Rise amp fall, p.8
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       Rise & Fall, p.8

         Part #4 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet

  but clean gray carpet, some cabinets, a small fridge, and a long couch Dex remembered had been upstairs when Lou had first rented the place. Lou had gasped in horror at its seventies-green velour and demanded Dex get it out of his sight immediately. This would be perfect. His phone rang, and Dex fished it out. It was Sloane. Fuck. He’d told Sloane he’d be back tonight. He closed his eyes as he answered.

  “Hey, handsome.”

  “Hey, you okay to talk?”

  “Yeah, what’s up?”

  There was some hesitation before Sloane answered. “I was wondering if you were going to stop by tonight. I understand if you’re in the middle of something.”

  “Actually, just finished wrapping up a long-ass conference call with PR.” Dex winced at the lie. “I’ve still got my bag there with you, so I’ll shower there and crash on the couch.”


  “Of course.” Dex smiled at Sloane’s hopeful tone. Was Sloane missing him?

  “Okay. See you soon, then.”

  The smile in Sloane’s voice wasn’t lost on Dex, and he found himself smiling too. “See you soon.” He hung up and stood there staring at his phone. Was he really going to do this? He wouldn’t be able to keep the fact their team had been pulled from the case from Sloane, not when his partner could easily find out from Ash or any of the others. Which meant he’d have to have an excuse for being out. His phone pinged, and he let out a frustrated groan. Another meeting with PR. On second thought….

  Looked like he’d found his excuse.

  Chapter 5


  Sloane was pouting. The hospital had given him crutches to use, along with a list of exercises he was supposed to do each day before the therapy sessions for his leg started. The crutches annoyed him. His leg not cooperating annoyed him. The asshole pulling out of his parking space with his head up his ass annoyed him.

  “That guy’s pulling out,” Sloane grumbled.

  “I see him.”

  Sloane chose to ignore the amusement in his partner’s voice. “Well, I don’t think he sees you.” Sloane reached over Dex and slammed his fist against the horn before pressing the window button and bellowing, “Hey, watch it!” The car stopped, and the guy glared at Sloane. Wait a second. “Did he just flip me off?”


  “I think he flipped me off. Stop the car. I’m going to get out and beat him with my crutch. Asshole. Thinks he owns the whole fucking road.”

  “Easy there, grumpy pants.” Dex reached over and took hold of Sloane’s hand. He gave it a squeeze and smiled. Sloane wanted to be annoyed at Dex’s lopsided grin, but he couldn’t. He sat back with a heavy sigh and hit the window’s button to raise it.

  “Sorry,” he muttered. “This just…. It sucks.”

  Dex chuckled. “You sound like me.”

  “No. If I wanted to sound like you, I’d have said ‘this sucks aaaaass,’ followed by the chewing of gummy bears or crunching of Cheesy Doodles.”

  “You are as wise as you are grumpy.”

  “I am a grumpy pants,” Sloane admitted. “You sure you want me around like this?”

  Dex stopped at the red light and leaned over to give his lips a quick kiss. “Absolutely.”

  It felt like hours before they reached Dex’s house, but in reality, it hadn’t been long. He was pretty sure he’d dozed off once or twice. Damned meds. Getting out of the car was the first challenge. Sloane had been forced to lean on his crutches. It was going to take getting used to. He already wanted to chuck them into the middle of the street so they could get run over by a truck. Dex took hold of one of the crutches and wrapped his free arm around Sloane’s waist. His smile kept Sloane from bitching and cursing every step of the way. Though he did a fair amount of it anyway. Each step had been excruciating, and the few steps leading to the front door might as well have been the goddamn Andes Mountains. His body ached all over, his side was killing him, his head hurt, and he was already out of breath. Fucking awesome.

  “It’s okay. We have lots of time,” Dex said, his voice soothing in Sloane’s ear. By the time Sloane was at the top, his brow was beaded with sweat.

  “I’m fucking heavy.”

  Dex chuckled and gave his bicep a squeeze. “It’s all that sexy muscle.”

