THIRDS Thursday – 8/15/16

THIRDS Thursdays

Prompt: Don’t know if this has been suggested before, but I’d love to see something more about Dex’s adoption from the beginning …how Tony handled breaking the news /asking?/ a 5 year old Dex to be his adopted son / his parent’s death.


“I can’t do it.”

His voice didn’t sound like his own. But then this life wasn’t his. It was someone else’s. This happened to other people. It was the kind of earthshattering news he’d had the misfortune of delivering to others. He wasn’t supposed to be on this end of things. It was a selfish thought, but right now he just didn’t give a shit. In fact, if it were up to him, he’d disappear for God knew how long, but he couldn’t, because as bad as it was right now, it was about to get so much worse.

Tony sat in his car, in the same spot he had for the last two hours. His vision was blurry, his eyes burned, and his hands wouldn’t stop shaking. He was a fucking mess. Broken. For the last two days he’d gone through a host of emotions. His initial reaction being anger. He’d been so goddamned pissed off at John for leaving him. Every swear word he’d ever known had crossed his lips, directed at his best friend. Tony was angry at Gina too. Angry she’d left her little boy behind. She’d been his best friend. But John had been his life. Tony let out a harsh laugh. God, he was so fucking pathetic. He’d let that part of him—along with John—go a long time ago.

The moment John met Gina, Tony knew that was it, and he was happy for John, truly was. Having John and Gina in his life was a blessing, one he never took for granted. The three of them had become a family. Tony had never, ever resented Gina. There was no one more perfect for John. When Dex came along, Tony couldn’t have been happier for them. Fatherhood suited John.

Fresh tears filled Tony’s eyes and he slammed his hands on the steering wheel.

“You son of a bitch! How could you do this to me? To your son?” He let his head fall against the steering wheel and cried for what seemed like the hundredth time since he’d identified the bodies. He’d refused to believe it at first. Convinced himself it couldn’t be them. When the police had shown up that night, Tony believed they’d made a mistake. Regardless, he called his sister to come take care of Dex while he got to the bottom of whatever the hell was going on. He’d never get the image out of his head. John on that slab of steel with a blanket over him, a bullet hole in his chest, right through his heart.

Breathe. Come on, damn it.

A tap on his window scared the hell out of him, and without thinking, he swiped his gun from his holster and aimed at the window. His sister jumped, and threw her hands up, fear in her big brown eyes. Cursing under his breath, he returned the gun to his holster, then wiped at his eyes. He opened the car door, stepped outside, and closed it.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a sniff, trying his hardest not to fall apart again. “Thank you, for uh,” he cleared his throat, “watching him.”

His sister nodded, and he had to look away so he wouldn’t see the pain in her eyes.

“I can’t do this, Danelle.” His bottom lip trembled, and blinked back more tears. “I can’t go in there, and—” He shook his head. “I’m not strong enough.”

“You gotta be, honey. That little boy needs you.” She put her hand to his cheek, and he closed his eyes.

“He needs his father,” Tony replied through his teeth, his hands balled into fists at his sides.

“Anthony, you’re that boy’s daddy now.”

Tony shook his head. “No. I’m not. John’s—”

“Dead.”

Tony flinched. He wanted to yell at her for saying that, but she was right. No matter how much he wished it wasn’t true, John was gone. Dex needed him. A tear rolled down his cheek, and he choked on his words.

“He’s just a little boy. How—Oh God.” He covered his face with his hand, his whole body shaking. Criminals he could face. Lethal Therians. Whatever the streets threw at him, he could face. But tell a five-year-old the parents who loved him more than air itself were gone? How could anyone ask that of him?

Danelle wrapped him up in her arms, and he held on tight, grateful he wasn’t alone. She murmured words of comfort, and he lost track of how long he’d held on. He couldn’t put it off anymore. Dex was inside with his neighbor’s daughter. It was time.

Thinking of Dex, of how small and vulnerable he was, of how hurt and confused he would be, how much he would need Tony was what kept him on his feet. He took a deep steady breath, wiped his eyes, and reached deep down for strength he feared he might not have.  Even if he didn’t, he better damn well find it.

Tony walked into his house, and headed upstairs for the spare bedroom where he knew he’d find Dex. From the landing he could hear Dex’s giggles and childish shrieks as he played. Tony stopped in the doorway, and it took everything he had not to turn around and run. Teresa was tickling Dex, and he squirmed on the floor, hugging his Braveheart Lion to his little chest as he laughed. Tony closed his eyes for a moment, praying for strength.

Dex spotted him, and let out a squeal of delight. “Uncle Tony!” He scrambled to his feet, and Tony walked into the room, nodding at Teresa his thanks before she left the room, closing the door gently behind her. Tony sat down on the carpet, his back to the bed as Dex threw himself into Tony’s outstretched arms. He hugged Dex tight, willing himself not to lose it now. Not when Dex needed him most. Dex pulled back, his little face falling as he pet Tony’s head.

“Why are you crying?”

Always such a sharp little guy. Tony gave a sniff, and let out a shaky breath. “I’m crying,” he said, his voice shaky, “because something happened, and I wish it hadn’t, but there’s nothing I can do to change that. I want you to know that I love you, and I will always love you.”

Dex nodded. “What happened?”

Jesus. “Dex, you know how me and your daddy help people?”

Another nod. Dex’s gaze was fixed on him. Tony tried not to think about how those big blue eyes would never look at the world the same way again.

“And you know how he told you about the people we tried to help but couldn’t?”

“Daddy says sometimes bad things happen to good people.”

“That’s right. It’s not fair, and it hurts, and we wish so very much it wasn’t like that, but we do our best to help the people who loved them. The ones who’ll miss them the most.” Tony braced himself. “Dex, something bad happened at the movies. Your mommy and daddy were hurt very bad. They….”

Dex’s eyes went wide, and he stilled.

“They’re not coming back, baby. It’s just me and you now. I’m sorry.”

Dex shook his head vigorously. “That’s not true.”

“I wish it wasn’t.” Tony couldn’t keep the tears back any longer. He tried so damn hard, but he couldn’t. Not when he could see Dex’s little heart shatter.

Dex’s face crumbled, tears filled his eyes, and his face went red as he let out a high-pitched shriek. “No!”

“Dex,” Tony said gently, trying to bring him close. Apparently there were still remains of a heart left to break, because it happened all over again as Dex screamed “No” repeatedly. When Tony tried to reach for him, Dex hit him with his stuffed toy.

“You’re lying! I want my mommy!” Dex screamed, his voice getting hoarse as he continued to scream through his tears. He didn’t want to be touched, and Tony didn’t try to force him. When screaming for his mother didn’t conjure her up, Dex turned to Tony. “Fix it!”

“I wish I could,” Tony said, clawing to keep hold of the lone thread holding him from tumbling into the abyss.

Dex dropped to his knees in front of Tony, and he held Braveheart out to him as he gasped and gulped for air through his sobs.

“You can… have Braveheart. Please. Fix it. Tony… please.”

“Baby, I wish I could. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He’d never felt more like a failure in his life, and it was illogical, but the fact that Dex believed he could bring his parents back all but undid him. Dex’s eyes clouded over, anger filling the big pools of blue, and it scared Tony. Something inside him snapped, and Tony sat up. He took hold of Dex and pulled him into his embrace. Dex struggled at first, but Tony held him.

“I love you, and I promise whatever you need, I will be here. I know it hurts so very bad. I know you’re scared, and angry, but you’re not alone. I’m here, and we’re going to get through this together. Me, and you.”

Dex threw his arms around Tony, squeezing as he sobbed into Tony’s neck. “Don’t… go… away.”

“I swear I’ll do everything in my power to always be with you.” As he made his promise to Dex, he made a promise to Gina and John. He’d raise Dex as his own, love him as he deserved to be love, and help guide him, help him grow up to be the kind of man his parents would be proud of.

Dex trembled in his arms, and Tony grabbed the blanket from the bed. He wrapped the blanket around them as best he could with one hand then lay on his side and curled himself around Dex.

“We’ll be okay, baby. I won’t let anything happen to you,” he promised. Dex was asleep in his arms, and Tony started to fade. He swore to himself that no matter what happened, he would give this little boy the life he deserved, full of love and happiness. If anyone tried to hurt Dex, they’d deal with him. Tony kissed the top of Dex’s head, and thought of John. His best friend had entrusted him with the most precious gift he’d been blessed with. Tony would never forget that.

The road ahead was terrifying, filled with all kinds of obstacles he’d never faced before. Parenthood was something he hadn’t given much thought to, and now here he was, father to a grieving little boy. Tony would show Dex how to survive in a world that took his mommy and daddy away. The world was trying to tear itself apart with hate, prejudice, and violence. It was up to Tony to give Dex hope. To help him heal, and prove to him that the love he has inside him will help change the world. John was a beacon of light in the darkness, his optimism, courage, and sense of justice unrivaled by anyone Tony ever met. Dex had the same light inside of him. Tony would do everything in his power to make sure that light was never extinguished.

“I won’t let you down,” he murmured. I’ll be strong for the both of us. “I promise.”


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

THIRDS Thursday – 9/1/16

THIRDS Thursdays

Prompt: There have been several prompts for the ball pit incident mentioned in Smoke & Mirrors, so here it is. Enjoy!


“Could you repeat that?”

Dex blinked at Sloane, not sure he’d heard correctly. He couldn’t possibly be that lucky. Maybe his partner was getting him back for one of the many many pranks he’d pulled since joining the THIRDS. Don’t get excited. It could be a mistake.

Sloane handed Dex his helmet. “I said, we’re heading to Brooklyn. A couple of drunk idiots decided to shift in public and wreak havoc at a kid’s birthday party.”

“Yeah, I heard that part.” Dex finished strapping himself into his vest. He could barely contain his grin. “I need you to repeat the other part. The part about where they’re wreaking havoc.” He took his helmet from Sloane. Come on. Say it.

Sloane let out a sigh. “Chuck E. Cheese.”

“Yes!” Dex let out a “whoop” and did a little dance. Best news he’d heard all day.

Ash shook his head in shame at him. “Of course you’re excited. Why am I not surprised?”

“How can you not be excited?”

“I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of ways I can respond to that ridiculous question, but I’m going to go with the fact that I’m not a man-child like you.”

