Hell & high water, p.5
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       Hell & High Water, p.5

         Part #1 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet

  Yogi made a swipe at him with one massive hand, but Dex dropped to the floor before he could get clobbered. He scrambled to his feet, shoved the packet into his roomy back pocket, and bolted from the room, yelling out behind him, “Bastards!

  Yogi was fast on his heels as Dex sped through the lounge, down the busy corridor, and past the training bays. “Excuse me! Coming through!” Shit, shit, shit! Who’d have thought Yogi would like Cheesy Doodles as much as he did?

  “Give them here!” Yogi growled.

  “Go find your own pic-a-nic basket!” The deep feral growl he received in response was most likely a “no.”

  Dex ran into the training bay hoping to get help from his little brother or at the least use him as a shield, when he slammed into something hard, bounced back, and hit Yogi who shoved him harshly into the first hard body Dex had hit. An arm came around him as the three of them crashed into a large martial arts display. As he fell, Dex braced himself.

  This was going to hurt.

  Chapter 3

  A BOOMING crash echoed through the room as Sloane hit the floor along with the ten-foot display, everything from wooden bokkens to bo staffs landing on him and clattering around him. When the Human agent had collided with him, Sloane’s instinct had been to throw his arm around the man in the hopes of regaining his equilibrium, but instead, the man’s flailing sent them both toppling over. With a groan, Sloane rolled over and smacked his head against someone else’s.

  “Son of a bitch!” Sloane spat out at the idiot on the floor next to him rubbing his own forehead. “What the hell?”

  The man’s eyes opened wide and for a moment, Sloane was speechless. They were the palest crystal blue he’d ever seen, a sharp contrast against tan skin, dark brows, and dirty-blond hair. The agent, however, was unfamiliar to him. Must be new, or Sloane would have remembered him.

  “Shit,” Blondie exclaimed, his face going bright red. The guy was embarrassed, but Sloane didn’t have time to ask questions as Blondie let out a yelp and was hung upside down from his ankles by a pissed off looking Therian agent.

  “Give it here!”

  Blondie twisted and pulled at his legs. “Fuck you, Baloo!”

  Sloane quickly got to his feet, the rest of the team running up to join them, their expressions of stunned disbelief mirroring Sloane’s.

  “What the hell is going on?” Ash asked.

  “Good question.” Sloane crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes narrowing at the seven-foot agent. “What are you doing, Agent Zachary? Put him down.”

  Zach’s bottom lip jutted out pathetically as he motioned to the agent dangling from his grip. “He stole my Cheesy Doodles.”

  Sloane’s jaw dropped. Behind him, his team snorted and giggled like schoolchildren. “Are you telling me all this—” he snapped, thrusting a finger at the mess of equipment on the floor, “—is over a pack of cheese snacks?”

  Blondie pulled himself up by his legs and attempted to loosen one of Zach’s hands with no luck. “In my defense, I was eating, minding my own business, when Yogi Bear over here tries to kill me!”

  “Why did you steal his snack?” Sloane asked, mystified. Was the guy crazy or stupid?

  “I didn’t!” Blondie cried indignantly. “I bought them, but apparently he called dibs on a whole fucking vendi-ng machine!”

  “Fine. Why didn’t you give them to him, then?”

  With a groan, Blondie stopped struggling and went back to hanging upside down, his arms folded over his chest and his chin set stubbornly. “Because they’re mine.”

  “Everyone knows they’re mine,” Zach growled.

  “Oh for the love of….” Sloane pinched the bridge of his nose and summoned patience. “Where are they?”

  Blondie reached into his back pocket, pulled out the cause of this ridiculous event, and held it out. Sloane snatched the packet from the Human agent and stuffed it into Zach’s front breast pocket. “There, now put him down.” Before he could tell Zach to do so gently, Blondie was released. They all cringed as the agent hit the floor with a painful thud.

  “Ow! Motherfucking piss buckets!”

  “Thank you,” Zach said with a wide grin.

