Rise amp fall, p.20
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       Rise & Fall, p.20
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         Part #4 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  Fuck! Both his teammates were otherwise occupied, but Dex couldn’t hang around any longer. He had to find Cael. His brother cried out again, and Dex forced himself to remain silent. This time he’d caught where the shout had come from.

  At the end of the floor was the terminal’s small tower with iron girders and steel shafts high above his head running in various directions, along with funnels and a set of narrow stairs leading to the grain terminal’s storage bins at the top. Dex rushed up the stairs, rifle in his hands and ready to take down any bastard who got in his way. Slowing when he reached the top step, he took a deep steady breath and released it gradually. He stepped onto the wooden floor, the decaying boards protesting under his weight. Dex cursed under his breath.

  “Come on out, Agent Daley. I know you’re there.”

  Dex edged farther out onto the rickety floor, hoping one false step didn’t send him crashing through it. It would be a painful ride down considering all the girders and steel below. Rifle aimed, he advanced slowly, his jaw clenched. Hogan was in here somewhere with Cael. Problem was there were plenty of places for the bastard to hide, shadows he could see Dex from and at the same time deny Dex the same courtesy. More rusted tubes littered the room, along with pieces of crane equipment not touched in decades. There were mounds of debris of various sizes scattered about the long rectangular room, and shards of broken glass from the bare and broken windows crunched under his boots.

  “Look at you. Ready for war.” Hogan’s voice bounced off the hollow tubes, frustrating Dex. He stilled, listening to every sound around him. In the distance far below he heard faint roars, shouts, and rifles being fired.

  “Your crew is getting their asses handed to them, Hogan. Why don’t you give up?”

  “Or what? You and your team have been a pain in my ass, Daley, but you’re kidding yourself if you think you can beat me.”

  “Maybe you haven’t heard, but I’m not alone. When my team is done with your crew, they’ll be coming after you,” Dex said as he edged against the far left wall so he was away from any shadows where Hogan might be hiding, waiting to get the drop on him.

  “Your friends are busy. It’s you and me.”

  There was a soft groan, and Dex swallowed hard. His little brother needed him. “What do you want, Hogan?”

  “To make you suffer the way I suffered.” Hogan emerged from the shadows, dragging a bound and bloodied Cael with him.

  “You motherfucker!” Dex aimed his rifle at Hogan’s chest, but he jerked Cael up in front of him as a shield before Dex could even think of pulling the trigger. A sniper would have come in real handy right about now, but who the hell knew where Calvin was or how many Therians he was knee-deep in.

  Hogan hissed and put his claws to Cael’s neck, his fangs elongating. “Watch your fucking mouth!”

  Looked like Dex had hit a sore spot. He mentally went through Hogan’s file, remembering the reason for all this. “I apologize,” Dex said, doing his best to control his tone and not spit the words out. Hogan’s pupils were dilated, and Dex could see the guy was struggling to maintain a grip on his feral side. He was huge with dark hair and nearly black eyes, at least three hundred pounds or slightly over, dressed in a tactical uniform and black vest. He was all bulging muscle. How the hell the guy didn’t go through the piss-poor excuse of a floor beneath them was anyone’s guess. Dex glanced around the room, taking in all the places he might be able to escape to with Cael if he needed to. High places with narrow spaces. Hogan could still follow, but he was bulkier, and although his Therian form might climb with ease, in this confined space, the Therian’s Human form might struggle.

  Here’s hoping. Now if he could only get his brother away from the guy. Dex swallowed hard, telling himself to concentrate on Hogan and the task before him, not the way his brother’s cheek was bruised. Not the smear of blood under his nose or the way he was balancing himself on one leg which meant Hogan had done something to his left leg.

  “I’m sorry about what happened to your family. Believe it or not, I know how you feel.”

  Hogan let out a bark of laughter. “Oh shit. Are you trying to sympathize with me? Trying to make a connection? Some sort of bond? Negotiating? Are you about to fucking negotiate with me, Agent Daley?” Hogan’s grin fell away and he snarled. “Tell me how you understand my pain. How you lost someone important to you as well, but how this isn’t the way. Go ahead. Tell me how my family wouldn’t have wanted this for me!” Hogan pressed the tip of a claw into Cael’s neck, making him cry out.

