SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ BEFORE RAW JUSTICE!
The job should have been over months ago. Easy. One and done.
Wiping down the bar in The Asylum’s dance club, Avery watched the men who gyrated to the Trance song, enjoying some bump and grind. A typical night, and he was stuck in the back of the building, as far away from his target as he possibly could get without actually leaving. Three floors up, his mark was as elusive as a wraith, like water slipping through his fingers at every turn.
All that was about to change.
Nodding to Garet as the club’s youngest bartender took over, Avery shouldered through the crowd into the gym where, ringside, members followed the current fight. Bet slips in hand, they shouted directions and encouragement to their favorites. The tanned, muscular, blond fighter—Curtis—ducked a punch from the switch, Dallas, whose light brown skin flowed over rock-solid pecs and abs, his build just as defined, even though he wasn’t quite up to Curtis’s level of experience.
Yeah. The inevitable winner of this match should be obvious to everyone in the room, but still some had placed longshot bets on the other man.
Avery shook his head and headed to the locker room where he grabbed his spandex shorts, changing quickly from his jeans and blousy white cotton shirt and black kidskin boots into something more comfortable to fight in. His lip rings and ear gauges, nipple rings and other piercings, he removed one by one, plinking each brightly onto the metal locker shelf before he slammed the door shut.
Reed, his challenger for tonight, wasn’t a slouch in the ring, but he was an easy mark. Someone close enough to The Asylum’s core members, but enough on the periphery, that access to him wasn’t quite as well guarded. He was the ideal key to the world upstairs. Members of The Asylum were regularly granted entry to the first and second floors where the bar, gym, and SM dungeon spaces had been carved out of the nineteenth-century brick warehouse. Upper levels on the third and fourth floors held loft-like spaces, where the owners and core members lived. If he were going to complete his assignment sometime this century, he needed access to those apartments.
And winning this fight tonight would provide him exactly that opportunity.
Out by the ring, he slipped close to the ropes to watch the tail end of the fight. Blood dotted Curtis’s lightly tanned, whip-scarred back, lending reality to the inked drops that soaked the tat running from the back of his neck to between his shoulder blades. Muscles flexed around the tat with his next jab, and his quads bunched with the forward movement. Brown eyes intent, he spun on the ball of his leading foot and feigned a kick. Dallas rocked sideways to avoid the blow, creating an opening in his guard that Curtis exploited. The direct hit snapped Dallas’s head back, spraying blood in a pretty arc that spattered like rain to the blue mat.
Wolf whistling, Matt, the man’s collared sub, called out to Curtis as Dallas fell to his knees before toppling forward. When Dallas didn’t move, Doc sprang into the ring and bent down before going to Curtis and holding his hand high. Avery kept his gaze carefully neutral as he studied the second man. The link closest to his target looked tired. Too many late nights and early mornings taking care of a man who, by rights, shouldn’t even be alive, had taken their toll.
“Two subs in the ring next?” A Dom frowned at the fight sheet in his hand. “Well that’s going to be about as lame as fisting two limp dicks.”
Avery studied the man in profile. Average height, average build. Brown hair shaved close. Weak chin. Brown eyes. No one on his roster. Nobody he needed to waste his time toying with or exploiting. A shame. It would’ve been nice to show him just how hard his ‘limp dick’ could be when he shoved it up the man’s ass.
Matt helped Doc get Dallas past the ropes, then the sub cleaned and disinfected the ring. Reed, his lime green shirt and shorts glittering under the overhead lights, hung out at the opposite side talking to Curtis. Behind them, a more interesting target lurked. Keeping his gaze carefully averted from the man, Avery pretended interest in the clock over the merc’s head.
Close-shaved golden brown hair. Almost a head taller than the majority of the members, with a shoulder span to match. Piercing gray eyes that noticed everything. Even Avery. Who, when not on stage, the members here rarely saw, unless he deliberately made a spectacle of himself. Which he’d stopped doing as soon as it became apparent he tended to draw a little too much attention from Leonov in all the wrong ways.
