THIRDS Thursday – 12/15/16

*** CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SMOKE & MIRRORS ***

Prompt: I would like to read the scene where Dex is found in the woods in Smoke & Mirrors from Sloane’s point of view.


He had to find him.

Damn TIN for wasting so much time. Sloane should have been out here searching for Dex hours ago. Instead the bastards had knocked him out. Did Sparks really think he was going to just sit around on his ass and do nothing? His mate was out there somewhere, in trouble and in pain. Sloane could feel it down to his bones. He didn’t care if he drew attention to himself in the bright orange muscle car, he needed to have it with him. Needed to feel close to Dex, sit in his seat, grip the steering wheel. It was stupid, but driving the Challenger kept his hopes up. Like the damn thing might actually lead him to its owner.

As he drove, he told himself over and over that they would find Dex and he’d be alive. His man was made of tough stuff, tougher than a lot of people gave him credit for. Dex would survive. He’d do whatever was necessary to get back to Sloane, to Cael and Maddock. His family.

“Come on, baby, you gotta come home. I need you to come home.” Sloane’s phone rang and he tapped his earpiece after the first ring. “Who is this?”

“It’s me.”

Sloane almost slammed the breaks. For a second, he was afraid maybe he was hearing things, but he’d never mistake Dex’s sultry tones for anyone else’s. His voice was hoarse, sounding as if he were on the verge of tears, and Sloane had to blink away his own. He was so relieved, but until Dex was safe in his arms, he’d maintain focus.

“Oh thank God. Dex, where are you?”

“I… I have no idea. There’s lots of trees. I don’t see any signs. There was a road, but I don’t know what it was. Can you get Cael to find my location using the phone’s GPS?”

“Give me a sec,” Sloane murmured, sending Cael a quick emergency message asking him to trace the phone Dex was calling from. A heartbeat later he received a reply. “He’s on it. Are you okay? Talk to me. What happened?”

“It’s a really, really long story. I just… I need you.”

The whimper, the fear and need crept into Dex’s voice, and Sloane wanted nothing more than to be there with him. To hold him close and never let him go. “I’m on my way, sweetheart. Are you somewhere safe?”

“Home was safe.”

Sloane swallowed hard. Those sons of bitches. Whoever did this, whoever made Dex feel unsafe in his—their—own home was going to pay. “We’ll sort that out. Right now, let’s get you to me, okay? I’m your home.” Sloane rubbed at one eye then the other. He had to keep his shit together.

“Thank you. I really needed to hear that right now.”

Always. His earpiece beeped, and he tapped it, hearing Cael’s voice come in through the car’s speaker. Sloane hit the gas. “We have your location. I’ll be there soon. Stay on the line with me.”

“I’m tired.”

No. No. No. Who knew what shape Dex was in. Sloane couldn’t lose him. He tried to keep the panic form his voice. “Stay awake, sweetheart. Please.”

“I don’t think I can. I’m kinda in bad shape here.”

There was a tremble in Dex’s voice, and as Sloane headed north, speeding through the city and breaking who knew how many traffic laws, he scrambled to think of something that would keep Dex awake until he got there. Stay with me. Please stay with me. An idea struck him, and he turned the radio on. It was tuned in to Retro Radio, same as it always was.

“Sing with me.”

“What?”

“Come on. Listen.” Sloane turned up the radio, blasting the Romantics “What I Like About You.” Sloane sang and urged Dex to sing with him, his husky voice wrapping Sloane up in its warmth. Dex was trying his best to keep up with the lyrics which was no easy feat considering the fast-paced tune.

Dex loved this song. It came on while Dex cooked dinner last week. Sloane had joined in when Dex grabbed him and begged him to dance. He’d laughed and tried to pull away, but his boyfriend was an adorable goofball, so Sloane ended up getting swept up in the crazy. It had been fun, just jumping around, acting like a couple of dorks, singing along.

Sloane’s heart squeezed in his chest when he thought about that night, and every other night since he’d moved in with Dex. Sloane told Dex he was Dex’s home, but the reverse applied as well. Dex was his home. Wherever they were, if Dex was there, Sloane was okay. His sparkling blue eyes, his beautiful smile, and infectious laughter, Sloane needed him. All of him.

“Keep singing, sweetheart,” Sloane pleaded.

Dex was trying, and it broke Sloane’s heart. His voice was rough, his words barely audible, but he tried. As the song ended, the car became frightfully silent.

“Dex? Dex! Stay with me, baby, please.”

Breathing. He could hear breathing. Finally he pulled up on the street in the car’s GPS. He parked, turned off the headlights, and locked up before running up the incline where he spotted several TIN operatives. They’d started searching the thick greenery. The rest of their team arrived, and Cael ran to Sloane, his big gray eyes filled with fear.

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know. He’s got to be in there somewhere. Everyone spread out. If you find him, I want to know immediately.” They joined the search, and Sloane tried to catch his mate’s scent. “Dex! Dex, where are you?”

A faint croaking sound caught his ear and he stilled. He sniffed at the air, and his stomach flipped. He ran toward the scent, his inner Felid stirring. He was close. TIN operatives caught onto something as well and they followed him as he ran through the trees, emerging to find the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. Sloane sped over and dropped to his knees, cradling Dex in his arms.

“Dex, look at me. Sweetheart, open your eyes.” Oh God, what have they done to you? Sloane couldn’t focus on the blood stains, bruising, or swelling. He had to look past the state Dex was in to the man he loved. “Dex, I’m here, sweetheart. I’m here.” Sloane gently hugged him close, one hand around Dex’s back, the other cradling Dex’s head to him, enveloping Dex in the hopes of giving him some of his warmth. Relief flooded through him.

“I stayed awake,” Dex murmured, nuzzling his face against Sloane’s shirt, inhaling his scent. Sloane blinked back his tears.

“You did good, babe. It’s okay.”

Dex nodded.

TIN operatives were ordered to span out and search, and Dex went limp in his arms. Sloane checked his pulse. He was out cold. With a shuddered breath, he rubbed his cheek against Dex’s hair, rocking him gently, murmuring comfort against his air.

“I love you, Dex. I love you so damn much.”

“Sloane, we need to take him.

Sloane snarled up at the operative, a fierce sense of possession flooding through him. He held Dex close to his chest, his fangs elongating as he dared anyone to lay a hand on his wounded mate. He’d tear them apart.

“Try it,” Sloane hissed. “Lay one finger on him and I’ll rip your throat out.”

The operative put his hands up and took a quick step back.

Sloane kissed Dex’s temple, a growl rising in his throat at the unfamiliar scent. A wolf Therian.

“Sloane?” Sparks crouched down beside him. “Dex is hurt. We need to get him medical attention.”

