Axel’s Pup finally has a release date! It’s going to be available for immediate reading on Wednesday 11th March but it’s available for pre-order on All Romance E-books and Amazon now. I’m intending it to go out to Smashwords and its various channels on the day or release.
Axel’s Pup. You’ve been hearing about this one for a while! It’s a much longer novel than I’ve ever published before (176,000 words – larger than Duck! and Magpie combined!).
It’s Male/Male, BDSM, Human/Werewolf. There are motorcycles, and whips, and leather, and shifters, and tattoos, and kink, and I’m so excited about finally being able to share it with you I’m finding it hard to type because I’m literally shaking!
In some ways it’s the kind of book people who are familiar with my work might expect, in other ways it is a little bit different. I don’t use trigger warnings (for reasons I won’t go into here) but, like always, if you’re concerned about anything in particular you can email me and I’ll do my best to give you as much relevant information as I can 🙂
Also, if you’re a blogger/reviewer, and you’re interested in a review copy of the book, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll see what I can do. I know there are a couple of reviewers out there who I’ve spoken with about this book. I have a list, but if you want to send me an e-mail and remind me about things like what format you prefer that would be much appreciated 🙂
This is the Goodreads link.
This is the blurb:
As the landlord of The Dragon’s Lair and leader of The Black Dragons Motorcycle Club, Axel Carmichael has seen it all and done it all. He’s a respected and experienced dom. Nothing shocks him any more, and nobody catches him off guard.
When Bayden rides up to The Dragon’s Lair on a bike worth more than most men earn in a year, and immediately demonstrates that he has far more attitude than sense, it’s easy for Axel to write him off as a silly little rich boy who’s about to get himself killed.
But, there’s more to Bayden than meets the eye. He’s no silly little boy, rich or otherwise, and werewolves aren’t easy to kill.
And here’s an excerpt. Because it’s a longer book, it’s a longer excerpt – the whole first chapter!
“You’re going to cum in your leathers when you see what’s just rolled up outside.”
Axel Carmichael raised an eyebrow at his friend. “A boy or a bike?”
“Both.” Griz hauled himself up onto a barstool. “A stunning boy, straddling the most spectacular bike you’ve ever seen. I’d sell my right nut to take either for a ride.”
Axel put a bottle of beer in front of Griz and marked it down on the tab behind the bar. “That makes him the fourth pretty boy you’ve fallen for this month, right?”
Griz waved that fact away. “This one’s something special.”
Axel shook his head. He’d known Griz for over a decade, and the guy had yet to spot a hot little sub he wasn’t willing to consider something special the moment he set eyes on him. Axel had long since stopped paying attention to—
“Told you so,” Griz muttered into his beer.
Axel ignored him, his attention fixed on the boy who’d just walked into his pub. Axel’s predictions had been all wrong. Forget golden blond hair, big blue eyes, flirtatious mannerisms and so little muscle it was a wonder he could control anything more powerful than a damn scooter. This particular man wasn’t anything like the boys Griz usually lusted after.
The boy paused just inside the door, but he seemed more interested in taking in his surroundings than in giving anyone the opportunity to get a good look at him. He was dressed inconspicuously enough—black jeans, white vest, black leather jacket hanging from his fingertips, and a motorcycle helmet in his other hand.
The boy approached the bar a yard or two away from where Griz sat. If the new guy was aware that he’d caught the attention of a lot of the regulars, he gave no sign of it. If he was nervous about walking in there on his own, he hid it well.
The boy hadn’t taken his sunglasses off when he came inside, but he looked young enough for that kind of pretention to mark him out as silly rather than pathetic.
Axel moved along the bar. “ID.”
“Good for you.” Axel pointed to the sign hanging on the wall behind him. If you look under twenty-five you will be asked for ID. Deal with it.
The boy glanced toward the door as if considering leaving in a huff, but he didn’t give in to a temper tantrum. He passed a motorcycle licence across the bar.
“Sunglasses,” Axel said, automatically.
