THIRDS Thursday – 12/22/16

A THIRDS Christmas.


Where could he be?

Sloane looked everywhere for Ash. He’d woken up to find Ash gone, but he didn’t have a “session” or Ash would have told him. The door to their room had been open, which meant they were allowed to leave. Probably because it was Christmas tomorrow, so there were no sessions until after, and most of the grownups were gone, except for the security guards and Dr. Shultzon.

Ash never went anywhere without telling Sloane, just like Sloane never went anywhere without Ash, not if he could help it. Not because the other kids scared him. No one was mean to each other. Ash had said it was because they were all in this together. It was the grownups they were all scared of.

Sloane checked the playroom, the canteen, and even the medical bay. No one had seen him either. Sloane didn’t call out for Ash in case it got him in trouble. Ash had to be here somewhere. He’d never leave Sloane alone. Ever. Last week Dr. Shultzon told Sloane it had been almost three years since Sloane and Ash met. It made Sloane really happy. Ash called him a dork, saying they’d always be together so it wasn’t a big deal. Three days after Christmas, Sloane would be thirteen, and officially a teenager, just like Ash. Ash had teased Sloane, telling him he was the oldest, already a teen while Sloane was still a little kid. Sloane had rolled his eyes. Ash was like, not even a month older.

Walking by one of the offices, Sloane heard sniffing and froze. The door was open a tiny bit. Checking each end of the hall to make sure no one was watching, he tiptoed up to the door then peeked inside. Ash was inside the empty office, sitting on the windowsill, looking out.

Sloane slipped inside, closing the door silently behind him. He walked up to Ash who didn’t even blink.

“Hey,” Sloane said quietly.

Ash grunted, but didn’t say anything. He was usually grumpy, but this time it was different. He looked… sad.

“Can I sit with you?”

Ash let out a noise, like he was annoyed, but pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around them to make room for Sloane.

Sloane climbed up on the windowsill, his knees drawn up as he faced Ash. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

Sloane studied Ash. His eyes were kinda red and glassy, and he sniffed before rubbing his eyes, a deep frown on his face.

“What do you want?” Ash growled, still not looking at him.

“I couldn’t find you.”

Ash glanced over at him. “And you got scared, huh?” He didn’t sound mad.

Sloane nodded, his bottom lip between his teeth. He hated being so scared all the time, but he couldn’t help it. The tests, the screaming, and crying, the nightmares…. It wasn’t so terrible because Ash was with him. Always. Not being able to find him had scared Sloane.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Ash muttered.

Sloane looked out the window, gasping and plastering his hands on the glass. “It’s snowing!” It had been a long time since he’d seen the snow. None of the rooms they were ever in had any windows. Ash said it was so no one on the outside could see them. Sloane thought maybe no one knew they were here, but Ash thought they did and just didn’t care.

“The snow makes me think of Arlo.”

Sloane was sad for Ash. He’d never had any brothers or sisters, so he didn’t know how it would feel to lose one of them, but he knew how it would feel if he lost Ash. Ash had told Sloane about Arlo one night after Sloane woke him up from a nightmare. He’d been kicking and crying in his sleep, calling out for someone called Arlo. His twin.

“I’m sorry,” Sloane said softly. He wished there was something he could do to make Ash not hurt so much. Ash wouldn’t like him fussing, so Sloane just nudged his socked feet closer until they were touching Ash’s. His shoulders relaxed.

“My mom used to take us ice skating all the time. Arlo loved it.”

“You ice skate?” Sloane blinked at his friend, surprised.

“Yes, dork. I can ice skate. I can do a lot of things.” Ash went back to looking out the window and sighed.

They were quiet, both watching the snow fall. The longer they watched, the sadder Ash seemed to get. Sloane wondered what he could do. He had to do something. Ash was always taking care of him, cheering him up, making him laugh, stealing extra snacks from the canteen for them.

“Do you want to go watch Christmas movies?” Sloane asked, hopeful.

Ash shook his head, his voice quiet. “Maybe later. I’m just gonna sit here a while. Watch White Christmas. That always makes you smile.”