  His partner was crafty. Sloane knew what Dex was doing. What he’d been doing since Sloane had been released from the hospital. He was distracting him. From the frustration, the pain, the urge to throw a punch at something. Sloane appreciated it to no end. Somehow he wasn’t surprised Dex was the only one who could drive him to distraction. Even now as Dex unlocked the front door and bent over to pick up the mail on the floor, Sloane found himself distracted. It was the first time he’d thought about anything sexual. Now he couldn’t stop thinking about it. About Dex lying under him gasping and moaning, begging for Sloane to fuck him. God, he missed that.


  Dex spun around, his eyes wide. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

  “We can’t have sex,” Sloane whined.

  Dex stared at him before bursting into laughter. “Is that what you’re worried about? Not having sex?”

  Sloane glared at Dex as his partner helped him inside and closed the door behind them. “I don’t see what’s so funny. This is a serious situation.” The sinful look on Dex’s face was enough to have Sloane swallowing hard. It was followed by Dex slipping his arms around Sloane, his hand migrating south to Sloane’s ass where he gave it a squeeze. When Dex spoke, his voice was low and husky.

  “Do you really think not being able to have sex is going to stop me from finding ways to make you purr? To drive you absolutely fucking crazy? You think I don’t know how to get creative?”

  Sloane licked his bottom lip. “Well, when you put it like that….” The thought of all the new ways they could get off together had Sloane’s pulse quickening. Challenge accepted. He kissed Dex, relishing in the low moan Dex let out and the way his partner pressed his hard body up against him while simultaneously being gentle. Being around Dex made Sloane want to hold on to him and not let go. Dex pulled back, giving his bottom lip a tug with his teeth before releasing him. Sloane was reluctant to let go, but he was already feeling tired. Dex removed his own jacket and hung it up on the hooks behind the door before carefully helping Sloane out of his and doing the same. Then Dex helped him into the living room where Sloane turned in the direction of the couch only to get led toward the stairs. “Where are we going?”


  “But, the TV is down here.” Even if the meds made him groggy, he had no intention of spending all day sleeping. Plus there was the little problem where he needed to limit the number of stairs he used in a day.

  “The TV is also upstairs. It’ll be much easier for you to get to the bathroom.”

  Sloane paused at the bottom of the stairs to look at Dex. “You got a TV for the bedroom?”


  “Because of me?”

  Dex’s smile warmed Sloane all over. “I don’t want you to get bored when I’m not here.”

  “I don’t know what to say.” He was touched Dex would install a TV in the bedroom just for him.

  “Don’t worry about it.”

  The trip upstairs was another trek up the Andes. This one taking much longer. Damn houses with damn stairs. Along the way he’d been in danger of losing his temper, but Dex would step in with a kiss, a tease, or a flirt, and Sloane would forget what he was pissed off about. He’d get lost in those amazing blue eyes, cheeky smile, and infectious laugh. Before he knew it, they were inside the bedroom. Sloane stood inside the doorway, stunned.

  Dex had mounted the large flat screen on the wall across from the bed, and to the right of what had become Sloane’s side of the bed, was a sleek black minifridge with a basket on top. A small trash bin sat on the floor beside it, and next to the bed was a trendy adjustable rolling tray table.

  With exceptional care, Dex walked Sloane to his side o
f the bed and helped ease him down. The bed was outfitted with a garrison of soft pillows and warm, fuzzy blankets. Sloane watched with a belly full of butterflies as Dex got down on his knees and removed Sloane’s boots and socks before gently lifting his legs onto the bed. Once Sloane was settled back against the pillows, Dex walked over to the minifridge and opened it. Sweet Jesus. It was filled with snacks. Healthy snacks.

  “Water, juice, and your favorite snacks: hummus, guacamole, peanut butter, and fat free Ranch dressing to go with all your raw veggies. There’s also fruit, yogurt, cheese, and sliced chicken.” He closed the fridge door and motioned to the basket on top. “Mixed nuts, beef jerky, protein bars, blue corn tortilla chips, pretzels, napkins, plastic cutlery, small paper plates, and paper cups.” Dex turned to him and stilled. “What’s wrong?”

