Thick & thin, p.1
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       Thick & Thin, p.1

         Part #8 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
 
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Thick & Thin


  Thick & Thin

  By Charlie Cochet

  Sequel to Smoke & Mirrors THIRDS: Book Eight

  In a matter of days, Dex has been kidnapped, tortured, killed, revived, become half Therian, offered the chance to become a spy, and accepted a proposal to marry his jaguar Therian boyfriend, Sloane Brodie. It's been a lot to take in, and although Dex is still trying to wrap his head around everything that's happened, he knows he has to move forward.

  After the events of Smoke & Mirrors, Dex and Sloane find themselves in one of the most frightening situations of all: revealing the truth to their Destructive Delta family. When the dust settles, nothing will ever be the same, and it's up to Dex to prove that in the face of change, the one thing that will always remain the same is family.

  Table of Contents

  Blurb

  Dedication

  CAST MEMBERS IN THE THIRDS SERIES

  GLOSSARY

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Exclusive Excerpt

  More from Charlie Cochet

  About the Author

  By Charlie Cochet

  Visit Dreamspinner Press

  Copyright

  Thank you to everyone who's helped make this journey so incredible. Thank you to all the folks at Dreamspinner Press, to my readers, the THIRDS Nerds who never cease to inspire me, my fantastic betas who help me whip these boys into shape, and my fabulous narrator who's given these fellas a voice. Thank you to my amazing friends and family.

  CAST MEMBERS IN THE THIRDS SERIES

  (YOU'LL FIND these cast members throughout the whole of the THIRDS series, some being introduced in different books. This list will continue to grow.)

  DESTRUCTIVE DELTA

  Sloane Brodie--Defense agent. Team leader. Jaguar Therian.

  Dexter J. Daley "Dex"--Defense agent. Former homicide detective for the Human Police Force. Older brother to Cael Maddock. Adopted by Anthony Maddock. Human-Therian Hybrid.

  Ash Keeler--Defense agent. Entry tactics and Close Quarter Combat expert. Lion Therian.

  Julietta Guerrera "Letty"--Defense agent. Weapons expert. Human.

  Calvin Summers--Defense agent. Sniper. Human.

  Ethan Hobbs--Defense agent. Demolitions expert and Public Safety Bomb Technician. Has two older brothers: Rafe and Sebastian Hobbs. Tabby Tiger Therian.

  Cael Maddock--Recon agent. Tech expert. Dex's younger brother. Adopted by Anthony Maddock. Cheetah Therian.

  Rosa Santiago--Recon agent. Crisis negotiator and medic. Human.

  COMMANDING OFFICERS

  Lieutenant Sonya Sparks--Lieutenant for Unit Alpha. Cougar Therian. Undercover operative for TIN (Therian Intelligence Network).

  Sergeant Anthony Maddock "Tony"--Sergeant for Destructive Delta. Dex and Cael's adoptive father. Human.

  MEDICAL EXAMINERS

  Dr. Hudson Colbourn--Chief medical examiner for Destructive Delta. Wolf Therian.

  Dr. Nina Bishop--Medical examiner for Destructive Delta. Human.

  AGENTS FROM OTHER SQUADS

  Ellis Taylor--Team leader for Beta Ambush. Leopard Therian.

  Rafe Hobbs--Team Leader for Alpha Ambush. The oldest Hobbs brother. Tiger Therian.

  Sebastian Hobbs--Team Leader for Theta Destructive. Was once on Destructive Delta but was transferred after his relationship with Hudson ended in a breach of protocol and civilian loss. Middle Hobbs brother. Tiger Therian.

  Dominic Palladino--Defense agent. Close Quarter Combat expert for Theta Destructive. Human.

  Angel Herrera--Defense agent. Pilot and BearCat driver for Theta Destructive. Human.

  Osmond Zachary "Zach"--Agent for Alpha Sleuth in Unit Beta. Has six brothers working for the THIRDS. Brown bear Therian.

  OTHER IMPORTANT CAST MEMBERS

  Louis Huerta "Lou"--Dex's ex-boyfriend. Human.

  Bradley Darcy--Bartender and owner of Bar Dekatria. Jaguar Therian.

  Austen Payne--Squadron Specialist Agent (SSA) for Destructive Delta. Freelance operative for TIN. Cheetah Therian.

