Tag - Austen Payne

Love and Payne now available for pre-order from Dreamspinner Press!

Hello, all! I'm excited to announce Love and Payne (Austen and Zach's book) is now available for pre-order from Dreamspinner Press.

Dreamspinner ebook Pre-order: http://bit.ly/CCLAPDSPEBOOK Dreamspinner Paperback Pre-order: http://bit.ly/CCLAPDSPPB

For those who prefer to pre-order from Amazon or third-party sellers, those tend to be available about a week or so before release.

BOOK DETAILS Genre: Paranormal Gay Romance, Shifters Series: A THIRDS Universe Novel, Standalone Length: Novel 64,670 words, 200 pages Published: Sept 4th, 2018 Publisher: Dreamspinner Press Cover Artist: LC Chase Ebook ISBN-13:9781640807747 Paperback ISBN-13:978164080775-4


Austen Payne, THIRDS Squadron Specialist Agent (SSA) for Destructive Delta and TIN operative, has seen the worst the world has to offer, faced lethal killers, and helped bring down dangerous organizations. But nothing terrifies him more than falling in love. After years of undercover work, Austen is a master at defending himself and protecting his heart… until he meets Osmond Zachary.

THIRDS Defense Agent Osmond Zachary has a huge, doting family, yet something is missing in his life. After meeting grumpy, foul-mouthed, jittery cheetah Therian Austen Payne, Zach knows exactly what that something—or someone—is. Unfortunately Austen seems determined to avoid Zach at all costs.

When Zach foils an assassination attempt, he ends up in the killer’s crosshairs, and Austen is Zach’s best chance at staying alive. Zach hopes the crisis will bring them closer, but Austen has every intention of walking away as soon as the danger is over.

Happily ever after isn’t for guys like Austen, but Zach is determined to show him it can be….


** It is not necessary to read the THIRDS series to enjoy Love and Payne. Austen and Zach originally appeared in the THIRDS series, and characters mentioned in Love and Payne are featured in the THIRDS series. If you prefer to read stories in order, you’ll find the THIRDS series reading order below. Zach and Austen do not appear in all the books.


Hell & High Water (THIRDS, Book 1) Blood & Thunder (THIRDS Book 2) Rack & Ruin (THIRDS, Book 3) Rise & Fall (THIRDS, Book 4) Against the Grain (THIRDS, Book 5) Catch a Tiger by the Tail (THIRDS, Book 6) Smoke & Mirrors (THIRDS, Book 7) Thick & Thin (THIRDS Book 8) Darkest Hour Before Dawn (THIRDS, Book 9) Gummy Bears & Grenades (A THIRDS Novella) Tried & True (THIRDS, Book 10) Check out the THIRDS on Pinterest.

THIRDS Thursday - Win an ARC for Love and Payne, plus an excerpt!

Hello, all! The final proof for Love and Payne is with Dreamspinner Press, and I'm excited to announce the release date! Austen and Zach's love story will be out on September 4th, 2018!! Which means it should be up for pre-order around August 6th. In the next few weeks I'll also be bringing you the fabulous cover, created by the lovely L.C. Chase.

Love and Payne is the first book in the THIRDS Universe Novels, a series of books centered around a different couple we've met in the original THIRDS series, and although we may hear about or have the THIRDS guys pop up in these books, these are stand alone books that focus on the couple, so readers won't have to have read the whole THIRDS series to pick these up, though obviously having read the series will enrich the experience since that's where we first meet these guys. The books have a slightly different feel than the THIRDS series as far as the romance is concerned.

With Dex and Sloane we were able to follow them and the rest of the crew for ten books, giving the relationships plenty of time to grow. With the THIRDS Universe Novels we have one book to get these guys their happy ever after. I didn't want the love stories to be overshadowed by the action and suspense. In the THIRDS series, the books tend to lean a little heavier toward the action. Of course there's plenty of story, action, suspense, and sexy times, but we also have plenty of the guys falling in love.

With Austen's book I went back and forth a lot. We know who Austen is, who he works for, and the possibilities for his book were endless. When I started brainstorming his book, I was thinking of all these complicated TIN story plots, and all this action, but then realized we've been waiting for Austen and Zach to get together for quite a while now. Years, in fact. I didn't want to cheat Austen and Zach, out of their love story, but at the same time, I needed to remain true to their characters, especially Austen. Finding a balance for this book was tough, but I'm happy with the results, and I can't wait to share this book with you.


I'll be giving away 3 Love and Payne ARCs to 3 random winners.

To enter: just leave a comment below. Giveaway ends: June 28th at midnight, Eastern US time. Open internationally.

By entering this giveaway, you agree to be notified via email should you win.

ARC: The ARC is an Advanced Reader Copy so you'll find that it has no book cover or design formatting, as it's been put together at this time to give folks enough time to read it..

Very important: If you're selected to receive an ARC, please do not share it with others. Unfortunately, piracy is a big problem within the publishing community, and sadly, some folks don't realize what an impact this can have on the author, their publisher, and the work.



Austen turned his head to Zach, who crouched down in front of him, a big dopey smile on his face. His cheeks were pink, and he dropped his gaze to his fingers in a shy gesture.

“Can I help?”

Austen turned his attention back to Brayden, but his friend and Edan were gone. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Austen thumped his tail anxiously. The last person he wanted giving him PSTC was Zach.


Austen turned to Zach and stiffened when Zach slowly reached up. His brain told him to move away, not to let Zach touch him, but his heart kept him still as Zach ever so gently laid his hand on Austen’s head. His smile was blinding as he gingerly ran his fingers through Austen’s fur, as if any sudden movement might spook Austen, which wasn’t too far off the mark. Austen sat very still as Zach petted him lovingly before scratching him behind the ear, making him close his eyes with a purr. Austen hadn’t meant to purr, but his cheetah half was too content to care what he had to say on the matter.

“You’re so beautiful.”

Austen’s eyes flew open, and he was taken aback by the awe on Zach’s face as he ran his fingers through the fur on Austen’s neck. Warmth flooded through Austen, and he surprised them both by stretching his neck out and quickly delivering a wet kitty kiss to Zach’s cheek. Wondering what the hell had gotten into him, Austen headed off to the changing room where his clothes were. Once inside, he turned to find Zach where he’d left him, looking wide-eyed. His expression quickly turned uncertain, and Austen chirped. He sat on his haunches and flicked his tail impatiently, making Zach chuckle. When Zach reached the changing room, Austen half expected Zach to get into the room with him, but he didn’t. He smiled tenderly as he started to close the door.