Dex flipped Ash off, ignoring his chuckle. He followed Sloane out of the armory where the rest of their team was waiting by the BearCat. Hobbs was already in his Therian form, his eyes shut in contentment as Calvin scratched him behind the ear. Dex looked from Hobbs to Sloane and back. Did his partner realize what he was about to do? Should he say something? Sloane had to know. As the team climbed up into the back of the BearCat, Dex caught Sloane’s sleeve, speaking quietly.

“You’re going to send Hobbs in?”

Sloane looked puzzled. “Yeah. Why?”

“Dude, that place is filled with climbing, bouncing things.”

Sloane nodded. “I know. We don’t know how hostile these guys are, so I’m not sending your brother in there on his own with two leopard Therians. Also, climbing, bouncing things and your brother. Think about that for a moment.”

“You have a point.”

“I need to make sure this doesn’t get out of control. My other option is Ash.”

Ash loose after two Therians in a Chuck E. Cheese. Dex shuddered at the thought. “Point taken.”

Sloane smiled and gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Relax. Hobbs will be fine. He has plenty of self-control.”

Dex followed his partner into the truck, and as soon as everyone was secured in their seats, Tony got them moving.  They had no idea what to expect. The place had been evacuated, and Theta Destructive was on their way to clear the area and keep traffic out. When they arrived, they received a call that Theta Destructive was held up thanks to a traffic accident.

Tony cursed under his breath before addressing the team. “All right. Get in there, get it done, and get out. Beta Ambush has been dispatched, but we can’t risk these asshats getting out into the street before backup arrives, so move quickly.”

They all confirmed their understanding before hurrying out of the truck. Tony was right. With all the foot traffic, and street traffic, it would be chaos if two drunk feral Therians made a run for it. Quickly Destructive Delta got into formation behind Sloane, tranq rifles at the ready as they headed toward the entrance. Hobbs padded beside Sloane, waiting for the signal.

Sloane signaled for them to stop at the door, and they waited. Gingerly, he opened one of the glass doors and motioned for Hobbs to enter. As soon as their teammate was in, the rest of them followed Sloane inside. It was quiet. No sign of the two perps anywhere.

Hobbs’s sniffed the air. When he flattened his ears, and let out a low hiss, they all readied themselves. Dex looked around him, trying to catch movement from within the colorful tubes or bouncy play areas. Sloane gave Hobbs the signal, and their Felid teammate let out a roar that shook the rafters. The two Therians leaped out of their hiding spots and the chase began. Hobbs took off after them, and the two leopard Therians split up. Destructive Delta gave chase, following one of the leopard Therians as he ducked in, out, over, and under the play area equipment, a feat much harder to do when carrying tactical equipment.

“Split up,” Sloane ordered, taking off in one direction, while Dex went off in another, Calvin close behind. They rounded a corner and found a giant ball pit at the far end near the door they’d come in from.

“I thought they got rid of those,” Calvin said, as they slowly approached.

“Most of them did. The rest are on the way out. Man, I used to love those things.”

Calvin let out a snort. “Used to? I bet you’re just itching to jump in there.”

“You know me too well,” Dex admitted with a chuckle. From the corner of his eye he caught a flurry of movement. “Oh shit.” Dex grabbed Calvin’s arm and tugged him along with him as he ran. “Fall back!” They made a run for it just as the two Therians soared through the air into the ball pit. The air-filled container exploded, releasing a giant wave of colored plastic balls, knocking Dex and Calvin on their asses.

Dex rolled, spotted one of the Therians and fired three rounds of tranq darts, two hitting the perp in the neck. Calvin took the other one down.

Dex was about to say something when Calvin scrambled to his feet, shouting.

“Ethan, no! Someone close the damned door!”

Dex turned in time to spot Ethan leaping through the open front door after dozens of colored balls spilled out into the street, the place’s manager on the floor looking like he was about to pass out. What part of “wait outside” did the guy not understand?

Dex took off after Hobbs. There was no way he was missing this. With the perps subdued, Dex was free to take advantage of this epic situation. Outside it was pandemonium. Beta Ambush had yet to arrive, and the streets were littered with rolling colored balls. He pulled out his smartphone and started recording just as Calvin barreled out of the building and took off after Hobbs.

“Ethan, stop!” Calvin sped off, and Dex followed, leaving his team to take care of the rest. He couldn’t help himself. Calvin hauled ass after Hobbs who was swatting at the colored balls, unaware of the panicking pedestrians diving out of his way.  Dex was laughing so hard his phone shook in his hands. Up ahead to his left, some dude climbed his Hummer.

Hobbs swatted a blue ball out into the street and chased after it. Calvin turned to follow only to have Hobbs swat the ball back onto the sidewalk. He was so excited, he didn’t even notice Calvin, and swept past him at such speed that Calvin spun and flailed. Dex could hear his friend’s curses from where he was. With some impressive footwork and balancing, Calvin kept himself from falling on his ass. His face was red, and Dex could barely breathe.

Dex moved his phone’s camera back to Hobbs, and cursed when he spotted the yuppie he was headed straight for. When the yuppie saw Hobbs, he sprinted forward, revealing a tiny old lady a few feet behind. Before Dex could warn the old lady, she looked over her shoulder, secured her purse under her arm, and bolted into a run that any athlete would envy. What came next Dex wouldn’t have believed if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes. The tiny old lady plowed through yuppie guy like she was a running back for the Giants. The dude soared through the air.

“Holy shit!” Dex had to prop himself against a car, he was laughing so hard. “Oh God. I can’t breathe.” Tears ran down his face, but he kept recording as Hobbs sped by, Calvin close behind. Hobbs smacked the blue plastic ball and it hit Tony’s boot, bringing Hobbs to a screeching halt. Calvin smacked into him, falling over Hobbs and onto his back on the sidewalk. Dex made his way over. He stood over Calvin, recording him. He waved down at him with his free hand.

“Say hello.”

“Fuck.” Panting breath. “You.”

Dex laughed, and wiped at his eyes. He stopped recording, and joined Sloane by the truck as Tony shouted orders at the newly arrived members of Beta Ambush while reporters flooded out of their news trucks.

Sloane dropped his head into his hand when Dex stepped up to him, grinning. “What was it you said before we came out here? Something about control?”

Sloane groaned. He lifted his head, his bottom lip jutted out. “Sarge is going to kick my ass.”

“Brodie! Get your ass over here!”

Dex patted Sloane’s arm. “Whatever you do, make eye contact, and just agree with everything he says. I’ll be here to kiss it better.”

“Thanks,” Sloane murmured before heading off to face their sergeant.

Several hours, and lectures later, Destructive Delta was back in the armory putting away their equipment. Everyone was silent. Mostly because Calvin was so pissed he was practically radioactive. No one dared say a word.

In the locker room, Dex was getting undressed when Calvin opened his locker. Plastic colored balls poured out, rolling and bouncing across the floor. Ash was the first to laugh, and Dex couldn’t help himself. He joined in along with everyone else in the locker room. So that’s what Ash had been doing when they’d been waiting in the truck for him.

“Fuck all of you,” Calvin hissed, grabbing his toiletry bag before slamming his locker shut and marching off toward the showers.

Dex picked up one of blue plastic balls, and put it in his locker as a little memento.

Best. Workday. Ever.

THIRDS Thursday – 8/25/16 Thick & Thin Excerpt

THIRDS Thursdays

This week for THIRDS Thursday, we have an exclusive excerpt from Chapter Four of Thick & Thin. Enjoy! **Contains spoilers from Smoke & Mirrors**


“Sloane.”

His name was almost a whisper on Dex’s lips, his chest rising and falling rapidly. Sloane opened his eyes, and was met by pools of glowing amber. They were stunning. He shouldn’t be surprised. Dex’s blue eyes were the most beautiful blue he’d ever seen, and now they glowed a fiery amber. They were brighter than Sloane’s, as if flames burned behind them. Dex’s lips were swollen from Sloane’s kisses, his fair skin flushed.

“I’m sorry for being so selfish,” Sloane admitted quietly as he stroked Dex’s skin under his T-shirt.

Dex’s brows drew together. “What are you talking about?”

“There’s so much we don’t know about what my blood has done to you, but…. I can’t help thinking about how you carry a part of me inside you. You’ll always have a piece of me. With my claws, I pierced your flesh, and my blood bonded us. Now, my DNA is fused with yours.” He pulled a hand out from under Dex’s shirt so he could take hold of Dex’s hand. Embarrassed, he shook his head and brought Dex’s fingers to his lips for a kiss. He kissed the tip of each finger in the spot where his claws extended from. “I’ve made your life more difficult, and I’ve put you in danger.”

Dex opened his mouth to reply, and Sloane placed his fingers to his lips.

“We both know it’s true. God knows what would happen if word got out. A Human with Therian traits? Our strength, speed, enhanced healing, razor sharp claws and teeth. They’d try to take you from me.”

Dex’s eyes clouded over. His canines elongated, and his amber eyes flashed. “They can try.”

Despite the ferocity in Dex’s hiss, Sloane couldn’t help his chuckle. He placed his hand to Dex’s cheek. “Look at you. My fierce little felid-in-training.”

All at once, warmth flooded Dex’s features and his expression softened. His eyes returned to their brilliant blue and he smiled at Sloane.

“The only reason I’m not freaked out about this, is because it’s you. Like you said. What’s inside me is a part of you. I know you. I know the kind of man you are, and I know how much you love me. I’m not scared.” Dex bit down on his bottom lip. He looked up at Sloane from under his lashes. “I am curious though.”

Sloane arched an eyebrow. “About what?”

“What the sex will be like.”

“Oh.” Sloane hadn’t considered that. Dex was stronger now. Maybe even as strong as Sloane. “Oh.

A wicked smile spread across Dex’s face, amber spreading from his pupils. “I think it’s time to practice my pouncing.”

Sloane’s eyes widened. His heart skipped a beat and his pulse soared. He could smell it now. The shift in pheromones. The thick fog of sex and heat threatened to consume him. Well this is new. He wasn’t simply being confronted by his mate, but another predator. For the first time, Sloane was the prey, and his body knew it, could feel it. He gingerly slipped Dex off him, his eyes never leaving Dex’s as he stood. Sloane’s movements were slow, deliberate, as he edged closer to the stairs, his gaze locked on Dex. His partner didn’t move a muscle. He just followed Sloane with his eyes. Sloane was so hard; the softest touch would be painful.

