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Room at the Top

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Chapter One

Austin Fisher was on his knees.

The carpet beneath him was thin and rough—probably easy to clean, though, which might be why it had been chosen. Another thirty minutes and he’d have rug burn, because no matter how hard he tried to stay absolutely still, it was impossible. He could feel colder air seeping through the wall behind him; it made the sheen of sweat on his bare, aching ass more noticeable, even with the majority of his attention focused on his boyfriend, Jay, and on the third man in the room.

Jay knelt too, but in an awkward position over a padded chair that Austin thought was probably meant for something other than what it was now being used for. Like sitting on. Jay’s naked ass was red, and his hands gripped the wooden frame of the chair tightly as the tall man standing over him repeatedly struck him with a slapper, the looped leather belt landing with a solid snap that made Austin tense as if it was his ass on the receiving end.

Jay wasn’t happy, Austin could tell. The sounds Jay made after he’d called out the number of each stroke were frustrated—even desperate—as if something was wrong, but Austin couldn’t figure out the cause. It didn’t matter. The night had been a disappointment, and it wasn’t likely either of them would be back for more. Jay had just four strokes to go of his fifty and then they could get dressed, go home, and try to salvage something from the evening. Austin wanted their bed, Jay curled up against him, his long hair getting in the way when Austin kissed him. He wanted to take the sting out of Jay’s ass with a cool, wet cloth and tell him just how hot he’d looked bent over, and he wanted to see Jay smile.

Three to go.

“Sauron!” Jay said, using his safe word for the first time in months. “Sauron!”

Austin broke position without thinking. He scrambled to his feet and felt his cramped leg muscles protest the sudden change.

“Stay where you are,” Niall said sharply. Austin assumed the command was directed at him, and he hesitated, willing to let Niall handle Jay and bring him down slowly, but wanting to be there for Jay too.

“Just three more to go,” Niall said and planted his hand firmly in the small of Jay’s back, holding him down. “You can take it, boy.”

Niall raised the belt, and Austin’s uncertainty fled. He jumped forward and grabbed Niall’s wrist hard enough that he could feel tendon grinding against bone. “No.”

“I’m the one in charge here.” Niall didn’t sound convinced of that anymore, though, and Austin knew that was all it took in a situation like this.

Playtime was over.

“No,” he said again. “He safe worded. You can’t be stupid enough not to know what that means.”

Austin was excruciatingly aware of Jay’s breathing, harsh and uneven, but he also knew that until Niall relented, there was no option but to restrain the other man’s hand. Jay was in a vulnerable position, and protection was more important than reassurance at that moment.

He tightened his grip on Niall’s wrist. Niall winced, then nodded, and Austin felt the man’s arm muscles relax. “Right,” Niall said. “I was caught up. Yeah, we’re done. Jay, are you—”

“Don’t touch him,” Austin snapped, and Niall stepped back, his eyes wary. “Give us a minute. Alone.”

He didn’t wait longer than it took Niall to move away before dropping back to his knees, this time so he could gather Jay into his arms.

“Easy,” he said gently as he helped Jay to get off the chair. “Take it slow. Deep breaths. Are you dizzy?”

“I’m okay.” Jay didn’t sound it. His brown eyes looked unfocused, hazy. Jay didn’t always go deeply into a scene. He had a tendency to get distracted, something he could hide successfully enough that whoever was his Dom didn’t notice, but tonight he’d let himself fall without hesitation.

For once that’d been a mistake.

“You don’t look it.”

Jay shook his head, more to clear it than in denial, Austin guessed. “It wasn’t working for me. I told him to stop. I did, didn’t I? I said it?”

“Yeah,” Austin said, anger burning through him. Jay’s safe word had made him roll his eyes and grin when Jay had chosen it, but hearing it used, it hadn’t seemed weird at all. Just very Jay. “You did.”

Jay was taller than Austin by a few inches, but hunched over and pressing close, he felt smaller. He rubbed his forehead against Austin’s shoulder, his exhaled breath warm against Austin’s bare skin. “Thought so. Niall’s an asshole.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m not,” Niall said, and Austin, who’d assumed he’d left the room, turned his head to look at him. “It was an honest mistake.”

“There wasn’t anything honest about it.” Austin wanted to stand up and shout at Niall, intimidate him, make him feel something of what it was like to be on the other side of the equation. He felt like it was more important to stay with Jay, though, so he kept his voice low.

“There was.” Niall came closer, holding out his hands—look, not a threat—and then sat down cross-legged on the floor. “I was caught up in the scene, and it didn’t register. Jay, I’m sorry. It wasn’t deliberate.”

“Okay.” Jay didn’t look at Niall.

“No, really. I’m sorry.” Niall sounded genuinely upset.

“We know,” Austin said. “Just give us a minute here, will you?” He slid a hand under Jay’s hair to the back of his neck and rubbed it. “It’s okay. Everything’s good. Take all the time you need. No hurry.” He’d sit here all night holding Jay if that was what it took.

“You were so close to the end,” Niall said, like that mattered. “Three more. I wanted you to feel like you’d accomplished something, I guess. Crossed the finish line.”

“It’s not a race,” Jay said. The trace of irritation in his deep, slow voice was heartening. He straightened, and Austin let his hand slide down Jay’s back, unwilling to break contact with him. “The numbers don’t matter, just how I’m feeling, and it wasn’t working for me at all. Couldn’t you tell?”

“How am I supposed to—” Niall broke off. “Jesus, it’s not like I’m a mind reader. You could’ve said something, maybe given me a hint, not just ended it like that. When we started the scene, you two said you were up for a good, hard paddling, and that’s what I gave you.” There was a hint of sulkiness in his expression now, his remorse fading visibly as he worked himself up, justifying his actions. “Two of you…it’s a lot of work, you know? My shoulder’s going to be killing me tomorrow, and I’m supposed to be going indoor rock climbing with my boss. I hate those team-building exercises.”

“You’re unbelievable,” Austin said flatly. “You were drooling at the thought of playing with us when I called you.”

“Yeah, well, I thought I’d be getting something good out of it,” Niall said. “I’ve never had a threesome before, and it sounded hot. Like a porn movie or something.” He cleared his throat and scratched at his jaw, sheepish but hopeful. “How about I get us a drink and we can just, you know, move on?”

“To the bedroom?” Jay said. “Is that what you mean?”

“Well, yes.” Niall shrugged, more relaxed now, as if he thought the awkwardness was behind them. “I get off on the spanking and the games as much as you two. You know I do, or you wouldn’t have asked me to set this up for you. Doesn’t mean that’s all I’m interested in. What do you two do? I’m up for pretty much anything.”

“Then I hope you’re up for an evening alone, because we’re going home.” Austin uncurled himself from around Jay, stood, and held out a hand to pull Jay to his feet. “Get your clothes.”

“You aren’t in charge either, you know,” Jay complained but went to do as he’d been told.

“What do you mean, going home? Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” Niall stood too, hands on his hips.

There was something intimidating about being naked next to a man who was fully dressed, but Austin was stubborn and used to getting his way.

Austin ran a hand through his hair. “Nope. And you’re not going to change our minds, so you might as well give up now.”

“Fine. Whatever. But you should know if this is the kind of thing you do, you’re going to have a hard time finding partners. People don’t like to be used.” Niall sounded like a sulky teenager, and Austin knew from experience that the way to handle them was to ignore their attitude.

“Are you good?” he asked Jay, pretending Niall wasn’t even there.

Jay could take his sweet time dressing in the morning, ignoring the clock and Austin’s verbal prodding, drifting around their small apartment absently chewing on a piece of toast, crumbs floating down, but Austin was glad to see that tonight Jay was in no mood to linger. Their shoes were by the front door, and Jay’s shirt hung unbuttoned over a faded T-shirt declaring I’M NOT MOVING UNTIL I’VE HAD MY SECOND BREAKFAST, but other than that, he was ready to leave.

Jay moved, shielding Austin from Niall’s view. His shoulders were still rounded, his head ducked, but that was normal for Jay. In the two years they’d been together, Austin had never figured out if Jay’s posture was due to his hobby, his job, or a desire to take up as little space as possible in the world. Maybe a little from every column. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

He sounded bored, but Austin didn’t fool himself that Jay was ready to put what had just happened behind him. Jay would most likely refuse to talk about it in detail, but eventually he’d finish mulling it over and vent. Austin just hoped it was sooner rather than later. The longer Jay waited, the worse the meltdown would be.

Austin dressed quickly, his skin crawling because he knew without looking that Niall, who’d gone over to fiddle with the strap he’d been using, was watching him. He was too raw from hearing Jay’s voice crack as he’d yelled out his safe word to feel any sympathy for Niall’s blue balls. Even if the scene had played out better, there was no way they would’ve ended up in bed with Niall. He’d made that clear when he’d called to arrange the evening, but Niall had only heard what he’d wanted to by the sound of it. With Patrick, they’d been happy to blow him if he wanted that when the session was over, the two of them on their knees, their mouths saying thank you without words, as he stroked their hair or gripped their shoulders, his body taut with need.

Patrick had understood that Austin and Jay didn’t want anyone else in their bed or their relationship—just someone who could give them what they needed as subs. Niall would never have gotten that, and maybe it was unrealistic to expect him to. Unlike Patrick, he wasn’t still emotionally committed to someone else.

Austin wanted to go back to the time when Patrick was living just a few miles away, not on the other side of the country. He couldn’t grudge Patrick the new start the man had made, though he still missed him. Maybe they could call him over the weekend. Their good-bye gift to him had been a webcam, and Austin had installed it and run through the basics of setting up Skype, with Patrick dubious but indulgent.

“It’s better than just talking,” Jay had said, pushing his hair back behind his ears so he could give Patrick an earnest look. “You can see us.”

“I’ve grasped that much,” Patrick had said drily.

“And it’s free. No long-distance charges.”

“I’m convinced. And grateful. You’re both very sweet, and I wish…”

“You don’t,” Austin had said quickly. “It’s going to be great, Patrick. The job sounds perfect, your apartment’s right by the beach and—”

“And I won’t miss Dan as much out there?”

Jay had put his arms around Patrick then, a comforting, clumsy hug. “Yeah, you will. You don’t want to stop. Not yet. It’s too soon. But it’ll be easier someplace different. We get that.”

Austin and Jay both missed Patrick for himself, as well as what he’d been able to give them, but it had been more than two months before they’d talked about what they were going to do without him. They both craved the emotional release being with an experienced Dom brought. That they were a couple and determined to remain that way meant not just any Dom would do. Meeting Patrick had been little more than luck, and recasting the role he’d filled was going to be difficult—if not downright impossible.

In desperation one night, they’d attempted a scene on their own, with Austin playing the Dom role. It had been a complete disaster. He hadn’t been able to get into the right head space, which left Jay understandably frustrated and Austin alternating between apologies and near hysterical giggling.

Niall had been recommended by a friend, and though Austin believed he hadn’t had high hopes for the encounter, his sense of disappointment as they got into the car told him he’d been fooling himself. “Well,” he said, putting the key into the ignition but not starting the car. “That sucked.”

“Beyond words,” Jay agreed and put a hand on Austin’s thigh. “You okay?”

“I’m not the one who safe worded and then was ignored,” Austin pointed out. “Jesus.” It was still sinking in.

Jay patted his thigh, comforting him as if Austin had been the one pinned down. “Yeah, but you didn’t enjoy it much, either. I could tell.”

True enough. The paddling Austin had gotten had felt good to start with, the familiarity of the act soothing. He loved getting his ass spanked red, the sizzle sinking in deep until it spread through him, leaving him wrung out and satisfied. He could climax from it if it was done right, needing nothing but a word of permission followed by one more perfect, painful slap. Niall hadn’t brought him even close to that delicious euphoria. Austin had soon realized Niall’s ideas of what constituted a paddling were basic to say the least. Placement, rhythm, force, the sweet cruelty of a pause with a few well-chosen words spoken in a clear voice cutting through the roar in his ears…none of that had been present. Niall had bent him over, groped his ass in a way Austin had resented, then walloped him with a brisk enthusiasm that had petered off quickly.

Niall had been right about one thing: His shoulder was going to ache tomorrow. The man was out of shape.

He couldn’t.”

Jay sighed and picked at a frayed spot on his jeans, just above his knee. “Like I said. He’s an asshole. We really blew it tonight. Patrick’s going to freak when we tell him.”

“We don’t have to tell him.”

Jay turned his head, the long, straight fall of his hair swaying forward. “He’ll know something’s wrong.”

That was too much a given for Austin to even bother arguing. “Well, it’s not like he can do anything to us when he’s thousands of miles away.”

Even he could hear the longing in his voice. He wanted Patrick to tell them they’d been reckless and come up with some inventive way to punish them that would leave all three of them smiling when it was over. Knowing it wasn’t going to happen and they were on their own was more painful than anything Niall had done.

Jay shifted in his seat. “My ass hurts. I want to go home. I feel”—he gestured impatiently with his hands, his long fingers graceful, expressive—“like a firework that didn’t get to go bang. Fuck. I really, really wanted this to work out for us.”

“I know. Me too.” Austin sighed and started the car. “Well, let’s get you home, at least.”

They didn’t talk much on the way back, which was usual for them following a scene, but for entirely different reasons. Usually they were happily post-orgasm and exhausted, looking forward to a long shower and a deep, peaceful sleep. Tonight their silence was about the frustration they shared and the reality that they were once again out of options.

“We’ll be okay,” Jay said as they thumped their way up the long, narrow staircase that led to their apartment on the second floor of the old Victorian they called home. “Hey, come on. You’re supposed to agree with me.”

“Yeah. We’ll be okay.” It didn’t sound particularly convincing. “Ow! Shit, Jay, when are you going to do something about these books?” Austin had tripped yet again over a stack of books, this one piled near the door.

“Sorry.” Jay knelt to pick them up, then slid the stack closer to the wall.

Austin shut the door and banged his head against it, despising himself just a little bit. “No, don’t be sorry. I’m an asshole. Come here.” They were barely in the door, and here he was snapping at his boyfriend.

“I don’t mean to bring home so many,” Jay murmured against Austin’s neck, hugging him tightly. “And you’re not an asshole.”

“Sometimes I am.”

“Sometimes everyone is, I guess, but you, no. You’re perfect.”

Austin couldn’t help laughing. “You work at a library, and you think I’m perfect? Doesn’t it have a dictionary? Because I’m pretty sure my picture isn’t next to that word.”

“You take care of me,” Jay said with a simple trust that made Austin feel like driving back to Niall’s and punching him, hard. Jay wasn’t naive exactly, but he tended to believe the best about people. That a Dom wouldn’t listen to a safe word would never have occurred to him before tonight, and Austin wasn’t sure how Jay would process Niall’s inability to follow such a basic, necessary rule. “You take care of your family too. Assholes don’t care about anyone but themselves.”

Jay’s voice was muffled, but Austin heard every word.

“I love you.” He didn’t say that often enough. Jay shivered with pleasure and pressed a kiss against Austin’s neck, unerringly finding the precise spot to make Austin’s eyes squeeze tightly closed as his body responded.

Jay kissed him again, this time adding a nip from his teeth. “Want to salvage something from tonight?”

“Yes.” There were a lot of other things Austin wanted to say, but he rarely shared more than a fraction of the thoughts that flitted through his head. He was the kind of guy who did what was needed and didn’t talk about it. “Shower okay?”

That was the kind of thing he wouldn’t put into words—the need to make Jay’s skin his again, to erase any lingering memory of Niall’s touch and put his on Jay instead. Austin wanted to touch every inch of Jay. He wanted to wash him clean and then take him to bed and fuck him, long and slow and careful.

The bathtub was an old claw-foot with a shower curtain that didn’t really do the job. Long before Austin had moved in, Jay had bought a collection of bath mats and spread them on the floor all around the tub to soak up the inevitable flood. The mats didn’t always dry out between showers, so Austin had insisted on a strict schedule of trips through the washer and dryer that was tiresome but necessary, like so many other things in life.

Austin was grateful every day that his relationship with Jay was the complete opposite of tiresome. He was still in awe of Jay’s skin, of the light freckles that decorated Jay’s shoulders and the smooth silkiness of Jay’s lower back. Every smile Jay directed toward him was like an amazing gift. Sure, the piles of books and the clutter got on his nerves, but none of that was important when compared to Jay’s loving, generous spirit.

Aware he was getting lost in thought, Austin forced himself to focus on the moment. He reached for the soap and a washcloth. “Turn around,” he said softly.

Jay obeyed at once. Austin supposed both of them were inclined to do that in certain circumstances—and naked, wet, and horny definitely qualified—but now that they were floating, no hand on the rudder since Patrick had left, it always seemed to be him giving the orders. He didn’t want to, though. It didn’t feel right. God, this was so messed up.

He glanced down at Jay’s ass, mottled faintly with rising bruises, the pale skin splotched with scarlet. If Patrick had made it look like that, Jay would’ve been twisting around to stare at it in the mirror every chance he got until the marks faded, touching the tender skin and loving every twinge. Austin got a kick out of Jay’s wholehearted enjoyment of the aftermath of a scene. It was so rare to see him exuberant. Jay’s happiness ran more to a steady glow than a blaze.

With his finger, he traced around a particularly dark patch of skin. Niall must’ve struck it repeatedly. That could feel intense in the moment, as Austin knew from experience, but it hurt like hell too. Jay hadn’t been anything like ready for that level of pain so early in the session. No wonder he’d safe worded. Austin had been there, lost in the pain, unable to use it to guide him to any kind of emotional resolution. Patrick had picked up his confusion and eased back at once, so by the time the spanking was over, Austin had been sobbing with relief, not panic.

“Throbs,” Jay said, a plaintive note in his voice.

“Yeah, it’s pretty raw there,” Austin said, not sugarcoating it. Jay would see it for himself, if not tonight, tomorrow. “The skin’s not broken, though.”

“Scrub it,” Jay said. His hands were flat against the tiled wall, but as he spoke, they tightened into fists. “Scrub it clean, Austin.”

It was his thoughts given words, but Austin hesitated.

“Hurt me,” Jay begged, his voice breaking. “Not much, but I need—I need to feel it from you. From someone I trust. I can remember him behind me, and God, I can still smell him on me. He reeked.”

Austin wrinkled his nose sympathetically. Niall had been wearing cologne, the scent musky and thick enough to make his throat close up at first, though he’d gotten used to it after a while and tuned it out. Jay tended to react badly to certain odors, and strong perfumes were high on the list.

“I want to forget him,” Jay said. “Make me. Please, Austin?”

Austin went to his knees. There was no way he could ignore the appeal in Jay’s voice, not tonight. Not ever.

The slippery surface, hard, unyielding, hurt his knees, but he’d learned how to push discomfort aside when it wasn’t important. Nothing mattered but giving Jay the reassurance he needed.

He worked up a thick lather on the washcloth and then applied it to Jay’s skin, too gently at first. It made him angry if he thought about it too much, knowing Jay needed things he wasn’t capable of giving. He wanted to give Jay everything, and he couldn’t. It sucked. Austin tried to channel that anger into his hands, turning them rough and scrubbing the area that was already the sorest if Jay’s breathing had anything to say about it.

“Yeah.” Jay’s voice broke again. It was almost a sob. “Like that. Little harder.”

Austin did as he’d been told, feeling emotion choking him, his eyes stinging and the back of his throat tight and thick with it. “There,” he said, scrubbing harder. “You’re clean. Feel it? Nothing but soap and skin.”

“Want you.” Jay was trembling, and on instinct Austin slid the washcloth up between Jay’s thighs and gripped his cock with it. He knew the cloth was rough and soapy and could imagine how it felt, the sheer fucking relief of pressure and stimulation on an erection that wanted to explode.

He leaned in and kissed Jay’s soap-slick ass, and Jay gasped, hips rocking.

“Good? Can you come like this?” It was an awkward position, but the panted sounds of Jay’s pleasure would have kept Austin going even if it had hurt.

“Ah. God. So close.”

“I know.” Austin slid his pinky finger, still sudsy, between the rounded globes of Jay’s ass and teased his hole. He was hard himself, turned on by Jay’s arousal, and, like Jay, with a lot of built-up heat from the scene. Kneeling, his ass as tender as Jay’s—though Niall had done a better job of spreading out the strokes—Austin focused on how good it’d felt to bend over, cry out, to kneel, waiting, holding position, and ruthlessly edited Niall out of the picture.

He worked his finger deeper, Jay trembling but holding still when Austin could tell he wanted to bear down. So good, so fucking obedient. They both were, but it was wasted because they had no one to be good for.

He nudged Jay with his shoulder, moving him so the soft rain of water from the shower rinsed Jay’s ass clean of soap on one side at least. One cheek was still marbled with white swirls, creamy against the flushed red skin. He kissed the clean, wet cheek, feeling the heat of the punished flesh against his lips, and moaned as he remembered the sound of the leather against his ass. His fingers tightened reflexively around Jay’s cock, and Jay whimpered, a frantic, imploring sound.

Austin wanted to make this last, use the waiting to take Jay deeper, but Jay was sobbing now, breathless incoherencies spilling from lips so ready to smile at him. He couldn’t hold back. He bit and licked Jay’s ass, his hands busy now, his finger knuckle-deep in the tight, clinging channel. Jay’s skin tasted of water and nothing else, no one else.

He knew thirty seconds before Jay came that it was imminent—he could feel it in the way his body mirrored Jay’s, and as soon as the pulse of Jay’s cock began, he dropped his other hand to his dick and stroked it fast and hard. It wasn’t a great orgasm—not even close—but it was still a relief to let go of the tension.

In the aftermath, they were both quiet, breathing heavily. The sound of the water hitting skin, cast iron, and the plastic shower curtain liner was almost hypnotic, and Austin felt lulled by it. If he hadn’t been aware the water was going to turn cold sooner rather than later, he would have been tempted to lie down right there on the floor of the bathtub and go to sleep. Instead he leaned his forehead against Jay’s ass and mumbled, “Sleepy.”

“Yeah, me too.” Jay shut off the water and urged Austin to his feet, and somehow they managed to dry themselves off and stumble to the bedroom.

Austin face-planted into his pillow. “This is good.”

Jay mumbled something Austin didn’t bother to translate. Too sleepy to do more than curve his body into the position he liked to start the night in, though he always woke on his back, he let the day slip away from him.

Chapter Two

“Jay, you’re going to be late. If you’re not on the road by eight, you won’t make it, not now they’re digging up Lockwood. It’s down to one lane there, and the traffic gets backed up at rush hour. You know that.”

Austin sounded stressed as he headed toward the door, and Jay hated that. Being late mattered; he knew it did. It was just so difficult to focus first thing in the morning. The library opened at nine thirty, but the employees were supposed to be there an hour earlier. It was easier when he was on the shift that stayed until the library closed at eight. He didn’t have to go in until noon then. The trade-off was less time in the evening with Austin, though, and that sucked.

He set his coffee mug down on the small kitchen table, moving aside a magazine he’d been reading to make room for it. The table was sticky, and he decided to make an effort when he got home and do some tidying. Austin liked it neat. Austin’s room, tiny, used mostly for storage though there was a bed in it, was spotless, an oasis of order in the middle of Jay’s chaos. Jay walked over to the door, automatically swerving to avoid a pile of laundry. He’d meant to put it away, but the phone had rung and he’d gotten distracted. He wasn’t letting Austin leave without saying good-bye properly.

“Late,” Austin repeated, but he returned Jay’s hug, the two of them carving out a moment of peace. Austin’s blond hair needed cutting, his bangs drifting down over his blue eyes, but Jay loved playing with it, running his fingers through it, messing it up, and he never told Austin it was time to get it trimmed.

“How’s your ass?”

Austin shrugged, his hand sliding down to cup Jay’s ass. The touch felt good, but Jay tried not to let it get him worked up. No time to do anything with Austin, and if he jerked off after Austin left, he really would be late. “Sore. Yours?”

“Same. Why do we both have jobs that mean we’re sitting down all day?”

“Bad planning?” Austin shook his head as soon as he’d said it, a smile appearing. “Hell, who’re we kidding? You know we both like the reminder.” His smile faded. “Usually.”

“Forget about it,” Jay said, knowing Austin would be worrying about him all day. If he let himself think about Niall, his skin felt creepy-crawly, but he hadn’t been tied down and Austin had been right there. Nothing bad could’ve happened, not really. He had to remember that. Even if part of him was still shocked and bruised at Niall’s decision to ignore him, like he didn’t matter, like he didn’t count. Not cool. Not cool at all. “It’s over. We move on. Right?”

“Right.” Austin kissed the edge of his ear, and Jay knew from the way he did it that he was going to be stewing about the situation for the rest of the day.

He knew just as certainly there was nothing he could say to change that.

* * * * *

Unsurprisingly Jay was late to work, but not late enough that anyone would say anything about it. There was a bag of books next to the return slot, so he snagged it on his way into the library, knowing Nancy would have meant to come back for it but forgotten in the face of all the other things on her plate.

People were always donating books—sometimes they put them into the book slot with the returns, which always resulted in a moment’s confusion when they were discovered—and Jay was always claiming some of them as his. That was how he ended up with so many stacks of them at home.

“Oh, thanks,” Nancy said as he brought the bag into the office.

“No problem.”

“Anything good?” Nancy was sorting mail into a couple of different piles that no doubt made perfect sense to her but would be incomprehensible to Jay.

“Haven’t looked yet.” He was itching to, though. Who knew what might be in there? He knew realistically that finding a signed first edition of The Hobbit wasn’t going to happen, but among the generic thrillers and tattered children’s books, he might find something interesting. His first love was fantasy, but he read too much, too quickly to confine himself to one genre.

“Do it, and if there’s nothing you want, sort through them. Any that are in good enough condition can go for the book sale. The rest—”

“Not the recycle bin,” Jay said. He hated throwing books away. It felt wrong, like littering or chopping down trees.

Nancy gave him a sympathetic look. “Sorry. Has to be done. We can’t use them, and no one will buy them.”