Sloane’s inner Felid fought against him. He didn’t want anyone touching his mate, but Sloane’s Human senses prevailed. Dex needed help. Who knew the extent of his injuries? He had to think of Dex, had to help him. Sloane’s chest tightened, and his inner Felid wailed as he nodded. Lifting Dex in his arms, he stood, and although his instincts fought to hold onto the man he loved, he allowed the large bear Therian to take Dex.

Sloane stood, his heart breaking as the operative carried Dex away. The pain coursing through him was like nothing he’d ever felt before. Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined falling so deep and so hard for someone. Dex was his life, and Sloane would do whatever it took to keep him.


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

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THIRDS Thursday – 12/8/16

Prompt: I would love to see the team play paintball or a similar game and get very competitive.


“This is ridiculous,” Ash growled. “How is shooting each other up a team building exercise? None of us are on a team.”

Cael contemplated that. “Well, we work as a team every day. Sarge wants us to keep our individual skills sharp.” He finished strapping into his tactical vest. “At least he’s not making us carry our equipment.” Cael grabbed his helmet, turning to Ash before putting it on. “Whatever you do, stay away from Dex.”

Ash looked pained. “Come on, sweetheart. It’s everyone for themselves. I love you, but you don’t really expect me to pass up an opportunity to shoot the shit out of your brother, do you?”

Cael blinked at him. He shook his head when he realized Ash had misunderstood. “I didn’t mean stay away from him so you wouldn’t shoot him, I meant stay away from him so you wouldn’t get shot by him. He’s going to kick all our asses.”

Ash stared at him. “I’m sorry, are you… are you being serious?”

“You’ve never played paintball with my brother, Ash. He turns into like, Rambo. Seriously, he’s kinda competitive, and really good at it. Not even Cal’s going to make it out of this.”

“Cael, I think I can handle your dorky brother.”

Cael smiled sweetly. He patted Ash’s bicep. “If you say so.” He headed into the waiting room where everyone stood except for Dex. Ash looked around before addressing Sloane.

“Where’s your dweeb boyfriend?”

Sloane shrugged. “I don’t know. He said he had to get ready. I’m not really sure what that entails, or why he couldn’t do it in the same changing room.”

The instructor came out, and Cael told him to go ahead. Dex knew this obstacle course like the back of his hand. His dad had already explained to the team that if he attempted to find a course Dex hadn’t done, he’d have to send them out of state. The team laughed when Tony told them not to let Dex beat them too badly. If they didn’t want to believe the man who’d raised Dex, they had no one to blame but themselves. Dex was competitive at the best of times, but put a paintball gun in his hands, and there was no escape.

The instructor led them to their course, and Sloane frowned. “Where the hell is Dex?”

“Here.”

They turned and Ash burst into laughter. “Holy shit, are you wearing camouflage?”

Dex grinned broadly, wriggling his brows before lowering the visor of his helmet. “This is war, Keeler.”

“Oh, I am so looking forward to this.”

They were each handed their paintball rifles containing a different color then escorted out onto the field. The obstacle course was the size of a football field surrounded by shrubs and trees with everything from sandbag bunkers, to car frames, old broken down cars, tire stacks, industrial barrels, and stone structures.

The lion Therian instructor motioned to the field. “When the buzzer rings, game’s over. Whoever has the least amount of paint on them at the end wins. Take your positions.”

Cael ran off, ducking behind a sandbag bunker, and Ash ran behind the car across from him. Dex was nowhere to be seen. It had begun. Cael almost felt bad for his team.

The buzzer sounded, and the game officially started. Cael wasn’t concerned with winning, just keeping himself from getting too much paint on him. He edged close to the end of the bunker and peered out. The coast was clear. Cael ran for the stack of tires ahead of him, diving behind it when he saw movement to his right. Letty fired, hitting the tires where Cael had been seconds ago. She cursed in Spanish and Cael chuckled.

“Nice try,” Cael called out. Playing with his team was nothing like playing with his friends back in high school. Unlike his teenage friends at the time, his team was trained to stalk and remain out of sight, not to mention engage in warfare. For several minutes, they all crept and crawled, dashed, and ducked. And then Dex decided he was tired of waiting for his teammates to come out of hiding.

Dex soared through the air, aimed, and fired, hitting Ash in the back of the head. Cael cringed from his spot where he saw the spectacle clearly. Before Ash was even up, Dex landed on a stack of hay and promptly rolled off right behind a wooden wall.

Ash’s startled expression made Cael giggle.

Dex popped up from behind a stack of tires several feet away and shot Ash in the ass. Ash jumped to his feet.

“What the fuck is happening right now?”

“Ash, you need to move before—”

Dex dove out from behind a car frame and shot twice, and Cael sucked in a breath as both shots hit Ash in the ass. His boyfriend’s howl echoed through the field. By the time Ash turned around, Dex was nowhere to be seen. Everyone else took advantage of Ash’s stupefied state and shot him.

“You sons of bitches!” Ash dove behind a stack of tractor tires. He shouted over the side. “I’m going to kick all your asses, starting with you, Daley!”

Dex’s reply was a swan dive over a haystack, and a shot to Ash’s helmet before he vanished behind a sandbag bunker.

“Fucker!” Ash turned to face Cael. “When did your brother become a fucking ninja?”

“I told you. He’s kinda competitive when it comes to paintball. The guys in his old department used to fight over him when it came to picking teams. Whichever team he was on always won. I tried to warn you.”

“Fuck this. I am not going to lose to that dork.” Ash let out a roar as he ran out, the rest of Destructive Delta rallying at his war cry. They’d decided to unite against the force that was Dex, and Cael could see why. Everyone was covered in dozens of blue splotches—Dex’s color.

Cael shook his head and watched the chaos. It was like a game of Whac-A-Mole the way Dex popped up, except the mole had a paintball gun and sprayed his teammates like he was Tony Montana taking out his enemies. In fact, Cael was pretty sure he heard his brother throw out a couple of Scar Face quotes.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Calvin screamed in frustration. “How is he doing that?”

Ash thrust a finger at Calvin. “Dude, you’re the fucking sniper, snipe him!”

“I’m trying, but he’s like some kind of squirrel on steroids.”

“Enjoying the show?”

Cael gave a start. “Jesus, Dex, you scared the shit out of me.”

Dex laughed. “Ash looks like he’s wearing a blue suit. I’ve run out of places to shoot him.”

Rosa’s curses were loud and vehement. Dex narrowed his eyes. “I may not be an expert of the Spanish language, but I’m pretty sure what she just said was both insulting and frightening.” Dex lifted Cael’s visor, and patted his cheek. “Oh, and I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Cael asked, cocking his head.