Dex’s lips tugged at one corner. He spoke, his voice low and filled with the promise of a good, hard fuck when he caught Sloane.

“You should run.”

Sloane did. He took the steps up to the bedroom two at a time, making it just inside the door when Dex grabbed him from behind and lifted him off his feet.

“Holy fuck!” Sloane flailed briefly before he was tossed on the bed. He rolled onto his back, his pulse racing as Dex crawled over him. Damn he was fast. And strong. Dex kissed the breath out of him before taking hold of Sloane’s T-shirt and pulling it off him. They clawed at each other’s clothes until there was nothing but the feel of skin on skin. Dex trailed blazing kisses down Sloane’s body, his fangs grazing Sloane’s skin sending a shiver through him.

“Fuck. Dex.”

“Funny, because all I hear is fuck Sloane.”

THIRDS Thursday – 8/18/16 Plus a giveaway!

DexBday

Happy Birthday, Dex!

Hello, all! Today is Dexter J. Daley’s birthday, and to celebrate I thought we should have a birthday themed flash fiction story! Plus there’s a giveaway below. Here’s to many more years of gummy bear chaos, cheesy doodle mayhem, and heartfelt shenanigans!


Prompt: Dex’s 4th or 5th Birthday? The last one with John and Gina and “Uncle Tony”? I can just imagine Dex, a Piñata, and John managing to somehow make the nonexplosive paper donkey go up in sugar fueled flames. Face planting into the cake? Something equally goof tastic and Tony trying not to pee himself watching.


Tony walked into the house, greeting some of the parents as they stood around chatting. Squealing kids ran around dressed in Ghostbuster suits, brandishing blasters shooting green Silly String. He could only imagine what John had to promise Gina in order to get her okay on that mess. Something told him John was going to be doing a whole lot of scrubbing and cleaning after the party. There was green everywhere, from the balloons and streamers, to the table filled with green cupcakes, Rice Krispies treats, a big two tier white cake that had been “slimed”, and lots of other gooey green treats.

Tony placed his birthday present on the table along with the dozens of others. He was going to look for John when Dex came barreling into him with a surprise tackle hug.

“Tony!”

“Hey, little man!” He lifted Dex up, pretending he weighed a ton. “Ooh, my back. How did you get so big? You’re just four years old aren’t you?”

Dex laughed. “I’m five, silly!”

“Five? Is that right?”

Dex nodded. “Today’s my birthday, remember?”

Tony let out a mock gasp. “Is that what all these balloons are for? It’s your birthday? Good thing I brought you a present then, huh?”

“Yay!” Dex threw his little arms around Tony’s neck and squeezed him tight. When he pulled back, his eyes were wide with excitement, and he twisted his torso so Tony could see his back. “Daddy made us proton packs just like the real Ghostbusters!”

“Wow, I thought they were real!”

Dex giggled. “No. That would be trouble.”

“You’re right. Speaking of trouble. Where’s your dad?” He put Dex on his feet, smiling when Dex pointed to the stairs. Just then Tony heard Gina’s laughter. It was joyous and infection, and Tony couldn’t help but laugh as she came down the stairs. She was laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes.

“Oh, Lord. What’s he done now?”

“I can’t….” She wheezed, doubling over and holding onto her stomach. “You…. Upstairs.”

“Mommy, mommy, can you put on some music?” Dex asked, bouncing excitedly.

Gina wiped at her eyes, and with a sniff, she managed to get a hold of herself long enough to nod, and answer Dex. “Of course, baby. Let’s go.”

Tony braced himself. Who the hell knew what his best friend had done now. He went upstairs, turned, and headed down the hall when he saw it.

“Sweet Baby Jesus.”

Only John’s head was exposed, the rest of his body swallowed by the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man costume. It was so padded, and puffy, that he’d gotten stuck in the doorway. Tony came to stand in front of him, shaking his head in disbelief. John pouted miserably.

“I’m stuck.”

Tony opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out. He closed it, looked John over, his gaze landing on his best friend’s pathetic expression, and all at once Tony was bracing himself on the wall, unable to breathe from laughing so hard.

“Thanks, pal. You are no help at all.” John grunted and growled as he tried to free himself. The more he tried to free himself, the harder Tony laughed.

“Oh, God.” He was going to run out of oxygen. Man, he wished he’d brought his camera. What was he thinking? Gina had probably already taken several pictures. Tony lay on the hall carpet on his back, his hands on his cramped side as he did his best not to look up at John.

“You bastard. Help me!”

Tony pushed himself to his feet. He pressed his lips together, and came to a stop in front of John. Assessing the situation, he finally placed his hands to John’s chest and pushed.

“Wow. You’re really wedged in there.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“I was the one who ate your donut yesterday.”

John gasped, his eyes going wide. “How could you? Traitor!”

“You already had two. You know the rules.”

John let out a huff. “I can’t believe you and my wife conspired against me.”

“No, we agreed that you need to eat less junk.” Tony looked him over. How the hell had John gotten so stuck? Probably from all that struggling. “I got an idea.” He walked across the hall to the far wall, turned, and readied himself.

“What are you doing?” John started to struggle again. “No. Stop. Don’t do it.”

Tony grinned. He was so going to enjoy this.

“You, donut-stealing son-of—”

The rest of John’s words turned into an “oomph” as Tony barreled into him at full speed. John popped out of the doorway, bounced across the room, and landed facedown by the bed cursing up a storm. Tony was on the floor laughing again.

“I hate you so much right now.” John narrowed his eyes at him before he tried to get up. All that did was roll him from side to side. Tony plopped himself down in front of John.

“What was that? I thought you said you loved me.”

John muttered something unintelligible under his breath.

“What?” Tony put a hand to his ear and leaned in. “I thought maybe I heard you say, “yes, Tony, I love you. I’d be lost without you. Please help me.” Is that what you said?”

Several more curses followed. “Yes, fine. I love you, Tony, even if you are a donut thief. I’d be lost without you. Please help me, and never speak a word of this to anyone at the office.”

With a wide grin, Tony got to his feet and grabbed John’s Stay Puft arm, and hauled him to his feet. The suit was so padded and puffy, he could barely move.

“Do you need help downstairs?” As if Tony didn’t already know the answer.

“Yes,” John muttered. “This is what I get for trying to make my son’s birthday memorable.”

“Aw, and it will be. I know I won’t forget it,” Tony teased.

“You know what? Just help me downstairs, smartass. Grab my head.”

Tony arched an eyebrow at him. “What now?”

John motioned behind him to the bed and the Marshmallow Man’s head.

“Oh! Right.”

John’s lips quirked up on one side. “Perv.”

Tony flipped him off before grabbing the head, and shoving it down over John’s, receiving a muffled “ow” in response. He was pretty sure John would have flipped him off if he could move his fingers. Instead, John shuffled toward the door. Realizing what his genius friend had done, Tony cut him off.

“Please tell me you didn’t try to just walk through the door straight on.” John’s silence spoke volumes. “You know, sometimes I wonder about you.” He ignored John cursing him out some more, and turned his friend sideways before helping him through. There was still some pushing required, but at least he didn’t get stuck. “Good thing Dex inherited Gina’s brains.”

John’s voice was muffled when he spoke, but Tony heard him just fine.

“Shut up, Tony.”

It took forever to get John downstairs, and as expected when they reached the kitchen, all the parents burst into laughter. Clearly Gina had told them it was John in there, along with what happened upstairs.

John managed to raise his arm, and Tony tried not to laugh. He was obviously flipping them off. They all followed John, very slowly, as he shuffled out into the backyard where the kids were. They squealed and jumped around in excitement. They were enthralled, running around John, shooting their Silly String at him. He growled and made monster noises as he shuffled around, pretending to go after them. Dex was fearless, shooting his blaster at the marshmallow monster.

“We have to protect the city!” Dex shouted, wielding his little blaster like a pro.

Gina took pictures, and the parents joined in on the fun. It was amazing. At least until one kid shouted out.

“The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man ate your dad!”

Uh-oh. Tony put a fist to his mouth to keep himself from bursting into laughter. He’d bet his next paycheck that John was furiously shaking his head inside the suit. Of course it was so padded that that he could barely walk much less show movement.

Dex’s big blue eyes widened, and his bottom lip trembled. Gina was about to go comfort him, and assure him his dad was just fine when Dex puffed up his chest. A murderous glare the likes of which Tony had never seen crossed the five-year old’s face. It was the kind of scowl that could scare the pants of the most steadfast officer.

“Dex, wait!” John held his puffed marshmallow man hands out in front of him. “I’m fine. It’s just a—”

Dex let out a war cry before launching himself at John, hitting his blaster against the puffy suit. The parents gasped, stunned as Dex sought revenge. Knowing the thing was padded to the gills, and John was safe from the blows meant Tony could sit back and laugh his ass off. The rest of the kids joined in, knocking John over. He bounced and rolled across the garden, Dex and the kids screaming and running after him.

“You ate my daddy!” Dex screamed, smacking John’s puffy head with his blaster.

“Dex, it’s me! I’m inside!”

In true John fashion, he was making it worse.

“Let him out!” Dex demanded. “Let him out, let him out, let him out!” He bounced on John, and Tony’s everything hurt from laughing.

Gina sidled up next to Tony. “We should probably do something to help.”

“Just give it a minute,” Tony said, doubling over when Dex jumped off John, and started rolling him across the lawn. When he got tired, he pulled on the marshmallow man’s head, and it popped off. John’s face was red and covered in sweat.

“Daddy!” Dex hugged him, and gave him kisses. “You’re not eaten.”

“No, buddy. I’m not eaten.”

“I love you,” Dex said, petting his hair.

“I love you too, champ. Now why don’t you go play, while Mommy and Tony help Daddy salvage what remains of his dignity?”

“Okay.” Dex jumped to his feet, and shouted loud enough for the whole block to hear. “Mommy! Tony! Daddy says he needs help. He lost his dignity!” Seeming not to know what that meant, Dex shrugged then ran off to play.

Tony let out a contented sigh. He smiled down at John when he reached him. “You throw the best parties.” His friend glared up at him.

“You’re lucky there are children present.”

Tony let out a hearty laugh as he and Gina helped John up. Together they escorted him back into the house. Apparently it was going to take both of them to get John out of this getup. As they headed upstairs, Gina gave Tony a wink.

