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Room at the Edge

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Chapter One

Jay blinked, his vision blurry. Time to take a break. He set down the tiny flogger he’d been working on, each thin strand tipped with a touch of silver paint to mimic steel, and leaned back in his chair. The change of position had him wincing as cramped muscles protested. Why didn’t it hurt when he was doing it, but it did when he stopped? How did that make sense?

He massaged not the small of his back—Austin would do that for him later—but his hands, flexing and rubbing them together to loosen his stiff fingers. He needed his hands to be flexible enough for the detailed work on the floggers and cuffs, but the ache radiating from his wrists was a sign he’d reached his limit for the day.

Damn.

The small diorama, a dungeon scene, with a Dom and his two subs having one hell of a good time, was intended as a Christmas present for Liam. The figures were capable of being posed, so Liam could play with them if he wanted to—tie them to the Saint Andrew’s cross or over a spanking bench, suspend them from a ceiling hook, make them kneel… It was a Dom’s version of a Barbie Dreamhouse, though Jay didn’t intend to even think that in Liam’s presence.

It was only mid-October, so there was no rush, but Jay wanted it to be perfect, and perfect took time.

The creak of the stairs told him Austin was coming up to join him. “Hey,” Austin said. “How it’s going? I was thinking about starting dinner, but I wanted to check in with you first.”

“Dinner sounds good. I definitely need a break.” Jay didn’t get up because Austin was already behind him, hands settling on his shoulders and beginning a massage. “God. Just do that for the next hour, huh?”

“Bet you didn’t even know your shoulders were tight too,” Austin said sympathetically, digging his thumbs into the base of Jay’s neck until Jay was whimpering with appreciation. “You’re really working hard.”

“I want it to be done by early December. Don’t want to be stressing about it.” Jay let his head fall forward and closed his eyes as Austin massaged his shoulders. “Forget dinner. Let’s just do this instead.”

“You know if we do, we’ll want to take it further.” Austin sounded as regretful as Jay felt.

Liam had laid down the law about what they were allowed to do when he wasn’t there, and it didn’t include orgasms. They could touch each other, sure. They could kiss, exchange frustratingly incomplete blowjobs, and sleep naked, but they couldn’t come, not unless Liam was there.

Liam had demonstrated what would happen if they broke that rule, and it wasn’t something Jay wanted to relive. He’d asked what the penalty would be, thinking it might be worth it. Losing the ability to have sex with Austin was a huge sacrifice, and if he had to pay for a climax with a hard spanking, he was willing to do it.

That was until Liam had brought him to the edge of orgasm dozens of times over the course of a weekend but never let him come. Jay had ended up with the worst case of blue balls he’d ever had, to the point where he hadn’t been able to piss for half a day because his damned cock wouldn’t go down. He’d barely slept the whole time, just lain there staring at the ceiling with his dick hard as a rock and his balls aching.

Having his cock inside the wet heat of Austin’s mouth felt incredible. Pulling his cock out quickly, yelping with pain as it scraped across Austin’s teeth because he was fighting off a climax as inevitable as a sneeze, was less fun.

Jay complained more about that rule than any of the others put together, but he got no sympathy from Liam.

You’re mine. I get to say when you come, and it’s always going to be with me watching. Get used to the idea, Jay, or I’ll extend the no-coming rule to the next few sessions.

For me too?” Austin had asked, eyes wide with shock as Jay spluttered with outrage.

Oh yes.” Liam’s smile had been wicked, his blue eyes lit with enjoyment. “Don’t think I won’t use you to shut him up, because I will.

Now Austin’s fingers worked at a tight muscle in Jay’s shoulder, the mix of pleasure and pain as they dug in sending a ripple of mild arousal through Jay. He asked, “Do you mind him controlling us like this? It doesn’t bother you at all going a week without sex?”

Austin laughed. “You love it. Deep down you get off on it as much as I do.”

“Do not!”

Austin leaned in, brushed a kiss over Jay’s cheek, and murmured in his ear, “Yeah, you do. It’s like he’s put you in cuffs. Like he’s watching you suffer. Tell me that doesn’t get you going.”

Jay exhaled slowly. “Yeah. Yeah, it does. I…I think about it, you know? What it’s going to feel like when he finally lets me come. If it’s going to be his hand or your mouth.” He shivered as Austin slid a hand across his collarbone and over his chest. He was wearing one of the thin T-shirts he saved for working on his dioramas and knew the smooth skin of Austin’s palm was catching on the smears of dried paint that didn’t wash out. Jay wondered what it would be like to paint on Austin’s bare skin. Not the craft paint—that would be a bitch to scrape off afterward—but body paint might be fun to play with.

Austin’s hand slid over to put steady, arousing pressure on Jay’s nipple through the worn fabric. “Should I tease you? At least it won’t last days.” They had plans with Liam that night.

Jay considered the idea, then sighed and shook his head. “Liam will be pissed if we don’t have time to eat before we go over there.”

“Yeah.” Austin patted his shoulders and stepped back to give him room to stand. “So what do you think for dinner? Chicken or salmon?”

“Salmon if we have that teriyaki glaze,” Jay said as they started downstairs.

Another of Liam’s rules was that they eat a light meal before a session so they’d have energy but not be loaded down by too many calories. “Yeah, we’ve got some. And there’s that leftover rice we could split. If we don’t eat it tonight, we should throw it out—it’s been in there a couple of days.”

“But no dessert allowed,” Jay said with a pout. “God, I’m starving too.”

“No, you’re whining.” Austin gave him a sidelong glance. “You’re not working tomorrow?”

Jay shook his head. “I’ve got Saturday off. Sorry, thought I’d told you.”

“No, you got in and went straight upstairs to work on your diorama.” Austin gave him a forgiving smile. “I’ll take you to Pattycakes for breakfast if you behave tonight. Coffee and one of those giant cinnamon rolls with the raisins and inch-thick frosting.”

Jay adored those rolls, and he liked Pat, the owner of the café, who often dropped in to the library in search of the kind of murder mysteries that made Jay’s stomach lurch. Serial killers freaked him out. The prospect of a sugar rush didn’t mean he was going to let Austin’s comment pass unchallenged, though. “Sure, but I always behave. Liam doesn’t give me any choice.”

He didn’t add that he loved it when Liam went all sternly inflexible on him. Austin knew. Liam knew. Hell, he might as well wear it on his T-shirt and tell the world he’d lick Liam’s Italian leather shoes without being asked. Not that Liam ever would, because it’d ruin their polish.

Austin headed for the fridge. “Set the table. And there’s behaving and behaving. When you two go head-to-head, Liam takes it out on me too, and he’s been working out or something. That last paddling I got hurt.”

“It’s supposed to.” That paddling had been hot as hell. Liam had put Austin over Jay’s lap and told him to hold Austin in place, then stood over them, giving himself plenty of room to swing the paddle. Jay had felt every shudder running through Austin, watched the pale skin of Austin’s ass and thighs blush pink, then flame bright and hot. His forearm had been wet from Austin’s tears by the time the paddling was over, and he’d been so turned on he’d come close to crying himself when he had to wait for release until Austin had sucked Liam off.

Because that had been hot too, with Austin’s breath hitching, his hands behind him on his bruised, stinging ass, Liam fucking his mouth with arrogant assurance, completely in control of the scene.

Jay had slid from the chair to his knees, desperate to join Austin, but Liam had shot him a glance that promised retribution if he moved another inch. Obedience had been worth it, though. Liam had pulled out of Austin’s mouth and snapped his fingers, beckoning Jay over. Jay hadn’t even gotten to part his lips before Liam had jerked off over him, the first warm splash of spunk on his cheek triggering Jay’s climax as much as Liam’s snapped-out word of permission.

Austin closed the fridge with a nudge from his shoulder, the packaged salmon in one hand, the bowl of rice in the other. “I don’t like it when it hurts that much.”

“I do.” Jay didn’t always speak so bluntly, but not because he worried about how Austin might react. More because Austin already knew him, inside and out, so there was little need to say certain things out loud.

“You always want to take it further,” Austin agreed. He turned on the broiler and adjusted the level of the oven shelf.

Jay opened the freezer and started shifting stuff around. Brick of frozen chicken, brick of frozen hamburger, brick of frozen ground turkey. A bag of some kind of premade stir-fry thing that had looked good at the grocery store months ago but terrible in their freezer ever since. “Oh, here. Green beans? Or these carrots with cranberries?”

“Beans,” Austin said. “April called.”

Jay knew immediately that Austin had tried to slip that in casually, anticipating the reaction it would get. “Nice try. Did you hang up on her?”

“I considered it.” Austin slipped the salmon under the broiler and straightened. “But no. I was curious to hear what she had to say.”

“I hate to ask,” Jay said. He sorted through April’s usual demand list—wish lists were for losers as far as she was concerned—and picked the most likely. “Did she want money?”

Austin shook his head. “Shockingly, no. I don’t know what she wanted. Just to talk, I guess, but the whole time we were on the phone I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.” He leaned against the counter, and Jay studied his face, trying to figure out what was going on in his head. “She was nice.”

“Which means she wants something.”

“I know, right? But if she did, she never asked for it. And she’s not usually that subtle.”

No, subtle wasn’t a word Jay would have used to describe Austin’s sister, who was the baby of the Fisher family and had been spoiled beyond words. It had been a weight off Austin’s shoulders when she’d gone away to college at the beginning of September. “Maybe she was drunk?”

Austin laughed. “She didn’t sound it. She sounded happy. She met someone.”

If he’d been drinking, Jay would have choked. “Met someone as in more than another sucker to use as a cab and walking bank account?” April’s boyfriends were numerous and short-lived; even the serious ones were more accessories than love interests.

“I got that impression, yeah. Weird, huh?”

“I don’t want to think about who she’d pick as a real boyfriend. Or who’d be into her.” April was such a selfish, amoral bitch that Jay couldn’t picture anyone taking her on long-term unless they were terminally stupid. Or as much of a masochist as he was, except that was different.

The pain April dealt out was emotional and left scars.

“He’s a year ahead of her and wants to be a pediatrician. His name’s Ryan and—brace yourself.” Austin widened his eyes and said dramatically, “He goes to all his classes.”

The green beans were making his hand go numb, but Jay was snickering too much to care. “Is he an alien? He’s got to be. Into studying and April? Those things just don’t go together. And since when did she go for the geeks? I’m not sure her last one could even read. When I said I worked at the library, he thought it meant I’d read every single book on the shelves.”

“I know! It’s really weird. But it sounded like she admires him. She’s going to all her classes too because she doesn’t want him to think she’s lazy.” Austin finished filling a pot with water and put it on the stove. “And he asked her to go home with him for Thanksgiving. She’s e-mailing me some links so I can help her pick out clothes.”

There we go.” Jay knew April had some ulterior motive. “And she wants you to pay for them.”

“Nope. Apparently she got a job on campus, and she’s saving her money.”

“Okay, so maybe she’s the alien. Or some faeries came and stole her and left a changeling in her place.”

“I thought that was just babies.”

“She can be kind of an infant sometimes,” Jay said and giggled. That made Austin laugh, and they spent the next ten minutes finishing dinner and poking fun at April. It was so hard to imagine her changing her life around that Jay couldn’t manage it.

“Eat fast,” Austin told him as they picked up their forks. “I’ll drag you out the door with half your meal still on your plate if I have to.”

“Are you going to tell Liam about April?”

Austin shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

Even after four or five months with the three of them working on building a relationship outside their sessions, it was difficult for Jay to accept that Liam was interested in the mundane details of their lives and not just being polite. Austin’s job at the doctor’s office and Jay’s at the library weren’t boring to them, but why would Liam care that the near-mythical Alison Brearton, who’d had a book checked out for twelve years, the fines building until they’d reached the maximum the library could impose, had finally wandered in one day and returned The Murder of Roger Ackroyd?

April, though… Liam didn’t like April at all. Bringing her up would probably sour the mood before the session started.

“Because you want Liam in a good mood. Tell him afterward but not before. Or in the morning right before we leave.”

The Friday sessions used to end with Liam shooing them out the door, their asses glowing, but now they usually slept over, keeping a few clothes in one of Liam’s closets and a complete set of toiletries in the spare bathroom.

Liam hadn’t gone that far with them, but he didn’t stay over at their apartment often. The three of them in a queen-size bed was a tight fit; Liam’s king-size worked much better. Jay sometimes wished he could have an out-of-body experience and float up to the ceiling to watch them use every inch of that bed. The logistics of them all trying to get off could be complicated, physically and emotionally. Liam had once strained his shoulder trying to fuck Austin and get his mouth on Jay’s cock at the same time, and there were inevitably moments when someone felt left out of the action. That was an ongoing issue they didn’t discuss as much as push past it.

Complicated, yes, but when it worked, the three of them joining to create something passionate, tender, or just erotic as hell, it left Jay feeling as euphoric as a whipping would.

“It’s not even that much to tell,” Austin protested. “I mean, it’s good news more than anything. But yeah, you’re probably right.”

“Probably?” Jay pouted and fluttered his eyelashes, resting his chin on his hand. “Probably? I’m offended. Of course I’m right. I know exactly what I’m talking about, and you should be hanging on my every word.”

Austin gave him an amused look. “Okay.”

“I mean it,” Jay told him. “In fact, you should just let me make all your decisions forever.”

“Are you on crack?” Austin asked, his grin wide enough that Jay felt his own face mirroring it. “You would hate that so much.”

“Yeah.” Jay snickered. “Guess my chances of becoming a famous actor are pretty low. I’d better stick to being a librarian.”

“Good. Now eat your fish.” Austin pointed his fork at Jay’s plate. “You mean you aren’t going to start taking acting classes?”

“In my copious free time?” Jay quickly took a big bite of salmon before Austin could comment again. After swallowing, he added, “I like dioramas. Plus I think there’s something to be said for playing to your strengths.”

That got him a wink. “You’ll be able to do that plenty tonight. No one begs for more the way you do when you think Liam’s about to ease up and you’re desperate. You babble. It’s sweet.”

There were plenty of times when Jay had done just that, longing for one more slash of a strap against his ass, another minute with weighted clamps crushing and tugging at his nipples until the pure, hot agony burned away everything holding him back and set him free. It didn’t mean that was all he was good for, though he knew Austin hadn’t intended it as anything but a teasing joke. “Hey!”

“What?” Austin held up his hands, all innocence. “You’re a great sub. Liam loves you.”

Suddenly uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going, though he couldn’t pinpoint why, Jay set down his fork. “He loves both of us, but it’s not just about how we make him feel in a session.”

Austin had gone quiet. “I know,” he said finally, but it was one of the least convincing statements Jay had ever heard out of him.

“Try again.”

“Why?” Austin sighed and used his fingers to pick up his last green bean. “Anyway, we’ve got to get going.”

Jay slapped his hand down on the table—not loud enough to be scary, even if it was unexpected, but enough to get Austin’s attention. “We can talk about it here, or I can bring it up when we get to Liam’s.”

The horrified look Austin gave him made him feel guilty immediately, but this was important. It wasn’t something Jay could just let go. “You wouldn’t,” Austin said.

“I would, and you know it. I still might.” Not that Jay wanted to freak Austin out further. It was the truth, though, and he was a firm believer that the truth was vital in relationships. There was no way he’d chance screwing things up by being too scared to talk about them. “We can talk while we get ready, and in the car if you want, but it’s definitely happening.”

“Fine,” Austin said and shoved his chair back. “What do you want to hear?” He sounded angry, which was so not Jay’s intention.

“Hey,” he said. “Come on. I’m on your side here.”

Austin carried his plate to the kitchen, and Jay followed him. “Doesn’t feel like it,” Austin muttered.

Jay waited until Austin had set down his plate, then wrapped both arms around his waist from behind and held on.

“I am. Totally on your side. Talk to me.”

“I don’t… I don’t know how to put it into words, okay? It’s not that I won’t, I guess… I need more time to think about the whole situation.”

The request was reasonable, but Jay hesitated before sighing with resignation. He turned Austin around so he could kiss him, needing the intimacy after their disagreement, minor though it’d been. Austin’s lips were firmly closed at first, but Jay knew just how to coax them open, and before long Austin was kissing him back, his hands clutching Jay’s shoulders, his mouth warmly eager.

The kiss ended with them staring at each other, Austin’s expression a blend of pleading and stubbornness.

“You need to give me time,” Austin repeated. “This thing we’ve got with Liam…it’s fragile. It matters to me. I don’t want to bring it down around us by saying something stupid.”