“I could take them to the thrift store,” Jay said, bargaining for their survival like he always did, even though it would add fifteen minutes to his journey home.

“They don’t mind being recycled,” Nancy said absently, her attention back on her mail. “Back to their roots. Circle of life. Ashes to ashes, pulp to pulp.”

Jay set the bag down under his desk, out of the way. If they didn’t mind, he did.

After a busy morning dealing with a stack of interlibrary loan requests, he ate his lunch outside. Spring had been slow in arriving this year, but the grass of Madison was finally green, not brown, and the small garden outside the library, city-maintained, was bright with tulips in candy pink and yellow. Jay found a bench and opened his book along with his box of sandwiches, carefully setting his watch to beep at him when it was time to go back to work. Once, two years ago, he’d forgotten to do that, and only the splash of raindrops on the pages had broken the spell of the story he was reading.

Nancy had been less than pleased with him, but he’d met Austin at the library that afternoon, and there was nothing about that day he wanted to change, ever.

He’d noticed the young man wandering the stacks with a scrap of paper in one hand and a couple of books tucked under his arm. It would have been hard not to notice him with his curly blond hair and blue eyes…

* * * * *

“Can I help you find something?” Jay finally asked when the blond appeared a fourth time.

“I don’t know? Maybe. I mean…the computer says this book is checked in, but I can’t find it.”

“The computer is usually right,” Jay told him, moving around the main desk and heading toward him. “Sometimes people put books back where they don’t belong. And sometimes people steal them, of course, but that’s usually certain titles.”

“Really? Like what?”

“Here, let me see.” Jay took the piece of paper and frowned. “Huh, yeah, this should be here.” He moved to where the book should have been shelved and crouched down. “Well, The Guinness Book of World Records, for one.”

“Seriously? Are people trying to break the record for that too?” The young man sounded as amused as Jay had been the first time he heard it.

“Maybe. And Abbie Hoffman, of course. Oh, here it is.” The missing book, Marijuana—What’s a Parent to Believe?, had been pushed back behind the row, and its front cover was bent. Smoothing it, Jay stood. “You have kids?”

“What? Oh, no. Younger sister.” The blond reached for the book. “Thanks. Abbie Hoffman?”

Jay hadn’t let go, which meant they were both holding it. “He wrote a book called Steal This Book,” he explained. “Political thing. Was there, um, anything else you were looking for?”

“No, just this. And these, but I found these. Obviously.”

Reluctantly Jay let go of the book and gestured toward the main desk. “I could check you out?”

“I kind of hoped you already were,” the blond said, grinning. He tucked the book in with the others he had and offered Jay his hand. “I’m Austin.”

Jay took Austin’s hand. He’d always wanted to possess some sort of psychic ability. At the age of eleven, he’d wanted to be a wizard, but he’d let that go. Telekinesis would’ve been cool, but the idea of telepathy kind of freaked him out. Minds were full of dark places. With Austin’s palm warm against his, he just knew this was going to work out. It might not be a genuine psychic flash, but he was willing to count it.

“Jay.”

“You’re new here, aren’t you? I come in a lot, and I’ve never seen you.”

Cute, gay, and into reading? Jay felt his smile start on the inside, a happy glow. Okay, this was too good to be true, but he was going to trust to fate and not start looking for flaws in a pretty perfect picture.

“Started two months ago, but this is the first week I’ve been out here. They’ve kept me busy in the processing office sticking on bar codes and entering books into the system.”

Austin grimaced, looking like he understood. “I’m the office manager for two doctors, and it was the same for me when I started. Trial by paper cuts.”

Jay led Austin to the mercifully empty checkout desk and reluctantly put the counter between them. Checking books out was easy, just a matter of letting the computer read the library card, then scanning the bar code on the back of each book. Because he loved books, he always glanced at the title as he checked a book out, though he’d soon learned not to start up a conversation. That always led to a long line of impatient library patrons and, once, a scolding from an embarrassed elderly lady checking out three steamy romances sandwiched between books on quilting.

It wasn’t nosy to look at Austin’s information on the screen, though. Jay was supposed to do that, to make sure the card wasn’t out of date. They were renewed each year. Austin still had plenty of time left on his, but Jay couldn’t help seeing his full name—Austin James Fisher—and noticing Austin lived only a mile or two away from him.

He gave Austin a sheepish look and found Austin smiling at him, an amused glint in his eyes as if he’d known what Jay was doing and didn’t mind.

Ducking his head, Jay concentrated on checking out Austin’s books, wishing he knew the right words to propose a date. He wasn’t good with strangers, though once he got to know someone, he opened up. Austin felt like a potential friend, but that could just be his hopes misleading him.

The books went through, scanning without trouble, giving Jay no time to organize the words in his head into a coherent sentence. He reached for the last one, scanned, and flipped it automatically. The book was large and heavy, and he felt it slip through his fingers. He looked down at it and felt a jolt, similar to the one he’d experienced shaking Austin’s hand, a sizzle running through him, excitement and anticipation combined. The book was one he owned, the familiar cover blurring as he stared at it.

“Is this for your sister too?” His voice sounded weird, as if it was coming from far away.

Austin didn’t back down or make a joke of it. “Screw the Roses? No, that’s for me.”

Jay swallowed, dragging his gaze away from the picture of the bound woman, blindfolded and cuffed and meeting Austin’s eyes. “I’ve read it. I own it,” he said, and it turned out that was all he needed to say.

* * * * *

Austin had been the one to propose their first date, which was coffee on the weekend followed by dinner the following night, and they’d hardly been apart since. In some ways, they were exactly the same, and in others they were almost complete opposites—Jay’s messiness and Austin’s neat streak came to mind—but those two elements combined made them just about perfect partners.

The only thing they lacked now was what Patrick had given them.

Jay was just finishing his lunch when his cell phone started to play the theme song from Indiana Jones. He fumbled the phone from his pocket and answered the call. “Hey there, boyfriend.”

“Hi, boyfriend.” Austin sounded distant, which probably meant he was still thinking about the night before. Being Austin, though, he wouldn’t let it affect his ability to work. He’d just keep plugging away. “How’s your day?”

“Okay. How’s yours?” Jay licked his thumb and rubbed the corner of his mouth.

“Long. And we’ve had four no-shows, which always puts Chelle in a shitty mood.” If Austin was swearing it meant he’d either left the office or was in the supply room out back. “Let’s do something tonight.”

It was Friday. Friday used to mean they met up with Patrick. Not every Friday—he was an antique dealer, and that meant driving out to estate sales sometimes hundreds of miles away—but most of them. The arrangement with Patrick had only lasted a year, but it felt like longer, like they’d always had him in their lives.

Still mourning the death of his partner six months earlier, Patrick hadn’t been interested in a romantic relationship, something that had suited Austin and Jay just fine. They’d been given his number by a Domme called Laura. She ran a monthly meeting in a local bar for people into the scene, hiring the back room for the night. Jay and Austin had gone there not knowing what to expect and found a group of people remarkable for being unremarkable, their ages ranging from mid-twenties, like them, to over sixty. They hadn’t been the only gay couple at the meetings, but they’d been the only pairing of two submissives.

“How does it work with you two?” Laura had asked them bluntly after the third meeting. “Is it difficult involving someone else?”

“It’s really difficult,” Austin had told her. “We’ve had a few offers from people here, but we don’t want to commit to anything long-term, and without that buildup of trust, it’s just…it doesn’t work very well.”

“Complicated,” Laura had said thoughtfully. “You want to get to know a Dom, without him feeling that he’s part of your day-to-day life, and you won’t split up for scenes.”

“Absolutely not,” Jay had said. “We’re in this together. It’s the way we want it.”

“There’s someone you haven’t met here. He was never really into all this socializing.” Laura had gestured at the room filled with people talking about everything from pets to vacations as the meeting wound down. “I can vouch for him, though. He lost his partner last year. Car accident. Very sad. Knowing Patrick, he’s missing having someone to play with, though he might not be willing to admit it even to himself. If you want a no-strings spanking from someone who knows his way around and isn’t interested in a relationship or sex, you three might just click.”

Which they had, and with a lot less effort than Jay had thought possible. It had worked out so well. They’d all gotten what they needed from the relationship, and Patrick hadn’t expected anything from them. Once, following a particularly intense session, with Patrick visibly aroused, Jay and Austin had shared a look and then gone down on their knees and offered to blow him. Patrick told them it wasn’t necessary, but the longing and loneliness in his voice gave a different answer. They took care of him, their mouths on him, warm and eager, the way he’d looked after them. It wasn’t how every session ended, but it was never something they were unwilling to do. In the long run, though, Patrick had decided to move, and they’d had to figure out how they’d manage without him. They were still trying. Jay wasn’t surprised it was an adjustment, but he was surprised by how difficult it was turning out to be.

“So what do you want to do tonight?”

Austin sighed. “I don’t know. I just feel like we should go out and do something that will be, you know, what we expect it to be.”

“Then maybe we should go see the movie with the worst reviews,” Jay suggested. “It would have a good chance of being the kind of bad we’d be expecting.”

“I don’t know if I’m in the right mood for that. Could we go shopping? At the mall?”

Jay was easy. “Sure, if you want.”

“I think I want to pretend we’re like everyone else,” Austin said.

“We are like everyone else,” Jay told him gently.

“If we were like everyone else, I’d be able to tell my mom why my porn of choice features leather, whips, and chains.”

Jay winced. “Austin, it’s your mom. She doesn’t want to hear about her baby boy looking at any kind of porn.”

He tried to picture his parents’ reaction if they’d discovered that along with an obsession with Middle-earth, he’d always fantasized about being tied up and spanked. It wouldn’t have gone down well. Luckily for him, after they’d divorced when he was at college, they’d both moved out of state with new partners and that particular discussion had never taken place. He visited them now and then, but the gaps between visits were getting longer. He didn’t fit in their new lives. No surprise since he’d never really felt like he belonged in their old ones. It could’ve been worse. They’d been unsurprised and vaguely supportive when he told them he was gay, they sent him generous checks for his birthday, and they were nice people who’d just fallen out of love with each other, but they’d never cracked a book for pleasure. He’d spent most of his childhood waiting to be told he was adopted.

“True.” Austin chuckled, the soft sound tickling Jay’s ear. “She found Tim’s stash last month, did I tell you? She was going to quietly shove it back under the mattress, but April went into this long rant about the exploitation of women and threw it into the recycling. Then Mom freaked out in case the neighbors saw it, and it all went south from there.”

As an only child, Jay viewed Austin’s large family with a mixture of envy at how close they all were and the conviction he’d have gone quietly insane living with them for more than a week. The noise level inside their crowded home was off the scale. Music, TV, raised voices, and barking dogs…

Three younger brothers, one hellion of a sister, just turning eighteen, and a father who’d died when Sarah Fisher was pregnant with April, had forced Austin to step up to the plate when he’d been barely into his teenage years.

Jay sometimes wondered how much of Austin’s love of submission could be explained by the responsibilities he’d been forced to shoulder. It had to feel good to let someone else call the shots, if only for a few hours a week.

He’d never bothered to work out why he felt the way he did about being a sub. He just did. It was like asking him why he liked purple better than red or melon but not kiwi fruit. They didn’t go to many of the meetings now, though they’d kept in touch with a few of the people they’d met there. At the meetings, when the topic came up—and it did, frequently—he’d heard people talk about pivotal moments, childhood spankings or lack of them, and he had nothing to contribute. Sometimes he wondered if the answer did lie buried deeply in his head, but not enough to go digging for it.

“I’m really glad you moved in with me. I don’t tell you that enough.”

“Are you kidding me? It saved my sanity.” Austin sighed, the faint sound carrying down the phone. “I miss seeing them every day, and I feel guilty about bailing, but my brothers are old enough not to need me, and April… We’re better off with some distance between us right now.”

“She’d be the same with anyone she saw as an authority figure.” Jay was hesitant to suggest it even though he was convinced it was true, mostly because he wasn’t sure how Austin would take it.

“Maybe. She sure as hell doesn’t show Mom much respect, but Mom’s got all kinds of weird guilt issues where her ‘baby girl’ is concerned.”

This conversation was starting to freak Jay out. Not in a bad way, but they hadn’t talked about Austin’s family’s dynamic much. Any discussion they had usually ended up sounding more like the dialogue from a sitcom—lighthearted and slightly sarcastic. Jay had always known Austin had a lot going on under the surface, but it had been water he’d done no more than dip his toes into. “It’s got to be hard, being the youngest and the only girl.”

“She’s had it too easy,” Austin said. “Four older brothers taking care of her and a mom who wasn’t around enough to keep her in line.”

“If she had been around, there wouldn’t have been much food on the table,” Jay pointed out. Austin’s mom had worked long hours until her kids had grown up and started taking care of her. Thanks to Austin’s example, his brothers seemed to accept that necessity without resenting it. Sean and Timothy, now in their early twenties, were getting restless and wanting places of their own, like Chad and Austin, but Jay couldn’t imagine them leaving their mother to fend for herself even if they did move out. Part of Austin’s paycheck went directly into his mother’s bank account and always would.

“Yeah. I guess it was me as much as Mom who let her get away with murder. I wasn’t sure how to handle a girl, so I figured Mom would take care of all that female stuff, you know?” Austin was quiet for a few long moments, then said, “Wow, heavy conversation for a lunch break. Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I like that you can talk to me, you know? I just wish you were right here instead of over there.”

The library and the surgery weren’t a long way from each other, but it would take Jay twenty minutes to get there and with an hour for lunch, a round trip of forty minutes, maybe more, just wasn’t practical. They sometimes met in the middle at a small café, but even that involved so many phone calls and texts as meetings and emergencies got in the way that it wasn’t really worth it, especially now that they were living together.

“Me too. And now I’ve got to go. Sorry.” The reluctance in Austin’s voice was like a kiss.

Jay smiled. “I’m going to buy you something tonight,” he said and put every ounce of seductive promise into the words he could. “Something special.”

It came out sounding as if he had a sore throat, but his intention must’ve been clear enough because Austin, after a choked snort of laughter, sounded gratifyingly hoarse himself. “What kind of special?”

Jay smiled at an old man walking his dog past the tulips, not caring that all he got in return was a suspicious glare. “Nothing we can get at the mall, so I guess you’ll have to wait and see.”

“We can skip the mall.”

Jay shook his head, even if Austin couldn’t see it. “No, I need some paint, and I’m out of moss to go around the troll’s bridge.”

Austin groaned. “You get twenty minutes in the model shop, okay? Twenty. And if you go over, I’m dragging you right past the bookstore.”

“You’d never do that.” Jay frowned down at the path in front of his bench, watching some industrious ants bustle around a tumbled heap of rocks, a miniature landscape just like the ones he built in the loft space above their apartment. “You wouldn’t? Austin?”

“If you’re out of the most boring store in the world in less than twenty minutes, I won’t have to.”

“It’s not—” Jay took a deep breath and abandoned the argument before it began. “I’ll be good.”

“If you are, I’ll buy you something special,” Austin said. “It’ll be like Christmas. Really late Christmas.”

“Or really early.” Jay didn’t care either way. He loved Christmas, and the most recent one he’d spent with Austin had been as close to perfect as he could have wished for. They’d had an amazing tree and piles of presents, and Christmas breakfast had consisted of the two of them snuggled on the couch in their almost identical new bathrobes, sipping hot chocolate and eating fresh cinnamon rolls. The apartment had smelled like cinnamon for days. “Too bad there won’t be candy canes.”

“Yeah, I think those are a seasonal thing. Have a good afternoon, okay?”

“Love you.”

“Love you two.”

“Love you three,” Jay said. If he’d heard anyone else say that, he’d have rolled his eyes at the sap overload, but when it was between them, it felt like a joke only they got.

He tucked his phone away and left a scatter of bread crumbs for the ants.

Did they even eat bread? Maybe he’d look it up when he got back to the library. He was going through Dewey numbers in his head as he crossed the road, but he made it to the other side, so he must’ve looked both ways.

Chapter Three

Jay paused in front of the hall mirror again and smoothed the front of his new shirt. “You really didn’t have to buy me this.”

“And miss out on seeing you preen? What a thought.” Austin grinned, propping his feet up on the coffee table so he could rest the laptop on his thighs. “Besides, it looks amazing on you, and you know it.”

“Really?” Jay fiddled with the top button. “It’s not too much?”

Austin shook his head. “Just enough.” The deep emerald green of the shirt brought out the tiny flecks of green in Jay’s mostly brown eyes, enhancing the elfin vibe he already had going. “Now get over here.”

“Okay, okay. Jeez, just order me around, why don’t you.” Jay flopped onto the couch next to him and stretched his legs out beside Austin’s. “How awesome is it that Nicole’s boss is paying for wireless?”

Nicole lived on the floor beneath them, a tall, thin blonde with enough energy that she could probably have powered the Internet solo if there was some way to plug her into it. Austin liked her—difficult not to—but she was tiring to be around. “Awesome. I’d kiss him if I could.” Austin looked sideways at Jay’s expression, which immediately shifted into one of outrage. “Kidding, kidding! I don’t want to kiss him. He’s probably old. And gross.”

“So you’d want to kiss him if he was young and hot?”

“Well…” Austin pretended to reconsider, then yelped when Jay jabbed fingers into his side. “Ack! Okay, no, no, I wouldn’t kiss him! Only you, forever and ever!” He was giggling uncontrollably now even though Jay wasn’t poking him anymore. His ticklishness was the bane of his existence.

“That’s better.” Jay rescued the laptop from him and started to type. “Let’s try Amazon first.”

Wheezing, Austin straightened up. “We’re not buying sex toys from Amazon.”

“They’re probably cheaper,” Jay said reasonably.

“They’re probably covered with dust from sitting in some huge warehouse somewhere.” Austin rested his head on Jay’s shoulder. “Mm. This is the best kind of shopping.”

“Yeah. Malls make my head feel like it’s about to explode. Too much noise, too many people.”

“You’re just sulking because they didn’t have the right kind of moss.”

“It was too green! Moss shouldn’t be fluorescent.” Jay chewed his lip in thought. “At least, I guess maybe sometimes it is… Hey, would it be cool if I did something on an alien planet just for a change? Everything all the wrong color because the sun was a red giant…”

Austin had a love/hate relationship with Jay’s creative side. On the one hand, it was part of what made Jay who he was, and there was nothing about Jay that wasn’t lovable. However, if he got involved in a project, he could spend hours in the loft, patiently tweaking tiny scraps of wood and fabric into part of a landscape, forgetting Austin existed. It wasn’t good for Austin’s ego, and it left him feeling resentful of the dioramas, though he genuinely appreciated the skill that went into making them.

With his head on Jay’s shoulder, biting Jay’s earlobe was an easy way to distract him from world building, though. “Cuffs. Crops. Clamps. Candy-flavored lube and other things starting with c.”

“Why do they have to start with c?” Jay asked, but he was looking at the screen again, scrolling through some sites they’d bookmarked. He clicked on one, a site they’d bought their first paddle from. Austin could remember it arriving and how they’d both gotten hard just from looking at it lying there in its box. Jay had run his finger over it, then snatched it back as if the paddle was hot, his breathing quickening.

They’d been desperate to feel it on their asses, but they’d been good and waited to give it to Patrick, who’d grinned at them, handling it with a confident ease that’d left Austin’s mouth dry with anticipation. He’d bent them both over his couch, close enough that Jay’s arm had brushed Austin’s, and paddled them both at the same time with it, dealing out the swats fast enough that even when it was Jay’s ass on the receiving end, not his, Austin didn’t have time to catch his breath. It’d been fun, intense, and they’d shared the experience, every second of it, which made it perfect.

He could remember it vividly as Jay scrolled through the selection of toys. “That could be fun.” Austin pointed at the screen.

It was a flogger made of deerskin, a collection of thin straps. Imagining it striking his bare ass, Austin felt his cock start to swell.

“Oh my God, look at this!” Jay clicked, and they both stared at the photo.

“The Pleasure Machine?” Austin frowned, then tilted his head. “How does that even work?”

“Good question.” Jay scrolled down. “I think that part goes under the bed and then you just…lie there. Oh look, it comes in hot pink.” He laughed. “Good thing, right? Wouldn’t want your thousand-dollar fucking machine to clash with your decor.”

“So far out of our budget it might as well be a Lamborghini.”

“It probably is the Lamborghini. Of fucking machines.” Jay shook his head and took them back to the previous page. “Okay, focus. Let’s try looking at stuff we can actually afford.”

“What about those?” Austin pointed at a link.

“Medical play?” Lifting an eyebrow, Jay clicked on the link in question. “Is there something about your job you aren’t telling me?”

“Yeah, my bosses are secretly kinky. And so are all their patients. Once I get to the office, I’m on my hands and knees.” Austin grinned and rolled his eyes.

Jay perked up. “Ooh, like in Secretary! That was hot. Hey, those look kind of cool.” He indicated some bright green scissor-style nipple clamps.

“You don’t think they’d be too much?” Austin knew from experience that while Jay loved to have his nipples played with, he was also pretty sensitive and could go from excited to overstimulated very quickly.

“Maybe. Yes.” Jay still sounded tempted.

They were both getting edgy, needing something the other couldn’t provide. Austin could climax, his cock deep in Jay’s mouth, his balls high and tight, coming with a gasp and a moan, gloriously, totally satisfied because hell, who wouldn’t be? Jay gave the best fucking blowjobs Austin had ever had, all his concentration focused on making Austin whimper for him, his tongue like the softest whip imaginable, flicking against every sweet spot on Austin’s cock over and over.

Austin could have that every morning if they woke up early enough, and return the favor, stealing Jay’s voice, the choked-off moans Jay made like their own language. He could lay Jay out on the bed, long and tall and all his, the strands of Jay’s hair dark against the plain white pillow, and rub off on him, a palmful of lube making everything slip and slide just right. Austin loved pouring lube into the crack of Jay’s ass and riding the groove until there was nothing easier than sliding inside Jay, slow inch by slow inch.

He could kneel in front of Jay and open his mouth, moaning as Jay teased him, stroking Austin’s parted lips with his fingers, letting Austin suck on them but not giving Austin his cock to taste until they were both so close to coming that Austin only got to feel it fill his mouth for a few thrusts before Jay’s spunk was surging out, hitting the back of his throat, a salt wave of it, soft and thick.

They could hurt each other, fingers pinching nipples, hands slapping thighs and asses as they jerked each other off. They could fuck each other with dildos, make each other wait to come—but it just wasn’t the fucking same. It wasn’t enough.

They could take turns being a Dom—kind of—but they couldn’t fool each other or themselves that they were very good at it. They didn’t need a third person in their bed, but they did need someone to kneel for, someone who could make the ache of need die away for a while.

Austin realized his hand was clenched into a fist, and forced it to relax. God, he was so fucking wound up. He pressed closer against Jay, a needy whine spilling from him.

Startled, Jay turned his head, his eyes wide. He didn’t say anything—Jay waited before he spoke, most of the time at least—but after he’d studied Austin in silence for a moment, he sighed. “Me too.”

“You don’t know what I want,” Austin said, just to be awkward, because of course Jay did know.

Jay nodded at the screen, then ran his hand over Austin’s chest and down to the unmistakable shape of his cock, pushing up against his zipper. “Yeah, I do. You want to buy the nastiest, kinkiest things they’ve got and beg someone to use them on you, fucking grovel if that’s what it takes, and kiss their boots after they’re done playing with you because you’re so fucking grateful. You want to watch me get spanked raw and red, ass up over someone’s knee, hearing me cry and beg, seeing me squirm and fight until he makes me stop just by telling me to lie still and take it, all of it. Maybe you’re watching from a corner, roped so tightly you can’t move, white rope and black, all knots and lines. Your skin’s red from being whipped and you look so beautiful I keep staring at you until he sees me and puts his hand in my hair and turns my head away, but I know he’s looking at you too, because how could he help it? And there’s a ball gag making your jaw ache so much you’re crying, tears sliding down your face that you can’t wipe away. You love not being able to speak too much to want him to take it out, though, unless it’s so you can crawl over and lick my ass when he’s done spanking it, lick the sting clean off it, feel how hot it is for yourself. You want—”

It was like getting punched in the gut hearing Jay recite that list in a dreamy, calm voice as if he was describing a movie he was watching or reading from a book. Austin listened until he couldn’t bear to hear another word, staring transfixed into Jay’s dark eyes, then put his fingers on Jay’s mouth, not surprised to see his hand was shaking. “Jay. Fuck. Stop.” He pulled his hand back, the swift, unthinking push of Jay’s lips against his fingertips leaving them warm and tingling.

His voice was shaky too. They’d never done anything like that with Patrick. It’d all been, well, not tame exactly, but limited by the restrictions the three of them had set in place. He’d spanked them, tied them up, posed them, and punished them if they’d broken position—and yeah, sometimes they’d done it deliberately, but that was part of the game—but Patrick had never done anything like the things Jay was describing.

Jay’s eyes were deer-in-the-headlights huge, as if he’d shocked himself by what he’d said. He swallowed hard, his throat muscles working. “Okay, I think I just turned myself on. A lot. Fuck.” He gave an anguished little whimper that would’ve been cute if Austin hadn’t been aware of just how desperate Jay was feeling, because it matched his hunger. It went deeper than sexual frustration, which wasn’t exactly a problem for them anyway. “Looking at toys—bad idea, really, really bad. It’s like being on a diet and reading recipe books.”

“Not that you have any experience with that.” Austin knew he shouldn’t rest his hand over Jay’s cock, not when they were both so needy, but he couldn’t help it. He could feel the heat of Jay through the fabric of his jeans and underwear, and he let his thumb trace Jay’s dick to the head. “We’re so screwed.”

“No, we aren’t. We’ll figure this out. Find someone else, maybe. Or how to do it on our own.” Jay shivered. “Stop, okay?”

“Stop touching you?” Austin's fingers closed on Jay’s zipper and drew it down slowly. “You don’t really want me to do that. You want me to touch you.”

