Loki’s eyes snapped open. Soft light from the parking lot outside bled through the partially opened venetian blinds and slashed over his prone body. He rubbed his closely shaved head and propped himself up with his elbow. The futon he was laying on didn’t offer much padding between him and the hard floor of his office in the Box.
It was a little past six a.m. He knew because his body woke up at the same time every day, without fail. No alarm clock. Nothing, except his own mental regimen. The hours he’d put into the boxing gym that the Squad had recently purchased, and that he’d assisted in converting to accommodate MMA practitioners as well, were grueling, but he welcomed the nonstop work. So what if he dragged out his futon and slept on the floor of the office he shared with Cutter? Massaging his left shoulder, he rolled his rotator cuff until the stiffness eased.
Taking two ends of his sheet, he folded it into a perfect square and then rolled up the futon and tucked his bedding away into a near-empty closet. He scratched his abs. His palm slid down, paused on his erection and gave it a hard squeeze. Gritting his teeth, he could almost feel the snug tightness of a woman’s pussy. One stroke, and he released his cock. Abstinence might not come naturally to him, but it was a choice. One that he renewed every damn morning. Why? Because every morning, he woke up knowing that he was alive, and Chopper was dead. Abstaining from pleasure, from comfort, was both penance and a reminder that Chopper was dead and he didn’t deserve to live. Chopper had been the better brother. If life were fair, he would’ve been saved, but Loki learned early on that there was little justice in the world.
Padding out into the hallway, he stepped into the gym’s tiny kitchen and grabbed a bag of Arabica beans from the freezer, his only indulgence. Using a hand grinder, he ground the two ounces he’d measured on a small kitchen scale. Eyeing the coffee machine, he sighed, scooped in the ground-up coffee beans, and poured water into the side receptacle. Kingdom was stopping by to go over the renovation plans for the unfinished rooms. It’d been a year since they’d opened the gym, and finally, there was enough money to fix up the rooms that languished in the back of the renovated warehouse. Thank fuck. Hopefully, one of them could be his own office because he was getting sick of sharing an office with Cutter. The brother was a fucking slob.
Espresso cup in the palm of his hand, Loki roamed around the cavernous main floor of the gym, pulling up the blinds of huge floor-to-ceiling windows. Loki had meditated, showered, and dressed, in his self-imposed dress code—black Henley, black jeans, and his cut—by the time Kingdom waltzed through the entrance, a takeout bag tucked in the crook of his elbow. He tossed out a “Whattup?” as he strode into the kitchen. Loki took a seat on a stool at a high table near the lockers and waited for him to get his coffee.
Minutes later, Kingdom dropped a wrapped egg-and-cheese sandwich beside Loki’s empty espresso and slid onto a seat across from him. “Sandwich smells good, but I’m fasting today.”
“My bad. You don’t eat. You don’t fuck. All to punish yourself for Chopper’s death. Don’t see how that’s helping you, but it’s your life. Hope your dick doesn’t shrivel up and fall off from lack of use.”
“Ha! You did this shit on purpose,” Loki intoned.
“You’re one suspicious asshole, but not this time.”
“I’m suspicious ’cause you’re the asshole,” he scoffed.
Kingdom didn’t negate his claim. Slurping on his hot coffee, Kingdom peered at him over the rim. “You’re lookin’ chipper this morning.”
Loki sent him a doleful look. “You wanted to talk, so get talking.”
“Yeah.” Kingdom paused. Not a good sign. “It’s about the self-defense class you’re teaching tomorrow. The women’s social worker will attend.”
Hold up, what the fuck? Kingdom knew Loki didn’t like being micromanaged. After over a decade in the military, he joined the Squad because the loose confederation of brothers gave him a sense of community without the oppressive rules. He was done with rules and regulations. Put up with it in the military because he loved what he did, but he wasn’t gonna take any shit out in the civilian world. The whole point of leaving was to be free.
Loki slitted his eyes, stretching the skin around the scar that crossed through his eyebrow, passed close to the outer corner of his eye, and ended on his cheekbone. “Don’t trust me?”
“’Course, I trust you,” Kingdom scoffed, “You’re the most qualified brother there is to teach this class. But, they’re survivors and the woman in charge wants to be present in case the lessons bring up shit for them. Give them support, that kind of thing.”