  Sloane realized his staring probably made him look like a crazy person. “Sorry. I’m just… amazed you would go through all this trouble for me.”

  Dex kicked off his shoes and climbed on the bed to settle in beside Sloane. “First of all, it wasn’t any trouble. Second of all, I said I wanted to take care of you, and I meant it.”

  “Thank you.” Sloane held him close, still trying to take it all in. No one had ever been so attentive to his needs, even when he wasn’t aware himself of what his needs were. He supposed a lot of it had to do with him never allowing anyone to see him in any kind of vulnerable position. With Dex, it was different. Either Dex had worn him down, which was a possibility, or something in Sloane was changing. Somehow, he didn’t feel as nervous about the idea.

  As Dex lay against his good side, his hand on Sloane’s chest, Sloane wondered if he should bring up the fact he knew Sparks had pulled Destructive Delta off the case. Why wouldn’t Dex tell him? Probably because he knew Sloane would get pissed off. It was stupid. How could Dex possibly believe he stood a chance against Hogan on his own? Dex was a capable agent, but he was up against a murderous Therian nearly twice his size. Dex was smarter than that.



  “I’ve got something to tell you.”

  “Okay.” Sloane held his breath as Dex looked up at him.

  “I didn’t tell you earlier because you were in the hospital, and drama was the last thing you needed, but Sparks pulled us off the case and put Destructive Delta on leave.”

  A huge wave of relief washed over Sloane, followed by a pang of guilt for having doubted Dex. He squeezed Dex against him and kissed him until they had to come up for breath. When he pulled back, Dex let out a soft laugh and licked his bottom lip.

  “Wow. What was that for?”

  “Thank you for being so considerate.” Something flashed through Dex’s blue eyes, and Sloane’s smile fell away. He didn’t like what he saw. “Dex, promise me you’re not going to go after Hogan. Sparks gave her orders. Leave Seb and Theta Destructive to do their jobs.”

  Dex pulled away and sat up. “Wait, you knew?”

  Pissbunnies. Nice going. “Yeah, Ash came to visit me at the hospital. It came up.” Damn it. Dex had been considerate in waiting to tell him while Sloane had been what? Distrusting of his partner? Dex frowned at him.

  “Were you going to tell me?”

  There were a million excuses Sloane could give, all which would placate his partner. But Sloane didn’t want to give an excuse. He wanted honesty between them. “I’m sorry. I understand if you’re pissed. I thought you were trying to keep it from me because you were planning on going after Hogan yourself, and it upset me. I hadn’t figured out much else.”

  Dex swallowed hard and didn’t reply. Goddamn it. Sloane realized his initial reaction had been correct.

  “No.” He shook his head. “Dex, you can’t.”

  “Sloane, the guy almost killed you. We should be the ones bringing him in. What if he leaves the city? How can we live with ourselves knowing he’d still be out there somewhere, waiting to regroup and strike again? We’ve been working this case for months. We know him better than Seb and his team. They’ll be working on Hogan’s profile from Themis, whereas we’ve had experience with that asshole and his crew firsthand.”

  Sloane let out a heavy sigh. He should have known it wouldn’t be easy. “You have to learn to walk away, Dex, no matter how much you don’t want to. Sometimes there are more important things at stake than the job. You said so yourself.” It was the reason behind their first real fight, because Dex had put his personal emotions before the job. Under those circumstances, his partner had been right to go against orders. One of their own was in trouble, but this was different.

  Dex went pensive before meeting Sloane’s gaze. “Would you walk away? If the roles were reversed?”

  “At one point, maybe I wouldn’t have.” He laced his fingers with Dex’s and brought him in close once again before kissing Dex’s hand. “But I’d like to think I’ve found something worth walking away for. Something worth walking toward.” Sloane watched Dex intently, watched the uncertainty and conflict in his eyes. It was hard as hell for any good officer to stand down in the face of a threat, but he needed Dex to understand what was at stake. “Promise me you won’t go after Hogan.” He could almost see the little wheels in Dex’s head spinning furiously. Finally Dex looked up and gave him a nod.

