Nigel wouldn’t mind if Asher called him Daddy if the age gap didn’t bother him.
Nigel Blackburn has lived a full life as a private investigator. His job means he travels solo, which is something he enjoys. He’s a grouchy, stubborn dragon shifter who is better off alone. The last thing he wants is a mate and certainly not one so young. It doesn’t matter that he finds little bobcat shifter Asher Burkhart sexy. But all Nigel’s dragon wants to do is protect, which is good because danger drives into town.
Release Day: October 9, 2020
Author(s): April Kelley
Publisher: Hard Rose Publishing
Cover Artist: Studio ENP
Length: 47570 Words
Category: M/M Paranormal Romance
Tropes: Age-gap, fated mates
Keywords: Dragon Shifters, Cat Shifters
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08F5CNMHF
Dinner with the Blackburns
Nigel Blackburn never thought he would see the day where he liked living with four grown males, but he felt content. Even though empty and quiet wasn’t a thing. Maybe Nigel had lived in his three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch style house alone for so many years people were almost welcome.
Not that Nigel would ever admit it to anyone. He had a reputation for being rough around the edges, and the longer he held on to that, the more people would respect the orders he gave. The only one with the power to out him as more loving and social was Asher.
But Asher didn’t exactly have that on his mind. He sat on one of the bar stools on the opposite side of the kitchen island from where Nigel stood. With shoulders near his ears and his posture all introspective, something was going on and Asher needed help some type of help with it.
If Nigel were to guess, the past filled Asher’s mind. Each bad memory stuck together like cotton. Asher sat on one of the kitchen-island stools, picking at some invisible inconsistency on the counter. They weren’t the only ones in the room, but they might as well have been for all Asher saw anyone else.
Leaf sat on Teagan’s lap at the table. He smiled even as he kissed Teagan on the cheek. Teagan chuckled. Only Leaf knew why. Etienne stood at the island next to Nigel, chopping up onions as per Nigel’s instructions.
Of all of them, Etienne made the best sous chef because he listened. He didn’t know what he was doing in the kitchen, so his willingness to learn kept him sharp. Teagan had taken a recent interest in cooking and baking. Between food television and internet videos, he thought he knew as much as any executive chef. His commentary irritated Nigel to no end. Leaf was just hopeless, or maybe that was all an act to get out of helping. Mostly he just liked to sit at the kitchen table and make out with one of his mates.
They were all on rotation for cooking dinner, which was the daily meal they ate together, at least most of the time. Nigel had learned to take control. If he didn’t, the gods knew what they’d be eating, especially when only Nigel and Teagan knew their way around the kitchen in the first place.
“Knock off the dry humping, or you’ll be over here helping Etienne, Leaf.” By the gods, that kid had gotten hornier since Teagan and Etienne bond with him.
Teagan was the one who broke the kiss. “He’s right, sweetheart. We need to cool down.”
Leaf stopped the obscene movements, but he kept his face buried in Teagan’s neck.
Etienne chuckled. “Well, now, I’m torn. Watching them is sexy as fuck, but then again, if Leaf came over here, he’d dry hump me instead.”
Leaf turned his head to meet Etienne’s gaze. “I so would, baby.”
Nigel gained Asher’s attention, smiling and rolling his eyes. He wanted to pull Asher in but didn’t know what would work. He might as well try using Leaf and his antics as a catalyst.
Asher tried to return the smile, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. Asher seemed to open himself to Nigel’s attention, though. His shoulders relaxed, and he turned him. Asher looked at Nigel as if he needed his touch to ground him to the earth. He’d rise to the ceiling like a helium-filled balloon.
Nigel crooked a finger and waited. He had been pounding a chicken breast into submissions but set the mallet on the counter and went to the sink to wash his hands, drying them on the kitchen towel that hung from the oven doorhandle. He turned to Asher, who leaned against the side of the counter with his arms folded around his middle.
As soon as Nigel’s gaze settled on him, he moved his arms as if anticipating a hug. Nigel didn’t disappoint. He pulled Asher into him, giving him as much comfort as he could. Nigel was helpless in the face of whatever internal turmoil Asher faced because of his past.
What touch was the right touch? What words did Asher need to hear?
“Do you want to talk about it?” Maybe it was as simple as listening.
Asher sighed and lay his cheek against Nigel’s chest. “I’m just having a bad day.”
“Why?” The word came out harsher than Nigel intended, although he would like an answer. He had never been the soft type. There was a reason why braver folks teased him about always scowling.
He would prefer the answer to be as direct as his question because he would know how to help faster. It couldn’t be that simple. Dealing with the trauma life throws at a person never was.