The members mostly trickled into the bar and dance club or to the dungeon, sweeping Avery with odd looks and a curled-lip sneer here and there. Only two people here didn’t look at him that way, and hadn’t bet against him if they’d bet at all. Matt, who he’d sparred with before, and Leonov, who had watched. Fucking stupid to let the man in on his abilities, but he’d listed his experience on his application. None could fault him for assumptions based on his slender form.
Still, tonight, he’d have to be...careful.
When the clock buzzed and Avery scrambled into the ring, only a few members, mostly too drunk to move, slouched in some metal chairs ringside, along with Leonov, Curtis, and Matt. Reed joined him, taking in his un-taped hands and bare feet.
“A man after my own heart.” Reed’s soft, bouncy curls framed his face as he leaned forward, feigning a whisper, gaze flicking to Matt. “I don’t get being all fancy with the tape, but no accounting for taste.”
Tilting his head, Avery twisted his lips, letting flirty amusement show. “It wasn’t your heart I was after.”
“Mhm, figured that much.” Reed backed up a bit as Leonov came into the ring, grinning up at the man with no-little hero-worship in his amber eyes. “Aww, you’re coming into the spotlight for little ol’ me?”
Leonov gave the younger man a dry look, though there was some fondness to it. “Something like that. You better impress me or I won’t do it again.” He motioned for them to bump fists, his size likely making the match he’d reluctantly agreed to ref look even more comical to the unimpressed onlookers. “I’m definitely biased.” His gaze went to Avery. “Deal with it.”
He couldn’t help it. The pointed sarcasm in his gaze flared, and he licked his lips. “I never needed an audience. Or your approval...sir.”
“Smartest thing I’ve ever heard out of your mouth.” Leonov walked away, then stopped as though remembering why he was in the ring. “Fuck each other up. Don’t die. Whatever.”
Eyes only for Reed, mind three floors up, Avery stepped in fast and hard, his upper-cut and right hook in one-two lockstep. The first, Reed dodged, the second connected but not with as much power as it would have if he’d gone left instead of right. A red mark bloomed on Reed’s jaw, and his eyes lost a bit of their laughter, though he still pranced prettily on the balls of his feet. Noting his opponent’s loose fitting shorts, Avery swooped around him for a grapple, his crossed-arms allowing him to grab the glitter bombs from Reed’s pockets.
Letting go, Avery danced back, activating and tossing the bombs with a flick of his wrist toward Leonov and Curtis.
Lips parting, Reed winced as he took in his Dom, hands up. “I didn’t do it. He disarmed me!”
Covered in yellow and purple sparkles that cascaded from his shoulder-length blond hair in a shower as he shook his head, Curtis growled.
“Don’t look at him. Look at me.” Avery gave fair warning and hooked Reed’s ankle with his own, following his opponent to the mat and flipping him before straddling his hips.
A few feet back from Curtis, Leonov dusted flecks of glitter off his forearm. His lips thinned as he met Reed’s eyes. “You know better than that.”
The distraction was just what the moment required. Grinning, Avery captured one wrist and twisted, ducking back but not letting go when Reed went for his face with a backward arc of his hand.
“Give. I don’t want to hurt you...here.” Avery taunted, keeping the amusement in his voice, though there was little enough in his heart. Every instinct warned that he needed out of this ring and away from the Doms as soon as possible.
Gnashing his teeth, Reed bucked, using his size and strength to unseat Avery, relieving the pressure on his wrist and sending an elbow to his throat. “Fuck that, buddy.”
Avery somersaulted to his feet, bouncing lightly into the air and kicking Reed’s ribs before the other man could stand.
Reed rolled toward the ropes, gaining distance, and scrambled to his feet, teeth bared. “No. No. Please don’t. That tickles.”
Unconcerned, Avery laughed at the jibe. Closed in with just enough distance to execute a backward handspring, his bare heel kicking Reed’s head back so he sailed into the ropes. Flipping onto his feet, he followed the maneuver with a basic series of punches that snapped Reed’s head left then right.
Standing back, arms out, Avery caught Reed gently as he went to his knees. “Give?”