  “Share next time, okay?” Sloane patted Zach’s arm and sent him on his way. He looked down at the mess of an agent on the floor. God help the team this guy was on.


  Sloane glanced up sharply. Oh fuck no. “You?” He gaped at the blond man bitching and cursing as he got up.

  “You don’t have to look so happy about it,” Dex muttered, brushing himself off.

  It couldn’t be. “This has to be a mistake.”

  “Try using your inside voice. Less awkward.”

  Cael ran over and grabbed Dex’s arms. “Are you okay? I was in the bathroom when I heard what happened. The minute they said “crazy guy” I knew it was you.”

  “Gee, thanks.”

  “You’re Detective Daley?” Sloane still couldn’t believe it. This couldn’t be the same guy Maddock was always talking about. Impossible.

  “Agent Dexter J. Daley. You can call me Dex.” Dex put his hands on his hips and looked around the stupefied team with a broad grin. “So which one of you is my new partner?” Everyone turned to Sloane and the smile fell off Dex’s face. “This day just gets better and better.”

  “Absolutely not.” Sloane shook his head, as if doing so would make the whole disturbing problem disappear. This was not acceptable. He understood he was going to be dealing with a rookie, but this, this…. No.

  Dex turned to him, his expression sincere. “Look, I’m sorry about earlier. That was stupid, I know. I didn’t mean to panic. I’ve never had a Therian threaten my life over cheese snacks before. Well, except for Cael, but we’re family. Give me a chance.”

  Damn it. It’s not like he had a choice in the matter. He’d already been warned by Lieutenant Sparks. He had to have a partner, and she was frustrated with him as it was for the half-dozen or so agents he’d scared off. In his defense, they had been absolute fuckwits. Okay, they hadn’t been. In fact, they’d been perfectly capable, but none of them had been a good fit for his team, and in the end, that was as important as competence. “You’re not what I expected.”

  “Surpassed your expectations?” Dex asked with a hopeful smile.

  Jesus, it was worse than he thought. Sloane narrowed his eyes. “No.”

  “Right. So um, this is the team, huh?”

  He was going to have a serious talk with Maddock about this. In the meantime, he turned to the rest of the team to make the introductions, starting with Ash—who Sloane refused to so much as make eye contact with. The only reason Ash wasn’t having a total shit fit about their newest recruit was out of respect for Cael. Thank God for small miracles. As soon as Cael was out of earshot, he was going to have to listen to Ash bitch. The thought alone exhausted him. “This is Ash Keeler, our entry tactics and CQC expert, and his partner, Julietta Guerrera, our weapons expert.”

  “Letty,” the petite agent corrected with a serious nod.

  Sloane motioned to the youngest agent on their team. “You know Cael. That’s his partner Rosa Santiago, our crisis negotiator and medic.”

  “Rosa, nice to meet you,” Dex said, smiling pleasantly.

  Rosa pursed her lips, her arms crossing over her chest. This was going to be fun. Sloane could feel it already. Turning to the next two members of their team, Sloane braced himself.

  “This is Calvin Summers, our sniper and his partner, Ethan Hobbs, our demolitions expert.”

  Dex pressed his lips together and Sloane knew what was coming next. Dex’s gaze went from the tall brooding Therian to his smaller, equally brooding, blond, spiky-haired partner and back.

  “So….” Dex began, looking up at Hobbs whose Therian form was clearly marked as being a tiger. “Do they call you Ethan or….”

  “They call him Hobbs,” Calvin said with a roll of his eyes. “Get it out of your system.”

  Dex was bitin
g his bottom lip, trying his hardest not to laugh, but in the end gave in. “I’m sorry, I am. So they call you two Calvin and Hobbs? It’s just… that’s… so awesome.”

  “It is awesome,” Calvin drawled as he turned to Hobbs. “Isn’t that what I was telling you this morning? How awesome it is? The cartoon jokes never get old, do they?” Dex’s gaze went to Ash’s Frosted Flakes T-shirt and Calvin let out a snort of disgust. “Christ. You and your fucking T-shirts, Ash.”