“I don’t want you to tease me.”

Austin turned his head and bit Jay’s shoulder, then shifted so he could see the dark, damp spot his mouth had left behind. “You like to be teased.”

“Not like this,” Jay pleaded. Austin genuinely had no idea whether he should continue or not, a dilemma which on its own was probably indication enough that playing Dom was beyond his capabilities.

“I don’t know what to do,” he admitted. “I don’t know how to do this, and I want to. It’s killing me that I can’t give you what you need.”

Jay growled, pure frustration giving it an edge he wasn’t usually capable of. “Yeah, well, I know how that feels.” He rolled his head, his mouth pinched tight. “If I drank, right now is when I’d be sucking on a bottle of vodka. Or tequila. Something.”

“No, you wouldn’t.” Austin had seen Jay drunk once, and if the ball of mush he turned into after a few beers was cute as hell, the puking, whimpering mess he became the next day was too high a price to pay.

They stared at each other, all out of words. Austin felt his arousal ebb, and he sighed. Maybe they could just have an early night and snuggle or something. It was at the opposite end of the spectrum to what they wanted, but in some ways, that made it less grating than sex would’ve been.

“I’m going to take a bath,” Jay said abruptly. He rose and walked off to the bathroom without looking back, the snick as the door closed a definite hint that he wanted to get wet by himself.

Austin scrubbed at his face with his hands and sighed. Shit. He hated this. Hated it. The rush of water and the resulting clang from the ancient pipes assaulted his ears, and he stood, walked over to the window, and forced it open so he could take a deep breath of fresh air.

The street outside was quiet, the tall trees bright with new leaves. It was too dark to see them, but he could hear them rustle in the breeze even over the bath filling. It was soothing in a way. A bunch of kids at the corner were talking in the glow of a streetlight, their high voices raised in excitement, their laughter floating up to him. From here, it was hard to be sure, but Austin thought one of them was Nicole’s son, Jon. Nice kid, skinny and tall enough at twelve to come up to Austin’s shoulder. The muted thud of a bounced basketball confirmed it. Jon practically lived with that ball in arm’s reach. Austin had joined in a pickup game at the local court when Jon and his friends had needed an extra player, and he’d been impressed by Jon’s moves.

Austin picked moodily at the peeling paint on the sill and, lost to sight almost immediately, watched the flakes flutter down. He felt bruised and depressed, not a good combination.

The phone rang, and he swung around, irritation rising at the intrusion. If it was someone trying to sell him something, he was going to tear them a fucking new one.

The phone wasn’t on its charging station, which annoyed him even more. By the time he found the handset—next to the sink in the kitchen, a stupid place to leave it—he was gritting his teeth, and he answered in a clipped, angry tone. “Hello?”

“Whoa. Am I interrupting something?”

Most of the anger went out of Austin in a sudden rush, and he leaned against the counter. “Patrick. No, you’re definitely not interrupting anything.”

“What’s wrong?”

It didn't surprise Austin that Patrick could tell something was wrong from just a couple of sentences. He hedged his answer, though he knew it wouldn't fool Patrick. “Nothing. Why?”

“You don’t sound right. Is Jay okay?”

“Depends on your definition of okay.” Austin sighed and tugged a chair out from under the table with his foot, then sat down heavily. “I mean, yeah, he isn’t sick or hurt or anything. Pissed off at me, I guess.”

“Did you have an argument?” Patrick sounded concerned, and for some reason that made Austin feel depressed.

“Not really. Yes. I don’t know.” In a voice not much above a whisper, he said, “We’re falling apart without you.”

There was a short silence before Patrick said firmly, “Nonsense. You two have to be one of the most stable, grounded couples I know. You didn’t need me, remember? You had each other, and that was enough.”

“It was when we had you. The sessions…they made everything else work. We’ve tried to find someone else, and God, Patrick, it’s been a nightmare.” With a few terse sentences, one eye on the bathroom door, Austin filled Patrick in on the events of the previous night. When he’d finished, he felt drained, lighter, as if a burden had been passed over.

Patrick’s voice was gentle when he replied. “I won’t tell you what I think of Niall because you don’t need to hear me swearing, but I do want to know how you’re handling it. It must have left you shaken up.”

“Me? It was Jay who—”

“No,” Patrick interrupted. “I’m sure Jay was upset, but he’s better at handling things than you give him credit for. It’s you I’m most concerned about. You’ve got this protective side to you, and with Jay it’s always turned up to eleven. If you’re blaming yourself in any way—”

“I’m not.” Austin knew he’d replied too quickly and forcefully to be convincing. He sighed. “Okay, maybe a little bit, but I’m not stupid. It was Niall’s fault.”

“Too fucking right it was,” Patrick said. “God, I’m so sorry that I left.”

“You had to go,” Austin said and wished he didn’t sound so desolate. “We’re happy for you.”

“You sound it,” Patrick said wryly. “Look, be honest with me. Is it me you’re missing or what I provided?”

Austin caught his breath. “God, Patrick, it’s both! You make it sound like we were using you, and it wasn’t like that.” Maybe at the beginning, a little, but not by the end.

“I know. I’m just wondering if you’re really looking for someone to replace me or, well, moping.”

“We were moping, but now we’re looking,” Austin assured him. He came clean. “We’re desperate, and I’m scared where we’ll end up if we don’t deal with this. We’re out of options. It’s not like there’s this huge pool of volunteers, you know?”

It was so easy to pour it all out to Patrick. Unfair to dump it on him, maybe, but Austin was past caring when Jay was like this.

“How about if you started looking in a bigger pool?” Patrick said after a long pause.

“Outside the area, you mean?” Austin studied the bowl of fruit on the counter. There was a brown spot on one of the apples, and he made a mental note to toss it out. They needed to eat more fruit. They bought it, but then they just left it in the bowl like buying it was enough to keep them healthy, and—

“Austin. Pay attention.” The familiar snap to Patrick’s voice make Austin jerk upright, his heart hammering. God, he’d missed hearing Patrick give him orders. “No, I don’t mean driving for hours and meeting up with someone who might be worse than Niall. I meant…would you consider someone who was straight if I could personally vouch for him?”

“Huh?” Austin felt confusion replace the brief spurt of happiness. “Why would a straight guy be interested in two male subs?”

“At least he wouldn’t place sex with you at the top of the list, the way Niall clearly did.”

“True.” It was something Austin had never considered; he’d never thought of anyone but a gay man as an option because so many straight ones, especially the older men who were experienced Doms, tended to run toward homophobic. And even if they weren’t, they might be turned off at seeing two guys together, which was kind of the opposite of the point even if sex wasn’t part of the D/s dynamic. “That wasn’t a hypothetical question, was it?”

“Not really. I do know someone, and I think chances are he’d be a good fit for you and Jay. He’s straight, divorced, but he reminds me of, well, me in a lot of ways. I’d like it if you’d think about it, at least—and not because I think you and Jay can’t make it on your own. You can. I know you can. I could see that from the moment we met.” Patrick’s voice changed slightly. “I want you to go find Jay and talk to him.”

“What, now?” Austin had heard the command. He shouldn’t argue, shouldn’t question.

“Yes. Now, Austin.”

“Yes, Sir.” It wasn’t deliberate, the addition of the title of respect for his former Dom. It just slipped out automatically.

The bathroom door was closed. It was hollow, though, so it didn’t allow for much in the way of privacy. Austin could hear water running into the tub as he knocked.

“Patrick’s on the phone,” he said to the door. “He wants us to talk.”

There were a few long seconds of silence; then Jay said, “Okay. Come in.”

Austin felt better when he turned the door handle and found it wasn’t locked, and better still when Jay smiled at him, even if it was tentative.

Sorry, Jay mouthed at the same time Patrick said, “Put the phone on speaker.”

Austin did that, then walked over to the bath, a matter of two short steps. He sat down on the edge of it, holding the phone out so all three of them would be able to hear each other. Jay sat up, the wet ends of his hair clinging to his chest and shoulders. His nipples were hard, even though the heat of the water had stained his skin pink, and Austin wanted to run his fingers across them, transfer the beading of water to his fingers and taste it.

“Jay, I owe you both an apology. Not for moving away, but for neglecting to arrange a replacement for my…services.”

Jay leaned forward, the words tumbling out. “No way, Patrick. No apologies. We found you and we’re…we should be able to… We can take care of it.”

“It’s okay,” Austin said, stroking Jay’s head. “He knows we can’t. I told him.”

Jay turned his head to look up at Austin. “He shouldn’t be worrying about us!” he hissed.

“I can hear you even when you whisper,” Patrick said, a suspicion of a chuckle audible. “Jay, I just put forward a proposal, but it’s obviously something that both of you have to be fully on board with.”

“You’re coming back?” Jay said, the eagerness in his voice painful to hear.

“No. For a visit, maybe in the fall, but no. I can’t. Not yet.” Patrick sounded regretful but firm. “I think that you both trust me enough to go along with my idea of a new Dom, so I’ll let Austin fill you in on that and you can call me when you’ve come to a decision. What I want to talk to you about is the way you two are doubting what you have.”

“We’re not.” Jay sounded hurt. He gave Austin an accusing look. “Did you tell him that?”

“I told him you came in here to sulk,” Austin snapped back. Jay was entitled to his space. Of course he was. But to just walk off like that was rude.

“I wasn’t sulking!”

“Boys.” Patrick sounded irritated, and that was rare enough to make them both go quiet. “God, if I was there, you’d both be yelping.”

“If you were here, we wouldn’t be fighting.” Jay’s voice cracked, and he struck the surface of the water with his hand, splashing Austin and the wall. “I need—I need so fucking much, Patrick, and so does Austin and we can’t…we tried to do it ourselves and it didn’t work—”

“You tried… No, don’t tell me. I can only imagine.” The irritation had gone now. Patrick sounded sympathetic—even if Austin suspected some amusement still lurked. “Trust yourselves. I do. Implicitly. You two are solid, rock solid, and this is just going to make you realize that.”

“No pain, no gain?” Austin said, using a towel to blot the water from his jeans.

Patrick laughed. “Well, you can’t expect me not to agree with that particular saying, now can you?”

“Who’s this new Dom you’re thinking of?” Jay asked with a spark of interest Austin silently thanked Patrick for inspiring. “Someone we know from the group?”

“Someone I know,” Patrick said. “We met a few years ago, though he wasn’t active in the scene at the time. His wife needed to redecorate, and I supplied some nice pieces of Regency furniture from my store. We hit it off. Liam and I, not his wife. She wasn’t my type at all.”

“His wife?” Jay gave Austin a questioning glance, and Austin shrugged helplessly. “He’s straight?”

“I believe so. The redecoration was a last-ditch attempt to salvage the marriage, but it didn’t work. Liam’s divorced now, living in that new subdivision, Maplewood Estates.”

“I know it,” Jay said with a hint of scorn. “Cookie-cutter four-bedroom houses with double garages.”

“Yes, but Liam’s not… Well, if you meet with him, you’ll be able to see what he’s like for yourself.”

Austin was feeling desperate enough to agree to just about anything right then, especially since it was Patrick suggesting it. “We can’t just turn up and ask him to spank us. He doesn’t know us.”

“I’ve mentioned you to him from time to time, as it happens.” Patrick chuckled. “I may have even boasted a little about how good you were. Even so, I’m sure you’ll all have questions. Do you want me to give him your number and have him call you?”

Jay and Austin exchanged a look, and Austin could read Jay’s eyes so well that it gave him hope. Jay was desperate too, and wanted this to work. And Jay loved him. “Yes,” Austin answered for both of them. “Yeah, that would be great.”

Chapter Four

“Don’t freak out,” Jay warned Austin. It was a pretty funny thing to say, since the chances of Austin freaking out in any visible way were slim to none. Still, it was reassuring to hear the words out loud even if they were both unnecessary and pointless.

“I just don’t want you to be disappointed.” Austin finished tying his work shoes, straightened, and looked at Jay.

“If I am, I am. You can’t stop that.” Jay knew he was being perfectly reasonable, but it warmed him anytime Austin said something protective.

They were meeting Patrick’s friend Liam—well, calling them friends might be stretching it a bit—for coffee at a local bookstore. Jay suspected Austin had suggested the location because if it didn’t go well, it would be easy enough to distract Jay with all the lovely books. But it was also a good place to talk, in an older building with lots of comfortable stuffed chairs and couches tucked away into little alcoves while still being public enough to feel safe.

Before Niall, they would’ve probably agreed to go to Liam’s house to do this without thinking twice about it, but they were both more cautious now. Jay couldn’t decide if that was a good thing. On the surface, yes, but they’d lost something that night. If he started thinking about that, he was going to be all melancholy and mope, and this Liam guy would probably decide they were too much trouble.

“I can make it less likely to happen.” Austin put his hand on Jay’s face, cupping his cheek. “At least, I wish we knew what he was like.”

Jay had formed a mental picture from the little Patrick had told them: expensive suit, intense blue eyes, doesn’t smile often, dark brown hair, shorter than either of them would ever wear it but compared to Patrick, he had plenty, taller than either Jay or Austin. And Liam sounded intimidating.

Patrick could be stern. Jay had loved it when he was, though he’d never admitted it even to Austin, who probably already knew. But Patrick had never made Jay feel anything but safe. The phone call had been short, with Liam sounding distracted if polite.

“Patrick likes him,” Jay offered. Those three words were the mantra he’d been using to calm down, and they seemed to work on Austin too because he relaxed visibly.

“Yeah. True.”

“It’s going to be fine.”

Austin glanced at the clock and winced. “Unless we’re late, in which case, way to make a bad first impression. Come on.”

If Austin drove more than a little bit over the speed limit, it was understandable though out of character for him. His thumbs beat a nervous rhythm on the steering wheel as they waited for the one empty space in the parking lot to open up.

“Come on, asshole, let’s go,” he muttered under his breath.

Jay gave him a disbelieving look. “Relax, would you? You’re going to give yourself a heart attack.”

“Yeah, I know.” Austin took a deep breath and let it out as he pulled the car into the finally vacated space. “Sorry. Okay. I’m under control. I just, you know—”

“You hate being late. I get it. But if you’re worried about making a good first impression, this isn’t the way to do it.” Jay felt for Austin, he really did. He also knew Austin would blame himself if this didn’t work out, no matter what Jay said. “You’re amazing. He’s going to see that.”

Austin shut off the car and gave Jay a look of such warmth and love it took his breath away. “You’re the one who's amazing.”

Jay smiled. “Well, let’s get our amazing selves in there and meet this guy.”

He saw the man who had to be Liam right away, already holding a cup of coffee and reading the back of a bestseller he must’ve taken from the display beside him. It was good the man was distracted, because it meant Jay could take time to study him without being too obvious.

Liam was wearing a beautifully fitted suit, his hair looked newly trimmed, and his shoes had to have cost at least three hundred dollars. If you looked closely, smile lines were visible around his eyes and mouth, but on casual viewing the man appeared to be stern, professional.

Perfect.

“Is that him?” Austin said into Jay’s ear.

“Who else could it be?” Jay had never been very good at figuring out if someone was gay or not. It had led to one embarrassing moment in high school that he really wished he could wipe from his memory, though the guy he’d impulsively kissed hadn’t looked insulted or angry—just stunned. When it came to spotting someone who looked capable of bringing him to his knees with a downward twitch of a finger, though, he was pretty damn good.

Liam Thornton probably wouldn’t even need the finger twitch.

“Good point,” Austin muttered. “He’s very, uh, he’s…”

“Waiting for us,” Jay said, feeling like a kid caught sneaking candy. “Shit.”

Liam had glanced up, spotted them immediately, and frowned just slightly, as if he was trying to figure out why he was being stared at like a zoo exhibit. It made him look forbidding, and Jay found himself groping for Austin’s hand, needing something to ground him before he fucked this up by running away. Okay, maybe that wasn’t the direction he would’ve gone. The patch of carpet by Liam’s feet looked far more tempting, if totally off-limits.

“I don’t need to guess,” Liam said in an unexpected British accent, putting the book back and coming toward them. “Patrick e-mailed me some photos, so I’d know what to expect.” He offered his hand, and Austin shook it.

“Yeah. We weren’t sure.” Austin smiled. “I’m Austin, and this is Jay.”

“I didn’t realize you’d be so tall,” Liam said to Jay, who took his turn shaking hands. Liam’s was solid and strong.

Jay wasn’t sure what to say to that—should he apologize?—and ended up not saying anything. He managed to nod, though.

Fortunately Liam seemed comfortable taking control of the situation right from the start. “Austin, why don’t you grab some coffee or whatever, and Jay and I will get a table. I’m sure you’ll be able to spot us.”

Jay found himself alone with Liam, following the older man between long sets of shelves to a corner near a window where there was a love seat and a padded chair. A table nearby held a few stacks of books and several coasters, no doubt intended to encourage people to set their cups where they wouldn’t damage the wooden surface.

“Sit,” Liam said, and Jay did. He clasped his hands on his lap. It made him feel like a kid, so he forced himself to put them on his knees instead. “Tell me about yourself.”

Jay blinked at him. It was one of those questions open-ended enough to give him agoraphobia. “Uh…”

Liam waited for him to continue with a patience Jay appreciated. He had the feeling, though, that it was limited, and when it ran out, Liam would be expecting something more than a mumble. He reminded himself of just how much this mattered and tried again.

“I build dioramas.”

The words hung in the air, unsupported by any gleam of interest on Liam’s face, and Jay felt his throat close up. He looked around for Austin, but it took forever to get served here and Austin would be worrying about him and probably fumbling the order, dropping his change, spilling their drinks and needing to order more—

“Jay.”

Jay’s gaze went back to Liam’s face. Impossible not to when his name had been spoken with that much calm assurance.

“Breathe. If you pass out, your boyfriend will blame me, and I don’t really think that’s fair, do you?” Liam smiled, a small upward curving of his lips that took him from good-looking to handsome. “Let’s try again. Patrick tells me you work at the library. Was that always your plan or just a job that presented itself?”

Given something specific to answer was a lifeline in a choppy ocean. Jay exhaled and felt the tight band of tension around his forehead ease off. “Sorry. We’re both nervous as hell, and I guess I let it get to me.” He cleared his throat. “Like I said, I build dioramas, but that’s a hobby. I’m good at it, but it’s not something I could turn into a job. Books, though, there’s a lot you can do that involves them. I’ve always loved reading. I can’t write them; I tried and it just didn’t work. But I’ve spent so much of my life in libraries I figured, hey, why not get paid for it?”

He ran out of words then, sending Liam a beseeching look—how did I do?—and hoping he didn’t look as freaked out as he still felt.

Liam nodded. He didn’t say good boy, but the implication was there. “So you took a masters in library science?”

“Yeah.” Something sparked in Liam’s eyes, a warning glint, and Jay swallowed, uneasily aware he was half-hard. Not the place for it. Shit. “Yes, Sir,” he said, amending his answer to something less casual. “At Simmons College in Boston. I’m not from Madison, but the position looked interesting and I liked the town. I moved here two years ago, and that’s when I met Austin.”

Liam opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Austin joined them. Jay wanted to sigh with relief, but he wasn’t sure how Liam would take that. He settled for giving Austin a welcoming smile and moved over on the love seat to make room for him. That put him closer to Liam, close enough to smell him. Liam wasn’t wearing cologne, but he smelled expensive in some way Jay couldn’t define but found himself liking.

“I couldn’t get your usual,” Austin told him, setting two large paper cups down on the coasters. “They were out of Kenyan, but she said the house blend would be similar and if you didn’t like it, she’d replace it with one from Guatemala.”

Liam snorted with amusement. “You Yanks and your complicated coffee. I’ve lived here fifteen years, and I still can’t get used to it.”

“England doesn’t have places like Starbucks?” Jay asked, surprised.

“It does now,” Liam said, “but then so does the Gobi desert.” He grinned unexpectedly. “That was a joke, but you’re not required to laugh at them, don’t worry. I’ve been told my sense of humor is on the abstract side.”

“At least you have one,” Austin said. He sounded confident, and that made Jay feel even more relaxed. “I think that’s what I was most worried about. I was kind of picturing you as a caricature, you know? Instead of a real person.”

Liam gave them a quizzical look. “Oh, I’m real enough. Just because Patrick likes me doesn’t mean you two will, though. If that’s the case, just tell me. Don’t pretend it’s working if it’s not. God knows that’s the last thing any of us needs.”

Jay nodded. It was good to have that spoken aloud, an affirmation they weren’t committing to anything yet. “This is like an audition.”

“No,” Liam said, frowning. “Not really. That implies there are roles that need to be filled, and while that’s true on a basic level, it’s more complicated than that.”

“So you’ve done this before? This early stuff, I mean,” Austin explained. “We’re kind of new.”

“I gathered as much,” Liam said drily. “Yes, I’ve been through this early stuff, as you put it. More than once. Try not to be nervous, all right? I promise I don’t bite unless you want me to.”

Jay smiled. It was true: Liam did have a sense of humor. “More than once? Are you, um, seeing anyone else right now?”

“I have an ex-wife and two nearly grown children living in Maryland.” Liam sipped his drink, then set the cup down on one of the coasters. “I’ve had a few relationships since my marriage ended, but they’ve all been casual and temporary. Would it be a problem for you if I met someone I wanted to date?”

“No, of course not,” Austin said, and Jay nodded his agreement. “Unless it was an issue for her. I mean, would you tell her about us? You’d have to, right?”

Liam glanced away from them, his gaze distant. “I’ve kept this part of my life separate for a long time. It’s become something of a habit.”

“That’s not really an answer,” Jay said, surprising himself with his boldness. “So your wife wasn’t in the scene?”

“I would prefer it if we didn’t discuss Barbara,” Liam said with a chilly politeness. “And I’m not in the mood to be lectured about my failings as a husband.”

“Slow down,” Austin said immediately, saving Jay from the need to reply. “Jay didn’t say anything like that. It’s a reasonable question. We appreciate this is something you maybe don’t want to tell a lot of people about—neither do we—but if you’ve got this idea it’s something to be ashamed of, then maybe we’re not interested in…in anything.”

Jay slid his hand into Austin’s and held on tight. He hated confrontations, but like Austin, he couldn’t see this working if Liam saw them as a dirty little secret. It would spoil everything.

Liam leaned forward, his hands linked loosely, resting on his knees—strong hands, with long, elegant fingers, Jay couldn’t help noticing. “I’d like you both to stop talking and listen before this goes too far and we all walk away with nothing.” He waited for them to exchange uncertain looks, then nod before continuing. “No, she wasn’t in the scene. If you’re asking if I was faithful to her, yes, I was. I respected that our interests weren’t the same, and I stepped back from my…activities. For many years, the only outlet I had was my imagination, and I don’t think I need to tell you how unsatisfactory that was. It wasn’t the only reason the marriage didn’t work, but it was what the divorce lawyers like to call a contributory factor.”

“I’m sorry,” Austin said. “I can’t—”

“I think I told you not to talk,” Liam said evenly.

Austin bit his lip. His hand tightened on Jay’s. They waited, and after a minute, Liam went on.

“Now we’re legally divorced and I’m free to live my life as I like, that’s exactly what I intend to do. If I start seeing someone and I think she’ll understand, I’ll tell her. Otherwise I’ll keep it to myself. But I don’t intend to go back to living the way I did when I was married, and it’s not an issue that’s up for debate. So think about whether or not that’s something you can accept.” He nodded at them and picked up his coffee again.

“To you,” Jay said softly, “it wouldn’t be being unfaithful because it wouldn’t be sex, is that it?”

“I’m not gay, yes. I know Patrick told you as much; this would be different from what you had with him in some ways. Another thing for the two of you to think about and discuss together.”

Austin sighed. “They say nothing worth having comes easy.”

“It was easy with Patrick,” Jay protested, then covered his face with his hand as he realized how that sounded. “And he was worth it, and that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Sorry. It’s hard not to make comparisons.”

“No, I understand. I’ve never had any formal arrangement with a man, let alone two, so I know what it’s like, contemplating something new like this. Still, I don’t think Patrick would have suggested this meeting if he didn’t think it had a chance of working out. Do you feel that you owe him to try?”

“No,” Austin said. “If we do this, it’s not about owing anyone anything. It’s about all of us getting something we need.” He tilted his head to the side, studying Liam with a frown. Jay waited, content to let Austin handle this for the moment. Liam didn’t seem like the kind of man who got intimidated, but there were two of them, after all. “You said you’ve never had anything formal with a guy, but we’re not the first male subs you’ve had, are we?”

Liam took a slow, deliberate sip of coffee. As a stall went, it wasn’t very subtle. “No. The first in a very long time. Though if I’m being perfectly honest, I prefer working with men when it comes to this.”

“But you’re not gay.”

“Why is that so hard for you to accept?”

Austin shrugged. “It’s not. It’s just kind of unusual, I guess.”

Liam smiled thinly. “I don’t see it that way, but feel free to your opinion.”

“We’ll be naked,” Jay said, keeping his voice low. Their corner was out of the way, but the conversation wasn’t one he wanted to have a stranger overhear. “Turned on. You’ll have your hands all over us. That’s not going to be a problem for you? Seriously?”

“Given what I’ll be doing to you with my hands, no. I’ll enjoy it. A lot.” Liam arched dark eyebrows. “Carry on, Jay. You’re making me really look forward to our first session.”

“If there is one,” Austin said, though his fingers were gripping Jay’s painfully tightly now, his breathing shallow and quick. He was aroused, Jay knew. Hell, they both were. Liam was just tapping too many buttons, even if he was on the arrogant side.

Liam stood, his pants falling back into perfect lines, a sharp crease running down the center of each leg. “I’d like to see you both at my house next Friday. Eight o’clock sharp. We’ve still got plenty to discuss, but we’ve reached the point where we need more privacy. I think it’s fairly obvious that we’re going to try this. The two of you aren’t exactly good at hiding your emotions, you know. That’s a compliment, by the way. It’s an asset, not a flaw.”