  Dr. Abraham Shultzon--Head doctor during the First Gen Recruitment Program who was personally responsible for the well-being of the THIRDS' First Gen recruits. Was also responsible for the tests that were run on the Therian children at the First Gen Research Facility. Recently apprehended by TIN for creating an unsanctioned Therian mind-control drug and for kidnapping THIRDS Therian agents for an unauthorized project.

  Wolf--AKA Fang, Reaper. Former TIN operative turned rogue. Wolf became a freelance agent for hire after feeling he was betrayed by TIN, the organization that caused the death of his partner. Wolf Therian.

  John Daley--Dexter J. Daley's biological father. Anthony Maddock's best friend and partner at the HPF. Killed during a shootout in a movie theater during the riots. Human.

  Gina Daley--Dexter J. Daley's biological mother. Worked for the CDC in NYC. First to volunteer to work with Therians. Killed along with her husband during a shootout in a movie theater during the riots. Human.

  Darla Summers--Calvin Summer's mother. Human.

  Thomas Hobbs--Ethan, Sebastian, and Rafe Hobbs's father. Suffers from Therian Acheron Syndrome. Tiger Therian.

  Julia Hobbs--Thomas Hobbs's wife, and mother to Ethan, Sebastian, and Rafe Hobbs. Human.

  Benedict Winters--THIRDS-appointed psychologist.

  Admiral Abbott Moros--Chief of Therian Defense. Tiger Therian.

  Arlo Keeler--Ash's twin brother killed during the riots in the 1980s.

  Gabe Pearce--Sloane's ex-partner and ex-lover on Destructive Delta. Killed on duty by his brother Isaac. Human.

  Isaac Pearce--Gabe's older brother. Was a detective for the Human Police Force who became leader of the Order of Adrasteia. Was killed by Destructive Delta during a hostage situation. Human.

  Beck Hogan--Leader of the Ikelos Coalition. Killed during confrontation with THIRDS agents. Tiger Therian.

  Drew Collins--Beck Hogan's second in command. Cougar Therian.

  Felipe Bautista--Drew Collins's boyfriend. Wolf Therian.

  Milena Stanek--Antiques acquisitions. Rosa's girlfriend. Leopard Therian.

  GLOSSARY

  Melanoe Virus--A virus released during the Vietnam War through the use of chemical warfare, infecting millions worldwide and killing hundreds of thousands.

  Eppione.8--A vaccine created using strains from animals immune to the virus. It awakened a dormant mutation within the virus, resulting in the altering of Human DNA, and giving birth to Therians.

  Therians--Shifters brought about through the mutation of Human DNA as a result of the Eppione.8 vaccine.

  Postshift Trauma Care (PSTC)--The effects of Therian Postshift Trauma are similar to the aftereffects of an epileptic seizure, only on a smaller scale, including muscle soreness, bruising, brief disorientation, and hunger. Eating after a shift is extremely important, as not eating could lead to the Therian collapsing and a host of other health issues. PSTC is the care given to Therians after they shift back to Human form.

  THIRDS (Therian-Human Intelligence Recon Defense Squadron)--An elite, military-funded agency comprised of an equal number of Human and Therian agents and intended to uphold the law for all citizens without prejudice.

  Themis--A powerful, multimillion-dollar government interface used by the THIRDS. It's linked to numerous intelligence agencies across the globe and runs a series of highly advanced algorithms to scan surveillance submitted by agents.

  First Gen--First Generation Therians born with a perfected version of the mutation.

  Pre-First Gens--Any Therian before First Gen Therians. Known to have unstable versions of the mutation, resulting in any numbe
r of health issues.

  BearCat--THIRDS tactical vehicle.

  Human Police Force (HPF)--A branch of law enforcement consisting of Humans officials dealing only with crimes committed by Humans.

  Sparta--Nickname for THIRDS agent training facility at the Manhattan THIRDS headquarters.

  TIN--Therian Intelligence Network. Therian equivalent to the Human CIA.

  TINMAN--TIN operative. Nicknamed after the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz as TIN operatives are rumored to have no heart.

  Anti-Therianism--Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against Therians.

  Therian Classification--Tattoo marking on a Therian's neck displaying the Therian's classification, including family, genus, and species.

  Chapter 1

  BREATHE. JUST breathe.

  Hadn't he been here before?

