Hello, all! So a few weeks ago I posted a fake newspaper image I'd created back when I was writing the very first draft of Hell & High Water. I also talked about the first time Dex and Sloane met back when the book was written in first person, and in Dex's point of view. I mentioned how although Dex knew who he was from the beginning, I kept trying to steer him in a different direction, a far more serious one, and he was having none of it.
Some of you may also recall in the original drawn, Hudson's name was actually Rafe, he was a bit of a douche, had a past with Sloane, and Cael had a crush on him. That didn't last long because Ash came onto the scene, decided Cael was his, Rafe became a huge tiger Therian with a chip on his shoulder, and Hudson was reborn the sweet, slightly awkward nerd we know today.
So here we go. Let's travel back in time to a piece of the original incarnation of Hell & High Water.
“Take off the jacket.”
“What?” I turned to Cael who just shrugged.
Before Rafe could elaborate, something large and dark loomed over me. For a moment, I thought my life was going to flash before my eyes. Then I realized it wasn’t death that had stealthily crept up into my personal space. It was my new partner.
My first instinct was to flee. Even though I knew it was my partner who stood over me in his Human form, the words Apex Predator seemed to be overriding all my good senses, and before I knew it, I had my Sig aimed at his chest with the safety off.
“Back off,” I growled, wondering what the hell was happening to me. All I knew was every instinct I had was on high alert, sirens blaring, my adrenaline pumping like some heavy shit was about to go down around me instead of the eerie silence that had descended. Why hadn’t I had this reaction to any of the other Therians I’d walked past? I knew they were dangerous, Tony had confirmed it. Sloane wasn’t the only Apex Predator, so why couldn’t I put my gun down?
All six and half feet of sleek, raw force stepped closer, and my gaze moved up. He was big, bigger than me, bigger than most of the guys I’d walked past in here, dressed all in black tactical pants and tight black t-shirt—as if his height, set of his shoulders, broad chest, and thick arms didn’t give him enough of an imposing presence.
Sloane was rugged, with a square jaw, and stubble. His pitch black hair gleamed with a faint blue sheen under the lights. It was unruly and windswept, curling slightly around his ears and his collar, but it was his eyes that pinned me to the spot. They were golden molten amber, intense, and unmistakably, one hundred percent Therian. I would have thought he was the hottest guy I’d ever seen if I wasn’t so distracted by the sheer fact that before me stood a man who could rip my throat out with one bite, and I didn’t even know what the hell kind of Felid he was. There was something about him, something he gave off the others didn’t. It struck me deep down inside my core, validating what Therian scientists have been insisted for decades: that Humans were no longer at the top of the food chain.
I knew Sloane wasn’t going to hurt me, but my gut wasn’t taking any chances. Taking a deep calming breath, I slowly forced myself to move the safety into place, but I still couldn’t put my gun away. Not yet. I stood exceptionally still when he leaned into me, his breath tickling my ear.
A shiver went up my spine when I heard his purr. Goddammit, he was purring, actually purring, and it was vibrating against my ear, like a faint chainsaw. His proximity was radiating heat, making it difficult to breathe, and I didn’t much care for it.
“What is that?” he growled, taking a sniff.
“Awkward? Nah, this ain’t awkward.”
“Answer the question.”
“I don’t know. Tea? I accidentally spilled some black tea on me this morning.”
“Not enough on you to affect me,” he murmured huskily, his voice barely above a whisper. He inhaled again. “It’s something else.”
I wondered what this something else could be. The Citrus Mint Forming Cream? Shower gel? Deodorant? Aftershave? Shampoo? Conditioner? Jesus, did I really use that many products? Didn’t matter. None of those things were any different from what I could detect on him with my paltry Human sense of smell, well, minus the Citrus Mint.
He pulled back with a snarl of disgust and pushed his index finger against the dimple in my chin. “Watch your step, Fancy Feast. Black tea is off the menu unless you’re looking to be on it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. I’d prefer it if you didn’t sneak up on me.”
