The weekends almost over, but there's plenty to look forward to!
For now, I'll leave you with some more fun with Danny!
May your coffee be tasty and your blankets be cozy.
All black. Danny hesitated as he approached the ring, his gaze going over Reed, from his shin-high boots, to his snug jeans, and his plain T-shirt. It wasn’t really surprising that he would be out of sorts after what he’d learned this morning, but his outfits usually didn’t go dark like this unless he was struggling to hide how he was feeling and it came out in the one way only obvious to those who knew him.
He didn’t try to pretend it was anything else anymore, at least. Didn’t block everyone out the way he used to, according to Wren.
That didn’t mean he’d be ready to talk about it either, though.
Maybe the fight will be a good distraction.
Danny took a deep breath, pushing aside his fear and uncertainty as he approached the ring, giving Reed a hesitant smile as the other man vaulted over the ropes. “So is Wren playing ref to make sure we keep things clean?”
“Who said we’re keeping things clean?” Reed winked at him, reaching out to give him a hand up. “But that’s a good idea. Wren likes us both, so he’ll be fair. What do you say, Wren? You up for it?”
Going over to the stairs, Wren paused, glancing down at his perfectly pressed slacks and white shirt under a dark blue sweater vest. “I’m not dressed for it. Should I get changed?”
Laughter came from the far end of the gym, where a half dozen subs had slipped in from the bar, all carrying gym bags. The leader of this newly formed clique, Paris Belleau, was tall, with thick, perfectly-styled golden-brown hair, dressed in a white tracksuit with black and red stripes along the sides. At a glance, Danny could tell it was Gucci, the whole outfit easily clearing ten grand.
The price tag itself didn’t bother him so much—Jamie had almost the exact same outfit in a silvery-grey—but he recognized the superiority in Paris’ expression, how the display of wealth was a small part of the status the man had claimed here.
A status that intimidated Danny once. It wasn’t just the confidence, it was the presence behind it. Power that Danny’d never had, even when he’d been the one dropping just as much cash on clothes because it was part of the image he had to maintain.
That life never fit right. And it’s not me anymore.
He knew men now with barely a penny to their name who were ten times more impressive than people like Paris could ever hope to be.
Paris’ attention skimmed over Danny, dismissing him before focusing on Wren and Reed. “Good morning, gentlemen. I’m sorry, I almost didn’t recognize you, Reed. The picture I just saw of you on the Music Dish blog had you wearing one of your more...adventurous style choices. And Wren, darling, I’m afraid at first glance, when I see you, I wonder if the club is getting audited.”
“It is.” Wren frowned, looking confused. “At least once every other year. Lawson keeps everything in order, so it’s not something to worry about. I offered to—”
Hopping over the ropes behind Wren, Reed put his hand over the other man’s mouth. He flashed a smile at Paris. “Hey, Paris. Good to see you. I heard you and Atticus just got back from renewing your vows in Dubai. Congrats.”
“Thank you.” Paris’ expression softened. Most of him might be fake, but his love for his husband wasn’t. That his husband was the owner of one of the fastest growing tech companies in the world might have something to do with it, except...there was no denying how different Paris was when his Dom was around. But that superficial mask came right back up as Paris held up his left hand, wiggling his fingers to show off the massive, diamond studded wedding ring around his finger. “After five years, I needed an upgrade.”
Beside Paris, JC—whose twin, Tay, had done Danny’s second tattoo—snorted. The twins couldn’t be more different. Tay was a free-spirit who could make friends with anyone once he opened up. He was a bit guarded with all the backlash he had to face from being mistaken for his brother, but loyal and caring on a whole.
JC was a social climbing asshole who could be vicious and lacked the very basic morals. He’d been close to Kelly before the man had been kicked out of The Asylum.
JC had lost his membership too, but it looked like he’d sucked up to Paris enough for the man to use his pull to get him back in.
Giving JC a pleasant smile, Reed rested his chin on Wren’s shoulder, crossing his arms over Wren’s chest. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just thinking of upgrades and how hard some people try to get one.” JC smirked, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his low-riding designer jeans. The way he jutted his chin up showed off the tattoos on his neck, some the same as Tay’s because they’d started their training with the same artist, but the newer ones were very different. And, knowing both men, it was impossible to look in their eyes and mistake the two.
“Aren’t you still single, JC?” Danny cocked his head, speaking before Reed could say whatever comeback he’d come up with as his eyes flashed with anger. “Hopefully you’ll have better luck, now that Lawson’s clearly decided to give you a second chance. You do know what second chances mean, right? Not making the same mistakes?”
Paris’ gaze snapped to Danny, lips slanting as his eyes shone with amusement and interest. “Oh, he does have some spunk after all. Maybe I misjudged you. You always seemed… Well, no offense, but...forgettable. You’re like the Chris Kirkpatrick to Jamie’s Justin Timberlake.”