  “Stop!” Dex pleaded, holding a hand up. “Please. Tell me what you want.”

  “I want all you THIRDS assholes to go to hell!” Hogan hauled Cael off his feet, lifting him over his head and heading for one of the large open windows. Cael flailed, and Dex opened fire, shooting tranq after tranq into Hogan wherever he could get him. His legs, arms, neck. Hogan roared and carried on. Dex bolted forward, slamming into Hogan from the side with all his strength. The three of them went tumbling, the boards beneath them creaking and groaning as they rolled. Dex scrambled to get up when Hogan grabbed his vest.

  “Dex!” Cael pushed himself to his knees with a wince.

  “Run, Cael!” Dex swung his arm around, catching Hogan on the side of the head with his fist, but the blow only pissed the Therian off even more. Hogan’s beefy hands were around Dex’s neck, and he squeezed, the tips of his claws drawing blood. Dex gasped for breath. He scratched at Hogan’s reddened face with one hand while reaching for the Glock in his holster with the other. If he didn’t do something fast, Hogan might decide to snap his neck rather than enjoy stealing the breath from his already burning lungs.

  Hitting the release mechanism, Dex snatched his Glock, swiping it before Hogan pulled back, getting to his feet and hauling Dex with him by the neck and dangling him off the ground. Fuck this. It wasn’t going to end like this. Dex brought his gun up, but Hogan’s arm got in his way, so Dex did the only thing he could while hanging in Hogan’s grip. He pressed the barrel of the Glock against the side of Hogan’s vest and fired one round after another. Hogan stumbled, blood trickling down the side of his mouth, but he refused to release Dex, his expression both pained and determined. Rage, hatred, and anguish were driving Hogan, coupled with Therian adrenaline.

  A blow landed across the back of Hogan’s head, and Dex was dropped on his ass. He gasped and wheezed for air, his hand going to his neck as he turned in time to see Hogan spin on his heels toward the culprit. Nostrils flaring and fangs bare, Hogan roared at Cael who backed away, a steel rod in his hands.

  “Get the fuck away from my brother you piece of shit!”

  Hogan lunged at Cael who ducked and swung the rod as if it were a baseball bat like their days back in Little League. Except Cael wasn’t so little anymore. He put all his weight behind it, all his Therian strength. He caught Hogan behind the knee, the piercing crack resonating around the room before it was drowned out by Hogan’s howl.

  Cael hopped over to Dex as he got to his feet, and Dex threw his arm around his brother’s waist, helping him quickly move toward the stairs only to have their path blocked by a white tiger Therian. One of Hogan’s crew. They were trapped. Dex frantically looked around the room, spotting Hogan getting to his feet. He quickly headed for one of the hollow corroded tubes angled toward some iron girders.

  “Come on, Cael. We gotta climb.”

  Despite knowing the tiger Therian could easily follow and jump, Cael did as Dex said, moving as quick as he could onto the tube. Dex swiped up his tranq rifle on the way there, firing at the hissing and roaring tiger Therian as he advanced.

  “Kill them! Tear them apart!” Hogan ordered, limping in their direction. Dex jumped onto the tube, balancing as he followed Cael toward the girders. He emptied what was left of his tranqs into the tiger Therian, grateful to see they were slowing him down. If he made it out of this, Dex was going to have some serious words with Rosa about having more potent shit on hand. Fucking tiger Therians didn’t
go down for anything short of a goddamn explosion.

  Cael pulled himself up onto one of the girders, kicking back when a paw swiped at his leg, grazing his tac pants. Another paw swipe, and Dex kicked the tiger Therian in the face, earning himself a fierce roar. Pulling himself up on the girder, he followed Cael, dragging himself on his stomach and praying Hogan was too weak to climb up here. No such luck.

  “Fuck. What is this guy on fucking ’roids? He’s like the fucking Terminator,” Dex growled. They were going to run out of girder. The iron beam trembled beneath them, and Dex looked over his shoulder. The tiger Therian was pushing Hogan up onto the beam with his head, and as soon as he was up, the tiger Therian jumped too. The beam creaked. Cael looked over his shoulder at him, eyes wide.