  “I’m sorry. You’re right. Some things are too important to walk away from.” He lay back down and snuggled close to Sloane. “I’m glad you’re here.”

  Dex’s soft admission squeezed at Sloane’s heart.

  “I’m glad I’m here too.” Sloane let out a yawn and silently cursed himself. Damn it. Now was not the time for sleep. Something was nagging at him, but he was too groggy to figure out what it was. His head was fuzzy, and his body wanted to give in to the drowsiness. He prayed Dex wasn’t about to do anything stupid. No one was as stubborn as his partner. As much as he wanted to believe Dex would walk away, something told him this wasn’t the end of it.

  Sloane forced himself to stay awake a little bit longer so he could watch Dex sleep. He wondered if his partner had managed to get any rest at all over the last few days. Dex would run himself into the ground if Sloane let him. Feeling Dex against him, watching his chest rise and fall, his lips slightly parted, and a peaceful expression on his handsome face brought on a sudden wave of fierce protectiveness, one akin to the kind he experienced when in his Therian form. It startled him.

  This wasn’t the first time one of his feral traits managed to make an appearance on his Human side. It was disconcerting. Maybe when he was well enough he’d visit with Dr. Shultzon. There was still so much he didn’t know about himself as a First Gen Therian. Was this sort of thing normal? Had any other First Gens experienced something similar? He’d have to ask Ash the next time he spoke to him. Except for the purring part. If he told Ash he’d literally purred while in his Human form, Ash would laugh his ass off, and Sloane would never hear the end of it.

  Feeling his eyelids growing heavy, he held on to his wounded side with his right hand and carefully rolled himself onto his left side, trying his best not to jostle Dex too much. He failed, moving the bed and rousing his partner who opened his sleepy eyes with a smile before he closed them, nuzzled his face against Sloane’s neck, and fell asleep again. Sloane wasn’t far behind. His last hazy thoughts were on how happy he was right here right now and how he hoped nothing would change.

  SLOANE WAS disturbed from his deep sleep by something vibrating against his thigh. What the hell? He opened his eyes at the same moment Dex rolled onto his back with a groan. He reached into his pocket, letting out a yawn as he looked at his phone. “Shit.”

  “What is it?” Sloane asked, feeling groggy. Damn, he hated meds that made him drowsy. His eyelids felt heavy, and if he closed his eyes, he’d be asleep in seconds.

  “I gotta go. I completely forgot I promised to check in with PR about the next meeting.” Dex quickly got off the bed and almost tripped over himself. Regaining his equilibrium, he swiftly came around to Sloane’s side of the bed wi
th an apologetic smile.

  “Oh.” Sloane wanted to say something, but he held his tongue. He wanted to believe Dex, but he’d been a THIRDS agent too long not to be suspicious. Plus, Dex was a shitty liar. Sloane also knew his partner. When he’d asked Dex to promise him, Dex hadn’t actually said the words. King of evasive tactics.

  “Yeah. I’m sorry. How about on the way home I pick up some dinner for us?”

  Sloane nodded. “Call me?” Did he sound needy? Fuck it, he was injured. He was needy. His partner—who had promised to take care of him—should be here with him, especially since he was supposed to be on leave. God, he did sound needy. Screw it. He’d almost been killed. He reserved the right to be a big baby and want his partner to coddle him, God damn it. Wasn’t that what boyfriends did? If they didn’t, they should. His should. It was seriously time for another nap.

  “Of course.” Dex gave his lips a kiss and pulled away, but Sloane caught his arm before he could leave.

  “Take care.”

  “I promise.” Another tender kiss to Sloane’s lips, and Dex was out of the room.