“For this.” He shot Cael in the vest before skipping off, calling out over his shoulder. “No favoritism, Chirpy! Love you!”

“You, turd!”

At hearing Dex, everyone charged in his direction, but Dex was already diving behind a rusty pickup. They ran around it, and Cael stood, propping himself against the bunker, chuckling at his unsuspecting teammates.

Dex stood on the roof of the car and shot each one of them on their visors the moment they turned around. They scrambled, bumped into each other, and all went down. Dex blew the end of his rifle as the buzzer sounded. He hopped down, walked over to Sloane, lifted his visor, and held his hand out.

Everyone removed their helmets and stood. Ash looked so confused, Cael found him completely endearing.

“You look like you should be in the Blue Man group,” Cael teased him.

Ash pouted. “I can’t believe I lost to your brother.”

“Aw.” As everyone headed back indoors with a grumble, Cael stood on his toes and kissed Ash. “How about we wash you off, and then when we get home, I’ll help stroke your ego.” He nipped at Ash’s chin. “Among other things.”

Ash’s lips broke off into a grin. He nodded, and followed Cael inside. As they were getting dressed in the locker room after showering, Dex was celebrating his victory.

“So how about it,” Dex said to Ash. “Drinks on me at Dekatria for beating your butt so completely.”

Ash smiled brightly, and Cael braced himself.

“Sorry, pal. I’m going home to do filthy things to your little brother.”

Dex’s jaw dropped.

“Yep, going to pound town.”

Cael groaned and covered his face with his hands. He could not believe Ash just said that.

“Oh God,” Dex gagged. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”

“Yep, gonna get him naked, and—”

“I’m not listening!” Dex covered his ears, singing some eighties song at the top if his lungs as he ran from the room. Ash threw his head back and laughed. Cael shook his head at him.

“You just couldn’t help yourself, could you?”

Ash wriggled his eyebrows. He leaned in to nibble at Cael’s ear. “Doesn’t make it any less true.” He grabbed Cael’s hand, said “see ya” to everyone, and winked at Dex as they walked by. Dex yelped, and Ash laughed as they headed for Ash’s truck. Well, Dex won his game, Ash won the last word, but as Ash turned him, and kissed him soundly, a preview of what the evening held, it was pretty clear who the real winner here was.

Cael.


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

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THIRDS Thursday – 12/1/16

THIRDS Thursdays

Prompt: I think it would be cute to see Dex try and ride Sloane when he’s in Felid form and just general play. Maybe Dex buys cat toys without telling Sloane and then pulls them out to play with.


It was almost time.

Dex rubbed his hands together in gleeful anticipation.

“How’d you convince Maddock to give his permission for this?” Calvin asked, securing one of the hatches.

Dex surveyed the area. That was the final one. “Easy, I told him Shelley’s Market needed our help, and he agreed.”

“Why?”

“They’re this little family owned market that’s been around for generations. Anyway, they have this amazing little bakery at the back that makes fresh pies. My dad used to drag Tony in there all the time.” Dex smiled wistfully. “Apparently, my dad’s stomach was as bottomless as mine.”

Calvin chuckled. “So you’re helping Shelley’s Market out by buying all the leftover stock?”

“Yep, and everyone’s going to freaking love it. You’ll see. Even Austen showed up for this.” He patted Calvin’s arm before he headed for the gate to let in their Unit Alpha teammates who had all shifted into their Therian forms. Dex had put together the signup, specifying some Therian shenanigans. Thanksgiving was over, and not all agents got to spend it with their friends and family. The holidays were especiallt tough for some Therian agents, whether it was because they were out on the streets trying to keep everyone safe, or because they were reminded of the families they’d lost for simply being Therian.

The THIRDS canteen offered an amazing Thanksgiving spread all week, and invited agents to have their own gettogethers. Not everyone was as lucky as Dex, and he made sure to never forget it. So it became his tradition to lighten the mood, and involve his fellow team members in various shenanigans. Sloane had been skeptical at first, but after last year’s event went so well, he realized how right Dex was.

“You really think Sloane and Ash are going to join in?”

Dex grinned wide. “Oh, ye of little faith.” He’d booked the outdoor training area for the evening since it was less likely to be in use, and Shelley’s Market had dropped off the goods an hour ago. Calvin and the girls helped Dex set everything up before the girls went off to help their Therian teammates with their shifting out back. Now it was time. He climbed the ladder to the instructor’s platform along with Calvin.

“Best seats in the house,” Dex said, stepping up to the console, and pressing one of the buttons. “Pete, you ready?”

The speakers came to life, and Pete’s gruff voice came through loud and clear. “Ready, Dex.”

“Okay, let them in.”

A buzzer sounded, a red light flashed, and the half a dozen steel gates opened. Therian agents in their feral forms came flooding through. Dex wriggled his eyebrows at Calvin.

“Lions, and tigers, and jaguars, oh my!”

“You’re such a dork,” Calvin said through a laugh.

There were about two hundred agents in attendance, a mixture of Felid Therians, wolf Therians, and bear Therians. Dex spotted his teammates right away. He leaned forward and spoke into the microphone.

“You guys ready?”

A cacophony of roars, hisses, howls, and chirps echoed through the massive indoor field. It was almost as big as a football stadium. Around the walls, six ramps led up to six hatches. Dex pressed the button for Pete again.

“Okay, Pete. Let her rip. And make sure Al’s recording this.”

“Got it,” Pete replied. An even louder buzzer than the previous one blared, red lights flashing before the hatches opened, and hundreds of pumpkins came speeding down the platforms. It was sweet pandemonium. The moment they hit the grass, everyone was off. It was the funniest shit he’d ever seen in his life. The tiger Therian agents were so freaking adorable it hurt. Both Seb and Hobbs had each sunk their fangs into a pumpkin and were currently trotting around the ring, pumpkins displayed proudly, tails raised high. Ash’s mane swishing caught Dex’s eye, and he laughed as Ash batted a pumpkin with his paws like he was playing soccer. Cael and Hudson were too cute, pouncing and swatting a smaller pumpkin to each other as if it were a ball. Cael chirped, and Hudson released a series of bark/howls.

Dex had never seen so many pouncing Felids in all his life. Everyone was enjoying themselves, swatting, pouncing, dashing here and there. Everyone except Sloane.

Calvin looked at Dex worriedly. “Why’s Sloane sitting there looking so miserable?”

“I don’t know.” Dex climbed down the ladder, and jogged over to his grumpy jaguar Therian boyfriend who looked even grumpier than usual. “Hey, babe. Why aren’t you playing?”

Sloane looked up at him, his big amber eyes bright. He groaned before getting up and rubbing his head against Dex’s legs. Dex crouched down and gave Sloane a good scratch behind his ears and under his chin. “Come on, talk to me. What’s wrong?”