“I’ll be right out here when you’re ready, okay?” With that he closed the door, and Austen was touched by Zach’s consideration. He could have easily used this as an excuse to see Austen naked, but he didn’t.

Austen closed his eyes and willed his cheetah half to retreat, his bones once again popping, muscles stretching and contracting. His feral yowls of pain soon turned into Human grunts and groans. As soon as he was on two legs, he shakily dropped down onto the padded bench and with a trembling arm, reached for the robe hanging on one of the hooks. Fuck, he was freezing. It took him a few minutes to find the strength to slip into the robe and tie it at his waist.

“Zach.” It was nothing more than a whisper, but Zach heard him. He opened the door just wide enough to step inside the room before closing the door behind him. The space was big enough for two, with several hooks on one wall and an extrawide cushioned bench that ran from one end of the changing room to the other. On the third wall was a cabinet stocked with protein bars and several flavors of Gatorade. Zach reached for one of the Gatorade bottles first and twisted the cap open. Austen expected Zach to stand over him to help him drink, but he didn’t. He took a seat on the bench beside Austen, placing one large hand to the back of Austen’s head while he brought the bottle to Austen’s mouth, gently tilting it.

Austen slowly sipped at the drink. He closed his eyes in the hopes of tamping down the overwhelming desire to lean into Zach. His body radiated warmth, and Austen was shivering. Fuck. He just couldn’t get warm. Suddenly Zach pulled the drink away and dragged himself on the bench until he was against the wall.

“Come here,” Zach said softly, reaching for Austen, who stiffened, but he allowed Zach to pull him between his spread legs. He wrapped Austen in his tree-trunk arms, his chest pressed against Austen’s back. Zach nuzzled the side of his head, murmuring by his ear and sending a shiver through Austen that had nothing to do with the cold. “I’m just helping you get warm. The second you are, I’ll stop. I promise. No funny business.”

Austen was about to protest, but his body was already feeling the effects of Zach’s proximity, and it felt so damn good.

“Just until I get warm,” Austen grumbled, his voice still rough from postshift. “Not one second longer.”

THIRDS Thursday - 8/10/17

I did a poll on Facebook asking who readers would like the next flash fiction story to feature. Austen and Zach won by a landslide. We had part two last week, so here's part three! Happy reading!

Part Three

“Please, just try.”

Austen was going to snap at Zach to fuck off when Zach held the mug out to him again. Oh, he meant the tea. Damn it, he was doing the pouty lip thing again. That shouldn’t work on a guy of Zach’s size. He shouldn’t be able to pull off sweet and vulnerable. With a grumble, Austen took the mug.

“Fine. If it’ll get you off my back.” He wrinkled his nose, and braced himself as he took a sip of the steaming hot liquid. It was surprisingly not revolting. Not willing to admit it, Austen didn’t speak, just sipped the tea. Zach sat there, smiling at him. Christ. Now what? Who smiled at nothing? Except maybe Dex, but Austen had stopped trying to figure the guy out years ago. What was Zach’s deal? Austen finished his tea, and put the mug on the table.

“Listen, I appreciate you doing Sloane a solid by accepting to babysit me, but I’m fine. I’ve had worse.”

Zach nodded, and stood. He walked over to the coffee table and picked up the mug. “I’ll heat up some soup for you in a bit. You should rest.” He walked off, and Austen stared after him.

What the hell just happened? Clearly, he was being too subtle. Zach returned, and took a seat on the couch.

“You need to go.”

Zach tilted his head. “Why?”

“Because I don’t need babysitting.”

“I agree,” Zach said.

Austen peered at him. “And yet you’re still here.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Oh, my fucking hell,” Austen said with a groan.

“You curse a lot.”

“Yes. Yes, I fucking curse a lot. All the fucking time. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”


“Why do I….” Austen leaned in, eyes narrowed. “Because you’re annoying me, that’s why. I swear on my much beloved nads that if you say “why” one more time, I’m going to punch you in the face.”

“No, you’re not,” Zach replied matter of fact.

Austen arched an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

Zach nodded, a smile spreading across his stupidly handsome face as he made himself comfortable. He stretched his long jean-clad legs out in front of him. His brown leather biker boots probably weighed more than Austen. He laced his fingers on his flat stomach, the long-sleeved T-shirt straining over his bulging biceps. Jesus, did the guy not own shirts that fit? Austen would bet if he wrapped his hands around Zach’s bicep, his fingers wouldn’t touch.

“Hey,” Zach said softly, grabbing Austen’s attention.

Austen moved his gaze up to Zach's face, and the knowing smile. Shit. He’d totally just been busted checking Zach out. Feeling his cheeks burning up, Austen threw his blanket over his head, and keeled over. He curled up on himself, his voice muffled under the blanket.

“Get out.”


Dammit. What the hell? Maybe if he just stayed under his blanket, Zach would go away. “I don’t—”

“Need a babysitter,” Zach said gently. “I know. I’m not here to babysit you, I’m here to offer support. That’s what friends do.”

Austen’s heart skipped a beat, and he cursed himself for being such a dork. “We’re not friends.” He felt a hand on his head, and gasped. As soon as the shock wore off he hissed.

“We could be.” Zach’s tone was soft, and hopeful.

For crying out loud. Cut me a break, will you? “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Austen muttered, curling up in a tighter ball. He swatted at Zach’s hand from under the blanket. Why wouldn’t Zach take the hint? They shouldn’t be friends. Being friends with Zach would mean getting closer, and Austen couldn’t do that. Not with Zach. Why did Zach even care? Austen had never been anything but a pain in the guy’s ass. Why did he keep coming back for more? Man, he was suddenly feeling tired. It was going to physically pain him to say the word, but he’d try anything at this point. “Please, go away.”

The hand moved away, and Austen stilled. The couch shifted, and he listened out for the door. Nothing. How could a bear Therian be so quiet? No creaking floorboards, heavy footsteps, nothing. Austen tugged his blanket down his face, and he found himself nose to nose with Zach.

“Holy crap!” Austen scrambled back until he was practically inside the couch cushions. “What the hell?” he growled.