“It matters to all of us,” Jay pointed out. “We knew going in it wasn’t going to be easy adjusting, but we said we’d talk about it if any of us started freaking out. It’s starting to worry me that we never have.”

Austin shrugged free of Jay’s embrace and turned to pick up his plate. He rinsed it under the faucet, his shoulders tense. “You want me to freak out?”

“Who said it’d be you? Liam’s had more to adjust to than us.” And more to lose if people found out—and that was another subject not up for discussion when it should be, in Jay’s opinion. He wasn’t naive. The Dom/sub arrangement would make eyebrows rise, but the threesome aspect and the difference in their ages would turn surprise to shock, even anger. Hell, no one even knew Liam was bi yet except Patrick, their former Dom, who’d pushed the three of them together like a leather-clad Cupid.

“Yeah, but Liam—he’s got it together. Not that I think he’s perfect…”

“Just really close?” Jay knew Austin felt that way, and knew it was complicated as hell. “I don’t want anyone to freak out, but if you are, it’s not unexpected. That’s all I’m saying.”

Austin swiveled to check the clock. “Shit, we’re going to be late if we don’t go now.” He kissed Jay quickly—it felt like an apology—and added, “I’ll think about it, I promise. Once I figure out what’s going on in my head, you’ll be the first to know.”

As they went to get their coats, Jay thought that would have to be good enough for now. Besides, he had a pretty good idea of what was troubling Austin. He wanted more time with Liam.

They both did.

Chapter Two

“Cutting it a bit close, aren’t we?” Liam asked as he closed the door behind them.

“More than a bit,” Jay agreed cheekily and hung up his coat. “Brr. It feels colder than the middle of October. This morning it was so gray I thought it might snow.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time it snowed this early,” Austin said.

“Personally I’d rather it waited until after Thanksgiving.” Liam frowned impatiently. He’d had a mildly stressful day at work, nothing out of the ordinary, but he’d made it through the day only by focusing firmly on the evening’s activities. The fact that he’d spent the last fifteen minutes checking the clock made him cross.

Jay snickered. “You might be able to control us, but the weather? Don’t think so, Liam.”

“Jay—” Austin began, but Liam was already moving, every instinct he had telling him to curb Jay quickly before this got out of hand.

The line between being subs and being Liam’s partners had blurred since they’d started sharing a bed and, for want of a better word, dating. Outside a clearly defined space of time once or twice a week when Liam was their Dom, not just their lover, he was happy enough for them to call him by name and be relaxed and at ease around him.

Well, maybe when they were in bed, he had a tendency to take charge, but that didn’t seem to bother them, and really, someone had to organize events. The trouble was that now he was free to admit what he did with and to them turned him on, and not just because he got off on dominating them. Sex was inevitably linked in his mind to the sessions. Ceding control of either to his two subs, beautifully obedient and responsive as they were, didn’t appeal.

Though he had to confess to a certain curiosity about being fucked by them one day. He’d never shared that possibility. Too potentially disruptive when things between them were balanced so precariously.

Yes, the lines had blurred—but if Jay thought he could saunter in, all mouth and attitude, as if he were immune from discipline until he got naked, Liam was only too happy to educate him on the respect due a Dom.

He was rarely rough with them, always careful to prepare them for what he had planned. Sometimes he chafed against the self-imposed restrictions, but Austin and Jay mattered too much for him to take any risks.

Of the two of them, though, it was Austin who was most vulnerable, whose limits Liam only pushed at gently.

When it came to Jay’s limits, Liam was always well inside them. He had room to work, and he intended to go as far as he wanted.

He wrapped his hand tightly around Jay’s throat, knowing how aroused any form of breath play got Jay, though giving Jay pleasure wasn’t high on his list of priorities in that moment.

“Did you have something you wanted to say to me before I deal with your attitude, Jay?”

Jay stood utterly still. He didn’t struggle at all, but the frantic flutter of his pulse against Liam’s fingertip told Liam everything he needed to know. “We’re still dressed,” he said hoarsely, the words making his throat vibrate against Liam’s palm. Liam waited, giving him a chance to salvage a little of the situation, and Jay added, “Sir.”

“Your state of dress or undress is unimportant,” Liam told him. “Whether you’re under my roof is unimportant.” He tightened his grip and saw Jay’s pupils dilate. “You will show me the respect I’m due. I know you understand.”

Jay swallowed, his throat contracting in Liam’s grip. “I do, Sir.”

“Then I expect an apology.”

“I’m sorry, Sir.” Jay’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“Good, you should be. I’d like you to be quiet now.”

Jay nodded.

Liam uncurled his hand from around Jay’s throat, and Jay licked his lips as if he’d been kissed and wanted to capture the taste. “Go into the den and wait for me. Take off your shirt, but leave your jeans on for now.” Jay looked dismayed at being sent off without Austin, and Liam spoke sternly to forestall further argument as he wasn’t in the mood to come up with additional punishment for Jay’s unacceptable behavior. “Now, Jay.”

Dropping his gaze, Jay went, padding silently in his stockinged feet. Austin, when Liam turned his attention to him, was still standing where he’d been, looking uncertain and worried.

“You haven’t done anything wrong,” Liam assured him.

“I know, Sir.” Austin hesitated, then knelt to untie his shoes. This hid his face from Liam, who would have preferred a bit more time in which to read it.

“What’s happened to put him in this mood?” Liam asked, keeping his voice conversational in the hope that Austin wouldn’t choose loyalty to Jay over honesty.

“Nothing.” Austin glanced up long enough to give him a twitched-lip but probably false smile, then ducked his head again and went to work on his other shoe. “He’s a little hyper from not getting to come since we saw you last, I guess.”

The reason was plausible, possibly even part of the truth, but Liam knew when he was being lied to, and he knew when he was being fed an evasion. He had two children, after all.

“Is that so. Well, I don’t see his mood improving much, then. Unless…” Liam caught his lower lip between his teeth, an idea occurring to him that might be the perfect punishment. “Never mind,” he added when Austin stood, a question in his eyes. “So that’s the only reason? You’re sure?”

Pressed, Austin was a deliciously flustered sight, color rising from his neck to flood his face, his lips parted as his breathing quickened.

“Rabbit in the headlights,” Liam said, not unkindly, when Austin didn’t answer. He flicked his fingers. “Run, rabbit, run. Go to Jay, and tell him he’s annoyed me and you’ve irritated me. Not the best start to the evening, is it?”

“No, Sir.” Austin stepped closer. “Liam…please. Jay didn’t mean it. Let him show you he’s sorry.”

Using his name might have been Austin’s way of reminding Liam that it was no longer possible to adopt a “what happens in the dungeon stays in the dungeon” attitude, but it only served to worsen Liam’s mood.

“‘Let him’?” Liam shook his head, knowing he looked and sounded grim. “He’ll bloody well do as he’s told, and so will you. Why are you still here?”

Austin fled, scurrying down the hallway to the den without looking back, and Liam leaned against the wall and let out a shuddering breath. Jesus, was it too much to ask that he got this small space of time when everything was simple? Really?

He gave himself a moment—no matter how badly he wanted to take his frustration out on the two of them for turning the evening he’d been anticipating upside down, that wasn’t the way to go into this—and then went to join the boys in the den.

They were both kneeling, thank Christ. He didn’t think he’d have been able to handle more disobedience. Austin hadn’t undressed, but to be fair Liam hadn’t told him to. Time to remedy that now.

“Austin, undress, please. Jay, stand up.” His tone was sharp, and he made no effort to soften it. If they didn’t already realize that tonight would be different, they would soon enough.

It didn’t take more than a minute for Austin to take off his clothes and fold them neatly, and he stood with his hands behind his back when it was done. Jay was already waiting in the same position, and a plan had formed in Liam’s mind.

“Good. Now, Austin, I’d like you to kneel in front of Jay and take out his cock.” Liam could see that Jay was hard, the outline of his erection obvious inside his jeans. He could also see Austin’s surprise in the brief tightening of his shoulders, but Austin was almost always unquestioningly obedient during a session, so it didn’t come as a shock that he did as he’d been told.

Jay’s eyes were still hazy with arousal. Liam noted that the faint redness at Jay’s throat was already fading—he knew how to leave marks and how to avoid them, and bruises on a place as obvious as a throat were to be avoided at all costs.

“Now suck him,” Liam said. He sat down and shifted into a comfortable position; it was going to be a long evening.

“Sir?” Jay said, then exhaled when Austin’s mouth closed around the head of his cock.

“Since being forbidden to come seems to put you in a bad mood, I thought I’d see what happens when I allow you to come as many times as you’re capable of.” Something about the thought of Jay so sated that he couldn’t bear to have his cock touched pleased Liam in a sadistic sort of way.

For the briefest moment Austin paused. Then the slow bob of his head resumed. Jay smiled, rocking his hips and gasping as Austin pulled back enough to concentrate on the tip of his cock.

“No,” Liam said. “He’s not supposed to be enjoying this, and neither are you. Jay, take off the rest of your clothes now.” He clicked the stopwatch button on his watch when Jay stood naked. “Austin, get him off fast. If it takes longer than two minutes, I’ll apply some incentive to your arse until he does come.”

He walked over to the cupboard in the corner, kept locked most of the time. Unlocking it was part of Liam’s preparation for a session. Hearing the small click of the key as it turned sent a thrill of anticipation through him, which increased when he ran his hand over the collection of implements he’d built up. He took out a rattan cane he was fond of because it left nicely deep welts, and swished it through the air. Liam didn’t bother to show it to them. Austin could see it out of the corner of his eye, and Jay would most certainly recognize the sound.

Austin endured rather than enjoyed the sting of that particular cane, and Liam knew it. More importantly, Jay knew it. With a whimper that was frantic, not pleasurable, Jay began to fuck Austin’s mouth, his hands dropping to hold Austin’s head in place.

Presumptuous of him, Liam decided.

“Hands behind your back, Jay, and stand quite still.” Liam tested the cane out on Jay’s bare buttocks, a flick of his wrist, no more than that, making Jay jump just because he could. Jay’s anguished yelp when the second, much harder stroke landed across his thighs was satisfying enough that Liam was smiling when he resumed his seat, the cane laid across his knees.

Austin was moving his mouth on Jay’s cock with his eyes closed, taking Jay in deep and swallowing around him, making little sounds at the back of his throat. Liam knew just what it felt like to have Austin’s lips and tongue working at his erection, and he’d be surprised if Jay managed to hold out for as long as two minutes.

Jay didn’t. At the one-minute-and-forty-five-second mark, he stilled and came with a groan, his spunk pulsing into Austin’s mouth. Liam let them have ten seconds more than they deserved, then, when Austin began to pull away, said sternly, “Don’t stop. Jay, I’m going to be kind and give you ten minutes this round.”

“Yes, Sir.” The look Jay gave him was pure adulation.

Liam knew it wouldn’t last. Being sucked back to hardness immediately after having come once would be bearable, but after that it would be as much pain as pleasure. He kept an eye on his watch, and when Jay came the second time, it was with a minute to spare. Better than Liam had expected, to be honest. He wouldn’t have been surprised if Jay hadn’t managed a second orgasm in ten minutes’ time.

“Again,” he said while Jay was still gasping. “Austin, you may fuck him this time, if you like, but don’t make the mistake of thinking the permission I’ve given Jay extends to you.”

Austin turned his head toward Liam, biting his lip, then nodded and moved—still on his knees—to get lube from the cupboard. Austin’s erection was flushed and heavy, his lips swollen. He was beautiful.

“Hands and knees, Jay. Face me.” Jay collapsed to the floor, relief passing over his face at being allowed to change position.

Liam smiled thinly. “Are you a trained sub or a sack of potatoes? Get up and do that again properly.”

Jay shot him a glance that had a hint of resentment behind the surface pleading.

Liam raised his eyebrows and tapped the cane against his palm meaningfully. “Do you really want to push me?”

“No, Sir.” Jay rose, bowed his head in what Liam supposed was an apology, though he’d have preferred to hear the words, then sank to the floor slowly, assuming the position with commendable grace this time.

“We’re going to have a little chat after this is over,” Liam promised them as Austin took up his position behind Jay. “No matter what state you’re in by then.”

They couldn’t exchange glances, but he saw Austin put his hand on Jay’s hip, not for balance but reassurance. Oh yes. They would talk. But not yet.

“Give him two fingers, then your cock. If you think you’re in danger of coming, tell me, and you can use a dildo or a vibrator on him for a while.”

“Yes, Sir.” Austin slicked up his fingers, took a breath, then pushed two into Jay, opening him up. Jay rolled his shoulders, accepting the intrusion. “He’s tight, Sir.”

“He won’t be by the time I’m done with him.” Liam stood and walked over to the cupboard to pick out some toys. When Jay started to flag—and he would—Liam knew some ways to get him aroused again. Unfortunately for Jay, Liam knew him very well indeed. “Fuck him, Austin. Hard and fast, just the way he likes it.”

Austin was nothing if not obedient. He didn’t waste any time lining up his cock and pushing inside Jay, whose face twisted in reaction to the penetration. Jay panted, nostrils flaring, when Austin moved as Liam had instructed, quickly and roughly. It was obvious within the first few thrusts that no amount of desire to come on Jay’s part, or desire to hold off on Austin’s, would yield the long-term results Liam expected, but that was all right. Liam trusted Austin to stop when he needed to.

“Don’t touch him,” Liam said when Austin’s hand slipped lower on Jay’s hip, possibly headed toward Jay’s half-hard cock. “Jay, I want you to come just from this.”

Jay squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. Austin was thrusting forcefully, gripping Jay’s waist now, but his jaw was clenched, and Liam knew he wouldn’t be able to hold off for long.

“Austin. Look at me.”

Austin opened his eyes and met Liam’s gaze over Jay’s head.

“Don’t come,” Liam told him. “Think of whatever you need to distract yourself. What did you have for dinner?”

“Sir?” Austin said incredulously, hips faltering in their rhythm. He recovered quickly, though, and went back to a steady thrust and withdrawal. “Salmon. Rice. Green beans.”

“Good. Use that. I want you to hold off until Jay comes.” The chances that would happen were slim to none, but Austin did better when Liam expressed confidence in him. “You can see what a slut he is, how much he wants it. Just listen to him.”

Jay was whimpering and rocking back to meet Austin’s thrusts, still not fully hard, even with the constant stimulation his prostate was receiving.

“Talk to him,” Liam said to Austin. “Tell him how much you want him to come.”

Austin’s breath caught and a shudder ran through him, but he found his voice. “God, Jay. Want you to come for me. I know you can do it.”

“C-can’t.” Jay was close to tears—from his failure to please Liam, one would hope. Liam had whipped Jay’s back and arse scarlet and not gotten tears from him until close to the end of the punishment. He doubted two blowjobs and one hard fuck would bother Jay much. “Want to. Please, Sir. I just can’t. It’s too soon.”

“So now you want time as well as orgasms? What a greedy, demanding little boy you are.” Liam walked over to them and slid his hand into his pocket, taking out some clamps, heavy ones, viciously tight. “Maybe it’s time for you to get something I want you to have.”

He put his hand on Austin’s arm. “Enough. Pull out.”

Austin bit his lip as he eased out carefully, grimacing, his cock thick, glistening with lube. Liam stared at it without hiding his appreciation. Even when they were misbehaving, he was a lucky man, and he knew it. His boys. His troublesome, maddening, perfect boys. He touched the tip of Austin’s cock with his finger, teasing it where it was most sensitive, drawing a long moan from Austin, half protest, half pleading.

“You’re mine,” he told Austin. “I’ll touch you when and where I like.”

Eyes, dazed with lust, focused on him. “Yes, Sir. Yours. I’m just…God.” Austin was panting now, hunched in on himself. “So close, Sir!”

Liam chuckled heartlessly and slapped Austin’s thigh. “You can hold it.”

Austin closed his eyes and clenched his fists, fighting the onrush of a climax just as Liam had told him to. Liam felt a stab of pride when Austin won the brief struggle. He’d trained them to obey him without realizing at first how much he needed their full cooperation to get the results he wanted. They’d given it to him willingly, unstintingly. He turned his attention back to Jay.

“I could clamp your nipples. Fuck you with the dildo. Get you hard again. You wouldn’t stay soft if I was the one playing with you, would you, Jay?”