Sloane carefully hopped down. “Okay.” He left Ash and headed for one of the big playrooms where they were sometimes allowed to watch movies.  When he got there he didn’t go in. Instead, he turned, and went to the elevator. He took it up to the next floor. The doors opened and a security guard frowned down at him.

“Where are you going?”

“I need to talk to Dr. Shultzon.”

The man’s frown grew deeper.

“Please,” Sloane said, eyes wide. “I won’t be long. I promise.”

With a sigh, the man nodded. “Hurry up. I’m watching you.”

“Yes, sir.” He hurried down the hall until he found Dr. Shultzon’s office. He’d been here lots of times. Usually when Shultzon was trying to explain to him why he needed to be a brave boy, and how he was really important. Sloane stood in the doorway and tried not to fidget.

“Dr. Shultzon?”

Dr. Shultzon looked up from his where he sat behind his desk and smiled. “Sloane, what a pleasant surprise. You don’t normally come to visit me.”

“I’m sorry,” Sloane said, rubbing his arm. “I um, I wanted to ask if you could do something.”

Dr. Shultzon laced his fingers together. “Oh? And what’s that?”

Sloane told him what he wanted, then waited. Dr. Shultzon was quiet. “That’s a very odd request. I’m not sure—”

“But, you could if you wanted to right?”

“Perhaps, but Sloane, I don’t—”

Sloane rushed over to the desk, gripping the edge. “But I’m important, right? You’ve told me so lots of times. That I’m important, and that I help other Therians. You said I was special.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Please. I won’t ever ask for anything ever again. I won’t misbehave. I promise.” He drew a cross over his heart with his finger. “Tomorrow’s Christmas, and this is super-duper important.” His best friend in the whole world was sad. Whatever Sloane had to do to make Ash be Ash again, he would do it.

“Sloane—”

“Please!” Tears welled up in Sloane’s eyes. “You have to!”

“Well, seeing as how you feel so strongly about this, and tomorrow is Christmas. All right. One hour. Be by the elevator on your floor, and I’ll have one of the guards escort you over.”

“Thank you!” Sloane ran from the room. One hour. Sloane took the elevator back to the floor where his and Ash’s room where. He was already wearing warm clothes, so he just had to put his shoes on. He grabbed Ash’s sneakers, and ran back to the elevator, getting off on the floor where the office was. Ash was still sitting at the window. When Sloane tiptoed in, Ash huffed.

“It’s been like, five minutes.”

Sloane put Ash’s sneakers on the floor by the door before joining him at the window.

“I know. I thought maybe you missed me,” Sloane teased, knowing how much it annoyed Ash, though it didn’t really annoy him. He just pretended it did. Sloane climbed up and sat with him, watching the snow fall.

“Why do you keep looking at the clock?” Ash peered at him, and Sloane shrugged.

“Just wondering what time it is.”

“Cause you got somewhere to be?”

An hour! Sloane jumped down. “We have somewhere to be.” He grabbed Ash’s wrist. “Come on. I want to show you something.”

Ash rolled his eyes. “Fine. You’re so annoying.”

“I know,” Sloane said with a laugh. “Come on. Put on your shoes.” He handed Ash his sneakers.

“Why?”

“Just do it!”

“Geez, okay. You’re so bossy.”

Ash put on his sneakers, and the second he’d tied his shoes, Sloane grabbed his hand and ran.

“Where are we going, and why do we have to run there?”

“Because!”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Whatever,” Sloane said, pulling Ash with him to the elevator where a guard stood waiting for them. Ash lifted his chin, and narrowed his gaze at the man.

“Where are we going?”

“Trust me,” Sloane said, getting into the elevator with the guard. They stopped in the basement, and when the doors opened, Sloane covered Ash’s eyes.

“What are you doing?”

“It’s a surprise.” Sloane was so excited, he could barely hold it in.

“You’re such a dork.”

“I know, but please, Ash. Don’t peek.”

“Fine. Whatever.”

They walked slowly out into what looked like the building’s underground parking garage. Except it didn’t look much like a parking garage anymore. Sloane moved his hands.

“Merry Christmas, Ash!”

Ash’s eyes went huge, his mouth dropping open. “Holy cow… is that…?”