Zach chuckled warmly, his amber eyes bright and filled with amusement. He was crouched in front of the couch where Austen had been curled up.

“You’re kind of jumpy.”

“No shit. That’ll happen when someone stick’s their nose in your face.” Okay, he’d had enough. He threw off his blanket, jumped off the couch, and the room spun. Flailing, he prepared to kiss the floor when he landed against something soft. He blinked up at Zach. For fuck’s sake. Again? Why did he keep ending up in this guy’s arms?

Zach’s brow furrowed as he looked down at Austen now cradled in his arms. He placed the back of his hand to Austen’s brow. “I think you have a fever.”

Somewhere in Austen’s head was a smartass remark, but suddenly he felt drained, achy, and sleepy. “I hate this,” Austen mumbled, closing his eyes.

“What’s that?” Zach asked, sitting down cross-legged. Austen opened his eyes, and Zach pulled the blanket off the couch. He covered Austen up to his chin, his strong arms around Austen as he shivered, both from his fever, and from being in Zach’s arms. He didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to feel safe, or comfortable. Too close. Too warm. Too… perfect.

“Being weak.”

“You’re not weak,” Zach said gently, but firmly. “You’re just not feeling well. We can’t be at our best all the time, no matter how strong we are. It’s okay to lean on someone. On me.”

Austen was so cold, and Zach was so warm. He turned into Zach, curling up against him, and burying his face against Zach’s chest, mumbling. “This doesn’t change anything.” He just needed a moment to recharge, that was all. Soon as the room stopped spinning, he’d tell Zach to leave, and go back to being a miserable jerk.

“I know,” Zach replied quietly.

Was that a smile he heard in Zach’s voice?

“Just this once,” Austen said, his body feeling heavy. “Then you go home.”

“After soup.”

Austen sighed. “Fine. After soup.”

“Go to sleep.”

“Don’t—” Yawn. “Tell me what to do,” Austen huffed as he tried to stay awake. Zach’s hand came to rest on his head, large fingers slipping into Austen’s hair, stroking, comforting. Austen would have swatted his hand away, but that would mean moving. He made a noise he was pretty sure conveyed his annoyance.

Just this once.

Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS Published by Dreamspinner Press.

THIRDS Thursday - 8/3/17

I did a poll on Facebook asking who readers would like the next flash fiction story to feature. Austen and Zach won by a landslide. We had part one last week, so here's part two! Happy reading!

Part Two

That was the problem with good guys like Sloane. They always wanted to help.

“Look, I understand better than anyone the dangers of losing someone you love to the job.” Sloane sat down next to Austen, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Do you think it didn’t scare the hell out of me every time I went out on a call with Dex? No matter how capable I knew he was, that didn’t stop me from worrying, because it wasn’t his skills I questioned, but the motives and vileness of what was out there. Even once we’re sworn in by TIN, and we’ve had all the training there is, that doesn’t mean I won’t stop worrying about him. Does that mean we shouldn’t make a life together? Shouldn’t have friends, or family?”

Austen frowned deep, his gaze averted.

“Zach doesn’t live in a bubble, and yes he works for Unit Beta. The risks he faces on the job aren’t the same as those of Unit Alpha, but there are risks nonetheless. You keep telling yourself, and everyone else that you’re trying to protect him from the dangers of your job, but the truth is, you’re protecting his heart from you.”

Austen’s head shot up, and he met Sloane’s gaze. It was frightening, and heartbreaking how much affection he saw in Sloane’s eyes. Austen was a lethal, trained TIN operative, but when he was around Sloane, it was like he was that frightened little boy who’d been tossed out into the street. His world changed when he met Sloane, and despite Sloane being a huge ass jaguar Therian, Austen felt safe with him, always had. Cheetah Therians were known to have difficulty trusting, due to their vulnerability as the smallest of the felids. It didn’t mean they weren’t strong, but they had big hearts that were easily broken. He shouldn’t have felt safe with Sloane after running into him, but he had. Austen trusted Sloane with his life, and his heart. He hated that Sloane was right.

“I know you’re scared, and I’m not telling you what you should do. I’m just saying that you need to really think about the reasons you’re pushing Zach away, and that maybe having a friend or two outside of Destructive Delta would be nice. You know we’ll always be there for you, and we want your around.” Sloane put a hand to Austen’s cheek, and smiled warmly. “We also want you to be happy, to have more than just the job. At least think about it, yeah?”

Austen nodded. Just then the doorbell buzzed. Dex got up and walked over to the security camera. He called out over his shoulder.

“It’s Zach.”

Austen sat there quietly for a moment. This was insane. He was not going to become BFFs with the guy just because Sloane got all sappy with him. What the hell was he supposed to do? Zach was already here. With a heavy sigh, Austen nodded. “Buzz him in.”

“Your tea should be ready,” Dex said, walking over to the kitchen after presumably buzzing Zach up.

“I know it’s still months away,” Sloane said, a big dopey smile on his stupidly rugged face, “but we’ve arranged it so everyone can arrive early to the estate the day of the rehearsal dinner to give everyone a tour. There’s plenty of room for shifting, playing, and pouncing. It was one of the bonus perks for picking this place. Maybe you should invite Zach for a run. I hear he’s pretty damn quick.”

Austen let out a snort. “Maybe, though he’s not as quick as I am.”

“We’ll have to see about that.” Zach walked into the living room, and smiled at Austen.

“Are you kidding me? There’s no way you’re beating me.”

Dex handed a mug to Zach, who brought it over to the couch. He took a seat beside Austen, and handed him the steaming mug of gross tasting tea.

“And why’s that?” Zach asked, putting his arm over the back of the couch as he leaned in to Austen. Needing to do distract him from the closeness, Austen listed all the traits that made a cheetah Therian the fastest Therian on the planet.

Sloane stood, and Austen stopped talking. Where the hell did he think he was going?

“Dex, and I better get going. Lou’s kinda scary when you mess with his schedule.” Sloane cringed. “Actually, when he’s in work mode, period, he’s terrifying.”

“You’re leaving?” Austen asked, dumbly. He looked over at Dex. Hell, he’d even take Dex. Wait, if Dex stayed—which he wouldn’t, but still—he’d meddle and try to play matchmaker. It was best the blue eyed menace got lost.