Jay’s head sank down as he stared at the floor, avoiding Liam’s gaze. Liam grabbed a handful of Jay’s hair, marveling as always at how silky it was, thick and cool against his palm, and used it to yank Jay’s head up.

“I asked you a question. And I want to see your hand on your cock now; don’t stop until you’ve come.”

There was still that puzzling, infuriating flash of defiance and despair in Jay’s eyes, even now when they were drowning in tears. Liam was at a loss. He’d seen them earlier in the week, meeting up with them at a bar for a few drinks, the evening ending early because all three of them had work the next day. It’d been a nice evening, a bright spot in the week. Austin had followed him into the men’s room and kissed him, smiling when Liam had protested and leaving him flustered and oddly pleased. Jay had demanded details when they returned to the table and pouted because Austin had won the coin toss that they’d used to decide who got the kiss.

From that to this? Sometimes Liam wished he saw more of them. He felt as if he was missing chunks of their lives, which left him with an incomplete picture.

“I can’t come,” Jay said through his teeth. “No matter what you do to me, Sir. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“Not even close.” Liam attached the clamps to Jay’s nipples without pausing to relish Jay’s reaction, not giving Jay time to deal with the sharp, searing agony of the first clamp before adding to it with the second. It wasn’t a punishment but an additional spur. Though Jay wouldn’t have believed it, Liam wanted him to succeed, not fail. He never wanted them to fail. They tried so hard for him that if they did, he blamed himself.

Though this situation was a little unusual in that for Liam, Jay’s cock not becoming fully erect wasn’t the failure. That was just biology. What he wanted wasn’t for Jay to climax, but to break down and apologize, and so far Jay was winning that particular battle of wills.

Almost without him thinking about it, Liam’s hand had returned to Austin’s cock, fondling his tight balls and pinching the tender skin of his inner thighs. He could tell Austin was reaching a point where release was imminent. That meant either Jay had to come—and Liam very much doubted that would happen—or Austin needed to have his level of arousal abruptly dropped. Trouble was, Liam didn’t want to stop touching Austin. The young man was so beautifully responsive, so eager.

It wasn’t easy to tell Austin in a gentle voice, “Go and kneel by the armchair.” The look on Jay’s face as he realized he was responsible for Austin being denied would have broken Liam’s heart if he hadn’t learned to steel it during sessions.

Austin was breathing heavily, but he seemed deeply into the scene, waiting for whatever would happen next.

Liam stood and looked at Jay, who was stroking his cock in quick, frantic jerks. Jay was flushed, desperate, and Liam didn’t resist the impulse to reach out and touch his face. “Who do you belong to?” he asked, and Jay stopped moving and gazed up at him with reddened eyes.

“You,” Jay said, shaking. “I’m yours.” Fresh tears escaped along his cheeks. “I’m sorry, Sir.”

“There,” Liam said, sitting and pulling Jay half onto his lap. “Was that so hard? Austin, would you bring me that throw over there, please?”

Austin swiftly retrieved the soft, light throw and brought it to Liam, but hesitated to join their embrace until Liam tugged at him. Then he curled close to Liam’s side and reached down to smooth Jay’s hair back from his face. Jay was sobbing silently, clutching Liam with an intensity that was new and intriguing and, Liam had to admit if only to himself, immensely flattering.

“Sorry,” Jay gasped between sobs. “Spoiled it all. Sorry. So fucking sorry.”

It could have been directed at either or both of them, but Liam chose to answer it, ignoring Jay’s swearing for once. It wasn’t that he minded it at other times, but during a scene it felt disrespectful. “You’re forgiven, Jay. And don’t hate me, but I enjoyed some of what we just did, even if it wasn’t what I had planned.”

Jay lifted his head at that, his expression woebegone, his cheeks damp. “You enjoyed it?”

Liam couldn’t hold back his smile. Jay, and now Austin, looked so indignant at the idea.

“You were both suffering, and I was in charge; what’s not to like?” He shrugged. “Tonight you were annoying, yes, but I worked through that and salvaged something from the session. Maybe you won’t, but that’s not going to make me lose any sleep. You don’t deserve to.” He tapped Jay’s hip. “Let’s get those clamps off.”

Jay touched one of the clamps carefully and winced. “They hurt a lot,” he said. It wasn’t a complaint but an observation, and Liam filed it away, making a note not to ever use those clamps on Austin.

“They were supposed to,” Liam said, reaching for the one closest to him and knocking Jay’s hand out of the way when Jay began to take it off. Anything Liam put on a sub, he took off. It was one of his quirks.

Liam took stock of his subs after removing the clamps. Jay’s tears had quieted to the occasional sniff, and Austin had lost his anxious look—if not his erection. Really, setting aside the emotional aspect, this had been a relatively easy session from a physical point of view. He still felt exhausted instead of invigorated. Maybe a shower would help. And then, God help him, he was going to need to drag the cause for their behavior out of them. It went deeper than a few carelessly spoken words and a short-lived defiance, and Liam intended to get to the bottom of it.

He beckoned them to their feet and put his arms around them, drawing them close. “We’re good,” he told them. “We’re fine. Now get upstairs to my bathroom and start the shower.” He ran his hand down Austin’s back to pinch his arse. “And then you’ll get to come, finally. I’m very pleased with you.”

Praise made Austin’s face light up with pleasure. He gave Liam a grateful smile. “Thank you, Sir.”

“May I blow him, then you, Sir? Please?” Jay begged, clearly keen to express his contrition.

“You certainly owe him one,” Liam said drily. Deciding to give Austin a treat, he added, “I’ll leave the details up to you, Austin. Any way you like, as long as we don’t drown in there.”

Chapter Three

“Oh my God.” Austin gasped as he watched Jay’s head bob below him. Jay was on his knees in the shower sucking Austin’s dick, and Liam was standing behind Austin, one arm wrapped around his waist, lips pressed to the back of his neck. Jay’s mouth was so fucking perfect, hot and slick, and when Liam suddenly bit down on Austin’s shoulder, it was all he needed to come.

He loved having Liam’s support, knowing that Liam would help hold him up as waves of pleasure twisted through him, leaving him shaking and gasping. The only thing missing in that moment was that he wished he was in a position to kiss Liam, to feed his gratitude into Liam’s mouth.

Jay finished swallowing and let Austin’s cock slip from between his lips. “Love you,” he murmured, and Austin smiled down at him and whispered it back.

“Revoltingly romantic, the both of you,” Liam said, and despite the words his tone was approving. Praise was good. Austin liked getting things right. “Now let’s get you to bed before you fall asleep here in the shower.”

The first thing Austin had done when they’d gotten under the water was suggest, since Liam had given him permission to make the decisions—on one level, at least—that Jay blow Liam first. Jay had been more than happy to go along with the idea, of course, and Austin had kissed all the parts of Liam he could reach while Jay had sucked him off. The shower had been renovated a couple of months ago, and they were still getting used to how amazing it was—plenty of room for three and with multiple showerheads so all of them could get wet at the same time.

Liam turned off the water and handed each of them a towel. “No slacking drying yourselves off,” he ordered. “Especially you, Jay. Long hair is no excuse.” He hated damp pillows. Jay had once been made to sleep on the floor when he’d jumped into Liam’s bed, his hair soaked, his skin glistening with moisture.

Austin had spent a restless night, aware even as he slept curled up close to Liam that something was wrong, but Jay, beyond a few grumbles that he was stiff the next morning, hadn’t seemed too bothered by the punishment. He’d gone to his knees when Liam woke up, head bowed, and submitted with uncharacteristic meekness to a brisk spanking from a hairbrush. After he’d turned Jay’s ass pink, Liam had tossed the brush to Austin, snapping out an order to get the tangles out of Jay’s hair before he returned from his shower.

Austin had taken his time, still sleepy, careful not to yank at the snarls, and hadn’t finished in time, earning himself a spanking that had woken him up and left him tingling all over.

He’d found himself wishing every day could start like that.

Liam toweled off quickly, every movement efficient, then stood watching them with a critical eye. Jay was lost in thought, drying himself with a lack of self-consciousness, as if he were alone in the room, scooping up his balls to rub the towel underneath them. Thin streams of water from his hair were running down his spine, following every curve. Austin wanted to follow the path they were taking with his tongue and finish with a bite to Jay’s ass, just to make Jay snicker.

He sneaked a glance at Liam. God. Tall, muscular, powerful… Liam was forty now, but he watched what he ate and he worked out rigorously. It showed.

I have to,” Liam had told Austin once, flexing his arm and grinning. “Two of you to paddle? That’s a workout in itself.

If your shoulders ache after a session, I can massage them,” Austin had offered. “I do it a lot for Jay. His muscles get really tense when he’s been working on a diorama for too long.

Liam had thanked him but never taken him up on the offer, much to Austin’s regret. He’d hoped that now they were spending more time with Liam, they’d get to do more with him, but outside the sessions and a few standing rules, Liam didn’t seem inclined to exercise his authority. If he wanted a drink, he got it himself; if he needed a shirt ironed, his dry cleaner took care of it. Austin didn’t want to be in a collar 24-7, but a weekend of being Liam’s slave around the house, waiting on him, focused totally on pleasing him, would’ve been so fucking hot.

What he wanted from Liam was mostly in his head. Unlike Jay, who seemed to want more and more intense physical stuff as the months went on, Austin cared more about submitting. He loved to let himself slip into the space where he didn’t have to think, could just do what Liam told him to and be grateful for every order.

Now he realized that Liam was getting impatient, tired of waiting, so he quickly scrubbed the towel across his hair one last time and then hung it up. Jay needed another minute, but Liam would understand since he was the one who’d insisted Jay do a good job wringing the water from his hair in the first place.

The bedroom was neat and clean. Austin definitely felt more comfortable in it than Jay did. Jay was prone to surrounding himself with clutter, usually books and craft supplies, and had commented to Austin that Liam’s house felt like a hotel, not a home. Austin didn’t agree. He loved spending the night in Liam’s peaceful house. That didn’t mean he didn’t love the apartment that was his and Jay’s alone, of course.

Sometimes, though, he wished things were different, and then immediately felt guilty about it. Liam cared about them, he knew that, but in the long run Austin couldn’t see how their arrangement would be permanent.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Liam said as he pulled back the covers and gestured for them to get into bed. “I think we need to talk.”

Oh God. What did that mean? “Can I brush my teeth first?” Austin blurted out, wanting to forestall the inevitable, whatever it was.

Liam gave him an appraising look. “If you’re back here before Jay, yes.”

“Thank you, Sir.” They didn’t usually call Liam Sir once a scene had ended, but something told Austin that Liam was in a mood to be deferred to. Jay was hanging up his towel—something he rarely remembered to do at home—but Austin blocked Jay’s way when he walked toward the door.

“Don’t go in there until after me. I want to brush my teeth.”

Jay snorted. “You’re avoiding talking about stuff, not cavities.”

Austin shoved a toothpaste-laden brush into his mouth to give him an excuse to let that one go. He brushed for a good two minutes, until his jaw was aching, but when he took his time rinsing, Jay shrugged and headed for the door.

“Jay!”

“I’m already in trouble,” Jay said, “and I’m on Liam’s side in this. We need to talk.”

Left alone in the bathroom, the toothbrush still clenched in his hand, Austin contemplated crawling into a corner to hide. He didn’t want to talk. Talking would lead to arguing. It always did. God, even before they’d started the discussion, he’d been abandoned; where would he be after it?

Resentful and feeling picked on, he shoved his toothbrush back in its holder without rinsing off the trail of paste running down the handle, and turned.

Liam was in the doorway, wearing a pair of black boxer briefs that clung to his ass and upper thighs. He looked sexy as hell, but his arms were folded across his chest in a forbidding way, and his eyebrows were raised. That killed any buzz Austin might’ve felt.

Acutely aware that he was naked and covered in goose bumps, he took a hesitant step toward Liam. “I was just coming, Sir.”

“Not the impression I got.”

Liam’s tone was mild enough, but Austin still felt a quiver of apprehension. He didn’t want to be disciplined for his minor disobedience, not tonight. He usually loved it when Liam dealt out a few hard smacks to underline his displeasure over a small failure, something in him craving that reminder of what he was, but whether Liam spanked him in here, with Jay listening, or in the bedroom with Jay watching, with his mood this chaotic, it would be humiliating. That was Jay’s kink, not Austin’s.

He wanted to drop to his knees and beg, but how would that be any better than being spun around and bent over the sink, waiting to have Liam’s hand applied to his ass?

Liam walked over to him, two long strides all he needed to be close enough to touch. Austin panicked, his next breath choking him, his head filled with white noise, blocking out whatever Liam was saying. The room went dark, his skin prickling with heat. He was going to faint. He reached out blindly to steady himself, and Liam’s arm went around him, cradling him. Safely held, Austin let himself be lowered to the floor.

“Head between your knees,” Liam said, his calm voice cutting through the roar. “Breathe. That’s it. Don’t you dare faint on me, Austin. No, Jay, don’t come in. He’s fine, aren’t you, Austin?”

“I’m fine,” he repeated faintly because he was supposed to. He was good at doing as he was told. He liked not having to be the one who made the decisions and took control and held the family together. Shit, he was hyperventilating. If he’d known this was going to happen, he’d have taken some antianxiety pills or something.

If he’d known this was going to happen… But what was it? Was Liam breaking up with them?

That thought made his heart beat even faster. He had to focus on the knowledge that Jay was hovering on the other side of the doorway, worried not just about “the talk” but about him, if he was going to have any chance of getting himself under control.

Liam was still speaking, and Austin concentrated on the words. “That’s it. Slowly. Good. Everything’s fine. There’s nothing for you to worry about.”

Austin knew that was a lie, but he willed himself to believe it anyway. He lifted his head so he could see Liam’s face. It didn’t help. Liam was just as handsome and imposing as ever, and losing him was going to be worse than when Patrick had left, worse a hundred times over.

“Listen to me, Austin,” Liam commanded sharply. And there, that was what Austin needed, that voice that didn’t allow for disobedience. “Breathe very slowly. In. Out.”

He clung to Liam’s words and managed to get his breathing under control. It took a few minutes, but it got a little bit easier as the seconds passed. “I’m okay,” he said finally, and Liam nodded.

“Jay, back to bed,” Liam said. “I’m serious; neither of us needs to be tripping over you. Here, slowly. Take your time.”

Austin got to his feet with Liam’s support. He was shaky, but the worst of it was over. He hoped. Now the embarrassment flooded in. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I don’t know why that happened.”

“I suspect you do,” Liam said. His tone was neutral, at least; he didn’t sound mad.

“I’m just… You and Jay both pushing me to talk—”

Jay’s been pushing you?” Liam frowned, and Austin could almost see Liam adding things up in his head, shifting stuff around. He’d watched Liam do a jigsaw puzzle once, during the time Jay and he had been living here following the flood. It’d been a Lord of the Rings one, a thousand pieces, nothing fancy, and Liam had ignored it for a few days, then walked over to the table and stared down at the half-assembled puzzle, his arms folded.

Then he’d picked up piece after piece and slotted them in without hesitation, finishing a boring section of background within minutes before stepping back, his lips pursed with irritation for some reason.

The pieces were all there,” he’d said when Austin asked him how he did it. “It’s not hard when you have everything you need. It’s when a piece is under the table and you can’t see it that it gets tricky.” He’d pointed at the floor. “Like that one there. Tell Jay to come and get it, please. Now.

This was just like that.

“He thinks there’s something bugging me.”

Liam urged him toward the bedroom, and Austin let himself be led, reluctance slowing his steps. “Well, he’s not wrong, is he? And knowing you, you’ve fretted yourself into thinking the worst’s going to happen if you’re honest with us. But unless you’re about to confess to something dire like stealing library books, you know Jay’s never going to stop loving you, and I’ve invested far too much time training the pair of you to walk away.” He pointed at the bed, where Jay waited, naked and on his knees, his expression anxious. “Over by Jay.”

It was easy to go to Jay and slip a reassuring arm around him, comfort him. “It’s okay. I’m fine, I promise.”

“You were so white.” Jay hugged him tightly.

“I’m okay.” Austin looked at Liam, who shut off the bathroom light and walked toward the bed. God. Deep breaths. At least he was on the bed now. If he started really freaking out again, he’d just…lie down and wait for it to pass.

Liam came around to the other side of the bed and sat down. “All right, now I think it’s safe to say that getting comfortable is a good idea. I’m less worried about you falling asleep.” He was directing his words mostly toward Austin.

