The door opened, and the sound of waking birds spilled in, along with a dampness that battled with the arctic level setting of the AC. Two men in motorcycle leathers walked in, the one with long, curly brown hair hanging back, the other striding across the reception area like he owned the place. Taller and broader than his friend, with wavy blond hair and a face that would be almost too handsome if not for the scars, the man had a black helmet Darth Vader himself would have envied casually slung under one arm. Matt eyed him as the guy thudded the brain bucket onto the counter.
One ratchet at a time, the desk sergeant looked up, then up some more. “Motor vehicle fines are paid at City Hall.”
The guy took out his wallet and counted out more bills than Matt had seen outside of a casino caper flick. Towne leaned back a fraction and watched each bill join the next in the growing pile on the counter, shot a glance at Matt, back to the bills, and stood. Matt realized he was holding his breath, waiting to see whether Towne would take what could only be a bribe to erase some as-yet-unknown warrant or arrest the guy.
“I assume you’re not donating to the National Police Association fundraiser?”
“For the boy.” The man leaned forward, his tone making it clear there could only be one boy he was here for. “Which cell?”
Sergeant Towne pushed the money back with two fingers. “Cool your jets with the schmuck who already paid his bail. He’ll be along shortly.”
The guy looked over his shoulder at Matt, who was catalogued as not-a-threat between one heartbeat and the next.
Matt stood, pushing up his sleeves. “Why are you trying to pay my brother’s bail? If you’re part of that gang he’s been running with you can hike your ass back out the door because he’s not leaving with you.”
He expected a lot of things—a punch in the face that he knew he could block, or a threat to mind his own business—but what he didn’t see coming was the guy completely ignoring him and turning to face the lockup door.
“Hey!” Matt walked around the guy to force him to respond, but the sound of a cell door scraping open interrupted his progress. “Fuck.”
Now Garet would come out, see the leader of the violent gang he’d been getting way too close to, The Ravagers, and go with him rather than face a lecture from Matt. A few weeks or months from now, Matt would be here again, spending money he didn’t have to bail out a brother who didn’t want to be saved. Or worse, he’d be looking down at his brother’s too-young corpse, white as the sheet the coroner peeled back for Matt’s ID.
The door slid open and Garet sauntered out, attention on Matt, brown eyes full of bravado. “Hey, bro—”
A flash of movement was the only warning Matt had before the stranger put Garet in a headlock and dragged him toward the station’s double doors.
The second man let out a heavy sigh. “Jesus Christ, Curtis.”
Startled, it took Matt precious seconds to realize what was happening. By the time he caught up at the top of the station’s granite steps, the man, Curtis, held Garet by the throat up against the brick wall.
“You have until I count three to tell me why I shouldn’t kill you right here. Right now.”
Matt lunged, grabbing the man’s shoulder. “Get the fuck away from him!”
Without glancing back, Curtis snapped his elbow into Matt’s face. Blood spurted, momentarily blinding, even without the flash of white light that accompanied the pain. Matt barely managed to keep to his feet, but rage and training spurred him on. He spun, snapping a kick into the side of Garet’s assailant, catching Curtis off guard and almost knocking him down the stairs.
Matt latched onto the back of Garet’s shirt and hauled him up, shaking him to get him moving. Except, in his desperate attempt to protect Garet, he’d forgotten his brother’s attacker hadn’t come alone. Having slipped out of the police station at some point, the second leather-clad man shook his head as he casually blocked their escape. When Curtis grabbed Garet again, the curly haired man jerked Matt away from them, muscling him out of reach of his brother.
One arm barred across Matt’s chest, the man spoke calmly in his ear. “Won’t do you any good, man. Chill. If the kid’s smart, he won’t get hurt.”
Garet sat, legs buckling as he tried to resist. Curtis kept walking, fisting Garet’s collar and hauling him down the steps on his ass. Panic renewed Matt’s struggles, but even though the man had less than an inch on him, his hold didn’t budge. He scanned the streets, hoping there might be someone, anyone, who’d intervene and keep Garet from being taken. With what Curtis had already done, right in front of the police station, who knew what would happen once the man got his brother alone.