“Don’t worry. There’s plenty of film left in the camera.”

Man, he loved these two.


Giveaway

We’re giving away a $10 Amazon Gift Card to 3 lucky winners. To enter, just leave a comment on this post on Charlie’s blog (for those viewing this post on Goodreads or through other feeds).

Giveaway ends 8/25/16 at 12:oo am Eastern US time. Winners will be announced on the blog and emailed for delivery of their prize.

THIRDS Thursday – 8/4/16 Dex and Sloane Interview.

THIRDS Thursdays

Hello, all! Recently Dex and Sloane were interviewed for the release of Smoke & Mirrors. They were asked questions submitted by the THIRDS Nerds. In true THIRDS Nerd awesomeness, I ended up with more questions than I could fit in one interview, so for this week’s THIRDS Thursday our dynamic duo is back to answer some more reader questions. Here we go!

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Dex and Sloane

Charlie: Hey, guys! Thanks for joining us. Ready for round two?

Sloane: I wasn’t ready for round one, so probably not.

Dex: I’m always ready. Bring it on.

Sloane: Please don’t say that.

Dex: *pets Sloane’s arm* It’s okay, babe, we got this. Unless there’s more questions about kids. *turns to Charlie* No questions about kids, right? He had empanada hangover the morning after that last interview. It was not pretty.

Sloane: *pouts and shakes his head* It was not pretty. I still love them though.

Dex: I know you do.

Charlie: No questions about kids. Promise. This one is for Sloane. We know you hear a lot of 80s tuneage by way of your partner, but what is/are your music genre(s) of choice?

Sloane: *perks up* Ooh, I can do this!

Dex: *chuckles and pats Sloane’s leg* You’re adorable.

Sloane: My music genre of choice is classic rock, and yeah, I listen to a lot of the music Dex listens to, like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Van Halen, and Queen, but I love a lot of the seventies rock. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Cheap Trick, Eagles, Doors, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, Styx, Santana, so many more. For me it’s not so much about nostalgia, though there’s that too, but really it’s about amazing music. I have trouble getting into some of today’s music. A lot of it sounds kinda same-y to me. Ash would agree. He listens to the same bands and musicians I do.

Dex: *eyes go wide* Whatever you do, don’t ask Ash about music.

Sloane: *cringes* Yeah, you don’t want to do that. Not so much because of what he listens to, but he seems to have taken today’s pop music as a personal insult to his very existence.

Dex: Rant doesn’t begin to cover it. I have never heard so many F-bombs in my life. And not only do I work with the guy, he’s dating my brother. Cursing is like breathing to him, and nothing sets him off like today’s pop music. If you’re lucky he’ll tell you to fuck off. Catch him in a bad mood, and you have no one to blame but yourself.

Charlie: Right. Well, we all know how well that warning is likely to be heeded. Speaking of Ash. Sloane, did you ever have the “boyfriend” talk with Ash and what was that like?

Dex: *blinks at Sloane innocently* Yes, Sloane. Do tell us what that was like? What kind of advice did you give Ash Keeler on dating my precious, innocent, angelic little brother?

Sloane: *clears throat* Um, it was all very PG.

Dex: *nods and steeples his fingers in front of his lips* Mhmm, I see. So, your best friend, who you grew up with, who’s practically a brother to you, didn’t ask you any questions about what it might be like doing it with a dude.

Sloane: We don’t talk about sex.

Dex: *looks at Charlie and raises hand* I would like to state for the record—and I mean this in the most adoring way possible—that Sloane Brodie, light of my life, is full of it.

Sloane: *gapes at Dex* What?

Dex: *crosses his arms over his chest* Are you seriously going to sit there and tell me that you and Ash don’t talk about sex. Ever.

Sloane: *opens his mouth to reply*

Dex: *narrows his eyes*

Sloane: *closes his mouth*

Dex: Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Sloane: Okay, look, Ash had a lot of questions, and I did my best to answer, always respectfully, considering Cael. Which by the way, is way more experienced in the sex-with-a-dude-department, and oh my God, the things he knows! *eyes go wide* We should try some of these things.

Dex: *squeals* My ears!

Sloane: *rolls his eyes* Your brother’s an adult.

Dex: My brother is a precious cookie that needs to be protected at all costs. He doesn’t have sex or think sexy thoughts.

Sloane: You’re ridiculous.

Dex: I have declared this topic adjourned!

Sloane: I don’t even know what’s happening right now. Is there another question? The talk went well. He asked, I gave advice, and apparently Cael is a cookie. Let’s move on.

Charlie: Okay, how about one for Dex. What 80’s song is your absolute ultimate favorite? The one that would be on the top of your desert island playlist?

Dex: *looks horrified* One? Why don’t you just ask me which lung is my favorite?

Sloane: *pats Dex’s head soothingly* Easy, sweetheart, breathe. It’s just a question.

Dex: That’s like asking which finger I’m least likely to miss! One song? *crosses arms over chest* I refuse to answer that question on principle.

Sloane: You’ll have to excuse him. He’s only had half a dozen cups of coffee today.

Dex: Mm, cappuccino. I could really use a cappuccino.

Sloane: We’ll get you one afterwards.

Dex: *smiles sweetly* With chocolate powder?

Sloane: With chocolate powder.

Dex: From Belgium?

Sloane: *sighs* Yes, from Belgium.

Dex: Woot! Okay. And obviously the answer would be Journey.

Charlie: Uh, the question was about which song, not which band—

Dex: Journey. The answer is Journey.

Sloane: That’s as good as it’s gonna get, so we should move on.

Charlie: Right. Dex, as perhaps the only other person Hudson knows who is marked, what kind of advice would you like to give to Hudson and Seb as they slowly ease back into their love affair (or we hope)?

Dex: *looking very stern* Get your shit together and boink each other before I lose my shit and take you all down with me. Seriously, like why? Why aren’t they together? They love each other!

Sloane: You know it’s not that simple, babe.

Dex: *throws his arms up* But it should be! He wears Seb’s T-shirts under his clothes, Sloane! The guy is going to kill me.  I haven’t felt this much angst since I was fifteen and Chad Jordan wouldn’t give me the time of day.

Sloane: Wait, are you telling me there’s a guy who didn’t get sucked into the gravitational pull of your awesome?

Dex: I know, right?! It was the worst six months of my teenage life. There was a lot of milkshakes involved.

Sloane: A whole six months. Wow.

Dex: I was fifteen and had the attention span of a gnat. Six months was record breaking. Ask my dad.

Sloane: I think I will. Fifteen-year-old emo Dex. I have to hear about this.

Dex: You know what? No. No you don’t. Let’s move onto the next question.

Charlie: This is for both of you. Any second thoughts to getting a kitten?

Sloane: *looks unimpressed*

Dex: *bursts into laughter*

Sloane: That’s not funny.

Charlie: It’s a genuine question.

Sloane: No.

Charlie: No, it’s not a genuine question, or no on the kitten?

Sloane: No on the kitten. I’m the only Felid that lives in our house.

Dex: *wipes a tear from his eye* Sloane is very territorial. A kitten would screw up the very delicate balance of his Felidness.

Sloane: That’s not a word.

Dex: It is because I just used it.

Sloane: *huffs* Whatever.

Dex: Aw, look at his face. *kisses Sloane’s cheek* You know you’re the only Felid for me.

Sloane: I know that.

Dex: *smiles sweetly* And yet…

Sloane: I don’t like anyone rubbing up against him. It would drive me crazy.

Charlie: What about a dog?

Sloane: *brightens* I like dogs. I’m definitely a dog person.

Dex: Which I think is hilarious. But actually, I’m a dog person too. I love animals in general, but really, if I had a furry best friend—not including Sloane—it would be a dog. Unfortunately, we’re not at a place where we can add a furry friend to our home. Our work hours are too erratic.

Sloane: And are likely to get more unpredictable.

Dex: That too. It wouldn’t be fair on any of us. *snuggles up to Sloane* This big grump will have to do for now.

Sloane: *wraps his arms around Dex and smiles wide* And I’m okay with that.

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Thank you all for joining us for this week’s THIRDS Thursdays. Don’t miss next week’s #TeaserTuesday where I’ll be posting a snippet from Seb and Hudson’s book.

THIRDS 2 Year Anniversary Celebration Event!!

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Hello all! Thank you so much for joining me as we celebrate the THIRDS 2 Year Anniversary!! Woot! It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since Dexter J. Daley and the Destructive Delta crew were unleashed upon the world. I often get asked if while I was writing Hell & High Water I had any idea of what the THIRDS would turn into. That would be a big nope. I submitted Rack & Ruin, book 3, to my publisher before Hell & High Water was even released. I was kinda freakin’ out. I had written three books in this new series, different to anything I’d done before, and the first book hadn’t even been released. My main thought at the time was “please don’t let this tank”. Seriously.

Two years later and I still can’t believe it. I am continuously amazed and blown away by all the love shown to these fellas and the series. After Hell & High Water, the THIRDS Nerds came onto the scene. We are now 686 members strong and still growing. There’s been THIRDS inspired fan art, fan playlists, jewelry, SIMS characters, cakes, and all kinds of awesomeness from amazing readers.

This week Smoke & Mirrors, book 7 is released. It’s been an incredible adventure, but it’s not over just yet. With Smoke & Mirrors ending the way it does, I’ve had folks asking me if this is the end of the THIRDS. Definitely not. Events were planned from the beginning to take the series in a specific direction, the question was what I’d do when we reached the end, because there would have to be an end. By mid-series I would know whether the main series would be it, or of I’d continue on to the next THIRDS adventure. It would all depend on how much I was enjoying writing the THIRDS and if readers were still enjoying reading it. By the time I wrote Against the Grain, I knew I wasn’t ready to give up writing Dex and Sloane just yet.

Right now I’m working on Seb and Hudson’s book, followed by book 9, the last Dex and Sloane book in the MAIN series. So what’s coming next? I’m super excited about what’s coming next year!! The main series may be coming to an end, but the adventure, comedy, and romance is far from done. We’re kicking things up a notch, and don’t worry, our Destructive Delta crew will still be around. Everything will be revealed in Smoke & Mirrors, the turning point in the THIRDS world, and in Dex and Sloane’s lives. There is so much planned! I can’t wait to share it all with you!

How about a little teaser?

