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Hello, all! So a few weeks ago I posted a fake newspaper image I'd created back when I was writing the very first draft of Hell & High Water. I also talked about the first time Dex and Sloane met back when the book was written in first person, and in Dex's point of view. I mentioned how although Dex knew who he was from the beginning, I kept trying to steer him in a different direction, a far more serious one, and he was having none of it.
Some of you may also recall in the original drawn, Hudson's name was actually Rafe, he was a bit of a douche, had a past with Sloane, and Cael had a crush on him. That didn't last long because Ash came onto the scene, decided Cael was his, Rafe became a huge tiger Therian with a chip on his shoulder, and Hudson was reborn the sweet, slightly awkward nerd we know today.
So here we go. Let's travel back in time to a piece of the original incarnation of Hell & High Water.
“Take off the jacket.”
“What?” I turned to Cael who just shrugged.
Before Rafe could elaborate, something large and dark loomed over me. For a moment, I thought my life was going to flash before my eyes. Then I realized it wasn’t death that had stealthily crept up into my personal space. It was my new partner.
My first instinct was to flee. Even though I knew it was my partner who stood over me in his Human form, the words Apex Predator seemed to be overriding all my good senses, and before I knew it, I had my Sig aimed at his chest with the safety off.
“Back off,” I growled, wondering what the hell was happening to me. All I knew was every instinct I had was on high alert, sirens blaring, my adrenaline pumping like some heavy shit was about to go down around me instead of the eerie silence that had descended. Why hadn’t I had this reaction to any of the other Therians I’d walked past? I knew they were dangerous, Tony had confirmed it. Sloane wasn’t the only Apex Predator, so why couldn’t I put my gun down?
All six and half feet of sleek, raw force stepped closer, and my gaze moved up. He was big, bigger than me, bigger than most of the guys I’d walked past in here, dressed all in black tactical pants and tight black t-shirt—as if his height, set of his shoulders, broad chest, and thick arms didn’t give him enough of an imposing presence.
Sloane was rugged, with a square jaw, and stubble. His pitch black hair gleamed with a faint blue sheen under the lights. It was unruly and windswept, curling slightly around his ears and his collar, but it was his eyes that pinned me to the spot. They were golden molten amber, intense, and unmistakably, one hundred percent Therian. I would have thought he was the hottest guy I’d ever seen if I wasn’t so distracted by the sheer fact that before me stood a man who could rip my throat out with one bite, and I didn’t even know what the hell kind of Felid he was. There was something about him, something he gave off the others didn’t. It struck me deep down inside my core, validating what Therian scientists have been insisted for decades: that Humans were no longer at the top of the food chain.
I knew Sloane wasn’t going to hurt me, but my gut wasn’t taking any chances. Taking a deep calming breath, I slowly forced myself to move the safety into place, but I still couldn’t put my gun away. Not yet. I stood exceptionally still when he leaned into me, his breath tickling my ear.
A shiver went up my spine when I heard his purr. Goddammit, he was purring, actually purring, and it was vibrating against my ear, like a faint chainsaw. His proximity was radiating heat, making it difficult to breathe, and I didn’t much care for it.
“What is that?” he growled, taking a sniff.
“Awkward? Nah, this ain’t awkward.”
“Answer the question.”
“I don’t know. Tea? I accidentally spilled some black tea on me this morning.”
“Not enough on you to affect me,” he murmured huskily, his voice barely above a whisper. He inhaled again. “It’s something else.”
I wondered what this something else could be. The Citrus Mint Forming Cream? Shower gel? Deodorant? Aftershave? Shampoo? Conditioner? Jesus, did I really use that many products? Didn’t matter. None of those things were any different from what I could detect on him with my paltry Human sense of smell, well, minus the Citrus Mint.
He pulled back with a snarl of disgust and pushed his index finger against the dimple in my chin. “Watch your step, Fancy Feast. Black tea is off the menu unless you’re looking to be on it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. I’d prefer it if you didn’t sneak up on me.”
“I’m sorry. Next time I walk into the room, I’ll announce my presence so you don’t shit yourself.”
I swiped the apple off my desk and started tossing it back and forth between my hands like a baseball. Prick. “Thanks. To show my appreciation, I’ll make sure to bring you a nice ball of yarn.”
With a humorless laugh, he shoved his hands into his pockets. “Nice one. Tell me, do you write all your own material or does Google help you out with that?”
