Darkest hour before dawn, p.1
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       Darkest Hour Before Dawn, p.1

         Part #9 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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Darkest Hour Before Dawn


  Darkest Hour Before Dawn

  By Charlie Cochet Sequel to Thick & Thin THIRDS: Book Nine

  THIRDS Team Leader Sebastian Hobbs and Chief Medical Examiner Hudson Colbourn are as much in love now as they were nearly seven years ago when a tragic event on the job destroyed their relationship. The two drift together only to be pulled apart time and time again. When Hudson draws the interest of dangerous enemies, both within and outside the organization, Seb wants nothing more than to protect the man who still means everything to him.

  As life-and-death events, an uncertain future, and startling truths draw Hudson and Seb to each other yet again, they must make a choice: trust their love and take strength from what they share, or lose what matters most... for good this time.

  Table of Contents

  Blurb

  Acknowledgments

  CAST MEMBERS IN THE THIRDS SERIES

  GLOSSARY

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  More from Charlie Cochet

  Readers love the THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet

  About the Author

  By Charlie Cochet

  Visit Dreamspinner Press

  Copyright

  Acknowledgments

  THANK YOU to everyone who's supported me on my journey. To Dreamspinner Press, my amazing friends, my family, my fabulous beta readers, the THIRDS Nerds, my fantastic narrator Mark Westfield, and everyone who's joined the THIRDS crew on their adventures. Thank you.

  CAST MEMBERS IN THE THIRDS SERIES

  (YOU'LL FIND these cast members throughout 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. Wolf Therian.

  Dr. Nina Bishop--Medical examiner. 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 biological 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-Firs
t Gens--Any Therian before First Gen Therians. Known to have unstable versions of the mutation, resulting in a number 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

  "SPREAD OUT, and watch your backs."

  Seb motioned for his partner, Dom, to follow him as the rest of Theta Destructive split off into pairs, with Peyton, Brianna, Lee, and Zoey in their Therian forms. They spread out through the trees, and Seb was grateful for the sunny day despite the biting chill in the air. In a couple of days, March would give way to April, which accounted for the temperature rising from polar ice caps to just above meat locker. In Seb's opinion, spring couldn't come quickly enough. Winter wreaked havoc on his joints, especially his bad knee.

  "What did you get your boy for his birthday?" Dom asked from behind his raised tranq rifle as he scanned the woods around them.

  "I still have two weeks." Seb held his rifle at the ready as they approached the pagoda where the four tiger Therians had last been spotted. "Sort of. I'll find something this weekend."

  They were getting closer. Seb could feel it. They needed to round up these assholes before anyone else got hurt, especially since the perps were running out of places to hide. THIRDS agents managed to shrink the original perimeter around Prospect Park down to the boathouse, the pagoda, and Binnen Bridge. Cornering Felid Therians never went well.

  "You're the only guy I know who buys presents for his ex," Dom said, stopping in his tracks. "Did you hear that?"

  Seb didn't tear his gaze away from the path ahead as he tipped his head toward a tree to his left. "Squirrel."

  Dom nodded, then moved forward, muttering something about furry pains in the ass.

  Theta Destructive along with several other teams had been called after a shooting outside an auto club on Empire Boulevard led to one death, two injured, and four tiger Therians leading THIRDS agents on a chase through Prospect Park. Human agents cleared the park while Therian agents in their Therian forms sniffed out the perps, formed a perimeter, and hastily began to close in to reduce the square footage. Everyone knew parks provided the best cover to hide in. Unfortunately, parks were filled with citizens, tourists, pets, and wildlife. It was a security nightmare.

  "Dex buys presents for his ex," Seb pointed out, smiling at Dom's snort.

  "Are you seriously using Dexter J. Daley as an example of rational behavior?"

  "Right." Seb chuckled. "What was I thinking. Anyway, you know Hudson is more than an ex-boyfriend." Dom knew a hell of a lot more than that. He was one of two people Seb had bared his soul to in his lifetime. Hudson was the first, and as of three months ago, Dom became the second.

  "Cutting it kind of close, aren't you? What did you get him last year?"

  Seb peered into a thick brush of shrubbery, but nothing stirred. He needed to be careful, making sure to sniff out their fellow agents so he didn't accidently shoot a tranq into one. Of course, that would only happen if the Therian attacked, pretty much assuring him it wasn't one of their own.

  "I got him this really nice, soft, blue robe that matched a pair of TARDIS boxer shorts he loves, and some fuzzy slippers."

  Dom snickered. "The doc is such a nerd."

  Seb couldn't help his dopey grin. "Yeah."

  "Did he like it?"

  "Are you kidding? He practically lives in it. He's a wolf Therian, remember? They love fluffy, cozy stuff." Unlike Seb, Hudson's favorite seasons were fall and winter. During the cold weather, Hudson wasn't content to simply sit or lie on the couch under a blanket. Nope. He'd draw his legs onto the couch and wrap up like he was cocooning himself, with only his face exposed, and even then he'd pull the blanket over his nose so it wouldn't get cold. Hudson hated having a cold nose. Fuzzy blankets brought out his Therian side like nothing else. It was the most adorable thing Seb had ever seen. Movie nights always included a host of snacks and a nest of blankets.