The boy took off his glasses and looked up. His eyes were amber and brighter than any human’s could be.
Axel checked the card, and there it was in red block capital letters: WOLF. “You’re a shifter—a werewolf?”
“That’s right.” The boy tilted his chin up. “I’m not looking for trouble.”
Not looking for trouble, but he obviously wouldn’t be surprised if he found it. The boy squared his shoulders as if he wanted the whole world to know he could deal with any hassle that came his way. His bravado might have been more believable if he’d been a few years older, or a few inches taller. As well as Axel could judge from his side of the bar, the boy barely scraped five seven, and he was lightly built with it.
Axel glanced at the licence again. Bayden Wolf. The picture matched. His date of birth confirmed he was twenty-three.
Axel handed the ID back. “What can I get you, Bayden?”
Bayden hesitated, as if it might be a trick question. “A bottle of Coke, please.”
By the time Axel had pulled a bottle out of the fridge, a crumpled five pound note rested on the bar. The moment Axel picked it up, Bayden grabbed his drink and headed for the door.
Bayden’s shoulders tensed. He turned back to Axel.
“Your change.” Axel held out the coins.
Bayden frowned as if confused by the concept of change, but he took the money. “Thanks.” He strode out of the pub, balancing his drink and all his belongings in one hand so he could put his sunglasses on as he went.
Griz moved down the bar toward Axel. “Is he really a shifter?”
“That’s what his licence said.”
“Still hot as hell,” Griz said. “And his bike’s even better.”
Axel glanced along the bar. Matt, one of his summer bartenders, was serving another customer, but there wasn’t anyone else queuing. Matt could handle things by himself for a few minutes, and there were plenty of club guys who’d bail him out if they saw him drowning.
Something about Bayden hinted that he was far more in need of a babysitter than Matt would ever be.
Axel stepped outside, Griz right behind him. It was already late summer. There was no guarantee that there’d be many good riding days left before autumn blew in. It wasn’t just guys from the Black Dragon Motorcycle Club who’d found their way to The Dragon’s Lair that day. Damn near every gay and bi man in the county had turned up. All the wooden tables outside the pub were occupied—Bayden must have snagged the last empty one. Motorbikes stretched from one end of the pub’s car park to the other.
Axel ran his gaze along the line of bikes. Halfway along, he faltered. A nineteen-fifties Triumph Bonneville. Even nestled between dozens of other bikes, it stood out like a beacon of pure, classic perfection.
“The boy’s riding that?”
Griz nodded. “Do you think he stole it?”
Axel frowned, looking from Bayden to the bike and back again. “Shouldn’t think so.” He looked way too calm for that.
“Rich boy slumming it?”
“Maybe.” He wouldn’t be the first spoiled brat who thought spending a fortune on a bike he was too clueless to appreciate or ride well would impress a group of bikers. But, Bayden wasn’t making any attempt to show off.
“Present from his sugar daddy?” Griz offered up as an alternative.
“Could be.” Bayden wasn’t exactly pretty. But he was definitely hot enough to make lots of guys want to dip into their savings. If it was his benefactor who’d bought him the bike, it would explain why he seemed so oblivious to the treasure in his possession.
“I think he’s gay,” Griz announced.
Axel huffed. “He’s twenty-three and hot—you think he’s gay and interested in older men on general principle.”
Griz laughed. “A bit of optimism never hurt anyone.”
Axel nodded, but he kept his attention on the two men approaching Bayden’s table.
“Is it true?” the smaller man, Jarvis, demanded, loudly enough to draw everyone’s attention.
Bayden looked up. “Is what true?”
“You’re a shifter?”
Axel tensed, wondering how many men in the pub had overheard his conversation with Bayden. I’m not looking for trouble.
Axel glanced at Jarvis, then at the massive bulk of Jarvis’ friend, Ford. They both rode bikes, but they were more like groupies than real bikers—guys who hung around on the fringes without any real clue what they were doing. Axel had long since marked them down as not representing a danger to anyone—but he didn’t usually have customers who looked even more clueless than them.