Sloane got up. He padded over to a small pumpkin and gingerly smacked it with his paw until it rolled over to Dex and hit his boot. Then Sloane sat on his haunches and looked up at Dex expectantly. Dex blinked at him.

“You want me to play with you?”

Sloane shut his eyes and opened his mouth, and Dex was suddenly stupidly happy. He dropped to his knees and threw his arms around Sloane, hugging him.

“Aw, you’re such a big softie.”

Sloane huffed, and licked the side of Dex’s face, making him laugh.

“That was gross. Thanks.” He got to his feet and readied his stance. Sloane lowered his head, his tail twitching.

Dex gasped, and pointed behind Sloane. “Holy crap!”

Sloane’s head shot up and he turned.

“Sucker!” Dex grabbed the small pumpkin and took off, laughing at Sloane’s annoyed growl. “I can’t believe you fell for that!” Dex tossed the pumpkin on the grass, and kicked it with his boot, doing his best to keep it away from Sloane who bounded up to him, jumping and pouncing, trying to swat at the wobbly orange vegetable. Sloane played dirty, trying to trip Dex up, at one point succeeding. Dex landed on his ass. He made a leap for Sloane before Sloane could sink his fangs into the pumpkin and run off with it. Unfortunately, in Dex’s desperate attempt to stop Sloane, he made the mistake of grabbing Sloane’s tail. He was lightning quick, twisting his body and smacking Dex upside the head with his paw.

“Ouch, man!” Dex laughed. He scrambled to his feet and dove for the pumpkin, curling himself around it. Sloane tried to shove his muzzle under Dex’s armpit, and Dex broke off into laughter. “That’s not fair. You know I’m ticklish.”

Sloane ignored him, poking Dex with his muzzle before he licked Dex up the side of his face with his sandpapery tongue.

“Right in the ear!” Dex wiped his ear with his sleeve, and Sloane swiftly batted the pumpkin out from under Dex. He tried to reach Sloane before Sloane plunged his fangs into the veggie, but it was too late. For Sloane, it was like biting into an apple. He picked up his pumpkin and darted off. “Come back here!”

Sloane ignored him, and Dex chased Sloane around the grassy pitch, doing his best not to run into any Felids. Austen zoomed past him, a pumpkin in his mouth, and Dex was forced to skid to a halt just as Zach loped past. Holy shit. He’d almost smacked into three hundred pounds of furry brown bear. That would not have been pleasant.

“You get him, Zach!” Dex took off after Sloane again, and spotted Calvin rolling around the grass with Hobbs. Rosa was cursing Ash out as she chased him. Something about him stealing her pumpkin and being a greedy bastard. That was when Dex noticed Ash had somehow managed to get his jaws around two small pumpkins. Letty, of course, was laughing her ass off.

Two hours later, and Dex lay on his back in the grass panting. “Oh my God, I can’t move. I’m done.” Dex flopped his hand in the general direction of the gate. “Babe, I think I need you to carry me.”

Calvin dropped down next to him with a chuckle. “How is Sloane going to carry you? It’s not like you can ride him like a pony.”

“Tried that. It was a very painful experience.”

“Oh, shit! You didn’t!” Calvin fell onto his side he was laughing so hard.

“Did you know that jaguar Therians weigh a fucking ton, and therefore when they land on you it hurts like hell? He grabbed my boot with his jaws, threw himself onto his side, and landed on me. I thought I broke a rib, but no, just hurt like I did. I would not recommend it.”

Calvin was wheezing. “Like… I would be… that stupid.”

“Thanks. Sloane, pleeease.”

“This I gotta see,” Calvin rolled onto his side, and propped himself on his elbow.

Dex closed his legs, putting his boots together, and Sloane gently slipped his fangs under Dex’s laces and pulled.

“You’ve got to be shitting me.”

Dex sat up and held onto his legs, though not before waving at Calvin over his shoulder. “See ya, bud.”

“Seriously? You have your boyfriend dragging you?”

“Hey, he’s a jaguar Therian remember? It’s good practice for him. He can drag Seb and Zach at the same time if he had to. I’m a piece of cake. It’s like sledding. Except you’re the sled. And you’re on grass.”

“That is the epitome of laziness.”

Dex shook his head. “Don’t knock it till you try it.” Sloane let out a grunt, and Dex chuckled. “You know, they should make this a sporting event.” He gasped. “Holy shit, we should totally make this a sporting event!”

Sloane let go, and stared at him.

“What?”

With a flick of his tail, Sloane sauntered off.

“Hey, where are you going?”

Sloane ignored him, and Dex whined. “But the door is still so far away!” With a groan, he pushed himself to his feet, and lumbered toward the door. Letty came skipping over, and hooked Dex’s arm in hers.

“This was so much fun, Dex.” She leaned her head against his arm as they walked.

Dex couldn’t help his wicked grin. “Wait until you hear about my idea for next year.”


Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press

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THIRDS Thursday Thanksgiving Special over at It’s About the Book!

thirds-shthanksgiving

Hello, all! Since today is Thanksgiving here in the US, this week’s THIRDS Thursday is a Thanksgiving Special, and it’s being hosted over at It’s About the Book! Join Seb and Hudson on their first Thanksgiving together. (Post goes live on It’s About the Book around 7 am Eastern US time).

Link: http://wp.me/p4MOQB-37Z

Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Reading!

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THIRDS Thursday – 11/17/16

THIRDS Thursdays

Prompt: I’d love to read about Ash and Cael going to brunch with Ash’s mom. Thanks so much!!


“This is ridiculous.”

Ash scowled at himself in the mirror. He’d been at this for an hour now. He turned to Cael with a frown. He lay the gray tie over his charcoal gray shirt beneath his collar.

“Tie or no tie?”

Cael smiled warmly as he crossed the bedroom to stop in front of Ash. He placed his hand over Ash’s, his voice gentle when he spoke.

“Ash, do you think your mom’s going to be happier to see you or the tie?”

Ash blinked at him. “Well, when you put it that way.” He tossed the tie onto the bed then turned to draw Cael into his arms. “Thank you.”

“For what?” Cael cocked his head, and Ash chuckled softly. How could Cael not see how much his support meant to him?

“For being here. For coming with me.” Ash brushed his fingers down Cael’s cheek. “I don’t think I could have done this without you.” He swallowed hard, still unable to believe he was going to be having brunch with his mother. There wasn’t a whole lot that Ash really gave a shit about. Very little ruffled his mane, because that would mean it mattered to him. Yeah, he bitched and griped, but that was mostly things pissing him off in general, but really get to him, enough to make him nervous? No.