  “What?” Ash shrugged innocently. “I happen to be a fan. Hey, how come you never wear that red and black striped T-shirt I got you for your birthday last year?”

  Hobbs let out a low growl, and Calvin gestured rudely. “Blow me, Ash.”

  “Grow a pair of tits and I’ll think about it.” Ash returned the lewd gesture and added his tongue into the mix.

  Sloane didn’t need this right now. “Guys,” he pleaded. “Come on.”

  “Don’t pay any attention to them,” Rosa told Dex. “They’re busting your balls because you’re the new guy.”

  An evil grin came onto Ash’s face. “Speaking of balls, Rosa show you hers yet?”

  Rosa gave Ash a rough push, which only made him laugh. “Pendejo, vete pa’l carajo. Puta.”

  “I love it when you talk dirty to me.” Ash laughed, dodging her blows as she went after him. “I keep telling you, baby. One night with me, and I promise you, I’ll get you back onto beef. You can invite your girlfriend.”

  “Fuck you, Ash. You—”

  “All right that’s enough!” Sloane hissed, getting everyone’s attention. “Ash, go clean that shit up.” He jutted his thumb over his shoulder, and as expected, Ash turned a menacing glare on Dex before storming off, cursing under his breath. “Rosa, go help him.”

  Rosa’s hand went to her hip, her other arm coming up as she flipped Ash off. Sloane didn’t even want to know what Ash was doing behind his back. The less he saw the better. “Why do I have to go help that puta?”

  “Because you two drive me fucking batshit crazy,” Sloane ground out before motioning toward Dex, “and if you haven’t noticed, I have enough to deal with.” With nostrils flaring, Rosa went off after Ash. “Calvin, you and Hobbs continue your reps. Letty, go get Dex a locker assignment. Cael, take five.” Everyone dispersed and Sloane was left with his new partner who should have been accompanied by their sergeant, not left to wander around on his own, especially since he couldn’t seem to do so without creating chaos. “Where’s Maddock?”

  “With Dr. Colbourn and Dr. Bishop. They needed to discuss something with him about the HumaniTherians’ case. You know, you didn’t introduce yourself.” Dex smiled and held a hand out to him.

  With a pleasant smile, Sloane took his hand and shook it. “I apologize. Hi, I’m Agent Sloane Brodie, your Team Leader. I enjoy reading, cozy nights in, and the soothing sounds of classic rock. I also like to browse the Internet for funny cat videos, but deep down, I think I’m more of a dog person.”

  Dex eyed him, uncertain. “You’re being sarcastic.”

  “Yes, Rookie, I’m being sarcastic.” Sloane pulled his hand away. “All you have to know about me is that I expect you to do what I say. Got it?” He received a curt nod.

  “Got it.”

  “Good. Now we’re going to get on that mat, and you’re going to show me what I’ve got to work with.”

  A startled look came onto Dex’s face. “You want me to fight you?”

  “Judging from the bruise on your lip and the scratches on your face, I’d say it’s not exactly a foreign concept to you.” Dex opened his mouth and Sloane quickly held a hand up to stop him. “I don’t care. You’re at work now, and when you’re at work, your ass belongs to me. You got a problem with that?”

  “No. I just wasn’t expecting to get my cherry popped on the first day.”

  “I’m sure that sounded better in your head. Whatever expectations you had about the job and the THIRDS, I suggest you forget all of them. Now get your ass out there. Shoes and shirt off. You can hand your rig to Cael. Oh and Rookie?”



  Dex quickly removed his boots, revealing bright orange socks and drawing a sneer from Sloane. Standard issue was black, but Dex clearly thought himself to be special. There was gel in his hair and from here, Sloane could smell some fruity, citrusy concoction. The uniform shirt was removed next, and Sloane did his best to dismiss the stir in his abdomen as he took in the rookie’s semiundressed state. Muscular arms and an equally muscular chest beneath a snug black T-shirt flexed attractively. He wasn’t as tall, bulky, or wide as Sloane, more sinewy and athletic, but he was well built.