“Yep,” Dex replied cheerfully. His big smile making Austen want to punch him. Dex smiled at Zach. “Make sure he drinks all that tea, and at least two more. There’s soup in the fridge, make sure he eats all of it.”

Austen glared at Dex. “Screw you, Daley. I can take care of myself.”

“Really? What was the last thing you ate?”

“Pizza,” Austen said smugly.

Dex nodded. He pointed to the kitchen. “From the pizza box next to the trash bin? The one with the receipt time-stamped four days ago? That pizza?”

Oh, you fucker. “Just go,” Austen grumbled.

“That’s what I thought.” Dex turned to Zach. “Ninety percent of what comes out of his mouth is bullshit, so you’re going to have to read between the lines.”

Austen grabbed one of his throw pillows and chucked it at Dex’s head. Unfortunately, his reflexes were for shit right now so Dex managed to duck. With a cackle, the asshole headed for the door. Sloane waved as he followed his dorky fiancé.

“Rest up. Call if you need us to pick anything up on the way home.”

The door closed, and Austen put the mug of boiled leaf water on the side coffee table, before slinking down into the couch cushions, his knees raised, and his blanket pulled up to his chin. Zach was in his living room. Sitting next to him on his couch. Close. Too close.

“You need to drink your tea.”

Austen narrowed his eyes. “You need to not be so bossy. And no. It’s disgusting.”

Zach got up, walked over to the coffee table, and picked up the mug. Instead of handing it to Austen, he walked off into the kitchen. Well, that was easy. Austen heard cabinets opening and closing in the kitchen. What the hell was he doing in there? Austen leaned forward to try and see into the kitchen. Damn it. Where the hell was he? Maybe if he leaned a little more….

Zach appeared, and Austen quickly sat back. He peered at Zach as the huge-ass bear Therian walked into the living room. He held the mug out to Austen.

“I’ve put some honey in it.” Austen opened his mouth, and Zach held a hand up to stop him. “No bear jokes.”

Damn it. Austen lifted his chin defiantly. “Don’t care what you put in it. I’m not drinking it.”

Zach took a seat beside him, and turned, one knee bent on the couch so he could face Austen. He took up half the couch. Why were bear Therians so freaking big? Okay, yeah, so their feral halves were ginormous so it made sense they’d be huge in Human form. Plus, there was the fact Austen wasn’t exactly great in stature to begin with. With each of them being at the far end of the Therian size chart, it made their differences glaringly obvious. Austen dropped his gaze to Zach’s hand. The one resting on his knee.

“You got big hands,” Austen said before he could stop himself.

Zach held his hand up to inspect it. “Do I?”

Austen snorted. He put his hand up against Zach’s, the difference staggering. “Uh, yeah.”

Zach smiled softly, and moved his fingers slightly so they were in between Austen’s, not quite holding his hand, but if he bent his fingers he would be. Austen snatched his hand away, heat flaring through his face. He was such an ass. Zach wasn’t even his type. Not that Austen had a type other than “willing and able”, but even so, Zach was most certainly not his type. He was too big, too strong, too capable of overpowering Austen.  Never again. Austen shook those thoughts from his head. He wasn’t that weak, helpless kid anymore. Zach might be bigger, but Austen could take him down if he had to. He wasn’t falling for that gentle-giant bullshit. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice….

Part Three next week. Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS Published by Dreamspinner Press.

THIRDS Thursday - 7/27/17

I did a poll on Facebook asking who readers would like the next flash fiction story to feature. Austen and Zach won by a landslide. So here you go! Happy reading!

Part One

He felt like crap.

Damn it. TIN operatives weren’t supposed to get sick. He knew this was coming. The second that douchebag had sneezed on him, he knew. Did henchmen not get paid sick days? The dude should have been at home, not at work infecting everyone with his germs. Granted, he’d tried to stab Austen, and that would have been far more inconvenient than contracting the mutant bug he’d been fighting for days. He’d tried to power through it, but the second Sparks heard his voice, she benched him. When she asked him about his flu shot, he cringed. He’d totally forgot. After she stopped breathing deeply though her nose—he could practically see her nostrils flaring—she asked him what medication he was taking. Apparently “whiskey” was the wrong answer. Then she went and narced on him to Sloane!

As if it wasn’t bad enough he was feeling like sludge, he had to deal with Sloane’s fussing, and Dex’s meddling. They were driving him batshit crazy with their mothering. Drink this, rub this there, inhale this, take that, get some rest. Did they not know who he was or what he did for a living? It was the flu, not freakin’ ebola. He made to get up off the couch, and the world spun off its axis, bringing him crashing back down.

“Fuck. This. Shit,” he grumbled against his pillow. Colds and flus are what mortals got, not TIN operatives. “This is bullshit.” Damn it, he had to get better.

Dex’s bachelor party was less than a month away, and for some ridiculous reason, he’d RSVP’d when he’d gotten the invite from Cael. What the hell was he doing going to a bachelor party? Especially since he knew a certain someone else had been invited as well. Just what he needed. It’s like the universe was purposefully fucking with him. Every time he thought he had a handle on things where Zach was concerned, some asshole, or some blue-eyed menace was determined to undo all his hard work.

Austen rolled onto his back, cocooning himself in the thick fleece blanket Sloane had brought him. He was fucking freezing, and the heating was on. He glared up at the ceiling. It had been odd at first, being in Sloane’s apartment, even after Austen filled it with his belongings. Gone were Sloane’s wall to wall shelves of books, and movies, the living room set and coffee tables. Austen’s space was sparsely furnished. An old habit. He’d spent most of his life moving around from one place to another. When he’d started working for TIN, he was earning enough to buy himself a home, but Austen had yet to find a place he felt he could call home.

This was the longest he’d ever held onto a place. Nearly two years. Fuck. He’d had Sloane’s place for almost two years, being extra vigilant, making damn sure no one even got close to figuring out he was here. The place was still under Sloane’s name, and the tenant an alias, one with an entire life, a busy guy who travelled a lot for business, so he was rarely home. Austen had also installed a ton of security.

Behind a picture frame by the door was a security panel that opened a section of the wall, revealing a high-tech display. With his handprint, or the right clearance, the wall opened, revealing several screens and security footage of the apartment building. There was a digital keypad, and typing in a sequence of numbers would open a section of the living room wall opposite the bookcase filled with all kinds of equipment and weapons. He had no idea what had possessed him to do that, but for the first time in his life, he felt a sense of calm when he got back to this apartment.