Oh this was just peachy. We were getting off to a grand start. That was all I needed, for my new partner to hate me as much as my old one. Well if Sloane thought I was going to cower down before him, he had another think coming. There was no way in hell I was going to let him push me around like I was the weaker species. There was a sharp gasp from somewhere in the room and it was only then that I realized I had been so lost in my own inner monologue, I hadn’t noticed Sloane’s pupils dilate to the point where his eyes were almost black. His head was slightly lowered and his gaze was fixed on the apple, following it as it went back and forth, back and forth. His dark brows were drawn together and his jaw was clenched, his nostrils flaring. God help me. It was terrifying, yet exhilarating to watch the gradual transformation.
Then I remembered the catnip. Shit. Was Sloane susceptible? But he wasn’t acting like the others. I’m pretty sure none of their pupils had dilated. In fact, he wasn’t even looking at me. His gaze was still fixed on the apple.
“Listen up, Rookie…”
I followed the soft whisper over to Rafe, surprised to find him with both his hands up in front of him. It wasn’t so much that he looked about ready to spring into action that had me feeling all kinds of nervous, but the alarmed look on his face. I opened my mouth but he shook his head and continued to speak just above a whisper.
“Slowly move the apple away from you and put it on the desk, but make sure he’s following it when you do. Then stay extremely still. No sudden movements.”
I looked over Rafe’s shoulder and nearly dropped the apple. Everyone within our general vicinity had come to a standstill, with half of them looking ready to flee. I kept tossing the apple back and forth as he’d suggested, and turned my gaze back to Sloane. I might not be an expert on the subject, but thanks to Cael, I knew that look. He was getting ready to pounce, and not in a sexy way, but in a cause-serious-bodily-harm kind of way.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Okay, I had to calm down. I sure knew how to make one hell of a first impression. Doing exactly as Rafe said, I slowed down my movements, and with the apple in my left hand, I made sure he was following it before gingerly placing it on the desk to one side. I drew my hand away very slowly, and stood exceptionally still.
Everyone and everything seemed to be frozen in time, including Sloane, who was just staring at the apple. When I thought I would pass out from holding my breath, he blinked a few times, snatched the apple off the desk, and took a big chunk out of it before Rafe burst into laughter. What the hell just happened?
Sloane laughed and gave my cheek a firm pat. “Welcome to Unit Alpha.” He waved his shiny apple before strolling out of the office as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened, calling out over his shoulder, “Thanks for the apple, Fancy Feast.” Rafe wiped a tear away from his eye, laughing as he trailed off after him, and outside, everyone was having a good old fashioned laugh at my expense.
I turned to Cael who looked like he didn’t know what to do with himself. “What the hell was that? Was he going feral or did I just get punked by my new dick of a partner?”
Cael shrugged. “I don’t know. For a moment, I really thought he was, but then he just sort of snapped out of it.”
“I could have shot him!”
“Not likely. If Sloane believed you to be a threat, he would’ve taken you down the moment you reached for your Sig. His reflexes are far quicker than yours. Seriously, man, don’t mess with him. He’s one of the most lethal Alphas around. I thought dad filled you in on all this.”
“No, dad failed to mention that tiny yet life threatening tidbit of information.”
“What did I fail to mention?”
I spun toward my dad who was watching us curiously and threw my hands up in frustration. “The fact that my partner is one of the most lethal Alphas in this unit and a complete dick!” Taking a deep breath, I dropped down onto my chair and sighed. This wasn’t how I’d pictured my first day going. “You and your stupid ideas.” I cast him a dirty look. “You gave me that apple, and when I started tossing it around, Sloane started to go feral, or pretended to, I have no clue.”
“His pupils dilated,” Cael pitched in, coming to stand next to Tony. “I thought it was the real deal. I could smell it.”
“You can smell a shift?” I asked, wondering if I really wanted to know. “Sounds gross.”
“If someone sweats a lot you can smell it right?”
Tony frowned and shook his head. “I gave you the apple so you could give it to him because he loves those things. Figured it might get the two of you off on the right foot.”
“Well, it didn’t.”
The more Tony appeared to think on it, the more nervous I became. He obviously had something on his mind. It was written all over him like someone had taken a Sharpie to his bald head.
“Remember when you kids were younger, how you were all moody and pissed off all the time?”
I waved that remark away. “We were teenagers. Of course we were moody and pissed off all the time.”
“And remember that time I took you boys camping and you two got into that stupid fight over who was getting to sleep in what tent and you started waving that flashlight in Cael’s face?”
How could I forget? One minute we were cursing at each other like brothers do and the next minute I was on my back with a death grip on my flashlight because it was the only thing keeping Cael’s fangs from sinking into my neck. Cael had gone feral on me and his Therian side was having trouble communicating with his Human side. After our dad managed to get Cael to change back, we’d taken him straight to the hospital, where the good old doctor explained it was all part of growing up for my feline brother. Like going berserk and sinking your fangs into someone was right up there with zits or jacking off twenty times a day. Cael’s teenage hormones wreaked havoc with his neurological makeup, so until he grew out of it, he’d have to take some suppressants to keep him from getting himself into trouble, just like any other number of teenage Therians out there.