“It’s an ice skating rink!” Sloane ran over to the white wall surrounding the ice rink. It wasn’t huge, but it was plenty big for them. There were Christmas lights, a radio playing Christmas music, and a small table with hot chocolate. Sloane picked up a pair of black ice skates, and hurried them over to Ash. “They’re your size.”

“How…?” Ash shook his head. He looked at Sloane, his bottom lip trembling, and tears in his eyes. Sloane’s smile fell off his face.

“Do you not like it?”

One second Sloane was standing in front of Ash, the next he was falling over from Ash tackling him. Sloane laughed, hugging his best friend tight.

“This is the best Christmas present ever,” Ash murmured. He smiled down at Sloane, hugged him one more time before scrambling to his feet. “Come on!”

“I don’t know how to skate,” Sloane said quietly.

Ash handed Sloane the other pair of skates. “I’ll teach you, silly.”

Sloane’s smile was so big his face hurt. He pulled on the skates, and Ash taught him how to lace them up properly. Then he helped Sloane over to the ice. Sloane didn’t think it was real ice, but it was close. It was cold too. He could see his breath when he laughed.

The ice was super slippery, and even though Sloane went slower than a snail, he still kept falling over. Ash laughed.

“You’re like Bambi.”

“Funny,” Sloane grumbled, trying to stand up. After two tries, he sat down on his butt. He smiled up at Ash. “I want to see you skate.”

“Okay.” Ash beamed down at him. He took off, and Sloane was amazed at how easy Ash made it look. He didn’t trip or fall even once. He was so good. He could even skate backwards, and he did turns. Most of all, he was happy, a big smile on his face as he went fast then slowed down, turned and skated backwards. Sloane had never seen Ash smile like that, and it made his heart happy knowing he’d done that.

Ash came back, stopping in front of him. He held his hands out. “Come on. Let’s try again.” He helped Sloane to his feet then turned. “Hold on to my sweater.”

Sloane did as asked, and Ash slowly started skating with Sloane holding on. He actually managed to stay on his feet.

“I’m doing it!” Sloane laughed, and held on tight as Ash went a bit faster. It was kind of like roller skating, but way more slippery. After a while, Sloane was moving his legs. He held onto Ash’s hand as they skated. This was the best Christmas ever.

“Ash?”

“Yeah?” Ash stopped to catch his breath.

“Let’s spend every Christmas together.”

Ash looked at him for a long moment before nodding. “Okay.” A big smile spread on his face, and he held his hand out to Sloane. “Deal.”

“Best friends forever.”

Ash shook his head, but he was smiling still. “Dork.”

“Ash,” Sloane whined.

“Best friends forever.” Ash threw his arm around Sloane’s shoulders. “Merry Christmas, Sloane.”

Sloane smiled wide. “Merry Christmas, Ash.”


Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.

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Today Only, Get 35% Off the North Pole City Tales Series from Dreamspinner Press!

Hello, all! Dreamspinner Press is having a Winter Solstice sale for today only. All holiday titles are 35% off, including the North Pole City Tales series and Disarming Donner which is out today!

North Pole City Tales series at Dreamspinner Press: http://bit.ly/CCNPCTDSP

Disarming Donner at Dreamspinner Press: http://bit.ly/CCDSPDD

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I’m over at @TTCBooksandmore for the 12 Days of #giveaway Event!

Hello, all! I’m over at TTC Books and More celebrating the holidays in the 12 Days of Giveaway Event! Check out all the awesome guests, plus the fabulous giveaways!

My post: http://www.ttcbooksandmore.com/2016/12/ttcbooksandmore-12-days-of-giveaway_21.html

TTC Books and More Main Page: http://www.ttcbooksandmore.com/

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Mending Noel has a new cover! Plus a giveaway!

Hello, all! I’m super excited to reveal the shiny new cover for Mending Noel, book 1 in the North Pole City Tales series. I love the original cover, and it was a perfect fit for my little holiday story in Dreamspinner’s 2012 Advent Calendar, but once the world of our beloved Christmas elves expanded, bringing us a series with covers created by the awesome Paul Richmond, I really wanted Mending Noel’s cover to match the rest of the series, so Paul gave Tim and Noel life! You’ll find a little giveaway below to celebrate!