Once, that kind of comment would have Danny thinking of the debt he’d never be able to repay. The life that had been chosen for him before he’d been old enough to have a clue what he wanted. How he should stay in the background where he belonged and not make waves.
Now? He shook his head, slipping out of the ring to stand beside Reed and Wren. None of that mattered anymore. He had enough success to manage on his own if he had to. And he didn’t have to, because he was part of something bigger. Something real.
Still, he knew how to deal with people like Paris. They didn’t scare him anymore. “You know both their names.”
“Yes. And…?” Paris’ brow creased before he shook his head, smiling that fake smile again. “We’re getting off-track. You were about to give Danny some lessons, Reed? I’ve always found it so interesting how some members are into the more brutal displays, while others maintain their status without it. With the Doms, I get it. And I won’t lie, it’s damn hot. But the subs…” He sighed and shook his head. “Most seem a bit desperate for attention. It’s sad when they don’t have anyone willing to fight for them. Good luck to you both, though. It’s good Wren will be observing. He’d do well to start putting himself in the lineup, from what I’ve heard.”
Danny’s jaw clenched, but he didn’t get a chance to say a word.
The gym door hadn’t made a sound opening, but it clicked shut with a loud echo as Noah stepped forward, Lawson close to his side.
Noah gave Paris a lazy smile. “It’s so good to see you mingling, boy. I’m fascinated to hear more about your observations about my sub. The very same one your Dom was hoping would help Lawson take a look at issues he’s been having with some of his overseas investments and digital security issues. I was willing to ask Wren to help clear things up for him, but maybe you’d like to suggest your Dom look elsewhere.”
Losing some of the color under his fake tan, Paris quickly shook his head. “No, sir. I wouldn’t dream of questioning my Dom’s decisions. He’s got a much better handle on things than I do.”
“That’s very good to hear.” Noah nodded toward the workout room. “Go on. He also respects the rules here and you have less than an hour to avail yourself of the equipment.”
Frowning, Paris glanced toward the door to the gym, the other men around him speaking quietly among themselves. He cleared his throat. “If you’d excuse me, sir, I’ll go speak to my Dom. I’m willing to give up my time working out today to watch this fight. It seems like a rare opportunity and I don’t want to miss it.”
“You go do that.” Noah waited for Paris and his crew to leave before approaching Wren. He arched a brow when Reed hugged Wren tighter. “It’s like that, is it?”
Silent until now, Lawson moved closer to Reed, cupping his cheek and holding his gaze. “Talk to me.”
Reed’s throat worked as he looked back at Lawson. “I need… Sir, please...just let me do this. He’s mine too.”
Inhaling slowly, Lawson inclined his head, pressing his lips to Reed’s forehead, then stepping back, though he didn’t go far. Close to Reed’s side, he watched Noah warily.
Not pulling away from Reed, Wren looked uncertain as he met Noah’s eyes. “Sir?”
“It’s all right, my little bird.” Noah closed the distance between them, brushing his fingers along Wren’s cheek. “This is what I wanted for you. More than I could give.” He shifted his focus to Reed. “I wasn’t the one who gave him to you and I won’t be the one who takes him away. But he is mine in the end. I’ve come too close to losing him, more often than I even want to think about. Don’t make this a fight between us. Not when it doesn’t have to be one.”
“I’m never sure…” Reed bowed his head against Wren’s shoulder. “Today’s been… I need…”
Before Lawson could move, Noah strode forward and pulled Reed into his arms, lifting him up like he weighed nothing. He held him close, speaking softly. “I know. Reed, it’s okay. I’m here. Lawson’s here. You don’t need to say anything if it hurts too much. We know.”
Lawson’s whole bearing had tensed when Noah moved, but he relaxed when Reed clung to Noah, wrapping his arms around his shoulders and letting out a broken sob. He rubbed Reed’s back even as Noah whispered quiet, soothing words.
“I’m scared, Noah. I’m so fucking scared. What if it doesn’t work? What if I can’t help her? And I know I can’t think like that and I want to just focus on now and being okay. And it makes me feel like a monster.” Reed lifted his head from Noah’s shoulder. “It’s what I do and it’s messed up. I just… If I’m a donor I’ll be fucked up for a bit and I want today. And tomorrow. If things go wrong, I want to know I at least had this. But it’s selfish and I don’t expect anyone else to play along because that’s not fair.”
“Why, Reed? Why isn’t that fair?” Noah held Reed close, cupping his cheek with one hand. “I know how you think. Yes, there’s a lot going on. I understand why you didn’t tell Curtis. He’s already overwhelmed. He has something else to hold his focus. But he’d be here if you needed him. I think you felt okay letting him go because you know you have Lawson. And I hope you know you have me.”