“Nuh-uh. Not yet.” Reed’s head lolled forward. “Gimme a sec.”
“Reed.” Curtis slapped the mat behind his sub. “You’re done.”
With a groan, Reed nodded. “Ay, Captain. I’m done.”
Vaulting into the ring, Leonov grabbed Avery’s wrist hard enough to leave a mark. Lifted his hand over his head, calling out his win before leaning close and speaking under his breath. “You don’t challenge him again, got me?”
Meeting the man’s hard gaze, Avery contemplated all the things he could say, and only one he would. “Yes, sir.”
“Good.” Leonov released him, going over to check on Reed with Curtis, his expression discouraging the few members in the crowd from lingering.
“I’ll be in the bar when you want to hang out, Reed.” Avery nodded to his opponent, not letting his attention drift to Curtis or Leonov. “No hard feelings, I hope?”
Reed wrinkled his nose, tone light as always. “Naw, I flipped a coin and you were supposed to win anyway. Shoulda told you. Mighta saved myself a few bruises.”
Curtis made an exasperated sound, flipping his golden, pretty boy waves off his forehead. “I swear, boy, I owe you a beating.”
“Yes, sir.” Reed cocked his head. “Probably more than one.”
Leaving the man to his Dom and his...overly protective mercenary uncle, Avery slipped away to shower and change. At least no one had asked where he’d learned to fight. The weave of his story was sturdy enough, but pulling threads would leave him exposed. Desperate times, and all that, he reminded himself as he dressed. None of this would have been necessary had his handlers pulled their original inside man before he’d gone rogue, a weak attempt to make short work of what should have been a watertight long game.
Back in the gym, he noted the members had trickled back, a few giving him a strange look and speculating about exactly how ‘bendy’ he truly was.
He smirked, pushing into the bar. Reed sat on a stool at the end, Doc shining a light into his eyes, while the other sub pressed an ice pack to his jaw. Curtis, still glittering, nursed a bourbon.
Sweat beaded in his tight black curls, a few stitches over his right eye, Dallas stood nearby, gaze darting between the galley door and the door to the upstairs.
Slipping up to Reed, Avery grabbed the stool on the opposite corner of the el. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Reed did his best to look at him without shifting away from Doc, a lollipop stick tucked in the corner of his mouth, bringing the scent of strawberries with every breath. “I need to learn some of those moves. That was impressive.” He sighed, tonguing his slightly swollen bottom lip. “My performance, not so much. I really need to up my game if I want to lose while still messing with everyone’s bets.”
Not looking up from his drink, Curtis stilled. “I’ve decided whenever you lose from now on, I’m caning you.”
“What?” Reed stared at his Dom, snatching out the candy before it slipped past parted lips to the floor. “That’s not fair. How else am I gonna have any fun around here? My showmanship in the ring is legendary. You can’t deprive The Asylum of that!”
Avery tongued his lip ring, flipping the ball back and forth, watching the interplay between Reed and a man he knew was unstable enough he might be able to exploit if he played his cards right. The sequence that would unlock his access to his ultimate mark hadn’t presented itself yet. All options were open, as long as he had the time and patience to set up the pieces.
“I must be the fucking worst Dom in this place, if that’s what you think…” Curtis turned, his thickly muscled arm over the back of his seat.
Brows raised over the silver rim of his glasses, Doc gave Reed a long look. “Fun… Keep it up, boy, and nobody will bet for or against you. No one likes a cheater.”
Dallas shook his head. “That’s not fair. Reed likes to play a game in the ring, and everyone knows it. He’s the regular entertainment.”
Behind the bar, taking a bowl from the tray of bar nuts Matt brought out, Leonov inclined his head. “He’s got a point. Besides, Noah’s the one who taught him to cheat. He was never going to be as big as Ezran, he needed some kind of advantage.” His gaze went to Reed. “But you shouldn’t be trying to lose.” Popping some of the spiced, lightly browned nuts in his mouth, the Dom motioned to Matt. “Thanks, slugger.”