“I’m sorry. Next time I walk into the room, I’ll announce my presence so you don’t shit yourself.”
I swiped the apple off my desk and started tossing it back and forth between my hands like a baseball. Prick. “Thanks. To show my appreciation, I’ll make sure to bring you a nice ball of yarn.”
With a humorless laugh, he shoved his hands into his pockets. “Nice one. Tell me, do you write all your own material or does Google help you out with that?”
Oh this was just peachy. We were getting off to a grand start. That was all I needed, for my new partner to hate me as much as my old one. Well if Sloane thought I was going to cower down before him, he had another think coming. There was no way in hell I was going to let him push me around like I was the weaker species. There was a sharp gasp from somewhere in the room and it was only then that I realized I had been so lost in my own inner monologue, I hadn’t noticed Sloane’s pupils dilate to the point where his eyes were almost black. His head was slightly lowered and his gaze was fixed on the apple, following it as it went back and forth, back and forth. His dark brows were drawn together and his jaw was clenched, his nostrils flaring. God help me. It was terrifying, yet exhilarating to watch the gradual transformation.
Then I remembered the catnip. Shit. Was Sloane susceptible? But he wasn’t acting like the others. I’m pretty sure none of their pupils had dilated. In fact, he wasn’t even looking at me. His gaze was still fixed on the apple.
“Listen up, Rookie…”
I followed the soft whisper over to Rafe, surprised to find him with both his hands up in front of him. It wasn’t so much that he looked about ready to spring into action that had me feeling all kinds of nervous, but the alarmed look on his face. I opened my mouth but he shook his head and continued to speak just above a whisper.
“Slowly move the apple away from you and put it on the desk, but make sure he’s following it when you do. Then stay extremely still. No sudden movements.”
I looked over Rafe’s shoulder and nearly dropped the apple. Everyone within our general vicinity had come to a standstill, with half of them looking ready to flee. I kept tossing the apple back and forth as he’d suggested, and turned my gaze back to Sloane. I might not be an expert on the subject, but thanks to Cael, I knew that look. He was getting ready to pounce, and not in a sexy way, but in a cause-serious-bodily-harm kind of way.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Okay, I had to calm down. I sure knew how to make one hell of a first impression. Doing exactly as Rafe said, I slowed down my movements, and with the apple in my left hand, I made sure he was following it before gingerly placing it on the desk to one side. I drew my hand away very slowly, and stood exceptionally still.
Everyone and everything seemed to be frozen in time, including Sloane, who was just staring at the apple. When I thought I would pass out from holding my breath, he blinked a few times, snatched the apple off the desk, and took a big chunk out of it before Rafe burst into laughter. What the hell just happened?
Sloane laughed and gave my cheek a firm pat. “Welcome to Unit Alpha.” He waved his shiny apple before strolling out of the office as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened, calling out over his shoulder, “Thanks for the apple, Fancy Feast.” Rafe wiped a tear away from his eye, laughing as he trailed off after him, and outside, everyone was having a good old fashioned laugh at my expense.
I turned to Cael who looked like he didn’t know what to do with himself. “What the hell was that? Was he going feral or did I just get punked by my new dick of a partner?”
Cael shrugged. “I don’t know. For a moment, I really thought he was, but then he just sort of snapped out of it.”
“I could have shot him!”
“Not likely. If Sloane believed you to be a threat, he would’ve taken you down the moment you reached for your Sig. His reflexes are far quicker than yours. Seriously, man, don’t mess with him. He’s one of the most lethal Alphas around. I thought dad filled you in on all this.”
“No, dad failed to mention that tiny yet life threatening tidbit of information.”
“What did I fail to mention?”
I spun toward my dad who was watching us curiously and threw my hands up in frustration. “The fact that my partner is one of the most lethal Alphas in this unit and a complete dick!” Taking a deep breath, I dropped down onto my chair and sighed. This wasn’t how I’d pictured my first day going. “You and your stupid ideas.” I cast him a dirty look. “You gave me that apple, and when I started tossing it around, Sloane started to go feral, or pretended to, I have no clue.”