Reed nodded, wiping under his nose with the tissue Lawson gave him. He relaxed against Lawson’s side. “It’s...weird sharing someone with you. But I don’t want to fight you.”
“You don’t have to. I’m possessive, but only to the point that I need to know those I love are as valued by others as they are by me.” Noah put his arm around Wren’s shoulders and drew him close. “I’ve seen how much you care for him. He needs you as much as you need him, and I’m fine with it.”
Leaning against the edge of the ring, a bit away from the other men, Danny wasn’t sure if he should stay. This was personal. Something he wasn’t part of. Except...the way Wren’s gaze sought his made things confusing.
The door to the gym opened, Justin coming in ahead of Shea. He gave them all an unimpressed look. “Okay, so you said I’d see a reason to stay. Sorry, man, but I’m not convinced.”
“Just wait.” Shea stepped away from Justin, coming to Danny and slipping his arms around him. “Connor gave me a heads up about what was going down with Paris. You okay?”
Inhaling the warm scent of Shea, his subtle, spicy cologne mixed with the crispness of the wind outside, like he’d just come back from a walk, Danny relaxed into his Dom’s hold. He kept his voice low. “I...tried. I think I get it, what you were trying to do. But...I agreed to fight Reed and I’m not sure that’s okay. He’s… Shea, today was bad for him.”
“A lot of days will be bad for him, my boy.” Shea kissed Danny’s temple. “This doesn’t have to be one of them. I know him. He’ll take what he can out of what he has left. He might not think the worst like you do, but...he’ll have that fear creeping in. And playing with you gives him a way not to focus on that. To me it matters less where this goes than where it came from. And from what I just heard, you’re good with that. It’s not about you, it’s about what you can give. I know that feeling. It got me through being overseas. Alone. Afraid when I was supposed to be brave all the time. I had something to offer. And so do you.”
“I’ll lose. I can’t beat Reed.” Danny buried his face against Shea’s shoulder. “I know he won’t make me do anything I don’t agree to, but…”
“You’re afraid he’ll do things he’s not okay with because of the way this always plays out.” Shea searched Danny’s eyes, smiling a little when he seemed to find what he was looking for. “He won’t. Lawson is keeping an eye on him. So is Noah. You let me do the same for you. Have fun with it. Get in one good hit and I’ll be happy. Even if you don’t, I’ll enjoy the show, but it’ll make me feel better, knowing you can still hold your own and that gang fight wasn’t a one time thing.”
Giving his Dom a determined nod, Danny mentally went over the training he’d gotten in his time at The Asylum. He’d gotten good at slipping out of holds. He could throw a punch without hurting himself.
And when he let himself go with the flow he lost his fear of getting hurt and enjoyed the competitive rush.
“There we go.” Shea gave Danny a soft kiss before setting him down. He looked around the ring, chuckling quietly. “And look at that. You’ve gained an audience.”
Lifting his head, Danny inhaled slowly as he took note of who’d joined them. Keiran stood off to the side with Rhodey, flour on his cheek that Rhodey brushed off his fingertips. Quint was holding Pike, who looked a bit sleepy, but much better than he had earlier. Ezran stood a bit apart from everyone else, arms folded over his chest, eyes narrowing as the sub crew returned, Paris’ Dom coming in with them, his arm around Paris’ shoulders.
Not a huge crowd, so Danny could deal with it. Which was funny to think about, considering he’d once performed for tens of thousands.
This was different, though, and he was grateful most of those watching were people he knew and loved.
He smiled up at Shea as his Dom squeezed his shoulders. “I’m glad you came to watch, sir. And I won’t let you down.”
“You never do, my boy.” Shea pressed his lips to the top of Danny’s head, then nudged him forward. “Have fun.”
Approaching the ring, Danny gave Reed and Lawson some space as Lawson dried the tears from Reed’s cheeks and cupped his face. The Dom’s gaze was assessing, not missing a single thing as Reed assured him again that he’d be all right.
Then Lawson spoke against Reed’s lips. “I’ll be coming with you to Florida. Noah and I have already discussed it.”
“But…” Reed’s eyes went wide. “The club—”
“Rhodey can manage it. Let me worry about the details.” Lawson eased back, his tone so low Danny had to strain to catch his last words. “You focus on convincing Wren to join us.”
Face shining with a mixture of joy and relief, Reed nodded. “I’m on it.”
Climbing back into the ring, Danny waited by Reed as Noah pulled off Wren’s sweater vest, undoing the top few buttons of the shirt underneath and rolling his sleeves up over his forearms.
