In a matter of days, Dex has been kidnapped, tortured, killed, revived, become half-Therian, offered the chance to become a spy, and accepted a proposal to marry his jaguar Therian boyfriend, Sloane Brodie. It’s been a lot to take in, and although Dex is still trying to wrap his head around everything that’s happened, he knows he has to move forward. After the events of Smoke & Mirrors, Dex and Sloane find themselves in one of the most frightening situations of all: revealing the truth to their Destructive Delta family. When the dust settles, nothing will ever be the same, and it’s up to Dex to prove that in the face of change, the one thing that will always remain the same is family.
BREATHE. JUST breathe.
Hadn’t he been here before?
Dex leaned against the bathroom counter, studying himself in the mirror. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he’d stood in a bathroom not dissimilar to this one, staring at his reflection, wondering how his life had taken such a turn. So much had happened since then. A lot of bad, but a hell of a lot of good too. Much like that day at the courthouse, he now faced an uncertain future. The last few weeks had gone by in a blur—a whirlwind of chaos, heartache, and pain—like he’d been swept up in a tornado of what-the-fuckery only to be spit out abruptly into an alternate universe. His existence was sharper. Images, colors, sounds, and sensations were brighter, louder, more profound.
On the outside, he looked like any other Human. His eyes were still blue, the same pale shade they’d always been. On the inside, however, he was anything but Human. He stared down at his hands, the same hands he’d used to kill Moros. Actually they weren’t. He sucked in a sharp breath at the pain of unsheathing his claws. Fuck. He had claws. Jaguar Therian claws, to be exact, and they were razor-sharp, capable of shredding through Human flesh with ease.
It had been days since his transformation. Since he’d… died. He hadn’t been able to process that before his dad was shot and Moros gutted. Now here Dex stood in a hospital bathroom, trying to find the courage to explain something to his family he had yet to wrap his head around. Then his eyes caught the silver band around his ring finger. He was getting married.
Dex’s heart swelled, and he couldn’t help his stupidly wide grin. That news would be much easier to share with his family, though Tony was obviously aware, considering he’d given Sloane the ring to give to Dex. His dad’s ring.
“You okay?” Sloane stood by the door, looking worried.
Man, how long had Dex been in here?
“Yeah.” The moment the word left his mouth, he shook his head and dropped his gaze to the sink. “No. No, I’m not.”
In two strides, Sloane was at his side, his arm around Dex’s back. The strength radiating from Sloane and his gentle touch soothed Dex like a balm to his soul, offering the solace he needed. Sloane turned Dex to face him, his arms wrapping around Dex’s waist.
“Talk to me.”
Dex inhaled deeply and released it slowly. It was okay. He was okay. “How am I supposed to explain to them what’s happened to me when I still don’t understand it myself? I mean, I understand what happened, but….” He lifted his gaze to Sloane’s. “We don’t know the full extent of it yet. We haven’t even had a chance to talk about it. I died, went to work the next day, Dad got shot, I killed a guy, got engaged, went to visit my parents’ grave—all in a span of two days. I’m trying not to freak out, and oh my God, what the fuck? What the fuck, Sloane?” He gulped a lungful of air. Oh shit. Was he having a panic attack? He laughed at the thought. He was not having a panic attack. He did not have panic attacks. Dexter J. Daley did not lose his shit. Fuckbunnies. “I think I’m about to lose my shit.”
“What would you like me to do?” Sloane’s voice was calm.
“I don’t know.” Dex pulled away and paced. This had never happened to him before. He got worked up. He had “diva fits” and blew his top, but he never panicked. Then again, he’d never been half Therian before. Or engaged. Or seen Tony bleeding out. “It’s too much.” His pacing picked up speed. “What do I do, Sloane?” He bent over and placed his hands on his knees, breathing in and out through his mouth. What the hell was going on? He was fidgety at the best of times, but this was different, like he was restless inside. His eyes widened as realization struck.
“What is it?” Sloane placed his hand on Dex’s back, and Dex straightened, facing him.
“This is how you feel, isn’t it? When shit gets too much for you? Like your insides are going to explode if you don’t move, if you don’t do something.”