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I know change can be a scary thing, especially when you love the characters, but you’ll have to trust me. In 2017, things about to get real.The time has come to put all that training–and then some–to use. Dex and Sloane are going to be kicking some serious butt, and although the new series will belong solely to Dex and Sloane, Destructive Delta will still play an important role. They are a family after all. We may not see them as much as we do now, but they’re not going away. Every badass operative needs to have a team at their back, and no team can make it rain fire and wrath like Destructive Delta. We’re also going to be introduced to some new key players, and be seeing a lot more of Austen and Wolf. The side stories are still happening. Austen and Zach, Bradley and Lou etc. I’ll be announcing the series name at a later date so folks have time to read Smoke & Mirrors. It all starts to make more sense there. I’ll let Dex tell you how he feels about this.

Either way, I hope you’re as excited as I am. Is the THIRDS world ready for a lethally trained Dex? We’ll soon find out. It’s like an exciting new TV series in your brain, with lots of action, explosions, kicking-butt, sexy-times, drama, angst, shenanigans, and yes, the tagline remains Action. Comedy. Romance. And that One Weird Guy. Only this time the weird guy’s a little more sharply dressed. ;)

How about we give away some goodies!!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What’s up for grabs?

5 winners: THIRDS agent T-shirt.
5 winners: Destructive Delta tote bag and character cards.
4 winners: THIRDS swag pack (Destructive Delta tote bag, character cards, THIRDS postcards, stickers, bookmarks).
3 winners: THIRDS audiobook of your choice.
3 winners: $10 Amazon Gift Card.
3 winners: Mini Sloane with character cards and THIRDS Agent mug.
1 winner: THIRDS agent coffee mug with character cards.
1 winner: Star Wars Leia and Han Solo bag with compact mirror.

THIRDS-Series-Banner

Haven’t read the THIRDS series? Would you like to get in on the shenanigans? Dreamspinner Press is having a THIRDS anniversary sale. Get 30% off Books 1 – 6, including paperbacks! Sale ends at 11:59pm (Eastern US time) Sunday, July 10th.

 

 

 

THIRDS Thursday – 6/23/16

THIRDS Thursdays


Prompt: I just thought it would make a really adorable Third’s Thursday story if on one of the many assignments the team gets sent on, Dex hides behind a dumpster and a little kitty that looks just like Sloane imprints on him. He smells like a big kitty and I think it would freak Sloane out.


Where the hell was Sloane?

Dex hauled ass through the apartment complex grounds while a wolf Therian that had strayed from his pack tried to turn Dex into kibble. Ash, Hobbs, and Cael were off taking care of the rest of the pack, and Dex had lost sight of Sloane after the stray wolf had decided to hunt Dex. His partner was out in the shadows somewhere, hunting his prey. Dex just wished he’d get to pouncing already. He managed to lose the wolf Therian after a few strategic turns through the maze of buildings. Thinking he heard a growl, Dex ducked behind a building and hid behind a huge metal dumpster. He listened carefully, but instead of hearing a growl, he heard a tiny mew.

What the…? Turning, Dex gasped, his hand going to his chest. It was a teeny tiny black kitten with bright amber eyes. When he spoke it was in an awed whisper. “Look at you! So precious.” He reminded Dex of Sloane, but pocket-sized. Dex had never seen anything so adorable. “Hey, little guy.” Dex chuckled as the tiny kitten rubbed up against him. The poor little thing could easily fit inside one of his boots and have ample room to move around. The kitten’s tiny meows were barely audible, and Dex wouldn’t have heard him if it hadn’t been so quiet.

 “Aw, what are you doing out here all by yourself.” He scratched under its chin with his gloved fingers, smiling at the sweet little purr it let out. For a moment he got distracted, until a low growl snapped his attention away from the kitten. Dex carefully peered around the edge of the dumpster. There was nothing there. Shit. Where the hell was it coming from? He was about to make a move when the kitten meowed. Damn. He couldn’t leave the poor thing behind. Who knew what would happen.

“All right, buddy. You’re coming with me.” He picked the kitten up and tucked it into one of his tactical vest’s ample pockets. The kitten was so small he fit right in, his furry head poking out. The kitten looked up at Dex and meowed. “We’re going for a little run, okay? Just hang tight.”

Slowly, Dex edged out from behind the dumpster, his tranq rifle in his hand. He kept to the wall as close as possible, his tactical backpack scraping against the brick. Listening, there was the sound of Ash’s roar in the distance and Cael’s faint chirps. Had they caught all the wolf Therians? Turning the corner, he froze. A wolf Therian stood with fur bristled, his fangs bare as he growled at Dex.

“Take it easy there, buddy.” Dex held a hand up and the wolf Therian snapped his jaws. Dex aimed his rifle, ready to fire a tranq when something black barreled into the furry wolf Therian, sending the guy soaring several feet before he rolled in the grass.

Sloane leaped after the wolf and roared, the sound echoing through the quiet courtyard. With bone-crushing fangs bare, Sloane hissed and the wolf Therian smartly rolled onto his back, paws up in surrender as he released a whine. Dex let out a shaky breath before tapping his earpiece.

“Rosa, Sloane’s got the last one. Send Ash and Hobbs over to escort him back to the truck.”

“They’re on their way.”

“Thanks.”

Ash, Hobbs, and Cael appeared seconds later, and while Ash and Hobbs escorted their perp back to the BearCat, Cael came bounding over. He skidded to a halt and sniffed the air. With a cheerful chirp, he stretched his neck up and sniffed at the kitten in Dex’s pocket.

“I found him behind the dumpster. Isn’t he adorable?”

Cael chirped and the kitten meowed. It stuck a paw out and tapped Cael’s nose. Cael’s tail twitched before he ran circles around Dex, bouncing and chirping like crazy. Dex couldn’t keep himself from laughing.

“You two are too cute. Stop it.”

Clearly interested in seeing what all the fuss was about, Sloane warily approached, and when he reached Dex, he stretched his thick, sleek neck up to sniff the kitten. He hissed, and to Dex’s surprise, the tiny kitten hissed back. Sloane growled in response.

“Oh come on, babe. It’s just a kitten. Look at how itty bitty he is. He’s like a mini you.”

Sloane flattened his ears. He paced in front of Dex before circling him, sniffing him. He looked up at Dex and hissed.

“He may have rubbed up on me.” Was his partner really jealous of a kitten?

Sloane circled Dex, rubbing his head and body against him wherever he could reach him. Well, that answered that question. Dex tried not to laugh. He was sure his partner wouldn’t appreciate it. Rubbing up against another dude’s boyfriend was not cool, even for a tiny cat. Once Sloane was done, they headed back to the BearCat where everyone made a fuss over the kitten except for Sloane and Ash. Sloane was still jealous and Ash just didn’t give a crap. No surprise there.

Since the back of the BearCat was currently occupied by six locked up wolf Therians in Therian form, Sloane, Ash, Cael, and Hobbs remained in their Therian forms until they got back to HQ. All the while, Dex talked to the kitten, explaining to him what he was doing as he administered PSTC to Sloane. Once Sloane had recovered and dressed, he sat on the bench of the changing room, his narrowed eyes on Dex’s vest.

“Dude, seriously?”

Sloane’s frown deepened, his intense glare on the tiny ball of black fur in Dex’s arms. “I don’t trust him.”

“It’s a kitten.” Dex scratched behind the kitten’s ears, smiling as it purred and rubbed his head against Dex’s shirt.

“He knows what he’s doing.”

“And what’s that?” Dex asked, trying not to sound as amused as he felt that his huge jaguar Therian partner was glaring at the kitten like it was evil itself.

“He’s trying to steal you away from me.”

Dex pressed his lips together, the pout on Sloane’s face almost too much. His boyfriend was such an adorable dork at times. “I’m sure he’s not. Why don’t you come say hello?”

With a grumble, Sloane shuffled over, his bottom lip jutted out tragically before he reached out to pet the kitten. In true mini-Sloane style, the kitten hissed and swatted him, claws out.

“Ow! He scratched me,” Sloane growled. “The little bastard.”

“Aw, I think he was protecting me.”

“Protecting you?” Sloane crossed his arms over his chest. “I protect you. Me. I’m your boyfriend. I’m bigger. And scarier.”

“You are all those things, my love.” Dex held the kitten away from Sloane as he planted a kiss on Sloane’s stubbly jaw. If his partner were in Therian form, his fur would be bristling. Sloane peered at the kitten.

“I’m a lethal Felid, that’s a hairball with eyes.”

Dex let out a bark of laughter. “Okay, take it easy, handsome. How about we go get you some real food, and then we see if anyone in Unit Alpha wants to give this fella a home.”

Sloane wrinkled his nose, and Dex gave his jaw another kiss. “Then we can take a shower, and maybe head to one of the sleeper bays where I can show you how you’re the only Felid for me.”

Sloane didn’t hesitate. He grabbed Dex, took his mouth in a scorching kiss, stealing Dex’s breath away, before he released Dex and jutted a finger at the kitten.

“Mine. You get your own.”

With that, he stormed off and Dex followed, a big dopey grin on his face. God, he loved that man.

THIRDS Thursday – 6/16/16

THIRDS Thursdays

This week’s prompt is the winning prompt form the THIRDS Beyond the Books: Volume 1 Release Day event!


Prompt: I am begging no I am pleading lol for a scene with Dex and Sloane (something funny and sweet or even badass) from Sloane’s therian point of view. I don’t care if his jaguar says “mine” the whole time I just want to know what he thinks about or what his instincts are saying…preferably a scene either after Sloane stopped trying to fight his feelings or after they’ve officially been together (but not necessarily marked), and they’re either just having fun or being badass out in the field.


I won’t let you get away.

Sloane skulked in the deep shadows, his dark fur helping to conceal him. His prey lay unsuspecting, his back turned to him. Never turn your back on a Felid.

His paws made no sound as he slinked forward, his sharp gaze focused on his quarry. Sloane loved to hunt. Loved the thrill of it. He was stronger, faster, deadlier. His prey was at his mercy.

Flattening himself down against the concrete of the parking garage, he crawled out from the shadows then dashed behind a car. His tail twitched. He remained unseen, and his prey unsuspecting. Or so he believed.

Dex stood from his crouched position, his eyes still focused on the tablet in his hands. “I know what you’re doing,” Dex said, his voice loud enough for Sloane to hear. “I know you need to hunt and all, but I would appreciate it if you didn’t scare the shit out of me while doing it.”