“So… what? You think he was actually going feral and then tried to cover it up? Besides, the whole hormone imbalance thing only happens to kids and teenagers, right?”
Cael shrugged. “It can happen to adults if something really gets under our skin. I mean really gets under our skin, but that never happens to Sloane. The guy’s impervious to everything.”
A worried look came onto Tony's face as he sat on the edge of my desk. “Either way, Dex, and don’t take this the wrong way—”
“Which basically means I will.”
“Look, I know you consider yourself pretty tough, and I’m not saying you’re not. Hell, you gotta be to do the job you do, but this is a whole different world. You need to be careful about who you piss off, and not just in here. Sure, you might find yourself roughed up a little, but none of these guys would cause you any serious damage. Not intentionally. Sloane’s… not the easiest guy to handle, but he’s a good guy and he’ll have your back. Out there is a danger the likes of which you’ve never faced.”
I was watching him carefully as he spoke, taking note of all his little nuances and reading between the lines. Slowly it all started coming together. Sloane was considered dangerous, even among his own kind. Obviously, he was one hell of an asset. Why the hell had they paired him up with me? Tony seemed to read my mind.
“You got something, kid. Whatever it is, Kyler and Howell saw it and decided you were the guy for the job. I think you and Sloane could learn a lot from each other.”
I had no idea what exactly he thought Sloane could learn from me. I on the other hand could learn how to keep myself from getting mauled by my partner.
“Say, what kind of Felid is Sloane, anyway? He wasn’t exactly forthcoming with that information.”
“Pantherinae, first lineage. Black Jaguar,” Tony replied, sounding almost proud. I guess he was, considering this was his department. “Congratulations, Dex. You got yourself partnered up with one of the rarest Alphas in the city.”
So there we have it. A good deal of world building changed after that. Dex was fighting me every step of the way. This wasn't how he wanted the story told, and Sloane was getting even grumpier that he wasn't getting his side of the story told. I'd written about 25,000 words, and scrapped it all. I kept some of the scene ides, like Dex in his HPF captain's office, the plot revolving around the Isaac and the Humi-Therians being killed. Every interaction with Dex and Sloane was scrapped and started from the beginning. Sometimes you have to listen to your gut. Or in this case, a gummy bear, cheesy doodle crunching blond menace.
Calvin walked outside in time to hear Maddock groaning.
“What did you do?”
Dex shrugged. “Nothing.”
Maddock gave him a look that clearly said he knew better and wasn’t buying it.
“I bought a karaoke machine for the break room.”
“Oh hell no.” Maddock thrust a finger at him. “You’re taking it back.”
“No. I’m putting my foot down on this.”
“But we were going to have a sing-off. Destructive Delta versus Beta Ambush.” Dex shook a fist at the air. “They’re so damn cocky. They think they can out air guitar me? We’ll see about that.”
“No, we won’t, because whatever’s going through your head right now isn’t happening. You want to do a sing-along—”
“Sing-off,” Dex corrected.
“That machine enters the building and it’s going back out via the nearest window. Be weird on your own time.” Maddock stormed off and Calvin stepped up to Dex, studying him.
“You didn’t really buy a karaoke machine for the break room, did you?”
“What?” Dex laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I didn’t. This whole case has him on edge.”
Calvin gave it some thought when it occurred to him. “And you were taking some of the edge off.” That was actually really… smart. No one wanted the sarge to be on edge.
“When it seems like the world’s burning down around you, a little sense of normality can go a long way.” Dex took a seat on one of the plastic chairs outside Ethan’s room. “The sing-off is real though. I’m going to crush those Beta bastards. Can you sing?” He waved a hand in dismissal. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll still beat them. So, you and Hobbs.”
Calvin cleared his throat and took a seat, his face burning up. “What about us?”
“Dude, I walked in on you two sucking face like a couple of college kids, come on. Whatever you say stays between us. If you can trust me with your life, you can trust me with this. Something’s been up with you guys for months, and if you haven’t noticed, the team’s been worried.”
Calvin’s head shot up and he turned to Dex. “They don’t suspect anything, do they?” If anyone found out, who knew what they’d do. They couldn’t split them up, everyone knew that, including the sergeant, but they could take them off the team, move them into a different department. Okay, he needed to stop freaking out about this.
“Nah. Whatever they’re thinking, it’s nothing close to that, but if you don’t sort it out soon, Sloane’s going to get wind something’s wrong, and you don’t want him interrogating you. It’s not fun. So?”