“Not anytime soon,” Austin agreed.

“That doesn’t happen often,” Liam said. “But it’s happened before?”

“The panic attack thing?” He shook his head, then shrugged. “Well. Sort of.”

Jay was quiet beside him but reached for his hand and squeezed it. Austin turned his head to look at Jay, and Jay widened his eyes slightly. If you don’t tell him, I will.

Shit. “I have something I take,” he said, hoping that might be enough to satisfy Jay. “When I think things are going to get overwhelming.” Then, before he realized he was going to say it, the words spilled out of him. “Are you breaking up with us? I mean, you said you wanted to talk, and that doesn’t usually mean anything good, and—”

“Stop,” Liam said, holding up a hand to silence him. It worked. “No, of course I’m not breaking up with you. Why on earth would you think that?”

Austin bit his lip. He wanted to answer, but there were so many thoughts and words swirling around inside his head that he didn’t know how. “I don’t know,” he said finally.

Liam gave a frustrated sigh and rubbed his forehead. “Jay, can you help at all?”

“I wish. I wanted him to spill before we got here, and he wouldn’t. That’s why I was so… Yeah, well, you know how I was.” Jay kissed Austin’s cheek, the soft warmth of his lips leaving a lingering heat in Austin’s skin. “You can’t be like this without it fucking me up too. You bang your elbow, I say ‘ow,’ babe. You know that.”

He did, because it was the same for him. Realizing he had no choice, Austin made a quick decision: share some, not all, of his concerns, and try to work his way through the rest himself. He wasn’t going to burden them with all the dozens of worries that left him feeling tangled in barbed wire, unable to move without making the situation worse. Some of it, though, yeah. Some of it he could talk about, because it wasn’t about just him.

“What we have now—it’s not enough.” The words came out haltingly, but once spoken, they gave him something solid to stand on, a foundation. “When you came to us in the spring and said you wanted to have sex with us—yeah, I know, it wasn’t just the sex—I thought things would change. Not all at once, but—the three of us—it’s a huge deal and it’s complicated and it’s secret and—”

“Overwhelming,” Liam put in, his voice soft. “Yes.”

Austin gave him a grateful look, but he could feel desperation clawing at him. He had to keep talking now that he’d started. “Right. But here we are, and what’s changed, really? We come over a few times a week, not once, we fuck when we didn’t before—but it’s still you in one corner and us in another, and I thought…I thought we’d be together. And we’re not.”

“Austin—” Jay began, but Austin waved him to silence, his gaze going from Liam’s carefully controlled face to Jay’s worried, half-indignant one.

“I’m Jay’s boyfriend all the time, and I’m your sub, Liam. But when I’m not your sub, when I’m just Austin, the guy you’re in bed with, or the one making you toast in the morning, I don’t know who I am to you. If I’m your boyfriend too, then why aren’t we more involved in each other’s lives? Why do I feel shut out after we’ve been together for months?”

He was shaking with reaction again, each word a thorn pulled from his flesh.

Liam reached out, sliding his hand around the back of Austin’s neck, holding him firmly. “When you’re not my sub?” he repeated. “Austin—Jay—you’re always my subs. Every second of every day. Mine.”

“I know,” Austin said, looking down at the bed. That was stupid. He knew it was stupid because he didn’t know, and Liam knew that he didn’t know, and even if both of those things weren’t true, the fact that he wasn’t looking at Liam would have been all the clue that was needed. Stupid.

“Yes, thank you, that was incredibly convincing,” Liam said. He rubbed his thumb along the side of Austin’s neck gently until Austin looked at him. “Let me say it again. You’re always my subs. I’m sorry if you haven’t felt that way, but it’s the truth.”

Austin didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to lie again—Liam deserved better. “I’m sorry.”

Liam made an impatient noise. “I don’t want you to be sorry. I want you to understand. I know it’s complicated, but we’re still together even when we’re not.”

But they weren’t, Austin thought. That was the problem. He and Jay were in their apartment, and Liam was here. How was that together? “I guess I want more. Maybe I always will. Maybe I’m selfish.”

“You’re not,” Jay said loyally.

“You have to realize this is all news to me,” Liam said. “But we’ll sort it out, I promise. Give me a bit of time to think about it.”

Liam looked genuinely taken aback, Austin realized. Part of him wanted to retract everything he’d said, but it wouldn’t erase that look on Liam’s face.

“I know what he means,” Jay said, shifting from his knees to sit cross-legged, graceful and relaxed. His nipples were still swollen from the clamps, and he rubbed his thumb over one, not to soothe the ache, Austin guessed, but to prolong it. “We’re all connected to each other in different ways, but Austin and me—”

“Austin and I,” Liam corrected absently.

“Yeah, whatever.” Austin smothered a grin as Liam shot Jay a cold glare, and Jay hastily amended his words. “Austin and I, well, it’s by a rope. You know, thick and strong and lots of little strands woven together, but you to us is by a thread. A thin one. Take away a few hours every Friday, and we don’t have much else tying us together.”

Liam raised his hands and let them fall helplessly, the gesture conveying his confusion. Austin hated seeing him at a loss. “I thought we were doing all right. These last few months I’ve been happier than I’ve been in years. I thought you were too.”

“We are,” Jay assured him. “We’re just not, you know, progressing.”

“So what do you want?” Liam demanded. “Tell me one thing you want to change.” He snapped his fingers and pointed at Austin. “Austin?”

“I want to serve you,” Austin said without censoring himself. “Take care of your needs. All of them. More than just let you spank me or fuck me. I want you to own me.”

He’d been taking care of people he loved all his life. Like helping his mom run the household and dealing with the messes April had caused. Literal ones, like trashing her room looking for a necklace it turned out she’d broken, which were easy, and emotional ones, which were more of a headache. Then he’d met Jay—scatterbrained, dreamy Jay, whose life without Austin organizing it would dissolve into chaos.

Liam didn’t need to be woken and gently urged out the door so that he wasn’t late for work, or reminded about dental appointments and oil changes for his car. Like Austin’s, Liam’s life was rigorously ordered and controlled.

But there was so much Austin could do for Liam even so. And God, he wanted to. He’d always said that he didn’t want to be a sub 24-7, but since meeting and falling in love with Liam, his views had changed, so gradually he hadn’t been aware of the shift until recently. He’d found himself wondering what it would be like to know that when he walked through the door—Liam’s door—after a day at work, everything he said or did would be subject to Liam’s control.

Sometimes the idea scared him, as if he’d be walking into a cage. And sometimes it felt as if once the cage door slammed, he’d turn to find the cage had no walls and he was free for the first time to be what he was.

But of course it was complicated, and he couldn’t blame Liam for not wanting to take something like that on. It made Austin feel abandoned, though, and more than a little bit sick. For the first time instead of being happy that they were spending the night at Liam’s, he wished they could go home so he could sleep in his own bed with Jay, curled in the embrace of someone he knew loved him and would always be there for him.

Some portion of his thoughts must have shown on his face. Liam slid fingers into his hair and studied him intently. “Is that really what you want?”

“Yes,” Austin whispered. “Yes, Sir.”

He didn’t dare look at Jay. This would affect him too, if Liam agreed to try it, and wasn’t that the problem? Every adjustment they made to their relationship, every tweak at the ropes and threads, had repercussions. Fix one broken thread with a firm knot, and another three could snap under the new tension.

“Jay? What about you?” Liam was trying too hard to keep his voice level, Austin thought distantly. He had to be really off balance by all this.

“Me?” Jay went to his back, his long hair dark against the plain white bed linen Liam preferred, his olive skin stunning. He pushed a pillow behind his head, outwardly at ease. Austin wondered if Liam could see that Jay had retreated into his own world to give himself time to think. “I want Austin and you to be happy.”

“I know that.” Liam sounded pretty patient for a man whose night had been ruined. “I want to know what would make you happy.”

“I don’t think I’d get as much of a kick as Austin out of scrubbing your floors or making your bed,” Jay said frankly. “I can see the appeal of being taken that deep, though.” His cock was half-hard, and he reached down to stroke it, snatching his hand away when Liam cleared his throat. “Sorry, Sir. I’d want to try it first. See how it felt. We’ve never played full-time. If we did, it wouldn’t be playing, right? It’d be our life. That’s…huge.”

“Yes, which is why I need time to think about it,” Liam said, “but you’re still not answering me, and if your hands go anywhere near your cock or your nipples again, you’ll be sleeping on the floor with your hands tied to the bed. Now stop lounging as if you’re waiting to be fed a grape, get back on your knees, and tell me what you want.”

Jay jerked upright and did as he was told, his cock hardening more. Even feeling miserably uncertain as he did, his head aching, Austin couldn’t help smiling. He knew one thing Jay wanted, and it was Liam refusing to let Jay get away with anything. Jay might say the idea of doing chores didn’t appeal, but if he was making Liam’s bed naked apart from whatever clamps and harnesses Liam had put on him, his ass striped from failing to meet Liam’s standards on his first attempt… Yeah. Jay would like that.

Jay lowered his head, his submission offered as an apology, his hands behind him, his knees spread wide. Austin saw the appreciative gleam in Liam’s eyes.

“Sir, I just want more…intensity, I guess. Turn up the heat. Play a bit rougher, have you hurt me a bit more. No, a lot more.” He glanced at Liam under his lashes. “I can take it, Sir. You know I can. What you did to me in the hall when we came in…” He shivered, his yearning expression making Austin’s throat feel tight as he fought back tears. Jay looked so vulnerable right then. “God, so good. I loved it. I know you were punishing me, but it felt like a reward.”

“It really wasn’t intended to be.” Liam’s voice was tinder dry. “You’re quite the pain slut, aren’t you, Jay?”

Jay bit his lip, hard enough that the flesh around his teeth went white. Austin supposed that was answer enough, even without Jay’s murmured, “Yes, Sir,” a moment later.

“I’m not complaining,” Liam told him. He drummed his fingers against his thigh, his gaze turned inward. Austin could almost see Liam fitting pieces of a different puzzle together, but what picture was on the box?

Liam said slowly, “What would help would be for us to live together. Here, obviously, since I have the room. I should’ve suggested it before, I suppose. It’s just such a big step, and there’re issues above and beyond how we’d feel about it. It would raise eyebrows. Risk what we have being exposed with some potentially nasty fallout. I’m not against the idea, but I’d need to think about it. We all would.”

“I’d love it,” Austin said immediately, but he noticed Jay’s face was screwed up in thought.

Liam nodded, his gaze going to Jay, who stayed silent. “Well, it’s there to think about. Sleep on it. Discuss it between yourselves. I want you both to know that I’m committed to what we have. I’m not breaking up with you. Do you hear me? Austin? We’ll sort this out. It may take some time, that’s all.”

To Austin it sounded like an empty promise. Oh, he thought Liam meant it, but it was the kind of thing where in the long run nothing would change. But saying that would be pretty much the worst thing he could do, so he needed to lie in a convincing manner. He could do that. Maybe not to Jay, but to Liam? When it was for the best? “I hear you. I know it’s complicated.”

Liam didn’t look particularly convinced, but maybe he needed to pretend everything would be okay the same way Austin did. “All right. Good. Jay?”

“I know,” Jay said easily. “I trust you.”

“Then can we please get some sleep?” Liam asked and gestured at both of them to lie down. “I really do better work when I’m not exhausted.”

As Austin settled back on the pillows and draped an arm over Jay, who snuggled up to him, he felt that he was facing a night of staring at the ceiling.

Chapter Four

Jay closed the browser page with a click, his hand shaking on the mouse. That had been…extreme. Way beyond anything he was into. Suspensions where he was held by ropes were one thing; he loved the idea of hanging, blindfolded, a whip lashing his skin, but flesh hooks left his stomach twisted with queasy fascination.

He put his hand over his dick, poking up from his loosely tied robe, and squeezed it. “Down, boy,” he murmured. “No fucking way Liam would go for that.”

He wasn’t sure he’d even ask for it—but a small, secret part of him wanted to. The pain would be out of this world.

Tightening his grip, he worked his cock until clear beads of fluid studded the tip, then took his hand away, groaning at how good it felt to jerk off and how much better it was to stop and feel the grinding ache in his balls.

“Pain slut,” he whispered with a grin. Liam had nailed that one. He pinched the tender skin under his balls, taut now because he was so aroused, and twisted his fingers sharply, the dull throb of bruised skin almost enough to trigger a forbidden climax.

Unlike Austin, Jay didn’t get a thrill from obeying Liam’s rules. Being forced to obey them, though, yeah. That was a rush. Knowing without any doubt that if he screwed up, Liam would discipline him left Jay feeling safe. Liam—stern, merciless, fiendishly imaginative at dreaming up punishments, and totally trustworthy—provided the structure Jay needed to take risks and push himself. He’d loved Patrick, but Liam was…Liam.

Now he really had to think of something boring or at least less sexy, or he wasn’t going to be able to hold off from doing something that would end in him coming. He opened up a site selling diorama supplies and lost himself in his beloved hobby until his erection had subsided.

Then he found himself back on the sites with all the naked, whipped flesh, with men whose contorted, pain-twisted faces didn’t hide the joy in their tear-wet eyes, and he was clicking, going deeper, glutting himself on possibilities, so many torments to try…

“Wow,” Austin’s voice said suddenly in his ear. Jay flinched, startled into a yelp. “Sorry! I thought you heard me come in.”

“I guess I was distracted,” Jay said.

“I can see why. Please tell me you didn’t come.” Austin set their cups of coffee on the table.

They had plans with Liam that night, and Austin was wound so tight Jay was surprised he wasn’t vibrating. He hadn’t been sleeping much, either, if the pristine state of the apartment was any indication. When Austin couldn’t sleep, he cleaned, and when he cleaned, he created interesting piles of Jay’s books and other clutter. It was like weird, sleep-deprived, found-object art.

“I didn’t. Tempting, but no.” Jay wouldn’t have risked Austin missing out on tonight. Austin needed it too much, and watching Jay take well-deserved punishment for breaking the rules wouldn’t have been much fun.

“What’s that?” Austin pointed at the computer screen as he pulled a chair closer so he could sit. He set the paper bag of doughnuts in front of him.

“Fire flogging,” Jay said and clicked the Play arrow on the video window.

“Looks intense.”

Jay thought it looked perfect. The room in the video had been darkened, so the flames were visible, if only faintly. The thought of being the sub in a scene like that made every cell in Jay’s body sing. He wanted it. “Yeah. You think Liam would be up for it?”

“I think you’d have to ask him.” That seemed like the end of the conversation as far as Austin was concerned; he got up and rummaged in the paper bag for his blueberry muffin and then left the bag for Jay. “I need sugar.”

“And I need to get dressed. Shower’s all yours when you want it.” Jay couldn’t quite click away from the site, though. He read up on the basics of fire play, skipping through the safety instructions, most of which were basic common sense. It sounded potentially dangerous, yes, but not in the right hands, and Liam’s hands were strong and sure, always.

Then he found another video to watch, and he was lost in envy of the sub tied down in the dim room, waiting for the crack and sizzle of heat to sear his skin.

The way the flames trailed through the air… The way they’d feel, kissing his skin like a dragon’s breath, and then the slash of the whip itself…

He was so hard he was panting, each breath shuddering through him.

“Jay! For God’s sake.” Austin wrenched the mouse from Jay’s hand and turned the monitor off with an angry stab of his finger. “Look, you can ask Liam about it if he’s in a good mood. Hell, show him this site, but until then, just…just don’t, okay?”

Guilt pierced Jay. “Okay. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Austin was dressed, still-damp hair neatly combed back, and Jay was sitting there with an erection and no idea how much time had passed. “Let’s do something, okay? Can we? A movie?”

“Sure. Whatever you want.” It was probably a good sign that Austin wanted to get out of the house instead of spending more time cleaning. “Pick something, and I’ll go get dressed.”

Austin decided on an action movie and fell asleep on Jay’s shoulder twenty minutes in. It would have been cute if it hadn’t been a sign of how messed up his mind had to be. Jay hoped Liam would be able to come up with an idea that got things moving in the right direction again, because this sucked. Jay was an optimist by nature, though, and he was firm in his belief that things would all work out in the end.

“Oh my God, why didn’t you wake me up?” Austin groaned when he finally stirred and remembered where they were. The lights had just come up, and the last of the moviegoers were shuffling toward the exit.