  “Dex….”

  “Get to the end! There’s a narrow ledge. Hurry up!”

  They both pulled themselves as quickly as they could, the terrifying sound of the girder creaking and wood snapping reaching Dex’s ear.

  “Come here you little shits!”

  “Hurry up, Cael!”

  Cael reached the end and climbed onto the narrow steel ledge as the beam dropped. With a cry Dex threw his arm out. Cael snatched his wrist, the other hand holding on to a piece of metal piping. He held on tight to Dex as he dangled in midair, the whole fucking place falling apart around them. The girder dropped with Hogan and the tiger Therian to the floor, the combined weight tearing through the wooden boards. Hogan’s screams mingled with the tiger Therian’s roar as they fell, until the beam hit the girders and steel shafts below, along with Hogan and his friend. The screams stopped when the two fell through the collapsed set of stairs at the canal’s basin, impaled on rusted reinforcement bars.

  Cael pulled Dex up, and they hugged, relief causing the both of them to shake in each other’s arms for a slip of a moment. Dex closed his eyes and held Cael close before he pulled away and looked him over.

  “Are you okay?”

  Cael nodded. “I think he fractured something in my leg, but I’m okay.”

  “Let’s get the hell out of here before the whole place collapses on us.” They edged along the wall to a thick pipe near the stairs which ran down and through the floor. Dex slid down first, then Cael with Dex’s help. There was enough floor left for them to make it to the stairs, though they were as quick as they could be going down. Thankfully the stairs from the roof hadn’t been destroyed with everything else. Dex helped his brother down to the first floor.

  “Cael? Dex?” Ash came running with Seb on his heels. They both looked like hell. Ash was out of breath, his face smudged with dirt and blood. When he saw Cael, he stopped in his tracks, his expression conveying what Dex could only assume was heartache. It had been rough on Dex seeing Cael smacked around. He had no doubt Ash was feeling something similar.

  Ash rushed toward Cael, and Dex stood by as his little brother gently pushed away from him to limp in Ash’s direction. Cael threw himself into Ash’s open arms where he was lifted off his feet and held tight against Ash, his large hand to the back of Cael’s head.

  “Are you okay? Are you hurt? I—”

  Ash’s words were cut off by Cael’s mouth on his. It took Ash a moment to react, and it wasn’t how Dex had expected. Closing his eyes, Ash returned Cael’s kiss. At Ash’s response, Cael threw his arms around Ash’s neck, and the two kissed like nothing else in the world existed.

  Out of breath, Ash pulled back. He smiled at Cael before carefully placing him on his feet. He ran a hand over Cael’s head. “Are you okay?”

  Cael nodded, a big, wide smile on his face, cheeks flushed. “I’m great. Leg hurts like a bitch, but other than that, I’m good.”

  Seb walked over to Ash and Cael, his hands held up in front of him when Ash moved in front of Cael, shielding him with a low growl.

  “It’s okay, Ash.” Cael came out from behind him, a hand going to Ash’s bicep. He gave it a pat and faced Seb. “I’m sorry, Seb. I wasn’t playing you. Like I told you, I really like you, I’m just….”

  “In love with someone else,” Seb said, smiling softly. “I remember.”

  “Don’t give up, Seb. Find out how he feels. If there’s the tiniest bit of hope, try.”

  “Thanks.” Seb turned his hardened gaze to Ash. “Take good care of him, Ash. He deserves it.”

  Ash nodded when they heard the blare of sirens in the distance.

  “Sounds like backup is arriving. You guys better get the hell out of here.”

  Dex watched stunned as Ash swept Cael off his feet. His brother arched an eyebrow at Ash. “I can walk. Sort of.”

  Ash gave him a wink. “I know. But this way is quicker.”

  With a playful smile, Cael wrapped his arms around Ash’s neck. “All right, then. What are you waiting for?”

  Dex and Ash hurried down to the ground floor and out toward the van, and Dex was relieved to see the rest of their team doing the same. Sloane opened the back door, and everyone climbed in before he slammed the door shut and told Calvin to get them the hell out of there.