A part of Ash was hesitant, telling himself it was too little too late. Why hadn’t she stood up to his father years ago, when he’d needed her most? He’d just lost his brother, and then shifted for the first time. He’d been terrified, in need of the woman who’d hugged them close at bedtime, and told them stories. Where was she when his father turned on him? The man had been an asshole, always. He’d looked for any excuse to “discipline” him and Arlo, though Ash had done his bets to keep his brother away from their father’s belt.

“Ash? Talk to me.”

Ash shook himself out of it, finding Cael’s hand on his where Ash had it over his cheek. He’d been rubbing it without realizing.

“I got hit in the face once, with the buckle of my dad’s belt. He used the end with the buckle because it would hurt more.” Ash wrinkled his nose at the memory. “Usually it was where our clothes would cover the marks, but I’d made the mistake of talking back. Actually, I think I was pleading with him. If I talked back, I was insubordinate and needed discipline. If I surrendered, I was pathetic.” Ash walked over to the bed and sat on the edge of it, his head in his hands. “Maybe this is a bad idea. She didn’t just throw me away, she let him hurt us. I’m sure he hit her too. We just didn’t see it. Why didn’t she do anything?”

The bed sank down beside him, and Cael’s soft voice broke through his pain.

“Maybe she was too scared. Terrified of what he’d do if she left. Where would she go? Who would she ask for help? What if they thought she was too weak to take care of herself? Maybe it was all so terrifying, and overwhelming that she didn’t know how to help herself, much less her kids.”

Ash straightened, his heart squeezing in his chest at Cael staring down at his fingers. “Cael?”

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel how you feel, or that she couldn’t have done more. I’m just saying I understand how scared she must have been.”

Ash drew Cael into his arms. He kissed the top of his head and ran a hand over his back, soothing him. “I’m sorry I dragged you into my drama.”

Cael pulled back, a deep frown on his face. “You didn’t drag me into anything, Ash. I love you, and I want to be here for you no matter what. This is about you, what you feel, and what you want. It’s not about me. What I feel doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me,” Ash replied firmly. “You are the most important person in my life, Cael. Don’t ever question that.”

Cael’s smile reached his big gray eyes. He threw his arms around Ash’s neck, and kissed him. Ash wrapped his arms around him as he returned Cael’s kiss. He was warm, soft, and tasted deliciously sweet. Ash was tempted to stay right here, in bed, with Cael in his arms, kissing him, making love to him.

As if reading his thoughts, Cael smiled against his lips. “We should get going.”

Ash huffed. “Fine.”

Cael chuckled, and stood. He held his hand out to Ash, which Ash promptly took.

“You look amazing.”

Cael looked down at himself, tugging on the end of his gray vest, and shrugged, but there was no mistaking the blush in his cheeks. “It’s nothing special.”

The dark jeans looked fucking sexy on his lithe frame, and the preppy gray vest over the fitted blue and gray checked shirt accentuated his slender waist. The top button of the collar was open, and the sleeves neatly folded up to his elbows. Ash was still amazed that Cael wanted to be with him. He was just so damned… beautiful.

Ash placed a kiss to the top of Cael’s head. “You’re something special.”

“You’re such a big softie,” Cael purred, standing on his toes to give Ash’s lips a kiss.

“Only for you,” Ash teased. Fuck, he really was turning into such a sap. As long as Dex didn’t get wind of it, he’d be fine. Besides, it wasn’t like Sloane wasn’t a total sucker for Dex, and he didn’t care who knew it.

Ash laced his fingers with Cael’s, and they headed for the door. The café they’d chosen near Central Park was cozy, and when they arrived, his mother was already there. She’d gotten them a table near the back which Ash appreciated. It offered them a little more privacy. A lump formed in his throat when she smiled at him. She stood, and made to move toward him but stopped herself. As if she wasn’t sure she should, so he took the initiative, kissing her cheek.

“Hi.”

“Hi.” Her eyes were glassy as patted his arm. She smiled brightly at Cael, and gave him a hug. “Cael, it’s so good to see you again.”

Cael smiled sweetly. “It’s good to see you too, Vivian.” He took a seat across from her, and Ash sat beside Cael. The waitress came, and they put in their order for coffees and pastries. Food was the last thing Ash wanted right now. Cael and Vivian exchanged pleasantries until the waitress returned with their drinks and food. Cael thanked the young woman, and took a sip of his decaf coffee, the table falling into silence. Ash noted the way his mother absently shifted the cutlery, or touched her cup without picking it up. She was nervous. Finally, she looked up at him.

“Thank you for coming. I wasn’t sure you would.” She dropped her gaze to her lap. “I wasn’t sure why you answered my call to be honest. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you told me… to never contact you again.”

Cael pressed his thigh to Ash’s, letting him know he was there, and Ash found the courage to speak up. How was it he suddenly felt like a little boy again? How did she still feel like his mother after so many years apart? After she’d abandoned him.

“I wanted to give you a chance,” Ash admitted. “I think we both deserve a second chance. In all honesty, I was surprised you called, and even more surprised you’d left him.”

She nodded. “After seeing you… I couldn’t go back to the way things were. I missed my baby boy.” Tears filled her eyes, and Ash placed his hand over hers, doing his best to remain quiet and composed while she said what she clearly needed to. “I failed you in so many ways, you and your brother. Before and… after.” She shook her head, her bottom lip trembling. “I was so scared, and devastated. I couldn’t believe Arlo was gone, and then you… you shifted. I know that’s no excuse. I… I let him… hurt my babies.” She broke into tears, and Ash went around to sit beside her, pulling her into his embrace. She buried her face into his chest, and he kissed the top of her head as she sobbed. He had tears running down his cheeks, but he didn’t care. He focused on his breathing, and comforting his mother. he wanted to be mad at her, hate her for what she’d done, but he never did. Not really. He blamed himself. Told himself she left because he was an abomination. He’d had so much anger inside him for so long, he didn’t want to go back to that. He’d changed. Maybe not completely, but where it mattered. He had so much good in his life now.

When she pulled away, she thanked Cael for the napkins. She dried her eyes and blew her nose. She wouldn’t look at Ash. “I don’t know how you can stand to look at me. I’m a failure as a mother. If I’d done something sooner…. If I’d taken you and Arlo, and left, Arlo might be alive today, and I’d have my boys.”

Ash placed his fingers under her chin, and turned her face so he could meet her gaze. So much heartache and pain in her blue eyes. “Listen, I know what it’s like to live your life steeped in regrets and what-if scenarios. Don’t. What happened to Arlo wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t yours either. The past can’t be changed, but we can have a future. A family. I’d really like for you to be a part of my life.” He reached across the table to take Cael’s hand in his. “Of our lives.”

She looked up at him with big wide eyes. “Really? You… want me in your lives?”

Ash nodded. “Very much.”

