Double the Heat Brewed by The Asylum-Part One
I hope everyone's having an awesome weekend!
After thinking things over, I realized there was still a story that was missing before we dive into the next full length book. How could we not see what went down when Matt opened his coffee shop?
So let's sit back, enjoy one of his perfects brews-Lawson insists no morning can begin without it-and hope the chaos of The Asylum isn't contagious!
Who am I kidding? We know it is.
But somehow, they always find their way in the end. And that's what we're here for. Another awesome journey.
“Please, Matt? I promise, I’ll take good care of him.”
Stopping by the pet store had been a mistake. Massaging the back of his neck, Matt calculated the costs. Dog food. Potential vet bills. Actual time—which he didn’t have to take the thing for walks when Garet eventually started slacking off.
He shook his head, pressing lightly against the middle of Garet’s back to get him moving. “Sorry, bud. Maybe one day…”
“Bullshit! You always say that!” Garet stared up at him, eyes tearing. “I hate you!”
A tug at the leash in his hand jerked Matt’s attention back to the present. He blinked as Lawson let out a sharp whistle, calling the pup to heel on the tree-lined, cobblestone path near the park. The husky belonged to The Asylum’s new resident therapist, Stephan. Koda was well trained, but apparently he needed a reminder of who was in charge.
And it’s not me.
But it would be, starting tomorrow. His new business—an idea he hadn’t even taken seriously until a sit-down with his husband made the dream appear that much more realistic—would have its grand opening. Every detail he’d spent countless hours perfecting, every flavor he’d tested over and over on anyone willing to play the guinea pig, every piece of artwork he’d commissioned to give the space the ideal ambience, would be on display for a bunch of strangers. Who would come back if he didn’t fuck it up.
Or who would let him know exactly how much of a failure he was if he did.
Because I'll be in charge. Of the whole thing.
Hopefully he wouldn’t make as much of a mess of this as he had raising his brother.
“Talk to me, Matt.” Hand curving around the back of his neck, Lawson brought him close to his side, lightly massaging the muscles that had tensed during Matt’s silent self-flagellation. He slowed to a stop as he studied Matt’s face, snapping his fingers for the puppy to sit. “You’re worried about the cafe.”
Glancing at Koda, Matt had the strangest urge to plop down on his hunches beside him. He didn’t get a lot of the various play at The Asylum, but pup play hadn’t been all that hard to wrap his head around. Sure, the random scenes he’d done were never that serious. He didn’t need the whole getup.
But having nothing to worry about besides tussling with Reed and chasing a ball around?
Pure. Fucking. Heaven.
Not an escape he could have now, though, so he looked up into Lawson’s dark green eyes, taking comfort in the understanding there instead. “I’m fucking terrified, sir. There are so many things that can go wrong. I’ve...really liked how things have been, at The Asylum, with you in control. Taking even a little bit of that back is...messing with my head.”
A gentle breeze, sweetened by the scent of freshly cut grass, washed over them, stirring Lawson’s neatly styled black hair. His husband always seemed most in his element behind a desk, wearing a tailored suit, but he was mouthwatering in a pair of black jeans and a white T-shirt, just snug enough to show off the outline of finely toned muscles. Nothing he wore took away from the power Matt wanted to wrap around him like a secure, weighted blanket.
“You had a lot of responsibility at a very young age, my boy. I’m happy to have taken some of that from you, to have shared the rest.” Lawson tipped Matt’s chin up with two fingers. “This will be the latter. You won’t fail, because I won’t let you. I will always be right here to help you figure things out. When I can’t be at the cafe, I’ll be a phone call away. And I’m not the only one.”
Pressing his eyes shut, Matt groaned. “Yeah, but I’ll still be the one in charge. I’ll be the one people look at if it’s a complete disaster.”
“Why would it be a disaster?” Lawson framed his jaw, a light pressure there to keep Matt from turning his head. He didn’t speak again until Matt opened his eyes. “What are you afraid will happen?”
That was easy. Matt held up his hand to list the possibilities on his fingers, adding a few Danny had mentioned the last time the subject had come up. “The machines could malfunction when I have a huge crowd. There could be no crowd, just a sweet old lady who comes in every day out of pity. I could break some business law I’ve never heard of and get a fine that forces me to shut down. Someone could get food poisoning and sue me. The ceiling could cave in—”
The edge of Lawson’s lips twitched. “What we are not going to do is confer with a certain ‘little mouse’ to increase our anxiety. Yes?” He smiled softly when Matt sighed and nodded. “There is already a lot of excitement about the cafe. The locals aren’t feeling as hopeless about the area, now that new things are opening for them to enjoy. They’ve already been doing all they can to help those businesses thrive.” He cupped Matt’s cheek, feeding his need to soak in every bit of strength he could from his Dom. “My skills can avoid you dealing with some of the pitfalls many new entrepreneurs face. If anything comes up regarding that, you will let me handle it.”
“Okay, that helps. But…” Matt rolled his eyes at himself. No, there were no ‘buts’. He wouldn’t know what problems he had to deal with until the place opened. “I’m being ridiculous.”
“No, you’re taking a chance and that’s never easy. You have every reason to have doubts. There will be some bumps in this particular road you’re on.” Lawson leaned in, brushing a kiss over his lips. “But you’ll ride them out. Before you know it, you’ll be past them and looking at something that’s yours, something you worked so hard for, and be damn proud of what you accomplished.”
Nodding, Matt breathed in the damp night air, giving the leash a light tug to get Koda moving again. “I was...thinking about how many things I fucked up with my brother.” He grinned when Lawson’s brow lifted. “I saved my free passes for tonight. I knew I was gonna need them.”