  Looking around, everyone looked worse for wear, scratched, bloodied, covered in dirt or dust, but in one piece. Ash put Cael down on the bench and took a seat beside him, his arm coming to wrap protectively around Cael.

  Dex had no idea what would come next for his brother and Ash, but he hoped whatever it was, they’d work it out. As much as the thought of his little brother being loved up by Ash horrified Dex, he’d deal with it if it meant Cael was happy. Speaking of happy, he smiled when his partner wrapped an arm around his shoulder.

  “Are you okay? What happened?” Sloane’s amber eyes watched him worriedly. He saw the marks on Dex’s neck and cursed under his breath before he reached out and tenderly ran a thumb over his bruised skin. “Jesus, Dex.”

  “Cael and I handled it. You know what they say. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

  Sloane chuckled and bumped his head against Dex’s. His smile reached his eyes, the affection and love shining through.

  “I couldn’t agree more.”

  Chapter 12

  “KARAOKE?”

  Dex’s blue eyes sparkled, his smile wide. Sloane had never seen anything or anyone so beautiful.

  “Yep. The bar’s all ours tonight.” Sloane was grateful to Bradley for the offer. The guy had called Sloane to see how he was doing, and after a brief rundown—because Bradley was as good at listening outside of Dekatria as he was in it—Bradley had offered to close the bar for one evening and open it up just for Destructive Delta. And Lou, of course. Sloane let his partner help him over to one of the tables in front of the stage. After Rosa had patched everyone up and pulled a few strings to get Cael’s legs x-rayed and tended to on the down low, they were all in need of some serious relaxing.

  Seb was a hero. He’d initially refused to take credit for capturing Hogan’s men and the standoff at the grain terminal, but Dex had worked his magic and said if he didn’t take the credit, Destructive Delta’s cover would be blown, bringing down all kinds of shit on everyone, so it was better if Seb and his team took the credit. It sent Seb flying through his probationary period as Team Leader. The higher-ups were practically wetting themselves, and the PR department was bringing out the champagne. There was nothing the public loved more than a story of redemption. Poor Seb had paid the price for his past mistakes and clawed his way back to the top. The guy deserved it. They never would have been able to get through this without his support.

  Dex took a seat beside Sloane who shook his head. “Well?”

  “Well what?”

  “Aren’t you going to sing for me?” Sloane smiled at the way his partner’s cheeks flushed.

  “For… you?”

  “But I get to pick the song,” Sloane said.

  “Oookay.” Dex stood. He was going to help Sloane when Sloane shooed him toward the stage and asked Hobbs to help him. With a big smile, Hobbs wrapped an arm around Sloane and helped him to his feet. Sloane allowed himself to lean on
his friend as he was helped slowly onto the stage. His leg was taking a little longer than he liked, no thanks to his putting therapy on hold. The last thing he’d wanted was to leave Dex out there chasing down Hogan with Sloane stuck in some doctor’s office every day. He had plenty of time to recover and was enjoying having some time off.

  Ash called out at him. “Sloane’s going to sing! Woo!”

  “Only if you sing a duet with me,” Sloane replied.

  “Fuck off,” Ash laughed.

  “Yeah, I thought so.”

  Sloane scrolled through the list, unable to help his smile. There seemed to be an extraordinarily large amount of ’80s songs on the list. He had no doubt Bradley had added them for a certain someone. Finally he found the one he was looking for. It was one he’d heard on the radio recently. It wasn’t retro, but it was the kind of song his partner needed, even if Dex didn’t know it himself. Sloane wasn’t too opposed to the lyrics either. He motioned for Dex to come up on stage, and Dex did. He looked over Sloane’s shoulder and arched an eyebrow at him.

  “Strange choice for you. I don’t think I’ve heard it.”

  “It’s no Journey, but I think you’ll like it. I know how much you like a good beat.”

  Dex nodded, and Sloane made his way back to the table with Hobbs’s help. He thanked his friend and sat down. As soon as Sloane was settled in and smiling at Dex, his partner pressed play.