The alarm beeped, and there was a click. Austen groaned. The thought of two sexy male nurses would have put a smile on anyone’s face, except these two were determined to crush his libido, acting like a couple of big brothers, making him disgusting tasting tea, making sure he took his antibiotics, making him chicken soup, and patting his head like he was twelve. Two dopey faces smiled down at him from over the back of the couch.

“Hey there,” Sloane greeted.

“Aw,” Dex crooned. “He looks like an angry little caterpillar spinning a cocoon. Soon he’ll emerge as a deadly little Felid.”

Austen narrowed his eyes at Dex. “I want to seriously hurt you right now.”

“And I’m going to make you some of Darla’s special tea,” Dex replied, booping Austen’s nose. Austen snapped his teeth, but Dex moved his hand away.

“Flu’s making you slow,” Dex said with a chuckle as he walked off.

“Bite me, Daley,” Austen called out after him.

Sloane laughed softly. He came around the couch, and Austen slowly sat up. Man, his head was killing him.

“So,” Sloane said, fidgeting in front of Austen. “Dex and I have a bunch of appointments with Lou today for the wedding. Of course, if you need anything, you call us. We’ll be back tonight to check in on you.”

Austen peered at him. What wasn’t Sloane spitting out? “Just say it.”

“I um… well, we decided someone should be here with you, to you know, help out.”

Austen’s eyes widened, and he stared up at Sloane. “Don’t you fucking say it.”

Sloane cringed. “Zach’s on his way.”

It took Austen a moment for the fog in his brain to clear enough for Sloane’s words to make their way through. Zach. Coming here. It was either the fever making his blood boil, or he was just fucking livid. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“You’re angry,” Sloane stated.

“No shit. Yes, I’m angry. No, scratch that. I’m fucking furious. He shouldn’t be coming here. Fuck, now he knows where I live! You’ve painted a huge fucking target on his back!”

Dex arched an eyebrow at him as he entered the living room. “Weren’t you the one who said Zach’s been under surveillance for a while now? That TIN’s keeping him safe? Besides, Zach can look after himself. You seem to keep forgetting he’s a THIRDS agent. And a fucking huge-ass bear Therian.”

“Yeah, in fucking Unit Beta. Those guys play defense. It’s their job to look fucking huge and scary as shit so their opponents back down without a fight. They’re the guys you bring in for crowd control, to escort dignitaries, and play bodyguard. Do I look like fucking Whitney Houston to you? I don’t need a bodyguard.” He’d bet his spots this had been Daley’s idea. The guy was so fucking annoying!

“No, but you need a friend,” Sloane said softly.

Austen’s eyebrows shot up near his hairline. “The fuck just came out of your mouth, Brodie?”

These two were unbelievable. Why couldn’t they get it through their thick skulls? Austen didn’t want Zach anywhere near him. He was trying to protect the guy, keep him away from all the grime, and fucked up shit surrounding Austen, and not all of it related to his job. Zach deserved someone good, and sweet, and fucking perfect, not a broken Felid that spooked at the mere thought of more with someone. Happily ever after was something that happened to guys like Sloane and Dex. Not Austen. He had nothing to give. No. He wasn’t going to be a sucker. He wasn’t going to get his hopes up only be tossed aside. There was no way he would ever, ever let Osmond Zachary near his heart.

Part Two next week. Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS Published by Dreamspinner Press.

THIRDS Thursday - 3/17/16

THIRDS Thursdays Prompt: I'd love to see the first time Austen and Sloane meet. We know Austen tried to steal Sloane’s wallet.... But then? I'm curious about Austen's devotion for him. 
Part 2

His fourteen-year-old brain was about to implode.

Deep down, Austen knew he should be terrified. And he was. Sort of.  He’d been busted by a THIRDS agent. Even he knew not to fuck with these guys. His eyes darted again to the black tattoo on the guy’s neck. Jaguar Therian. Austen shivered, and not in a good way. Those jaws could easily fit over his tiny cheetah Therian head. Running would be stupid. Austen might be a lot of things, but stupid wasn’t one of them.

Then there was the part of him that was slightly intrigued. Agent Brodie wasn’t like any cop he’d ever met. The guy should have hauled Austen’s ass in by now, but he hadn’t. Why? That deep, gravelly voice caught Austen’s full attention. And those eyes. Wow.

“Where are your parents?”

Austen shrugged. “How should I know? They can be dead for all I care.” He didn’t care. His parents were assholes. They never loved him. He wasn’t perfect enough for their perfect house and perfect friends. He wasn’t Human enough. They could go to hell. Why was Agent Brodie looking at him like that? With that stupid sad face. Austen didn’t need anyone feeling sorry for him. He didn’t need anyone. Period.

“Did you run away?”

Austen took a step back. “I’m not going back to that shithole. They didn’t give a fuck about me, just the money they were paid for me. Fucking assholes.”

“Watch your language,” Brodie scolded in that annoying authority tone all cops had. Did they learn that during training?

Austen narrowed his eyes and folded his arms over his chest. Maybe it was time for a different tactic. Austen licked his bottom lip and moved into Agent Brodie’s personal space. He ran a finger up his chest.

“So, what’s a guy gotta do to be let off the hook, agent?” He quirked a smile and looked up at Brodie. Shit. Whatever it was, it was definitely not what Austen was doing. Brodie looked even more pissed. If that was possible. His nostrils flared, and he moved Austen’s hand away from him.

“Propositioning an officer aside, how old are you?”

Austen gave a sniff. “Fourteen going on thirty.”

“Jesus.” Brodie ran a hand through his hair before shaking his head and muttering something under his breath. Austen braced himself. Maybe he’d overstepped with Agent Brodie. Wouldn’t be the first time someone took a swing at him. Instead, Brodie’s brows drew together, his stupid sad face more than Austen could stand. He looked away.

“How long have you been working the streets?”

“I’m not a whore,” Austen grumbled. Sure, he’d done some things he wasn’t proud of, but he never sold his body. He’d rather starve.

“Then what was that all about?”

Austen shrugged. “I don’t know. Hormonal teenager and all that. Plus, it seemed like a good idea at the time.” And you haven’t treated me like shit under your shoe. He was surprised when Agent Brodie extended a hand to him.

“Why don’t we try again. I’m Sloane Brodie.”