Clean cut, dirty blond hair, toned, but still in the lightweight category, Matt was a fighter by training, more so than some here. Garet, his brother, an ex gang member. They’d both come to The Asylum a couple years back after an act of vandalism had left one or both in debt to the club.
Avery skimmed his gaze around the bar, looking for Noah and recalled he was at the airport, dropping off his lover, Jamie, an ex boy-band member, for a trip to L.A. One of The Asylum’s three founding members, Noah was Leonov’s nephew, and the easiest pin to pull on the club’s internal grenades.
“I take exception to the losing on purpose. Not to the cheating.” Curtis tipped back his drink. “It’s hard to feel sympathy for you when you get your ass kicked, Reed. And harder to feel any sense of excitement when I think you might throw a fight at the last minute. Have some fucking pity.”
Shame colored Reed’s cheeks as he lowered his gaze. “Yes, sir. But...I did actually lose this one. Avery’s a damn good fighter.”
“Thanks.” Avery dipped his chin in acknowledgement, motioning to Matt. “Mind making me a diesel?”
Matt’s lips quirked. “Cute.”
Avery blinked. “Huh?”
“That’s so narcissistic it’s almost obscene.” Shaking his head, Matt yanked down the pint glass and began pulling the lager. He snorted. “It’s another name for a snakebite.”
Avery repressed the urge to glare, frowning at the bar top instead. “I hadn’t thought of it.”
The galley door opened, The Asylum’s chef, Keiran, sidling out with two trays balanced on his hands, moving slowly as he struggled to hold them up. He managed to get them to the bar, where he set them down, inhaling roughly before smiling at Matt. “Thought I’d save you the trip.”
Matt smiled back, grabbing the bottle of black currant cordial as he poured the cider into the pint glass. “Thanks, man. Any chance I could get one of your amazing Philly cheesesteaks? I’m flipping famished.”
“Sure thing. I’ll get right on it.” Keiran quickly rounded the bar, slipping up to his Dom, Dallas, and inspecting his face, frowning at the stitches. Then he glanced over at Reed. “Ugh, seriously? I swear, I should be betting on your stupid coin toss instead.”
There was such a thing as too well behaved around here. Avery sighed internally. If he didn’t speak up, that would be as conspicuous as if he went around challenging Leonov to fights. “I thought the outcome of this one was obvious since Dallas saw me spar with Matt, but I guess we can’t all be that smart.”
Dallas’s head came up. “Don’t you dare address me as your equal, boy.”
Avery held up both hands. “Sorry, sir. I forget sometimes which wrist you wear stuff on when things happen.”
Eyes narrowed, Keiran slid away from his Dom on the way back to the galley. “I guess we should count ourselves lucky you didn’t bring any knives into the ring. Or...maybe I should be more concerned about you needing to use my sink when you’re done tossing those back.”
Yeah… Keeping his mouth shut would have been a better move here. But if Leonov was going to give him that warning look, it might as well be for a reason.
Taking the diesel, Avery saluted Keiran with the drink and took a sip. “Editorial commentary was never my strong suit.”
“You have a strong suit?” Keiran let out a soft laugh. “I guess showing off to fifteen-year-olds might make you believe that. Shame he isn’t here.”
The conversation nearest the bar had fallen silent. Skin along the back of his neck crawling, Avery licked his lips and nodded minutely. There was no good move here. Great, bested by a man whose high card was a snickerdoodle and his low card was a shaved-steak sandwich. Throwing down the rest of his hand was so going to suck.
“And if he’d asked you to learn to bake, I’m sure you’d have delighted in showing him another set of knife skills.” Avery shrugged. “We can’t all be hero worshiped. Sorry it wasn’t your turn.”
“If we can leave my son out of the catfights, that would be awesome.” Leonov’s tone held a hint of warning. “But I do like discussing targets. My prefered ones aren’t dartboards. You may want to keep that in mind the next time you go anywhere with him holding a knife. Accidents don’t happen...to him.”
And there it was. His hand was bust.
Not the way he’d wanted to come to the man’s notice. At all.
He met Leonov’s gaze. “Noted.”