Jay looked up at him. From this angle, Liam seemed huge, filling his vision. It wasn’t quite the view he’d have if he was on his knees, but it was close enough to make him ache with a longing that had been with him for weeks now, never quite fading away.

“Can we think about it and let you know?” Austin asked.

Liam nodded. “Of course. Let me know what you decide. I hope to see you on Friday.”

Chapter Five

By the time Liam got home, he’d more or less gotten himself under control. He drove his BMW into the right-hand side of the spotless, virtually empty garage and turned off the engine as the door rumbled down into place behind him.

Once inside, after kicking off his shoes, he poured himself a drink, mixing his gin and tonic with painstaking care and taking the time to carve a paper-thin slice of lime to jostle against the two ice cubes.

He stared at it for a moment—the translucent liquid dotted with bubbles, the dark green of the lime—then poured it away before he was tempted to drink it.

It wasn’t what he wanted. He’d left that behind him in the bookstore, looking up at him with hopeful, hostile eyes, the pair of them so hungry, so needy that the air had been thick with it, until he could barely breathe.

He’d held it together, just. Shown them something of what they could expect and felt them respond. Thank God they’d been in public, or he’d have shown them too much of what he wanted from them and possibly scared them off.

They weren’t innocent. They were in their mid-twenties, independent young men with plenty of bite and snap to them. There was an age gap; his fortieth birthday was approaching fast, but Patrick was a decade older than him and that hadn’t bothered them from what Patrick had said.

There was still a troubling vulnerability to them. Liam liked men as subs because he could go further, push them harder. It wasn’t politically correct for him to have issues about giving a female sub what she was begging for, but it was a personal hang-up he’d learned to live with. He had no qualms about spanking a woman, but getting a man to submit to him held a certain appeal he didn’t trouble to analyze too deeply. More of a challenge covered it well enough.

He wandered through to the small den he planned to use if they did show up. Two of them… Maybe it wouldn’t be big enough, but there was no way he wanted them in his bedroom, and the basement was just too… No. The den would do. An upright chair, a roomy armchair, a footstool, and a desk, the surface uncluttered, the dark wood polished smooth. Plenty to bend them over, with enough floor space to put them through their paces, and more importantly, nothing about the room revealed its purpose.

Liam sat in the wide leather armchair and leaned back, getting comfortable. He wished now that he hadn’t poured away his drink. It would have been nice to sip it in this room with its cozy atmosphere, to listen to the clink of the ice cubes against the glass and let that sound remind him of previous nights years ago. Many years ago now he was middle-aged, but he wasn’t in the mood to think about that.

Instead he decided to allow himself the rare pleasure of remembering the details of his time with Robert. They’d both been so young, but their friendship had been a close one and their occasional boyish roughhousing had become a more and more significant part of their summer together. One round of wrestling had resulted in Liam pinning Robert to the floor of his bedroom, tufts along the edge of the throw rug mixing with Robert’s mussed hair.

With Robert taut and struggling beneath him, Liam had realized he had an erection and immediately stood up. They’d both been embarrassed, exchanged some awkward words, and Liam had told himself he wouldn’t let it happen again.

But it had happened again, and then again, until somehow the wrestling consisted of Liam restraining Robert, spanking him, both of them hard and panting.

There’d never been anything romantic between them, though. Well, just the one kiss, which Robert had initiated.

Liam found himself sitting with the heel of his hand pressed against his erection, absently rubbing as he thought of how it had felt to bring his palm down onto Robert’s ass—through his boxer shorts, never on bare skin. It had made his fingers tingle, made his cock hard. It was something he’d never forgotten and had been seeking ever since, that level of almost unbearable excitement.

He’d found something close in more structured encounters, sometimes with men, more often with women so he could end the session by fucking them, all that carefully built arousal and pain combining to make their climaxes explosive, violent, but nothing had ever quite matched that first spanking he’d dealt out.

His thoughts returned to the present. Jay’s dark eyes, wide and wondering, his hurried, formal yes, Sir when Liam had made it plain a mumbled yeah was unacceptable as a reply. Austin’s ruffled feathers when he’d come to Jay’s defense, the beautiful, stubborn defiance in his blue eyes just crying out to be tamed. God, they were irresistible, the two of them. How the hell Patrick had left them… Liam grimaced, chiding himself as he remembered Patrick’s loss.

Discreet as ever, Patrick had smoothly deflected the conversation away when Liam had bluntly asked for details of how far Patrick had gone with his subs, but it was difficult to believe that sex hadn’t been involved at some point, even if Austin and Jay were adamant they didn’t need that from a Dom. He’d wanted to know, not out of prurient curiosity, but to discover just what the two of them were used to. It didn’t matter. Liam was confident enough—arrogant enough, according to Barbara—to feel sure he could give any sub what they wanted without sex being part of the equation. He’d done it before, after all, and really, with two of them, it would be easier. He could just sit back in this very chair and order them to take care of each other, leaving them to it if it was what they wanted.

He’d allow them that much say over it, at least.

He glanced down at his erection. It’d been present when Patrick had been putting forward his suggestion. It’d been there as he drove home from his meeting at the bookstore. With a shrug, he unbuckled his belt, a thin strip of tooled leather that would have raised some interesting welts on a curved, taut backside if he’d been crass enough to use it during a session—which he wasn’t. Liam was fastidious about his small collection of bondage impedimenta, built up in the time since Barbara had left. He bought high-quality items, took scrupulous care of them, and discarded them when they became worn.

He’d need to do some shopping before Friday. Brand-new plugs in a variety of sizes, of course, color-coded to each sub because he was fussy that way. Even after sterilizing a plug, he’d never use it on someone else. Black for Austin, and red for Jay. It would be verging on precious to carry that color scheme through to ropes, candles, cuffs, and clamps, but he was damned if he wasn’t tempted. He smiled. Barbara had always told him he didn’t have a clue about decorating, but she’d been talking about rooms, not naked subs.

Belt hanging, his pants shoved down far enough to allow his hands access to his cock and balls, he started to touch himself. Light, teasing touches, watching his hands as if they belonged to someone else at first, just the way he’d flick a flogger over Jay’s arse. Jay first, definitely. He wanted to watch Austin’s face, see how that protectiveness manifested when Jay was hoarse from begging, tears standing bright in his eyes. Would Austin enjoy the sight the way Liam undoubtedly would, or be troubled by it?

The thought of the two of them together was shockingly appealing, and Liam wondered how he’d get through the next week. Just imagining the potential for Austin’s pseudorighteous anger, the way that Jay might sob, what their arses would look like once they’d been struck bright red. His hand would burn with it if he used that, and he couldn’t believe that wouldn’t end up happening. As satisfying as it was to hit a willing participant with a paddle or flogger, it was twice as good to use his hand. The same hand Liam was stroking his cock with right now, the knuckle of his thumb brushing the edge of his trousers as he moved from base to tip. Christ, it felt amazing, and after a session with these young men, it would be ten times better.

He couldn’t wait to see lower lips swollen from being bitten, skin marked with blows. It wasn’t just that he missed a good session; it was that he was looking forward to this one in particular, and hopefully to more that would follow. If things worked out, he’d be able to anticipate regular sessions, and he knew from experience that would mean he’d be more relaxed and happy overall.

Poor Austin and Jay, to be so in need of something they hadn’t been able to get since Patrick had moved away.

But feeling sorry for them wasn’t really the way to go into this, Liam knew. Some level of sympathy was fine, as long as he used it to hone his concentration and give them what they needed. He had no doubt he’d be able to do that, assuming they were a reasonable fit.

Liam grunted as he changed his focus to the top few inches of his cock, working it hard and fast. He was close to release already, from two minutes of wanking and thoughts of the beautiful submission he anticipated.

How long would they spend with him on Friday? Two hours, three? He needed to make plans even if their reactions would guide him more than anything he’d decided to do. Not that he’d let them see that.

God, they’d been running loose for far too long. Time to bring them to heel.

An image formed in his mind, pure fantasy, but it didn’t need to be more than that to get him off. His boys, wrists bound behind them and resting against scarlet skin marked with bruises like shadows.

They’d be facing each other, straining to kiss but held back by his command and their need to please him. He could walk around them, maybe bring them an inch closer so their lips could meet, just barely, and the tips of their stiff, aching cocks could brush. They’d be trembling, shaking—

He heard himself moan, and the image splintered like a spun kaleidoscope as he came, leaving his shirt streaked and wet and his heart hammering.

Jesus. If they called to cancel, he’d—

No. They wouldn’t.

Ruefully he raised his hand, staring at it with a bleak amusement. He’d better ease back on the fantasies. A sprained wrist would put a serious damper on things.

* * * * *

He did manage to keep himself from spraining anything, but it wasn’t from lack of activity. Generally Liam masturbated a few times a week. In the days before his first session with Austin and Jay, he found himself getting turned on and needing release a few times a day. It had been several years since he’d been aroused so frequently. He indulged rather than denying himself, in part because he hoped it would mean he’d be better prepared to be in control on Friday.

Full of anticipation, he considered taking Friday off from work, but in the long run decided it was best to be busy even if he was somewhat distracted. He ate a light dinner of salmon and vegetables, low carb, half a glass of wine—just enough to relax him. A long shower and a clean set of clothes and he was ready.

The car pulled into the driveway at five minutes to eight, after having sat in front of the house next door for the previous ten. It made Liam smile for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact they were taking him at his word: eight o’clock sharp. They sat in the car for a moment longer than was strictly necessary and knocked on the front door at one minute till.

“I like that you’re on time,” was the first thing he said when he opened the door, and noticed that Austin’s cheeks pinked in response to the praise.

“Austin’s great at being on time,” Jay said.

Liam filed that bit of information away for later and smiled. “Come in.”

He noticed them very carefully not staring at their surroundings after they’d taken off their shoes and left them tidily by the door, and he awarded them a point for manners—after deducting one for the frankly awful T-shirt Jay was wearing under an open green shirt. He couldn’t quite make out what it was supposed to be, but there was a dragon in the mix and a leering goblin. Never mind; he wouldn’t be wearing it for much longer. Austin seemed to have made more of an effort, wearing dark pants, not jeans, and a blue shirt. Liam didn’t leap to conclusions, though. Both of them could simply be wearing what they liked to wear, nothing more than that. They’d both bathed recently. There was a small nick from shaving on Jay’s chin, and their hair was still slightly damp.

He led them into what the realtor had called the family room, though it wasn’t very apt given that he was living here alone. He’d furnished it simply, like most of the house, preferring a modern, minimalist look after years of living with Barbara’s collection of antiques. Pointing out to her that they were secondhand furniture hadn’t gone down well. He’d said it mostly to annoy her, but it held a grain of truth for him. He didn’t want used and discarded; he wanted new.

The walls were ivory, the floor pale wood, and the leather couches black. The TV was huge, and if he rarely turned it on, at least when he did the picture was crystal clear. What else did he need?

Jay stumbled on the way into the room, with Austin catching him by the arm to steady him. Puzzled, Liam glanced down at the floor, but there was nothing there.

“I’m used to the floor having stuff on it,” Jay explained, waving his hand vaguely. “Yours doesn’t. It threw me.”

“He means that he uses it as a shelf,” Austin said with a long-suffering sigh, though a fond look at Jay went along with it. “Along with every other flat surface in the place.”

“You live together?” Liam already knew that, but he wanted to fill in the details surrounding the bare scraps of information he had.

Austin nodded. “I moved in with Jay about six months ago. It’s the top floor and the loft of this Victorian over on Holmes, not far from Sheldon Park.”

“I know the area.” It was quaint or seedy, depending on the preferences of the person describing it. Liam didn’t expect to ever go there to visit them, but he was glad they didn’t have a long drive home. If a session ended with them in no shape to drive, he’d take them there himself, of course. But he’d prefer to keep a distance.

When they were seated on the couch, bolt upright and nervous, he took a moment to study them, standing in the middle of the room at ease, his arms folded. He was wearing dark pants, like Austin’s if the difference in cut, fit, price, and material was ignored, and a gray shirt with the sleeves rolled up, his concession to the fact the weekend had begun. He’d also kept his shoes on. It was all about the details when it came to subtly underlining the power dynamic.

He let the silence grow and then said casually, “Want a drink? I’ve got sparkling water or juice.”

He didn’t offer them anything more stimulating than that. They all knew better than to mix alcohol with what they were about to do.

They shook their heads in unison. “We’re fine.”

“Then we should continue our talk.” Liam’s favorite chair was too far away from the couch. He wanted to make the conversation part of the scene, though he wasn’t sure Austin and Jay would pick up on that immediately, and that meant being closer to them. Irritated it hadn’t occurred to him before to move the furniture into a better grouping, he took the chair anyway. “I’d like to know your hard limits, your flexible ones, and something you want to try but you’re not sure about.” He let his gaze travel between them. “Austin. Let’s start with you.”

Austin bit his lip and then swallowed. “Hard limits…um, I don’t think I have that many, or maybe I just, you know, think the ones I have are reasonable. But maybe everyone thinks that?”

“Deep breath,” Liam advised. “Let it out. What’s absolutely nonnegotiable? It’s all right if you add things to the list later. I don’t expect you to divine the future, and it’s normal to discover there’s something else you don’t like.”

Glancing at Jay, Austin said, “I want to know that safe words are going to be respected. If you can’t promise that, 100 percent… I don’t just want that. I need it.”

“Of course you do. Patrick told me there was an issue at a previous session, and I can guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt there won’t be any similar issues with me.” Liam had found himself feeling angry at a man he’d never met and probably never would, even without knowing the details of the incident. “I trust you not to use your safe word unless it’s necessary, and you trust me to respect the line when you draw it.”

“You aren’t the one in danger of getting hurt if that trust gets broken, though,” Jay said quietly, and Austin put a hand on Jay’s knee.

“That’s true, but I’d prefer for you to wait your turn. I’ll get to you, I promise.” This was one of the ways to build trust, even right from the beginning: to make promises he knew he could keep and then do just that. “Austin, what else?”

“I don’t want to be scarred.” Austin had the look of a man who was going over a collection of ideas he’d been gathering in his head. “And I don’t want to be hurt anywhere that would be easily visible at work. Like my face or forearms, mostly.”

Liam nodded. “You work at a doctor’s office, don’t you?”

“Yes. It would be awkward trying to explain something like that to the people I work for. I don’t know if it would jeopardize my job, but I don’t want to risk it.” Austin looked down at his knees, then back at Liam’s face. “Anyway, it’s not about the marks for me.”

“No?”

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to them. It’s just…not what I’m in it for. I do like them on Jay, though.” This was said almost apologetically, and now it was Jay’s turn to pat Austin’s leg in reassurance. They did a lot of that, exchanging small touches. “I think I just need to get out of my head, and I don’t need bruises for that.” He wet his lips and went on. “I don’t want to exchange bodily fluids, like blood or…anything.”

“No, I don’t want that, either,” Liam told him, although there had been times that had been part of the scene for him.

“I think…I don’t mind being cut, or bleeding. I just want it to be safe, you know. Universal precautions. Something I’d like to try…” Austin got quiet for rather a long time, and Liam was just about to verbally prod him when he spoke again. “I guess being tied up. For real, like, so I couldn’t move. Because it scares me, but I think that means it could be good.”

“All right.” Liam thought for a moment, then turned his attention to Jay. “Your turn.”

Jay’s long hair was gathered at the back of his neck with something, possibly an elastic. It looked silky smooth, and Liam wondered what it would feel like gripped in his fist, and how Jay might react to having it pulled. “Like Austin, I want to know if I get to the point where I need to safe word, that’s where things stop.”

“I promise you.” Liam looked directly into Jay’s eyes and spoke with the utmost sincerity. “Always.”

He could feel a connection between them all building, lines thickening steadily, with moments like now when another thread was added to the twisting rope. Jay wanted to believe him. Liam could see it in his eyes. Well, it was up to him to give Jay no choice but to trust him.

Jay licked his lower lip. A nervous gesture or habit? Liam didn’t know yet. He wanted to know everything about the two of them so the smallest movement or sound sent him a clear, unmistakable message.

“I’m the same when it comes to visible marks on my face, but my arms…” Jay circled one wrist with his fingers. “I can always wear long shirts. And if I get bruises or rope burn on my wrists, I’ve got these wide leather bracelets I can wear. Kind of cuffs, I guess. That’s why I like—”

“You can’t wear those at work!” Austin interrupted.

Jay turned to look at him. “I have before, and no one ever said anything. Nancy asked if I’d made them and when I—”

Enough. Amusement vied with annoyance, and Liam snapped his fingers, the crisp sound bringing their attention back to him.

“Austin, don’t interrupt. Jay, eyes on me, please.”

He waited a beat until they were both giving the impression of squirming uncomfortably, though in fact they were sitting very still. “You two have got away with far too much, you know. That kind of disrespect isn’t something I’m prepared to tolerate. I’m not impressed, but I’ll give you that one bite at the cherry. I suggest you both make an effort to show me you can follow simple instructions.”

He gestured at Jay. “I don’t leave bruises or rope burn on wrists when I restrain someone, so that won’t arise. Go on.”

He didn’t add that he loved holding a sub’s wrists tightly as he spoke to them, standing behind them, his mouth close to their ear, feeling their body tremble and sway toward him. That left bruises, dark smudges he loved to trace afterward, but he supposed…oh well.

“I like—” Jay broke off. “How good are you at this?” he asked.

Liam sighed. Okay, that wasn’t amusing him at all. “Are you deliberately trying to push me into losing my temper? It’s not a good idea. Pissing me off is more likely to have me showing you the door than my hand.”

“No!” Jay looked horrified, but he didn’t back down. Beside him, Austin stirred, obviously dying to leap to Jay’s defense. To his credit, he stayed quiet. “I wasn’t… You told us that you’d taken a break from this, a long one, so it’s not like you’ve been doing this for years and years.” He took a breath, visibly steadying himself. “What I want to know is, if we ask you for something we want, and it’s something you don’t know how to do safely or just the way we need it, will you tell us? Not go ahead and try it because you think you’re not supposed to admit you can’t do stuff?”

Liam noted the way Jay was still speaking for both of them, but it was a passing thought. Relieved there’d been a valid reason for Jay’s question, he gave him a small smile.

“Fair question, and no, my ego’s not as important as your safety. I’d be a bloody fool to think I know it all. I don’t. If you want to try something esoteric I’ve never even heard of, I’ll tell you it’s not possible right then and go away and do some research and practice it if it’s something that appeals to me.” Curious, he tilted his head. “Anything specific in mind?”

Jay didn’t blush. “Nothing out there, no. I like my face being slapped. Not deliberately—no, that’s not right. I mean, if we were doing a scene, role-playing, and it worked to slap me, I’d want you to do it. I don’t want you to do it often or when I’m expecting it, but I’d want you to know you were going to do it, not just lash out… Shit, I’m sorry. I’m not explaining it well.”

Austin’s hand was on Jay’s leg again now, stroking it reassuringly, but Austin was looking at Liam, not Jay, which was progress of sorts.

“I’d like you to tell me what you want with more clarity than that in the future. Don’t worry, though. I understand what you mean, I think.” And now he was going to be talking with his cock half-hard. Maybe it was just as well he was across the room. His handprint blazing across Jay’s cheek, the added spice of the small humiliation… “You want to be sure I can do it hard enough to count in the moment, but without leaving a lasting mark or bruise for the next day?”

Jay sighed, his eyes closing for a moment as if he was picturing it. “Yeah. Because sometimes I have to work over the weekend, so it’s not like I always have two free days after a session, you know? Thank you.”

His deep voice had slowed, reduced to a quiet murmur Liam had to strain to hear.

Jay’s eyes opened, and when he spoke, his voice was conversational again. “Me, I like marks. Between sessions they remind me. I can look at them, press down on them, and get an echo of the pain. I like more pain than Austin. I need more to get that safe feeling.”

Jay reached for Austin’s hand without breaking eye contact with Liam, lacing their fingers together. “If this works out, and you’re still around, we’re both off work for two weeks in June. I’d love it if you could see us at the start of that and give us a really intense session, maybe a full day. Nothing that would scar. I wouldn’t mind getting one or two, but that’s something…that’d be special, like a tattoo, and I’m not ready yet. But I’d love to push my limits, really push them.”

Taken aback but careful not to show how much the idea appealed, Liam nodded. “We’ll see.”

“You don’t think it’s freaky, me liking the bruises so much?”

Jay didn’t look worried, Liam decided. It was more a case of Jay checking Liam’s limits. He shrugged. “I’d be stupid if I did. I like putting them there. I’m looking forward to putting plenty on both of you. Anything else?”

When Jay just shook his head, Austin looked at Liam for permission to speak, and Liam gestured that he could. “May I use your bathroom, please?” Austin spoke the words carefully, as if he was conscious of behaving well.

“Of course. There’s one through there, second door on the right.” Liam indicated the direction, and Austin thanked him and disappeared. Once he’d gone, Liam asked Jay, “Is there something I should know about?”

“He’s probably just nervous. He’s been nervous all week. We both have. Is it rude to ask if you were too?”

“Yes, it’s a bit rude, but I’ll answer you this once.” Liam knew this would make him appear magnanimous. “No, I wasn’t nervous. I’ve been looking forward to it. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t enjoy it, and I’ve been particularly anticipating spending some time with the two of you. I take it Austin doesn’t have to work tomorrow, but what about you?”

Jay glanced in the direction of the bathroom, even though Austin had barely been gone a minute. “No. Next Saturday I do, but I have this weekend off.”

“That worked out nicely.”

“I know. The library is open on Saturdays, and I have to work one or two of those a month, usually, unless someone is on vacation or something. There’s a rotating schedule. On the weeks I work on Saturday, I get a half day off on one of the weekdays. Sometimes Austin and I can sync our schedules up so we have a free afternoon together to go to the movies or whatever, but if that doesn’t work out, I usually put in some time on whichever diorama I’ve got going.”

Liam nodded. “How did you get into that?”

“I had an uncle who was into model trains when I was a kid. This is sort of an offshoot of that, I guess. It’s the same scale—well, one of them. There’re about five different scales for model trains, and I actually use two different scales depending on what I’m making. Sometimes it makes more sense to use HO, which is the most common scale for trains, but sometimes I use one-twelfth scale, which is what people who are into dollhouses use.” Jay was adorable like this, earnest and passionate about his hobby. Liam could have listened to him for hours, which was probably what it would have taken for him to make sense of the subject matter.

He heard the sound of the bathroom door opening, and Austin came back and stood at the entrance to the room, looking uncertain.

It would probably have calmed him if Liam had skipped ahead to the spanking, and it was certainly what Liam’s body was in favor of, but he controlled his impulse. He’d always held the belief that it was impossible to effectively impose discipline on anyone else if he couldn’t control himself, so he gestured to Austin to take his seat again.

Keeping his voice unhurried but covering the ground as quickly as possible, he ran through more of the basic information he needed from them, equally unsurprised by Austin’s traditional choice of yellow and red for his pause and stop safe words and Jay’s decidedly individual ones of Mordor and Sauron. Liam was vaguely aware of the books they were drawn from, but he’d never read them. He was getting the impression that for Austin, simplicity and efficiency were important. Yellow and red worked, so why spend time dreaming up an alternative? It intrigued Liam, but he reminded himself they didn’t want him to get involved with them beyond this limited interaction, and he brought the conversation to a merciful end.

“I have what I need to begin,” he said and stood, bringing them to their feet with a flick of his fingers. “If anything occurs to you that you think I really need to know, tell me, but I’d prefer as few distractions as possible once we begin. Oh, cell phones; turn them off, please.”

That hadn’t been an issue when he’d first done this years ago, but he’d been blazingly furious when a sub he’d been about to spank six months back had wriggled off his knee to answer her phone—then started texting back a reply. She’d argued with him, apologizing with a complete lack of conviction as if she didn’t know why he was so annoyed. He’d given her two minutes to dress and kicked her out.

He led them into the den, with thick curtains drawn over lowered blinds ensuring their privacy, and closed the door.

“Two of you at once could be a challenge in some ways. I don’t want either of you to feel neglected.”

“We’re used to waiting our turn,” Jay began, then closed his mouth quickly when Liam gave him an icy look.

“Get undressed and put your clothes there.” He indicated a small table, and they started to take off their clothes. Jay was quick and casual about it, as if nudity was unimportant to him. Austin seemed more hesitant and took his time folding each item as he removed it. He even picked up Jay’s balled-into-a-wad T-shirt and started to fold that as well.

Liam shook his head.

“Don’t do that for him. It’s his responsibility.”

Jay gave him an apologetic look and took over.

Liam took his time in studying them once they were naked. It would probably make them feel uncomfortable, being scrutinized, he thought. However Jay seemed relaxed despite his lack of covering. In fact, the closer they got to actual play, the more comfortable Jay acted. The question was, was it an act or was it genuine?

He’d find out soon enough.

Jay was tall and slender, all of him. His pale skin had a slight olive hue to it that went well with his long dark hair and somewhat pointed ears. He didn’t have a great deal of body hair. Liam suspected he was stronger than his build would lead one to believe. Jay’s cock was standing up at attention, moving a little with every breath Jay took. When Liam looked at his face, Jay dropped his gaze and put his hands behind his back.

Good.

Austin was obviously less comfortable being naked than Jay was, but had moved instinctively into position with his hands clasped at the small of his back. This pulled his shoulders into a slightly unnatural pose that made the muscles in his upper arms stand out. In this light, his blond chest and arm hair were nearly invisible, and despite his clear discomfort, he also had an erection.

Stepping closer to both of them, Liam said, “I’m going to touch you now.” It was a courtesy, nothing more, and certainly not necessary, but this was new and he wanted to ease into more serious activity.

He touched Jay first and could feel the young man trembling. Goose bumps sprang up on Jay’s warm skin almost immediately as Liam ran a hand along his wide shoulders and down his back to his ass. Then Liam moved over to Austin, who flinched ever so slightly at the brush of Liam’s fingers along his side.