His mother threw her arms around him and squeezed him tight. He couldn’t help but wrap his arms around her. He turned his face into her hair, and closed his eyes. Her scent hadn’t changed. Still the soft rose scented perfume she’d always worn. Back then his arms just about encircled her waist. Had he really been that small? She felt so tiny and fragile in his arms, and a fierce sense of protectiveness washed over him. She’d been hurt too, by a man who’d vowed to cherish her and love her. Richard Keeler should have protected his family, loved them. Instead he wallowed in his misery, growing bitter, angry, and taking his pain out on his family. Not anymore. Not while Ash could do something about it. He pulled away, and wiped her cheeks.

“Where are you staying? Are you safe?”

“Yes. When your father—”

“Richard,” he corrected. “He doesn’t deserve that title.”

She nodded. “When Richard went out to drink with his friends, I went online and looked up organizations that might be able to help me. I found one whose mission included helping women in similar situations. I went to their office, spoke to a lovely Therian lady who listened to every word I said. I admit, I was afraid she would ask me to leave, knowing what I had done. I told her how much I missed you, and how after seeing you, there was nothing I wanted more than the chance to have my son back. She took my hands, smiled, and said she was glad I came to them. They helped me move out, found me a lovely apartment, a job, and an incredible divorce lawyer.” She smiled wide, and Ash couldn’t help his grin.

“I’m so happy for you.”

“I was terrified, but now… I’m happy for me too.” She gave his hands a squeeze. “For the first time in years, I feel like my own person, like I have a say in my own life.” She turned to rifle through her purse, removing a piece of notepad paper and a pen. She scribbled something down before handing it to him. “You already have my cell phone number. Here’s my address. Please come visit whenever you like. You and Cael.”

Ash took the paper with a smile, and nodded. He folded it up and put it in his wallet. Standing, he sat back down across the table next to Cael, and kissed his temple before turning back to his mom. “You can bet on it. And any time you’d like to come over, just let me know. The only reason you need to call is because my work schedule changes a lot, and I’m basically always on call in case of an emergency.”

“Of course.” Her smile grew sly as she looked from him to Cael and back. “Plus I wouldn’t want to barge in on you boys, um, enjoying each other’s company.”

Ash’s eyes went wide, his face all but spontaneously combusting while Cael giggled beside him. Ash arched an eyebrow at him.

“What?” Cael asked innocently. He leaned in, whispering loudly. “I like her.”

Vivian laughed, the sound filling Ash with warmth. When was the last time his mother had laughed? Ash poked Cael on his side playfully, making him squirm and laugh. Cael started chatting enthusiastically with Vivian, telling her how she had to meet the team, including his crazy brother who was the boyfriend of Ash’s best friend Sloane, then regaled her with tales of their team’s shenanigans, usually instigated by his brother. Ash was happy. He’d lost his family and found one in Destructive Delta, and now his family had grown again to include his mom. Maybe Sloane was onto something with this whole family thing. Ash was certainly happy to find out.

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THIRDS Thursday – 11/10/16

THIRDS Thursdays

Prompt: I would love to see the first instance of the Waking Dead. Was it when they were younger and Cael and Maddock having to drag Dex awake to school? Or the first time Lou slept over and found his boyfriend non-functional? So curious!


Lou woke up five minutes before his alarm went off just like he did every morning, except this morning wasn’t like every morning. He couldn’t help his big smile as he stretched. He turned off his alarm then rolled over, chuckling at the adorable mess of a man that was Dexter J. Daley. It would seem the guy slept the same way he lived. Eccentrically. Last night, for the first time, Dex asked him to stay, and Lou happily accepted. This morning Lou woke up to Dex’s blond hair sticking up in all directions, blankets wrapped around Dex’s torso, arm, and leg as if he’d waged a lengthy battle with the thing. He was sound asleep, looking sweet and peaceful.

Lou leaned in and kissed Dex’s cheek. “Good morning, sleepyhead.”

There was no response.

“Dex? Honey, wake up.” Lou sat up and leaned over. Seemed his boyfriend was a deep sleeper. “Dex,” Lou purred softly. Nothing. Perhaps a little louder? “Dex, wake up.”

Okay, a very deep sleeper.

Letting Dex sleep in, Lou got up to take a shower and get dressed. Maybe by the time he got out of the shower Dex would be awake. If he was lucky, maybe Dex would wake up and join him.

A sexy morning shower was not in the cards. Lou showered, dried, and dressed. He shaved, brushed his teeth, and styled his hair. Surely Dex would be up by now, except it was still so quiet. When he got out of the bathroom, he was stunned to find Dex still asleep. He had a moment of panic.

Oh my God, what if something’s happened? It was a ridiculous thought, but no more ridiculous than any of the bizarre scenarios Dex found himself in at work at the HPF. The man seemed to be a magnet for crazy.

Lou ran over to Dex’s side of the bed and shook him. “Dex, wake up!”

A groan was followed by a grumble of unintelligible sounds.

“Dios mio.” Lou said a silent little prayer of thanks before crouching down next to Dex. “Dexter, you scared the life out of me.”

More sounds, and then something that sounded strangely like… “Did you say coffee?” A huff of breath was Dex’s response. “I’m going to take that as a yes. Okay. I’ll make coffee, you get that cute butt of yours out of bed and come downstairs.”

Grunting followed, but no movement. With a chuckle, Lou went downstairs. Usually he was already out of the house by this time. His shifts started a little after dawn, and ended well into the evening, but it was a sacrifice he was willing to make. If he wanted Clove Catering to really take off, he had to put in the hard work, just like he would have to do if he wanted his relationship with Dex to work. Between their schedules, it wasn’t going to be easy, but Lou was determined. Dex was a good guy. He was sweet, funny, and genuinely interested in Lou’s dreams of turning his little catering company into one of New York City’s best.

Lou got to work making breakfast. He started with the coffee, since Dex had somewhat communicated it’s what he wanted. As soon as the coffee started percolating, he heard a loud “thump” come from upstairs. It startled the hell out of him.

“Dex, are you okay?” Lou called up. He turned when he heard thumping on the stairs. “What the heck?” He stood behind the counter, frowning at the stairs when socked feet appeared. Arching an eyebrow, Lou watched Dex come down the stairs. His eyes were half open, maybe? Lou couldn’t tell until he was closer. Yep, they were open. Kind of.

As Dex approached, Lou pressed his lips together to keep himself from laughing. Dex’s T-shirt was on backwards and inside out, the tag hanging from the collar. There was a good chance his loose pajama bottoms were on backwards too. The Star Wars robe was hanging off one shoulder, and his hair was plastered down on one side of his face, the other side sticking up.

“Good morning,” Lou said cheerfully.