“Try that again.” Rhodey’s lips curved slightly. “See if you can get it right this time, sub.”
No need to feign his blink. That was...possibly the first time he’d heard the man refer to anyone here by the label. Playing this game could be very good, or very bad. At least he was no longer fielding a death threat. That he knew of...
Taking another sip of his drink, he wet his tongue. “Noted, sir.”
The honorific felt a little too right.
“Better.” Leonov’s gaze went over him once, dismissing him, before he turned to Dallas. “Your boy’s not supposed to be carrying those trays. Remind him of that and get him cooled down before he starts throwing things. His aim is still terrible.”
Now there are some throwing lessons I won’t be giving.
Dallas sent a grateful look to Leonov and rounded the bar. He pushed through into the galley after keying in a series of digits Avery attempted to memorize by sound, but the tones were too similar.
“Want to play video games tonight, Reed?” Avery posed the question casually. “Or would you rather wait for another time?”
“Yeah?” Reed waited for a nod from Doc to release him before hopping off the stool.
“You won, we do whatever you want.”
Grinning, Avery nudged Reed’s shoulder. Again, he felt eyes on him. “I heard you talking with Matt about your new console. Any chance we could hook it up to the TV down here?”
“Nah, let’s finish our shifts, then we can chill upstairs.” Reed went to Curtis, kissing his Dom’s cheek. “I’m gonna go help Garet out in the club. I love you, Daddy-O.”
Being off duty for the rest of the night had its advantages and disadvantages. Watching Reed go, Avery realized he hadn’t checked the roster and suppressed a groan. This meant Curtis would be upstairs with them when he and Reed hung out. Too many sets of eyes for him to slip something into the sub’s drink and knock him out so he could further his plan to get to the fourth floor while Doc watched over the fighters in the ring, tending to injuries, and Noah was hundreds of miles away.
Taking another sip of his drink, Avery went over his remaining pieces. There were a few moves he could make, but only one other would gain him access to the fourth floor. Except it wasn’t time for that. Not unless he was out of options, which he wasn’t.
“Do you ever go in the ring?” The alcohol making him careless, Avery addressed Leonov, who still hung out behind the bar.
Brow lifted, Leonov snapped his attention to Avery. “No. I promised my nephew I wouldn’t kill any members. I try to keep my promises. Mostly.”
Shaking his head, Avery laughed into his glass. “Last I checked, you weren’t allowed to bring guns past the ropes.”
Arms folded on the bartop, Leonov gave him an amused look. “You think I need a gun to kill someone? That’s precious.”
Avery lowered his glass just enough, heat coiling low in his belly at the challenge Leonov posed. His gaze held the same look that had reeled Avery in one too many times over the past months, making him reckless in ways that were liable to peel away the layers of his deception. “Only if they can’t move fast enough.”
“Perhaps.” Leonov picked up his own glass, bringing it to his lips. “But there are ways to slow an opponent down. They let you know without meaning to. Make the wrong assumptions about what they’re up against. By the time they realize they’ve made a mistake, it’s too late.”
Twirling the top of his glass between his thumb and first two fingers, Avery stared into the gray abyss of the man’s eyes. “I’m pretty sure if I were up against you, I’d know it.”
“True. But you’re not and you never will be.” Rhodey tossed back the rest of his drink. “Don’t challenge me, boy. If that idea ever comes into that pretty little head of yours, realize I have no problem turning anyone down who thinks they want to play with me. My pride can’t be bruised by games.”
Somehow, he managed to bite back his 'Who said it was your pride I wanted to bruise?' though undoubtedly the question shone in his eyes. “Of course not, sir. I would never dream of putting you in an awkward position.”
“Tricky little snake, aren’t you?” Rhodey tipped his glass to Avery, sounding like he was enjoying the banter. “I can see why Reed didn’t think twice about taking you on. You’re a serious fighter and he’s anything but. Next time you want to display your skills, pick someone I won’t take exception to you drawing blood from. I make a horrible enemy, my boy.”
A very good reason I didn’t draw any… Among others.
