Tag - Osmond Zachary

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

SYNOPSIS

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….

💛 EXCERPT

** 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.

SERIES READING ORDER

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.

GIVEAWAY

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.

EXCERPT

“Hey.”

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?”

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?”

“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.”

“Nope.”

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 - 1/14/16

Prompt: Is there any way we can get a story from Zach's POV? Does he think about Austen? Does he think about Dex and the Cheesy Doodles? I just want to know what he thinks about.


Thank goodness that was over.

As much as Zach enjoyed working protective detail for Unit Beta, babysitting the Therian teenagers of visiting foreign dignitaries was not his favorite. Most were no trouble, but occasionally some of them regarded themselves as celebrities, and their entourage had a habit of treating him like he was their personal butler instead of the highly trained THIRDS agent he was. This time around was the worst yet. The eighteen-year-old leopard Therian and her half a dozen friends were terrifying.

They kept poking his abs, making him hold out his arms to see how many of them could hang off his biceps. One of them even grabbed his butt. Five hours of giggling, of being made to show how strong he was, of being asked completely inappropriate questions about his anatomy, had exhausted him. It was all submitted in his report, and his sergeant was very good at following up on claims of impropriety. The hiring agency would be warned about conduct for future contracts. The THIRDS wouldn’t permit their agents to be harassed, no matter who they were working with.

Zach didn’t want to get the girls in trouble, but his partner had told him it was an important lesson they needed to learn. At least it was over. Now he could enjoy his break and his favorite—

“You,” Zach muttered, his eyes narrowed at the blond Human.

Dex looked up, pale blue eyes wide. “Me.”

Zach didn’t know what to do with agent Dexter J. Daley. He was strange. No. That wasn’t right. Even strange wasn’t strange enough for him. Of all the vending machines at HQ, why did Dex always end up at the same one Zach intended to use? And why was there only ever one darn packet of Cheesy Doodles left? He supposed the answer to that stood in front of him. The guy ate almost as much as Zach did. Besides, the Cheesy Doodles should be his considering this was Unit Beta’s canteen.

Let me guess,” Dex said with a big grin, “these are yours?” He pointed to the lone pack of tasty Cheesy Doodles behind the glass.

Zach nodded.

“I don’t suppose my telling you I was here first would resolve this?”

Zach arched an eyebrow at him. Not even close.

“I didn’t think so,” Dex sighed. “I’ll tell you what, big guy. I’m beat, so outrunning you today is not in the cards, as fun as that is.”

Dex didn’t really outrun Zach. It was more like he squeezed himself into places Zach didn’t have a chance of fitting into. Like the laundry chute in Sparta. Zach had to give the guy credit, he meant business when it came to Cheesy Doodles. No peril was too great, or equipment locker too small. The man went to great lengths to escape with Zach’s cheese snacks.

“How about we share?”

Zach considered this. Share his Cheesy Doodles with Dex, or be forced to chase the agent all around the building, and in the end lose his snack. Although Dex did say he was too tired to run today.

Dex put his change into the machine and tapped the digital screen. The bag plopped down.  Zach readied himself. Dex was going down. Those Cheesy Doodles were Zach’s.

“Man, for a small guy, Austen is one tough little bastard.”

Zach straightened. “Austen Payne?”

“Only Austen I know,” Dex replied with a nod. He grabbed the packet of Cheesy Doodles and motioned over to an empty table. Zach followed, but only because he didn’t want to lose sight of his Cheesy Doodles. Not because he wanted to know about Austen Payne. Zach scrunched up his nose. That was a lie. He wanted to know more about the mysterious cheetah Therian he’d looked after in the abandoned building a few months ago.

Zach sat down across from Dex, his eyes on the packet. It made a lovely sound when it was opened. To his surprise, Dex offered him first dibs. Zach grabbed a couple and waited for Dex to say whatever he was going to say. The guy was very smart, despite playing the fool. Zach had seen him in action plenty of times, out in the field and training in Sparta.