”I’m a wolf shifter,” Bayden specified.
“Rumour says wolves think they’re good fighters. Don’t believe it myself,” Jarvis said.
“Wolves fight,” Bayden confirmed. He didn’t speak loudly, but as hushed as everyone else was, his words carried easily on the evening air. There was that same touch of bravado in his voice, that dare to call his bluff.
“Reckon you’re better than Ford here?” Jarvis asked, with a nod to his friend.
Bayden looked Ford up and down. “Yes.”
He sounded confident; Axel had to give him that. He also sounded like he was about to get himself killed. Ford had to have six inches on him and a couple of stone’s worth of extra muscle.
“How about a wager?” Jarvis took a deep draft of his beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Or don’t your sort have the balls for that kind of thing?”
Bayden sipped his Coke. The way his lips wrapped around the rim of the bottle probably had every man there picturing him on his knees. “How much?”
“A round hundred.” Jarvis smirked. “Of course, if you can’t cover it, I’m sure we could find another way for you to pay us back.”
Axel studied Bayden carefully, but his shades made it damn hard to get a read on him. What was visible of his expression gave away nothing.
“When and where?”
Jarvis grinned. “Now—can’t give you time to get cold feet.” He looked over both his shoulders, checking that everyone was paying attention. His eyes settled on each member of The Black Dragons, as if he really thought that picking a fight with a kid would make them more likely to invite him to ride with them. Tosser.
Bayden shrugged. He put the top on his bottle of Coke.
“You don’t mind if we use the yard around the back of the pub, do you Axel?” Jarvis said.
Axel stepped forward.
Bayden glanced toward him. “We can take it somewhere else if you like.”
Axel looked toward Jarvis and Ford. If he refused to let the fight happen there, they’d probably just pick a new location—somewhere where there might not be anyone who’d step in if it went too far. “Here’s fine.”
Bayden walked over to his bike. He stowed his leather jacket, his half-finished drink and his sunglasses in one of the panniers. Taking off his vest, he put that in there too. Stripped to the waist, he showed some nice lines of muscle, but he was still a small guy. There wasn’t a spare ounce of flesh on him.
Axel had no doubt that most of the doms present were wondering what Bayden would look like with leather wrapped around his limbs and whip lines on his back, and trying to work out what their chances were. There was obviously no sugar daddy in the picture. A man who got by on looking pretty wouldn’t risk his face in a fight. So, silly little rich boy it was.
Apparently oblivious to his fascinated audience, Bayden turned to Jarvis and Ford. “Ready?”
Jarvis hurriedly downed what was left of his pint as Ford grabbed the gym bag that had been strapped to the back of his sport bike. When they headed around the side of the pub, everyone who’d been sitting outside followed them. Word had spread quickly and a lot of those who’d been inside swelled the crowd too.
When Jarvis took Ford to one corner of the yard, Bayden headed for the opposite one. He’d brought his helmet with him and he set it on the ground at his feet as if he was familiar with the drill.
He glanced up when Axel joined him in his corner. He was short enough to have to tip his head right back to look Axel in the eye.
“I thought you said you weren’t looking for trouble,” Axel said.
“You want us to take it somewhere else?”
Axel ground his teeth together. “Ford’s into MMA—mixed martial arts. I haven’t seen him fight, but, from what I’ve heard, he’s good.”
Bayden didn’t even blink.
“In case you haven’t noticed, he’s also damn near twice your size,” Axel added. “Do you have a death wish?”
“Wolves aren’t easy to kill.” There was no emotion in Bayden’s voice, just that touch of a Welsh accent that marked him out as a local, just like Axel.
Axel glanced across to where Jarvis was binding Ford’s knuckles with fancy orange wraps before turning back to Bayden. “Is there some sort of handbook for silly little rich boys?”
Bayden blinked at him.
“Buy a flash bike, get your arse kicked in a pub full of bikers. Is it considered some sort of rite of passage?”
Bayden stared up at Axel as if he thought he’d lost his mind.
