from one hand to the other. “No. We never really talked until the day of the trial. When I got jumped in the parking garage, he showed up, scared those assholes off. He asked me if I wanted to grab a coffee sometime.”

  “And you talked about me.”

  “I take it you two aren’t on friendly terms?” Dex glanced up, bracing himself when Sloane snatched up the apple midroll and put it back in the bowl.

  “No, we’re not. Answer the question,” Sloane ground out.

  “You sort of came up.”

  “What did he say?”

  Dex swallowed hard, when Sloane slammed a fist on the counter. “Damn it, Dex. What the fuck did he say?”

  What the hell? Why was he being interrogated? “I don’t really see how it’s any of your business.” So he was expected to tell Sloane everything while the guy told him absolutely nothing in return? Trust was a two-way street, and right now Dex resented having one of those lanes blocked.

  “When it concerns Isaac Pearce, it is my business.”

  “Why? Because you were sleeping with his brother?” Dex snapped.

  Sloane jerked back like someone had struck him and despite feeling guilty for the sucker-punch, Dex refused to back down now. “Yeah, that’s sort of how I felt. You know, it would have been nice to hear it from you.” Snapping himself out of his trance, Sloane tried to walk off, but Dex caught his arm and pleaded. “Were you ever going to tell me?” Sloane didn’t respond. He pulled away and went to lean his arms against the counter next to the stove, his back to Dex.

  Was it that difficult for Sloane to trust him? Had he given the guy
any reason not to? Since joining the team, he’d tried damn hard every single day to connect with Sloane, to show him he wanted their partnership to work. That he was in it for the long haul and would be there if Sloane needed him. That he could depend on him. Isn’t that what partners did? “I wasn’t expecting you to weave me a tapestry. Just tell me you were involved. Maybe I would have understood why you hated me so much.”

  “I never hated you.” Sloane shook his head. He spun around, eyes blazing. “I can’t believe you went to Isaac behind my back!”

  “How is it going behind your back when I didn’t know who the guy was to you? We’re supposed to be partners. We’re supposed to trust each other. It was my business to know, Sloane, because Gabe wasn’t just your partner, you were in love with him, still are, and he was killed on the job. And now it’s my job, and I’m your partner, and….” He bit down on his bottom lip. And what? Did he have a right to be upset about this? What is it about trust or something else?

  Sloane scoffed. “And what? Because you replaced him at work, you thought you could replace him in my bed? The parking garage and your little half-assed attempt to seduce me in the car last night were nice tries but not enough to land you the position.”

  That stung a hell of a lot more than it should have. “Wow. Okay.” Dex nodded, pressing his lips together, not trusting himself to speak, his heart feeling as if it was one tap away from crumbling to dust. He was such a fuckwit, putting himself in this position. Sloane’s cutting remark had blindsided him to the point he couldn’t even feel embarrassed about supposedly coming onto Sloane in the car last night.

  Dex strode out of the kitchen and into to the living room, hearing Sloane cursing loudly from the kitchen. Sloane pissed him off, but not nearly as much as his own reaction. Who the fuck does he think he is? The knowledge that Sloane would think Dex was trying to slip into Gabe’s place in his life made him feel sick to his stomach. Was that all Sloane saw when he looked at Dex? Was it the only reason he’d let his guard down, kissed him, allowed Dex to get close to him?

  He pulled on his sneakers and snatched up his jacket, slipping into it. His keys were in his pocket, so he headed for where he assumed was the front door.

  Sloane came out of the kitchen and caught his arm. “Dex, wait a minute.”

  He needed to get the hell out of here. “Let go of me.”

  “Not until you listen—”

  “No, you listen,” Dex spat out, shoving Sloane away from him. “I am not Gabe, and fuck you for thinking of me as nothing more than a piss-poor substitute.”

  “I never thought that,” Sloane argued quietly.

  “Don’t treat me like an asshole. I deserve a little more respect than that.” Dex threw open the door, found the elevator, and made his way downstairs. He rushed down two sets of stairs, in the rain. Fucking icing on the cake. When he got down to the bottom step, his day was completed.

  “Fuck me,” Dex grumbled. He was too hung over for this shit, and he hadn’t even had coffee yet. “What the hell are you doing here?”

  Ash eyed him suspiciously. “I could ask you the same thing.”

  “Come on, Ash. You’re a big boy. What do you think I’m doing here?”

  Ash marched up to him, and Dex was waiting for the guy to lay a finger on him. He was almost disappointed when Ash didn’t. “What are you playing at, Daley? He doesn’t need this in his life right now.”

  “What are you, his nanny? What would you know about what he needs? Or maybe you got a little crush going on you don’t want him to know about? Is that it? You got something else you’re hiding in your closet next to your AK-47 and knitted Christmas sweaters?”

  “Fuck you, man. Sloane’s like a brother to me. How would you feel if your brother lost the love of his life, and then some asshole walks in trying to fuck with his head?”

  “You know what?” Dex threw his hands up. “I don’t need your shit right now.” He stepped down onto the sidewalk when something hard socked him in the head, the unexpected blow momentarily stunning him. For a split second, he thought maybe Ash had finally lost it and punched him, but when he put his fingers to his brow, he felt it sticky wet. The rain fell harder, washing the blood from Dex’s fingers and down the side of his face. At his feet, a rock lay smeared with his blood.

  “Shit, you okay?” Ash put a hand to his shoulder. “What is that?”

  Dex’s head shot up at the sound of skidding tires, and in the street was a guy wearing a hoodie and a baseball cap, sitting on a dirt bike laughing at him. The last of Dex’s patience snapped. “You little shit!”

  The guy took off down West Sixteenth Street, and Dex gave chase, careful not to get hit by a car as he ran across Tenth, sticking to the sidewalk since he was running up incoming traffic. He’d had about enough of being pushed around, of being made a fool of. He sprinted after the punk as fast as he could, swiping his hair to one side as the pouring rain plastered it down against his face. A small part of him hoped the little prick hit a pothole and ate asphalt. That’d teach him not to be such an asshole. The punk got lucky, the red light on Eleventh halting traffic. Dex sped up, following the guy onto the bike path toward the Chelsea Piers. The red gate to the pier was open, and the bastard skidded as he made a sharp left onto the wooden dock. Dex didn’t bother to slow down. The little shit was about to run out of dock. At the end, the guy made a right and Dex followed.

  He wished he hadn’t.

  His eyes widened and he spun around in the hopes of running back to where he’d come from. But it was too late. This was going to hurt.

  THE DOORBELL rang and Sloane finished buttoning his jeans before running over. He hoped it was Dex so he could apologize for acting like such a dick. After Dex had stormed out, Sloane had paced his living room, wondering how he was going to fix this. He had to after the shitty thing he’d done. How could he accuse Dex of trying to replace Gabe? He’d been so wrapped up in his own pain and his guilt for his attraction to Dex, he’d let his fear bubble up to the surface and then blamed Dex for it. God, he was such a shitty partner and friend, if Dex even considered him a friend. Sloane hadn’t exactly done anything to deserve the title. Sloane threw open the door, frowning when he found Ash there instead.

  “Oh, it’s you.”

  “You don’t gotta sound so happy about it,” Ash grumbled, stepping inside and shaking the water off his jacket onto the welcome mat.

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