Austen swallowed hard. He should really have made tracks by now. Why was he sticking around? He worried his bottom lip with his teeth. Man, he was such an idiot. All these years on the streets giving it as good as he got, getting kicked around, chased, beat up, and starved, and he was going to be done in by a cute guy with friendly smile and a kind face. One that was way out of his league in so many ways. Typical.

Fuck it. Austen held his hand out. “Austen Payne.” They shook hands, and Austen found himself smiling like a dope. “So, um, are you going to arrest me?”

Brodie cocked his head to one side and studied him. “Are you going to keep stealing?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?” Austen shoved his hands into his pockets.

Brodie nodded. “Where do you live?”

“Wherever I want.” The city was his playground, and at times his prison.

“Why don’t you let me help you,” Brodie offered gently. “We can go back to headquarters, and—”

“No way.” And there it was. The pity parade. Like he was going to trust some cop. Austen didn’t care that the guy was THIRDS. He wasn’t going to end up back in the system. They could kiss his ass. “I don’t need anyone’s help, okay. I can take care of myself. Have been since I was eight.” Brodie started to say something when Austen cut it. “Listen, I’m fine, okay? Been doing this a while now. I like the freedom. No one telling me what to do. Yelling.” Hitting. Making him feel like crap.

“You should be in school.”

“I go to the library. There’s this nifty thing now called the internet and everything.”

Brodie arched an eyebrow at him.

“You really want to do something for me? You can buy me a slice of pizza from Gino’s over on 6th. And a Coke.”

Brodie blinked at him. “A pizza?”

“And a Coke. Man needs his sugar fix. Come on. Your good deed for the day.”

The guy seemed to mull it over then let out a heavy sigh. “Why the hell not. Let’s go.”

“Awesome!” On the way there, Austen talked a mile a minute. Next to the little old lady from the café who fed him, he didn’t generally have many people to talk to. They always wanted to know more about him, and the second he hinted to being on his own, they all wanted to save him. Fuck that. He’d saved himself. He was better off on his own. Less likely to get hurt that way.

Gino’s pizza was so good. Oh my God, so much cheese! The slices were almost as big as his head. And the soda was so good. Austen took another big bite, making Brodie chuckle. The guy wasn’t a talker, which was fine with Austen because he liked to talk. It helped him get a read on people, even if they didn’t know it was what he was doing. Frankly, Austen was surprised the guy had agreed. He’d even asked Gino for an extra-large slice just for Austen.


Austen moaned through a mouthful of pizza. Between bites he asked Brodie a billion questions about the THIRDS. The guy had been one of the first Team Leaders at the THIRDS. He’d worked there throughout college, and when he graduated, he started full time and was promoted shortly after. Austen would bet people were scared shitless of him. He had a “bad boy” vibe to him. What would that be like, knowing when you walked down the street people got out of your way. That perps all but shit themselves when you showed. Brodie probably looked bad ass in his uniform. Austen had seen the THIRDS in action around the city. It was exciting. Better than watching a movie.

Getting information out of the guy was like pulling teeth. He smiled at Austen, but Austen could tell he was studying him too. Why?

“Thanks for the pie, Brodie,” Austen said swallowing his last bite of pizza.

“Call me Sloane.”

“Okay.” Austen was ready for another round of questions when some huge guy with wide reddened eyes barged into the place, a knife in his hand.

“Nobody move!” The guy growled. Crap. A tiger Therian. A high-as-a-fucking-kite tiger Therian. The guy was so drugged up it was amazing he was still standing. “Everybody hand over your wallets. Any funny stuff and you’re gonna be sliced like pepperoni.”

Was this dude for real?

“Austen,” Sloane said quietly, his gaze never leaving the knife-wielding asshole. “When I get up, I want you to hide under the table.”

Get up? Austen stared at him. “Are you crazy? He’s like, humongous.”

“Just do it.” Sloane didn’t leave him time to argue. He stood, his hands up in front of him. “Take it easy there, friend.”

As Sloane blocked the guy’s view from him, Austen did as he was told, sliding under the table. He peeking out from the checkered table cloth, glancing around at the terrified customers. A few Humans looked like they were about to pass out.

“You trying to be a hero?” The tiger Therian sneered at Sloane. “I’ll show you what happens to heroes.” The guy turned to grab a little Therian girl, but before he could lay a hand on her, Sloane launched himself at the guy, slamming into him. The perp hit the wall, and a punch to the kidney had him releasing the knife.

Austen’s heart was in his throat as the guy lunged at Sloane, but Sloane was quicker, ducking under the guy’s fist and doing some fancy footwork that got him behind the perp. With a kick to the back of his knees, the tiger Therian stumbled forward and Sloane pounced. The tiger Therian hit the floor like a crumbling mountain. Holy shit! Agent Brodie had just taken down a tiger Therian! Austen watched mesmerized as Sloane forced the guy onto his stomach then twisted his arms behind his back. He reached into one of his jacket pockets and pulled out what looked like a Therian strength zip tie. He read the guy his rights, and sat on his back, eyes intense. The whole place erupted into cheers and applause, and Austen scrambled out from under the table. His face could barely contain his grin. That had been the coolest thing he’d ever seen!

Minutes later there were flashing lights and blaring sirens. Austen watched with mouth gaping wide as half a dozen Therian agents in uniform thundered in, each one as big as the other. It was amazing they all fit in the place. As soon as a couple of the Therian agents hauled the perp away, Austen ran over to Sloane.

“Dude, that was fucking awesome! You totally kicked that guy’s ass, and he was like, ginormous! Do you know Jiu Jitsu? Are you trained in martial arts? How many forms of combat do you know? What if there’d been, like more of them? I bet you would have still totally kicked their asses.” Austen punched the air and kicked. How awesome would it be to bust moves like that? He’d bet no one ever got the drop on Sloane Brodie.

Sloane laughed and held his hands up. “Easy there, buddy. Might be time to cut down on the sugar.”

Austen was too freaking excited. He was practically vibrating with energy.

“Who’s the squirt?”

Austen turned at the deep growl. His eyes widened at the huge lion Therian agent looming over him. Damn, he looked mean.

“Ash, this is my pal, Austen. Austen, this is my best friend and teammate Ash Keeler.”

Austen took a slight step closer to Sloane, playing it cool. He gave Keeler a nod. “Yo.”