“Ticklish?” Liam asked.

“No, Sir,” Austin said, his voice soft but convincing even though it was a lie.

“I am,” Liam said conversationally, moving to stand behind them, “but that’s not really a problem because I’m the one doing the touching.” Without warning, he pinched Austin’s arse, delivering a quick flash of sensation, more startling than painful. Austin couldn’t have known it was going to happen, yet he didn’t break position. Instead he made a sound deep in his throat, muted, pleading.

“Go and lean against the wall, both of you, hands against it, legs spread.”

He’d made sure one wall was clear, no pictures hanging on it, no furniture up against it. Walls were more useful than they appeared for a Dom with imagination, and with a rigid loyalty to his wife keeping him from doing more than imagine, Liam had had years to dream up some interesting scenarios. None of them had featured two subs at once, though. He was going to need to adapt some of his pet fantasies a little.

Positioned like that, so close he couldn’t have walked between them, their arses upturned, pushed out shamelessly, begging to be spanked, they presented a picture arousing enough that, unseen by them, Liam permitted himself a smile of pure satisfaction and anticipation.

His voice cool, he rapped out some instructions, making Jay spread his feet wider, Austin arch his back a little more. They’d been fine as they were, but he wanted to see how readily they obeyed him and make them realize that for him good enough never was.

He wanted perfection.

When they were exactly as he wanted them, he let them hold the position for long enough to remember it, then stepped forward. Giving way to his earlier desire, he wrapped the long fall of Jay’s hair around his fist and tugged at it, bringing Jay’s head back so his throat was a taut curve, ready to be licked or kissed—or maybe just waiting for Liam’s hand to close around it, a firm clasp, lasting long enough for Jay’s eyes to tell him so very fucking much. He ran his hand down to Jay’s left nipple, scraping the edge of his thumbnail over it as hard as he could, leaving it stinging if the hiss of breath from Jay was any indication.

“As you were,” he said and released Jay’s hair. “Exactly as you were.”

He stepped back and watched Jay adjust his hands against the wall, shift his feet fractionally.

“Not quite right,” he said pleasantly and brought his hand down with a sharp crack against Jay’s arse.

The sound Jay made was a high-pitched one, and he twitched, a movement that Liam knew from experience was involuntary. Not any more acceptable, of course, but at least it told him Jay was making an effort.

“Unless I tell you otherwise, I expect you to remain still.” Liam lifted his hand and struck Jay a second time, and this time Jay didn’t move, overriding his body’s natural instinct by sheer force of will. “Better. Good.”

He moved to one side so he could see Jay’s face, which was flushed, his bottom lip slightly more plump and pink than it had been before. He was gorgeous like this, obeying.

Liam turned his attention to Austin. He slid his hand up along Austin’s spine, slowly, tracing each vertebra beneath the skin, the sight of his hand following each rise and dip nearly hypnotic. “This is going to be such fun,” he said. He knew Austin was waiting now to be spanked, for the possibility of sharp, unexpected flashes of pain and where they might occur. The anticipation was one of Liam’s favorite parts of this, and he realized he was aroused already—through no more than a bit of teasing.

He could feel Austin going tense as he trailed his fingertips lightly along smooth skin. The longer Liam continued to touch him gently, the more tense Austin would become. Waiting, always waiting. When would the featherlight skirting of knuckles turn into something more? Would it be a pinch, a slap? How hard?

The back of Austin’s neck was visible with his head hanging down like this, his hair falling forward. His nape was dusted with the finest of hairs, pale enough to verge on invisible. Liam leaned over and exhaled against it, his lips separated from skin by barely an inch. They didn’t want kisses from him—and they wouldn’t have received them if they had. Austin moaned as if he’d been struck, not loudly, but in the quiet room, every sound seemed amplified, a shiver racing through his body. Liam pursed his lips and blew a reproving stream of air against Austin’s ear, grinning when Austin held still, stubbornly refusing to be caught out again.

“Oh, you hate me for not punishing you the way you want, don’t you?” He made sure Austin could hear the amusement in his voice. “If I gave you permission to beg for something, Austin, what would it be? My hand spanking you hard? The chance to show me how hot you look kneeling, your head down, your back straight? Or something else?”

Austin didn’t move but whispered, “I’d ask you to hit me.”

“Ah, that’s what you’d ask for.” Liam stroked his hand down Austin’s back to his arse, letting the muscle shape his hand, feeling Austin shudder. “I did wonder. And it’s been so long, hasn’t it? All the time, waiting, and now here I am, making you wait even longer. Don’t move.”

He could almost feel Austin’s tension as he turned back to Jay. This was more challenging than he’d realized, keeping each of them engaged in the scene. “And what about you, Jay? What would you ask for, if I gave you permission to ask for something?”

Jay whimpered. “I’d—I’d ask for you to make me suck Austin. His cock. So he could—” Another whimper. “He could fuck my throat, choke me.” Was that a tear at the corner of Jay’s eye?

“Breath play, hmm? That could be fun.” Another night—it was too soon to get into something that intense. They hadn’t built up enough trust yet.

Liam turned and took Austin’s chin in his hand, tilting Austin’s head so Austin had no choice but to look at him. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. Would you like to hear?”

“Yes, Sir,” Austin whispered. “Please.”

“I,” Liam said, “will spank one of you tonight. Only one.” Beside him, Jay inhaled sharply, but Liam’s attention was on Austin’s face. “You get to decide. Which of you will it be?”

He saw the hurt in Austin’s face, as if he’d been betrayed somehow, but Austin didn’t try to argue with him. A calm acceptance smoothed out the lines puckering his forehead, and he said, “Jay,” without hesitation or regret, his readiness to give up everything he wanted for his boyfriend leaving Liam with a lot to think about.

Jay made a sound of protest, close enough to being a no that Liam sighed and reached across Austin—the two subs so close it wasn’t much of a stretch—and gave Jay’s arse a solid smack without looking away from Austin.

Jay took it in silence. Austin grimaced, his eyes squeezing shut for the space of a breath.

Oh, he really was being unfair, wasn’t he? Three for Jay and none for Austin.

“Why him, not you?”

“He needs it.” Austin’s voice was raw as if he’d been crying or screaming. Liam moved the hand gripping Austin’s chin from side to side, playing with Austin as if he were a toy. Austin didn’t resist him at all, allowing his head to be bobbed up and down, side to side.

Liam stopped and slid his thumb over Austin’s parted lips, rubbing them gently. “So do you. I can taste how much you need it, see it, smell it. It’s pouring off you like smoke from a fire, Austin.”

“Let it be him. Please. I can wait. Austin, don’t choose me—”

Jay really had to learn to stop talking.

“Jay it is, then.” Liam straightened, not glancing back at Austin. “Thank you for your input, Austin. As a reward, I’ll let you watch. In the corner, please, kneeling. Hands flat on the wall at either side of you.” That would remove any temptation for Austin to touch the cock that was still rock hard and very quickly make his arms and shoulders begin to ache. It would also give Liam a nice view when he wasn’t watching Jay’s arse turn red. “Any sound from you, even the smallest whimper, and you get to stare at the wall instead. Do you want a gag, or can you manage that?”

Chapter Six

Austin tightened his jaw and shook his head the tiniest bit in reply to Liam’s question. He had himself so determinedly under control that it was better not to speak unless he had no other choice. If he loosened his grip even a fraction, he was likely to break, to shout that it wasn’t fair, that he’d been waiting so long and he needed this and now he had to give it up.

There wasn’t any part of him that resented Jay. In the same position, Jay would’ve made the same choice. Jay would relinquish what he needed and let Austin have it, every time. That’d made it a simple decision. Austin didn’t have to wonder if it was the right decision. He’d make the same one next time, and the time after that, a hundred times if he had to.

Liam directed Austin to the corner. It was a relief to kneel, even if it became obvious half a minute in that his arms were going to be sore as hell the next day.

He wouldn’t make a sound. No matter what happened.

As Liam took his time getting Jay into position, Austin was incredibly glad that he’d slipped a free sample of Valium into his pocket at the office earlier in the week and taken it fifteen minutes ago in Liam’s bathroom, because he suspected if he hadn’t taken it, he’d be losing his shit right about then.

The spanking started, with Liam using his hand on Jay, fast and hard, not troubling to warm up, as if he knew Jay never cared too much about that, though Austin liked it. He’d been told to watch, so he did, his view limited in some ways, comprehensive in others. Unlike Liam, he could see the sway of Jay’s balls as his body moved with the slaps raining down on his ass and thighs, see Jay’s face flush darkly to match the spanked-red burn on his ass. Jay was staring at the floor, sometimes closing his eyes, but Austin didn’t want Jay to look at him. This was for Jay, all of it.

He tried to think what lay behind Liam’s decision. If it was something he’d done—

They’d both spoken when they should’ve been quiet, but—

He hadn’t been aware of Liam’s attention on him, but the heavy crack of palm on skin paused. Liam, one hand resting carelessly on Jay’s back, leaning on it as if Jay were a table, said, “Stop thinking so much, Austin. It’s noisy. Remember what I said would happen if you made a sound?”

That was so blatantly unfair Austin had to bite his lip hard to keep from speaking—which had probably been what Liam was trying to get him to do. He schooled his expression to a polite mask and stared at the side of Jay’s ass. Jay’s long legs, racehorse legs, were taut, trembling, his breathing ragged. Austin could tell what was bothering Jay was the pause, not the heat and sting of Liam’s hand. Without meaning to, his gaze flickered to Liam’s face.

Liam drew his hand back, his gaze holding Austin’s. When he brought his hand down, for a dizzying moment, Austin felt like that hand, sore, hot, throbbing all over. He gasped and tried to cover it with a quick breath in. Liam couldn’t order him to stop breathing, after all.

“Watch him,” Liam said. “Listen to the sounds he’s making for me.” He tapped his fingers against the top of Jay’s thigh. “This is such an overlooked place. So many people make the mistake of concentrating on the arse, but the thighs are far more sensitive. When you sit down tomorrow, you’ll wish I had overlooked it, Jay.”

Jay couldn’t push his ass up any higher without going onto tiptoes. Still he tried, and Austin watched him do it, wordlessly begging for more.

“Slut,” Liam said with a chuckle. “Unlike Austin, you don’t seem to have any problems about letting me know what you want.”

I did tell you.

The wall was warming against Austin’s hands. He wanted to dig his nails into it, draw them down, flaking away the paint and plaster, tearing the pristine surface open the way he’d wanted Liam to tear the wall around him down so he could feel something again. He was numb, and he wanted to breach that numbness, pierce it, but only Liam could do that.

“Tell Austin how good it feels when I’m spanking you,” Liam said mercilessly, his hand flashing down over and over, striking skin that had been smooth, uniform in color, and leaving it blushing bright and hot. “Tell him, Jay.”

“’S good.” Jay gasped the words as if they were being driven from him with each blow, finding a rhythm. “Good. Hard. Wish it was you, though.”

Austin looked at Jay, at Liam, watched what was happening when in his head all he could do was try to concentrate on the ache at the small of his back, the burning in his shoulders and neck, the weight of his arms as he held them up. This was a different form of pain than Jay was experiencing, and it wasn’t fun at all. Inside Austin’s head wasn’t a good place to be. It was a bad place, a really bad place, and he wanted out. In that moment, he would have agreed to any number of things that would normally have been unacceptable to him. Had Liam wanted to whip his face and leave scars, he’d have said yes. Hell, he’d have said yes please and probably added more.

Another minute that felt like an hour, the sound of Liam’s hand striking Jay, and Austin discovered it was getting easier. It didn’t make any sense, but he was looking in the right direction and seeing nothing. He didn’t think he was losing consciousness—though he didn’t know what that felt like, since it hadn’t ever happened before—but somehow his consciousness was being altered. His body was on the floor where Liam had left it, but the part of Austin that really counted wasn’t in it anymore. He was out of his head, at least, and that was a relief.

“Three more,” he heard Liam say, and Jay gasped with each of the last three blows. Austin knew what that felt like, the almost electric pain of being spanked on skin that was already raw, bruises rising. He knew how it felt good and bad at the same time, and how powerful a feeling that was. Jay was sobbing softly, and Liam was murmuring comforting words, telling Jay how good he was, how obedient, how he’d done wonderfully.

Still disconnected from his body, Austin knew Liam was urging Jay to curl up on his side in the wide chair that already had soft blankets spread across it. Liam covered Jay with another blanket, pointed out a glass of water and box of tissues on the table beside them, then came over to Austin and touched his face.

Just like that, as if Liam’s hands held the all the magic in the world, Austin was back in his body, trembling with the effort of having held position for so long.

“Are you all right?”

Austin couldn’t speak. Liam told him, very firmly, to sit, which at that point didn’t require any more effort than to let gravity take hold. By the time Austin had untangled his stiff limbs, Liam was back with another blanket and a bottle of water.

“Drink this. No, drink it.” Liam was in charge, and Austin did as he’d been told, swallowing a few times and clearing his throat.

“I’m okay.” He was shaking and felt every bit as exhausted and relieved as he ever had after a scene, even though he shouldn’t have, really.

Liam helped him to his feet. “Come sit with Jay. I want you to see.”

With Jay curled up on the oversize chair the way he was, it was easy for Austin to run gentle fingers over his burning ass and the darker area where he’d bruise. God, Jay was so beautiful.

He couldn’t picture getting spanked himself after sharing in Jay’s spanking the way he had. If Liam had told him that he’d changed his mind, he’d… What would he do? He honestly didn’t know. He felt dizzy and centered at the same time.

“You two are close, aren’t you?” Liam was leaning against the back of the chair. He was always higher than them, Austin thought through the fuzziness filling his head. He nodded and went back to petting Jay, whose sobbing had turned to shuddering breaths of sheer relief.

“I meant it when I thanked you,” Liam said. Austin glanced up at him. There was a light sheen of sweat across Liam’s forehead, and he held a bottle of water, drinking from it with small sips as he waited for Austin to find the words to answer him. “You were honest, and I appreciate that. No, I require it.” He cocked his head to the side. “Do you wish you’d given me a different answer?”

“How could I? You said you wanted the truth, and you got it.”

“If I ask you that question next time, what will you say?”

Jay raised his head. “If you make him choose again, there won’t be a next time.”

Alarmed, Austin slid his hand into Jay’s, squeezing it in a warning. “Jay, no. It’s okay. I was… I got what I needed as much as you.”

“You got to see Jay marked up,” Liam pointed out. “That’s what you told me you liked.”

That aspect of it hadn’t occurred to Austin, but it made Jay’s flash of temper fade visibly. He gave Liam an apologetic look, then turned to kiss Austin, pausing before their lips met.

“Can I do this? Kiss Austin, I mean? Is it all over?”

“It’s not over until you leave. But yes, since you thought to ask, you may.” Liam sounded close to indulgent, his voice a mellow rumble.

The kiss made Austin’s world click into focus again. Jay’s mouth was eager against his, but the desperation that’d been eating away at them like dripped acid was gone. Neither of them had come, but that didn’t seem to matter. A session with Patrick had nearly always ended with them climaxing; Austin wasn’t sure how Liam would feel about that.

“I’d like to discuss what happened and clear up any questions you have. I find it useful. Take a moment to compose yourselves and get dressed, then join me in the family room.” Liam straightened and walked over to the door. “Please don’t keep me waiting.”

When the door had closed behind him, Jay gave Austin a rueful look. “Does that mean what I think it does?”

Austin rolled his eyes. “What do you think?”

“We’d better get dressed, then.” It was probably a sign of how good Jay was feeling now that he was willing to get up and pull on his clothes rather than lounge. Austin felt a twinge of regret as Jay’s boxers covered his ass—under other circumstances he’d have asked Jay to stay naked for at least an hour, and by the time they went home, the worst of the redness would have faded.

“I want to hold you,” Austin blurted, and Jay turned immediately and wrapped him in a hug.

“Me too. As soon as we get home, okay? We’ll climb into bed and stay there till morning.”

Liam was waiting patiently, the bottle of water beside him empty, when Jay and Austin went into the family room. “I think,” he said as they sat down, “that considering this was our first session together, it would be a good idea to go over how we feel it went while it’s still fresh in our minds. I don’t expect a detailed examination. I know you’re probably not up for that.”

“I think it was good,” Austin said. “Not just good, really good. I’m wiped out, in a good way.”

“I see vocabulary isn’t your strong suit after a scene.” Liam’s lips quirked. “No, no, it’s fine.”

“That’s what being wiped out does,” Jay said, defending Austin even though it wasn’t actually necessary. “He’s just like usual after, but I’m not sure I understand why.”

“I am, and I’m not sure either.” Austin wanted to explain it. “It was like…I was there, watching, and then I blinked and everything was different. Like my perception changed.”

Liam nodded. “That hadn’t happened before?”

“Well sure, it did, but not like this. This was intense, maybe because there wasn’t a physical element to it. I wasn’t the one getting spanked.”

“Yeah.” There was confusion in Jay’s voice. “You weren’t.” He gave Liam a questioning look, frowning at him. Austin knew Jay like this, on the trail of an answer to something that puzzled him. “Why did you do that? Okay, make that not do it?”

“I didn’t mind,” Austin said quickly. Liam made a sound, an incredulous snort, and Austin amended his words. “I don’t mind now. At first, when I was in the corner watching, I hated it. I was so disappointed that I wasn’t going to get what I’d expected. Disappointed? God, that’s not strong enough.”

Jay made a choked sound, turning to hug him. “Now I feel like I took something from you,” he said, his voice muffled against Austin’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I should’ve—”

The snap of Liam’s fingers brought Jay’s head up, and Austin, his body responding to the small, definite sound as if it’d been a command, sat straighter, his gaze going to Liam.

“If you’re quite finished,” Liam said. It was all he said, but it was enough to bring the blood to Austin’s face in a blush he could feel heat his cheeks. “I think I told you that the session wasn’t over until you left. I think I also told you I wanted to discuss what happened in what we can call the hand-on part of it, if you like. Discuss. Not weep and wail over each other. Everything that happened to you in that room went the way it did because I wanted it to happen like that. Me. Not either of you, so stop feeling guilty.”

He got up from his chair and walked over to the couch—standing over them, staring down. There would’ve been room for him to sit down between them, and part of Austin wished he would, that Liam would put his arms around them, gather them in, let them all touch and breathe together, enjoying the afterglow. The discussion was a good idea, he guessed, and it was a world away from Niall’s selfish plans for fucking them. And—like Liam’s expensive, bare, colorless house—it felt a little cold. He reminded himself they’d told Liam they didn’t want anything like that from him, and that Liam was straight and probably not comfortable with hugging them.

“It’s early days, I know, but you have to trust me, even when it feels that I’m being unfair. Being a Dom doesn’t give me godlike powers, but in that room, let’s pretend it does and believe you’ll each get exactly what you need. I don’t play favorites, and I’ll never leave either of you wanting, needing. I’ve felt like that myself too often to want to inflict it on others. It doesn’t mean that I won’t sometimes indulge myself and play with you a little. This is for me as well as you, you know. There were three of us in there wanting something, not two.”

Liam sounded exasperated but his expression softened a moment later, and he sat on the coffee table across from them. It was solid wood and it didn’t even creak, but the informality of it made him seem less inflexible to Austin.

“Okay, you can stop looking so crushed. I’m actually very impressed with you both, and from my perspective, you were everything I was hoping you’d be. Responsive, a challenge, interesting… The session was very short, I know—”

Austin sneaked a look at a clock on the mantelpiece above what looked like a real fireplace, though it was spotless, unused. God, it was barely nine. They’d been in the house an hour. It felt like forever since they’d walked in the door.

“I didn’t want to throw too much at you this first time.” Liam grinned at them, seeming relaxed, satisfied—looking, Austin realized with a stab of surprise, the way they probably did. “I had fun.”

Austin found himself smiling too, even though he was confused about how to have this conversation and what its limits were. “I’m glad. Is it okay to say that?”

“Yes, it’s fine.” Liam straightened his shoulders, like he was trying to stretch without appearing to. Austin wondered if his hand and arm were sore, and if there were any part of him that would regret tonight. He suspected the answer was no. “I’d like the two of you to go home and have a quiet evening. I won’t always suggest how you should spend your time when you aren’t here under my care, but on this occasion, consider it a very strong suggestion.”

“We will,” Austin promised. “I think it’s pretty safe to say we’re both looking forward to an early bedtime.” Which might or might not include sex, but that part was better left unsaid, considering.

“Good. In that case, let’s get you home.” Liam stood and moved off toward the front of the house, and the two of them rose hastily and followed. “And I’d like you to think about anything you might want to try next week. I’ll expect you here at the same night and time unless I hear otherwise.”

“Okay. Right, good.” Austin was surprised how quickly they were outside and in the car, not because he felt Liam had rushed them but because it felt like he was moving through thick syrup.

They were both silent on the drive home until they were two blocks from the house, at which point Austin asked Jay, “Should I stop at the convenience store? Do you need anything?”

Jay shook his head. “No, I’m good. I bought some new arnica gel earlier in the week. You know, just in case.”

Austin could feel the strain in his thighs as they made their way up the steep staircase to their apartment. He’d probably feel it for the next two or three days. They started to shed their clothes as soon as they were in the bedroom. A clatter as something hit the floor caught their attention, and Jay bent to pick up the bubble pack that the pill Austin had taken earlier had been in.

“I’ve got that,” Austin said and took it from Jay’s hand, hoping they wouldn’t have to talk about it.

Jay snatched it back and studied it. “Valium? What the hell?”

“I was nervous, okay? Liam’s…he’s not Patrick, and after what we went through…”

“I went through it too, but I wasn’t stupid enough to do a scene after I’d taken something like this.”

It was so rare for Jay to get angry with him, beyond the usual spats a couple had, that Austin felt thrown off balance. “It didn’t affect me, not in a bad way.”

“Yeah? Suppose you’d gotten what I did? He spanks hard, even when it’s just his hand. You might not have known when it was too much until it was too late. And you should’ve told Liam. You’re supposed to tell a Dom something like that.”

“If I had, he wouldn’t have gone through with it!”

“Good.” Jay flung himself into bed, a wild flurry of arms and legs, his reddened ass showing for a moment before the covers were drawn up and all Austin had to look at was a hunched shape and the back of Jay’s head. “Because I’m still not happy with the way it all went down. As far as I’m concerned, the only person who got what they wanted tonight was him.”

“You loved it,” Austin said flatly. He wasn’t going to let Jay work himself up into blaming Liam for anything.

There was a moment when he didn’t think Jay would answer. Jay argued by retreating into himself—his Cone of Silence, as Austin privately dubbed it. It was hell when that happened, and Austin, used to his family, where disagreements were loud but short-lived, had never worked out how to deal with it.

The covers were thrown back, and Jay turned, wincing as his ass touched the mattress. “I did,” he admitted in a small voice, “but are you sure you did, Austin? Really sure? He didn’t touch you, not the way he did me.”

Austin put his fingertips on his chin, remembering Liam’s grip. He shuddered, rubbing at the goose bumps on his arms, then sat down on the bed, close enough that he could smooth Jay’s hair back off his face. “He still involved me. It felt like I was getting spanked with you.” Slowly, working it out as he said it, he continued, “Putting me in the corner, just because he wanted something to look at when he was dealing with you, the way he posed me… God, it was a fucking rush, Jay. It was about him, not me, not even you, and I-I know it’s not how it was with Patrick, because he always made sure he did stuff we wanted, but I liked it that way.”

“I don’t get it,” Jay said.

“I don’t either.” Austin sighed and slid beneath the covers. “I wish I did. But, well, it worked, so maybe I don’t need to understand it.”

“You hate not understanding stuff,” Jay pointed out.

Austin rolled onto his side and kissed Jay. He’d meant it to be a quick press of lips. That ended up feeling too casual, so he moved in for a second, slower one and Jay responded in kind.

“Don’t do that again, okay?” Jay searched his eyes earnestly. “The Valium.”

“I won’t.” Austin wasn’t sure he was telling the complete truth, but there were times it was hard to do that even with Jay. “It was a small dose anyway, just to take the edge off.”

“I don’t care how small a dose it was. You can’t do it.” Jay hesitated, then added, “I’ll tell Liam if you do.”

That was enough to widen Austin’s eyes. Some threats were a lot more motivating than others, and the thought of how Liam might react to that bit of information was squirm inducing. “Okay. I won’t.”

“Promise?”

Put on the spot, Austin hesitated for long enough that any assurance he gave was going to be suspect.

Jay sighed. “Never mind.”

“I promise,” Austin said, unable to deal with the disappointment in Jay’s voice. “Never before a session, ever. I probably wouldn’t do it anyway. The past few weeks have just been hard.”

“Might be easier now we’ve found someone who knows what he’s doing,” Jay said and wriggled against him with a soft whimper. “My ass is fucking killing me.”

He made it sound like something that definitely belonged in the plus column.

Austin drew his hand down Jay’s back and placed it on skin that still felt appreciably warmer. “Hot enough to fry an egg,” he agreed.

“Felt so good,” Jay whispered, nuzzling Austin’s neck. His cock was rigid, the head jabbing into Austin’s stomach, insistent, impatient. “Hated getting dressed. Wanted to suck you. Or have you fuck me right there in the chair.”

“He knew that,” Austin said drily. “It’s why he told us to hurry.”

“He was hard too,” Jay pointed out. “Did you notice?”

Yes. “I guess.” Austin slipped his hand down to his erection and lined it up with Jay’s, the two of them beginning to rock against each other, finding a slow, casual rhythm. It wouldn’t be long before they were rutting against each other, fingernails scoring skin, biting and kissing and panting out their own version of pillow talk, sweet and dirty, but for now this felt good. “Maybe he’s jerking off now, thinking about us.”

“Straight.” Jay seemed to like the idea, though, if the sharp bite Austin’s shoulder got was any indication. “Doesn’t like our cocks, just our asses.”