“I don’t know, Nigel. Probably because I was kidnapped, held captive, taken to a lab, experimented on like a fucking monkey, taken to a sociopath’s house, and watched someone die.” Asher tone didn’t surprise Nigel. He’d been irritated with Nigel before, and he had deserved it every time.
Apparently, Asher’s irritation surprised everyone else, though. And that included Leaf. Teagan raised his eyebrows, and he tightened his hold on Leaf when he looked as if he intended to stand.
Leaf definitely wanted to butt into their conversation. He always did.
Etienne outright chuckled and said, “It’s about fucking time.”
Not that Nigel knew what Etienne meant by the statement. Since his attention was all on Asher and walking on the eggshells he had just laid down, he didn’t think about it too hard.
“What’s going on, Ash?” And there it was. Leaf putting himself in the middle. There weren’t two closer siblings.
As Asher’s mate, Nigel had a lot to learn about navigating Asher and Leaf’s relationship. There were boundaries, and so far, he hadn’t crossed them, but that was by sheer luck and nothing more. He still didn’t know where the borders lay.
Asher’s sigh came out like a growl, and his body stiffened. “Nothing. Gods. Can’t I have a bad day without having someone up my ass about it?”
Asher tried to pull away, but Nigel held on, rubbing his back to try and soothe. If he let go, Asher would leave the room. He would go to their bedroom and wallow in whatever was on his mind. Nigel feared he would be barely recognizable at the end of that shitty journey, so no, he wouldn’t let him leave. Not yet at any rate.
Nigel pressed his cheek to Asher’s, whispering in his ear to keep the conversation between them. “What do you need from me?”
Asher worked his arms around Nigel’s shoulders, hugging him back for the first time since Nigel touched him. His body slowly relaxed, and before Nigel knew it, he was the one who pressed himself against Nigel, lifting onto his toes to get closer. Nigel had a feeling he would climb him like a tree if he could.
Asher mumbled, “I don’t know. I’m anxious. I don’t know why.”
Nigel pulled Asher with him as he leaned against the counter. His new position would allow him to see Etienne. He would need direction if they wanted to eat on time. It was a thing because he didn’t intend to let go of Asher anytime soon.
Etienne put down his knife and moved until he stood in front of the chicken breast, picking up the mallet, and beating on the breast. He looked at Nigel as if seeking approval, and when he gave it, Etienne continued the task.
It wasn’t Nigel’s intention to turn into the father figure for Teagan and his mates, but somehow, he had. Guidance and stability were what he provided, and Nigel was fine with it. He was certainly set in his ways enough to bark orders, and sometimes that’s all he had to do to give them what they needed. Given how all five of them came to live together, Nigel was comfortable in his role.
The only one who didn’t view him that way was Asher. Their relationship was mates through and through, despite their age difference.
“Well, you’re not alone.” When Asher didn’t respond, Nigel continued. He hoped he would say something to alleviate his anxiety, not that he knew how anxiety worked, but if Asher already felt like shit and had all day, then nothing Nigel said would make it worse. “We all have problems. Not one of us is exempt. And we’re all here to help each other however we can. So if it isn’t me you need, maybe it’s one of the others.”
That last part nearly gutted him to say. He wanted to be the one Asher leaned on for support. They were fated mates, and Nigel was a dragon shifter. Everything he did, where Asher was concerned, was intuitive. He wanted to fix Asher, even if that meant killing whatever cause his trauma. Hell, especially if it meant killing. He knew it wasn’t that simple. Nothing like what Asher had gone through ever was.
And it wasn’t about Nigel’s wants anyway.
It was about Asher’s needs.
“It’s you.” Asher tilted his head enough to kiss Nigel under his chin. “It’s definitely you.”
Well, that was almost a relief, if Nigel didn’t dwell on the fact he had no fucking clue what he was doing. Mental and emotional health wasn’t exactly his strength. Not that it mattered. He would help however he could and not just for Asher but all of them. They were all in the same space together, and he doubted that would ever change.
New Addiction, The Cautious Valentine, Finding Happy, Solid Ground, A Little Unsteady
April Kelley is an author of LGBTQ+ Romance. Her works include The Journey of Jimini Renn, which was a Rainbow Awards finalist, Whispers of Home, the Saint Lakes series, and over thirty more. She’s a main contributor at Once and Books. April has been an avid reader for several years. Ever since she wrote her first story at the age of ten, the characters in her head still won't stop telling their stories. If April isn't reading or writing, she can be found taking a long walk in the woods or going on her next adventure.
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