Calvin had no idea what it was about Dex that made him feel like he could tell the guy anything. Which was weird considering what a gossip the guy was. Yet he knew Dex would never tell anyone about his relationship with Ethan.
“You know Hobbs and I grew up together. We both came from a rough neighborhood. No segregated schools, at least not officially. Inside was a different matter. There were more Humans than Therians. We got shit for being friends. On top of that, Hobbs got bullied for his mutism. Those assholes knew he couldn’t fight back. He was bigger than them, stronger, but he was so crippled by his anxiety, he didn’t stand a chance.
“I don’t think a day went by where I didn’t end up in the principal’s office for fighting, but I had to protect him. My mom wanted to put me in another school, one strictly Human, but I refused to leave Hobbs behind in that shithole to fend for himself. He needed me. I can count on one hand the number of times we weren’t together. By college, Hobbs had gotten better with his mutism and the anxiety. We shared an apartment. Man, it was so much fun. We did some pretty stupid shit,” Calvin said with a laugh. Then he thought about the night that changed everything, and his smile faded. He looked down at his fingers, lost in the memory. “Anyway, things were good. After college, we got recruited by the THIRDS and moved into a bigger apartment together. We figured there was no point in spending a load of money on rent when we could save that money and help get our families out of the ghettos they were living in.
“Everything was cool between us. We’d never been closer. Then last year, we had this big Fourth of July party at our apartment, and both of us got shitfaced. We hooked up with these guys, the four of us in Hobbs’s bedroom, and everything was fine until Hobbs started fucking this guy. He was blond, about my height and size. I bolted. I couldn’t be in the same room while he screwed that guy.”
Calvin remembered that day as if it were yesterday. The way he’d felt sick to his stomach when he’d seen Ethan’s hands all over that guy, when he’d kissed him, fucked him. It made him feel sick now just thinking about it.
“What did Hobbs do after you bolted?”
“He came after me. We had a huge fight, mostly because I was so pissed off at him and at myself. I didn’t know what the hell I was feeling. All I knew was that I couldn’t stand seeing him fuck another guy. It was selfish, I know. I told him I needed some space. You should have seen his face. It was like I’d stabbed him in the heart. For days I hid out in my room, making sure when I came out I didn’t bump into him. He was so damn patient and good. He’d make me sandwiches and leave them in the fridge for me.” Calvin’s eyes grew glassy and he gave a sniff. He’d hated himself at the time for making Ethan feel so shitty, but he couldn’t stop feeling what he did. He’d tried.
“He caught me one afternoon in the hall, and when he tried to apologize, as if he was the reason I was acting like such an asshole, I lost it. I told him I didn’t want him fucking anyone else because… of how I felt about him. I couldn’t say the words, mostly because until the explosion, I couldn’t say exactly what it was I felt. I told him somewhere along the way, things had changed. The way I felt about him changed. I thought I was going to lose my mind waiting for him to say something. In the end, he hugged me and said we’d work it out.” Calvin let out a heavy sigh. “He’s scared we’ll lose our friendship. I tried to tell him it would never happen. If things didn’t work out, I’d never stop being his best friend.”
“How’s he feel about what just happened?” Dex asked, nodding to the closed door beside him.
Calvin shrugged, a small smile coming onto his face. “He kissed me back. That’s a good sign, right?”
Dex threw an arm around Calvin and gave him a reassuring squeeze. “I think so. Give him time. It’s a lot to take in. I’m betting Hobbs isn’t the kind of guy crazy about change, especially when it concerns the possibility of losing his best friend.”
“Thanks, Dex. I’m gonna head back in, say good-bye. Maddock and Sloane agree he needs more time to recuperate. I’ll see you at HQ.”
“No problem, buddy.”
Calvin headed back inside, feeling better at having gotten all that off his chest. It was nice having someone to talk to about Ethan. It wasn’t like he could tell Seb, or Rafe. The war between those two was getting worse by the day, and at some point, something had to give. God, they were all such a fucking mess. He dropped down on to the chair pulled up to Ethan’s bed and watched him sleep. Sometimes he couldn’t believe they were here.
After years of struggling and fighting, they’d done it. They’d clawed their way out of the putrid hole the world had thrown them in, refusing to back down. It had left them scarred in more ways than one. Calvin absently stroked the back of his head, tears welling in his eyes. There’d been times when he’d considered giving up, because really, how much shit could the world pile on the back of one short ass scrawny kid? But then he’d look at Ethan, and he’d find the strength to keep going, because if he gave up, Ethan would fall with him. Calvin couldn’t have that. It would break his heart if Ethan didn’t feel the same, or decided he couldn’t take the risk, but Calvin would have to find a way to get over it, because not having Ethan in his life wasn’t an option. Only time would tell, and until then….
