**** WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM BOOKS 1 THROUGH 10 ****
Grunt. Too early.
Something was poking him. Something was going to lose a finger if it continued.
Sloane rolled over with a grumble, taking the duvet with him. It was still dark which meant it was still sleep time. His inner jaguar growled low and the sound rumbled up from deep in Sloane’s chest. “Sleep.”
“Babe. Baby. Boo Bear.”
Sloane’s body grew heavy. Why was he sinking into the mattress? His mate’s scent filled his senses. Ah, that would be why. Dex was sprawled on his back from head to toe.
“Sleep,” Sloane murmured. “Heavy,” he added. Dex didn’t weigh what he used to. All that change in muscle mass had him going from his one hundred and seventy-five Human pounds to two hundred and fifteen not-all-Human pounds. Not that Sloane couldn’t carry Dex’s weight—he could carry Hobbs’s weight if he had to—but Sloane was on his stomach with his face buried in his fluffy pillow wanting to sleep. His body was sore from all the TIN training, and he was determined to make the most of their time off.
“You’re comfy, but mostly I need you to get up.” Dex rolled off him, landing beside Sloane. “Baby, I neeed you to get up.”
Sloane huffed and cracked open one eye which he promptly narrowed at his far too awake husband. “How are you awake?”
“I had coffee,” Dex replied, his smile huge. “A lot of coffee.” Were his pupils dilated? Was his husband having one of his random hybrid moments? They seemed to be happening with more frequency lately. At times he appeared all Human, and other times he was giving off some serious Therian vibes that had Sloane’s inner jaguar clawing to get free to reclaim his mate. It was freaky and a little concerning.
“I’m awake,” Sloane said, rolling onto his back. Dex straddled his stomach and leaned in, his floppy hair falling forward and in need of a cut.
Sloane’s heart swelled, and he placed his hands on Dex’s hips. “Hey, beautiful.”
“Guess what today is?”
Sloane pretended to think about it. “Isn’t today the anniversary of Ash threatening you for the first time with bodily harm?”
“No, that’s next month.”
Sloane tapped his fingers against Dex’s waist. “Let me think.” He slid his hands up under the worn out and well-loved Journey T-shirt. “Is it the anniversary of when we first met?”
“Also next month. You’re just stalling so you can feel me up,” Dex teased.
“Am I?” Sloane grabbed Dex and rolled them over so Dex was beneath him. He smiled down at his husband.
Sloane still couldn’t believe it sometimes. How was it possible this beautiful man got even more gorgeous with age? Next month it would be five years since they’d met, yet it felt like a lifetime ago. A few extra lines had appeared in the corners of Dex’s brilliant blue eyes when he smiled, and when he grew out his beard the blond was interspersed with some gray. Leaning in, Sloane brushed his lips over Dex’s. “Happy birthday, baby.”
Dex blinked at him. “Birthday?”
“Um, yeah.” Sloane shook his head with a chuckle. “It’s your birthday today. Isn’t that why you’re excited?”
“What? Oh, right! It is my birthday, isn’t it? That’s not why I’m excited. I’m excited because we’re going to see Journey and Def Leppard in concert!”
“Of course.” Sloane should have known. It wasn’t as if Dex hadn’t been going on about it for months. Because of their training, they’d been out of the country on and off for several months, and each time they missed a tour date. The moping had gotten so serious that Sparks had insisted they take a month off, conveniently around Dex’s birthday when two of his husband’s favorite bands happened to be in concert. Sloane had surprised Dex with front row tickets. He’d been rewarded handsomely for his gift. In fact, he’d been rewarded for days, and he had a feeling he’d continue being thanked after the concert.
Since they were flying to Tampa, Ash and Cael were coming with them. Although Ash had no desire to be “in Satan’s taint” as he put it, Cael was so excited he could barely sleep knowing they were all going to visit his favorite theme parks the day after the concert.
“I’m concerned,” Dex said, his expression serious.
“Ash. You know how he feels about humidity. Has he ever been to Florida? By his comment about Satan’s bits, I’m going to say he has not.”
“I told Cael to buy him summer clothes,” Sloane said.
Dex’s gasp of delight was epic. “Oh my God! I can’t wait. What do you think are the chances of Ash ending up in a tropical shirt?”
“I think the chances are slim. Like, Letty and Ash sitting down and sharing their feelings with each other slim.”
“I don’t know. Chirpy can be pretty persuasive.”
Sloane moved his gaze to their packed suitcases then back to Dex. He peered at him. Dex’s smile had him groaning. “Oh God, what did you buy me, and how bad is it going to assault my vision?”
“Come on, we’re going to be in Florida in August. It’s going to be hot as balls.”
“Answer the question.”
“It’s a very modest, lightweight, button-down shirt. It’s even black.”
Sloane arched an eyebrow at him.
“With palm trees. And sailboats.”
Sloane let his head hang, ignoring Dex’s laugh.
“Come on, Babe. You’re going to look sexy as always. I promise.”
“Should I even ask what else you stuck in my suitcase?”
Dex waggled his eyebrows. “Don’t worry. All the fun stuff is in my suitcase.”
Sloane opened his mouth then closed it. If he didn’t know, he wouldn’t worry. Heaven help the poor TSA agent who decided to check Dex’s luggage because God only knew what his husband had packed.
“We should start getting ready,” Dex said, pushing against Sloane’s chest. Sloane didn’t budge.
“Sweetheart, you do realize we went to bed two hours ago, right?”
Sloane dropped back down onto his side of the bed then pulled Dex close. He kissed his goofy husband and covered them with the duvet. “It’s just after midnight. We don’t have to get up for the airport for another five hours. You should get some sleep.”
Dex stared at him. “But Sloane, I drank so much coffee.”
“You’ve drunk so much coffee that I’m pretty sure your blood type is coffee. You can go to sleep. I know you can.”
“How?” Dex whispered, peering at him. “How do you know, Sloane? Is it a sixth sense? Can you sense it? Your jaguar keeps sensing all kinds of weird shit lately.”
“I know it because we’ve been training how to do it for months.”
“Oh, that’s right. Have you set all the alarms?”
Sloane closed his eyes and smiled as Dex cuddled close. “Yes, Dear. I have set all the alarms.”
Within seconds, Dex’s soft snores filled the room, and Sloane couldn’t help but give his husband a squeeze. “I love you,” he murmured before placing a kiss on Dex’s brow. In a few hours, they would be in Florida. It was only a mini vacation, and Sloane knew Dex was disappointed the rest of the team couldn’t take the time off, but Sloane was determined to give Dex a birthday he wouldn’t soon forget.
PART TWO next week. Copyright © 2018 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.