“You asked Sloane about him.”

There was no teasing or malice in Dex’s tone. It was simply a statement. Zach nodded. He ate one of his Cheesy Doodles.

“I asked him how Austen was doing,” Zach admitted.

“Still alive and kicking. And being a pain in everyone’s ass.”

Zach shrugged. That was Dex’s opinion. Zach didn’t think so. “He does what you do.”

“And what’s that?” Dex asked, his head cocked to one side in thought.

“Act like a clown to hide the truth.”

“And what truth might that be?” Dex popped another Cheesy Doodle into his mouth before offering the bag again. “Also, Austen and I are nothing alike. The guy’s like an obnoxious little ninja. You know he breaks into my house to steal my Cheesy Doodles?”

Zach stared at Dex before letting out a quiet laugh.

“That’s right. Your boyfriend’s a thief.”

Zach stopped laughing. He narrowed his eyes. “He’s not my boyfriend. The truth he hides is his true feelings. You make jokes to hide insecurities.”

Dex studied him. “Interesting. However, we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about Austen.”

“I just wanted to know if he was okay.”

“Because you were thinking about him.”

Where was Dex, going with this? Dex peered at him, and Zach was forced to look away. Okay, so he had been thinking about Austen. There was something… sad about him. Zach didn’t know that much about Austen other than what Sloane had told him, but the thought of the spirited cheetah Therian being all alone in the world made Zach sad. He’d never been alone. Heck, he’d grown up with eight brothers and sisters, plus cousins, aunts, and uncles. The Zachary clan was huge.

Zach shrugged. He couldn’t deny he’d been thinking about Austen. Whatever Austen did as an SSA, his job was very dangerous. Zach knew that much. At least he cared about what he did, considering he’d been helping Sloane out when he got hurt. From their short time together, Zach had been able to gleam some insight into Austen. It was obvious that outside of Sloane, Austen wasn’t used to anyone being kind to him without wanting something in return. Zach cleared his throat.

“So, you’ve seen him recently?” Zach wasn’t particularly pleased by the impish smile on Dex’s face, but he ignored it.

“Today, actually. We had a training exercise and he wiped the floor with us.”

Zach’s brows shot up. “Us? Who’s us?”

“The whole team. Hobbs, Ash, Sloane.” Dex shook his head in shame. “That’s what we get for underestimating him. Dude’s got mad skills.”

“Good,” Zach said, pleased.

“Good we got our asses handed to us?”

Zach laughed at Dex’s stunned expression. He shook his head. “No, silly. I’m glad that he can defend himself against bigger Therians.”

“I think he’s been training harder, after what happened with those Coalition jerks. I get the feeling Austen doesn’t like getting caught.” Something in Dex’s eyes made Zach pause. There was more to that declaration.

“Anyway, thanks for the chat,” Dex said as he got up, handing Zach the rest of the packet. “You know, just because you don’t see him, doesn’t mean he’s not around. He likes to keep tabs on people close to him. He just doesn’t like them to know he’s keeping tabs on them. The guy’s about as emotional as an armadillo.” Dex patted Zach’s shoulder and gave him a wink. “Until the next pack of Cheesy Doodles.”

Zach nodded. I look forward to it.

The rest of the day went quickly, and soon he was home. After a hot shower, he came downstairs in his T-shirt, and loose pajama bottoms. His feet were bare as usual. He wasn’t a fan of socks. He fixed himself dinner, talked to his mom on the phone, and promised he’d be there for his dad’s birthday party that weekend. He was too tired to go out, so he stayed in watching TV. During the commercial break, he headed into the kitchen for a bottle of water and his Cheesy Doodles. He opened the cupboard where he stored them, and frowned.

They were gone.

This morning there had been a full bag. He was certain of it.

A slow smile crept onto his face.

He went to the fridge and scribbled a quick grocery list, adding Cheesy Doodles to the bottom.

Better make that two bags.  


  Copyright © 2014 Charlie Cochet. All Rights Reserved. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.

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