Dex plopped down into a chair at the counter, his hooded eyes, and dopey smile making him look like he was drunk. Lou laughed softly.

“Coffee?”

Dex lifted an arm up above his head and waved it. “Frogs eat their own skin.”

Lou blinked at him. “What?”

“Frogs,” Dex said then yawned. “Eat their own skin.”

“That’s… disgusting. Are you okay?”

Dex scratched his head. “An army.”

Lou was completely lost. “An army of what?”

“Frogs. Called an army.”

“I don’t know what’s happening right now,” Lou muttered. He was more than a little worried. Was Dex okay? Should Lou call him a doctor? What if he’d fallen off the bed and hit his head? “Did you watch a documentary on frogs or something?”

Dex yawned again. He looked down at his fingers and frowned. “Yes.”

“Oh, okay. Coffee?”

“Yes.” Dex sat there staring down at the counter.

Lou turned then realized something. “Dex, say something.”

“Yes.”

“Anything that’s not “yes”.”

“Yes.” Dex yawned and sniffed the air, a pout coming onto his face. “Coffee.”

“So you can talk about frogs, say “yes” and “coffee”. Wonderful.” Lou shook his head in amusement. He made Dex a cappuccino just like he liked it, and placed it in front of his boyfriend. “It’s like you’re awake, but not. Like a zombie.” Lou snapped his fingers. “Like the Waking Dead!”

Dex pulled the mug close, grumbling and muttering a host of sounds before taking a sip, making Lou laugh.

“Hm, I wonder….” Lou leaned on the counter. “Can I pick the restaurant this weekend. Even if it’s fancy froo-froo?” Dex hated fancy froo-froo. He wouldn’t subject the poor man to it, but Lou had to know.

“Yes.”

Lou stared at him. “Um, okay. Can I drive your car?”

“Yes.”

“Oh my God!” Lou gasped. He clamped a hand over his mouth, his voice coming out a hoarse whisper when he spoke. “You said I can drive your car.”

Dex took another sip of his coffee. “Yes.”

Dex was not going to let Lou drive his precious car, and Lou had no intention of driving the orange muscle monstrosity, but his little experiment was yielding amazing results. Lou checked his watch. Ten minutes had passed since the first sip.

“If I take you to a petting zoo, would you pet a goat?”

“Yes.”

Lou was stunned speechless. What the heck had he just uncovered? Lou came around the counter and sat next to Dex. “Did I just find the chink in Dexter J. Daley’s armor?”

“Yes.”

Lou was so giddy he was bursting at the seams. He came up with a host of questions and requests, each one more outlandish than the last and Dex said yes to all of them.

“I’d like you eat a salad for lunch today.”

Dex blinked up at him. “What did you say?”

“I said I’d like you to eat a salad for lunch today.”

Dex looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “Why would I do that? Is it a burger salad?” His eyes went wide. “Oh my God, tell me you invented a new burger salad, that’s like mostly burger. No pickles. Is that what we’re talking about? Because that would amazeballs!”

Lou looked at his watch. Exactly twenty-three minutes. “Interesting.”

“What is?” Dex peered at him. “What’s with the mad scientist look you’ve got going on.”

Lou smiled sweetly. “Nothing.” He kissed Dex’s lips then hopped off his chair. “You’re amazing.”

“Um, thanks.” Dex finished his coffee, got up, and took his mug to the sink to wash. Lou came up behind him and wrapped his arms around Dex.

“So, Detective Daley, you have a little trouble waking up in the mornings?”

Dex turned in Lou’s arms, and wrapped his arms around him. He cringed. “You noticed that, huh?”

“Just a little,” Lou said, chuckling when Dex’s face went red. “Aw, you’re so cute.”

Dex let out a sigh, and shrugged. “I try.”

“You sure I can’t get you to change your mind on that salad? Eating healthy is good for you, you know.”

“Nice try, but there’s no way anyone is ever going to get me to eat any of that rabbit food. Not gonna happen.”

“Not even for me?”

Dex kissed his cheek, before heading for the stairs. “Sorry, babe. Not going to happen. Nothing personal. Many have tried, and failed. That day is never coming.”

“And if that day does come?” Lou teased.

Dex stopped on the stairs and turned to wink at Lou. “Then that’s the day Dexter J. Daley has met his match.”


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

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$600 Raised for Big Cats with THIRDS Beyond the Books!

THIRDSBeyondtheBooksV1_FBbanner_DSP

Hello, all! I’m super excited to share with you our first donation to Big Cat Rescue! As promised, my royalties from the first two THIRDS Beyond the Books volumes are being donated to Big Cat Rescue to help the big cats. Although only pre-order sales have come through for volume 2 since it was released less than a month ago, we have the results so far! $578.73 which I rounded up to a neat $600.00. Thank you so much to everyone who bought a copy of THIRDS Beyond the Books, Volume 1 and/or Volume 2! I placed the donation in honor of the THIRDS readers because you all are just amazing!

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THIRDS Thursday – Hot Seat 11/3/16

THIRDS Thursday Hot Seat

Hello all! It’s been a while since we’ve had the THIRDS guys in the Hot Seat, so today we have Angel, Sloane, Ash, Ethan, Calvin, and Seb here to answer some of your questions! Remember if you’d like to leave a question for the cast, you can do so here. Let’s turn up the heat!


From Cindy for Angel Herrera: Are you single? What is your dream boyfriend/girlfriend like? How do you feel about Taylor who is always flitting from one person to the other and was only serious about the mated Dex?

Angel: I’m single, yep. It’s kinda been a while. My dream person would be someone I can have fun with who makes me laugh. I’m not really into the whole serious thing. I mean, obviously there are times to be serious, but I don’t get people who take themselves so seriously. Life’s too short, you know? Someone’s who’s faithful, and not a dick. I know what you’re thinking, that kinda leaves Taylor out. There’s lots of guys like Taylor who aren’t interested in relationships and enjoy hookups. Well, that’s what Taylor used to do. I haven’t seen him hook up with a guy in a long time actually. I was kind of knocked for a loop when I realized Taylor had gone from wanting to screw Dex to something else. But then he’s not really the “let’s talk about our feelings” type of guy. He keeps that stuff close to his chest. I miss him, though. I hope he comes back soon.

From Freddy for Calvin and Ethan: Have you always hated Calvin & Hobbes references or did you maybe once read and like the tales of an adventurous boy and his striped best friend whose awesomeness only he could appreciate?

Calvin: Are you kidding? I never hated the reference. I grew up on all types of comics and I still love them. I’ve read all the Calvin and Hobbes strips, and love them. They’re amazing. And really, I don’t mind it. I ain’t got nothing on that kid. He’s way more sophisticated than I am. The reference just never seems to get old for my colleagues, but then I work with a bunch of dorks. It depends on the interpretation. Like when Dex first commented on it, I didn’t know him, so I didn’t know how to take his reaction.