With a satisfied nod, Noah smiled at Wren. “Keep your distance after they bump fists. Call it if someone’s pinned, taps out, or at first blood. This is a friendly fight, so no need to let things go too far.”
That was...somewhat reassuring. Danny really didn’t want to leave the ring a bloody mess, but at least there were some limits. He rolled his shoulders, chewing on his bottom lip as Reed shed his shirt, tossing it out of the ring to Lawson.
He’d almost forgotten why he’d gotten roped into the fight in the first place.
His blood leaving his head and pulsing low proved other parts of him definitely hadn’t.
Fists up, Reed waited patiently for Danny to meet him in the middle of the ring. He grinned when Danny managed to miss his fists the first time. “Get your head in the game, Danny Boy.” He reached out, giving Danny a playful smack on the shoulder as he began bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet. “You shoulda told me you wanted more than that kiss the first time we danced together on the bar.”
“You were trying to get rid of me.” Danny put his guard up like he’d been taught, circling slowly to keep Reed in front of him and trying to watch both the other man’s fist at the same time. Which was hard when he noticed the fine sheen of sweat on Reed’s bare chest, the sleek muscles of his solid abs flexing with every agile movement. He jumped back when Reed feigned a punch, grunting as an unexpected kick struck his side. “And I didn’t say I wanted anything, I just...it’s…”
His back hitting the canvas knocked the wind right out of him. He gasped, staring up at Reed, not sure how his feet had left the ground.
Reed clucked his tongue, grabbing Danny’s hand and pulling him back up. “I don’t mind if you wanna let me win, but at least try to put on a good show. You’re a bottom. I get it.”
Sure he was blushing again—because today was either going to break him or make it impossible to show his face around anyone tomorrow—Danny quickly shook his head. “I am trying. I forgot to watch your feet, I’m trying not to get punched in the face.”
“I promise I won’t mess up that cute face, all right?” Reed patted his cheek, then knocked him off his feet again with a leg sweep, likely the same move that had taken him down the first time. “Stop letting me distract you.”
“Then stop talking. And put your shirt back on.” Danny glared at Reed, refusing the offered hand this time and shoving to his feet. Usually, training with the other man was fun, but this was different. There were people watching. And he couldn’t enjoy Reed’s teasing as much with someone like Paris so close.
Standing a few feet from the ring with his crew. The look in his eyes pure mocking.
Reminding Danny he’d always be second best.
“Hey.” Reed snapped his fingers, closing in and demanding Danny’s full attention as he latched onto the back of his neck, tightening his hold when Danny tried to wrench away. “This is our fight. Me and you, in this ring. Anything beyond those ropes doesn’t matter, not until we end this. Forget them.”
“I can’t.” Danny pressed his eyes shut—which would probably get him punched, but he wasn’t sure he cared. Maybe he’d get knocked out. Cracking his skull would be awful, but hopefully he’d survive.
Why am I doing this again?
Soft lips brushed over his, Reed letting out a quiet laugh when Danny’s eyes shot open. “Focus. You can do this. Now hit me. I’ve seen you throw plenty of good punches. Show me what you’ve got.”
“That’s not how this works.” Danny blew out a breath as Reed bounced back a few paces while making a ‘come and get me’ motion with his hands. “And you don’t stay still long enough.”
Snorting, Reed came closer. “Hit me or I’m challenging Shea. And I’ll kick his ass in front of the entire club and ruin the standing he’s worked so hard to build up again.”
Jaw clenched, Danny swung at Reed, hissing with frustration as Reed easily blocked the punch.
“Better. Now again.” Reed’s brow lifted at Danny’s hesitation. He glanced over to the side of the ring. “Hey, Shea—”
Fist connecting with Reed’s jaw, Danny’s lips parted as the other man stumbled back. His knuckles throbbed, but he hardly noticed as a trickle of blood spilled down Reed’s chin.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Danny shook his head as Wren came up beside him, nudging him toward Reed, who was grinning and probably needed a brain scan for some kind of internal damage. “I hit him too hard. I didn’t mean to. You should check on him before he passes out and does more damage.”
Wren took hold of Danny’s wrist, his smile making Danny wonder if he’d gotten punched too. He spoke under his breath. “Noah said first blood. You win.”
Raising Danny’s hand high above his head, Wren went through the process of announcing him the winner, while Lawson climbed into the ring and held a small white towel to Reed’s mouth, scolding him quietly as Reed laughed and apparently got the blood flowing again.
Watching them helplessly, Danny had no idea what he was supposed to do now.
Which...was the absolute worst thing that could have happened.
How the hell could I fail at losing?
Now he was right back where he’d started. And from the slanted smile Shea gave him…
His Dom knew it too.
As always, comments welcome! If you want to discuss spoilers or what you think might happen next, make sure to join the spoiler group HERE.
See you next weekend!
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.