Shelton sat on the enormous couch in the communal area of The Wyverns’ headquarters, laptop balanced on his knees. Next to him, Orlando de la Pena, his friend and sub to Rogue Hellaby, The Wyverns’ sometimes-grouchy leader, was painting his toenails a nauseating shade of lime green. Between them was a tray laden with Twinkies, cans of soda and a huge bowl of popcorn.
“Where did you get that T-shirt?” Shelton asked. The garment, which matched Orlando’s nail polish, had a slogan on the front reading ‘I make snark, what’s your superpower?’
“Kit gave it to me last time he was over. He seemed to think it suited me.”
Shelton laughed. “He’s so bad. Has Rogue seen it yet?”
“No.” Orlando wiggled his toes. “He got in really late. They all did. He didn’t regain consciousness when I got up so I left him sleeping. Like a baby. Well, not really, ‘cause he’s all grown up, but he does look kinda cute when he’s snuffling away, no doubt having kinky dreams about yours truly.”
“It was after three, wasn’t it?” Shelton avoided the whole subject of Rogue’s dreams. Shelton had stirred in the early hours, aware of low voices and the thud of closing doors, but he hadn’t gotten up to see what was going on. Trouble would have set alarms going, so Shelton knew the disturbance was the rest of The Wyverns returning from their latest clandestine mission for Horatio Trap. If they’d needed him, his door would have been battered down. He had turned over, plumped his pillow then gone back to sleep.
“Three-thirty.” Orlando screwed the cap back on his bottle of polish. “Rogue didn’t even shower, just dropped into bed like a felled redwood. I bounced about a foot off the mattress. Seconds later he was snoring. He didn’t fuck me or spank me. Must have been exhausted.”
“Must have been.” Shelton rolled his eyes. “They’ve been gone over a week. I’m glad they’re back. This place is weird without them. Not that I don’t enjoy spending time with you.”
“And did you miss one big bad biker more than the rest?” Orlando gave him a knowing smirk.
“Of course not!” Shelton protested even though it wasn’t true. He knew it. Orlando knew it. He pushed his glasses up his nose. “Well, maybe just a bit.”
“When are you and Crow gonna start bumping uglies? He’s been eyeing you like a juicy steak after a famine for months.” As if the comment had sparked his appetite, Orlando grabbed a Twinkie then shoved it into his mouth.
Shelton admired Orlando’s confidence. He wasn’t nearly as assertive. Crow gave him the shivers—in a good way—but the big man was fierce and intimidating. He wanted him badly but was afraid to show it in case he was rejected.
“He looks out for you. He touches you all the time and gets right in the face of anyone who upsets you.” Orlando waved the end of his Twinkie in the air. “I’ve even seen you in his lap.”
“I don’t know. I’m not interested in being a notch on his bedpost. He’s never tried to take things any further. I think I’m just too geeky for him.” Shelton took a swig of his soda. “And besides, he’s a Dom. He’s a member at The Scourge. He’ll be on the lookout for a sub.”
“Mmm. All that yummy hotness and he’s kinky too. What’s not to like?”
“I’m not… I mean, I don’t want to suggest there’s anything wrong with it, but I’m not like you, Orlando.”
“True. You’re not nearly as cute. I’ve never seen you in a pair of leather pants and you’re far too nice to the bunch of louts who bunk down here.”
Shelton sighed. “You forget, I’m a Wyvern too.”
Orlando gave him a speculative look. “I think of you as a Wyvern-lite. Less attitude, less oil under your fingernails and less likely to find rusty bike parts a source of fascination.”
“I think I should be insulted, but I’m not. That isn’t what I meant though, and you know it. I’m not a…submissive.” Shelton whispered the last word in case saying it louder might make it a lie. He hoped he hadn’t upset his friend.
“Shelton, Shelton…what am I going to do with you? For someone who spends so much time on the wonderweb, I’d have thought you would have at least done some research. There’s no one-size-fits-all in the world of Domination and submission.”
“Is a pain in my ass.” Orlando threw a piece of popcorn into the air and caught it in his mouth. “Literally.”
“You love him even though he beats you and ties you up?”
“He doesn’t do anything I don’t allow. It’s called power exchange, Shelton. You like it when Crow looks out for you, don’t you?”
Shelton shrugged. He didn’t want to admit to anything that might make him seem weak. He was already bottom of the club’s ladder when it came to attitude. Even Orlando was a couple of rungs higher.
“I see the way you stare at him when you think he’s not watching. I think you’d enjoy being over his knee.”
“Orlando!” Shelton wasn’t amused that his cock seemed to like the idea of a spanking. He stabbed at his keyboard, trying to focus on maps of the border and some research he was doing for Hatchet.
Orlando had perfected an innocent expression but Shelton wasn’t fooled.
“Why are you one of The Wyverns, Shelton? I know none of you like to talk about the past, but what hold does Horatio Trap have over you? You don’t seem like an insubordinate hell-raiser like the rest of the guys. Though appearances can be deceptive.” He grinned.
“I hacked the Federal Reserve. Stole some money.” Shelton frowned. “I put it straight back but the authorities objected.”
Orlando’s eyes widened. “How much?”
“Twenty-five million dollars.”
“Holy crap! How are you not serving twenty years as the love slave of some gorilla-shaped con at the federal pen?”