Dipping his gaze to Rhodey’s lips, Avery wriggled minutely in his seat before slanting a look in Curtis’s direction. “I’ve been wondering if I had to work my way up. Seemed bad form to just go for the...top.”
“It is. But remember the last thing I said. Play it over and over in your head.” Rhodey gaze followed Avery’s. He leaned forward a little. “You only need permission from one of the core members to challenge whoever you want, since you’re an uncollared sub. But it’s no secret who I look out for. Keep that in mind.”
Raking his hand through his hair, Avery let out a frustrated growl before sitting back with a petulant look. “Which pretty much leaves out anyone worth fighting.”
“That pout is adorable. You should have used that more often, rather than letting everyone see how good you are so soon.” Rhodey poured himself another glass of whiskey. “I imagine you were as dedicated at learning combat as you were working on those silks. Probably started just as young. Did you have many opportunities to test those skills against others before you came here?”
That question was… Not one he wanted to entertain.
Grabbing for the layer of reality that was his own before he’d been activated, Avery went deep into the world he knew. The one that had consumed most of his life.
Chin coming up, he purposefully kept his expression guarded, with the barest hint of defiant fear behind his eyes. “I did whatever I had to. It depended on the country and the audience. And what my father wanted.”
“I imagine the freedom you have here is...preferable.” Leonov sipped his whiskey. “In some ways.”
Letting his gaze drift to Matt, then to a collared sub whose Dom stroked his graying hair adoringly, Avery sank into a fantasy he’d spun for himself and saved up for a moment just like this one. He tore his gaze away and met Leonov’s once more.
“I’m an employee...with privileges. I’ll be here for as long as I’m useful. Whatever happens between now and then?” He shrugged, looking down at his empty glass. “It passes the time.”
Nodding slowly, Leonov reached over and took Avery’s glass. Fixed him another drink as he spoke. “There are a lot of good Doms here, little snake. Wouldn’t hurt to explore your options. Do something besides pissing off the chef and beating on your best friend.” He set the drink in front of Avery. “If you like fighting so much, pick a few of the assholes people want to see completely humiliated. Might get you some much-needed brownie points.”
Every move suspect, every point a counterpoint. Avery knew who he played with, and anything from this moment on was a test. If he didn’t drink, he telegraphed that he’d read the man. If he drank, he played into Rhodey’s hands with a loosened tongue that could be exploited.
“I’ll keep that in mind. And I wasn’t aware I had actual friends.” Choosing, he lifted the glass to his lips and drank deeply. It’d take a few more pints before he was in real trouble. “So thanks for pointing that out too.”
Leonov inclined his head. “Reed makes friends fairly easily when he likes someone. And enemies just as fast. You’d rather be his friend.” He glanced over as Dallas came out of the galley, then let out a low laugh. “Keiran would be a good friend to have as well, but good luck with that one.”
“Thank you, sir.” There had to be a way to disengage from this conversation before he got to the bottom of this fucking glass.
“Mhm.” Leonov gave him a brief nod, turning his attention to Dallas. “I’m never sure which one of you to check for bruises, but it’s a fun game. He’s so well behaved, I’d love to see what happens if he even accidentally got you upside the head with one of those pots one day.”
Standing, Avery moved away from the conversation, bringing his drink with him, and claimed the dart board. Visualized the photograph he’d been shown only once before crossing The Asylum’s threshold. He took up the darts and aimed them, targeting the center of the board, and flipped one in his fingers before aiming for the edge. The dart hit well outside of the bullseye, but in the exact metal-enclosed area he’d intended. At intervals, he aimed the darts in a random pattern, hitting each of his targets.
I can do this. Will do this. If I just get the fucking chance.
The bar clock read eleven p.m. Two more hours until Reed was off shift. Another evening wasted. If there was something he sucked at, it was video games. Insipid, foolish things that had no place in his world, but that he’d play if only to move his game piece.
Into another fucking corner.
He looked up, lips parting as he realized he’d landed all seven darts at the center of the board this time. Striding forward, quickly, not daring to look over his shoulder, he yanked them all out, and put them on the nearby shelf. Wiping his hands on his pants, he lifted his glass and glanced casually around the room.