  The stomping and simultaneous beat of the drums reverberated throughout the bar before the piano kicked in. Dex’s smooth and sexy voice started singing about being his light and burning sun. Everyone started clapping and stomping their feet in time to the music, making Dex smile as he sang. He started moving with the beat and grabbed the microphone off the stand when the tune kicked into high gear. Everyone erupted in whoops and catcalls. Rosa and Letty jumped to their feet and started dancing, their arms up in the air as they bounced around. Soon Calvin joined in, and the girls even managed to drag Hobbs to dance.

  Sloane watched his team having fun, but the warmth in his heart and the smile on his face was for Dex who’d transformed back into the playful, passionate man Sloane had missed more than he originally thought. He had his Dex back, and Sloane had no intention of losing him again.

  Rosa came over to Sloane and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Nice choice.”

  “I missed that smile,” Sloane confessed.

  “We all did.” Rosa leaned in to talk quietly in his ear. “I’m happy for you. He’s exactly what you needed. Even if you were too stubborn to admit it.”

  Sloane laughed and gave Rosa’s cheek a kiss, surprising her. “You are exceptionally wise, Rosita Bonita.”

  With a chuckle, Rosa went back to dancing. When Dex was finished singing, Lou and Bradley came out with drinks and food. Everyone cheered and crowded around the table. Nothing made his team happier than good food and good company. Dex came to stand beside Sloane, his hand discreetly going to the back of Sloane’s neck and his fingers stroking his skin.

  “This was a great idea.”

  Sloane smiled up at him. “It’s good to have you back.” His partner’s expression fell, and he crouched down beside Sloane.

  “I’m so sorry for everything I put you through.”

  “Me too.”

  “I really wish I could kiss you right now.”

  Sloane looked around the room, filled with his teammates. His family. They’d all risked everything to help Dex. They never hesitated to do whatever it took to back each other up. They bickered and fought, drove each other crazy, made mistakes, and sometimes had to be put in line, but they never stopped being family. Sloane took hold of Dex’s face, his heart fluttering at his beautiful partner’s questioning smile. He pulled Dex close and brought their lips together, stifling Dex’s gasp. After a moment of hesitation, Dex threw his arms around Sloane and returned his kiss. Seconds later there was cheering and catcalls from everyone around them. Spurred on by their audience, Sloane deepened the kiss, and Dex got up to sit on his lap, their lips never losing contact.

  “Well, it’s about fucking time,” Letty called out, making them both laugh.

  Sloane pulled away with a breathy chuckle and turned his gaze on his team. “You all knew anyway.”

  “We were wondering when you were going to finally tell us,” Rosa said, picking up her beer. She held it up for a toast. “To Sloane and Dex. May they have many years of amazing sex and driving each other batshit crazy.”

  Dex picked up his beer. “I’ll drink to that!”

  Sloane lifted his pineapple juice. “To Destructive Delta. The greatest family I could have ever hoped for.”

  “Aw,” Letty said with a sniff. “Your meds make you so sappy.”

  Dex let his head fall back as he laughed.

  “Quiet, you.” Sloane nipped at Dex’s neck making him squirm. At least until his partner saw the huge platter of cheese snacks. He jumped off Sloane’s lap and bounced like a kid in a candy store. What was it with his partner’s weird obsession with cheese? As everyone munched away and chatted, Dex came to sit on Sloane’s lap with a tray of snacks.

  “Sloane? I think there’s something wrong with me.”

  “I know, sweetheart, but that doesn’t mean I like you any less,” Sloane said with a chuckle as he stole one of Dex’s cheese cubes and popped it in his mouth.

  “Smartass. Seriously, I think I might be sick.”

  “You’re not feeling well?” Were the previous weeks starting to catch up to his partner? He held a hand to Dex’s brow. Seemed normal. Then again “normal” was a relative term where Dex was concerned.

  “I’m losing weight, but my clothes fit the same. How’s that possible?”

  “Probably means you’re putting on muscle and losing fat.”

  “But I’m not doing anything different with my workouts or in training.” Dex looked thoughtful as he held a Cheesy Doodle up in front of him. “I’m not eating any differently.”

 
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