“One, I thought you needed the sleep,” Jay told him. “Two, you didn’t miss much. It was good but not great. We can always get it when it comes out on DVD.”

“Was I snoring?” Austin looked embarrassed.

“No. And if you had been, it would have been adorable, so stop worrying about everything.” Jay tugged him to his feet and kissed him, then wrapped an arm around his waist.

“I can’t help it.” Spotting an empty cup abandoned on the carpet, Austin bent down and picked it up. “People are disgusting. Like it’s that much trouble to carry your own trash twenty feet to the barrel?”

“I know,” Jay agreed. “You should see the things people use as bookmarks in library books. Used tissues. Cigarette stubs. A freaking piece of spaghetti once. Cooked. I’ve found old books with dried flowers, embroidered silk bookmarks, pieces of ribbon…like messages from the past, you know? They were great. When did people get so gross?”

“Beats me.”

They made their way out to the parking lot, the early-evening October air crisp and smelling faintly of dying leaves and smoke, even here in the center of town. Jay sniffed, drawing it deeply into his lungs. “Someone’s having a bonfire.”

“Planning on going there and jumping on it?”

Jay gave Austin a surprised look. “If this is about earlier…”

“It is, and it’s not.” Austin took Jay’s hand. “Sorry. You know I’m jittery right now. I just want Liam to mention us moving in, and he hasn’t.”

“He’s thinking. And you gave him plenty to think about.” Jay couldn’t remember where they’d parked, but Austin was heading toward a row of cars, so he followed him, their hands still linked. “Me too.”

Austin drew his hand away and paused next to a minivan gleaming from a recent wash. Jay couldn’t remember the last time he’d washed his Bug. It probably needed it. It always needed it.

“I’m sorry.”

“You said that already.” Jay wanted to lean against something, but he guessed the minivan would blare out an alarm. “I don’t need an apology. I wanted to hear what you had to say. I just don’t think you realized what you were asking for.”

“Huh?”

“You want us to move in with Liam.” Jay scratched his nose. “That’s…that’s big. And so is his freaking house. Is there room for us? Yeah. Do I want to live in the Ice Palace? I don’t know.”

“It might be good for you to have a reason to keep things a little bit neater,” Austin said. “No, I don’t mean it like that! I love how you are.”

“Yeah, I can tell by all the complaining.” Jay was kidding—Austin hardly ever complained about the clutter in their apartment unless he tripped over something. “I don’t think Liam would be very understanding about me needing to have my space be somewhere I can relax. It’s hard to relax at his house.”

“I guess you’re right—not about the relaxing, which you know I can do at his place. So you don’t want to move in? And maybe Liam doesn’t want it either, no matter what he said.” Austin looked dismayed. “Shit. I’m so stupid.”

“Cut it out.” Jay wrapped both arms around Austin and hugged him tightly. “You’re not stupid. We’re just dealing with stuff. Liam promised he’d figure it out.”

“I know. God, you smell good.” Austin nuzzled Jay’s hair and the edge of his ear. Jay felt his body react to the attention and groaned with frustration.

“Let’s get a sandwich,” he offered, because standing in the middle of a parking lot with a hard-on wasn’t his idea of a good time. Okay, sometimes it was. “We’re near that place with the Caesar wraps you like.”

“Okay.” It was gratifying that Austin only pulled away reluctantly. “I’m not really hungry, but it’ll be better if I eat.”

“Yeah. If you pass out again, I think Liam’s going to put a cushion over your ass before he spanks you, and that’s not going to be much fun for him.”

He didn’t mean it seriously, but Austin’s expression went from smiling to stricken.

“What? Why would he…” Austin shook his head, then stepped close again, poking Jay’s chest with a finger. “I had a fucking panic attack, yes. It doesn’t mean I can’t take whatever he dishes out. I’m just sick of us being separate when we should be together, that’s all.”

“Calm down,” Jay said, trying to capture Austin for a hug. It wasn’t happening. Every time his hands landed on Austin’s arms or shoulder, Austin shrugged him off, his mouth tight, his face with the washed-out, skimmed-milk tinge to it that Jay knew meant Austin was worked up. “I was joking, okay? Joking. And I want to see more of him too. I’m just not sure how we can do it without losing what we have. You and me. Our place. Our mess. Going to bed when we want and eating junk food at three in the morning.”

Austin went still, his hands by his sides. “You’re scared,” he said flatly. “I might not want to take it as far as you do when it comes to pain, but I’m willing to take a chance on moving in with him. Yeah, it’ll change our lives. It’s supposed to!”

“I know. And you know I’m on your side, if there are sides. I’m not scared of change. I just… I like our life, okay? In a perfect world I want to keep what we already have and just add more Liam. I’m the one who’s selfish, I guess.” It was cheating to say that, a little bit, because he knew Austin’s reaction would be to deny it.

He was right. “You’re not,” Austin said and rubbed a hand over his face.

Jay immediately felt guilty; cheating so he could come out on top wasn’t fair, but he couldn’t help but think that Austin was getting way more worked up about all this than he should. Things were good with Liam. Why find fault where there wasn’t any? “You haven’t been getting enough sleep.”

“True.”

“Well, we can’t do anything about that now. But we can get some food into you, and a couple of glasses of water. That will help.” When life got rough, it was important to focus on the basics. A well-fed, well-hydrated Austin was always more fun to be around. “And we’ve got to get you caught up on your sleep. Then everything won’t seem so disastrous.”

“Yeah.” Austin sighed, visibly giving in. “You’re right.”

A quick meal did a lot to improve Austin’s mood, so that by the time they pulled into Liam’s driveway that evening, Jay had relaxed. It wasn’t until the front door closed behind them that the tension Austin had been exhibiting for days reappeared in his posture and the set of his jaw.

Liam saw it too, a wariness in his eyes that made Jay’s stomach clench as he took off his shoes and slipped out of his coat. Austin did the same, grabbing Jay’s coat from him without a word and hanging both coats in the small hall closet.

Liam exhaled, visibly shaking off his misgivings. He smiled at Jay, warm approval in his voice. “On time. Good. How are you both?”

Telling Liam that Austin was close to a meltdown, and he wanted to try something way beyond anything Liam had ever shown an interest in, didn’t seem like the correct answer somehow. Jay settled for smiling back. “We’re fine, Sir. How are you?”

“Busy week, but I left my desk clear tonight, and I’m looking forward to the weekend.” Liam arched his eyebrows, a hint of amusement showing. “Is that enough small talk for now?”

“Sir—” Austin rejoined them, his gaze fixed on Liam’s face. He opened his mouth to speak but froze, sheer panic sweeping across his face, his throat working as if whatever he’d planned to say was stuck there, choking him.

Every protective impulse Jay had made him want to shield Austin from Liam’s scorn or pity, but even as he stepped forward, reaching out, Liam snapped his fingers. “On your knees, Austin. Hands behind your back, head down, please.”

With a sigh of pure relief, Austin sank to the floor.

“Good boy,” Liam said and stroked Austin’s head with the same casual affection he would’ve shown a pet, playing with his hair, fondling his face. He met Jay’s gaze, a warning and a reassurance in his eyes: Back off. I can handle this.

“Austin, you’re forbidden to speak for the rest of the night, unless I ask you a direct question or you need to safe word. I don’t need your voice. I might need your mouth.” Liam’s fingers trailed across Austin’s lips, a light caress, followed by the thrust of two fingers deep inside Austin’s mouth. Jay’s cock woke, arousal flooding him as he watched Liam fuck Austin’s mouth, crowding all four fingers and a thumb inside, until Austin’s lips were drawn taut, his breath ragged. “Oh, you’re trying to suck them and lick them. Such an eager boy. Yes. I’m definitely going to use your mouth later. If you’re very good for me tonight, Austin, if you serve me as perfectly as I know you can, I’ll let you be the one to make me come.” He pulled his fingers out, wet with saliva, and turned to wipe them across Jay’s face, a contemptuous swipe that had Jay quivering with the need to fall to his knees.

God he loved it when Liam treated him like this, dealing out small humiliations, every one driving Jay’s arousal to new heights.

“Jay, into the den. Slowly. I want to watch you.”

He could feel Liam’s eyes on him as he walked. Going at a quarter his usual speed felt like crawling, and his hands itched to take off his clothes. He didn’t have any reason to think Liam wouldn’t let him come tonight, not that it mattered. If Liam got him wound up enough, the release at the end was almost unnecessary.

“Good,” Liam said from the doorway when Jay was in the middle of the room, then let him stand there for so long Jay thought he might go crazy. “All right. Take off your clothes.”

While Jay undressed, Liam went to the cupboard and unlocked it. Just hearing the slide of the key, metal on metal, made Jay shiver. Liam came back with a small red strap in his hand and made an impatient gesture.

“Come here.”

Jay went eagerly, biting his lip when he realized the thing Liam was holding was some kind of cock ring. He needed a ring if he was going to have any chance of being good, of obeying the rule about not coming until he’d been given permission. Visions of the fire play videos he’d seen that morning were still dancing at the edges of his mind, teasing him, and he knew his control wouldn’t be what it normally was.

Liam put the strap on him, slipping it down along Jay’s shaft to the base and then tightening it right to the point of pain. That meant it couldn’t stay on for long, but fuck, that was good.

“Now move that chair into the center of the room, and kneel in front of it,” Liam said calmly and turned away to go back to the cupboard.

The chair was wooden and uncomfortable to sit on; they usually used it to put their clothes on, or as an impromptu table. Now, kneeling in front of it and then moving as Liam directed so that his elbows rested on the seat and his hands wrapped around two of the spindles, Jay liked it more than he ever had before.

“Austin’s getting some things I’ll need,” Liam said, his tone conversational. “He’s going to help me tonight. I think he’ll enjoy it. Well, hurting you, not so much, perhaps, but obeying me? Yes.”

Austin had tried to spank Jay once, when they’d been between Doms and hungry for a taste of submission. It’d ended with Jay torn between frustration and laughter. He hoped Liam didn’t set Austin up to fail so that Austin would earn a punishment. Austin was too fragile for mind games.

Liam appeared in front of Jay, a blindfold dangling from his hand. “You need focus, Jay. To concentrate on what I’m giving you. To accept it in the right spirit, shall we say. Your little rebellions are starting to irritate me. So futile. So ungrateful. I think it’s time you learned who’s in charge here. I’ll give you a clue. It’s me.”

Jay’s fingers were damp with sweat and starting to cramp from his grip on the spindles. He let Liam’s words wash over him, relishing the cool authority in every syllable, the bored drawl turning him on, just as Liam had known it would. He wanted to submit because when he did, it felt so satisfying, but he couldn’t bring himself to give in immediately the way Austin did. He clung stubbornly to the belief that he needed to be conquered each and every time to make his submission count.

He shivered when Liam put the blindfold on him. He liked how not being able to see let him focus on other things, like the sound of Austin coming into the room and kneeling down—close by but without touching him. Liam visited the cupboard again, then returned to Jay. “Don’t move,” Liam said, which was a warning that he was about to be touched.

The next thing Jay knew, his wrists were being tied and secured to each other around the back of the chair. It was rope this time, not the silk scarves Liam usually favored. Rope was better; it dug in more, had a tendency to cause raw spots. This rope wouldn’t, not really, because Liam knew what he was doing and because it was good-quality rope, but Jay could imagine it would. Liam had mentioned that at some point in the future they would take vacation time together and really play, put marks and bruises on Jay’s skin that would last longer than overnight.

Austin was quiet as Liam tied Jay’s ankles together. It left him in an awkward position—it brought his knees closer together than was practical for balance, which meant Liam was doing it on purpose. Liam didn’t make mistakes when they were in a scene. Liam knew exactly what he was doing. He’d lead Jay forward until they reached a point where Jay had no choice but to submit.

“I know how much you like this,” Liam said. “But I suspect you need a reminder that it’s not about what you like. It’s about what I want. I like to see you like this. Helpless. Austin?”

“Sir?”

“How do you think Jay looks like this?”

Austin’s response was prompt, which was good. It meant he was getting into the scene, into the head space he needed to be in. “Helpless, Sir. Beautiful.”

Liam’s hand made sudden, sharp contact with Jay’s ass. It was shocking not just because it was hard and hurt, but because there’d been no warning. “You’re right. He does look beautiful.”

There was a soft sound against silence. Liam was kissing Austin, Jay realized, rewarding him for his answer, maybe, or for kneeling there looking deliciously obedient. Kissing Austin because in that moment, that was what Liam wanted to do, and so he was doing it.

Jay closed his eyes, deepening the darkness, and tried to picture it. Would Liam’s hands be on Austin’s body or face? Austin wouldn’t be touching Liam; he knew that. Liam liked them kneeling with their hands behind them, nothing obscuring his view. Was Liam’s tongue sliding against Austin’s, coaxing a moan from him, or was it a series of shallow, teasing kisses to leave Austin’s lips sensitized, tingling?

If Jay had been the one being kissed during a scene, Liam would have used his teeth, nipping at Jay’s lower lip until it stung, opening Jay’s mouth by pulling sharply on a handful of hair if Jay tried to resist. He’d fuck Jay’s mouth with his tongue, steal Jay’s breath, make Jay dizzy with lust and love…

Jay bit down on his lip, trying to fool himself that it was Liam’s teeth abrading the tender skin. He didn’t feel ignored, but he did wish he could see them. Liam had once made him sit cross-legged at the head of their bed and tied his wrists to the headboard. Then he’d told Austin to lie on his stomach, his head in Jay’s lap, and spanked, then fucked Austin, who’d been forbidden to give Jay’s quiveringly erect cock as much as a lick.

To distract himself—because, no surprise, he couldn’t come until Liam had—Jay had watched Liam’s face, surreptitiously at first. Then, growing bolder, he’d stared openly.

Liam had grinned at him, inviting Jay to share his enjoyment, and Jay, for all that he was in agony with every warm exhaled breath from Austin, every accidental brush of Austin’s mouth, had smiled back.

Watching Liam come had felt like being given a gift. Getting to—finally—slide his cock into Austin’s waiting mouth had been another.

Now Jay wondered if Austin was fully clothed or naked. He hadn’t been undressed the last time Jay had seen him, but that didn’t mean anything. Was Austin’s cock visible? It had to be standing up hard and eager for attention either way. Jay wished he could touch it, but he was distracted by the feel of something thin and hard being traced along his spine from his shoulders down toward his ass. Had to be the riding crop. He loved the crop, and Liam didn’t use it on him nearly enough as far as he was concerned. The possibility of being hit with it tonight made him part his lips in a silent moan that ended up not being as silent as he’d intended.

“My little pain slut,” Liam said fondly. He trailed the tip of the crop between Jay’s ass cheeks and teased it over his hole. “You know what this is, don’t you?”

“Yes, Sir.” Jay tried to turn his face toward Liam, but with his hands and ankles bound he couldn’t move very much.

“I know usually when I strike you with it, I decide on a count ahead of time.”

He did. On previous occasions it had been as many as ten blows.

“But this time I think I’d like to see how far you can take it before you ask me to stop. Twenty? What do you think?”

Jay gasped and arched his back, begging with his ass thrust out. “Please, Sir.”

“Austin? Did you have something to say?”

Jay hadn’t heard anything, so Liam must have seen something on Austin’s face or maybe in the way he was kneeling. Some kind of protest, probably.

“No, Sir,” Austin whispered.

“Good.”

Liam drew the crop over the back of Jay’s left thigh, down to the hollow behind his knee, a slow journey that made Jay struggle to stay still. He wanted to feel the crop strike him, no warm-up spanking, just that stark slash of pain.

“Tell me, Austin, how many do you think he’ll take before he begs me to stop? How many before he really means it and uses his safe word?”

“I don’t know, Sir.”

“You mean you don’t want to think about it.”

“No, I just—”

There was the sound of leather striking skin, and Austin cried out. “You’re forbidden to talk unless I ask you a question,” Liam reminded Austin. The sound was repeated, this time followed by a choked-out groan. “And that was for not answering me. Try again, Austin. How many will he take?”

Jay’s wrists hurt, and it took him a moment to realize why. He was tugging at his bonds, trying to break free and go to Austin. That crop was vicious. Liam had used it on both of them a few months ago, and Austin had screamed out his safe word without hesitation after half a dozen strokes, none of which had been delivered at full strength.

And under his blazing concern ran a dark swell of envy that Austin’s skin bore two red marks and his was bare.

“Twenty-four,” Austin said. The tone was okay. He sounded okay. He had to be okay.