“I don’t think that necessarily rules him out of being—”

“You know what I mean.” Jay licked Austin’s earlobe wetly, lavishly. “He looked at you, naked, your dick all hard, and he didn’t touch you. Straight or insane. No other choices. I wanted to touch you, Austin. Told him what I wanted, remember?”

“My cock in your throat, choking you.” Austin rubbed his knuckles over Jay’s ass hard enough to get a grateful, adoring grunt of pain from Jay. “Bad Jay. Nearly made me break position and go to you.”

“You can do it now, if you like.” Jay arched against him, shameless, hungry. “Please, Austin. Let me suck you. Fuck my mouth. Use it. Use me. God, please—”

It would have taken a stronger man than Austin to refuse such a generous and eager offer. He moaned and pushed at Jay’s shoulder, encouraging his lover to slide down the bed toward his cock. Jay moved and a second later had taken Austin’s cock into his warm, willing mouth. “You’re so hot for it,” Austin whispered lovingly. “Make me crazy, you know? Yeah. Teeth are good.”

He closed his eyes so he could concentrate on the feel of Jay’s lips and tongue. Almost immediately he had to open them again so he could see Jay. Jay’s dark hair was tangled, and the line of his nose pointed toward the ache that was Austin’s erection. Austin watched the head of his cock pushing between Jay’s lips, swollen flesh sliding deeper and challenging the stretch of Jay’s mouth. The scrape of teeth surprised him again, and Austin cried out, reached down and grabbed Jay’s hair.

“Relax,” he gasped. “Gonna…do it now…fuck you hard…”

His hips jerked forward on the first stroke, and he felt Jay swallow reflexively, the tightening around his cock a sweet pleasure. He used his grip on Jay’s hair to steady him and thrust forward again, shuddering. The look in Jay’s eyes when Jay glanced up at him was almost enough to make him come right then. Jay was like some spectacular sex toy, the perfect fit for Austin’s body and with a willing spirit to match. Austin had never loved anyone the way he loved Jay, and knew it wouldn’t be possible to love anyone more.

He wanted so badly to come but knew if he did, he’d regret not having been inside Jay’s hot, bruised ass. He allowed himself a few more thrusts, clenching his jaw at the effort it took not to fuck so deep into Jay’s throat it made him choke or gag. Not that Jay was likely to do either of those things anyway.

“Love you so much,” Austin said. “Gotta fuck you now; say yes, say it.”

As a method of deriving consent, it would have been considered shaky, but Jay was already gasping his agreement and rolling onto his back. A quick application of lube and Austin was able to guide his cock to Jay’s hole and push inside. The sensation was incredible. There was nothing like the hot, tight clench of Jay’s ass. Austin was almost sorry for Liam that he’d never know how it felt.

Not entirely sorry, though. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to share Jay under any circumstances.

It occurred to him, though, as he worked his way deeper that in a way, Liam was part of this. It was what he’d done to them both that had gotten them this wild to fuck, and it was his hand that’d left Jay’s ass so tender to the touch that when Jay hooked his legs over Austin’s shoulders, trying to get Austin deeper still, the slightest brush of Austin’s hand over the punished flesh made Jay whine pleadingly.

Liam was in a house that echoed with emptiness—no books, no plants, no clutter in any of the rooms that Austin had seen—and his pleasure in the aftermath of what they’d done would be a solitary one.

Austin slid a hand down Jay’s leg to his ass again, a firm touch this time, cupping the flesh. “You’re going to be bruised tomorrow. Those little ones, tiny purple bruises under the skin.”

Jay bared his teeth in a smile. “Good.” His hand dropped to his cock, encircling it so the flaring head was all that showed, deep with color like his ass.

Austin paused and tapped his hand against Jay’s wrist reprovingly. “Nuh-uh.”

Jay stuck his tongue out. “You’re not the Dom of me,” he said. “Not now.”

Austin grinned, not offended, though. God, if Jay ever did that to Liam… Yeah, now they had someone to keep them in line again, even if it was just a couple of hours once a week. It was enough. They didn’t need their lives micromanaged—just that precious space of time when they could kneel and say yes, Sir to someone.

“True, but I’m the one with his dick in your ass.” He gave Jay a few hard, erratic thrusts just to remind him. “Want to play a game?”

“As long as it’s not fucking Monopoly.”

Even with his dick telling him to move, now, Austin couldn’t hold back a wince. Game night at his mom’s house was a family tradition, but Jay hadn’t taken well to April’s blatant cheating. His little sister liked to win.

“No. How about Simon Says, but we don’t know a Simon, so maybe we should change it to—” He didn’t need to finish his sentence.

“Oh, that’s just wrong,” Jay said, but he took his hand away from his dick and waited, obedient now.

Austin rocked in and out of Jay once, twice, thinking. “Liam says…touch your dick again, but just one finger. Slowly.”

“I can just hear him saying it in that funky accent of his. You’d think he’d have lost it by now.”

Jay drew his finger along the length of his erection, balls to tip, a smooth, slow glide, leaving Austin to admire his control.

“Good…God, you feel so fucking tight, Jay. Like no one’s fucked you in months. Now the head; make a circle.”

Jay did it without thinking, tracing his fingertip through the gathering wetness crowning the tip. With a triumphant crow, Austin slapped Jay’s ass hard—not really much of a penalty, but who cared—and shook his head. “I didn’t say ‘Liam says.’” He was breathing as hard as if he’d been running now, holding back his climax with the distraction of the game and a lot of willpower.

“You’re just mean.” Jay tilted his head back, bringing the point of his chin up, exposing his throat, submissive and challenging at the same time. “Be mean some more. Your hand where his was… God, yeah.”

“He called you a slut,” Austin said, remembering how it’d made his cock throb hearing it. No need to clarify who he was. “He doesn’t know what you’re like when you’re really desperate. He’s gonna need to come up with some new words.”

“Play some more,” Jay urged him.

“What?” He was pumping steadily into Jay’s ass now, feeling the welcome squeeze and flex of the tight tunnel around his dick. Hard to concentrate on anything but the feel of Jay under him. Jay’s skin was damp against his where they were touching, warm and sweaty. Austin loved the earthy scent of arousal pouring off him. “Oh…Liam says, um, your nipples. Squeeze one of them, hard as you can take it.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I like that.” Jay’s eyes fluttered half-closed as his long fingers pinched and tugged at his nipple. “Wish he’d clamped yours when you were in the corner.”

“Oh, Jesus, I wish he had too.” Austin shuddered, losing the rhythm he’d created. He could feel a phantom throb in his nipples as if they had spent time being tortured by the brutal bite of clamps. He couldn’t wait much longer to come. “Liam says put those fingers in your mouth. Suck them like you were just sucking my cock. Get them so wet they drip.”

He wasn’t sure if the last ones counted as valid instructions under the rules, but Jay was obeying the first instruction, two fingers sliding between his lips to be taken inside all that lovely, hot wetness.

“Now put them in me,” he said urgently, feeling his control unravel as his muscles tightened in a warning. “Reach round. In my ass, Jay, do it, God why don’t you just do it—”

“Didn’t say ‘Liam,’” Jay told him and slapped the side of Austin’s ass, a hard, resounding crack of hand on skin.

“Don’t care.” Austin squeezed Jay’s ass, and Jay whined and bucked against him.

“Oh! Ow, God, Austin, that hurts. Liam’s hand on me. Shit, he was so good.”

All of it combined—Jay’s voice, Jay’s words, Jay’s ass—was driving Austin crazy. He shook with it, his hips stalling. “Liam says put your fingers in me, Jay. Please. Please.”

The angle was awkward, so Jay’s fingertips pushed into him from the side, stretching skin that was so sensitive with nerve endings that Austin yelped with the pain/pleasure of it and thrust forward again, deep into Jay’s ass. Any semblance of control snapped. Austin came, his dick throbbing in Jay’s tight body, his mouth open, teeth biting down on the solid meat of Jay’s shoulder.

It felt better than anything had in months.

With great effort, he pushed himself up off Jay, cock still buried inside him, and gasped, “You, now. Liam says you can come.”

Jay’s hand moved on his erection in a blur, three or four quick strokes before he cried out. The first pulse shot fluid as high as his nipple—still reddened from where he’d pinched it—and his eyes slammed shut, lips parting, jaw tense as his orgasm rushed through him. Austin loved being inside Jay when he came, feeling the tightening waves of Jay’s body. He loved the way Jay’s gaze was unfocused and hazy when his eyes opened again, the way Jay’s body relaxed into boneless pliability.

After a few minutes, Austin eased himself free and collapsed onto the mattress, grateful for its solid support. “Good?” he managed.

“Good. The best.” Jay blinked at him and smiled.

“Yeah.”

Chapter Seven

“What the hell?”

Jay was standing by the glass doors leading to Liam’s yard, staring out. The patio was illuminated by a security light that’d been tripped by a cat wandering past, its eyes huge as it’d frozen in the sudden wash of light. In Jay's opinion, Liam's yard was boring. Grass that someone else kept short, and a small, manicured shrubbery. It was always dark when they got there, but maybe as the weeks went by and the days got longer, Liam would plant something with some color to it. Or pay someone to do it for him. He joined Austin at the kitchen table and reached into the box Liam had just opened. “That’s a plug. Mine.” Not trying it out before he handed it over to Liam had been a wrench. It was easily the biggest he’d ever owned, three rippling curves promising all sorts of fun. He stroked it wistfully with the tip of his finger, then tapped what lay next to it. “These are beads. They’re Austin’s.”

“Thank you, Jay. I’d worked that much out for myself.” Liam continued to peer into the box as if he couldn’t believe his eyes. “Why in God’s name are they neon green and a pink that reminds me of dentures?”

“They were on sale,” Austin said, moving to lean against the counter. “Seventy percent off.”

“That’s no excuse,” Liam said.

Jay gave Liam a reproachful look. Liam had made it clear the session started as soon as they walked in. Respectful words and behavior were required, not optional. It helped Jay to get into his head space before he got naked, but it didn’t mean Liam could be an ungrateful asshole.

“They’re a”—gift didn’t really make sense when they weren’t going anywhere near Liam’s ass—“a contribution," Jay told Liam. "You buy everything, and we know how much all that stuff costs because we look at it online. You’ve spent a lot on us this last month, and this is just our way of helping out. They’re different colors because we know you’re fussy about that. And I know you’ve got this thing for red and black, but where they’re going, who gives a fuck?”

Over Liam’s shoulder, he could see Austin shake his head and mouth something that looked a lot like shut the hell up, but it’d needed saying.

“I do, and that’s all that concerns you.” Liam’s tone was pleasant, but there was an edge to it that gave Jay a thrill. “I appreciate that you want to contribute. It’s not necessary, and you needn’t do it again. My income far exceeds the both of yours combined, and even if it didn’t, you’re well aware of who’s in charge here, aren’t you.”

It wasn’t a question, but Austin answered anyway. “Yes, Sir.”

“Good.”

Jay watched as Liam looked into the box again. “We don’t have to use them tonight or anything,” Jay said hopefully.

“Yes, I’m aware of that, thanks.” Liam rolled his eyes and said to Austin, “He really has perfected this innocent act, hasn’t he?”

“It’s not an act!” Jay protested.

“Pretty much,” Austin said, then frowned and reached into his pocket. “Crap, that’s me. Sorry, I must have put it on vibrate instead of off.” He pulled out his phone and looked at it. “It’s April. I’ll be quick, I promise.”

Austin turned away as he answered the phone, and Jay explained, “His little sister,” to Liam in a low voice.

“I remember.” Liam looked concerned, and Jay didn’t know why until he glanced at Austin and saw how he was standing, all tense.

“Well, what the hell were you doing?” Austin was saying into the phone, sounding anxious and angry at the same time. “Okay, yes. I said yes. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. Just keep your mouth shut and don’t do anything stupid. Anything else stupid.” He turned back around while pushing the button to hang up the phone, looking miserable. “I’m sorry, I have to go. My sister’s been picked up by the police, and they want someone to get her from the station. I’m really sorry.”

His gaze was fixed on the floor near Liam’s feet, his head down. Jay was already stepping forward to go to him and offer comfort—even while part of him was wondering what April had done this time—when Liam gestured at Jay to stay where he was. Liam moved in close to Austin and took Austin’s chin in his hand. “Look at me,” Liam said, and Austin did, his head tilting back. “It’s all right. You haven’t got anything to be sorry for.”

It hadn’t taken long for Liam to come up with certain gestures or commands that were personal to them both. That grip on Austin’s chin was one of them. Jay could see how still Austin went, as if he were unable to move even an inch, though he could’ve broken free with minimal effort. Of course, he didn’t want to, any more than Jay would ever have flinched away from the slicing stroke of Liam’s thumbnail over his nipple. Always the same one, always done at least once during a session, though he never knew when it would happen. Such a small flash of discomfort compared to everything else Liam inflicted—no, gifted—him with, but it never failed to make Jay melt and quiver for some reason.

“I have to go,” Austin said, his voice subdued. It rose. “I have to fucking go, and I don’t want to. It’s spoiling everything and—” He closed his eyes, not moving away from Liam. “Why tonight? Why couldn’t she have done this any other goddamned night?”

Jay wanted to go over to Austin, but he’d pushed Liam enough already. The session had obviously been cancelled, but something told him Liam wouldn’t be happy if they acted any differently.

“I imagine she’s unaware you had plans.” It was said in a reasonable tone, but Jay could tell Liam was as disappointed as they both were. This would only have been their fifth session, yet it was already the pivot around which Jay’s week spun. Losing it, walking away when he’d spent all day at work wondering what Liam had planned, made him feel the way he did when a figure of a warrior he’d been working on had been blown off a table by a sudden gust of wind, leaving something he’d created to be fierce and warlike, damaged and forlorn. He had Austin to comfort him later, though. Liam had no one. At least, Jay didn’t think Liam did. The vague possibility of Liam dating either hadn’t materialized, or Liam had decided not to share that information with them.

“She wouldn’t have cared.” Austin did move then, stepping back, his face set like stone. “God, Mom’s going to lose it when she hears about this.” He put out his hand to touch Liam’s arm. “I’m still sorry. You’ve got a right to be angry, but she’s…she’s my baby sister. It’d serve her right to have to get out of this herself, but if she thinks I won’t come for her, she’ll call my mom and that’s just not a good idea.”

“I’m not angry.” Liam sounded surprised. “Disappointed, yes, but I understand that you have to sort this out.”

“I have to go with him,” Jay said, and they both turned to look at him, Austin in protest, Liam in what was probably resignation. “No, seriously. Have to and want to. It’s not good to be alone for something like this.”

“You could stay.” It seemed like a difficult offer for Austin to make. “I could come back later, or if this ends up taking too long, maybe Liam could drive you home, after you…”

“No,” Liam said firmly. “Not an option. Of course I’d be willing to drive you home, Jay, but there won’t be a session unless both of you are here.”

Austin made a face. “That makes me feel even worse. It’s bad enough I have to miss out, but that doesn’t mean Jay—”

“It wouldn’t be the same without you,” Jay said loyally.

It was quiet for a moment. Austin looked like he was struggling with something he wanted to say, and finally, softly, said, “Liam, if you…you could come with us, if—”

“I’d only be in the way.” Liam dismissed the idea so quickly that Jay could see Austin’s feelings were hurt. It made him want to yell at Liam. “This is a family matter. I’m not a part of it.”

“Okay.” Austin nodded and gestured at Jay. “Come on. I’m really sorry, Liam, about all of this. I’ll call you later and let you know how it went.” He walked toward the front door, where their shoes were.

Liam gave Jay what might have been an apologetic look. “He doesn’t have to be sorry. I really do understand. Try to make him see that.”

It was hard to be mad at Liam when he sounded genuinely sorry and worried, but Jay didn’t want to let go of the emotion completely. “You can do that yourself,” he said, and he followed Austin out.

* * * * *

Austin drove too fast on the way to the police station, but it wasn’t until he ran a yellow light that was a shade too close to red for Jay’s comfort that Jay said anything.

“Slow down, okay? She’s safe. She can wait a few extra minutes. What happened?”

“I only know what she told me,” Austin said, which meant he didn’t believe it. He did slow down a little bit, though. “She said she had a taillight out, but I don’t know why they wouldn’t just let her go with a warning.”

“There must be something more to it,” Jay agreed.

“Liam seemed really pissed off.” It was a statement begging to be disagreed with, and Jay had no problem doing just that.

“I don’t think so.” Jay shook his head, the dangling earring he had in his left ear swinging wildly, the winged dragon striking the side of his neck. He liked the weight of it, though Liam would’ve made him take it off if they’d stayed. “You come to me naked, and you wear what I put on you,” he’d snapped when Jay had argued about that rule a few weeks ago.

“No. No way. He feels the same way we do, but it’s not the end of the world.”

He wriggled his ass against the car seat, trying to get even a twinge from the stripes Liam had laid across it the week before, but though the sting at the time had been electric, searing enough to take his breath away, the six clear, dark stripes had almost gone. “Maybe we can see him tomorrow?”

“I don’t know if he’d like that. He’s all about boundaries and routine. We’ll have to wait.” The depressed resignation in Austin’s voice made Jay think dark thoughts about April. It wasn’t the loss of tonight that was making Austin sound this way. Austin was too levelheaded to mind that. It was inevitable there’d be times when Liam had to cancel or both of them weren’t available, after all.

“I wish he’d come, though,” Jay added. Liam might not be pissed, but Jay was.

Austin shrugged, turning into the parking lot closest to the station. “He’s not a lawyer, just a whatever…corporate law attorney. What could he do?”

“Be there for us. Support us.”

“Not part of the deal.” Austin turned off the engine. “If I start yelling at her, stop me, okay? It just makes her worse.”

There was a reception desk in the entryway of the building with an officer behind glass to buzz people in. This was the first time Jay had gone with Austin to the station, but not the first time Austin had been there. All he had to do was explain who he was and the police officer buzzed them in.

“Hi,” Austin said to the man who came over to meet them. “We’re here to pick up my sister, April Fisher?”

“Right. I’m Officer Peterson,” the policeman said. “I wasn’t the one who pulled your sister over, but the officer who did said she was kind of uncooperative.”

“Sounds like her. Did she run a stop sign or something?”

Peterson shook his head. “She was pulled over for having a broken taillight, but when we checked her record, we found out she has half a dozen unpaid parking tickets. You’ll have to pay a fine before we can release her. She tried to pay it with a credit card, but it was declined.”

None of this seemed to surprise Austin, who sighed. “How much?”

“Six hundred and eighty dollars.”

“What? Where the hell has she been parking?” Austin bit his lip. “Sorry, sorry. I know this isn’t your fault.”

“She seems to prefer using handicapped spots,” Peterson said. “Plus they’ve gone unpaid for so long there are a lot of late fees.” He gestured at an officer near the back of the room, and Jay saw that April was sitting back there too, looking annoyed.

“There are so many questions I won’t ask,” Austin said, mostly to Jay. “Like why she couldn’t park in regular spaces, and why she didn’t just pay the tickets when she got them. And why she has to be such an idiot.”

“Took you long enough,” April said, joining them and glaring at Austin.

“Yeah, that’s a nice way to thank me for coming to get you.” Austin looked at Peterson. “What happens if we don’t pay the fine?”

Peterson shrugged. “She stays here over the weekend and talks to the judge on Monday morning. The car will stay in impound.”

The expression April turned toward Austin was one of panic. “Austin! You can’t leave me here!”

“I don’t have a choice,” Austin said grimly. “I don’t have the money. Mom’s gonna flip. What will she do without a car? She can’t afford to replace it.”

“I’ll pay the fine. Whatever it is,” a familiar voice said behind them, and Jay turned to see Liam standing there, looking weirdly out of place. “I assume you’ll take a credit card? I doubt I have enough cash on me.”

“Liam? What are—” Austin shook his head. “Never mind. No. You can’t.”

“Who the fuck are you?”

Jay saw Liam’s head turn the barest amount necessary to bring April into view. He looked her over unhurriedly, head to toe, and Jay wondered what he made of her. April’s hair was naturally the same blonde as her brother’s, but she’d dyed it for so many years—it was currently black shot through with purple—that it was a hot mess of split ends and frizz. She was dressed in black, leather-look pants and a skimpy ripped T-shirt, and weighed down with a ton of silver chains around her neck and wrists. She was sexy, he supposed, considered objectively, with high, lush breasts straining against her top, and a sullen pout that screamed kiss me.

For one horrible moment, Jay thought Liam was attracted to her. A bad girl and a Dom kind of went together—in his nightmares, at least.

Liam turned away, dismissing April as rudely as she’d addressed him, and Jay felt a surge of relief. Stupid, really. There was no way that Liam would have—no. He was going to scrub that thought from his mind.

“How much?” Liam asked the officer, his voice bored but polite.

“I said, who are you?” April’s voice was shrill now, and she grabbed Liam’s arm, pulling him around to look at her.

“He may be the reason you won’t be spending the night in a cell, not that I think for a minute that he should pay the fines, so take your hands off him,” Austin said through his teeth, shooting Liam an apologetic, hunted glance. “I’m sorry. She’s freaked out.”

“Don’t make apologies for her,” Liam said.

“Six hundred and eighty dollars.” Peterson gestured Liam toward a desk where he could make the payment, and Austin followed Liam.

“Seriously, you don’t have to do this.” Austin sounded, if anything, more upset than he had previously. “Please. Don’t.”

“I don’t want to stay here. Austin.” April had summoned up tears from who knew where, and one of them traced its way down her cheek, taking black eyeliner along for the ride. She tugged at Austin’s sleeve. “You wouldn’t leave your baby sister in jail.”

Austin whirled around. “You’re such a selfish, irresponsible little bitch. Just shut the fuck up for five seconds so I can think.”

Blinking, April stared at her brother wide-eyed; then Jay saw a flare of matching anger and her hand came up to slap Austin. “You asshole!” she shrieked, and Austin’s head jerked as her palm made contact. “Don’t you dare talk to me like that!”

Officer Peterson grabbed on to April and dragged her backward, roughly but not as rough as Jay would have been if it was him doing the restraining. Austin was still standing there in shock, so Jay put an arm around him, ignoring April as Peterson said something to the other cop. April started to sob loudly and sat down on the floor, rocking back and forward like a baby. Austin sighed, pulled away from Jay, and went to kneel beside her.

“Hey, come on. Don’t cry.” Austin didn’t touch her. “It’s okay.”

“You’re being so mean to me,” April sobbed. “I called you because I knew you were the only person who’d help me, and instead you say I’m a bitch?”

Austin looked up at Jay helplessly. His cheek was flushed red where she’d slapped him, and Officer Peterson was saying something about Austin pressing charges. “No,” Austin said. “No, I don’t want to do that. I just want her to get released…or whatever.”

Peterson nodded and moved to process Liam’s credit card payment. “This doesn’t make me legally responsible for her in any way, does it?” Liam asked wryly, even though he had to know the answer to that question.

“No, just for the payment,” Peterson said. He slid the slip of paper toward Liam so he could sign it, then gave him a printed receipt.

“Could I get another copy?” Liam asked and, when he had it in hand, walked to where April was still sitting on the floor and dropped it in front of her. “There. Try not to lose it. It’s the only one you’ll be getting from me.”

April looked up at him, her eyes narrowed. There was no gratitude in them. Whenever Jay heard someone—usually an older person in a crotchety mood—use the phrase she thinks the world owes her a living, he thought of April.

Sure, she’d grown up without a father—but she’d never had one to miss and her mother and brothers had surrounded her with love, as far as he could tell. Jay knew when it came to Austin being used and abused, he tended to get plenty crotchety himself, but even making allowances for his prejudice against people who hurt his boyfriend, he just didn’t like April much.

“Third time, suit. Who are you?”

With a cool self-possession Jay admired—and yeah, it got him hot—Liam ignored her as if she’d ceased to exist once he’d finished speaking to her.

“Get up,” he said to Austin. He didn’t offer his hand, but when he stepped back, Austin rose as if the order, delivered in a flat, disinterested voice, had scooped him up off the floor.

Jay walked over to slip his hand into Austin’s, not caring if the cops saw him. Madison was a college town, so the police tended to be more tolerant than otherwise, echoing the local population’s attitude, but like anywhere, there were always assholes. Right then he didn’t care.

Austin’s hand was trembling, but his voice was steady when he spoke. “Go home, April. We’ll talk about this tomorrow, all of it. Right now, though, just go.”

“Sure thing, Big Brother,” April snapped, putting a smear of emphasis across the last two words that changed them from a statement of fact to an insult. Austin hated that nickname, Jay knew, but April had been using it for years, claiming Austin was always watching her.

Watching out for her, yes.

She got to her feet in a smooth, sensual wiggle and gave the three of them a scornful look. “Austin and Jay, sitting in a tree—and suit makes three?” She eyed Liam, giving him the same appraisal he’d given her. “Are you paying them to blow you or something? Is that why you came to the rescue?”

“April, I swear to God, if you don’t shut your fucking mouth and leave—”

Liam held up his hand, cutting Austin off. “Miss Fisher is about to do just that, I’m sure.”

“I’ll go when I want, suit.”

April’s defiance ended abruptly when Officer Peterson began to walk toward them, a heavy frown on his face.

Thank you,” she said with fulsome insincerity and leaned up to plant a mocking kiss on Liam’s face, the scarlet of her lipstick leaving a bright, sticky smudge. Austin’s fingers clenched around Jay’s, but he didn’t say anything. They both knew that letting April have the last word was the only way to get rid of her. “See ya, sucker in a suit.”

When she’d gone, Austin sighed, a long, pained exhalation, and his grip on Jay’s hand eased off. Working his fingers to get the feeling back, Jay said softly, “Give her a minute to go around to the impound lot, huh? We don’t want to bump into her again.”

Liam took out a handkerchief as white as cotton could get and rubbed at his face where he’d been kissed. When he saw the stain on the fabric, he walked over to the nearest trash can and dropped the handkerchief into it, with Austin and Jay trailing behind him.