Sloane stared at him, snapping himself out of it before nodding. “Yeah. My inner Felid gets restless.”
Dex swallowed hard. “Do you think… do you think I have one?”
“An inner Felid?” Sloane visibly shivered, and Dex cocked his head. “Sorry, I um, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I mean, when you’re born a Therian, you’re born with your feral half. Some believe it’s like a second soul. It’s a part of you. If he was there, you would know it. Believe me.”
“But scientifically,” Dex said as he started to pace again, “it’s part of your DNA, which is now part of my DNA. So would I have one? And if I do, would he be yours, or would he be mine, or a mix of both?”
Oh God, his head hurt. What if he did have a feral half somewhere deep inside him? He’d have to, wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t that explain his claws and fangs and—
Dex came to an abrupt halt. “What if that’s what was happening when I lost it with Shultzon? When my fangs came out for the first time and I hissed, it was like I wasn’t myself. What if I wasn’t myself?” Crap, he just made things worse. He could handle his DNA changing, and with time he’d get used to being part Therian, but to have an inner Felid? To have another… soul? Was that possible?
“Babe, stop.” Sloane pulled Dex into his arms and held him tight. Dex tried to push away at first, too restless to stop moving. But Sloane’s warm breath against Dex’s temple, the feel of Sloane’s strong arms, and the sound of his heartbeat stilled Dex, calming something inside him. He closed his eyes. Sloane was right. All he was doing was driving himself crazy with unanswered questions. He’d find out the answers in time.
Sloane stroked Dex’s hair and swayed gently, comforting. His scent was thick, enveloping Dex in a bubble of familiarity and safety. Whatever happened, Sloane would be at his side to help him work through it.
“It’ll be okay,” Sloane promised.
Dex sighed and wrapped his arms around Sloane. His future husband was right. The thought made him smile. He was such an idiot. Here he was worrying about something he had no control over, rather than embracing it. Yeah, it was kind of terrifying, but he had Sloane to understand him and help him through all the crazy. Everything would be okay. He pulled back just enough to look into Sloane’s amber eyes. They were filled with so much love.
“You have every right to be nervous, but think about it for a second.” He kissed Dex’s temple, nuzzling his hair afterward. “They’re your family, Dex. They love you.”
With a smile, he met Sloane’s gaze. “You mean our family.”
“Our family,” Sloane agreed, giving Dex a kiss that was both sweet and sinful. When Sloane pulled away, he inhaled sharply as he looked into Dex’s eyes. “Shit.” He let out a soft laugh. “That’s going to take some getting used to.”
Dex needed to learn to control that if he was going to keep his secret. His eyes seemed to change when he got emotional or worked up. “What do they look like?” He tried not to appear too nervous.
Sloane didn’t hesitate. “They look beautiful, but then everything about you always is.”
“Well, now you’re just trying to get in my pants.”
Sloane laughed. He placed his hand to Dex’s cheek, his lips brushing over Dex’s in a feathery kiss before he brought Dex up against him, his mouth gentle but hungry, like he couldn’t get enough of Dex or the taste of him. It made Dex’s toes curl, and he dug his fingers into Sloane’s arms, allowing himself to be consumed by the man’s love and warmth.
“You two wanna get a room or something? People shit in here.”
Dex wrinkled his nose and pulled away to peer around Sloane at Ash making his way to one of the urinals. “You’re a paragon of gentility.”
Ash shrugged. “Hey, I know you get off on doing it in other people’s bathrooms, but this is a hospital, man. Just saying.”
“On that note,” Dex grumbled, giving Sloane a quick kiss. “I’m gonna go. I’ll call you when I’m done. Make sure he washes his hands.”
“Fuck you,” Ash growled at him from over his shoulder. “I always wash my hands. And I respect people’s bathrooms, you turd.”
“Well, you’re in the right place for that.” Dex laughed, running out of the bathroom to the sound of Ash’s curses and threats. Outside, he let out a sigh of relief. That was more like it. He felt like himself again. Straightening his shoulders, he held his head high and strode toward his new future.
“All right. Let’s do this.”