“His pupils dilated,” Cael pitched in, coming to stand next to Tony. “I thought it was the real deal. I could smell it.”
“You can smell a shift?” I asked, wondering if I really wanted to know. “Sounds gross.”
“If someone sweats a lot you can smell it right?”
Tony frowned and shook his head. “I gave you the apple so you could give it to him because he loves those things. Figured it might get the two of you off on the right foot.”
“Well, it didn’t.”
The more Tony appeared to think on it, the more nervous I became. He obviously had something on his mind. It was written all over him like someone had taken a Sharpie to his bald head.
“Remember when you kids were younger, how you were all moody and pissed off all the time?”
I waved that remark away. “We were teenagers. Of course we were moody and pissed off all the time.”
“And remember that time I took you boys camping and you two got into that stupid fight over who was getting to sleep in what tent and you started waving that flashlight in Cael’s face?”
How could I forget? One minute we were cursing at each other like brothers do and the next minute I was on my back with a death grip on my flashlight because it was the only thing keeping Cael’s fangs from sinking into my neck. Cael had gone feral on me and his Therian side was having trouble communicating with his Human side. After our dad managed to get Cael to change back, we’d taken him straight to the hospital, where the good old doctor explained it was all part of growing up for my feline brother. Like going berserk and sinking your fangs into someone was right up there with zits or jacking off twenty times a day. Cael’s teenage hormones wreaked havoc with his neurological makeup, so until he grew out of it, he’d have to take some suppressants to keep him from getting himself into trouble, just like any other number of teenage Therians out there.
“So… what? You think he was actually going feral and then tried to cover it up? Besides, the whole hormone imbalance thing only happens to kids and teenagers, right?”
Cael shrugged. “It can happen to adults if something really gets under our skin. I mean really gets under our skin, but that never happens to Sloane. The guy’s impervious to everything.”
A worried look came onto Tony's face as he sat on the edge of my desk. “Either way, Dex, and don’t take this the wrong way—”
“Which basically means I will.”
“Look, I know you consider yourself pretty tough, and I’m not saying you’re not. Hell, you gotta be to do the job you do, but this is a whole different world. You need to be careful about who you piss off, and not just in here. Sure, you might find yourself roughed up a little, but none of these guys would cause you any serious damage. Not intentionally. Sloane’s… not the easiest guy to handle, but he’s a good guy and he’ll have your back. Out there is a danger the likes of which you’ve never faced.”
I was watching him carefully as he spoke, taking note of all his little nuances and reading between the lines. Slowly it all started coming together. Sloane was considered dangerous, even among his own kind. Obviously, he was one hell of an asset. Why the hell had they paired him up with me? Tony seemed to read my mind.
“You got something, kid. Whatever it is, Kyler and Howell saw it and decided you were the guy for the job. I think you and Sloane could learn a lot from each other.”
I had no idea what exactly he thought Sloane could learn from me. I on the other hand could learn how to keep myself from getting mauled by my partner.
“Say, what kind of Felid is Sloane, anyway? He wasn’t exactly forthcoming with that information.”
“Pantherinae, first lineage. Black Jaguar,” Tony replied, sounding almost proud. I guess he was, considering this was his department. “Congratulations, Dex. You got yourself partnered up with one of the rarest Alphas in the city.”
So there we have it. A good deal of world building changed after that. Dex was fighting me every step of the way. This wasn't how he wanted the story told, and Sloane was getting even grumpier that he wasn't getting his side of the story told. I'd written about 25,000 words, and scrapped it all. I kept some of the scene ides, like Dex in his HPF captain's office, the plot revolving around the Isaac and the Humi-Therians being killed. Every interaction with Dex and Sloane was scrapped and started from the beginning. Sometimes you have to listen to your gut. Or in this case, a gummy bear, cheesy doodle crunching blond menace.