  Seconds later, the front door closed downstairs, and Sloane sat on the bed surrounded by silence. His gaze went to the flat screen mounted on the wall and then the fridge. He wanted to be pissed off with Dex, but his partner made it so damn hard. With Dex, there was no questioning motive. His partner needed to protect those closest to him. He needed justice. The question was, at what cost? Would Sloane really have walked away had he been in Dex’s shoes? He wouldn’t have once, no doubt about it, but then he thought of Dex, and now he wasn’t so certain.

  Looking around the room, seeing all the evidence of his constant presence, he should have felt restless. Besides Sloane’s unopened suitcase by the armchair, there were plenty more of Sloane’s belongings lying around. A gym bag sat on the carpet by the door. One of his leather jackets was draped across the back of the armchair. In the bathroom was a bag of Sloane’s toiletries and an extra toothbrush. A pair of his pajama bottoms hung from the hook on the back of the bathroom door. Hell, he even had an extra uniform hanging inside Dex’s closet, along with an extra pair of steel-toed boots, a cardigan, and some shirts.

  The whole thing should have freaked him out, but sitting here on the large bed, he felt… comfortable. Dex’s bedroom no longer felt like someone else’s bedroom. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of all this, and he wondered if any moment the meds would wear off and he’d feel completely different. Fuck this. This was too much thinking for him to be doing right now. He grabbed the remote from his nightstand and turned on the TV, flipping through the cable channels to find a movie or something to distract him and get his mind off his idiot boyfriend. Somewhere between some weird buddy cop movie where one of the detectives was going on about being a peacock or something, Sloane fell asleep. He had no idea how long he was out for or why he’d woken up.

  He let out a fierce yawn when he heard something. It was faint, but he heard it clearly. It was coming from the kitchen. Had Dex come back already? What time was it? He checked the time on the TV. A little over an hour since Dex left.

  There was another faint thump. Sloane pulled out his phone and speed-dialed Dex’s number. After a couple of rings, it went to voice mail. If Dex had been downstairs, Sloane would have heard the Journey ringtone Dex had set as Sloane’s personal ringtone. Man, his partner was such a nut.

  Holding on to his bandaged wound, he used his right hand to open the nightstand drawer. Inside was a small, slim black case with a thumbprint pad. He placed it on his lap and stuck his thumb to the pad. A “click” later, and the case opened to reveal his Glock. He’d picked it up when he sensed someone outside the door. He brought the gun up and aimed it at the intruder stepping right into the line of fire.

  “Did I wake you?”

  “Jesus, Austen.” Sloane let out a heavy sigh and lowered his arm in relief. He returned the Glock to its padding and closed the case. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”

  “What?” Austen strolled in with a bag of Cheesy Doodles in his hand. He popped one in his mouth and dropped down on the armchair. With a grunt, Sloane stuck the secured gun case back in the drawer.

  “Never mind. Took you long enough.”

  Austen munched on another Cheesy Doodle. If Dex were here, he would have made a stupid joke about Chester the Cheetah Therian eating his Cheesy Doodles. Wonderful, now he was starting to think like Dex.

  “I had to wait,” Austen said around a mouthful of cheese snacks. “Your boy sat in his car for like ten minutes.”

  “Doing what? And don’t talk with your mouth full.”

  Austen swallowed. “I don’t know. Staring up at the bedroom window. He looked worried.”

  “You sure it wasn’t guilt?” Sloane grumbled. Damn it, his partner was going to ignore him and go after Hogan. He just knew it.

  “Maybe. You should have seen his face. Looked like a sad puppy.” He looked around the room before wriggling his eyebrows at Sloane. “So, almost a year now.”

  “Yeah,” Sloane murmured. “Thanks for checking up on us at the hospital. He didn’t make you.”

  “Told you. I am the master. Besides, when he wasn’t fighting sleep, he was lost in his own little world. I thought he might have recognized me the first time he walked in, but then he saw you, and well….” Austen sighed. “He’s got it bad, huh?”

  Sloane nodded but couldn’t bring himself to comment. Sometimes he still found it hard to believe Dex loved him.

  “Damn. Is it serious?”

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