Mending Noel on DSP: http://bit.ly/CCMNDSP

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Win a Rein Dear Goodie Bag!

Hello, all! I’m taking part in several fabulous holiday events to celebrate the release of Disarming Donner, out Dec 21st! First up, I’m a guest of the fabulous RJ Scott. Drop by and leave a comment for a chance to win a Rein Dear goodie bag! The giveaway is open internationally as well!

http://rjscottauthor.blogspot.com/2016/12/twelve-days-of-christmas-day-12-charlie.html

Disarming Donner Blurb

As a beloved Rein Dear and Christmas elf for Mayor Kringle, Donner prides himself on his flawless reputation, good sense, and wise decisions. Donner never does anything until he’s thought it through properly. He’s certainly not one to get flustered, infuriated, or fall prey to romantic nonsense. At least not until the most unlikely of elves begins chipping away at Donner’s defenses.

Calder is a Dockalfar—a dark elf. He’s wicked, untrustworthy, and armed with lethal magic. At least that’s what everyone thinks. It’s easy for them to believe the worst and mistrust him before they’ve even spoken to him, but Calder is out to prove that he’s more than his Dockalfar blood, especially to a certain Rein Dear who has caught his eye. But it will take more than sweet words for Donner to admit what’s in his heart.

Out December 21, 2016

Pre-order from:  Dreamspinner | AmazonKindle| ARe

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Disarming Donner (North Pole City Tales, Book 5) Cover Reveal and Pre-Order!!

Hello, all! I’m super excited to share with you the cover to the fifth North Pole City Tales book Disarming Donner which is out December 21st, and now available for pre-order from Dreamspinner Press!! Plus, it’s 35% off until midnight tonight 11/28/16!

I absolutely adore this cover. Paul Richmond did such an amazing job with it, from the gorgeous background to all the tiny details! These two look so freaking adorable, but then they are too cute together, though I’m sure Donner would have a thing or two to say on the matter.

disarmingdonnerfs_v1

About-Baubles-

Genre: Fantasy Gay Romance, Holiday
Series: North Pole City Tales, Book 5
Length: Novella
Published: Dec 21st, 2016
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
ISBN: 9781634778138

As a beloved Rein Dear and Christmas elf for Mayor Kringle, Donner prides himself on his flawless reputation, good sense, and wise decisions. Donner never does anything until he’s thought it through properly. He’s certainly not one to get flustered, infuriated, or fall prey to romantic nonsense. At least not until the most unlikely of elves begins chipping away at Donner’s defenses.

Calder is a Dockalfar—a dark elf. He’s wicked, untrustworthy, and armed with lethal magic. At least that’s what everyone thinks. It’s easy for them to believe the worst and mistrust him before they’ve even spoken to him, but Calder is out to prove that he’s more than his Dockalfar blood, especially to a certain Rein Dear who has caught his eye. But it will take more than sweet words for Donner to admit what’s in his heart.

Links-Baubles

Dreamspinner Press

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THIRDS Thursday – 10/27/16 Halloween Special

THIRDS Thursdays

Prompt: The whole team goes to a haunted house and mayhem ensues!


Cael was having so much! He loved fairs! All the fun rides, tasty sugary treats, and bright lights. It was awesome! It was also overstimulating his cheetah Therian senses, and he was having trouble not running around like a little kid drunk on too much soda. He was sure he’d already eaten his weight in funnel cake fries. They were so freaking good. Sloane had given up trying to curb Dex’s sugar intake after Dex’s third fried ice cream.

The whole team had come out for opening night like they did every year. The THIRDS was hosting its annual Halloween Charity Fun Fair, and this year Destructive Delta got to play since they’d volunteered to work the fair last year. Those who weren’t scheduled to work were invited to come along and show their support.

There were all kinds of rides for both kids and adults, plenty of food, and entertainment. Everyone dressed up, though this year Ash vetoed using the hat method used last year where they’d thrown their names in. Ash had gotten Dex’s name and was forced to wear a costume picked by Dex. Dex and Sloane conspired against them, since Sloane had drawn Cael’s name. Cael ended up as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and Ash as the Cowardly Lion. Ash was not impressed, especially when Dex laughed so hard Sloane thought he might need to call over the EMTs.