A sleek sports bike waited alongside a custom job—all chrome and hand-painted flames—that obviously hadn’t come from a showroom floor. His heart stuttered as a man crossed the street, slowing by the bikes Curtis headed toward. There was familiarity in his dark green eyes, but no warmth as he met Curtis’s wary gaze. Equal in height and build, olive skin a few shades darker, the new man was opposite to Curtis in every way. Instead of leather, he wore a dark grey shirt and black slacks. His black hair was closely trimmed. He radiated cool calm in the face of Cutis’s rage.
But after sparing Garet no more than a brief, inquisitive look, he simply inclined his head to Curtis and kept walking.
“No!” Matt twisted in the grip on his arms, staring after the man, certain he’d turn around with the way he tensed at Matt’s shout. “You have to help him! He’s just a kid!”
Those dark green eyes met his and Matt’s stomach dropped. The man’s stare held nothing but disdain. As though both Matt and Garet deserved whatever Curtis had planned.
Cursing under his breath, Matt tore his gaze from the man’s, a chill creeping down his spine as his footsteps faded away. His presence might have stalled Curtis, but with him gone Curtis continued to manhandle Garet, shoving him toward the first bike. He hissed something in Garet’s ear and the teen cowered on the sidewalk by his feet.
Which got Matt moving. For the first time since this had all begun, he found his center and muscle memory flooded back. Relaxing, he dropped his weight. The man holding him tried to adjust his grip and Matt slammed his head back into the man’s face, breaking free and landing a solid punch to his stomach, then another to his jaw.
Free, he leaped over the side of the steps, swiping the blood flowing from his nose with the side of his fist as he closed the distance between himself and his brother. His family.
Matt rolled his shoulders, fists clenched by his sides as he prepared to take on Garet’s assailant. “Get the fuck away from him.”
Through the haze of blood and sweat, he saw Curtis’s lips slit into a smile. “No, I don’t think I will.”
From the ground, Garet looked up at Matt, brown eyes filled with the last vestiges of innocence that said he wasn’t past saving.
If Matt could distract the man, it’d give Garet time to run…
“Go ahead.” Stepping between Matt and Garet, Curtis held his arms wide, inviting Matt to strike. “It won’t cost me more than a minute to take a piece out of you before I mop the pavement with him.”
The man Matt had escaped walked over, sporting a blooming bruise on his left cheek. He shot Matt an irritated look. There was no way Matt could hope to take them both on and win. Now without time to get back into fighting form. So, he went with his only remaining option.
“What if I take his place?”
Curtis crossed his arms and cocked his head. “Why would you do that?”
Isn’t it obvious?
“Because he’s a kid. My brother.” Matt stepped closer to keep Curtis’s focus on him. “Or can’t you get your kicks picking on someone your own size?”
The sardonic twist to Curtis’s lips said there were many things he found entertaining, and Matt wouldn’t like a single one of them.
“You want to play martyr for the little bastard? Be my guest.”
Curtis bared his teeth. “Stay out of it, Reed.”
The other man briefly closed his eyes, sighing.
“As long as you pay his debts, I don’t much care what cross you nail yourself to.”
“And you’ll leave Garet alone?” Matt needed to be sure.
“Reed, drop the little shit off at home and meet us at the club.” Curtis looked down to Garet who had rolled himself into a protective ball. “You can go back and get him if our buddy here changes his mind.”
Reed reached for Garet. Matt started forward, but Curtis cut him off, two fingers to his chest.
Matt knocked his hand away. “My brother’s not going anywhere with either of you.”
“If you stick to your end of the bargain, he won’t have to go anywhere besides his own damn house.” White, even teeth bit off each word. “Are you willing to clean up his mess and pay his debt or not?”
Using his sleeve, Matt wiped the still-flowing blood from his face and winced. His nose had swollen to twice its normal size, and he could see the blotchy red of a forming bruise in his peripheral vision.
“Yeah. Just let me know how much. I’ll send you a check.”
“Oh no.” Curtis laughed, bitter. “You can come with me and start now.”
Matt blanched. He had to be at work in two hours.