“You didn’t really think you were the first idiot to ride up here with more attitude than sense, did you?”
Bayden didn’t blush, he didn’t bluster. He just gawped at Axel as if he couldn’t believe a mere pub landlord would talk to him that way.
Axel bit back a sigh. “Ever been in a fight before?”
“Once or twice.”
Axel looked Bayden over. Ford was built like an ox. In comparison, Bayden looked like he could use a few big dinners. “You got a secret black belt or something?”
Axel mentally cursed, but if this was going to happen anywhere, here was the best place. He called Griz across. “My gym bag’s by the backdoor. Grab some wraps for me.”
Axel glared down at Bayden until Griz returned and tossed the rolled up wraps across to him. They weren’t as fancy as Ford’s. They were white, basic and well used. They were okay worn under gloves when Axel wanted to beat the hell out of a punch bag, but they wouldn’t offer Bayden much protection in a real fight. Hell, if this went the way Axel expected, they wouldn’t have a chance to protect Bayden’s knuckles because Bayden wasn’t going to land a single punch. Stupid little fool…
“Hands,” Axel ordered.
Bayden held out his hands and stood in silence as Axel started to wrap them.
“Ford’s not the kind of guy who’ll go easy on a kid. The first time you go down, show some sense and tap out—no one will think any less of you.”
Bayden made no comment as Axel wrapped his other hand.
By the time Axel was done, Ford had stripped to the waist. He was pumped up, shadow boxing, showing off his skills.
All four of them made their way into the middle of the yard.
“You fight clean—first man to forget that forfeits. Clear?” Axel met Ford’s gaze and held it for several seconds, damn near daring the guy to cross him.
“Sure, Axel. No problem.”
Just for form’s sake, Axel turned his attention to Bayden and waited for him to nod too.
“If you’re down for five, it’s an automatic tap out,” Axel added, as he and Jarvis stepped back, leaving Ford and Bayden in the middle of the yard.
Ford was still bouncing on the spot. Bayden stood motionless, until Ford finally began to move to his left.
As they circled each other, a hush fell over the crowd.
Axel watched through narrowed eyes. It was hardly the first time two idiots had squared off against each other within the vicinity of his pub. What grown men chose to do with each other was no more his business when they were fighting than when they were screwing. But, damn it, the men were usually far more evenly matched.
If he stayed down the first time he took a fall, all Bayden would have done is gained a few scrapes and bruises while learning to pick his battles more wisely. But as Axel studied him, he doubted the boy would take his advice. Bloody bravado.
* * * * *
Bayden ignored the crowd. If they were going to be a problem, they’d have to be a problem he dealt with later. Ford grinned at their audience, obviously relishing the prospect of showing off his moves. He took a swing. Bayden swayed easily out of range.
Ford’s next attempt at a right hook was just as easy to predict. Bayden side stepped. Ford was big and strong. He was also an arrogant arsehole and making no real attempt to defend himself.
Ford lunged. Bayden dodged and caught him neatly in the solar plexus. Ford grunted and doubled over. A sympathetic groan went up from the men watching.
Bayden weighed his options. He couldn’t actually let Ford win, but there was no point asking for everything to go to hell. The next time Ford swung, Bayden allowed him to land a glancing blow to his face. Blood filled Bayden’s mouth. A split lip. Their audience liked that.
Ducking a jab, Bayden picked his moment and punched Ford on the nose as he straightened up. Mumbled curses filled the air as Ford spat blood across the rough concrete.
One more. He’d let Ford land one more hit. Just in case it would appease the guy’s friends if they thought the fight had been a closer contest than it was.
That blow to the nose had really pissed Ford off. The scent of his anger filled the air. His punch was clumsy, but it had Ford’s full weight behind it. His fist connected solidly with Bayden’s shoulder and knocked him off his feet. He rolled and had himself upright in less than a second, but that was enough. Time to wind it up.
If you can’t cover the bet, I’m sure we can find another way for you to pay us back. Bayden bit back a growl. It would be so easy to finish the fight. A quick shift and lupine jaws could end it as quickly as they tore a jugular from a human neck.