This year, Ash wasn’t going to dress up—he never did, given the choice—but Cael pleaded with him. Cael wanted to be Captain America, but only if Ash would be his Bucky Barnes, or rather the Winter Soldier. Cael’s first choice had been Spider-Man, but he had a feeling no amount of pouting would convince Ash to be his Mary Jane. It had taken a lot of coaxing, and promises of a little roleplay fun afterward to get him into the black wig. He begrudgingly admitted the imitation Vibranium alloy arm was cool, before calling Cael an adorable nerd. This year it was Ash’s turn to laugh his ass off. At Sloane.

“I can’t believe you let Dex dress you up like Kermit the frog,” Ash said wiping away a tear form his eye. He’d been laughing for what seemed like hours.

“He’s not Kermit the frog, you uncouth swine. He’s Gamora. But a dude,” Dex said with a sniff. He was strutting in his Peter Quill costume, complete with his Awesome Mix Tape Volume 1 inside the cassette tape player attached to his belt.

Sloane flipped Ash off. “Don’t care what you say. My ass looks amazing in these pants.”

“That it does, babe,” Dex husked, leering at his boyfriend’s butt. Cael rolled his eyes. He did not need to see his brother perving on Sloane.

Calvin and Hobbs looked awesome in their steampunk outfits. Letty was rocking as Rosie the Riveter, and Rosa was super adorable as Mary Poppins. No one dared say it. Ash had opened his mouth and she threatened to stab him with the end of her pointy umbrella. Who’d have thought Mary Poppins was a favorite of Rosa’s?

“So what are we doing next?” Dex said excitedly.

“Anything that keeps you from eating another batch of cotton candy,” Sloane grumbled, grabbing Dex’s hand when Dex stopped to look around, most likely for a cotton candy booth. “No. Let’s pretend you’re actually going to get some sleep tonight.”

Dex let out a snort. “Sleep? Please. With you wearing pants like that, I’m gonna—”

“How about that? You guys haven’t gone in there yet,” Calvin said, pointing up ahead. Thank God Cael wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to hear about Dex’s sexy times.

“Ooh, that looks like fun!” Letty grabbed Rosa’s arm and they ran ahead.

Uh oh, if Letty said it was fun, it was going to terrify Cael. He stopped in front of the massive old school looking mansion painted to look like it was abandoned and decaying.

“Haunted house!” Dex plastered himself against Sloane. “Will you keep the big scary Bogeyman away?”

Sloane blinked at him. “But Ash is right here.”

Everyone broke off into laughter, and Ash told them all where they could stick it. When the laughter ebbed, Hobbs kissed Calvin’s cheek, murmured something in his ear, and walked off. Hobbs did not do enclosed places, much less dark enclosed places filled with people waiting to jump out at him. He left Calvin too it, insisting his boyfriend have fun, and Hobbs took himself off to play games, usually coming back with a prize he’d won for Calvin. Cael had managed to find excuses in previous years, but this year he had none.

Everyone else headed for the haunted house, and Cael laughed. “Oh my God, you guys are too funny.”

“What?” Dex asked.

“The fact that you think I’m going in there.” Cael sobered up. “No, seriously. You’re out of your minds.”

“Dude, it’s a THIRDS haunted house put together by agents from our unit,” Calvin said. “How scary can it be?”

Ash seemed to think about it, his eyes narrowing. “That depends. If I go in there and find they’ve cloned dweebus over here.” He jutted his thumb at Dex. “Then I’d say pretty fucking scary.”

“You’re a riot, Keeler,” Dex drawled. “Said no one ever.”

Same could be said about you and maturity,” Ash countered before turning to Cael, calling out over his shoulder. “You guys get in line, I’ll be right there.” He took Cael’s arm, and gently pulled him to one side. “Sweetheart, you know you don’t have to go in there. Hobbs never does. Besides, you hate horror stuff. No one will care of you decide to skip it.”

“I know.” Cael frowned. Ash was right on all accounts. His friends wouldn’t care if he decided not to go, but he kind of hated the idea of letting his fears get the better of him. It was stupid. It was just a fake haunted house with fellow agents dressed up, and good special effects. “It’s okay.” Cael smiled brightly at Ash to ease his worry. “You’ll be there with me, right?”