Sloane stilled. To pounce or not to pounce? Pounce. Always pounce.

Dex returned his tablet to the padded pocket of his tactical pants. “Okay. We’re doing this.” He tapped his earpiece. “Hey, Sarge. Sloane’s in hunt me mode. Yeah. You know how he gets if he doesn’t get it out of his system. Okay. Meet you back at HQ.”

Dex rubbed his gloves together, his grin wide. “All right, babe. Perps are in the truck on their way back to HQ. It’s just you and me.” He stilled and pointed off in the distance. “Hey, is that Cory from the doctor’s office over by the elevator?”

Sloane popped his head up and hissed in the direction of the elevator. Cory the nurse? He’d wanted Dex. Sloane roared and bounded out from behind the car. He flattened his ears, his fangs bare when he saw there was no one at the elevator. He’d been tricked!

Sloane waggled his tail and perked his ears up. Dex was gone. Not gone. Sloane could smell him. Have to hide. Sloane dashed behind another car. Tricky. He’s tricky. Sloane lowered himself so he could see under the parked cars. Nothing. He listened closely. Nothing. Why couldn’t he hear Dex? He could always hear Dex. Sloane sniffed the air. Dex was getting closer.

Something hit Sloane’s butt and he darted out from behind the car with a hiss, a soft laugh meeting his ear. Looking around he didn’t see Dex. Slowly, Sloane edged to where he’d been and sniffed the object that had landed on him. A packet of gummy bears. Sloane huffed. Dex knew where he was.

Suddenly there were boot steps, coming fast. Sloane shot forward as Dex rounded the car on his tail almost grabbing him. Dex chased him around the parking lot, behind cars, between cars, with Sloane staying out of reach. When Dex stopped to catch his breath, Sloane pounced, knocking him onto his side. Dex laughed and rolled onto his back. His eyes were so bright, his smile wide. He was perfect, and he was Sloane’s.

“You got me. Maybe next time you can hunt me on some nice soft grass or carpet instead of concrete. How’s that sound?”

Sloane licked Dex’s face making him wrinkle his nose. “Ew. Just not the ear, okay?” Dex ruffled Sloane’s fur and Sloane nuzzled Dex’s temple, huffing out a happy breath, his eyes closed in contentment.

“Hey! Get off him! What are you doing?”

Sloane’s ears perked up, and his fur bristled. He stood over Dex, fangs bare as he hissed at the approaching Human.

“Woah, hey! It’s okay.” Dex held a hand up and slowly pushed Sloane off with the other.

Don’t push me. I’m protecting you. Sloane growled, his gaze moving to the man watching them. A sniff told him the man was scared. He didn’t stand a chance against Sloane. Not a threat.

“Hank?”

The big man blinked, then seeming to recognize Dex, his smile went wide. “Dexter Daley? Holy shit.” He held his hand out, and Dex quickly slapped it away before Sloane could snap at him.

Maybe threat. Put your hand in my face again.

“Sorry, dude,” Dex said with a laugh. “You don’t want to do that. Not unless you want to lose that hand. I’m good. This is my THIRDS partner, Sloane Brodie.”

Boyfriend. He’s mine. My partner. My Dex. You smell like moth balls and too much cologne. Sloane sneezed and stuck his tongue out. Gross.  

Dex stood and held his hand out to the Humam. “Man, it’s been a long time.”

“Yeah. You’d just graduated from the academy and were celebrating.” He looked Dex over with his deep brown eyes. His scent changed, and Sloane flattened his ears. He didn’t like that smell. The man took a step closer to Dex.

Too close.

“Wow, look at you. A THIRDS agent.”

“Yeah, trippy, huh?” Dex put his hands on his hips and shrugged. “So how have you been?” The man didn’t move away.

Boundaries.

Sloane edged closer.

Still too close. Maybe he doesn’t see me. I should get closer to Dex. He lifted his butt and sat on Dex’s boot. He looked up at the man. Mine. This is mine. Finish talking and go away.

Dex cringed and scratched the stubble on his jaw. “Listen, um,” he cleared his throat, his scent changing. Was he nervous? Sloane looked up at Dex. He’s embarrassed.

“I’m sorry I didn’t, um, call you back the next day.”

The man smiled. “Or ever.”

“Yeah, or ever,” Dex said with a chuckle.

Why was he still talking? Too much talking. Wait. Why was Dex sorry for not calling. Sloane sniffed the air. He sniffed the man again. Sloane’s fur bristled from his head to his tail. He drew his claws out and hissed. He knew what this man was.

My teeth and claws are sharper than yours. Want to see? Move. Away. Move away now.

The man jumped and took a step back.

“Shit, your partner looks pissed.”

“Easy there, tough guy.” Dex scratched behind Sloane’s ear and he leaned in to the scratch. So good. Mmm. To the left a bit, just a little… that’s it right there. He closed his eyes and breathed out, releasing a motor-like sound.

“Is he… purring?”

“Big cats don’t purr. Well, technically they don’t. I say they do. I mean that lawnmower sound you hear right there is purring. He just does it on exhalation, so it’s not considered a “true” purr. My little brother on the other hand, he purrs on inhalation and exhalation because he’s a cheetah Therian. And that’s your Felid Factoid of the day.”

The man laughed, catching Sloane’s attention again. He opened his eyes and stared up at him. Why was he laughing and smiling like that? Sloane rubbed his head against Dex’s leg. Sloane let out a huff when he remembered. The man wouldn’t smell him on Dex. He’s human. Dex already smelled like Sloane, but this man needed to know. Sloane circled Dex, sniffing his feet, and Dex jumped back.

“Woah, no. No. You are not pissing on me.”

Sloane mewed and Dex gave him a stern look. “Sloane, no. I am not walking around with the smell of your piss on me. We talked about this.”

Sloane flopped down on his belly with a huff.

“Sulk all you want. It’s not happening. Rubbing on me is one thing, but I draw the line at marking your territory on me.”

“He’s actually done that?”

“Yeah. He’s a little protective, and well, he’s my boyfriend, so he can get a little possessive when he’s in his Therian form.”

The man stared at him. He took a quick step back. “Oh my God, Dex. Your boyfriend is a lethal jaguar Therian who works for the THIRDS, and you’re talking about us in front of him?”

Us?

Dex smiled down at Sloane, his eyes filled with warmth and love. “It’s a bit embarrassing, but Hank and I slept together one night after celebrating my graduating from the academy. I was a dick and never called him back.” He turned his attention back to Hank. “I’m sorry. That was a jerk move.”

Hank looked from Sloane to Dex. “It’s okay. I get it. It was just a onetime thing. No big deal.” He swallowed hard and motioned to Sloane. “Is, uh, he okay?”

“He will be once he’s back to his Human form. He’s a little intense like this so, you know, don’t make any sudden movements or anything. Anyway, it was good seeing you, Hank. If you ever need anything, just give me a ring. I’m down at the Manhattan HQ.”

“Thanks, Dex.” He made to hold a hand out then seemed to think better of it. Instead he waved and slowly backed away. Sloane watched him until the man got into a car and drove off.  Dex crouched down in front of him.

“So, you okay? It was one night, a long time ago.”

Sloane licked his face.

Don’t like it, but okay.

What mattered was that Dex was his now.

“I love you,” Dex said, wrapping his arms around Sloane and squeezing. Sloane chuffed, and purred. He padded alongside Dex as they walked to the elevator. Dex pulled out his cellphone and called Cael.

“Hey, you mind picking us up? Great, see you in a few. Yeah, he—” Dex sighed, dropping his head, his eyes closed. “He just peed on me.”

Sloane could hear Cael laughing.

Hi, Cael! Sloane liked Cael. Cael was good. Sweet. A good cheetah. Good agent.

“Could you bring some extra pants? Thanks. You can stop laughing anytime.” Dex put his phone away and arched an eyebrow at Sloane.

What?

“I guess I deserved that. Thanks for not turning Hank into a scratching post.”

Sloane closed his eyes and opened his mouth.

“Yeah, I know you’re pleased with yourself. We’ll see how pleased you feel when you’re back to walking on two legs and I remind you of what you did.”

Sloane rubbed his head against Dex’s leg. Mine. All mine.

Always.


THIRDS copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published with Dreamspinner Press.

THIRDS Thursday – 6/9/16

THIRDS Thursdays

Prompt: I’d love to read about the first time Dex called Tony “Dad”. I mean, how did he transition from calling Maddock “Uncle Tony” to “Dad”? Was it a natural instinct?


“You’re so full of it.”

Tony arched an eyebrow at his older sister. “Why don’t you tell me what you really think, Danelle?”

Danelle chuckled as she leaned against the counter. Her expression softened and her warm brown eyes filled with concern. “You can’t pull one over on me, Anthony. I remember when you were in diapers just like Cael.”

“Thanks. That’s… informative.”

“Don’t be a smartass.”

Tony gave her an incredulous look. “I’m sorry, have we met?”

“No wonder that boy’s a little smartass,” Danelle muttered, though she was clearly trying not to smile. Tony knew his sister loved Dex something fierce. Cael too.

“I’m fine,” he promised, holding a finger up before she could reply. “Cael’s about to wake up from his nap in four… three… two… one.” The baby monitor crackled to life before the sound of gurgling followed by wailing filled the kitchen.

Danelle stared at the monitor. “That child has some lungs on him.”

Tony chuckled as he took the baby bottle from the pot of heated water on the stove, checking the temperature before heading for the stairs, his sister close behind. “And he’s supposed to be the quiet one,” Tony mused.  They walked into his bedroom to the custom made crib against the wall, opposite his bed. He handed the baby bottle to his sister so he could lower the side of the crib to get Cael out since Tony couldn’t reach over the top.

Tony had learned pretty quick that Therian babies were tiny acrobats. As soon as Cael could pull himself up, he was climbing the bars of his human crib like he was a seasoned pro. Thankfully Tony’s reflexes were nothing to be scoffed at and he’d managed to make a dive for Cael just as his son decided to practice his soaring skills.

“I will admit these two have pushed my adrenaline to new heights. More than any perp ever has.” He cradled Cael in his arms and took the bottle from his sister.