Lawson huffed out a laugh, then inclined his head. He took Matt’s hand as they walked, lacing their fingers together. “Garet is a good man. Young and reckless at times, and it took him some time to find some direction. Have you considered that you giving him the opportunity to take his time growing up was a good thing?”
“I…” Matt frowned, shaking his head. “Lawson, my brother joined a gang. He’s done porn. He’s already been with more men than I have. He dropped out of school.”
“He went back. And now he’s doing something he loves.”
True, but Matt couldn’t help waiting for the other shoe to fall. His brother was excited about his new school in a completely different state, far away from the gang and friends who could trash all the progress he’d made. He was nice and settled in his new apartment, in a good neighborhood.
All things Matt hadn’t been able to give him until he’d married someone with the resources to provide it.
Which brought him back to his original thoughts. He rested his head against Lawson’s shoulder. “There were...a few times he told me he hated me. And it was...like the cherry on the shit cake, you know? Once was when I wouldn’t get him this puppy he fell in love with.”
“Do you know children often say things like that to the person they feel safest with?” Lawson let go of his hand and put an arm around his shoulders as they reached the edge of the park, walking along the outskirts to take the long way home. “Ezran said that to me once when I caught him cutting school and brought him back. It hurt, so damn much. But Tracey told me the same thing I’m telling you. Children don’t always know what to do with their emotions when they’re overwhelming. So they throw them at you, hoping that you do.”
Matt snorted, gazing up at Lawson. “The stuff Garet threw at me might’ve left a few bruises.”
“We can compare battle scars.” Lawson’s lips curved and he gave Matt a one-armed hug. “You did the best you could by your brother. You got him through the most difficult thing a child can ever go through. Losing a parent who loved you both as much as your mother did.”
Not paying much attention to where they were going, Matt’s lips parted when they stopped in front of the cafe. He stared up at it, taking in the wide, gleaming windows. The modern gray brickwork, the awning above the wide space where he’d be setting up tables outside for customers to enjoy the warm weather with their coffee or ice cream.
The logo he’d spent weeks sitting with Pike to design was nice and big in the window by the glass door and he took a moment to admire it.
“Are babies supposed to be that...old looking?” Matt crawled up onto the hospital bed next to his mom. Was happy when she put an arm around him and cuddled him close, even though she was holding the new baby. Who looked a bit like an alien with a cone-head, but Matt didn’t want to be mean. “Tanya said they get fat and cry a lot. I hope he does soon, he’s really tiny.”
His mother burst out laughing. “You looked just like this when you were born, sweetheart. He’ll get bigger.” She gave him a serious look. “And you’ll have to teach him everything you know.”
Matt gave a quick nod. “I can do that. My karate teacher let me lead the katas last class. I didn’t make any mistakes.”
“That’s my boy.” Mom kissed his temple. “Now, I’m going to tell you something, but let’s keep this between us, okay?”
This was important, Matt could tell. So he nodded again.
“When I was little, I didn’t have any brothers or sisters, but I had a friend who I always practiced with. A lot of the grownups didn’t like it. He was bigger than me, but he was always careful. He showed me I could be strong.” She relaxed back against the pillows. “My mother always said ‘Girls shouldn’t roughhouse’, but I didn’t listen. I want you to be that person for your little brother. Show him how strong he can be. Let him win sometimes, so he knows what that feels like.”
The scrawny little baby didn’t look like he could do much, but maybe when he got bigger. “I can do that. I’m gonna be the best big brother ever.”
Long after his mother had died, Matt would go back to that moment. Especially on days when he felt like he was screwing up raising Garet. The only times he really got it right was when they were at the community center, on his rare days off. Garet had quit karate, but Matt had advanced enough to teach him. He could’ve taken him down every single time, but...sometimes, he let him win.
Naming this place ‘The Roughhouse Cafe’ had seemed random to most, but he’d told Lawson about the conversation and he’d just smiled, telling Matt it was perfect.
Tomorrow, the open sign on the door would be lit up. For the first time since he’d lost his mother and made all kinds of promises to her ghost to do his best for Garet, he’d be doing something that was...entirely for himself.
But he remembered his mother. Could still picture her face when he closed his eyes.
She hadn’t only loved him as Garet’s big brother.
She’d always made sure to show he mattered too. That he was just as special to her.
That he deserved to be happy.
To have some wins of his own.
Squaring his shoulders, he glanced over at Lawson. “I think...I can do this, sir. You’re right, things might come up, but I’ve raised a whole other fucking person. I did all I could and...I’m proud of him. He made it out in one piece and that’s gotta count for something.”
“It does, my boy.” Lawson raked his fingers through Matt’s hair, dipping down to give him a kiss that reminded him the control he’d be forced to take to fulfill his dreams was all he needed to hold on to. The rest would always belong to this man. Even his breaths were stolen away under the press of Lawson’s lips, given back in little sips as Lawson deepened the kiss. Then held him up when he eased back, leaving his whole body buzzing with need. “Now let’s go home. I plan to tire you out too much for you to dwell on what might go wrong.”
“Mmm, I like the sound of that.”
“But only after we address all that swearing.” Lawson clucked his tongue. “Naughty boy.”
Usually, breaking the rules and getting punished made Matt feel bad. Then...better, because all he had to do was surrender to whatever discipline Lawson or Curtis chose to make things right again.
This time, it was a much needed reminder.
Solidifying his place in this world. One that might seem all kinds of fucked up to anyone looking in. But for him, it was a chance to let go of what he’d had to hold on so tight for so long. He wasn’t alone anymore.
And he never would be again.