  Dex leaned against the bathroom counter, studying himself in the mirror. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he'd stood in a bathroom not dissimilar to this one, staring at his reflection, wondering how his life had taken such a turn. So much had happened since then. A lot of bad, but a hell of a lot of good too. Much like that day at the courthouse, he now faced an uncertain future. The last few weeks had gone by in a blur--a whirlwind of chaos, heartache, and pain--like he'd been swept up in a tornado of what-the-fuckery only to be spit out abruptly into an alternate universe. His existence was sharper. Images, colors, sounds, and sensations were brighter, louder, more profound.

  On the outside, he looked like any other Human. His eyes were still blue, the same pale shade they'd always been. On the inside, however, he was anything but Human. He stared down at his hands, the same hands he'd used to kill Moros. Actually they weren't. He sucked in a sharp breath at the pain of unsheathing his claws. Fuck. He had claws. Jaguar Therian claws, to be exact, and they were razor-sharp, capable of shredding through Human flesh with ease.

  It had been days since his transformation. Since he'd... died. He hadn't been able to process that before his dad was shot and Moros gutted. Now here Dex stood in a hospital bathroom, trying to find the courage to explain something to his family he had yet to wrap his head around. Then his eyes caught the silver band around his ring finger. He was getting married.

  Dex's heart swelled, and he couldn't help his stupidly wide grin. That news would be much easier to share with his family, though Tony was obviously aware, considering he'd given Sloane the ring to give to Dex. His dad's ring.

  "You okay?" Sloane stood by the door, looking worried.

  Man, how long had Dex been in here?

  "Yeah." The moment the word left his mouth, he shook his head and dropped his gaze to the sink. "No. No, I'm not."

  In two strides, Sloane was at his side, his arm around Dex's back. The strength radiating from Sloane and his gentle touch soothed Dex like a balm to his soul, offering the solace he needed. Sloane turned Dex to face him, his arms wrapping around Dex's waist.

  "Talk to me."

  Dex inhaled deeply and released it slowly. It was okay. He was okay. "How am I supposed to explain to them what's happened to me when I still don't understand it myself? I mean, I understand what happened, but...." He lifted his gaze to Sloane's. "We don't know the full extent of it yet. We haven't even had a chance to talk about it. I died, went to work the next day, Dad got shot, I killed a guy, got engaged, went to visit my parents' grave--all in a span of two days. I'm trying not to freak out, and oh my God, what the fuck? What the fuck, Sloane?" He gulped a lungful of air. Oh shit. Was he having a panic attack? He laughed at the thought. He was not having a panic attack. He did not have panic attacks. Dexter J. Daley did not lose his shit. Fuckbunnies. "I think I'm about to lose my shit."

  "What would you like me to do?" Sloane's voice was calm.

  "I don't know." Dex pulled away and paced. This had never happened to him before. He got worked up. He had "diva fits" and blew his top, but he never panicked. Then again, he'd never been half Therian before. Or engaged. Or seen Tony bleeding out. "It's too much." His pacing picked up speed. "What do I do, Sloane?" He bent over and placed his hands on his knees, breathing in and out through his mouth. What the hell was going on? He was fidgety at the best of times, but this was different, like he was restless inside. His eyes widened as realization struck.

  "What is it?" Sloane placed his hand on Dex's back, and Dex straightened, facing him.

  "This is how you feel, isn't it? When shit gets too much for you? Like your insides are going to explode if you don't move, if you don't do something."

  Sloane stared at him, snapping himself out of it before nodding. "Yeah. My inner Felid gets restless."

  Dex swallowed hard. "Do you think... do you think I have one?"

  "An inner Felid?" Sloane visibly shivered, and Dex cocked his head. "Sorry, I um, I don't know. I don't think so. I mean, when you're born a Therian, you're born with your feral half. Some believe it's like a second soul. It's a part of you. If he was there, you would know it. Believe me."

  "But scientifically," Dex said as he started to pace again, "it's part of your DNA, which is now part of my DNA. So would I have one? And if I do, would he be yours, or would he be mine, or a mix of both?"

  Oh God, his head hurt. What if he did have a feral half somewhere deep inside him? He'd have to, wouldn't he? Wouldn't that explain his claws and fangs and--

  Dex came to an abrupt halt. "What if that's what was happening when I lost it with Shultzon? When my fangs came out for the first time and I hissed, it was like I wasn't myself. What if I wasn't myself?" Crap, he just made things worse. He could handle his DNA changing, and with time he'd get used to being part Therian, but to have an inner Felid? To have another... soul? Was that possible?