“That was… You didn’t need to do that. Not when she was such a bitch to you.” Austin was flushed with embarrassment, a darker patch showing where he’d been slapped. Jay wanted to scrub that clean, the way Liam had done to his cheek. She’d marked both of them—no, all of them, because he felt tainted with anger and dislike.

“He didn’t do it for April,” Jay pointed out with more sharpness than Austin deserved. “Did you?” he asked, turning to face Liam.

“I don’t care why he did it,” Austin said. “I need some air.” He fled into the entranceway and then outside through the second door while Liam and Jay still stood there.

“He’s embarrassed,” Jay said. “He can’t be grateful because he’s too busy being ashamed of how she acts.”

“I take it she’s always like that,” Liam said.

Jay nodded. “Yeah, pretty much. I’ve got to go see if he’s okay.”

Outside, Austin was leaning against the stone wall of the building. His shoulders were hunched, and he looked like he either needed the wall to hold him up or like he wanted to turn and punch the shit out of it. He gave Jay a tight, apologetic grin when he saw him. “God, I’m so sorry. Our night got ruined, and she wasn’t even appreciative. She thinks… Fuck it, I don’t know what she thinks. I’m so sick of her bullshit; I really am. Right now I’d be happy if I never had to see her again.”

This wasn’t the first time Jay had heard that particular sentiment, but he didn’t comment. “It was nice of Liam to pay the fine.”

“Nicer than I deserve,” Austin said bitterly as the door swung open and Liam came out to join them.

“Untrue.” Liam looked unruffled. “Are you all right?”

Austin shrugged and turned his head to look off across the parking lot. “I’m used to it. She’s been like this for years. I don’t know why.”

“I was actually referring to your face,” Liam said and came closer, turning Austin’s face toward the light. “We could get you an ice pack.”

Austin stood looking at Liam like he was the answer to some question never asked. “Thank you,” he said shakily. “For paying the fine. I’ll pay you back.”

“Not necessary.” Liam’s fingertips traced Austin’s cheek. “Besides, it isn’t your debt.”

“But Jay was right when he said you didn’t do it for April.”

Liam smiled gently, and Jay bit his lip at the tenderness in the expression. “Yes, he was right. I did it for you.”

“It’s too much.” Austin jerked his head away from Liam’s touch and threw his hands into the air, an uncontrolled gesture that told Jay just how unsettled Austin had to be feeling. Austin never got theatrical and over-the-top. Neither did Jay, for that matter. “Gah. I can’t do this. April. You. Hundreds of fucking dollars just wasted.”

“My money,” Liam reminded him, which wasn’t maybe the most tactful thing he could’ve said, in Jay’s opinion.

Austin glared at him. “Yeah. Your money. We’re costing you a lot, Sir. Maybe you should go with April’s suggestion and buy what you want. It’d work out cheaper in the long run.”

Liam stared at him in silence and then turned to Jay. “Why is he angry with me?” The words were mild, but Jay could see Liam wasn’t happy—with the situation, with Austin, with the loss of the evening he’d planned, so many possible reasons.

“I already told you.”

“So you did.” Without looking around to see if they were being watched, Liam took hold of Austin’s chin, forcing Austin to meet his eyes. “This is outside our arrangement.”

“I know.” For a moment, Austin sounded as sulky as April, and Jay saw Liam frown. But both emotion and expression were short-lived. Austin drew a shaky breath and leaned into Liam. “God, I’m sorry. Please. Don’t…don’t tell us it’s over. Not because of this. I’ll make it up to you. Do anything you want. Please, Sir. Please.”

“I didn’t do it to create any sort of debt between us, and I won’t end our arrangement over it. This was entirely separate. As far as I’m concerned, if it makes you feel more comfortable, pretend it didn’t happen.”

“I don’t think I can do that.”

“Then believe me when I tell you that it’s not important. Frankly it was pure selfishness on my part. I don’t want our time together disrupted, and this was the simplest route to that end. Now I want you to do something for me. Will you?” Liam’s voice was gentle and encouraging.

Austin nodded. “Anything.”

“I’d like you to take a few deep breaths, let them out slowly, and think about what sort of evening would be best for you. It isn’t too late to go back to my house for a session, or we could go have a few drinks or see a movie. Or you and Jay could go home and have a quiet evening on your own. What would you like to do?”

At that moment, movement at the edge of Jay’s vision caught his attention, and his focus sharpened as April’s car—Sarah Fisher’s car, technically—cruised past them. The smirk she directed at Austin must have felt like a punch to the gut if his wrecked expression meant anything, and as soon as she was gone, Austin gave Liam his attention.

“I want to go home with you. Can we?”

“Since it was one of the options I just gave you, then obviously, yes.”

Liam’s asperity seemed to do more to calm Austin than his kindness had. Jay felt a rush of gratitude toward the man that wiped out his earlier annoyance. He saw now how unreasonable it’d been of him to expect Liam to involve himself in something totally unconnected to the relationship they shared. At the same time, he realized it felt right for Liam to be here, somehow. Not because they needed him to take care of them—Jay could’ve just about covered April’s debt with his credit card and would have if Liam hadn’t stepped in first, solely to save Austin from April’s recriminations—but because…because—

“Jay.” Liam snapped his fingers, and as it always did, the sound brought Jay to a state of readiness, all his attention focused on Liam. “That’s better. I’ll see you both at ho—at my place. Don’t hurry. I want you to arrive in one piece.” He smiled, a brief flash of teeth. “I can’t promise you’ll stay that way.”

“That man knows how to make an exit,” Jay said as Liam walked away. He was rewarded with a shaky smile from Austin. “Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, he could be inviting us back for coffee, but I doubt it. If we go, he’s going to want—”

“He’s going to want exactly what we do.” Austin met Jay’s eyes squarely. “And tonight I want a hell of a lot more than usual. Don’t you?”

He walked away before Jay could reply, leaving Jay nothing to do but hurry to catch up and wonder if Liam knew how to deal with Austin in this mood. He wasn’t sure he did.

Chapter Eight

Liam took his time driving back to the house. He knew if he arrived much earlier than Austin and Jay, he’d have a hard time finding something to do with himself.

He still wasn’t sure why he’d followed them to the police station. It certainly wasn’t because Austin had suggested it as a possibility; in fact, that ought to have made him less likely to go rather than more. None of this was about what Austin or Jay wanted. That was the whole point, though somehow he was finding it more difficult now than he ever had before. He told himself it was purely due to the frequency of their sessions. Surely it was natural to become more attached to people one spent a great deal of time with, especially when they were as responsive and enjoyable as these two.

The house was largely the same as it had been before Austin and Jay had arrived earlier, so there was nothing to prepare. The bottled water Liam had set on the shelves in the den would be nearing room temperature by now, but that wasn’t important.

As soon as they arrived, while still standing on the front porch, Austin said, “Hi. I wanted you to know…I know this has been kind of a crazy night, and if you were just trying to be nice, or if you felt sorry for me, and it would be better for you if we rescheduled, well, I’d understand.”

It was clear from Jay’s expression that he didn’t feel the same way, and there was something in Liam that didn’t want either of them to be disappointed. They needed this tonight, or at least Austin did, and part of Liam’s role in all this was to figure out what Austin needed and give it to him.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Liam said brusquely and gestured to them to come inside.

Austin took off his shoes at the door and went immediately to the den.

“Thanks,” Jay said. “He really needs this.”

“I know.”

By the time Liam and Jay joined him, Austin had already taken off his clothes, folded them neatly, and was kneeling on the floor with his hands behind his back. Liam couldn’t help but admire his naked form—from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, of course.

“Good,” Liam said. “Jay, what are you waiting for?”

Jay gave him a reproachful look that would definitely require some sort of correction later in the evening, but for now Liam wanted to focus on Austin. There was a new toy that he’d been saving for the right occasion, and this was it.

“Austin, look at this.” Liam held it up. It was one of the biggest dildos he’d ever seen, with a slight curve to it and a flared base. “I’m going to use this on you tonight. Now, actually. I’d like to know how you feel about that.”

Wetting his lips, Austin said hoarsely, “Good.” He was erect, and Liam could see a bead of fluid at the tip of his cock. “I want you to.”

“Yes, I thought you would,” Liam murmured, more to himself than Austin. He’d sensed the tension in Jay as they’d walked toward the den—and he used each of them as a barometer for the other more than they realized—but it’d faded when Jay saw Austin. Liam trusted his judgment enough that he didn’t look for reassurance that he’d made the right call during a session, but it was still oddly comforting to know Jay didn’t see Austin’s dogged determination to push his limits as a worrying sign.

When it came down to it, Austin could push all he wanted; Liam didn’t intend to let anything go beyond what Austin could take.

The dildo was certainly going to prove a challenge, though. Liam ran his palm down it appreciatively, feeling the slick heaviness and picturing it buried in Austin’s arse, stretching him wider than he’d ever been stretched before. Neither of them had been fisted; he’d asked them and been amused at the furtive glances they’d exchanged, silently asking each other if they wanted that to change. Not that it was entirely their decision, of course. He wouldn’t do it to them without their agreement, but equally he wouldn’t do it on their schedule either. The dildo wasn’t as big as his fist and forearm, but it was a significant step toward that potential goal.

“Are you going to use one like that on me?” Jay, now naked and kneeling himself, sounded unabashedly eager. Liam had to fight to keep a grin from showing, though Jay’s lack of manners didn’t amuse him at all.

“No. You get a ball gag and a nice view of the wall until I decide you’ve had long enough to learn that you don’t speak without permission, you don’t try to anticipate or influence what I choose to do to you, and you don’t interrupt me.”

If they thought he’d gone soft after he’d rescued them and dealt with that dreadful girl, Liam intended to disabuse them of that notion in short order. They needed calming, and the best way to do that was to give them no room in which to panic. He was going to take away every thought that didn’t center around what he was doing to them, control them as utterly as he could, fill their vision.

And by God, he was going to enjoy doing it. When he’d thought he’d lost these hours with them, he’d come as close to losing his temper as he ever did, not with his boys, but with Austin’s sister. When she’d struck Austin, his anger had turned to ice, his innate possessiveness triggered—which hadn’t surprised him—and an unfamiliar protectiveness, which had.

They were his. Worried, tense Austin, fretting over so many people he loved, and Jay, whose frequent small rebellions were less of a challenge to Liam than his dreaminess when Jay went somewhere deep inside himself.

His.

“Austin, forehead to the floor, and keep your hands where they are. Arse up, knees spread,” he rapped out, going over to the new filing cabinet in the corner that’d become a storage space for the toys he used on them.

Jay had been correct when he’d said Liam was spending a lot, but Liam didn’t regret a penny of it. He bought the best, avoiding the gimmicky novelty items with a curl of his lip. Or he used everyday objects. He got a kick out of walking into a supermarket and buying a basketful of items that were intended for the kitchen, office, or laundry room and would all end up here, being used on Austin and Jay. Too much of a kick sometimes. Paying for wooden spoons, clothespins, and a wheel on a stick designed for cutting out pastry had been awkward to say the least with his cock half-hard, his face flushed. Worth it, though. Jay had shuddered and yelped in a very satisfying way when the pastry cutter was run along his thighs, but the spreader had made it impossible for him to do more than that.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Austin move smoothly into what was a rather awkward position to achieve. Humiliation wasn’t something Austin enjoyed, though Jay’s limits became fluid when he was aroused, something it’d taken Liam a few sessions to appreciate. On a normal night, Austin would’ve hesitated noticeably before assuming a position quite that blatantly suggestive and exposed, but tonight he seemed to welcome the chance to be instantly obedient.

That fucking money. Liam took down the gag from its shelf and added a handful of clothespins. Jay could pay part of the price for his irritation over Austin’s suspect submission. Austin would foot most of the bill, though.

Jay’s eyes widened when he saw the pins, but he had enough sense not to comment. He cooperated when the ball gag was fitted on him, his lips spread obscenely wide, a trail of drool appearing at the corner of his mouth within moments, his throat working convulsively.

“Good boy,” Liam said lightly, dismissively. He patted Jay’s head as he would a dog’s, tousling his hair, knowing exactly how much Jay would both hate and revel in it. He tossed the pins from one hand to another, juggling them casually. “What a shame I won’t be able to hear the sounds you’ll make when these go on. Let me see, how many do I have? Five. One for each nipple, so that leaves three to place. The skin of the inner arm high up, that’s very sensitive…or the inner thigh. Of course, if I’m there, I could just give your balls a treat or decorate your cock.”

He’d avoided touching their cocks at first, more for their benefit than from any reluctance on his part. As far as he was concerned, when they were here, every inch of them was his to play with, but he respected their limits. That’d gradually become less of an issue, though Liam didn’t think sliding a cock ring into place or adjusting the fit of a harness qualified as foreplay. He’d felt the weight of their aroused cocks in his hand, or the soft, fluid shift of their balls. Nothing to really concern him about that, even when he’d been tempted once or twice to slide his hand along the stiff, ripe flesh and hear Jay or Austin moan. He had the same organs hanging between his legs, after all. It meant nothing.

Jay’s dark eyes were frantic, a keening whine barely audible, but he didn’t shake his head or move away. Gagged, his safe word was a gesture, three knocks on the floor when he was kneeling, made with his hands, knees, or feet. Neither of them had needed to use any form of safe word yet, though Liam was prepared for that to change tonight.

“I also notice that you’re still wearing an earring despite being told I don’t want to see you wearing anything at the start of a session.” He removed it with a sharp, impatient tug and tossed it away, noting where it fell for later. “Well, I know where one pin will go. Right here.” He flicked Jay’s earlobe hard enough to sting. “If you forget to remove it again, I’ll send you home and that will mean Austin loses his time with me too, since you’re a package deal. Do you understand me?”

Jay nodded, the bob of his head as frantic as his eyes.

“I hope so. Now let’s see…” Pretending to consider his options, Liam pinned each of Jay’s nipples in turn—Jay whimpered and trembled endearingly—and then the aforementioned earlobe. Two more. One went onto the supremely sensitive skin just behind Jay’s balls, which elicited a whine, and the last pinched the fold where the head and shaft of Jay’s cock met. Liam knew from previous play how tender a spot this was, but he also knew the clothespin wouldn’t clasp tightly enough to cause any real damage.

It’d hurt like hell, though.

Satisfied Jay was reasonably occupied, Liam turned back to Austin, snagging a bottle of lube and a low stool on his way. He’d have better leverage and be more comfortable if he wasn’t on the floor with Austin, and he’d need both of those things to make this the best experience possible. He lowered himself to the stool and flipped open the lube.

Liam drizzled some lube between the globes of Austin’s exposed arse and smiled to himself as Austin’s skin twitched as the cool liquid touched him. It ran down in a shimmering, silvery line, darkening pale hair.

“I shouldn’t have to tell you I expect you to remain completely still.” Liam set down the lube and traced a finger through the slickness to Austin’s hole, teasing it until Austin trembled.

Next he picked up the dildo and wet it with lube, making sure it was well coated. He wanted to hurt Austin, but he didn’t want to damage him.

“Do you want me to fuck you now?” he asked and felt a twinge as it reminded him of other times he’d asked a sub the same question and then fucked her with his cock instead of an artificial one.

“Please, Sir.” Austin’s voice was low and rough.

“Say it.”

Austin shivered. “I—I want you to fuck me now. Sir.”

Liam pressed the end of the dildo against Austin’s flesh. He couldn’t rush this; the dildo was too wide, and he needed to take it slow. That was harder than it should have been. He found himself wondering what it would be like to just shove the dildo inside Austin, wondering what Austin’s desperate cries would sound like echoing in his ears.

Wondering what it would feel like if it was his cock thrusting into Austin’s arse.

Unsettled by the thought, Liam pushed the tip of the dildo inside, watching thin skin stretch to accommodate the width of the silicone. Austin remained silent, but his hands clasped behind his back tightened on each other.

From his position facing the wall, Jay made a muffled, yearning sound, as if he’d felt that first push of the dildo. It was probably just the bite from the makeshift clamps really making itself felt, but it reminded Liam of how connected his two subs were. It was a puzzling dynamic among the three of them on the face of it. He was used to the connection running from him to his sub, but because his interactions had always been short-term, it’d always been a temporary link, broken as the sub dressed and left.

Jay and Austin were totally wrapped up in each other and had made it clear that was how they liked it, but Liam wasn’t blind to the way they’d begun to bond with him. He supposed they had with Patrick too. It was impossible not to, given the intimacy of what they did here in this small room.

And it was small—or rather not entirely suitable for everything he wanted to do to them. He gave the dildo the smallest of twists and got the first sound from Austin, an openmouthed gasp. This would’ve been far easier on a bed. His scruples made the two rooms upstairs that his children would sleep in if they ever came to visit off-limits, and his room was his space, private. That left one bedroom free. It was empty now, apart from a few boxes of memorabilia he hadn’t unpacked. Maybe he’d move them to the basement and put a bed in there. The small attached bathroom would come in handy too. He had an idea for a form of breath play with Jay, putting him face up under a steady flow of water, that he wanted to explore down the line, and on a more mundane level, it would make cleanup easier if he ever allowed them to come after a session. Maybe tonight. They’d need the familiar comfort of each other after he’d given them his version of it.

His thoughts were superficial, disconnected, but under them was a current of pleasure. Jay, trying so hard to kneel in perfect stillness and failing just enough that really Liam would be forced to punish him for it, Austin taking this impossibly huge dildo deep into his arse and quite literally opening up to Liam for the first time without reservations. They were being so fucking good for him, so obedient.

Without thinking, he smoothed his hand down Austin’s side and leaned in to kiss the fragile winged point of a shoulder blade, murmuring a few soft words of encouragement as the dildo inexorably spread Austin’s hole wider.

Austin shuddered and whimpered, a series of short, desperate cries. He was a contradiction, his upper body and arms tense but his lower body relaxed. If it hadn’t been, the dildo would have been causing serious injury. “Please,” he whined.

Oh no. That wouldn’t do at all, speaking without being given leave. “Quiet,” Liam said and gave the dildo a sharp twist. Austin bit back a shout, his entire body going taut for a second before he remembered he needed to be relaxed. Liam wished he could see all of Austin’s face, lip no doubt swollen from the contact with his teeth.

There was a fine sheen of sweat on Austin’s skin now, and against the wall, Jay was still making the occasional sound. Liam focused on working the dildo deeper into Austin’s body using a careful in and out motion, each inward push driving a tiny sound from Austin. He was trembling all over by the time the dildo’s flared base was flush to his body.

Liam found himself eager to see Austin’s reaction to a proper fucking now he’d been opened up, and he wanted to be closer. He hitched the stool around so he was directly behind Austin, in the same position he’d be if it was his cock inside Austin, and gripped the base of the dildo tightly.

He pulled the dildo almost entirely out, watching Austin’s body cling to the shaft. A brief pause to listen to Austin’s breathing, and then Liam thrust the dildo all the way in, deep. His erection throbbed in reaction to Austin’s whimper, and that was enough to spur him on. He found a rhythm of fucking and concentrated on it, his senses straining to catch every nuance of Austin’s response.

“Ah. Ah.” Austin’s breath was quick now. “Yellow!”

Liam stopped. He was aware of Jay’s tension. “All right,” he said, as much for Jay as for Austin. “Take all the time you need.”

“Tha-thank you, Sir.” The words emerged in pants, interrupted by the deep breaths Austin was pulling into his lungs.

If Liam had heard red, he’d have removed the dildo with as much care as he could—speed wouldn’t have been a kindness. Yellow, though, didn’t require the loss of all that he’d—they’d—gained. He put his hand on Austin’s hip to ground him and sorted through some possibilities while Austin got his breath back. A Dom was supposed to know everything and often it was a polite fiction, but someone paying attention could make an informed guess and be correct nine times out of ten. None of the sounds coming from Austin had been pained—well, not the wrong kind of pain, at least. There was a difference between the insult of a stubbed toe and the controlled infliction of a desired sensation. The position was awkward and probably uncomfortable to a certain degree, but that wouldn’t have made Austin call for a break.

That meant the reason at the top of the list became rather a flattering one.

“Do you still feel close to coming?”

The moan from Austin was answer and confirmation enough.

“Oh dear,” Liam said, pinching Austin’s ass just because he felt like it and admiring the small patch of red his fingers left before it faded. “Well, you don’t have permission for that, so I suggest you concentrate on pleasing me, not yourself. After all, that’s what you’re here for, isn’t it? Pleasing me?”

“Yes, Sir.” Austin’s voice breathed submission, but it shook as he continued. “I want to please you. I don’t want you to stop. I just… It’s so big and I need…I need… Please?”

“It’s not about you,” Liam reminded him before Austin could lose control and do or say something Liam couldn’t overlook. He gripped the base of the dildo, holding it in place as his other hand whipped across Austin’s arse, three stinging slaps delivered to one pale cheek, flushing it with color. Without looking around, he added calmly, “That’s earned you something extra at the end of the session, Jay. I expect you to remind me if I forget.” As if he would.

He heard the small sound of knees moving against carpet again and knew that Jay was once more facing the wall.

Depriving either of them of the chance to watch the other being played with or punished was cruel of him, he supposed. They did enjoy it so much. Unfortunately for them, the knowledge that he was being cruel was more of a spur than a signal to slow down.

“I was enjoying myself, Austin. You really have no idea what the view’s like from here. It’s quite inspiring. Black definitely looks good against your skin.” Lime green and that revolting pink… He supposed they’d meant well, but… “I don’t see why I should deny myself the pleasure of fucking you some more just because your self-control is on the shaky side, do you?”

He counted Austin’s uneven breaths—four, five, six—with the intention of beginning again once he reached ten. What he’d do if Austin came and required punishing was beyond him, but he’d worry about that if and when it happened. But just as he silently counted eight, Austin said, “No. No, I can…I can do this, Sir.”

It wasn’t the time to offer praise, so Liam kept that to himself. He started fucking Austin with the dildo again, slowly now. He found it impossible to understand how Austin could stay still and yet respond to each thrust, but somehow Austin was doing just that. He was quiet and at the same time begging with his body for more, more, faster, harder. Liam didn’t want to allow Austin to control how things went, but it was so hard not to give in to his need.

“I almost wish I’d decided to let you come,” he mused out loud. “I might like that, seeing you lose yourself in that moment.”

Austin groaned, and from his position near the wall, Jay made an answering sound of desperate need. Oh, that was a boy who’d need a solid punishment when he was done here. For now Liam gave Austin’s arse his full attention, speeding up the thrusts of the dildo just a small amount. He’d have to stop soon or Austin’s shoulders and arms would be too seriously strained. It was a shame, though. He could have done this all night. He imagined what it would be like to fuck Austin through one orgasm and then a second. Would Austin cry? He was so lovely with tears running down his face. He’d be so much lovelier if he was doing it while Liam fucked him.

“Tell me you don’t want to come,” Liam said sternly.

“I—” Austin’s breath hitched. “I—I don’t want. Don’t want to come. I don’t.” It had to be an incredibly hard thing to say when clearly he did want to come, but he was such a good boy.

“You’re so good.” Liam hadn’t meant to say that out loud, but somehow he had. “Tell me you want me to hit you.”

Austin’s shoulders shook. “Please, Sir. Please hit me. Please.”

Liam let go of the dildo, leaving it buried in Austin’s arse, and struck him. Not hard, but with the blow landing squarely on the flared base of the dildo so the slap made contact with Austin’s skin and drove the dildo deeper at the same time. Austin cried out an affirmation, and Liam did it again, and then again. It took fourteen strikes of Liam’s hand to break Austin. The final blow made Austin shout in a voice so high-pitched and hoarse that it was nearly a scream, a sound which tapered off into loud sobs.

Liam reached for the dildo to ease it free and saw his hand was shaking. God, he’d been so caught up in the moment that he hadn’t appreciated the way his body had been clamoring insistently to come, to release the building intensity in some way. He’d struck Austin and that’d helped—God, those sounds Austin had made, plaintive, despairing, adoring—but he needed to leave the room and jerk off, something he always did almost before their car had cleared the end of the road.

Except he was nowhere near done here, and leaving Austin like this was unthinkable.

He hesitated and put his hand on Austin’s back instead, stroking it. He needed Austin’s cooperation to get the dildo out without hurting him, and Austin was in no state to listen to instructions to breathe or bear down. Austin broke position—not that Liam cared right then—and turned, burrowing his head into Liam’s lap and clinging to him. By the wall, Jay, unashamedly looking now, was wide-eyed with distress, clearly poised to come over to Austin if Liam rejected him.

Well, he wasn’t bloody well going to do that, now was he? Not after all the work it’d taken to get Austin like this.

The low stool he was sitting on put his lap at a good height to be used as a headrest. He soothed and petted Austin, brushing damp hair back from a scarlet, tear-stained face and trying to ignore the way Austin’s cheek was rubbing against his erection. He didn’t think Austin knew he was doing it, which was some comfort.

“Good boy,” he murmured. “That’s it; I’ve got you. Now calm down. I need to tidy you up and see to Jay.”

Austin gave a hiccup, took a long shuddering breath, and nodded, responding to Jay’s need just as Liam had known he would.

Their love for each other might have been sweet, but it made them incredibly predictable.

Getting the dildo out was quicker than getting it in, but Austin suffered through its withdrawal. He hadn’t come, which Liam found frankly incredible. The climax Austin had reached had been an emotional one, but his body was still stubbornly insisting it was aroused and needed satisfying.

Liam took mercy on him, though he longed to replace the dildo with his fingers, driving up into the widened, welcoming channel and feeling Austin convulse and cling to him, sobbing out his gratitude.

Bleakly Liam realized he had some thinking to do when he was alone. They’d all agreed where the line was to be drawn, and he was crossing it in his head two or three times a session. He’d been prepared for it to blur, but not like this.