Twenty-four, on the other hand, didn’t seem like nearly enough to Jay. He waited, quivering with need.

“Really?” Liam was amused; Jay could tell. “All right. However many Jay goes over twenty-four, you get as well.”

The room was silent as both Jay and Austin absorbed this. Austin didn’t say anything—he was smart; he’d learned his lesson—and neither did Jay, even though he wanted to. He was straining at the ropes around his wrists again, and more important than that, he was angry. Now twenty-four had to be enough, because there was no way he was chancing Austin getting hit with the crop on his behalf. No way.

“I’m going to be kind and give you the opportunity to modify your guess,” Liam said. “With a penalty, of course. Let’s say…ten strikes? I suspect you’re wishing you’d suggested a higher number originally. Are you?”

“Yes, Sir,” Austin said. Jay wished he could see Austin’s face so that they could at least communicate through their expressions.

“Jay, do you have anything to contribute?” Liam asked.

“Austin, don’t change it,” Jay said instantly. “It’s fine. I’m fine. Don’t do something you don’t want, okay? I don’t mind. Twenty-four is good. It’s great. I don’t need more than that.”

It was a lie, a huge lie, and he was pretty sure Austin knew it, but right then he meant it as much as he’d ever meant anything. Ten strokes wouldn’t be too much for Austin if Liam was careful, but Austin had issues with how much pain Jay needed. Watching Jay go to his limit when Austin was this emotionally churned up would leave Austin a wreck.

For the first time Jay wondered if he could someday have a solo session with Liam, and what it would be like. It felt disloyal to want that and he tried to thrust the thought away, but it clung as persistently as a scrap of plastic wrap. They’d done it once, but that’d been before they’d redefined their relationship, and there had been limits in place.

The prospect of Liam with Jay’s safe word the only limit to his desires was as tempting and dangerous as slipping on the Ring had been for Frodo and Bilbo.

“Well, Austin? How many strokes can he take?”

“He can take forty, Sir,” Austin whispered.

Jay bit his lip. An extra sixteen strokes for him, bought with ten for Austin. Even if he told himself that Austin liked being spanked and a certain amount of pain, he knew he wouldn’t enjoy his whipping, or if he did, he’d feel guilty.

“You’re so fucking mean sometimes, you know that?” The words were no sooner spoken than he regretted them. Fuck. Not again. Liam was going to think he was topping from the bottom or acting out. And he wasn’t. He just craved the simplicity of a hard, ruthless whipping from a man who knew how to make him scream. Pain without guilt.

“At some point between tonight and the next time I see you, Jay, you can find a dictionary and write out the definition of sadist for me. A hundred times, handwritten, of course, and done neatly, please.”

He swallowed. That was something Austin would love doing, sinking deeper into sub space with every line, but for Jay it would be tedious in the extreme. “Yes, Sir.”

The crop came back to tease him, the stiff length of it sawing between his legs, chafing his balls. “I’d be surprised if you make it to forty,” Liam said into Jay’s ear, the soft puff of his breath in stark contrast to the iciness of his words. “I’ve always held back using this, even on you, but tonight you’ll get to find out just how hard I can hit.”

“Please…oh God, Sir, please.” He was begging before they’d started, shame at his rebuke pushing him into a place where he wanted to abase himself. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… Gag me. Don’t let me say anything else—”

“But I want to hear you scream, Jay.” The tip of the crop smacked against Jay’s balls, a tap, no more than that, but he cried out, acutely aware of how much damage a much harder strike could’ve caused.

“It’s a start,” Liam said.

The first real smack of the crop against Jay’s ass was swift, and the only way he knew it was coming was because of the sound it made slicing through the air. It was a hard blow—not the hardest Liam had ever given him, but hard enough that it was a shock.

“That’s only one.” Liam slapped him with the flat of his hand across the same spot the crop had struck, then rubbed his ass roughly. “Thirty-nine to go, Jay. I have to admit I’m curious to find out if you can take it.”

Jay swallowed and waited.

He didn’t have to wait long, and the next half dozen strokes came quickly, without more than a few seconds’ pause between them. He knew Liam would expect him to keep track of the number, so he did. The pain was sharp and long-lasting, the effect from one blow not fading before the next struck home. It felt like being cut with a knife. Although he knew from previous experience that it wouldn’t look as bad as it felt, he also knew that it was going to hurt for days. Sitting would be a challenge. Every time he did, he’d remember this moment, that Liam had hurt him because he wanted it.

“Seven,” he gasped when Liam stopped and rubbed his ass again. His skin felt raw already, and there were still thirty-three to go.

Liam said, “Austin,” and a moment later Liam’s hand was back on Jay’s ass, this time pushing two slick fingers inside him. It was unexpected enough that Jay gasped, but that didn’t stop him from pushing back to take Liam’s fingers deeper. “Greedy boy.”

“Yes, Sir. Please.”

“I’ll give you what I want to when I want to,” Liam said, adding a third finger that stretched Jay wide.

His thighs trembled, and he was glad for the support of the chair underneath him. “Yes, Sir,” he whispered. “I’m yours.”

“You are. Both of you.” Liam’s fingers twisted inside him, driving deeper. “I’m a lucky man. You think I’m hard on you and I am, but I don’t do anything to you that you don’t allow, and I try to make it what you need.” He crooked his middle finger, and Jay moaned, shameless, appreciative, enjoying the stab of arousal piercing him. “It’s never occurred to you that I’m yours just as much, I suppose? No?”

“We want you to be,” Jay said, honest in the depth of his need. It was what Austin would’ve said if he’d been allowed to talk, but it was true for Jay as well. “We’re stronger together—” His final word ended with another moan as Liam worked his fingers in and out. The stretch felt amazing, but Jay was greedy when it came to Liam. “Sir, need more. Please.”

“I’ll fist you soon,” Liam said casually. “Not tonight.” He pulled his fingers out slowly so that Jay felt the loss of each inch as his body tried to clamp down and keep them inside him. “When I do that, I like to take my time. The prep work is part of the experience. I enjoy it.”

The implication that Liam had done it before, to someone else, had Jay hissing out an outraged breath. Behind him, he heard Austin stir and murmur a similar protest.

Liam chuckled and patted Jay’s ass with his dry hand. He’d use a wipe on his other hand before letting it touch their skin, Jay knew. Liam wasn’t fastidious exactly, but he tidied up as he went along. “Oh no. You don’t get to be jealous. Not when I’ve just told you how much you both mean to me. I’ve never fallen in love with a sub before, never wanted to, but you two didn’t give me any choice.”

Jay couldn’t remember Liam telling them so easily that he loved them before. He held on to that as the crop struck him again, Liam dealing out ten hard strokes in quick succession.

In the videos he’d watched online, he’d seen lines of fuel igniting on skin, a blue flame flickering to life in a flash. The crop was leaving fire buried under his skin, dark lines of red, a hot, searing burn, but much though he loved the bruising heat, he still wanted to feel those transient blue flames dance over his skin.

“Another break, I think.”

Jay shook his head, but his chest was heaving as he fought for breath, and he knew Liam wasn’t being kind. The pause let Jay feel the pain in a way he couldn’t when it was continually changing. It grew and spread, wild and savage, ripping at his self-control and leaving it in shreds.

“Touch him, Austin. Feel how hot his skin is. Run your fingers over the welts.”

Austin’s hand touched him a moment later, gentle and so cool that Jay pushed back against it to soothe the burn. He could almost pretend that it was a real burn blistering his skin. Austin’s fingertips moved away, then back again. He was probably afraid of hurting Jay. No need; his careful touch didn’t increase the pain even slightly.

“You know how much he likes this, don’t you?” Liam said. “You’ve seen him beg for it often enough.”

One of Austin’s fingertips traced over a slash mark. “Yes, Sir,” Austin said.

Liam smacked the bottom of Jay’s right foot with the crop, and Jay twitched, couldn’t help it, even though the blow hadn’t been hard enough to hurt. “How many is that, Jay?”

“Seventeen, Sir.”

“Not even halfway,” Liam mused.

“I can take it, Sir.”

“Really?”

The crop struck the back of his thigh, claiming another part of his body. Liam left five strokes on each thigh, the final one on each leg high up, along the crease where thigh met ass.

Jay was sobbing now, the tears soaking his blindfold. He held still for each stroke because Liam told him to, but after a stroke had landed, he had to move, as if shaking his ass would dislodge the building pain. He’d never understood how he could crave the pain, love it, and yet still fight it like this.

“Stop fighting it. Stop fighting me,” Liam said, lifting Jay’s long hair away from his neck for a moment, allowing him to feel a breath of cooler air on his hot skin. “I’m not punishing you, Jay. I’m whipping you. There’s a difference.”

Jay knew that. Liam had taught him that lesson early on.

“He’s doing well, though, isn’t he, Austin?”

“Yes, Sir.” The pride in Austin’s voice was unmistakable.

“Thirteen more. Where should I put the next three, Austin? The last ten are going on his arse, but that leaves three to play with.”

Jay could practically hear Austin’s brain working. He knew exactly how torn Austin would be over something like this—wanting to give Jay what he wanted, but at the same time not wanting to be the cause of hurt even when it was a hurt Jay craved. It was a double-edged sword Jay wished Austin didn’t have to grasp, but Austin answered without taking too much time. Maybe he was in the right head space to do as Liam asked without questioning it too much.

“His calves, Sir,” Austin said.

Liam didn’t hesitate—he hit Jay the specified three times with enough force that Jay shrieked, screaming out his anguish, then paused as Jay fought to get himself back under control.

It felt like everything from his waist down was on fire, and his cock was so hard he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to come again. He let his head sink down until his nose and mouth were resting on the solid wooden surface of the chair. He was drooling—or shedding so many tears that even his lips were wet.

“You can ask me to stop,” Liam said, running his hand over Jay’s ass as if he needed to touch the skin he was marking. “You don’t need to go to forty if this is enough.”

The part of Jay that could still be objective and provide a running commentary—the voice he wanted to silence with the pain because until he did, he couldn’t leave everything behind and just be—was reporting in on every throb, every rising bruise in an excited, horrified babble.

“Forty was Austin’s guess,” Jay told Liam, his voice thick and hoarse. “He’s never done this to me. You have. As many as it takes. Please, Sir. You’ll know when I’m there.”

As he said it, he remembered that any extra strokes would be added to Austin’s total, but it was too late to retract. The crop came down after his final word, as if Liam was as eager to continue as Jay. If Liam had been holding back before, he wasn’t now. The agony was too much for Jay’s body to contain. It pushed at him from the inside, reshaping him until his flesh felt paper-thin, ready to rip and tear with the next slashing stroke.

He stopped counting, and between one hard-won breath and the next, he let go of everything holding him anchored—his worry over Austin’s emotional state, his doubts about moving in with Liam, a score of petty work-related issues. The pain filled him too completely for there to be any room for them, and after that, each stroke sent him higher, sent him soaring.

Jay was gone.

He didn’t think he’d safe worded, but he was vaguely aware, like experiencing the world through a layer of thick fabric, that it was over. Liam murmured something stern but reassuring to Austin. Jay felt his feet being untied and dimly waited for his hands to be freed as well, but that didn’t happen.

“There, now. No, don’t try to move. Just stay where you are and breathe. Austin, bring that here.”

The blindfold was gently removed, but Jay didn’t try to open his eyes. It would be too bright, and he was too exhausted. He was glad Liam hadn’t untied his hands, because he probably would have just fallen onto the floor and lain there. Instead he felt the cool touch of Austin’s hands again. He realized he was waiting to hear Austin’s voice, and then that he wouldn’t because Austin was still under orders not to talk.

Something wet touched his hot ass, and he whimpered and twitched away, but there was nowhere to go. It was Austin pressing the cool, soft cloth to his burning skin, and Jay wasn’t sure how it felt. Not really good, because he was so raw he knew he’d have welts on top of welts. The cold just made the burning worse, and he focused on that, letting the waves of it pull him deeper under again. There, that was what he wanted, to drift peacefully.

If Liam had further plans for him, they were going to have to wait.

Chapter Five

Liam could hear Austin and Jay fussing over each other in the family room, exchanging anxious inquiries, whispered reassurances… He watched the jug fill as coffee dripped through the machine, the second pot of the morning, and smiled wryly. After Jay’s whipping, he’d ended the scene, meaning Austin’s arse was in good shape, and Jay had loved what’d happened to him, so Liam wasn’t quite sure why he wasn’t the target of their sympathy.

He was the one who’d gone to bed alone, after all, his balls aching, his arousal too intense to be quenched by his hand. He’d jerked off before he went to sleep and then woken in the middle of the night, his prick stiff and his hand already reaching for it.

Letting the two of them sleep in the spare room instead of with him had been an easy decision to make. Jay had been out of it, mumbling disjointedly when Liam had tended to his bruised skin and falling asleep immediately. Austin had been concerned for Jay and, though he probably didn’t realize it, as frustrated as Liam. If Liam had suggested the two of them share his bed and let Jay sleep alone, Austin would most likely have turned him down.

Liam didn’t deal well with rejection.

He filled three mugs with fresh coffee and put them on a small tray to save him making two trips. The crop he’d used on Jay tucked under his arm, he walked into the family room.

Austin and Jay were on the couch, Jay understandably curled on his side, his head on Austin’s shoulder. They were both bare-chested, wearing soft sleep pants, Austin’s a plain, faded navy, Jay’s bright green, patterned with a cartoon character Liam didn’t recognize. Jay should’ve still been riding the high of the night before, but his eyes were clouded and Austin’s mouth was pinched with worry.

Neither expression pleased Liam, but they made what he was about to say easier. As their Dom, it was his responsibility to take care of his subs during and after a scene. As their boyfriend, though the word was too juvenile to sit well with him, their happiness was his priority.

He’d been failing them if they could sit there and look at him like that. He set the tray on the coffee table and placed the crop beside it. In this formal room, lit with the soft, gray light of a dull October morning, it should have looked incongruous, even obscene, but what it represented was the foundation of their relationship. It belonged in here with them.

“I don’t think I could take even four from it today,” Jay said, a hint of regret peeking through.

Liam longed to see Jay’s arse. From what he’d gathered at breakfast, Austin had already slathered it with arnica cream, but the bruising would be spectacular. The trouble with seeing them infrequently was that he didn’t get to monitor the slow fade of the marks he’d put on them or get involved in the aftercare. Those were his bruises and he’d wanted to be the one to tend to them, but it would’ve seemed petty to point that out. “Probably not, but Austin’s going to do his best to take, let me see…eighteen. Yes.”

The two turned nearly identical expressions of shock toward Liam. It would have been comical if Liam hadn’t been deadly serious.

“What, you thought I’d forgotten? You’ve said you’d like to make our arrangement full-time—you must realize this is how it would be.” He lifted an eyebrow. “Austin? Don’t keep me waiting.”

It didn’t surprise him that Austin obeyed, turning around to face the back of the couch. “Eighteen? No. No way.”

“It isn’t up to you, Jay,” Liam said sharply. “Austin agreed, and he isn’t the type to break his word, are you, Austin?”

“No, Sir.” Austin was kneeling, hands braced on the upholstery. There was nothing about this he liked. Liam could see that in the tension held in the curve of his lower back. It was one thing to submit to something you’d enjoy, and another entirely to submit to an act that frightened you. Austin’s strength in accepting this when it wasn’t something he wanted was impressive.

“Liam—” Jay started, and Liam focused on him.

“You either trust me, Jay, or you don’t. Which is it?”

Jay swallowed and slowly nodded. “I trust you,” he said quietly and slipped off the couch to stand over near the wall.

The relief he felt was huge, but he allowed himself only an exhaled breath before he picked up the crop and stepped closer to Austin. He hooked his fingers under the elastic waistband of Austin’s pants, noting that Austin flinched at his touch, and slipped the pants down to the bottoms of Austin’s thighs so his arse was bare. He let his fingertips brush over Austin’s skin. Austin shivered convulsively, his skin prickling into goose bumps.

“Eighteen,” Liam said. The crop was in his right hand, so he lifted Austin’s cock in his left. It wasn’t entirely soft, and as he held it, he could feel it beginning to harden. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, Sir,” Austin whispered and let his head drop down.

Liam liked to think he was relatively skilled with a crop, and the first time he struck Austin’s naked arse with it, he felt that his belief was confirmed. He swung the narrow braided leather quickly so that it would make noise as it cut the air, then pulled the blow at the last second. It struck Austin hard enough to sting, no more.