  "Babe, stop." Sloane pulled Dex into his arms and held him tight. Dex tried to push away at first, too restless to stop moving. But Sloane's warm breath against Dex's temple, the feel of Sloane's strong arms, and the sound of his heartbeat stilled Dex, calming something inside him. He closed his eyes. Sloane was right. All he was doing was driving himself crazy with unanswered questions. He'd find out the answers in time.

  Sloane stroked Dex's hair and swayed gently, comforting. His scent was thick, enveloping Dex in a bubble of familiarity and safety. Whatever happened, Sloane would be at his side to help him work through it.

  "It'll be okay," Sloane promised.

  Dex sighed and wrapped his arms around Sloane. His future husband was right. The thought made him smile. He was such an idiot. Here he was worrying about something he had no control over, rather than embracing it. Yeah, it was kind of terrifying, but he had Sloane to understand him and help him through all the crazy. Everything would be okay. He pulled back just enough to look into Sloane's amber eyes. They were filled with so much love.

  "You have every right to be nervous, but think about it for a second." He kissed Dex's temple, nuzzling his hair afterward. "They're your family, Dex. They love you."

  With a smile, he met Sloane's gaze. "You mean our family."

  "Our family," Sloane agreed, giving Dex a kiss that was both sweet and sinful. When Sloane pulled away, he inhaled sharply as he looked into Dex's eyes. "Shit." He let out a soft laugh. "That's going to take some getting used to."

  Dex needed to learn to control that if he was going to keep his secret. His eyes seemed to change when he got emotional or worked up. "What do they look like?" He tried not to appear too nervous.

  Sloane didn't hesitate. "They look beautiful, but then everything about you always is."

  "Well, now you're just trying to get in my pants."

  Sloane laughed. He placed his hand to Dex's cheek, his lips brushing over Dex's in a feathery kiss before he brought Dex up against him, his mouth gentle but hungry, like he couldn't get enough of Dex or the taste of him. It made Dex's toes curl, and he dug his fingers into Sloane's arms, allowing himself to be consumed by the man's love and warmth.

  "You two wanna get a room or something? People shit in here."

  Dex wrinkled his no
se and pulled away to peer around Sloane at Ash making his way to one of the urinals. "You're a paragon of gentility."

  Ash shrugged. "Hey, I know you get off on doing it in other people's bathrooms, but this is a hospital, man. Just saying."

  "On that note," Dex grumbled, giving Sloane a quick kiss. "I'm gonna go. I'll call you when I'm done. Make sure he washes his hands."

  "Fuck you," Ash growled at him from over his shoulder. "I always wash my hands. And I respect people's bathrooms, you turd."

  "Well, you're in the right place for that." Dex laughed, running out of the bathroom to the sound of Ash's curses and threats. Outside, he let out a sigh of relief. That was more like it. He felt like himself again. Straightening his shoulders, he held his head high and strode toward his new future.

  "All right. Let's do this."

  Chapter 2

  THE MOMENT Dex stepped into Tony's hospital room, his shiny new future collided with his past. The knowledge of what could have happened hit him harder than he expected. For fuck's sake, Tony had gotten shot in the chest. This morning he could have been visiting his second father's grave. He blinked away his tears and turned his gaze to the ceiling as he tried to keep it together.

  How about you cut me a break, huh? Just for a little while?

  Cael moaned, catching his attention. His brother rolled over on the small couch where he lay curled up asleep, his sweet face bringing a lump to Dex's throat. Cael hadn't left their dad's side since he'd been moved out of ICU.

  "He's worn out."

  Dex smiled at his dad as he made his way over to the bed. He took a seat in the armchair beside it. "Listen, Dad. I know you want to be cool like the rest of Destructive Delta, but this wasn't necessary."

  "So getting shot isn't a prerequisite for your team?" Tony frowned. "Damn, must have missed the memo. Also, I was the king of cool when you kids were in diapers."

  "I'm going to have to disagree with you. Ash was never a baby. He was spawned grown and grumpy. Also, we're going to have a discussion of your definition of cool, because your wardrobe choices in the eighties tell me your view on the topic might be a little skewed."

  Tony chuckled, and Dex's chest tightened. He looked down at his hands. "Let's not do this again, okay?"

 
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