“Every step of the way, sweetheart.” He winked at Cael and held out his hand. As they waited in line, Cael tried not to let his nerves get the better of him. “I don’t get it? Why do people pay money to have someone scare the shit out of them? Isn’t the world a scary enough place?”

“Yeah, but the danger in here isn’t real. You get that adrenaline rush without the real danger,” Rosa said. “Unless you have heart issues, but that’s why they have the warnings and advise people get checked out before coming in.”

“It’s not like the zombies are real,” Calvin teased.

Dex groaned. “Don’t get him started on the zombies.”

Cael moved up with the rest of the line, his eyes widening. “But zombies can totally be real. I mean, it’s just a matter of the right mutation, and bam! Zombie apocalypse. I mean, Therians are here because of a virus and mutation, so zombies can totally happen.”

Calvin shook his head. “No such thing as the undead.”

“Yeah,” Sloane agreed. “And Dex before coffee doesn’t count.”

“Fine,” Cael grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. “But when the zombies take over, don’t expect me to give you any of my toilet paper and bottled water.”

Dex laughed softly and threw an arm around Cael’s shoulder. “You’d totally give us some of your toilet paper and bottled water.”

“Okay, I would. But I wouldn’t like it,” Cael countered. Damn it. He’d been so preoccupied with arguing about zombies, he hadn’t realized it was their turn to go in. Ash gave his hand a squeeze, and Cael smiled up at him. Okay, he could do this.

Inside it wasn’t as scary as Cael thought it would be. At least not yet. It was dark and cold. The dark wasn’t a problem seeing as how he was a Therian, but he knew it wasn’t so much the dark that was meant to scare as what could be hiding. Every time someone popped out at him, Cael gave a start and clung to Ash. Ash held Cael tight against him, asking him every so often if he was all right. Despite the frights, Cael was okay because as he walked he felt Ash beside him, big, strong, and safe. No matter what happened, Ash would take care of him. Also, he could hear Dex cracking jokes somewhere behind him. A good number of them were usually comparing the ghouls in some way to Ash or Ash’s attitude, and of course Ash would retaliate.

They reached the end of a long corridor where several bloodied haystacks were arranged into something throne-like with barbed wire, rusted metal rods, and so much fake blood Cael was glad he wasn’t the one having to clean all this up afterward. One of his fellow Recon agents sat in a creepy chair made of antlers or something, dressed like she’d been caught in the barbwire. It was super creepy, gross, and very well done. She had a leash, and at the end of it the freakiest looking goat he’d ever seen. It was like those crazy eyed demon goats that people posted pictures of on the internet.

“Shit. That is the ugliest looking fucker I’ve ever seen.” Ash grinned up at agent Brooks. “Reminds me of your brother.”

“Bite me, Keeler,” Brooks said, glaring at Ash as she flipped him off.

Wait. Brother. Cael gasped. “Oh my God!” He grabbed Ash’s arm. “We have to turn back.”

“You want to leave?”

“No, we have to go back and warn Dex before he sees—”

Holy shit fuck! Satan has risen!”

Before Cael could assure his brother that the prince of darkness had not, in fact, risen, the hideous goat creature thing let out a low guttural sound that—given their current surroundings—could easily be mistaken for the devil’s tongue. Dex screamed, and suddenly the haunted house turned into a pinball machine with Dex as the ball.

“Dex, wait!” Cael took off after his brother through the crowd, excusing himself as he followed the trail of chaos Dex left behind. Dex bounced off Human and Therian alike screaming something about the dark lord coming to claim their souls. Some people looked genuinely alarmed, though it was likely they thought Dex was some kind of crazy person, which as his brother took a wrong turn and plowed through one of the haunted house’s fake walls, Cael was beginning to think maybe they were right.

“Dex, stop!” Cael’s pleas went unheeded as Dex decided walls were for suckers, especially since his panicked brain had grabbed onto the fact they were fake.

“Cael?” Sloane called out before he caught up to Cael. He was out of breath. “Where is he? I lost him when he flailed past agent Swartz and knocked him into that vat of fake blood.