“One?” Austin said doubtfully as Liam paused, and Liam punished him for his cheek by letting the second strike sting just a little bit more. Austin gasped and trembled for him, just deliciously apprehensive now, his fear fading. “Two.”

There was no comparison between the force he used on Austin and what he’d done to Jay the night before. Jay wanted the pain—that wasn’t what Austin wanted at all, and forcing it on him would have been shortsighted and cruel. As Liam struck Austin, he wondered what Jay was thinking.

He didn’t have to guess with Austin. When he’d finished, Austin’s arse was patterned with dark pink lines, all fading fast, and half-hard had become erect and eager. Smiling, Liam delivered a final slap that left more of a mark than the crop had. “One to grow on.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Austin said, the routine words infused with genuine gratitude. He turned his head to give Liam a hopeful look. “If you’re tying up loose ends from last night…”

“Yes?” Liam prompted when Austin fell silent.

“He means you said he could blow you,” Jay told him in a quiet, abashed voice. “He wants to.” Jay slid to his knees, his gaze fixed on Liam. “I do too, Sir, but I don’t deserve it after arguing with you again.”

At breakfast they’d called him “Liam” and he hadn’t minded, not really, but he had to admit that he was enjoying this. Not a session, not a scene…just an ongoing exercise of his control over them. He’d always thought having a sub 24-7 would blunt the edge of the thrill, but he was reconsidering.

After all, it was in his hands, all of it. If he chose to allow them some leeway, he could; if he chose to keep them naked and cuffed for the morning, well, he could do that too.

“No, probably not, but if I recall correctly, I told Austin I’d use his mouth to come in. I don’t see why I should deprive myself of the pleasure of having both of you serve me until I get to that point.” Liam put the crop on the couch and unzipped his pants, pushing them down with his briefs and kicking them away. He was as hard as Austin, the playful spanking the perfect start to the morning. If they moved in with him, he could start every day off that way…but there was more to consider than that, of course.

He sat on the couch and beckoned to Jay. “Crawl over here and take off my socks. Slowly, kissing my feet as you do it. Let me see some penitence from you, my gullible little pain slut.”

Jay’s eyes shone at the use of his pet name from Liam, his bare chest rising and falling rapidly, his cock hardening. Good that they were all on the same page. “Yes, Sir.”

“Austin, you get to start at the top and work down.” He pulled Austin closer and kissed him firmly, reassuringly, sensing that for the moment, at least, Austin was happy and relaxed.

He was willing to label himself a sadist, but it was astonishing how disturbed he became when his subs were upset.

Austin kissed him with an eagerness that would have been convincing even at the time Liam had still considered himself straight, one hand on Liam’s shoulder. It was a light touch, a gentle, tentative curl of palm and fingers. Liam found it more arousing than he would have dreamed. At his feet, Jay had stripped off his socks and was leaning in to press his lips to the top of Liam’s right foot.

Austin began to pull away, and Liam made a little growl of protest and put a hand around the back of his head to kiss him one more time. It turned into another half dozen kisses, but by the time it ended Liam was more willing to let Austin slide his mouth lower along his jaw and throat. “Such a good boy,” Liam said with a sigh.

Austin rested a hand on his thigh and whispered, “Love you.”

Liam didn’t care a bit about the fact that Austin hadn’t added Sir—perhaps he should have cared, but he didn’t, not right then. Not with Austin’s tongue sliding over his nipple and Austin’s hand moving slowly up his thigh toward his cock, brushing over his balls.

Liam inhaled shakily as Jay crawled onto the couch. Not nearly enough penitence, but it was difficult to care when Jay was looking at him hopefully, leaning in for a kiss. In this instance Liam decided he’d take the contrition Jay couldn’t seem to freely give. He grabbed on to Jay’s long hair and kissed him hard, pleased when Jay whimpered into the kiss and clung to him. Oh yes, he was the one in charge here, no forgetting it.

He took his time kissing Jay as roughly as he cared to while Austin’s lips trailed down along his stomach toward his erect prick. “May I, Sir?” Austin asked, breath warm over Liam’s most sensitive skin, and in reply Liam ran a hand up Austin’s spine to the back of his neck and squeezed.

It was a heady feeling, these two men striving in their different ways to please him and getting as much out of their efforts as Liam was. Such a perfect match of needs, Liam thought hazily as Austin’s tongue teased the head of his cock, just the way Liam had taught him. I want to control them, hurt them, and they want to obey me and be hurt. So fucking simple.

He kept his hand on Austin’s neck, not holding him down but letting Austin feel its weight. Austin liked the reminder that Liam was in charge, and Liam loved caressing that smooth expanse of skin, with Austin’s fair hair tickling the back of his hand if he moved it higher.

He drew back from Jay’s kiss, ignoring the resulting pout, and slid his free hand inside Jay’s sleep pants, mindful of bruised, swollen skin, but not to the point of denying himself this touch. Jay’s arse was slick with the arnica cream Austin had evidently applied with a lavish hand, and that made it easy for Liam to slide his fingertips over the tender, punished flesh.

Jay’s face flushed hotly, his eyes widening, his breath quickening with what Liam knew was desire, not discomfort. Well, maybe some discomfort, but for Jay the lines between sexual pleasure and pain were blurred until there was no black or white, only gray. “Sir! Oh God, please.”

“Painful?” Liam inquired with an entirely fake solicitude as he thrust up into the waiting warmth of Austin’s mouth, needing to feel his cock surrounded by that soft, wet suction. He dragged his nails lightly across Jay’s arse. “Should I stop?”

“No! No, Sir. It’s good.” Jay’s breathing was ragged as Liam teased his sore, bruised skin. “Maybe too good.”

“Hm?” Liam slid his hand around to fondle Jay’s cock. Jay’s breath caught, and he bit his lip in a way that was utterly endearing and ridiculously sexy at the same time. “I see. You’d like to come, would you?” That shouldn’t be surprising, as he hadn’t been allowed to the night before.

“Yes, Sir.” Jay’s voice was tiny, and his prick was very hard in Liam’s grip, the only part of him unyielding.

Liam tugged at Jay’s balls until Jay whined. “All right.”

Jay’s eyes, which had been half-closed, flew open. His lips were parted, soft, vulnerable.

Austin’s mouth tightened around Liam’s cock, sucked harder, and Liam felt himself teetering on the edge of release sooner than he’d expected. But he didn’t need to wait. He gripped the back of Austin’s neck, thrust upward into his mouth, and came, hips jerking and his other hand surely too rough on Jay’s cock.

He loved how Austin swallowed around him, how Jay came in the grip of his hand and slicked his fingers with warm fluid. The sheer relief of coming was incredible.

Austin didn’t pull away, the gentle lapping of his tongue easing Liam down from his climax. When even that soft caress became too much, he tugged at Austin’s hair and felt a twinge of satisfaction when Austin immediately straightened, his eyes lowered submissively, his cheeks pink.

Liam held out his wet hand. “Clean me,” he ordered without getting specific, curious as to what they’d do. Strip off and use their sleep pants? Go for the porn movie option and lick it?

Not for the first time, they surprised him. Austin moved to cup Liam’s hand in both of his, containing any drips, and Jay left the room, hurrying, tugging up his sleep pants as he went. He was gone less than thirty seconds, returning with a cereal bowl filled with water and a paper towel.

Liam held back a grin. Austin looked so solemn, his eyes still lowered, his erection evident through the pants he’d pulled up after his spanking, a mute plea for release that Liam intended to listen to.

He let Jay clean his hand with a soaked piece of paper towel, noting with approval how careful Jay was, drawing out the task so that it became sensual, wrapping the paper around each finger in turn, then drawing it away slowly. Jay set the bowl and paper on the coffee table, then turned back to Liam. He put his hands under Austin’s, connecting them all, and pressed a kiss onto Liam’s palm, his tongue flicking out boldly. Then he captured one of Liam’s fingers in his mouth and sucked it, the sensation sending a shiver of desire through Liam. His mind didn’t seem to care that his body wasn’t capable of rousing again this soon.

Austin bent his head too, kissing Liam’s wrist, the brush of his lips fervent, appealing.

“God, you two are so fucking perfect,” Liam said, letting his pride in them show in his voice.

Austin looked up. “So are you, Sir.”

Jay nodded. “Perfect for us.”

Liam opened his mouth to demur but changed his mind. The hell with modesty, never a favorite virtue of his. He’d trained them. He’d given them structure and release. He was proud of them and himself.

“Let’s finish this,” he said. “Austin, lose the pajamas and sit on my lap. Jay, use your mouth on him. Hands behind your back. I want to see what you’re doing, so tuck your hair back too.”

With Austin in his lap, using Liam’s shoulder as a pillow, and Jay on his knees, Liam had the perfect view of Austin’s cock sliding between Jay’s lips. His arms wrapped around Austin, giving Austin the illusion of being in bondage, he could feel Austin’s reactions as if they were his own, each shiver, each arch upward, each gasped-for breath.

He almost found himself wishing he hadn’t already come, that instead he was still hard and inside the hot, tempting clench of Austin’s body. Christ, it would have felt so good. He’d have to remember the idea for a future session. Now he pressed his nose into Austin’s hair and inhaled the scent of him, felt as well as heard the whimper when Austin tried to hold off.

“So lovely,” Liam murmured into Austin’s ear. “I love that you’re waiting, wanting to please me. Do you have any idea how amazing you are?”

Austin didn’t reply, but he reached up with one hand and grabbed on to Liam’s wrist. Jay’s eyes were closed, cheeks hollowing with every suck.

“Come now,” Liam said, and Austin obeyed, his body jerking in Liam’s arms as Jay swallowed him down. He was perfect, beautiful, exactly what Liam wanted.

When he finally relaxed, still draped over Liam, he rubbed his hand along Liam’s arm in gratitude. “Thank you, Sir.”

“You’re welcome,” Liam said. “You deserved it. You’ve been so willing to please me.” He ran his hands over Austin’s chest, marveling at how natural it felt now after a lifetime of believing he was heterosexual. He accepted that he was bisexual, but he still didn’t find any men but Jay or Austin attractive. For all he knew, the fact that he wanted them sexually was some offshoot of their Dom/sub relationship—and that didn’t trouble him in the slightest.

Jay wiped the corner of his mouth and grinned at them. “This was different.”

“We don’t generally carry over into the morning hours,” Liam agreed. “But I thought, with what we’ve been discussing, we should try it.”

Austin had been limp, draped over Liam’s lap as if Liam were furniture. Now he tensed again, and Liam knew it was time to talk about a subject they’d been avoiding for a week.

Chapter Six

Austin brushed his hair until his scalp tingled. “Do I look okay?”

Jay kissed him and took the hairbrush out of his hand. “If you go downstairs with that, you’re just asking for a spanking. It’s like waving a steak at a shark.”

“Funny.” Austin smoothed down his blue shirt and stared at his reflection in the spare room mirror. “I just want to look good.”

“You always do,” Jay said reassuringly, then added, “Liam told us to hurry,” and made Austin’s heart start beating faster again.

He didn’t know what Liam was going to say to them when they went back downstairs, and it was sending his anxiety levels sky-high. Liam was in a great mood, smiling as he sent them up to dress with an affectionate swat on their asses, but how much of that had been postsex euphoria?

“If he asks us to make a decision about moving in, what will you say?” He studied Jay’s face for the smallest sign of dismay at the idea.

“Depends how he asks.” Jay shrugged. “I don’t know, okay? I just know we need to change a few things or we’ll lose what we’ve got, and I know I don’t want that.”

“You’d never lose me.” Austin stopped thinking about the seconds ticking away and hugged Jay close. “God, I can’t imagine being without you.”

“You wouldn’t. Ever.” Jay kissed the side of Austin’s mouth, then nuzzled into his neck. “Yours.”

Austin believed that 99 percent of the time. But Jay belonged to Liam too, and so did he. He just wished he knew for how long. Things still felt uncertain and temporary between them, and he wasn’t expecting the conversation they were about to have to change that. He hugged Jay more tightly until Jay squeaked in protest.

“You know how he is when we’re late,” Jay said, pulling away.

“I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be my line.”

They went downstairs, where Liam was waiting for them in the dining room. Two chairs were pulled slightly away from the table. Austin felt like throwing up or running out of the house, but instead he forced himself to sit down and pull in the chair. At least it had arms; that was good. They would make it harder to bolt.

He swallowed and looked at the mug of coffee waiting for him. The thought of drinking it made his stomach churn.

Jay reached over and touched his hand. “Hey. Breathe or something, will you?”

“This is a conversation, not a firing squad,” Liam said, and Austin looked at him—not a glance, but a proper look.

Liam seemed to be concerned and caring. Which he was, even if Austin needed a reminder once in a while. Jesus, he was such a fuckup. Liam loved them.

“I’m sorry,” Austin said, meaning it. “I’m kind of freaking out.”

“Which means he hasn’t been sleeping, so he’s been cleaning like crazy.” Jay gave Austin an apologetic glance. “Sorry, I know you can’t help it. I just can’t find anything anymore.”

“You haven’t been sleeping?” Liam asked.

Austin shook his head. “Some. Not enough, I guess.” He knew Jay wasn’t thrilled that he kept waking up to find half the apartment rearranged.

“I don’t like that,” Liam said flatly, a frown appearing. “I wouldn’t play with you if you were drunk, and the same goes for you spaced-out because you’re sleep deprived. It affects your judgment and your ability to cope with life. It’s been a long time since my kids were babies, but I can still remember coming close to crashing my car after a month of disturbed nights when one of them was teething.”

Liam rarely talked about his children, so Austin had only a vague impression of Alison and Ben. They sounded nice enough, and in the photographs Liam had of them, they were always smiling—but then, who didn’t smile for the camera? They’d visited Liam in the summer for a week, but he hadn’t invited Austin and Jay over to meet them. Too awkward. Too complicated.

“I’ll be okay when I know what’s happening,” Austin said, hoping it was true. His job required him to be alert and functioning, and these days he was drifting in a fog of tiredness.

Liam scratched his jaw. “Fair enough. I’m just not sure what’s best for all three of us as individuals and as, well, the three of us. I’m used to my privacy, and you’re used to living together and having the freedom to do what you like.” He smiled unexpectedly, a wicked glint in his eyes. “Beyond a few rules I trust you to abide by.” His smile faded. “But I’ve thought it over, and if you agree, I’d like us to try living together.”

Austin’s smile was one of pure relief, but Jay bit his lip, his lack of enthusiasm glaringly obvious. Liam cleared his throat. “Jay, just tell me what’s worrying you most about the idea of moving in.”

“Losing my freedom,” Jay blurted out. “Yeah, I love it when you tie me up, but I don’t want to be working on a diorama and get told it’s time to blow you or bend over for a spanking. I don’t want to beg for permission to go out with my friends or feel like I’m a guest here, because let’s face it. This is your place, Liam. It’s big and empty and cold, and you’re the only thing in it that’s alive. I love you, I do, and I want Austin to be happy, but I’m scared shitless that if I live here, I’ll lose myself, and being a sub is all about the opposite. It’s about being me. About fulfilling me. I just… God, I’m sorry.” He lifted his hand, then let it fall, a helpless gesture that left Austin’s throat aching as he held back from saying something that would make the situation worse, waiting for Liam to respond.

He didn’t doubt that Jay would sacrifice himself if he thought it would make Austin happy, but the same held true for Austin. If Jay was going to feel trapped here, the move was off the table.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re the only one who doesn’t want his whole life to change,” Liam said, nodding with understanding. “What if I had some renovations done so that you could have a space that was entirely yours? Would that help?”

“Maybe,” Jay said. “Like what kind of space?”

“A proper apartment? Downstairs. It’s level to the garden in the back—you could have your own entrance.”

“That sounds like still living apart, just under the same roof,” Austin pointed out.

Liam gave him an exasperated look that he probably deserved. “You can’t have it both ways.”

“Actually we can,” Jay said. “If we can figure out how to meet in the middle. It doesn’t sound impossible. Not easy, maybe.”

“None of this is easy, is it?” Liam raised his eyebrows. “So, with that option on the table, how do you feel, Jay? Or do you need time to think it over? This is a huge step, I know.”

Jay withdrew into himself, a distant expression on his face that Austin was familiar with. Jay looked like that when he had a problem with a diorama, something not to scale, something that wouldn’t fit where it was supposed to. It was only a matter of thirty seconds or so before he spoke, but for a waiting Austin, it felt as if each second were a minute.