Calvin took Ethan’s hand in his. “I’ll always be here. Always. No matter what happens between us, I’ll never leave you, Ethan. I promise.”
Ethan let out a soft sigh, and Calvin lay his head down, and as he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep he could have sworn he heard Ethan murmur something and squeeze his hand. Maybe it was just his brain playing tricks on him, or maybe… just maybe, everything would turn out okay.
Copyright © 2014/2018 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
Don’t lose your shit. Don’t lose your shit.
“I’m fine,” Ethan said quietly from where he sat, propped against several pillows on the Therian-sized hospital bed. Calvin could only shake his head in response as he paced the floor at the foot of Ethan’s bed. Fine? How could he sit there so calm, and tell Calvin he was fine? If Dex hadn’t disobeyed orders and gone back for Ethan….
“I could have been standing in the morgue right now,” Calvin hissed angrily. Maybe he should get some air. He’d been in this room since they’d allowed him in to see Ethan. It seemed like forever ago. When he’d come in, and he’d seen Ethan hooked up to all those machines, a tube stuck in his nose, IV in his arm… Calvin had taken advantage of the fact Ethan had been out, and no one else would be coming to disturb them, and he’d cried like he hadn’t all his life.
It wasn’t the first time either of them had been hurt on the job, but none of those instances had ever brought either of them as close to death as this.
“The whole time you were trapped in there, all I could think about was how the hell I was gonna tell your mom that you were….” Calvin shook his head, and pressed his lips together in an attempt to keep the tears at bay. “And then it hit me. I might actually lose you. Twenty-three years, Ethan. Did you know that? We’ve been together, side by side, nearly every single day for twenty-three years. Suddenly I was faced with the possibility that you wouldn’t be there anymore, and I couldn’t….”
Calvin’s bottom lip trembled, and he rubbed his eyes. He sniffed, and blew out a steadying breath before straightening. He walked to the side of Ethan’s bed, and took hold of his hand, his heart pounding in his ears when Ethan smiled. He looked so sweet and confused. It was a huge risk, one Calvin couldn’t afford not to take. Not anymore.
“For a long time now, I kept it inside because I was afraid of messing things up between us, but then I almost lost you. I thought about how I might have never had the chance to tell you how I really felt about you, Ethan. I told you after that party how things had changed for me, and I still feel that way. You’ll always be my best friend, and I love you, but now… I want us to be more. I want to be the only guy you have in your bed. I want you.” Calvin gently took hold of Ethan’s face and kissed him. Ethan tensed beneath Calvin, no doubt caught off guard, and for a moment Calvin feared he’d screwed up, but then the most amazing thing happened.
Ethan returned his kiss.
Ethan didn’t just kiss Calvin back, his kissed Calvin with just as much desperation as Calvin felt, his fingers gripping Calvin’s arms, sending a tremor through Calvin’s body. He opened his mouth, allowing Ethan’s tongue inside to explore. They kissed like they’d been starved for each other, and Calvin’s heart beat so fast he was afraid he’d pass out right then.
“What the hell is going on in here?”
Oh shit! Calvin jerked back, his eyes wide and his face burning. When the hell had the sergeant and Dex come in the room? How long had they been there?
Dex spun around and threw a hand up. “It’s my fault, Sarge. I made him do it.”
“What?” Maddock looked from Dex to Calvin and Ethan and back, not looking convinced. Dex turned, his expression when he saw Calvin not boding well, especially when Calvin followed Dex’s gaze to Ethan who was just as wide-eyed, breathless, and red-faced as Calvin.
“Well, Hobbs was bitchin’ about his ouchies, so I said Calvin would kiss it and make it better. Calvin said no, so I said the only alternative was for me to reenact Romancing the Stone scene for scene while singing Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough.” And wouldn’t you know it, Calvin puckered up. Absolutely no appreciation for the arts, these two.” Dex shook his head in shame and started singing softly. Sergeant Maddock didn’t hesitate. He shook his head and smacked Dex upside the head. “Ow!”
“Boy, what the hell’s wrong with you? The poor guy got blown up and you’re torturing him with your crappy-ass pop music?”
“Whoa, hey now. Don’t you insult Billy. Billy’s the man. But I understand what you’re saying. I need to work on my selections.” Dex thrust a finger at a startled looking Ethan and started singing “Eye of the Tiger.”
The guy was a nut. He was also trying to cover for Calvin and Ethan.
“No you don’t.” Maddock grabbed Dex by the collar and dragged him out of the room then the sergeant returned. He stopped by Ethan’s bed, his expression softening. “How are you feeling?”