“Follow me. He just broke through the cemetery wall. I hope agent Danvers is okay. Dex tripped and fell into him, and the dude went flying.”

“I’m okay!” Danvers called out from somewhere to their right.

Sloane followed Cael through the many rooms, most of them containing a Dex-sized hole in each wall. “We need to find him before he tears this place apart looking for the damn exit.”

“If you haven’t noticed,” Cael said with a snort. “Dex isn’t looking for any exits. He’s making his own.”

“You’re right. Shit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him move this fast.”

There was another scream from Dex, then an “oomph” followed by a string of curses. They rushed into the next room, and Cael groaned. He pulled agent Herrera to his feet. The guy was bleeding from his nose.

“Dude, please tell me you didn’t just jump out at Dex wearing that.” He snatched the goat mask from Herrera, holding it up. It was horrible. Covered in fake blood with red eyes and sharp fangs, the numbers 666 painted on its wrinkly forehead.

“I knew he hated goats, man, but I didn’t think he was going to fucking punch me,” Herrera whined. “Ouch, my nose.”

“Just, get that seen to,” Cael said, taking off, but not before ordering Herrera to put that stupid mask away in case Dex doubled back. They went room to room, and Cael marveled at Dex’s tenacity. His brother was not one to give up easy. Satan was in the house, which meant he was getting out of it no matter what.

Finally, Dex had gone through the last wall, and Cael jumped through the hole landing in the grass outside. Sloane joined him. Where the hell was Dex?

“Don’t… let it… eat… your soul.”

Cael followed the panting around the corner and found his brother sprawled in the grass on his back. With a chuckle, Sloane dropped down on his butt next to Dex. He took hold of Dex’s hand and brought it to his lips for a kiss.

“Aw, are you all right, babe?”

Dex pouted. “I’m sorry I left you to get your soul harvested. I panicked.”

“I think the copious amount of sugar you’ve consumed tonight might have fueled your panic. Just a tad.”

“Maybe.”

“No. Definitely.” Sloane chuckled. He bent down to kiss Dex’s lips when Cael heard Ash laughing behind him.

“This is the funniest shit I have ever seen! Oh my God, I can’t breathe.” Ash dropped down onto the grass, his phone in front of him. Cael sat next to him, and cringed at the video of Dex punching Herrera in the face.

Dex sat up with a scowl. “You dick. You recorded it?”

Ash shook his head, his grin wicked. “Nope. There’s security cameras in the haunted house. Intel was nice enough to upload your descent into dorkness onto the employee intranet. It’s been viewed a thousand times already and it just went up like five minutes ago.” Ash kissed Cael’s cheek. “Best Halloween ever.”

Dex groaned and hung his head. “I’m never going to hear the end of it.”

Cael patted his brother’s back. Knowing Dex, he’d find a way to turn it around and come out looking like he’d planned it or something. The rest of the team joined them on the grass, Hobbs with a candy apple the size of Cael’s head. His grin was wide as he patted Dex’s knee in sympathy.

Dex pouted at Hobbs. “You too? Seriously?”

Hobbs shrugged. He nodded, and held the shiny candy coated apple to Dex. Dex’s eyes sparkled, and he put a hand to his chest.

“For me?”

Hobbs nodded, and Dex took the candy apple. He wiped an imaginary tear from his eye.

“I love you, man. You’re a real friend.” He narrowed his eyes at the rest of them. “Not like these jerkfaces.” Everyone was laughing, and Dex flipped them all off before taking a big bite out of his apple.

Calvin shook his head in amusement. “I love how after the sugar induced havoc you just wreaked, you’re eating more sugar.”

“It calms me down,” Dex said through a mouthful of candy apple.”

Rosa peered at him. “That makes no sense.”

Dex swallowed before waving his apple. “It doesn’t have to. I have a candy apple and you don’t.”

Rosa let out a snort, and Letty giggled beside her. Ash put his arm around Cael’s shoulder, and Cael leaned into him, watching his brother bantering with their friends. Cael turned his head up, smiling at Ash, a tingle going through him when Ash kissed his lips before another round of teasing Dex. Maybe haunted houses weren’t so scary after all. As long as he had Ash, his brother, and his Destructive Delta family. Oh, and no freaky devil goats.


Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.

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