“I’ll be there for support. Christ, you know me. I know exactly the kind of pussies who beat on women, and I despise them for it.”
“Brother, we have a contract with a government agency. You know as well as I do, government means bureaucracy. If we do it right, more work will flood in, and we need that flood of cash, get me? If this is how they want to play it, then that’s how we’re gonna play it. End of story.”
Loki’s jaws clenched. “The contract didn’t stipulate a supervisor overseeing and controlling me during my fuckin’ class.”
“Loki,” he sighed, “They don’t know who you are. Your qualifications. All they know is they want one of their own present, to make sure everything runs smoothly. I understand that it’s a hard concept for you, but we gotta be flexible.”
Flexible. He didn’t do flexible. He did control. Craved it, in fact. Kingdom knew that. The idea that he wouldn’t be able to control what happened in the classroom, to protect the women from any shit that came up, was preposterous. Through sheer force of will, he’d become the opposite of his father for a reason. But, he hadn’t been named Loki for nothing. Trickster, because beneath the veneer of impenetrable control lay an ocean of seething rage. It rarely came out, but those few times he’d lost his temper were so memorable that the brothers christened him Loki. The Viking god didn’t play well with others, and neither did he.
Peering down at his cell phone, Kingdom said, “Fuck, Kite’s blowing up my phone.”
Loki straightened. Kite was the president of the Jersey chapter of the Demon Squad. He was involved in negotiations with another MC, the Dark Horsemen. There was history because they had fucked with Cutter’s old lady, Greta. “What’s the problem?”
“Seems like Shadow is fucking with Kite in small ways. Apparently, Shadow wasn’t happy with our intervention.”
“Kite must be irate if he’s texting you this early in the morning.”
Kingdom grunted his assent.
“Too fucking bad for Shadow, though,” said Loki. “He shouldn’t have messed with Greta. That’s on him.”
“Yeah,” Kingdom responded absently as he shot off a text. “Gonna set up a time to talk with Kite and get the lowdown on the situation. Shadow’s a damn pussy. He can’t do anything. Not at this point anyway. Taking over as president isn’t easy in the best of times. He doesn’t have the clout to start in on another MC.” Pocketing his cell, he looked up at Loki and said, “Now where were we? Oh, yeah. The supervisor doesn’t know you. It’s not personal, you know,” Kingdom clarified. “She’s real particular about her clients.”
“She’s not the only one real particular about things,” Loki grumbled. “I’m the one certified to teach self-defense to the most vulnerable females out there. Christ, I don’t gotta give you my résumé. You know who I am and what I’ve done. What I don’t need is the distraction of some random bitch intruding during my class, especially in the beginning, while I’ve got to establish trust between me and the women I’m working with.”
“Okay, she’s not a random bitch. She’s been working closely with Greta and Sage. It ain’t personal,” Kingdom repeated in an exasperated tone. “It’s for her clients.”
“Fuck her. I can handle anything that goes down during the class.”
“Try telling her that,” he muttered.
“What’d you say?”
“Look, when you get to know her, you’ll quickly learn that she’s normally chill and down-to-earth but can get controlling when it comes to taking care of people. You know, like a mother hen.”
“You knew my mother,” he relied dryly. “Does mother hen sound like something I would know jack shit about?”
“It wouldn’t hurt to have a female with you the first couple classes. It’s not a big deal.”
“The deal is, Kingdom, that I know what I’m fucking doing. I don’t need someone to babysit me to make sure I don’t—what? Scare them? They’re not gonna be scared of shit when I get through with them.”
Kingdom snapped his fingers as if reminded of something. “That’s right. She also wants to observe because she’s plans to go through the same certification process.”
“Whatever,” Loki ground out. He could already see he wasn’t gonna win this round. “Sounds like it’s easier to deal with it than argue over it.”
“You don’t know the half of it, brother. She’s become friends with Sage and Greta through the domestic violence cases they’ve been taking on.”
Christ, that explained it. Both Kingdom and Cutter were pussy-whipped. He’d figure out a way to get rid of the pesky social worker on his own. He wasn’t about to have some know-it-all chick meddle in his class. The class had to be successful, and the only way to guarantee that was if he did it his way. Not only for the influx of cash, but because he knew a thing or two about self-empowerment. No one would stand between him and the women he was helping.