Ethan nodded, and smiled.
“Good.” Maddock nodded. He was quiet for a moment before he gently patted Ethan’s shoulder. “You gave us quite the scare, son.”
Calvin stepped to one side to let the sarge talk to Ethan privately, and took the opportunity to text Dex.
Dex replied with a winking happy face, and Calvin smiled. That guy was such a dork. But the longer Calvin spent around him, the more he realized what a perfect fit for the team he was. Calvin had been skeptical at first, like everyone else, but the more resistance Dex met, the harder he fought, and Calvin had to admire that. It was the second time in only so many months that Dex had tried covering for him and Ethan. It was also the second time Dex had risked his life for them. First at Greenpoint where Calvin had gotten in over his head helping Ethan, and now when Dex went against orders, and dragged Ethan to safety.
Calvin wasn’t ashamed to admit that he didn’t understand why at first. He wondered if Dex had some kind of death wish, or if he was that desperate to impress Sloane, or his dad. It quickly became clear that it was just the kind of guy Dex was. He was the guy who ran into a burning building to save someone.
“You rest, and I’ll send someone to check on you later,” Maddock told Ethan before giving Calvin a nod then leaving the room. Calvin turned, smiling at the sight of Ethan trying to fight sleep. He walked over, and ran a hand over Ethan’s head.
“Just go to sleep and stop fighting so hard.” Ethan wrapped a hand around his wrist, his words almost a whisper when he spoke.
“Will you be here when I wake up?”
“I’ll be here as long as they let me.”
Ethan smiled softly, and Calvin couldn’t help but place a quick, sweet kiss to his lips. When he pulled back, Ethan was already asleep, a tender smile on his face. Calvin had no idea how Ethan felt about him, but he had to take their kiss as a sign right? He’d have to be patient, very patient. Change was difficult for Ethan, always had been, and no change was greater than whatever was happening to their relationship right now. After twenty-three years of being best friends, of things always being the same between them, Calvin couldn’t expect Ethan to suddenly change.
Calvin had admitted his feelings, and made the first move. The ball was in Ethan’s court now. The wait was going to be excruciating, but Calvin would be patient and supportive. First, he needed to find Dex.
PART TWO next week. Copyright © 2014/2018 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
Hello, all! Some of you may have seen my post in the THIRDS group on Facebook regarding THIRDS Thursday. If you haven't, here's the rundown. As you know, the release time between THIRDS books is getting a little longer as I try to balance my self-pub release schedule and Dreamspinner release schedule (so many books to write so little time!) Anyway, I want to continue THIRDS Thursdays, but with fewer THIRDS releases, it makes things unmanageable for me (since THIRDS Thurs only goes on hiatus the month of a release which, yay, more THIRDS Thursdays, but far too much for me too keep up with as far as flash fiction is concerned.)
Each flash fiction story is broken up into roughly 1500 to 2500 word parts, and end up being 8,000 to 10,000 words in length. With the number of books on my writing schedule, that kind of word count each month is tough for me to maintain, so what can we do?
I'd like to have a couple of flash fiction stories a month, or one story broken up into two parts (across two consecutive weeks), so I've devised a new schedule for THIRDS Thursdays:
We're going to have 4 THIRDS Thursdays a month.
1 Thursday will be something fun and random. It could be an excerpt, and extra, deleted scene, playlist, fan art, scavenger hunt (I'm totally open to suggestions for this day, so if you have them, leave them in the comments below).2 Thursdays will be flash fiction stories, either two standalone, or one story split in two parts (If it's a two-part story, I'll make sure these are posted across two consecutive weeks so you won't have to wait two weeks to read the second part). 1 Thursday will be a giveaway.
So today we're having a fun random THIRDS day, and I dug up this mock newspaper I did back when I was writing the first (scrapped) draft Hell & High Water. Originally this had been the first page of the manuscript, a fake newspaper article written in 1992 regarding the birth of Therians. Dex would have been 12 yrs old at the time of this article, and as you can see I'd originally killed Shultzon off. I also noticed the name "King" has popped up on several occasions over he years in my writing. A hint of things to come? LOL Anyway, so yes, I thought it would be fun to share this little piece of THIRDS history with you.
Fun Fact: The reason there's an apple in the newspaper title is not just because of NYC being the Big Apple, it was because originally Sloane had a weak spot for apples, and the original scene where Dex and Sloane first meet involves an apple, so each chapter heading had a little apple.Fun Fact: The original Hell & High Water was written in first person from Dex's point of view, but I changed it because it didn't quite feel right. [Click image to view full size.]