Ethan: *whispers in Calvin’s ear*

Calvin: Ethan doesn’t mind it either because he’s always enjoyed the comics. It’s a cute reference, and really kind of flattering considering. Ethan was okay with it from the beginning, so that meant I was okay too. It’s when you get asshats who can’t see it for what it is and just see a blond kid and an imaginary tiger. That’s not what the stories were about, and sure as shit not what we are.

From Charlotte to Sloane, Ash, Ethan, and Seb: What do you feel when you see your lover wear your clothes?

Sloane: I feel conflicted. I can’t decide whether to enjoy seeing Dex in my clothes, or to strip him of them because he looks so damn good. I love it though. I love when I’m in the kitchen in the morning and he wanders downstairs, hair sticking up all over, half asleep, face flushed, and he doesn’t realize he’s pulled on my T-shirt instead of his. It reminds me of how lucky I am to have him in my life.

Ash: I feel a lot of inappropriate things. Usually when Cael wears one of my shirts, it’s huge on him, usually down his thighs or depending on the shirt sometimes to his knees, which means he doesn’t wear anything else under it. I can’t help but grab him when he does that because he looks so damned adorable, and hot.

Ethan: *whispers in Seb’s ear*

Seb: *to Ethan* Yeah, I really don’t need to picture your boyfriend in his underwear. Thanks. Ethan says Cal usually wears his T-shirts. Anything else is too big, and of course Ethan loves it. He thinks Cal looks adorable. Cal tends to sleep in one of Ethan’s T-shirts, and a pair of boxer-briefs. As for me, I don’t really know what Hudson wears at home, if he still does what he used to when we were together. I mean, I maybe have an idea. Dex told me Hudson still has some of my T-shirts. He’s had at least one altered which he’s worn under his clothes. It’s a little painful, but good painful if that makes sense. Knowing he kept some of my shirts, that he still wears them feel amazing. Usually when we lounged together back in the day, he’d wear one of my shirts. Hudson likes to feel comfortable, and my shirts made him feel warm and safe.

From Mary to all: When you are in your felid form which is the first thought that occurs to you when you see your partner?

Sloane: Mine.

Ash: Mine.

Cael: Mine.

Seb: Mine.

Ethan: *nods*

Sloane: *laughs* We’re not really all that complicated in our Felid forms. Usually our thought process revolves around our mate or partner, protecting them, and dealing with the threat if there is one. And in Ash’s case just showing off his mane.

Ash: *shrugs* Mane envy. *points to the rest of them* They’s got it.

 

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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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THIRDS Thursday Author Q&A

Hello, all! I received so many fantastic questions in last week’s THIRDS Thursday prompt submission/giveaway that I’ve had to split them in two. I’ll see about getting the rest of them posted really soon. Here’s the first half. Thank you so much to everyone who left such fantastic comments and amazing prompts! You all are awesome!

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Q: Is Seb & Hudson book’s release date going to be pushed back because of Thick & Thin?

A: Nope! Seb and Hudson’s release day remains the same. I just had Thick & Thin submitted and scheduled for release before Seb & Hudson’s book was finished and submitted.

Q: When will we get release dates?

A: Unfortunately, I don’t get release dates until much closer to the time due to the production process, in case something happens to delay things. Usually I have a rough estimate of which month books will be released once the books are contracted, but that’s an estimate and things can change. Since my publisher is currently reviewing Seb and Hudson’s book, I don’t have an official estimate yet, but I’ll be sure to update the info here and on the THIRDS website and soon as I know more.

Q: Also, has Seb and Hudson’s book got a name yet?

A: Yes, it’s called Darkest Hour Before Dawn.

Q: *** Spoiler for Smoke & Mirrors *** Will Dex tell his Dad/team about how he has different DNA now?

A: In Thick & Thin, it’s time for Dex and Sloane to face their family, including the DD team, about the changes happening to Dex, their roles in the team, and their relationship. It’s not going to be easy, but then nothing with Destructive Delta ever is.

Q: With the spinoff with Dex & Sloane playing with TIN how many books will be in that series? Is this where Austen & Zach get their story?

A: There’s no set number of books yet decided for the TIN series, because although they’ll be numbered, I intend to write each one so it can be read on its own. The books won’t have an overall story arc the way the main THIRDS series has, but be more like individual missions. Readers will be able to come in at any point in the TIN series and pick up any of the books without being lost. However, Dex and Sloane’s relationship will continue to grow through the TIN series. Anything important from one book that might need to be brought up in another (in regards to something that happens between Dex and Sloane, their family, and Destructive Delta) will be briefly clarified so readers aren’t lost if they haven’t read that particular book.

Although Austen will be in the TIN series, he and Zach will be getting their own book which is why we haven’t had any THIRDS Thursdays written with them together because right now, Austen is keeping his distance. Or at least trying to. Their book is on my writing schedule to be written after the second TIN book.

Q: There seems to be a lot of male Therians but not very many female Therians. Is that just due to who the books focus on or is there something about Therian DNA that ups the chance of male offspring?

A: That has more to do with the focus of the books and who that couple has in their circle. There are as many female Therians as there are male Therians, though we do have slightly more male Therian agents in Unit Alpha’s Defense department. We have more female Therians in Intel and Recon. We will however be seeing more female Therians in the TIN series as many of them are operatives.

Q: How long have you been working on Thirds, like before actual publication of the first book?

A: I was working on the THIRDS almost two years before I started writing Hell & High Water, and that took about seven months to release and I was working on the rest of the series during that time.

Q: My question is will we get any babies?

A: I won’t say never, because we don’t know, but in an official THIRDS/TIN book, probably not. The weird thing is, I can see Ash becoming a dad before Sloane. The thing is that if Dex and Sloane were to become parents, it would mean their retirement. Sloane would never have a child and be involved in the THIRDS or something as risky as TIN. The risk of something happening to him and/or Dex is much higher, and after the way Dex lost his parents, and how Sloane grew up without parents, I think he would be very set against doing anything that might leave his child or children without him and/or Dex. Sloane’s been out in the field a long time, and been through so much, I don’t see him doing it for many more years, and I think at some point Dex will feel it’s time for him to step back and focus on family. I think they’ll want to retire and enjoy their lives together. We’ll have to see what happens.

Q: Are we going to see more of “Wolf” and will he be getting a book?

A: We’re going to be seeing much more of Wolf from Seb and Hudson’s book onward for several reasons–much to Dex’s annoyance. He may possibly be getting his own book. I’m certain he’ll be appearing in some THIRDS Thursday prompts from book 9 onward too.

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