  The air changed, and Seb stilled. Dom followed his lead, coming to a halt beside him. Seb tapped his nose and motioned ahead to the woods behind the pagoda. He was picking up two very distinct tiger Therian scents--neither THIRDS agents. Dom motioned to the right, and Seb gave him a curt nod. Seb would take the left.

  Silently he stalked through the trees, listening for sounds not meant to be there. Wind rustled the leaves, water trickled somewhere in the distance, and birds chirped. A squirrel bounded from one tree to another. Seb's pulse picked up, and his muscles tensed as he hunted. The scent drew closer, and he followed it to a thick patch of shrubs. Finger on the trigger, Seb approached as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He spun on his heel, and a near three-hundred-pound tiger Therian barreled into his knee head-on.

  Motherfucker!

  Pain exploded through Seb's body as he slammed onto the ground, his helmet cracking against a cluster of rocks, momentarily stunning him. The blow to his head was nothing compared to the electrifying burst of sheer agony shooting through his leg. He blinked away the tears and sucked in a sharp breath. His lungs burned from the gulps of air he rapidly dragged in. He couldn't black out. Not now. A feral growl got him moving, and his adrenaline spiked. If he stayed on the ground, he was dead. The tiger Therian shook himself before charging again, and Seb was still down.

  Three tranq darts to the neck and a punch across the muzzle, and the tiger Therian was out. Good thing, considering Seb was still seeing stars. His muscles rippled with spasms, and he gritted his teeth. He felt as though his ligaments and tendons were being torn from his bone. As though someone had taken a hammer to his kneecap. He cursed his genetics for the thousandth time--not that it helped.

  Seb was always careful in the field, as careful as someone in his position could be, and although he'd suffered plenty of injuries, it was the first time some asshole had head-butted his knee. If Seb had been a Human, something would have shattered. Instead, it only felt as if it had. The pain was blinding, and he was faintly aware of Dom hauling ass in his direction. Damn it, what now?

  "Seb!"

  A roar had him rolling onto his side, plowing through the pain and pushing up onto his good leg, putting all his weight on it. He needed a second to get his bearings, but the tiger Therian speeding toward him wasn't going to give him that chance. Two darts stuck out of its neck, but adrenaline was helping it push through, and with Dom being chased by a third tiger Therian, Seb was left to deal with this bastard. One wrong move, and it was over.

  Seb readied his rifle, cursing under his breath when the last tiger Therian showed up, barely missing Dom as it leaped from the shrubbery.

  "Fucking fuck!" Dom pulled a move worthy of any NFL running back, turning sharply and throwing his gloved hand to the ground to keep from keeling over face-first. He regained his balance and took off toward Seb just as a round of hair-raising roars resounded through the trees. Seb grinned.

  Lee was the first through the trees, his mane providing protection when one of the perps tried to snap at his neck and got nothing but a mouthful of fuzzy mane. A second bite was thwarted by Brianna, her slender cougar Therian frame landing on the larger tiger Therian, claws outstretched. The perp's pained roar shook the trees around them.

  Peyton and Zoey leaped from the greenery, fangs bared as they each faced off against a perp. Zoey was slightly smaller than the three male tiger Therians around her, but she was by no
means the least fierce. In fact, Seb was glad he wasn't on the receiving end of her fury. Zoey could take down a Therian twice her size, no matter what form they were in, and she wouldn't even break a sweat.

  Peyton eclipsed everyone, a gentle giant who stood at seven and a half feet tall and weighed three hundred and twenty pounds. He was the largest Felid Therian in Unit Alpha. Of course, right now, Peyton was anything but gentle. Not when defending his team.

  "Get on the ground!" Dom demanded over the roars and hisses, his rifle aimed at one of the tiger Therians circling Peyton. The guy was hesitant to attack Peyton--so not a total idiot.

  Realizing they were outmuscled, the three tiger Therian perps submitted, mewing and backing away to flop on the grass. Dom radioed for backup, and two BearCats pulled up onto the path to their right. Their back doors opened, and Human agents flooded out. Seb left them to round up their perps and get them into the cages. He turned to his Therian teammates.

  "Collect your partners and get PSTC."

  Lee trotted off, his mane swishing majestically, while Brianna bounced behind him, playfully swatting at his tail. Lee didn't pay her any mind. Zoey whizzed by them, and Lee grunted. He took off after Zoey, unwilling to be left in her dust, and Brianna was quick on their heels. Peyton, as usual, wasn't interested in his teammates' shenanigans. He released a huff and leisurely sauntered after them. Dom stayed behind, and Seb braced himself. He knew what was coming.

  "You okay?"

  "I'm fine," Seb assured him. "Just knocked the wind out of me."

  Dom pressed his lips together in a thin line. He wasn't buying it, but Seb was in too much pain to care. With teeth gritted and jaw set, Seb headed in the direction his team had gone. Thankfully, Angel hadn't parked the BearCat very far. Instead of fighting the pain, Seb let it wash over him. He'd lived with physical discomfort and pain the majority of his life. It went with being a Pre-First Gen Therian. Granted, this was a hell of a lot worse than his usual bad days, but he wouldn't let his team know the extent of it. He straightened to his full height and squared his shoulders as he walked.

  They all knew about the nerve and tissue damage to his leg. He was hardly the only Pre-First Gen at the THIRDS with health issues, but if his leg gave up the ghost, he'd be pulled off Defense, and he'd worked too damned hard to make Team Leader to give it up now.

 
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