“I just worry about you,” Danelle said quietly, stroking Cael’s chubby cheek as Tony fed Cael. “You know I’ll always be here for you and these boys, but, Tony, people are pissed. They think it’s not right, you adopting a Therian child. The ink’s barely dry, and your job’s on the line. What if they fire you? How are you gonna take care of these boys?”

“We have you, don’t we?” Tony teased, giving her a wink. “You got enough in your fridge to feed Dex for at least….” Tony thought about it. “Three weeks. At least. Maybe.”

Danelle laughed. “I don’t know where that boy puts all that food. I know he’s growing, but he eats almost as much as you do, and this one,” she motioned to Cael who was making little baby noises as he drank his milk, “he’s going to grow up and his Therian metabolism will kick in. These boys are going to eat you out of house and home.”

“Look at him, Danelle.” Tony turned so his sister could get a good look at Cael, not that she hadn’t made a big fuss over him before. “Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same.”

She opened her mouth to reply then closed it. With a huff, she folded her arms over her chest. “Yeah, fine. I know.” She smiled down at Cael and cooed at him, making him smile as he continued to drink. Little wrinkles formed at the corners of his big gray eyes.

“I know this is all new. Believe me, it scares the hell out of me. You think I don’t wake up in the middle of the night asking myself if I’ve gone crazy? Me? With two kids? I couldn’t even keep a cactus from drying up. I mean, who kills a cactus?” He shook his head with a sigh. Tears sprang in his eyes, and he walked over to the bed to sit down. He looked up at his sister. “I miss them, Danelle. I miss him. God, I miss him.”

Danelle took a seat on the edge of the bed beside him. She ran her hand over his head. “I know, honey. I know what they meant to you. What he meant to you.”

“Sometimes I wake up, and it’s like a I can’t breathe. When I’m at work, or out and I see some stupid thing I think John would like, that would have made him laugh, and it’s like I can’t breathe. I keep thinking, what if I screw this up? John was the one who kept me from getting too serious, too focused on the job.” He frowned at the tear his sister wiped away from his cheek, not realizing it had made its escape. Man, was the heartache ever going to dull?

“And now these babies will do that for you, Anthony.” She stood and stepped in front of him. “These boys need you. Dex needs to heal, you need to heal, and that little one in your arms needs to be loved and protected from the morons of this world. Who better to school those idiots than you, huh?” She kneeled down in front of him, her hand going to Cael’s soft fuzz sticking up. It always made Tony smile, and it made Dex giggle his little head off. “If anyone can raise these boys to be good, honest young men, it’s you.”

Tony nodded, not being able to bring himself to speak. The front door closed downstairs, and he smiled at the sound of stomping on the stair. Danelle stood with a chuckle.

“Uh oh, here comes trouble.”

Dex swept into the room with all the theatrics disposable to a six-year-old. “Aunt Danelle!” He launched himself into her arms, squeezing her tight, and making her laugh.

“Hey, kiddo.”

Once he’d gotten his hug from Danelle, Dex skipped over to Tony and gave his cheek a kiss before he planted a kiss on Cael’s head. “Can I finish feeding him?”

Tony nodded. He loved how involved Dex was with Cael. Just four months in and Dex was taking his big brother responsibilities very seriously. He helped Tony in everything when it came to caring for Cael, from feeding to changing his diaper, and even reading him stories at bedtime.

Dex sat on the bed, and Tony handed him the blanket which Dex painstakingly arranged on his lap. The kid was a neat freak, just like Gina. Tony smiled before carefully placing Cael in Dex’s arms. Dex held the bottle, his feet subtly swinging. He was always fidgeting. That he got from John.

“Can I have chicken nuggets for dinner? Pleeeease?” Dex asked, smiling widely, showing the gap where his top two front teeth used to be. It was adorable.

“Okay, but only if you promise to eat your peas.”

Dex wrinkled his nose. He narrowed his eyes at Tony. “How many peas?”

“You want an exact number?” Beside Tony, Danelle put her hand to her mouth to keep herself from laughing.

“Sounds like someone else I know,” she muttered.

Tony glared at her before turning his attention back to Dex who very grown-up-like handed Tony Cael’s empty baby bottle.

“Wait until you hear all about school today,” Dex told Cael. “But I’ll tell you later. First….” Dex arched a little blond brow at Tony. Lord, help him. The kid was too smart for his own good at six. He was going to have to keep his wits sharp the older Dex got.

“Forty-five,” Tony said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Dex pursed his lips, and Tony could see the little wheels turning. Here we go.

“Ten.”

Tony laughed. “No way. Forty.”

Danelle looked on in amusement as they negotiated over peas. These days Dex negotiated everything, from how long he could play Nintendo to what time he’d go to bed. Tony had witnessed hostage negotiations with fewer demands.

“Eighteen,” Dex countered, wriggling his fingers under Cael’s chin, making him gurgle and squeal.

Tony planted his hands on his hips, his eyes narrowed. “Thirty-five.”

“Twenty-two.”

“Thirty, and that’s my final offer.”

Dex pursed his lips. “Thirty and I get an extra cookie.”

Danelle snickered and Tony shook his head at her. “You’re not helping.”

“I’m sorry.” She turned and laughed into hers hands. Clearly she wasn’t sorry.

Tony walked over and took Cael from Dex. “Deal. Now go do your homework.”

“Woot!” Dex jumped off the bed, running victory laps around the room. Tony had just put Cael down in his crib and turned on the musical lion mobile set that Cael loved to swat at when Dex tackle hugged him. With an “oomph” Tony hugged Dex back.

“Okay, little man. I love you too.”

“Thanks, Dad!” Dex skipped off and Tony stared after him. His knees felt weak, and he held onto the crib. Danelle turned to stare wide-eyed at him.

“Did he just….”

Tony nodded. “I uh… I need to sit down.” He flopped down on the bed wondering if he’d heard what he thought he had. Of course he had. Danelle had heard it too.

“How long has it been since—”

“Sixteen months,” Tony stated. He was still sorting through the red tape of Dex and Cael’s adoptions. He was still showing up in the news as the first Human to adopt a Therian child. John and Gina’s house was still sitting there, untouched because Tony still couldn’t bring himself to sell it, and not because of the assholes who said he was taking advantage. Like he’d ever touch a penny of John and Gina’s insurance money. Everything was in Dex’s name. Not one penny touched. Tony would raise his boys on his own, with his own hard earned money. What Gina and John left behind would go toward Dex’s future, and when he was old enough, he could do whatever he wanted to do with it. Whatever happened, Tony would make sure his boys were well taken care of. His boys.

Dad.

Danelle’s arm around his shoulder gave him a start, and he shook his head. “Do you think he knows what he said?”

His sister gave his shoulders a squeeze. “You know Dex. When does he ever not know what he’s saying? He’s smart. Sometimes too smart,” she teased. “Negotiating peas.”

Tony chuckled before getting serious again. “Do you think I should talk to him?”

“Go on. I’ll look after Cael.” She gave his cheek a kiss and went to the crib. She knew him too well. He’d mull over it, worrying about Dex until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He walked downstairs to the dinner table where Dex was doing his homework. Needing to fortify himself, he poured them each a glass of milk and put some chocolate chip cookies on a plate. He brought everything over to the table and sat down. Dex looked at the cookies then up at him, his eyes wide.

“What’s wrong?”

Tony couldn’t help his smile. “Who says something is wrong?” He held up a cookie, chuckling when Dex eyed it warily.

“You always say snacks before dinner will fill you up.” Dex took the cookie, looked at it, and shrugged before biting a chunk out of it.

“I do say that. Dex, did you… um….” He cleared his throat. “You called me dad.”

Dex blinked at him, his mouth full of cookie. He gulped down some of his milk before his expression turned puzzled. “Yeah.”

“Yes,” Tony corrected.

“Yes,” Dex replied with a nod. He cocked his head. “Is that bad?” His pale blue eyes grew glassy. “Because you’re not daddy, should I not call you dad?” He looked hurt and Tony quickly reached out, pulling Dex onto his lap, rocking him and running a hand over his hair.

“No, that’s not it at all, kiddo.” He squeezed Dex tight. “I think it’s great. I love it. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. You know that calling me dad, or thinking of me as dad won’t change how much your daddy loved you or how much you love him. You know that right?”

Dex nodded, his cheeks pink as he sniffed, tears in his eyes. “I know. You’re never going to go away, right? You’re going to be dad now, for me and Cael. We’re a family now.”

Tony kissed the top of Dex’s head, his arms wrapped tight around him as Dex hugged him back. “Yeah, we’re a family, kiddo.”

“Yes,” Dex corrected.

Tony smiled, his heart all but ready to burst.

“Yes.”


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

THIRDS Thursday – 5/26/16

THIRDS Thursdays

Prompt: Could we maybe see Tony and Dex’s parents? Could be before or after Dex was born. :)


“I blame John.”

Tony chuckled and looked up from his newspaper. Gina groaned as she slowly walked around the living room.

“It takes two to tango,” Tony said, motioning to Gina’s big pregnant belly. She was due any day now, and the closer she got to giving birth, the more she blamed John. Of course John never took it to heart. He was a loving husband who did his best to make sure Gina had everything she needed to be comfortable. They were as prepared as two soon-to-be parents could be.

Gina arched an eyebrow at Tony before her pale blue eyes narrowed. He gingerly lifted the newspaper in front of him to hide his face from her. If she had the slightest inkling he found her amusing she’d launch a throw pillow at his head. Wouldn’t be the first time. John said that for a pregnant woman, she had reflexes like a ninja.

“That’s not what I meant.” She groaned again, and he looked up to make sure she was okay. She rubbed her belly as she walked. “This kid thinks I’m an obstacle course. He’s like John. Always fidgeting.”

“Yeah, but you love the big dope.”

Gina let out a school-girl sigh. “I do. He’s so pretty.”

Tony laughed. “That’s why he gets away with everything. He just bats those pretty eyes and you’re a goner.”

Gina let out a very indelicate snort. “Please. Like you’re immune to that smile.”

“Smile doesn’t get me,” Tony replied with a shake of his head. “It’s that damned dimple. That and the fact he does whatever the hell he wants anyway.”

“We both love the dope, so you’re as screwed as I am. What’s today’s headline?”