If you guys are interested in the original Dex and Sloane scene (written in Dex's POV) where they first meet, let me know, and I'll get it up for next month's random THIRDS Thursday. Fair warning, it's way different, and far more serious. It's a little weird yet fascinating reading it now because of how completely different it ended up being in the finalized Hell & High Water.
I think Dex was just not happy being all serious and by the book, because that wasn't him, and he knew it. He was Dex from the start, and I was trying to fit him in this serious detective box, and he was like "Nope. Nice try, author lady, but we're doing things my way." Hence a new document, new manuscript, new intro with Zach and some cheesy doodles. If I'd continued with the first draft, it would have been a whole other book and series. It's fun to look back, but I'm so glad we ended up with the Dex and Sloane we have now.
Hello, all! A huge thank you to everyone who joined in the giveaway. You are all so awesome! We have our giveaway winners!
Chosen at random, the following 3 folks will receive an ARC of Love and Payne as soon as it becomes available. I've included just the first 3 letters of the email address as we have a few folks with the same name.
1) Terri: bog
2) Faye: mm_
3) Paula: pau
If you won an ARC I will be emailing you to let you know you've won. Thank you again all so much for joining in the fun. If you didn't win this time, there will be more chances to win coming soon.
Prompt: We all know Dex is a trouble magnet with a super big heart. Maybe they work on a case and during a raid they find a little 5 year old bratty Therian Jaguar girl, whose needs looking after till her family can be found.
Dex noticed Sloane had something hidden behind his back as he walked over to Solange. “Sorry I took so long.” He stopped next to her then knelt. “Guess what? Your mommy and daddy are on their way to pick you up, and look who’s here.”
Solange squealed when Sloane presented her with a stuffed lion toy, and Dex couldn’t help his laugh. It had floppy arms and legs, a big brown nose, and the biggest, craziest mane Dex had ever seen. She got her little arms wrapped around it, and hugged the stuffing out of it.
“So what have you two been up to?” Sloane asked, just as Ash entered the room.
Maybe the floor would swallow Dex up, and he wouldn’t have to witness this crushing, life altering moment. Okay, maybe he was being a little dramatic, but still.
Ash opened his mouth when Solange piped up.
“Dex and I were singing!”
The room plunged into silence, everyone staring at Solange.
Sloane blinked at her. “You were singing?”
“Yep. We were here the whole time, and we were singing a fun song. Do you want to hear it?”
Two words in and Dex was on the floor in a fit of laughter. Ash’s eyes were huge, and Sloane had a fist to his mouth to keep himself from laughing. Meanwhile, at the top of her lungs, Solange sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
Ash looked so confused, and Dex was afraid he’d pee his pants he was laughing so hard. “What’s happening right now?”
Solange continued to sing, her voice going up really high in pitch for certain parts of the song, and Dex just couldn’t breathe.
“Yeah, no.” Ash turned and left.
“Do you like it?” Solange asked Sloane.
Sloane laughed softly. “I do. I also think it’s very sweet for you to cover for Dex.”
Dex froze. He sat up, and gaped at Sloane. “You know?”
Sloane stood, and held a hand out to Dex, helping him to his feet. He made sure to stand where he could keep an eye on Solange. “Yes, Babe. I came back to ask Solange a quick question and didn’t see either of you. I figured she managed to sneak away.”
Dex narrowed his eyes. “Ash told you, didn’t he?”
“He did. Yes. Like, the moment he saw her.”
“Where was she?”
Sloane chuckled. “Here.”
“She was hiding under my desk.”
Dex’s jaw dropped. Hiding in plain sight. Of course she was. Man, he felt like an idiot. He not only lived with a jaguar Therian, he was mated to one. They were experts at hiding so they could pounce. Sloane’s desk was the first place he should have checked.
“That’s also why we smelled her scent.”
Dex nodded his agreement. He thought her scent hadn’t changed because she’d just been in the office, but in truth it was because she hadn’t left. That sneaky sneak. “Wait, how did she end up with Ash if she didn’t leave the office?”
“He dropped by to discuss the case and found her sitting in my chair, but no you. When he asked her where you were, she said she’d show him.” Sloane looked down, and Dex followed his gaze. Solange stood beside him tugging at one of his pockets.
“Don’t be mad at Dex. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have pretended to run away. He’ll be a really good daddy, I promise.”
Sloane’s expression softened, and he picked Solange up, his smile making Dex melt. “You know what? I think he’ll make a great daddy.”
“You do?” she asked, her smile wide.
Sloane nodded then gave them each a pointed look. “I’m not happy with either of you, but that doesn’t change how great I think you both are.” He turned his attention back to Solange. “You shouldn’t pretend to sneak away like that, or actually sneak away. You really worried Dex. What if you weren’t somewhere safe? How would your mommy and daddy feel if something happened to you?”