Leonov looked his way with interest. He’d seen.
Avery mentally added another potential target to his list—one he at least could access—and tore his gaze away as the front door buzzed. The galley door slammed open, simultaneous, and the chef flew out of the kitchen, tearing his apron over his head.
Shoving his stool back, Leonov stood, hand going to his waist.
Hands up, Keiran shook his head. “No, it’s not a threat. It’s…”
Curtis turned, arm over his stool, at the position he occupied at the end of the bar closest to the stairs.
Avery looked to the door, frowning. Not a threat. But a lot of excitement. So, not the cops, not Kovit, probably not Noah’s mother, who had been in London for a conference.
The door to the bar opened. Snow dusted black hair, neatly styled, a bit shorter than it had been. A black wool jacket, expensive as the black slacks and leather boots that had a thick layer of snow melting off them from the heat of the bar. Dark green eyes, searching, settled on Curtis. Then softened as they went to Matt.
“I would’ve come earlier, but it’s difficult to book a flight when you’re not sure where you are.” Lawson lifted a hand to brush the snow from his hair. “It’s...been awhile.”
Matt moved first, a blur.
Avery stepped out of the way, jaw clenching. This...wasn’t good. At all. Too many pieces depended on this man being absent.
I was promised he’d be off the board.
Standing, Curtis clutched the back of his stool, gaze wide, like he didn’t quite believe he wasn’t hallucinating.
Gathering Matt in his arms, Lawson kissed his hair, then lifted his sub’s chin to claim his lips before letting out a soft laugh. There were deep shadows under his eyes, and he looked like he’d lost some weight, but otherwise, simply relieved to be home. He set Matt back just enough to look him over and stroked a finger down his throat. “I do like the look of that on you, my boy.”
Matt’s fingers went to his collar. He looked over his shoulder at Curtis, eyes shining, before he returned his gaze to Lawson’s. “I missed you so freaking much.” Voice choked, skin reddening, he searched Lawson’s face like he was memorizing him. “Sir.”
“I missed you more than I can say, but I’m happy you’re looking good. I was worried...though, maybe I still should be. Not a single curse? That must’ve taken some work.” Lawson’s playful tone was followed by another hug as he brought his gaze back to Curtis. “If you don’t get over here I’m going to start to wonder if you still love me.”
Shaking his head, Curtis took two steps, tripped over his own two feet, caught himself, then moved as fast as Matt had. Except the floor vibrated with his running steps.
Avery kept his face impassive...he hoped...by sheer dint of will. Two moves. He had two moves. He flipped them over and over in his head, waiting to see where the coin might land.
“Jesus, I’d swear for both of us, but I don’t think I can talk.” Curtis gripped Lawson’s shoulder over Matt’s head, giving ample room for Matt to remain plastered to the man’s chest.
Lawson’s lips slanted. “That’s new, too. Any other changes I should know about?” He curved his free hand around the side of Curtis’s neck, drawing him in and speaking against his lips. “Thank you.”
Curtis laughed against Lawson’s mouth, wrapping his arms around the men and doing an awkward lift that brought both to the tips of their feet. “No ‘thanks’. You’re home. You’re really fucking home.”
Dallas swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, holding Keiran at his side.
Looking over, Lawson studied the two of them, approval in his eyes. “I was hoping this one would find a good Dom. I’m not surprised his standards were high. It’s good to see you, Dallas, my man.”
“Law.” Inclining his head, Dallas grinned.
Members poured into the bar from the gym, a wildfire of gossip bringing everyone running. Avery slipped into the crowd, pulling out his phone, coin toss decided, and sent a prearranged text to his contact.
Only one word, and it would change everything.
Bianca Sommerland is the USA Today Bestselling author of The Dartmouth Cobras series. Tibby Armstrong is the author of the acclaimed Hollywood series. Together they've created the breathtaking and brutal world of The Asylum Fight Club. A place where men live and love by their fists, and ropes are for more than just the ring.