Before the guy could reply, two huge-ass tiger Therians in uniforms walked in. Holy freaking shit on a stick! Austen gaped. One of the tiger Therians smiled shyly and waved at him. The other which somehow was even bigger, quirked an eyebrow. He smiled at Sloane. Some kind of unspoken conversation seemed to happen between them. Like the whole team was so freaking in synch they didn’t even have to use words. What would it be like to work with these guys? To know they had your back. That you could… trust them? It just blew his mind.

“Who’s you friend?” The largest tiger Therian finally asked.

“Seb, Ethan, this is Austen. Austen, my friends and teammates, Seb and Ethan Hobbs.”

Austen looked between the two. They had the same last name. “You guys related?”

“Brothers,” the biggest one replied proudly, throwing his arm around the less giant of the two. What the hell did they feed these guys? The younger looking one just nodded. Did the guy talk? He hadn’t said a word yet. Suddenly Austen realized he was standing in a room with four apex predators. The biggest of the Felids. Oh. My. God.

Sloane turned to Austen. He reached into his pocket and took out a card. “I need to go, but if you need anything at all. You call me, okay?” He handed the card to Austen. It was all official with his name, email, and cell phone.

“Anything?” Austen asked, unable to help his grin.

Sloane chuckled. “Lord, help me. Yeah, anything.”

“Can we like, hang out?” Austen looked up then realized how stupid that sounded. “Never mind. You got shit to do. I mean, you got better things to do than hang around some nobody like me.”

Sloane frowned. He put his hand on Austen’s head. “Hey, you’re not a nobody. You’re a good kid. I’d love to hang out. But you gotta keep your nose clean, okay. I’m still an officer of the law, yeah?”

Austen beamed at him. “Yeah.” He followed everyone out, watched as Sloane climbed into the back of a big black tactical vehicle. Coolest thing ever!

That night he barely slept. It was cool, so he could sleep out on his fire escape. He took out his most prized possession, Sloane’s card and smiled at it. He ran a finger over it. There was something about Sloane. Like he understood Austen. Really understood. Maybe he’d had it rough too. He had a familiar sadness. The same kind Austen did everything he could not to think about. Well, now he had better, more exciting things to think about. Like kicking ass and taking names.

It was easy for Austen to keep up with Sloane and his team Destructive Delta. All he had to do was listen to THIRDS headquarters dispatch. It had meant doing a little thieving, but he told himself it was for a good cause. He was gonna help Sloane catch the bad guys. For now, he just wanted to be near the action. Watch the team, study then, see how they did things. Austen was learning. He watched DVDs, did research at the library. He’d even gotten a job. Sort of. Joey from The Big Palooka Gym had agreed to give him a few boxing lessons in return for taking out the trash, and cleaning up around the gym.

For weeks Austen showed up wherever Destructive Delta did. He didn’t get in the way, and just watched from the sidelines. He wasn’t stupid. Sloane had been surprised to see him the first time. The second time he didn’t look happy. The third he told Austen he shouldn’t be there. This call out had been particularly hairy. It had required some of Sloane’s teammates to be in their Therian forms. Watching a lion Therian and two tiger Therians chase down a couple of Jaguar Therians had been both thrilling and terrifying. Uh-oh. Sloane had that brooding look about him. He pulled Austen to one side.

“Austen, buddy, you can’t keep showing up like this. It’s too dangerous.”

“I can handle it.” Austen perked up. “Hey, maybe I can help.” The thought got his heart racing. “That would be so cool. I’m super-fast. In my Therian form I could trip these guys up. They’d never catch me. Plus, I’ve been practicing.” He bust out some of his moves. “I’ve been working out too.” He flexed his arm then shrugged when nothing happened. “It’ll get there.”

“Austen.” Sloane put his hands on Austen’s shoulders, holding him in place. “You know I love hanging out with you, and I love how enthusiastic you are, but I’d never forgive myself if something happened to you because I let you get involved. My team and I have been trained professionally for years.”

“I know, but….” Austen felt the back of his eyes burning, and he hated it. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried. God, he was such a baby. “I just…. I’ve never been good at anything, but I’m good at this. I’m good at sneaking around, of getting into places without being seen. And this time, it’s not to steal something, but to… to do something that matters. I want to matter. Like you.”

Sloane blinked at him before his expression softened. “You do matter, Austen.” He let out a sigh, his hands dropping to his sides. “You feel strongly about this, huh?”

Austen nodded pathetically.

“Okay. How do you feel about doing some reconnaissance work for me on occasion? Nothing dangerous. Just checking some things out? Keeping an eye on someone?”

Austen’s gasp was huge. He threw his arms around Sloane. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” He pulled back, his smile so big his face hurt. No one had ever trusted him with anything. “I swear I won’t let you down.” Never ever. He would never let Sloane Brodie down. At that moment he knew he’d do anything for Sloane.

Sloane had gotten him a cell phone, paid for by the THIRDS and everything. He even got some money. Sloane called it a “freelancer’s fee”, but Austen was pretty sure it was just Sloane making sure he had money for food and clothes. Austen would work hard during the day and study, because agents needed to be smart. He kept an eye on his phone. When Sloane called him he took off like a bolt of lightning. He did a lot of surveillance, usually on family members of perps the team was hunting down. Making sure no one made contact. He also couriered stuff, or followed people. No one ever suspected him. He was just another kid in New York City.

If anyone approached Austen, he used his charm. He wasn’t above playing sweet innocent Billy who was running errands for his sick grandma. His dimples went a long way with women and the elderly. With guys it was a little tougher. He used his humor instead. No matter what he did, he was loving every minute of him. And he was good. Whenever Sloane praised him he thought he’d float away.

When Austen arrived at the park, he was surprised—and maybe a teeny jealous—at the tall, busty woman with red hair standing beside Sloane. She looked like some retro pin-up girl. Curves in all the right places. She was a cougar Therian. Austen approached with caution. Sloane hadn’t said he was bringing anyone. Was this his girlfriend?

“Austen, I’d like you to meet Lieutenant Sonya Sparks. Lieutenant, this is Austen.”

Lieutenant? “Your boss?”

“Well, one of my bosses, yeah.”

Wow. Cool. Austen held his hand out, and was caught in her intense gaze.

“Austen, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” She took his hand, her grip firm. “Sloane’s told me so much about you.”