Shelton’s ass clenched instinctively. “The FBI offered me a job, which came with a whole load of conditions I didn’t warm to. Trap got in touch with an alternative. He would give me a joining fee and a new identity if I helped out with The Wyverns instead. It was a no-brainer.”
“So your name’s not really Shelton?”
“Sure it is. I just changed my surname.”
“Rogue doesn’t tell me much about the kind of stuff you all get up to. He just muttered something about a problem in New Mexico before the gang headed out last week and told me to behave myself.”
“He’s just trying to protect you, Orlando. Sometimes I wish I knew a lot less myself.”
“I want to help more.”
“You help plenty by keeping everyone fed and watered and by looking after this place. It’s a big job, Orlando. Don’t underestimate the value the guys place on you—even if they don’t show it.” Shelton hoped they were as appreciative of his own skills with a computer. Coding didn’t fill their bellies and The Wyverns weren’t the kind of men to be effusive in their praise.
“Orlando.” Rogue’s gruff tones sounded from behind them. Shelton swiveled around to peer over the back of the couch. Rogue lounged in the doorway leading to the bedroom wing. He was shirtless and barefoot, wearing just a pair of tight leather pants. His dirty blond hair was damp from the shower. “Get your ass over here. I owe you a week’s worth of spankings and my balls are bluer than a fence lizard’s. Hey, Shelton.”
“Hey.” Shelton waved. “Welcome back.”
“Such a charmer,” Orlando drawled.
“Don’t make me come over there and fetch you, brat.” Despite his words, Rogue didn’t budge.
“Coming, Sir. At least I hope I will be.” Orlando winked at Shelton then clambered over the back of the couch. He ran across the room then threw himself into Rogue’s arms. Rogue tossed him over a shoulder and carried him away, planting a firm smack on his ass as he went.
Shelton experienced a small pang of jealousy. He wished he had someone who doted on him as much as Rogue did on Orlando. The leader of The Wyverns might come across as cruel and fierce until it came to Orlando, then Rogue was utterly committed and as soft as a toasted marshmallow. Shelton was well used to taking care of himself, but for once it would be nice to have someone looking out for him, out of love rather than obligation. He sighed and got back to work.
Around an hour later, Shelton checked the time. It was almost midday and he decided to start preparing lunch in case his fellow club members began to surface. He pushed through the swing door into the kitchen to discover that Orlando had already prepped chicken fillets for the grill. The meat and bowls of salad were waiting in the refrigerator. He’d also baked a huge chocolate cake and smothered it with frosting. Shelton snorted when he saw it sitting on a pantry shelf, pink sugar roses decorating the top. Orlando sure did love to yank their collective chain. It wouldn’t stop The Wyverns scarfing down every crumb.
Shelton pulled out silverware and crockery. He put on a fresh pot of coffee then set out mugs and glasses. After that he decided to go ahead and cook the chicken. It could always be eaten cold for those who needed more shut-eye.
He was just turning the meat when he heard the door open. He glanced over his shoulder to see who was there and almost dropped his tongs.
“Oh, hi, Crow. You’re up.” Internally he groaned. Talk about stating the blindingly obvious.
Hearing his name uttered in Crow’s smooth bass always gave Shelton a thrill. “Food won’t be long. Why don’t you take a seat?” Shelton didn’t look round again. He gasped as a firm body pressed against his back and his waist was encircled by a pair of muscled arms, one covered in tats, the other bare.
“Did you miss me?” Crow’s growl in his ear was a challenge.
Shelton’s heart rate increased exponentially. He could feel the organ pounding in his chest. He put the tongs down carefully then rotated to face Crow, who didn’t step back. Shelton’s personal space hadn’t just been invaded, it had been conquered and claimed as the spoils of war.
“Yes.” His mouth was so dry he could barely get the word out. He met Crow’s dark gaze and shivered. “Oh my God, you’re hurt!”
Shelton wriggled free of Crow’s grasp and examined all six feet four inches of his dream man. Crow’s blue-black hair was pulled back in a braid, exposing high cheekbones marred by black and purple bruising. A wide graze across his temple matched another on his chin. There was a range of cuts and bruises visible on his arms and his knuckles were torn up badly. Without even thinking, Shelton yanked up Crow’s T-shirt to check for more injuries. Livid bruising stretched from below his ribs to his hip, disappearing into his faded jeans. Shelton licked his lips as Crow’s ripped abs distracted him.
He gave himself a shake. “Jesus, Crow, what happened? You look like you’ve gone a few rounds on a rodeo bull. Did you fall off your bike?”
“As if.” Crow snorted. “We ran into a bit of trouble. Nothing we couldn’t handle.” He grabbed Shelton’s wrist. “But if you want to administer first aid, I wouldn’t object. Bits of me are hurting, that’s for sure.”
Shelton didn’t think Crow was referring to his bruises. He gulped. “I should…I should rescue the chicken!”
The heat in his face wasn’t just that reflected from the grill. Crow’s deep chuckle sent tingles down his spine. He was saved by the arrival of Teddy and Hatchet, both of whom were just as beat-up as Crow. Teddy had an impressive black eye and a cut across the bridge of his nose. Hatchet limped to his seat and sat with a groan.