No. Bayden pushed down his instincts. A wolf would get in trouble for doing that. He could do without a lynch mob on his tail. The skill was always to win without killing his opponent.
Shoving every other thought out of his mind, Bayden landed several hits in quick succession. They were careful blows. Nothing that would do any real harm. Just enough to take Ford down and make him want to stay down.
A left hook to the jaw, but not hard enough to break it. Jab to the ribs, just enough force to take the wind out of him. Dodge back. Sweep with the legs. There was no satisfaction in it. Bayden simply went through the motions.
Ford collapsed onto the rough concrete with a thud. Jarvis sprang forward and shook Ford’s shoulder.
“Five.” Bayden glanced across to the bartender with all the tattoos. What had Ford called him—Axel? Whatever his name was, he wasn’t wasting any time with the count. He didn’t look disappointed that his friend had lost.
Ford pushed Jarvis impatiently away, but he didn’t pull himself to his feet.
Jarvis tugged more desperately on Ford’s shoulder. “Get up.”
Ford peered across at Bayden. Complete realisation dawned in his gaze. Bayden could have really hurt him if he’d wanted to—he might do that if Ford got up—and Ford had a decision to make.
Jarvis leaned over Ford, hissing at him and ordering him onto his feet.
“Two,” Axel continued.
Jarvis tried to physically drag Ford upright. It was like watching a Chihuahua try to lift a Great Dane. Ford dropped his gaze. He didn’t want to find out what Bayden might do to him in the next round.
“One.” Axel stepped forward. “That’s it. You’re done.”
Jarvis straightened up, leaving Ford on the ground at his feet. “What?”
“Settle your debts,” Axel ordered. “And that’s the end of it.”
Axel looked in his direction. Bayden nodded his willingness to do that.
“No way—he cheated!” Jarvis burst out.
Bayden bit back a growl. There went his hundred pounds.
“How?” Axel demanded.
“He’s a bloody wolf.” Jarvis was much smaller than both Ford and Axel, but he waved his arms around a lot, like a chicken ruffling up his feathers, trying to make himself look bigger.
Axel folded his arms across his chest and glared down at Jarvis. “You both knew that before you put your money down.”
“But…” Jarvis waved his arms around some more. “He—”
“Pay the boy.”
“Why should I?” Jarvis whined. “He’s just a wolf. They’re no better than dogs and—”
“You’d have taken his money,” Axel cut in. “You’d have tried to screw it out of him if he didn’t have the cash.”
“That’s not the—”
“You made a bet. You lost,” Axel cut in.
Bayden studied Axel more carefully. Axel was a big guy, but Bayden doubted it wouldn’t have made any difference if Axel was five foot two and seven stone. That kind of confidence didn’t come from size, or from the brightly coloured tattoos that covered Axel’s arms. It came from a man knowing he was by far the most dominant wolf in the pack.
Jarvis pulled out his wallet, grabbed five twenties and shoved them into Axel’s hand before turning back to Ford. Safe, now that the fight was officially over, Ford let Jarvis pull him to his feet. It wasn’t easy for anyone to make a dramatic exit while supporting a man twice his size, but Jarvis seemed to be doing his best.
The crowd followed them toward the front of the pub. The only one who didn’t walk away was Axel.
Axel stepped straight into Bayden’s personal space. He was at least six foot two and loomed way above Bayden. He took hold of Bayden’s chin and tilted his head back—as if he had the right to touch him however he pleased. Bayden tensed, but he held his ground.
“Come on. I’ll sort out that lip.”
“It’s fine,” Bayden began, but Axel was already walking away, and he still held Bayden’s winnings.
Axel stepped through the pub’s backdoor.
“My bike’s out front,” Bayden called after him.
“It’s safe.” Axel’s smile turned crooked. “Taking a swing at a man is one thing, going after his bike is something else, and a ride like yours is sacred.”
He sounded honest, and like someone who knew the men who drank there. And a hundred pounds was a hundred pounds.
