Peyton, on the other hand? He apparently had nothing better to do than steam like dog shit laid fresh on a snowbank.

Axe had done a damn good job of ignoring the glares, however, and he intended to keep up the brick wall for the rest of the night—


“I mean it,” Peyton snapped.

As Axe let his head fall against the rest, he knew he should have moved farther back when Mr. Boundaries had sat across the aisle from him. Course that would mean he’d be riding in on the rear bumper.

“You made your point last night,” Axe muttered. “And I agreed with you, if you remember.”

“You didn’t say shit.”

“Fuck you, and I’ll repeat myself now.” He turned his head lackadaisically to the male. “I’m not going to touch her.”

“Then why did you follow Elise out like that?”

“Fresh air, man. I needed—”

“I’m fucking serious—”

“Hey, I have an idea. Let’s not play Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson circa Maine North High School.”

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“What the fuck are you talking about?”

Boone spoke up but didn’t look up from the row ahead. “The Breakfast Club. Widely considered the best high school film ever made. Filmed at Maine North High School in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1984. Judd Nelson played the role of the stereotypical degenerate—”

“FYI,” Axe cut in, “that’s my role. You’re the wrestler, Pey-pey. The judgmental fuck with the please-daddy complex.”

Peyton cocked an eyebrow. “Him”—he motioned to Boone—“I’d expect to know that. You?”

“I haven’t been a sex addict my whole life, you know. I used to be a druggie who specialized in nodding out in front of the TV. And will you do us both a favor and drop this shit. I’m not going to bang your pure-as-the-driven-snow cousin. She’s not my type.”

Okay, fine. He might have spent all day staring at the ceiling, reliving the way she had turned to him on that sidewalk. Looked at him. Spoken to him.

And yeah, there might have been some palm action. But it had been a case of either he took care of the perma-rection he’d developed or he came to class with a baseball bat in his leathers.

But that wasn’t about her. Nah. That was just a sign he needed to spend more time at The Keys.

The bus came to a stop, and the ancient butler retracted the partition while opening the door across from his driver’s seat. “We’ve arrived! Have a lovely evening!”

The doggen said the same thing in the same cheerful voice every night, and as Axe got to his feet and walked down and off before anyone else could, he realized it was kind of a ritual. The verbal equivalent of rubbing a rabbit’s foot for good luck.

The parking area had a number of vehicles in it, including an RV that was actually a mobile surgical center, a new Hummer that was being bulletproofed, two pickups that sparkled like they were just off the Ford lot, and an earthmover of some CAT variety. There were other levels of graduated asphalt rising upward, but Axe had never bothered with them.

Even if he’d been allowed to drive in, it wasn’t like he had a car or any prospects of getting one.

Nope, no whip for him. In his world, there was no money for anything other than the clothes on his back and the human property taxes on the little house his father had built for a female who had never given a shit about him. Oh, and those ramen noodles. Axe’s electricity had been turned off again and this time, he wasn’t going to bother to pay the bill. He could live in the dark—it was better than crashing at the training center like a homeless human. Besides, gas and sewer were municipal, so he had hot running water, and the fireplaces worked well enough to keep him warm.

He’d survive.

As he approached a steel-reinforced door, he didn’t have to wait. It was opened from the inside, the Dhestroyer shoving the heavy weight wide like the thing weighed as much as a sheet of paper.

“Evenin’,” the Brother Butch said. “We’re in the first classroom.”

Axe nodded and walked down the long hall, passing by interrogation rooms and other teaching areas, and then the new lab where they were, literally, blowing shit up.

The classroom they used was your typical set-up—or at least what he’d seen on the TV during his heroin days. There were two rows of long tables with pairs of seats facing an old-fashioned chalkboard. Overhead lights were banks of fluorescents; the flooring was speckled linoleum.

No readin’, writin’, and ’rithmetic taught here, though.

Try hand-to-hand-combat theory, military maneuvers, basic first aid, group dynamics.

Axe sat in the back and—thank you, God—Peyton parked it down in front. The others settled in, ready for the night.

The Brother Butch closed the door and sat on the desk that was off to the side. He had a Red Sox hat on, a shirt that had a stencil of Big Papi’s face on the front, and set of Adidas track pants in black. Running shoes were Brooks and in a pink and red neon.

“Tonight,” the Brother said, “we’re going to review how badly you each performed in that mock attack. Which should take us eight to twelve hours. Then, if there’s time left, we’ll keep going with poisons, focusing on aerosols and contact poisons. But first, I have a job opportunity for someone.”

Axe frowned.

Money, he thought, would be good.

“The position is one that will require the utmost discretion and tact.” The Brother leveled a deadly stare at the group. “As well as an intimate knowledge of personal defense.”

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