  Sloane wasn’t above admitting when he found someone physically attractive and the agent before him was. Now that he’d gotten that out of the way, he could focus on the job, a job that had suddenly become a lot more difficult. Dex removed his rig from around his leg and after whistling to his brother, tossed it over. Cael caught it and placed it on the floor beside him before going back to his tablet. Did that kid ever put that thing down?

  Sloane observed Dex as he made his way to the center of the mat. The guy had a nice ass too. On that note, maybe it was time for Sloane to get laid. It had been way too long since he’d picked anyone up, but then, the only thing that seemed to interest him these days was the job. Why the hell was he thinking about sex now? He followed Dex onto the blue mat and stopped a few feet away from him, pushing any and all sexual thoughts out of his mind. He had work to do. A lot of work to do.

  Dex readied himself, stretching his neck and back. Despite his disastrous introduction, the guy actually had excellent poise. He balanced perfectly on one leg while he pulled the opposite knee up to stretch then swapped and did the same with the other. He bent over and grabbed his ankles with ease then slowly rolled his back to stand upright again. Rotating his shoulders, he shook himself off and hopped on his toes for a few seconds to warm up. His movements revealed he was lithe and flexible, yet Sloane couldn’t understand how this was the same guy who had scored top of his class during the training run. It was true he didn’t know much about Dex, but he’d read the file the moment he’d been informed of the decision.

  Both parents had been killed during the riots when he was five years old. He’d been adopted by his father’s friend and work partner, Anthony Maddock. A year later, his baby Therian brother was rescued and adopted. Went to Berkeley at eighteen for four years, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Justice Studies, and joined the HPF a year later. Four years after that, was promoted to homicide detective. Dexter J. Daley, thirty-three years old, unmarried, and recently testified against his Human partner in a murder trial. Sloane was still figuring out what to think about that last part.

  Dex took his stance, bending his knees, his left leg a little farther up than the right, and his fists up near his face.

  “Your stance is good,” Sloane murmured, ignoring Dex’s surprised look. Taking up his own fighting stance, Sloane motioned for Dex to advance. “Okay. Come at me.”

  Dex shook his head. “No.”

  Sloane paused. Was the rookie messing with him? “What do you mean ‘no’?”

  “How about you come at me.”

  “That’s not how this works.”

  “I’ve seen what attacking you head on does. You want to see what I can do? You’ll have to work for it.”

  Sloane arched an eyebrow. Well, if nothing else, the guy had balls. “Okay. Remember, you asked for it.” He advanced, faked with his right to land a left hook to Dex’s ribs. A swipe to his left foot brought Dex crashing down to the mat.

  “Fuck,” Dex moaned, rolling out of the way. He jumped to his feet and rounded his shoulders. “Okay.” Bouncing on his toes, he circled Sloane. “Let’s try this again.”

  This match was over. Rookie just didn’t know it yet. Sloane was good at exposing weaknesses, and he was already working on discovering his new partner’s.

  They slowly circled each other, and Sloane go
t closer to Dex with each step until he was close enough to throw a punch. Dex blocked it, his concentration focused on keeping Sloane from landing a hit. He was studying Sloane, trying to get a handle on his technique so he could formulate a plan of attack. Rookie was using his head—that was good—but he was taking too long to decide on his course of action and that was bad. Hesitation was something his Human partner couldn’t afford out in the field, not when dealing with Therians. As a species, Therians were faster, stronger, healed quicker, and had a higher level of tolerance when it came to pain.

  Dex blocked a left hook to the ribs with his right elbow tucked up against his body, but in anticipation of Sloane faking a right, he tucked his left elbow in as well, leaving his head exposed. Sloane took advantage and clipped Dex under his chin. His head came up, once again leaving himself exposed long enough for Sloane to give his cheek a smack. Dex shuffled back, eyes wide.