“You can bring your helmet with you, if you’re worried it might be nicked,” Axel offered.
One hundred pounds. The right choice was obvious. Bayden grabbed his helmet and followed Axel into a small kitchen at the back of the pub.
“Sit.” Axel pointed to the chairs around a rickety kitchen table. Opening the cabinet below the sink, he took out a bowl and half filled it with warm water. While the water ran, he pushed Bayden’s winnings into the front pocket of his tight black jeans.
Bayden bit back a sigh and perched on the edge of the nearest chair. He looked down at the wraps around his knuckles. There was blood on them—Ford’s blood. The scent of it hung heavy in the air. His own blood tasted bitter and metallic in his mouth.
Axel set the bowl of water and a first aid box on the table. “You play off that trick often?” he asked, pulling out the chair adjacent to Bayden’s.
Trick? “I don’t want any trouble.”
“Debatable, but that doesn’t answer the question.” Axel dropped a cloth into the warm water and squeezed out the excess. He wiped Bayden’s mouth with the damp fabric. It came away with blood on it.
Bayden pulled back. “You don’t have to—”
Axel dipped the cloth back into the water. He caught hold of Bayden’s chin and held him still so he could continue cleaning his split lip. His touch was firm but not painful. His tattoos seemed to undulate against his skin as the muscles beneath them flexed and relaxed—it was dangerously hypnotic. No scrapes and bruises for Axel—the only marks on his skin were ones he’d chosen himself.
“Who taught you to fight like that?”
Bayden shrugged. “Wolves fight,” he mumbled, as the cloth rubbed against his bottom lip once more.
“I’ll take your word for it. I’m not aware of knowing any other shifters.”
Bayden made the mistake of looking up. Their eyes locked. It was several seconds before he could force himself to look away from Axel’s intense blue gaze.
“Do you fight every man who challenges you?”
Axel’s scent filled the small room, over-powering even the smell of blood. He didn’t want to fight Bayden, he wanted to fuck him. Bayden shrugged.
“It happens a lot once people realise you’re a wolf?”
Bayden nodded. In a certain kind of pub it was damn near guaranteed, and he’d read what kind of pub The Dragon’s Lair was perfectly.
Axel opened the first aid box and pulled out a tube of something. He squeezed some onto his fingertip and dabbed it onto Bayden’s lip.
It stung worse than the original blow. Bayden pulled back. Instinct made him run his tongue over the cut. The stuff tasted foul.
Axel laughed. “You’d do a better impression of a big scary wolf if you didn’t act like a little pup who doesn’t like taking his medicine.”
Bayden glanced up. The laughter wasn’t cruel. It sounded more like Axel was teasing a human child rather than taunting a dumb animal.
Bayden risked a small smile. “Wolves heal quickly enough without human medicine.”
“Quickly enough to risk a beating just to teach a couple of idiots not to mouth off to a wolf?” Axel used the damp cloth to wipe away the cream he’d just applied, before turning his attention to undoing the wraps around Bayden’s knuckles.
“I knew I’d win. And if I didn’t…” Bayden shrugged.
“Then what’s a hundred pounds here or there?” Axel asked.
Silly little rich boy. Bayden bit back a chuckle. If that’s what Axel wanted to believe, it was fine with him. “Exactly.”
Axel frowned. Suddenly, he looked sceptical.
“They chose the stakes,” Bayden said. “If I’d thought they could have covered their side, I’d have suggested adding another zero. But since I had no interest in screwing them for the balance…”
Axel leaned back in his chair. He didn’t look impressed. “So you understood how they would have tried to get you to earn the money if you hadn’t had the cash?”
“Doesn’t matter, since I had the cash,” Bayden lied. “Anyway, isn’t there a human saying about pots calling kettles black?”
“What are you into?” Bayden asked. “What do you hope I’ll do to get that hundred you pocketed?”
Axel took the folded notes out of his pocket and handed them across the corner of the table. Anger chased any arousal out of his scent.