Curtis stepped closer to Garet. “Or the deal’s off.”
Garet whimpered and Matt tensed. Out of the two men, Reed definitely seemed the less likely to hurt Garet. Getting him out of the line of fire was Matt’s only option. Whatever his brother had done to piss these guys off, it was up to Matt to fix it. With any luck, he could clean up the problem and be at work without using too much sick time . How he’d explain his nose, he had no idea, but that was the least of his worries.
“Fine. I can stay until noon.”
Hopefully, if he didn’t come home, Garet would call in the authorities he liked testing so much to save his ass. With how little initiative he showed for anything but video games and porn, however, Matt wouldn’t hold his breath.
After Reed helped Garet onto the back of the custom bike with care , and plunked a helmet on the teen’s head, letting him take Garet home didn’t worry Matt as much. Garet was away from the man he’d really pissed off.
What the hell did you do this time, kid?
Despite the scuffle, Curtis still held his helmet. Apparently the guy had taken down both him and Garet without so much as breaking a sweat.
Matt eyed the motorcycle. “I don’t have a helmet.”
Without answering, Curtis handed him his helmet and got on the bike.
Climbing behind the thug was damn humiliating, but at least Matt could end this and save his brother from the consequences of his reckless actions. Again. He jammed the helmet over his head hissed in pain. A throb had set up just over his eyes, radiating from his nose. As the adrenaline wore off it would hurt even more.
The machine beneath Matt rumbled to life, Curtis’s “Hold on” the only warning before inertia nearly sent him toppling off the back. He grabbed two fistfulls of leather and tightened his thighs.
Curtis’s driving was like his anger. Swift. Unyielding. Unleashed around curves with dangerous leans that reminded Matt of the vicious way he landed a punch. They skidded to a halt about three miles from the station, on the literal wrong side of the tracks. Not somewhere Matt spent much time.
Except when he was fetching Garet from whatever trouble didn’t get him arrested.
As Curtis climbed off the bike, Matt tried to follow, but stumbled on a surge of pain. Curtis shot out a hand that landed at the small of Matt’s back, just below the rise of his jeans. Matt spun away to rip off the helmet.
“Don’t.” Matt stomach flipped at Curtis’s amused look. “Is that why you were taking Garet here? He’s fucking sixteen.”
“But you’re not.” Curtis shrugged, not seeming bothered by the accusation in Matt’s tone. “You wanna stick with the original deal? That’s fine by me. I hope you planned on a long visit, because I would’ve had his sorry ass here day and night to clean up this shit.”
Matt turned in the direction Curtis’s nod indicated. What he saw took his breath away. Across the front of a sprawling four story building were spray painted swastikas and gay slurs. Glass from broken windows littered the sidewalks. Even from this distance, he could tell the inside had been ransacked. A bar stool rolled like a tumbleweed across the parking lot in the morning breeze, and the acrid stench of urine fouled the air.
“Jesus.” Matt scanned the damage again, horrified. “There’s no fucking way…”
Garet hadn’t done this. Couldn’t have done this. Especially given what Matt knew about his brother. Except the cops had caught him here, though the rest of The Ravagers had managed to get away. How had the kid gotten in so far over his head that he’d been caught up in something so ugly?
He closed his eyes against a wave of nausea. When he opened them again, he met Curtis’s gaze. Shit. The guy was no gang leader. He was a member of the private club locals only knew of as The Asylum.
The man regarded him, arms folded over his chest. “Still want to protect your brother?”
Matt considered pleading Garet’s case, but the set of Curtis’s jaw said he wasn’t about to listen to reason. Coming here toscrub graffiti off the walls wouldn’t do Garet any harm, but Matt wasn’t about to let any of the club’s members within five feet of his brother. Not with how angry they, and Curtis, had every right to be.
“Yeah.” Shoulders squared, he nodded. “I do.”
“Then get a move on.”
Matt let the man lead him into the building. Glass crunched, grinding under his shoes. Grimly aware of the eyes of several club members following him, he pushed up his sleeves as the impossibility of the task settle in the pit of his stomach.
Curtis was right.
He was going to be here a while.
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.