“Oh no.” Tony quickly closed the paper and folded it up as Gina glared at him. He’d been given very clear instructions not to let Gina read the papers. A few months ago the government started the Therian database, requiring Therians to go to their nearest CDC clinic for classification. It was rumored they were creating a system that would have Therians marked. John had been furious, as had Tony. Gina had been livid, launching a campaign against the movement and becoming the first medical officer at the CDC Registration Office to volunteer working specifically with Therians, a position she’d demanded be introduced. No one said no to Gina Daley.

John decided that reading the newspaper was off limits for a while. The headlines upset her too much. Of course Gina was as stubborn as her husband. Telling her she couldn’t do something was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Gina Daley was a stunning young woman who stood at five foot three without heels, had dirty blonde hair and the palest blue eyes Tony had ever seen. She looked angelic in her pink flowered maternity dress. She could also put the fear of God in any mortal, including him.

“Tony, give me the paper.”

He blinked up at her innocently. “It’s under my butt.”

“I don’t care. Besides, I’ve seen your butt.”

Tony felt his face burn. “That wasn’t my fault.”

“Of course it wasn’t,” Gina agreed, “but that’s what you get when you let John convince you to take your clothes off in protest of campus Therian segregation. That wasn’t going to get you two anything other than some serious rubbernecking. It was like a feeding frenzy. You know how many fellow students I had to chase off that day? Geniuses you two.”

Tony shrugged, and did his best not to laugh at the memory. “We were a couple of stupid college kids.” Poor John. It said something that he was more terrified of losing Gina to his shenanigans than he’d been about getting kicked out of school. Gina had been annoyed with her fiancé, but she adored John, crazy antics and all. He learned pretty quick after that. “That was such a long time ago, Gina. We’ve both matured.”

“That was two years ago.”

Tony pursed his lips. “I got nothing.”

“Between your ears apparently. Like John. Give me the paper.”

Tony put a hand to his chest. “Ouch. You want me to get you some chocolate or something?”

“Anthony Maddock, so help me if you don’t give me that damned newspaper I’m going to—” She let out a groan/yell combo that scared the shit out of him. She was either about to kick his ass, or she’d just had her first contraction. They stared at each other, wide-eyed.

“Was that…?”

Gina nodded.

“Do you think it’s time?” He watched as Gina walked around, breathing in and out through her mouth. Less than a minute later another contraction hit and nothing she did made it stop.

“I blame John!”

“Yeah, it’s all John’s fault. Just breathe. I’ll get your bag.” He jumped from his chair, making a swipe for the newspaper before Gina could grab it. He shook his head at her. “Woman, you’re going into labor! Forget the damn newspaper!”

“Fine!” She breathed deeply in and out as he ran to get her overnight bag from the hall closet where he knew it was. The three of them had come up with an action plan in order to be prepared for this day. Another scream soon met his ear, and he hurried back to the living room. Where the hell was John?

As if by magic, John walked through the door. “Hey, baby. I got you your chocolate chip ice cream and potato chips.” He grinned that big school-boy grin of his.

“John, this is all your fault!” Gina shrieked.

“What?” John looked between her and Tony. “What did I do?” His eyes went wide and he gasped. “I swear, it’s just a scratch.”

Uh-oh.

Gina turned to face John as she huffed, doing her best to control her breathing. “What’s just a scratch?”

“Um….” He looked to Tony for help, but Tony had no idea what the hell his best friend was talking about. Knowing John, it could be anything. Realization hit John, and he stared at Gina. “Wait, are you… are you going into labor?” John rushed over and took hold of her hand. His eyes got all teary and a grin stretched across his face. “We’re having a baby.” His dimple appeared, and Gina was a goner. She burst into happy tears.

“We’re having a baby.”

“Okay. We need to um….” He ran to the hall, opened the closet then released a panicked cry. “It’s gone!”

“John,” Tony called out, trying to get his friend’s attention as John frantically ran around the house, opening and closing doors. He ran back into the living room.

“The bag is gone! Oh my God, I’m not prepared for this!”

Gina let out another painful cry, and John Joined her. Tony didn’t know whether to laugh or join in too. He lifted the bag in front of him.

“John. The bag’s right here.”

John snatched it away from him. “You couldn’t have said something sooner?”

“I tried,” Tony said, holding back a laugh.

“All right, let’s go.” John took Gina’s arm and breathed with her as they headed for the front door. Tony locked up, seeing as how John was occupied with other thoughts like not freaking out. John helped Gina into the back of Tony’s black and gold Firebird then climbed in after her, leaving the overnight bag on the floor. With a smile, Tony placed it in the front passenger seat. It was probably best he hold onto it.

Tony stayed calm, letting John do all the breathing and creaming as he got them to the hospital. It was adorable watching his best friend all but carry Gina inside. He hovered over her, talking to her, breathing with her, comforting her. He asked a million questions, hovered over the nurses, asked them about things he’d read in books. While John took care of his wife, Tony took care of John. If he didn’t, who else would? Tony kept John in fresh supply of coffee, and when the time came, Tony was asked to wait outside by the nurse. Only family was permitted to stay, and usually that just entailed the parents.

“No.” John shook his head at the nurse as he held on tight to Gina’s hand. “He’s family. He stays.”

Tony swallowed past the lump in his throat. “John, it’s okay.”

John looked determined. “I want you to stay.” His expression softened. “Please.”

How could Tony say no? He nodded, and tried his best not to give into the tears that threatened to break free, especially when Gina threw her free hand out to him. He quickly took hold of it, and cursed under his breath when Gina all but broke his fingers. John laughed, tears running down his face.

“Now the pain’s evenly distributed.”

Tony would have flipped him off if the room wasn’t full of hospital staff. For what seemed like hours, Gina screamed, breathed, pushed, cursed them, threatened them, burst into sporadic laughter then tears, while Tony and John did the same. Next thing Tony knew, there was a hearty cry, one that hadn’t come from Gina, her husband, or Tony.

“Kids got some lungs on him,” Tony said with a laugh.

“Gets it… from… John,” Gina huffed, breathless.

“Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Daley, it’s a beautiful, healthy, baby boy.” The nurse handed a wrapped bundle to Gina, who burst into fresh tears. Tony had to pull out his own handkerchief. Man, they were bawling worse than the baby. The room quieted, and John kissed his wife. Tony’s heart swelled, and he had to turn away from the tender moment. There was so much love coming from those two as they held their little boy. Tony felt blessed to be a part of this. Gina and John weren’t just his best friends. They were his family. He loved them fiercely.

A pair of strong arms wrapped around Tony, and he felt John press his head against his back. “Thank you.”

Tony chuckled. He turned and hugged John back. “For what?”

“For being the brother I never had.”

Sweet baby Jesus, the man was going to be the death of him. “Being a daddy’s made you sappy.”

John laughed, his blue eyes sparkling. He pulled back, his grin huge. “I’m a dad!”

“Heaven help us all,” Tony teased. “That boy is going to be spoiled rotten.”

“By who? You?” John walked back over to Gina who was singing softly to her baby boy.

“I plead the fifth,” Tony said as Gina motioned for him to come over. She moved the soft blue blanket so Tony could get a look at the little wrinkled bundle. He had Gina’s big blue eyes and pouty pink lips with rosy cheeks. He was absolutely adorable. Tony loved him already. Gina smiled lovingly at her baby.

“Anthony Maddock, meet Dexter Justice Daley. Dex, meet your Uncle Tony.”

Dex stared up at him before putting a tiny fist to his mouth. He wasn’t still for a moment, wriggling and making baby noises, like he was ready to start talking already.

“Oh Lord, this one’s gonna be a handful.” Tony couldn’t stop smiling. He kissed Gina’s cheek. “Congratulations, sweetheart. He’s beautiful.”

John cooed at Dex before clearing his throat. “I may have put a little scratch on your Camaro.”

Tony put his hand up and took a step back. “I had nothing to do with it.”

“You’re lucky I’m too tired and too in love with my baby boy to strangle you.”

“I love you too.” John chuckled and kiss the top of Dex’s head. “And you, my little man. Here’s your first lesson. Never, ever put a scratch on mommy’s car. It’s precious. Not as precious as you though.” He made cooing noises, and Tony shook his head in amusement. “We need a picture.” John hurried over to Gina’s overnight bag.

“John, I look terrible.”

John rushed back, his shiny new 35mm Canon camera in hand. He kissed Gina, and ran a hand lovingly over her head. “Baby, you’re glowing. Come on. It’s Dex’s first day with his new family.”

There was that dimple again.

“Okay.” Gina held Dex, and Tony situated himself closer as John instructed the nurse how to take the picture. When he was done, he took position beside Gina. He gave Tony and wink and they both leaned in to give Gina’s cheeks a kiss, making her giggle. There was a “click”, and the nurse took a few more photos before Gina said she was tired. The nurse took little Dex, but not before they all showered some more love on him.

They left Gina to rest, and went to get some more coffee. John was quiet, which was unusual for him.

“Hey, you okay, man?”

John nodded then wiped another tear form his eye. “I’m a dad.”

“Yeah, you are,” Tony said with a smile when John’s brows furrowed. He was worried. “Hey, you’re gonna be an amazing dad.”

“It’s kind of terrifying, knowing how much he’s depending on me. He’s going to be looking to me to for everything. Whatever I say, whatever I do could impact the kind of man he’s going to become. What if… what if I mess up?”

Tony took hold of John’s shoulders. “John, Dex is going to be just fine. You know how I know that?”

“How?”

“Because he has you for a father.”

John smiled. He sniffed and wiped at his eyes. “Thanks.”

“Between you and Gina, that little boy couldn’t be more loved.”

“He’s got you too,” John reminded him.

“That he does.” Whatever Dex needed, Tony would always be there for him. “Poor Gina. Now she’s got two kids wreaking havoc.” If Dex was anything like his daddy, he was going to drive her up the wall.

“Hey!” John gave Tony a playful shove. “I resemble that remark.”

Tony laughed and the two of them walked out into a small garden outside the café. It was peaceful. They sat beside each other, sipping their coffees. Every time Tony looked over at John, he had a big dopey grin on his face. Yeah, John was going to be a great dad.

“I can’t wait,” John said softly.

“For what?”

“For all those first family moments. Just the four of us. Dex’s first Christmas, his first tooth, his first steps. First birthday. First day of school.”

“First crush. His first date.”

John pouted. “His first broken heart.”

Tony patted John’s back and smiled. “His first day at college. First love.”

“Yeah,” John let his head rest against Tony’s shoulder with a sigh. “It’s gonna be great.”


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