“He has?” Austen looked at Sloane who gave him a wink. He turned his attention back to the lieutenant.

“Yes, he has. I have to say, I’m impressed.” She motioned ahead of her. “Why don’t we take a walk. I’d like to talk to you about your work with the THIRDS. I think you and I are going to do wonderful things together, Austen.”

Austen smiled widely. Something told him his life was about to change.

Bring it.

THIRDS Thursday - 3/10/16

THIRDS Thursdays Prompt: I'd love to see the first time Austen and Sloane meet. We know Austen tried to steal Sloane’s wallet.... But then? I'm curious about Austen's devotion for him. 
Part 1

Man, he was bored.

Austen’s stomach growled, reminding him he was hungry too. In case he’d forgotten. Like that would happen. It seemed like days since he’d last eaten, but really it had only been one night. The sweet old lady at the café where he usually had breakfast was in the hospital, and he’d used his last few bucks to bring her flowers. Not like her good for nothing kids were going to do it. They barely even called her as it was. Austen hung around long enough to know these things. Bringing her flowers was the least he could do. She was probably the only one in this whole shitbag town who gave a fuck about him. Then again, she seemed to have a thing for feeding stray cats, and wasn’t that what he was? Just a big stray cat?

“Fuck that jerkoff,” Austen grumbled. HPF asshole.

Austen smiled at the memory of the guy cursing up a storm after finding his tires slashed. That’s what he got for being a condescending anti-Therian prick.

With a sigh, Austen stood and stretched from his perch on the fire escape. He’d made a little nest for himself with plenty of blankets and pillows. He’d sealed up the landing above his head so when it rained he didn’t get soaked. The building was half abandoned anyway, so he just slept inside when it was too cold. He was free to come and go as he pleased. No one to push him around, tell him to shut up, or put out their cigarettes on him. He ran up the fire escape then climbed the ladder up to the roof where he looked out into the city. He flipped it the bird with both fingers.

Now that he was done feeling sorry for himself, he leaned on the ledge of the three story building and watched the plebs go by. Who should he pickpocket today? Tourists were always an easy mark. All these people were so freaking boring. Oh! Hold the phone.

Austen perked up at the sight of a tall, black haired Therian in a leather jacket. “Well hello, sailor.” The guy was older. Late twenties maybe. Austen watched those long jean-clad legs walk down the street. The dude was huge. He had broad shoulders, and pitch black hair that curled just under his ears. His black biker boots were scuffed, and he had on an old school rock band T-shirt under his open jacket. His chiseled jaw was full of stubble. Now that was all man right there. There was something about the way he walked too. Like he was stalking. Most definitely a Felid. Austen could tell by the way he moved. There was something else though. Like he was special or something. Or maybe he was just hot.

Curious, Austen hurried to the ladder, and then rushed down the fire escape. He took off around the block so he could come up on the guy from behind. His heart was pounding furiously. Man, what he wouldn’t give to be eighteen! Not that a guy like that would go for him anyway even if he were old enough. Didn’t mean Austen couldn’t have a little fun. He needed to keep his skills sharp, and he had a feeling Mr. Tall, Dark, and Broody was just the guy for the job. It was the first time Austen had been curious enough about someone to get this close.

Feeling his adrenaline pumping, Austen took off, bumping into the guy as he ran past.

“Sorry!” Austen called out after him, grinning when he heard it.

“Hey! Get back here you little shit!”

Oh damn. It was on now. Austen stuffed the wallet into his jacket pocket and bolted, weaving through traffic and pedestrians, making sure not get himself caught in any mobs or get hit by a car. They were a block away from Central Park. It would be so easy to lose the guy in there. He chanced a look over his shoulder and yelped. Holy shit, the dude was practically on him! That’s when he saw the tattoo. Oh, fuck! Jaguar Therian. Maybe he should have planned this out a little better.

Austen sped into the park, up West Drive, running through the trees and back around toward the rocks where he liked to sun himself sometimes. He hauled ass through the park, making sure not to run into any cyclists or soccer moms pushing strollers. He ducked and dodged, hearing the guy cursing out after him. He had a nice gravelly voice. How long before the dude gave up and called the cops? Reaching one of the bridges, Austen leaped over the railing, landing on his feet on the gravel path below. He ran back under the bridge before ducking behind some shrubs and boulders to catch his breath. Damn, the guy was good. He didn’t seem interested in giving up either. Austen grinned.

“Come back here if you know what’s good for you!”

Austen bit down on his bottom lip and sneaked a peak. The guy had barely broken a sweat, but the rapid rise and fall of his chest said Austen was definitely putting him through his paces. This was fun. Silently, Austen walked up the slope to one of the paths before whistling down. Bright amber eyes narrowed at him.

“Get your scrawny ass over here!”

Austen blew him a kiss and took off, laughing at the sound of the guy cursing him to high heaven. This dude was way too much fun. After a couple of close calls, Austen lost the guy. He hated to admit it, but he was a little disappointed. The guy had actually kept up with him, for the most part. Shame.

“Guess dinner, and breakfast, and lunch, and dinner is on you…” He opened the wallet and almost threw up. That handsome face looked up at him from a very official looking ID.

Agent Sloane Brodie. THIRDS, NYC Division.

“Oh, fuck.”

“Oh fuck is right.” The gruff voice had Austen snapping his head up. And up. How tall was this fucking dude? There were redwoods that were freaking shorter. Austen swallowed hard. He should kick the guy in the balls and make like the wind. Agent Brodie held his hand out, and Austen looked from it to the wallet and back then up at Agent Frowny-Face.

“Um, you dropped this.” Austen handed the wallet back. The dude’s eyebrows jumped so high Austen thought they might fly off his face. He tended to have that effect on people. Austen took a step back. “So, uh, no harm no foul, right? You got your wallet back, which is very nice. Leather? You seem to like leather.” He looked down at his wrist. “Look at the time. I’d love to stay here and, uh, brood with you but I got a thing I have to do.” He quickly spun on his heals when a hand clamped down on his shoulder, holding him in an iron grip. Austen closed his eyes. Shit.

“I don’t think so, kid.”

Double shit. Of all the freaking dudes in the city, why did he have to pick this guy? Better yet, how the hell was he going to get out of this one?

Part 2 next week!
  Copyright © 2014 Charlie Cochet. All Rights Reserved. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.

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