Bayden hesitated. All five notes were there. Axel wasn’t keeping any of them? “I don’t understand.”
“I was holding it for you while I cleaned you up, not stealing it from you.”
Bayden peered down at the notes, completely off balance. Apparently, silly little rich boys got to keep all their winnings without any argument.
He pulled himself to his feet and picked up his helmet, but his gaze went to the table—the bowl of water, the first aid kit, the wraps Axel had tied around his knuckles. Axel had been kind—maybe only because he thought Bayden was a rich idiot with money to burn, but still. Bayden offered one of the twenties to Axel.
“Why?” Axel said.
“For…” Bayden waved a hand toward the things on the table.
“I’m not your waiter.” His tone changed to match the anger in his scent. “You don’t need to tip me.”
Bayden dropped his hand to his side. “I wasn’t trying to insult you.”
Axel stood up. “No problem.” Except it obviously was a problem. Axel’s body language made his displeasure clear.
“I should go,” Bayden mumbled.
Axel didn’t try to stop him. It was stupid for Bayden to feel disappointed by that. He wasn’t there to take an interest in any human.
In. Pick up some fast cash. Out. Quick and clean. Everything had gone exactly to plan.
Bayden was almost outside when Axel spoke. “The opening times are listed on a board next to the front door.”
Bayden glanced over his shoulder. “It’s okay if I come back sometime?”
Axel dipped his head once in acknowledgement. “Yeah, it’s okay.”
Bayden looked down. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say, what the man who Axel thought he was would say. It was safer to leave in silence.
Around the front of the pub, Bayden was aware of men watching him. He ignored them all as he pulled his clothes on. In a few seconds, he was on his bike and riding away from The Dragon’s Lair. His thoughts raced in a dozen different directions. It was more habit than conscious thought that guided his bike onto the housing estate on the other side of the city where his mother and grandfather lived.
Pulling up outside the dilapidated row of houses that made up the farthest corner of the estate, Bayden took off his helmet. He touched his lip, checking the split hadn’t reopened. He was fine.
He strode up the path and knocked on the door leading to one of the upstairs flats. Taking the money he’d won out of his pocket, he folded it into his palm, out of sight.
The door creaked open. His mother peeked around the edge of it. She smiled when she saw him and undid the chain.
“How’s he today?” Bayden asked.
Her smile faded a fraction. “He’s sleeping now.” She looked tired. She’d tied her hair into a braid over one shoulder, but several locks had escaped, and she’d obviously lacked either the time or the energy to fix it. The strain was showing around her eyes. It hadn’t been an easy night.
“Do you want me to sit with him for a while?”
She shook her head. “We’re fine.” Her gaze settled on his lip. “Are you?”
“It’s nothing. I’ve had worse paper cuts.” He was about to smile to prove just how fine he was when he thought better of it. It wouldn’t do for his lip to start bleeding in front of her. “Is there anything you need?”
“We’re fine, love, really.” She stroked his cheek. “You need to stop worrying about us. We’re not your responsibility.”
It was nothing he hadn’t heard before, nothing he intended to heed this time. “I’ll go and let you get some rest while he’s sleeping,” Bayden said. He pressed a kiss to her cheek and slipped the folded up notes into the pocket of her cardigan. It would be enough to let her finish paying off that week’s rent and stock up on some food.
He was halfway down the path leading back to the road when his mother called after him. “Keep your head down, sweetheart.”
Bayden looked over his shoulder and nodded at the familiar advice.
Straddling his bike, he pulled away from the curb and turned toward his own place nearer the centre of the city. It was Friday. One set of rent paid, he could start earning the money to pay his own. Bayden bit back a sigh. Two days—that gave him plenty of time, providing he wasn’t fussy about how he earned the money.
Bayden paused at a set of traffic lights and his mind wandered back to Axel and The Dragon’s Lair. The more he thought about it, the more being a silly little rich boy appealed. Playing pretend like that probably didn’t count as keeping his head down and staying out of trouble, but it was a damn sight more fun than reality.