Her bottom lip jutted out in a miserable pout. “They’d be sad.”
“They’d be heartbroken.” Sloane turned his attention to Dex. “I’m not sure what you were doing when Solange pulled a Houdini on you, but she reminds me of a certain someone.” He shook his head in amusement. “I take my eyes off you for two seconds, and next thing I know, I find you Duct taped to a medical examiner’s table.”
Solange arched a perfect little eyebrow at Dex. He was being judged by a five-year-old. Splendid.
“Here’s a life lesson. Never steal cookies from a wolf Therian. They are very serious about their food. Especially cookies. They might look all sweet and nerdy, but don’t let that fool you.”
Sloane laughed, and Solange giggled.
“I’m glad my misfortune amuses you two,” Dex said with a sniff.
Sloane pulled him close, and kissed his temple. “I love you. But next time, call me, huh? We’ll work it out together.”
Really, Dex should have known better. “I will. I’m sorry. I just kind of freaked out a little.”
“I know. That happens when your blood sugar is low. Then you crash. So how about I stay with Solange while you get yourself something from the canteen.”
“Have I told you lately how amazing you are?”
Sloane shrugged, his smile dazzling. “I’m not going to complain if you feel the need to say it again.”
“You’re amazing.” Dex kissed Sloane’s cheek before heading for the door. As he headed for the canteen, he thought about Solange and how after everything she’d stuck up for him, so he wouldn’t get in trouble with Sloane. She was a good kid. He thought about the reason he’d take his eyes off her, and an idea struck him. He’d run it by Sloane, but he didn’t think Sloane would mind. Ash on the other hand….
“I hate you so bad right now,” Ash hissed.
When Solange’s parents arrived to pick up their little girl, after her mother bawled her eyes out and her father paced the office in a controlled rage at the babysitter’s negligence, everyone settled down. Solange’s parents were pressing charges, and they had every right to. They’d trusted the babysitter with their precious child, and their trust had been betrayed. Both parents had gone pale when they’d discovered where Destructive Delta had rescued her from, and they were extremely grateful. The THIRDS had made new allies.
As they talked, Dex discussed his idea with Solange’s parents, and then Solange’s mother broke down in tears before lunging herself at Dex, and hugging him tight.
As it turned out. Dolly wasn’t just any lion, but actually Growly the Grumpy Lion, a very famous children’s TV show lion. A British kids TV show lion. Growly was a lion Therian who in his Human form wore a giant crazy mane and was super grumpy which the kids found hysterical. Who would have known that within their ranks they had their own Growly the Grumpy Lion. And, oh, he was very grumpy right now.
Ash sat in the middle of circle of kids, arms crossed over his expansive chest, big fluffy mane with little lion ears over his head.
“Do you live in the jungle?” A little Human boy asked, waving his hand in front of Ash’s face.
“No. I live in Leeds apparently. Probably because it starts with an “L”. Why it couldn’t be London, I don’t know.”
“You don’t sound British,” another little boy said.
Ash sighed, and when he spoke, Dex just knew he was imitating Hudson. If Hudson were a grumpy ass lion Therian pretending to be a British wolf Therian. “I’m British. I drink tea, and eat cookies, but I call them biscuits because I like to be difficult.”
The kids all laughed their little faces off and Hudson frowned.
“I don’t sound like that.”
“Eh, you kinda do.”
Hudson narrowed his eyes at Dex. “As if I would take the word of a biscuit thief.”
“You’re just strengthening his case.”
Sloane stepped up beside Dex, and wrapped an arm around him, pulling him close. He kissed Dex’s temple and spoke so only Dex would hear. “I think you’ve just made Solange the most popular kid at her school. How did you get all the parents to let their kids come?”
“I just used my Daley charm.”
“Too bad that charm won’t work on Ash. I love you, Babe, which is why when this is over, I’ll try and buy you some time so you can make a run for it.”
Cael stepped up to Dex’s right. He was so smitten as he watched his boyfriend. “I had no idea Ash was so good with kids. He’s amazing. Also, you’re a dead man. Just saying. I’ll try and buy you some time, so you can get away.”
Dex chuckled. “I appreciate that my family is willing to risk the wrath of Ash to give me a running head start, but I really don’t think it’ll be necessary. I think he’s secretly enjoying it.”
One little girl launched herself into Ash’s arms. He lifted her up and she sneezed. She’d also had a mouth full of fruit juice which Ash was now wearing.
Dex hugged Cael then turned to Sloane and kissed him. “Make sure my grave says I died valiantly in combat.” Dex took off to the sound of Ash roaring his name. Yep. Just another day at the office for Destructive Delta.
Copyright © 2018 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
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