  “What the fuck was that?”

  “I’m sorry. Did I smear your makeup?” Sloane held back a smile at Dex’s glare. This was too easy. Forgetting all about keeping his distance, Dex charged him.

  A fierce combination of hooks, jabs, and an attempt at an uppercut were nicely executed, but still not enough to catch Sloane off guard. He blocked Dex’s advances, ducked under a right hook, and grabbed Dex’s leg. With a forceful pull, Dex was once again sprawled on his back.

  “I haven’t spent this much time on my back since college.”

  Sloane laughed. “It’s a good look for you, Rookie.”

  “You asking me out on a date? Because I don’t date assholes,” Dex grumbled, sitting up.

  “I may be an asshole, but even I’ve got standards.”

  With a smirk, Dex hung his head and held an arm out.

  “Giving up already? How disappointing.” Sloane reached out and took Dex’s hand, ready to pull him up when Dex twisted his torso and kicked a leg out, catching Sloane on the side of his knee and sending him down onto it. He was jerked forward and Dex’s legs wrapped around his waist. He twisted his lower body to throw Sloane onto his back. Dex landed on him, his hands pinning Sloane’s wrists to the mat beneath them, their faces inches away from each other.

  “So, about that date,” Dex said, laughing breathlessly. His eyes shifted to Sloane’s lips before moving back up and his smile grew wider. The little shit was taunting him.

  Sloane didn’t know what pissed him off more, that he’d been caught by surprise, or that he was enjoying it. His anger started bubbling up inside him and that pissed him off even more. He didn’t get angry. Anger meant the rookie was getting to him.

  With a pleasant smile, Sloane jerked his left wrist free to snatch Dex’s in a tight grip. He looped his arm around Dex’s neck, forcing Dex’s arm to come up and around as well. With a swift yank, Dex spun off him and onto the mat.

  That was better. Sloane casually got to his feet with a satisfied grin. He took a deep breath to regain his calm and turned, frowning at the sight of Dex on his stomach, his back arching as he let out a frustrated groan. He ignored the curve of the rookie’s spine and the way he looked when he got onto his hands and knees. Jesus, what was wrong with him? It was time to put a stop to this… distraction.

  Come on,” Sloane snarled. “Get up. I’m not here to be your Xbox buddy.”

  “Come on, Dex!” Cael sat on the floor a few feet away, and Sloane tilted his head, his bottom lip jutting out in a pout as he teased Dex.

  “Aw, isn’t that cute? Baby brother is cheering for you.”

  Dex lunged at him, throwing his arms around Sloane’s waist in an inane attempt to knock him over. Sloane didn’t go down. He was bigger, stronger, and heavier than Dex, but to the rookie’s credit, he managed to get in a nice jab to the ribs. With a well-maneuvered twist of his body, Sloane was out of Dex’s grip and holding him in a headlock. Instead of punching him, he delivered another slap to his cheek. Dex let out a frustrated growl and tried to push away from him.

  “Stop doing that!”

  “Ooh, Rookie’s got a bit of a temper.” Sloane ruffled Dex’s hair, pissing him off further.

  “Aw, isn’t he cute,” Ash teased from the end of the mat.

  “Fuck you, Simba!”

  Rosa burst into laughter and Ash glared at her. “Are you fucking serious?” He turned back to Sloane with a scowl. “You better kick his ass.”

  Dex struggled in Sloane’s grip. “Come on, Rookie. Is this the best you got?”

  “This isn’t fighting,” Dex spat out. “This is you being a prick.”

  Sloane shrugged. “Either way, I’ve seen what you can do and I gotta say, it’s pretty uninspiring.”

  “Uninspiring, huh?” Dex pulled back a fist and Sloane released him, jumping back and narrowly missing Dex’s fist, his knuckles brushing Sloane’s crotch. Sloane gaped at Dex.

  “You were going to punch me in the nuts?”

  “You said it yourself. This isn’t a fight, so yeah. And I would have enjoyed it too.”

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