He helped Austin over to the chair, brought the soft throw down over him, and uncapped a bottle of orange juice, folding Austin’s hands around it and making sure he swallowed some of it. The dildo he wrapped in a hand towel and set aside to clean later. It was a chore he enjoyed, the true end of the session for him, as he returned each item to its place, recalling the use he’d put it to.

When he’d cleaned his hands with a disposable wipe, taking his time, he walked over to Jay, who was still kneeling but glowering at him. The clothespins had to be causing him a considerable amount of discomfort.

Good.

“I was thinking twenty strokes with the paddle for you,” he said calmly. Better to rid Jay of the gag first—that way it would be more of a challenge for him to keep quiet while the pins were removed. No point in making it easy. It didn’t take long to unfasten the gag, and Jay swallowed. Saliva glistened on his lips.

Liam removed the clothespin from Jay’s earlobe.

Jay whimpered and swallowed again. “And something extra, Sir.”

“Oh yes.” Liam hadn’t forgotten the extra punishment, but he was pleased Jay had reminded him. Well, most of him was pleased. A small part of him wished they’d both forgotten, because anything doled out to Jay at this point was going to lack something. Irritated with himself for being affected when he shouldn’t be, Liam unclipped both pins from Jay’s nipples at once and without warning.

Jay’s nipples, having been pinched tightly for so long, flushed bright red as blood rushed back to the area. At his sides, Jay’s hands twitched as if he wanted to rub them.

“Sore?” Liam asked.

“Yes, Sir.” Jay’s voice was tinged with discomfort. Liam wondered what those swollen nipples would do when licked. Would they tighten into points?

“Turn around and get on your hands and knees.”

Jay looked shocked. “Sir? I—”

“I’m perfectly aware that I haven’t removed all the clothespins yet,” Liam said, turning to get the paddle and glancing to see that Austin was all right at the same time. “I’m going to paddle you with them on. That’s the something extra.”

There was no point in doing this lackadaisically, even if his interaction with Austin had left him shaken and uncertain. Liam was determined not to leave Jay wanting, and he wasn’t going to cheat himself of the experience of paddling Jay, who had done as he’d been told and was on his hands and knees, bare arse facing Liam and the clothespin on his scrotum visible between his thighs.

“I believe I said fifteen.” He said it casually so Jay wouldn’t realize it was a test.

“No, Sir. Twenty.” There was anticipation in Jay’s voice, and Liam rewarded him for his honesty with a quick caress of his arse before bringing the paddle swinging in to strike him.

By the time Liam reached double figures, he was aware of an ache in his shoulder. Nothing to do with the evening’s activities; he’d been foolish enough to agree to playing a round of golf two days running after months when his clubs had been left to grow dust over the winter. Knowing that he’d got this to look forward to, he’d decided not to self-medicate with anything but a long soak until after they left. Even a muscle relaxant or a stiff drink could slow him enough that he might miss something.

He separated himself from the pain, concentrating on Jay, who provided an excellent distraction. The glow on his arse from the paddle was shaded beautifully from rose pink to crimson, and he whimpered before, during, and after each blow.

Liam hadn’t made him count the strokes; Jay often got it wrong simply to buy himself a few more strokes, and so Liam usually made Austin do it for Jay. Austin sometimes got it wrong too, but that was because, like Liam, he found the sight of Jay being paddled a distracting one. The week before, their eyes had met when Jay had indignantly corrected Austin’s fifteen to fourteen, and Austin had grinned at him, an impulsive, friendly grin that Liam had returned before he could remember he was supposed to be in charge.

“Talk to me,” he said, suddenly curious about what Jay would say if permitted since he was so vocal when it wasn’t.

“Hurts. Oh God. Please don’t stop, Sir. Harder, do it harder.”

Liam slowed the next stroke to a pat that wouldn’t have cracked an eggshell. “That counts,” he said and smiled when Jay made an inarticulate sound of protest. “So does this,” he added and smacked the paddle down with as much force as he could, given the angle.

“Oh!” Jay drew the word out and then hissed through his teeth, his body swaying, rocking as he absorbed the force and the pain. “I think…think I’m gonna come.”

“I’ll be most displeased with you if you do,” Liam retorted and made the last two count. “There.” He couldn’t resist smoothing his palm over all that hot, hurt skin, though he didn’t usually touch them in a way that could be interpreted as a caress. He was taking pride in what he’d done, that was all.

Jay arched into Liam’s touch, though right then Liam’s palm must have felt like sandpaper. Jay choked out a “Thank you, Sir” that sounded heartfelt.

“You’re welcome.” He meant it as much as Jay had. This was doing so much for him. He’d started smiling at work, the tension headaches that’d plagued him dwindling to nothing. He was sleeping better, drinking less. He was happier.

He owed them a lot more than a spanking or two.

“Let’s see about removing the last of the pins. Roll over onto your back.” The carpet would chafe unmercifully, but Jay would enjoy that.

Jay shifted position and lay staring up at him, dark eyes filled with trust and tears. His cock was full and thick, the pin hanging from it, the pinched skin almost purple.

Liam removed the clothespin on Jay’s balls first. It was in a spot that would hurt more during the paddling but less coming off, since it had been biting into only a thin fold of the sensitive skin. The sound Jay made was a whimper more of relief than anything else. When Liam unclipped the pin that had been attached to Jay’s frenulum, though, Jay went utterly still with the agony of it, cock twitching and then throbbing. Jay cried out and came, white fluid painting his stomach even as he grabbed hard onto the base of his shaft too late to stop his release.

“Fuck,” Liam whispered, shocked by his level of arousal at the sight of Jay’s orgasm. Even the smell of semen was a turn-on, and not knowing what else to do, Liam struggled to his feet and fled to the safety and privacy of the downstairs bathroom, slamming the den door behind him.

Chapter Nine

Austin hardly knew what had happened. One minute he’d been recovering from one of the most intense sessions of his life, listening to Jay getting a paddling that he and Liam were clearly enjoying, and the next he and Jay were alone in the den with the echo of a door slamming shut in their ears.

His first thought was for Jay. “Are you okay?”

“I came,” Jay said miserably.

Shit. Well, that probably explained Liam’s hasty retreat. The question was, how mad was he? Austin went to Jay, who was breathing hard and blinking back tears. “Hey, it’s okay. It’ll be okay.” Jay curled up in Austin’s embrace, welcoming his touch like always; there was little else that made Austin feel more competent than comforting his boyfriend. “It was an honest mistake.”

“I was so turned on. I tried to warn him.”

“I know. These things happen. He’ll understand.” Of course, if Liam understood, why had he left the room without a word? Austin was jealous that Jay had come, but only a little bit. It was safe to assume Liam would be super strict with Jay for weeks after this, not taking him anywhere close to the edge.

“He’s pissed off.”

“He probably just needs some time. He’ll be back.”

“Jesus, Austin. I’m so sorry.”

Austin kissed Jay’s damp temple. “I know. It’s okay, I promise.”

Jay sighed. “He never asks us for anything we can’t do. Did you notice that?”

“You’re not some tantric ninja warrior,” Austin pointed out, pushing aside the emotional turmoil that was left to help Jay. “Your body gets turned on that much, you’ll come. Anyone would. If he’d been that bothered, he should’ve put you in a cock ring.”

Jay snorted. “No room. Too many fucking clothespins hanging me out to dry. Not that I’m complaining.”

“What did they feel like?” Austin traced a swollen nipple. It felt hot, so he sucked on his finger, then did it again. “Like clamps? Worse?”

“There is no worse, only different.”

“Yes, Yoda.” They shared a grin and then a surreptitious kiss, with Austin acutely aware of the door behind him and his neglected hard-on. Listening to Jay being punished had done nothing to make it subside. The taste of Jay’s mouth was maddeningly arousing, and he drew Jay’s hand down to where his cock was waiting. “Touch me? Please? That’s all it will take. Look at me. I’m so fucking close.”

Jay looked tempted but alarmed. He lifted his hand an inch or two away from Austin’s cock. “Hey, two of us in trouble? Not a good idea.”

Austin felt conflicted, not wanting to disappoint Liam after all he’d done for them both, but God, he needed to come as much as he’d needed every deep, hard shove of the dildo, every flat slap from Liam’s hand. Right then nothing mattered but the throb in his balls. He’d been fucked to the edge and left hanging by his fingernails; he wanted to let go and fly.

He ran his hand over Jay’s chest, pressing kisses against Jay’s lips, sweet, biting kisses he knew Jay loved, shameless in his need.

“This is just for us. It’s not…it’s not connected to what we have with him. The session’s over, he’s gone, maybe just so we could do this. I don’t know. If he doesn’t agree with me, he can dream up any punishment he likes and I’ll do it, but I need you, Jay. God, do you want me to beg?”

“And he called me a slut.” Jay licked Austin’s ear and then bit his earlobe; Austin gasped, not holding back in the hopes it would convince Jay. “Anyway, it’s not over, you know that. It’s not over until we leave.”

“Please, Jay. Please?” Austin murmured the words, and Jay nodded.

“Okay. But we’d better not make a mess.” Jay shifted downward and took Austin’s cock between his lips, sucking at the tip wetly.

Whether they had unspoken permission or not—and Austin was leaning toward not, he just wasn’t in the mood to care right then—he didn’t want to alert Liam to what they were up to. So he pressed his lips firmly together and focused on the feel of Jay’s mouth and on not making a sound.

He was so close it didn’t even take a whole minute. With his ass burning inside and out and Jay’s hand cradling his balls, Austin closed his eyes and came, shooting into Jay’s warm mouth with a fantastic sense of relief. He opened his eyes again before he’d finished trembling, though, feeling like he’d cheated on an important test and glad that Liam hadn’t come back to the room yet.

Sitting up and wincing, Jay wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and whispered, “Do you think he wants us to go?”

“I think he’d tell us to if that was what he wanted,” Austin said. “Maybe he doesn’t feel good. Shit, you don’t think he’s sick?”

“He felt fine when he was—”

The door opened and Liam walked in, composed, but his mouth set in a tight, forbidding line. Austin’s bravado and shaky logic abandoned him, and he instinctively edged closer to Jay.

“Yes, that’s not a guilty look at all.” Liam’s voice was harsh. “Let me guess. I was away, so you two mice decided to play. Is that it?”

“It was my fault,” Jay said immediately. “Austin needed it. We didn’t think you’d mind.” He got to his feet and held out his hand to Austin, who took it and let Jay haul him up.

Maybe they should’ve gone on their knees or something, looked penitent, but his knees were aching. He didn’t want to get scolded like a naughty kid anyway. Not for this. He was done for the night, completely wiped out.

“I mind the fact that you didn’t ask…” Liam’s voice faltered, and he passed his hand over his mouth, rubbing at it. When he spoke again, his voice was strong, confident. “Never mind. Tonight’s been stressful for all of us. It’s not surprising that you’re not as in control of yourselves as you should be.”

Austin had the weirdest feeling Liam was trying to convince himself, not them. “We’re sorry. Really. Don’t blame Jay, though. I talked him into it.”

“Into what, exactly?”

Liam’s crisp, cool words demanded an answer. Austin swallowed. “Uh, I came in his mouth. It didn’t take long. I was so close I probably would’ve come anyway. I just couldn’t hold it back. Not after what you did to me.”

The hell with his knees. They’d screwed up, and he knew it. It wasn’t gratitude for Liam bailing his sister out that prompted what he did next, but respect for his Dom. He took the few steps needed to put himself in front of Liam and went down to the floor as smoothly as possible, bowing his head and whispering, “I’m sorry, Sir. I’ll take whatever penalty you think I’ve earned for not asking permission.” The formality of the words felt right even if he’d never talk like that outside this room.

When there was no reply, he took a chance and glanced up. Liam was staring at him, a blind, blank expression closing down his face.

Austin’s penitence shifted into concern. “Sir?”

“Everything’s fine,” Liam said, which was a lie if Austin had ever heard one. “It’s all right. I’m not angry. I shouldn’t have left the room without clarifying things for you, and I don’t blame you for being confused.”

Jay walked over to join them, giving Austin two sets of legs to stare at, one pair bare, one pair wearing expensive dark pants. Liam’s wardrobe didn’t vary much, but Austin found himself wondering if they were the same pants Liam had been wearing when he’d left the room. They showed no creases beyond the sharp one running down the center, and they smelled faintly of dry-cleaning chemicals. Weird.

Jay cleared his throat. “Do you want… I mean, is this something we need to talk about?”

Liam shook his head. “No. I don’t think so. Just get dressed, both of you. Jay, drink some of the juice over there if you need it. Again, I’m sorry.”

Austin felt ridiculous being the only one kneeling, so he stood again, grabbing on to Jay’s arm to steady himself as the blood rushed to his head. The three of them were crowded close like this, close enough that it felt natural for him to slip his arm around Jay’s waist. As soon as he’d done it, he realized he was underlining how alone Liam was, especially when Jay put his arm around Austin’s shoulders, but he couldn’t push Jay away. Inviting Liam to hug it out wasn’t really an option either.

Awkward. All of it. Austin wasn’t sure what had happened to sour the end of what had turned out to be an incredible session, but he was ready to go home and sleep, curled up with Jay in their bed. Tomorrow he’d have the situation with his sister to cope with—and a fucked raw ass that would be sore as hell—but that was tomorrow.

“Did we do something wrong?” he blurted and regretted it immediately because it made Liam’s face harden again.

“No. For God’s sake, Austin, not everything is about you.”

None of them moved.

“Then what is it about?” Jay’s voice was small.

“I’m just…” Liam shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know. But it’s not your fault, either of you.”

“You can talk to us, you know.” Austin wanted to reach out to Liam, keep the connection that was so strong during a session from fading away. “Not just as our Dom about what we do together, but about anything.”

Liam’s eyebrows rose. “Really? You’re familiar with corporate law then? I had no idea.”

“No, you know I’m not, but we both have jobs and we know they can get stressful.” Austin took a risk and tried a direct question. “Is it that? Work? Or—”

“Austin, you and Jay are both charming subs, but I don’t think we’re at the stage of braiding each other’s hair and sharing secrets, and frankly I prefer it to stay that way.” Liam stepped back and ended that part of the conversation with a finality Austin was forced to respect. “Get dressed. In front of me, this time.”

He stood, arms folded across his chest, and watched them separate and go over to their folded clothing. At the end of their third session, he’d stayed to watch them dress and controlled the order each item had gone on, drawling out instructions from the chair. It’d been a surprisingly erotic experience, but tonight Liam just watched in silence, his gaze more often than not on the bare wall.

Austin felt self-conscious, relieved when he was finally covered up.

Jay tucked his T-shirt in, then changed his mind and pulled it out again. He was moving with gingerly care, and Austin bet that as soon as they got home, Jay would strip and go to soak in the tub. Tight jeans had to be the last thing he wanted to wear given what he’d endured. “Will we see you next week?”

“Yes.” Liam sounded impatient. “I told you, nothing’s changed and nothing’s wrong. Just go home and try to forget about the less than ideal start to the evening.”

He turned on his heel and led them to the front door. Usually he opened it to usher them out, and they left with a nod from him, Liam barely waiting for them to reach their car before he closed the door.

Tonight he paused, studying them in turn. “Poor boys,” he said unexpectedly. “You look so crestfallen. There’s really no need.”

“Let’s see.” Jay began to count on his fingers. “You hated the present we got you, April put a dent in your bank balance—”

“But I’m paying that back.” Austin wasn’t sure how, but he would. Installments, maybe.

“And then we both came without permission. Yeah. Consider our crests all droopy and shit.”

Liam chuckled. “Along with other parts of your anatomies?” He shook his head. “Forget it. All of it, including the money—though I think you should impress upon your sister that I’m not prepared to step in and help her again, Austin. You, yes, but not her. And I appreciate the thought behind your gift, Jay, even if that’s all I liked about it.”

Jay seemed more cheerful, which of course made Austin feel better too. “Okay, well—we’ll see you next weekend.”

“Don’t,” Liam said, glaring, “be late.”

Chapter Ten

Saturday morning was one of Liam’s favorite times in the office. It wasn’t that he disliked the space during the workweek—the vast majority of his work hours were on his own whether he was at the office or at home—but on a weekend it was quiet and peaceful, much easier to focus.

There were always people in the office, even on a Sunday, of course. It was just the nature of the job. Liam had known before he’d gone into law that it was a field that required dedication and long hours, but the facilitatory nature of corporate law had appealed to him in ways that other types of law didn’t. He preferred to save his confrontations for places other than a courtroom.

He’d come in to get some documents he needed and decided since he was making the trip he might as well put in a few hours’ work while the building was at minimal capacity. He had lifted a hand in greeting to another of the firm’s employees while coming in, but didn’t bother to close his door because he didn’t anticipate being interrupted.

As a result, he nearly jumped when a shadow appeared in his doorway. “Saul. How are you?”

“I was going to ask you the same question,” Saul said. He looked strange in jeans and a casual shirt, the uniform of their profession left behind. “I’m good. I heard the Bernstein deal’s a wash.”

It wasn’t a case either of them had worked on, but because the company that had hired their firm to handle the negotiations was large and willing to pay handsomely, it had been a topic of much discussion in the office for weeks.

“Yes, I heard that as well. Shame, after all that work.” Liam wasn’t convinced the attorney in charge of the situation had been up for the job, but it wasn’t the sort of thing one could say out loud.

“We were talking about taking Junior out for drinks Friday night. To that new place, you know, Candy’s—or whatever it is. It’s a Hooters rip-off but who cares when it means racks like that, right?” Saul flushed and glanced over his shoulder, then wiped his brow exaggeratedly. “Whew. Just the kind of thing I’d say and then find Miriam standing behind me, you know?”

There were so many things wrong with Saul’s few sentences that Liam wouldn’t have known where to begin, so as usual he didn’t bother to try. “Candy’s?”

“Yeah, it’s over near the highway. Where the crummy Chinese place was? The one where Daniel and Joe and those guys got food poisoning that time?”

All of this required more knowledge of office gossip than Liam was interested in. “Right. Sadly I have plans Friday night.” Thank God.

“You can’t have plans as good as these.” Saul leaned against the door frame as if he was getting comfortable for a protracted conversation, something Liam was not at all in favor of. “Come on, it’ll be fun. We’ll have a few dozen drinks, ogle some hot women.”

“Appealing as that sounds,” Liam lied, “I really do have something else to do.” Something that would be a great deal more satisfying than the horror of spending an evening with drunken coworkers.

He knew he tended to come across as rather dull, and he didn’t care. There were fellow attorneys at the firm whose company he enjoyed; they were generally his age or older, and most of them had been married for at least two decades. Strangely, though, the younger attorneys seemed to focus on convincing Liam to socialize with them while leaving his peers alone. He hadn’t sorted out if this was because he was single and they felt guilty knowing he was on his own, or if they genuinely thought he’d be good company. He suspected it was the former but hesitated to ask for clarification because he knew it would make him seem more interested than he actually was.

“You’ve got almost a week to make different arrangements,” Saul said, obviously not willing to let it drop. “Change your plans.”

“I don’t want to,” Liam said mildly and looked at Saul. “I like my plans.”

“You go out with Jordan all the time,” Saul protested. “Didn’t you play golf twice last week?”

Liam blinked. “I didn’t realize my off time activity was a matter of such interest.”

Saul must have heard the hint of irritation in his voice. “No, it’s just…Junior wants you to come.”

“Junior couldn’t possibly care less what I do.” Liam was aware now that he needed to end this conversation soon before he said something he’d regret. His shoulder ached, a combination of the aforementioned golf games and the paddling he’d given Jay the night before, and he really wasn’t in the mood to argue. Saul, on the other hand, seemed to get off on it.

“Well, you’re wrong about that. People like you, Liam. You shouldn’t close yourself up in here like a hermit. Get out, have a good time.”

“I appreciate the invitation,” Liam said carefully. “But it won’t be possible. I really do have plans. Another time.”

For a few seconds, Saul studied him, then nodded. “Okay, sure. But I’m going to hold you to that. See you on Monday?”

“Of course.” Liam had planned to work from home on Monday, but under the circumstances, he didn’t want to appear antisocial. He could work in the office instead if it meant ending this.

He was more than grateful when Saul went away, and he wished he’d stopped in for those two minutes to collect what he’d needed and then taken it home and worked from there. It could be distracting, though, trying to work in a house where Jay’s and Austin’s voices echoed in every corner. It seemed strange they’d managed to become such an important part of his life in such a short time.

Speaking of which, he made a mental reminder to phone Jay later in the day and check on Austin. For all he knew they spent weekends catching up on their sleep, something he definitely remembered doing himself back when he’d been younger. The night before had been difficult—what with Austin’s sister and her brush with the law—and Liam wanted to make sure Austin was dealing with all of it in a way that wasn’t emotionally damaging.

In an ideal world, no one would need therapy. In this world, many people did but didn’t get it for a variety of reasons. Liam believed some of them turned to the world of Doms and subs. He found it reassuring, but he also recognized it was a fine line to walk and the last thing he wanted was to contribute to someone’s issues. He wanted to be sure his interactions with Austin were helping, not hurting.

Liam worked at the office for another hour or so, then wrapped things up and neatened his desk for Monday before leaving. He waved to Saul—on the phone, thank God—on his way out. It was already well after noon when he stopped at the grocery store for supplies. Often, he had a different supermarket deliver, but sometimes it was nice to wander the aisles and choose individual pieces of fruit by touch and smell instead of just by checking a box on a Web site. Not, however, on Saturdays. The store was crowded, and people kept bumping him with their shopping carts. When the same woman bumped into him a third time, he frowned and opened his mouth to say something—what, he wasn’t sure.

“I am so sorry,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes at him, and Liam realized she was flirting with him. “I should have my license revoked.”

“Somehow, I don’t think that would help,” Liam said.

“No, probably not. But I’m still sorry. I thought the worst of the crowds would be here in the morning, but I guess I was wrong.” She was lovely, with long dark hair and a curvaceous figure.

He gestured for her to go ahead of him. “Please, ladies first.”

“Thank you.” She smiled at him and moved her cart past his. “London?”

Liam nodded. “Very good. Most people are lucky to guess the correct continent.”

“Guess is the right word. But it’s faded, your accent. You’ve been here awhile.”

“Years,” Liam agreed, taking a bottle of tomato juice from the shelf and setting it in his cart.

“I went to England in, hm, I guess it was the mid-nineties. Wow, that makes me feel old.” She wrinkled her nose in an endearing way.

Liam was quite sure she was hoping to be told she looked young. In fact, she did—not more than thirty-five or so—which certainly wasn’t old by the definition of anyone but a teenager. “Where did you go?” he asked instead, following her to the next aisle even though he probably didn’t need anything there.

“Different places. It was one of those group tour things. You know, it was fine, and we saw all the stuff they tell you that you have to see, like Stonehenge and whatever.” She stretched to reach a box of trash bags that was just out of her reach.

“Let me get that,” Liam said, and did before handing it to her.

“Thank you.” She let her hand touch his a little longer than strictly necessary. “Oh, I’m Leslie, by the way.”

“Liam.”

“Two L names,” Leslie said. Her eyes were very soft and warm. “That must mean something.”

It didn’t mean anything as far as Liam was concerned. Any other time, he would have been pleased to pursue something with her, even just a cup of coffee, but today he found himself less than excited at the prospect. In fact, he found himself thinking about Jay and Austin. “Yes, well. It’s been very nice talking to you. Have a nice weekend.”

He turned and left, not looking back so he wouldn’t feel guilty about the expression of disappointment he was sure was on her face.

He ended up doing some of the household chores he had a tendency to put off, including changing the lightbulb above the garage. By the time he’d eaten dinner, he discovered the day was nearly gone and he’d never phoned Jay. No time like the present, so he picked up the phone rather than put it off any longer.

“Hello.” Jay sounded cautious. “Liam? Is everything okay?”

“Hello, Jay. Actually, that’s why I was calling you. I wanted to see how Austin was. Is he there?”

Better to find out right away if the subject of their discussion was in the room.

“Um, no. He went over to his mom’s house to talk to her. You know, about April. He’s okay. Nervous about how she’s going to take it.”

“If Austin didn’t tell her, she wouldn’t find out?” Liam asked.

He could practically hear Jay nodding. “Yeah. Unless she got some kind of receipt in the mail, I guess, but April’s probably been getting rid of stuff like that for months.”

“And how was… Wait. Is it all right with you if we discuss him like this? I don’t want to put you in an uncomfortable position.”

Jay snorted. “You love putting me in uncomfortable positions. But yeah, it’s okay. As long as you’re not asking me to keep it a secret or anything.”

“No, I wouldn’t do that.” Liam definitely didn’t want to do anything that might risk damaging Austin and Jay’s relationship. “I was just hoping to get a feel for how you thought he was, both in general and in regard to last night’s session.”

“April stresses him out,” Jay said slowly. “She always does that, the whole time I’ve known him. I don’t think that’s going to change unless she does, and I’m kind of thinking that’s not going to happen.”

“She’s still young.” Liam felt he was being charitable.

“I don’t care. I don’t even know if I like her because I’m so sick of seeing how she knots Austin into a pretzel.” Jay sighed. “Anyway, I guess I’m trying to say that he isn’t any more freaked out about her than he ever is.”

“Which isn’t saying much.”

“Nope.” Jay brightened. “But hey, on the plus side, he was way more relaxed last night. Maybe not perfect, but he really needed it. Thanks for being flexible on the time issue. I know it wasn’t the night you were expecting.”

“I don’t think it was the night any of us was expecting,” Liam said ruefully. “I’m just glad we were able to salvage something from it.”

There was a pause, then Jay asked, “Um, what about you? Were you okay with it?”

Damn. Liam had hoped Jay would be so focused on Austin that this issue wouldn’t come up. “Fine. Unless you’re talking about the fact that you both came without my permission, in which case I can’t say I was pleased. I expect more control from you than that.”

“Yes, Sir. It won’t happen again.” As Liam had hoped, the accusation snapped Jay back into sub mode.

“Good. Then I’ll see you both on Friday. Have a good week, Jay. Behave yourself.”