“I think it could work,” Jay said finally. “Sorry if I was too negative.”

“You weren’t. You were honest. It’s appreciated,” Liam said. “Right. We can meet with a contractor to discuss the plans, create something we can all live with. And in the meantime, try for as much of a weekend as we can manage to get a feel for it. Saturday night through Monday morning, and you can both go straight to work from here?”

God, it sounded so good Austin was afraid to believe it might work out.

Jay straightened, losing the slouch that he got when he was upset, shoulders hunched, head down, hiding behind his long hair. “We’d pay rent. A real rent, not just a token.”

“You certainly would,” Liam said crisply, sounding very English. “Officially you’d be my lodgers. The conversion would have a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, space for Jay’s dioramas…everything a rented apartment would have. It would be obvious from looking at it that you were in your own place, unconnected to the rest of the house or me. Your family could come and visit, Austin, and any of your friends. Everything would be out in the open.”

“They’d still wonder why we moved here,” Austin said, desperately wanting to be convinced that they could do this. He’d mentioned Liam to his mom in passing, describing him as a friend they’d met through another friend, without going into detail.

“It’s closer to work for both of us,” Jay pointed out. “And your mom thinks our place has mold or damp or something after the flood. Every time you sneeze when she’s over visiting, she gets this look like she wants to feel your forehead for fever. She doesn’t like walking up all those stairs, either. She’d like it better if we had a place of our own, but she knows we can’t afford it yet.”

“Tell her some of my investments have crashed and I need the extra income,” Liam put in, sounding amused at the idea. Austin didn’t know how much money Liam had, but he was guessing that the cost of the conversion would be more than a years’ rent, and he was sure Liam didn’t care. “Of course, I’d have to check on the legal aspects of it. I’d make sure it met the building codes, that goes without saying, but in some places basement apartments aren’t permitted. They flood the neighborhood with more people than the local amenities can cover. I’m sure there’s a way around it, though. Laws always have loopholes.”

“We can just say we got the chance to move. Jay’s right about the mold thing—not that I think there is any, just that she worries about stuff like that. I don’t know if she’ll ask a lot of questions. I guess I’ll have to have answers ready.” There was definitely a possibility his mom would focus on the move; she seemed to have more time to worry about Austin now that April had gone off to college. Austin would have been thrilled for his mom to be able to relax more—having her shift her attention to him instead was less than ideal.

“We’ll help with that,” Liam said. “We aren’t throwing you to the wolves. And if you’re not ready, if you need more time—”

“I am,” Austin broke in. “I am ready, but it’s kind of a big deal.” He was starting to feel like an idiot who’d wanted something only to turn around and decide maybe he didn’t want it that much after all. Which was stupid, because he did want it.

“It is. That’s why I’d like all three of us to be in agreement before we take the next step, and again before the one after that. It’s very important.” Liam checked his watch. “Jay, am I wrong in thinking you need to be at work soon?”

Jay shook his head. “Not wrong. But I can be a few minutes late.”

“No, you can’t.” Liam sounded firm. “Not on my account. Go on. I’ll give Austin a ride home.”

A few simple words, but they had Austin’s stomach clenching in worry again. Did Liam want to talk to him alone? And if so, why? It couldn’t be good.

He hugged Jay at the front door, clinging to him longer than was reasonable, only letting go when he realized he was upsetting Jay. He was doing that too much to everyone around him, and he knew it.

Striving to sound casual, he said, “I’ll see you tonight. Stir-fry okay?”

“With cashews?”

Austin couldn’t help grinning. Whenever he added them to a dish, they all seemed to end up on Jay’s plate. “Sure.”

Liam stood behind him, watching them say good-bye in silence, his expression unreadable. Jay patted Austin’s face, the touch comforting, then took the few steps needed to bring him close to Liam. Austin expected Jay to hug Liam too, but Jay went to his knees and bowed his head. “Good-bye, Sir. Thank you for taking care of me.”

Austin watched Liam’s face soften, a rigidity fading from it that had made him look older. “It was my pleasure. It always is. Don’t forget the lines you owe me.”

Jay glanced up, his eyes widening in surprise. “You really want me to do them?”

Liam arched his eyebrows, and Jay sighed resignedly and got to his feet.

“One hundred lines. Yes, Sir.”

Liam put his finger under Jay’s chin and tilted it up, dropping a kiss on Jay’s mouth. “They’ll make wonderful bedtime reading for me, I’m sure.”

When Jay had driven off, Austin turned to Liam. “Sir—”

“No,” Liam said. “Whatever it is you’re thinking, stop.”

Right, like it was that simple.

“Come with me.” Liam gestured, and Austin followed. He was expecting to be led into the den, but instead Liam opened the door to the basement and went downstairs. “I’m not sure how you feel about all this carpet. It might not be ideal. At the time I bought the house, I liked the thought of the basement being finished but didn’t really imagine what I’d do with it.” He walked out into the open space. “What do you think?”

“It’s nice.” Austin’s heart was still thudding away, though it was considering slowing a bit. “Um. Empty.”

The space was unfurnished, though as Liam had said, there was carpeting in a shade of cocoa brown on the floors, and the walls were painted off-white. Along one wall were a few boxes, and an alcove housed the hot water heater and other systems. “We could put up a wall for a bedroom, maybe down the end here?” Liam said. “And a small kitchen—you’d be free to use the upstairs one whenever you liked, of course. And a bathroom, and then you could have a living area that opened onto the garden.”

Austin went down to the double sliding glass doors and looked out into the yard. “Could Jay plant some stuff?”

“I assume the end of that question is ‘as long as I don’t mind that it will certainly die?’ Yes, of course. I do see a fair number of groundhogs and rabbits, though, so they may beat him to the punch when it comes to killing the plants.”

“That would be good,” Austin said. The expanse of lawn was green and had been cut recently, probably for the last time now that fall was here. He jumped when he felt Liam come up behind him and wrap an arm around him, then sighed and relaxed, leaning against Liam’s solid body.

“I hate seeing you so unhappy,” Liam murmured. “I promise we’ll sort this out.”

“I know. I’m not unhappy, just…unsettled.”

“And that bothers you. Jay likes change, sees it as a challenge, but you prefer life to stay the same, I think.”

“I want some things to change,” Austin told him. “I want us all to be more to each other. I go home with Jay and we leave you here and it feels…wrong.”

Liam was quiet for a moment, his hand caressing Austin’s arm. “If it helps, I’ve always accepted the fact that I’m part of what you and Jay have at your request. You and Jay… Sometimes I look at you and don’t see any room for me, because what you have is solid. The only crack is your need for a Dom, and I try to fill that, but I don’t want to widen it and break you up—and this metaphor is getting out of hand.”

Austin shook his head. “God, no. You couldn’t. You wouldn’t. Liam—Sir—we love you. We need you, yes, but I think if you decided the Dom side of things wasn’t working out, we’d still want to be with you.”

“Would you?” Liam sounded skeptical.

With a sigh, Austin turned, looking up to meet Liam’s gaze. “We let you tie us up, mark us, make us beg and scream and submit, and we do it because we trust you. So trust me when I say we love you. Not just as our Dom, but as our partner.”

He wondered if he’d reached Liam, if the words even existed that would make Liam see he wasn’t an optional extra but a necessity to them. Liam was so closed off, only slowly recovering from years of denying himself a full expression of his sexuality, still coming to terms with the fact that he was bisexual. He was lonely in a way that made Austin feel cold to the bone. Coming from a large, noisy, loving family, he wasn’t used to solitude, and so much of Liam’s life seemed to be made up of that. He distanced himself from people, and Austin wanted to get closer to those he loved, physically and emotionally. Jay felt the same way, never choosing to sit far from Austin, always happy to touch and be touched.

“I love you,” he said softly, taking Liam’s face between his hands. There was a line here, and it felt like he was crossing it. “I forget that we might not tell you that enough.”

“No, of course not. It’s fine.” Liam was protesting, but the lines around his eyes agreed with Austin. It felt like Austin was seeing him clearly for the first time in forever.

“It isn’t fine. It’s about the furthest thing from fine I can think of. Don’t tell me it’s fine.” Austin tugged Liam down for a kiss, and Liam’s mouth was new against his, lips softer than Austin remembered even though his body was just as solid. “I want you all the time.” He rubbed himself on Liam and slid a hand around to the small of Liam’s back.

Liam groaned and held him closer. “You haven’t any idea how incredible you are. How tempting.”

“I want to tempt you,” Austin whispered.

“You’re succeeding.” Liam’s heart was beating hard enough that Austin could feel it, a steady, powerful beat that reminded him of the way Liam’s hand would drum against his ass during a spanking.

“You told me to stop thinking,” Austin said and kissed Liam’s throat, knowing exactly where to place his mouth so that Liam’s eyes would slide closed for a moment. “There’s a good way to do that.”

“Upstairs,” Liam said, desire roughening his voice, though it wasn’t an order, and for once Austin didn’t want it to be.

They’d all agreed that anything that happened between two of them was fine, the subject not one that could be ignored but not something they wanted to dwell on. Jay had pointed out that he and Austin made love when Liam wasn’t there, within the limits Liam had set, at least, so why would it be a problem if he and Liam, or Liam and Austin ended up in bed?

We’re together, aren’t we?” he’d asked, looking at them both with a question in his eyes. “It’s not cheating on each other. How could it be? So why would it matter?”

Austin had expected it to matter, had braced himself to feel something—not jealousy, no, but panic, maybe—when Jay and Liam had spent the night together. He’d been away for the weekend, helping April settle into her on-campus accommodations.

Instead he’d felt a flush of arousal warm him as Jay shared what they’d done, the pictures Jay painted turning him on so much that he’d tumbled Jay to the bed and they’d stayed there for an hour or more, fucking with a passion that had left Austin exhausted in the best possible way. Of course, that’d been before Liam’s rule about not coming when he wasn’t there.

Now he didn’t want to wait long enough to go upstairs. He would, though, because the thought of being able to stretch out on Liam’s huge bed was appealing. They had to stop half a dozen times on the stairs—two sets of them—to kiss, and by the time they got to the bedroom, any sense of patience had worn off.

“I want you inside me,” he murmured between kisses, pushing Liam down onto the bed. “God, you smell good.” Liam’s aftershave smelled like spices and musk. Austin started unbuttoning Liam’s shirt—even on the weekends the man was inclined to wear business casual—pushing it out of the way so he could taste Liam’s skin. Liam’s nipple tightened to a little point under his tongue.

Liam pulled the hem of Austin’s shirt upward, and Austin lifted his arms cooperatively, happy to shed anything that was between them. “Take these off,” Liam said, tugging at his jeans, and while Austin did, Liam removed his own so that by the time they came together again, they were both naked.

The shock of pleasure as Liam’s cock brushed his made Austin grunt. “Where’s the lube?” he asked, and Liam reacted like this happened all the time and reached for it, hand flailing blindly into the drawer of the bedside table.

“What now?” Liam asked.

Austin flicked the small bottle open and squeezed some of the clear liquid into his palm. He’d ended up straddling Liam’s waist; it was easy to reach behind him and grip Liam’s cock with his slick hand, then stroke it a few times while he watched the reaction on Liam’s face. Liam’s lips parted, and he flushed. “Now I’m going to fuck myself on your cock,” Austin said. That was all he said—he didn’t ask permission, just like he wouldn’t ask if Jay were the one he was in bed with.

Liam inhaled sharply when Austin sank down, then grabbed Austin’s hips to keep him from moving. “You’ll hurt yourself.”

There wasn’t really enough lube, that was true, but Austin knew his own body. “No, I won’t.” He lifted himself slowly to show Liam that he’d be careful, then let gravity pull him down again, the head of Liam’s cock rubbing his prostate and making him shudder. “Oh my God.”

“My feelings exactly,” Liam said hoarsely.

“Is this good?”

“Are you insane? Of course it is.” Liam pulled him down for a kiss, and Austin made an involuntary sound of pleasure as his eager prick made contact with Liam’s stomach.

“I can’t get used to how intense this feels,” Liam said abruptly.

Austin straightened, wanting to feel Liam’s cock slide just a little deeper, the fading discomfort the perfect spice to his pleasure. “It’s still new to you.”

“Yes.”

“And you’re— Ah, God—” Austin shuddered as he rose an inch, then sank down, his ass snug against the tops of Liam’s thighs, Liam’s long, thick cock engulfed by his body, inside him as far as it could go. “You’re dealing with two of us.”

Talking with any degree of coherence was difficult, but he wanted to distract himself or this would end too soon.

Liam grinned up at him, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Always was an overachiever.” His hand closed around Austin’s cock, working it with an elusive touch, maddeningly light.

“And a prick tease?” He glanced down pointedly. Liam was circling the head of Austin’s cock with a fingertip, and everything in Austin felt tight and clenched. He wanted to slap his hands against the bed, scream until his throat ached. He needed release, craved it as if he hadn’t come for weeks.

Liam moved his attentions to Austin’s balls, playing with them as Austin squirmed, his rhythm lost, his movements erratic. He wanted to ride Liam’s cock, slamming down on it over and over until Liam’s expression dissolved into one of pure, agonized ecstasy, but Liam’s fingers were driving him insane.

“If you haven’t realized that I get off on tormenting you…”

“I noticed.” Austin shuddered and reached down, dragging Liam’s hand away from his balls and placing it against his stiff cock. “Touch me. God.”

“I knew you were bossy somewhere in there.” Liam finally did what Austin needed him to and squeezed his dick with just the right amount of pressure. “Don’t come.”

Austin whimpered. “Need to.” He rode Liam faster, feeling the burn in his thigh muscles and not caring at all.

“Not yet,” Liam said, but he didn’t do any of the things he could have to postpone Austin’s orgasm—didn’t squeeze the base of Austin’s cock or his balls or stop fucking him, which somewhere along the line he’d started to do. It wasn’t just Austin moving himself on Liam’s prick; now Liam was lifting his hips in quick, sharp jerks. “Wait.”

“I can’t. It’s too good.” In that moment Austin wasn’t convinced he’d ever felt anything as perfect as Liam’s cock inside him, moving slickly, huge and unforgiving. “Please.”

“Just a little longer.” Liam let go of Austin’s cock and grabbed him by the hips instead, holding him in place. “Think of something else.”

Austin barked out a laugh. “Like what?”

“I don’t know.” Liam paused, then slid slowly back into Austin. “The weather.”

“The weather?” Austin ran his hands up Liam’s chest and rubbed his thumbs over Liam’s nipples.

“It’s remarkably warm for the time of year,” Liam said imperturbably, but he bit his lip after he’d said it, visibly struggling for control. “We need rain.”

“It’s fucking freezing, and we don’t,” Austin said.

“You’re contradicting me.” Liam raised his eyebrows, his hands cupping Austin’s ass, still preventing Austin from moving the way he wanted to, needed to. “And swearing. That’s very naughty of you, Austin.”

The slap his ass got was as light as the caresses to his dick, but Austin, trained to respond to being spanked, moaned anyway, a thrill of desire sending his arousal to new levels. He’d never seen Liam this playful, this loving.

“Harder.”

“Yes.” Liam released him, but only so that he could strike Austin’s ass with the flat of his hand. “Move for me, Austin. Show me how much you like being fucked by me.”

“I’ll show you,” Austin said as Liam’s palm struck him again, the sweet heat building. “Show you how much I love you. Liam—”

Liam shook his head, his mouth falling open on a groan, his hands bruise-tight on Austin’s ass, lifting him, then slamming him down as his hips bucked upward, the two of them working together to get each other off, neither interested in holding back now.

If he’d been asked, Austin would have guessed it would take only seconds for him to orgasm, but he would have been wrong. Even with every cell in his body screaming for release, it felt like it took forever to get there. He let himself focus on feeling the stretch of his body around Liam’s cock, the way Liam didn’t hold back, the sensation of his own cock getting harder as he got closer to the edge.

When Liam started to come, Austin knew that was all the permission he needed. Orgasm rushed through him like a tidal wave, lifting him and flinging him down again, leaving him wrung out and gasping as Liam’s prick throbbed a final time inside him. Liam groaned loudly and wrapped an arm around Austin’s waist, providing a lifeline he desperately needed.

Liam murmured something Austin couldn’t understand.

“What?” Austin managed to ask, and Liam stroked his hair.

“I love you,” he said.

Austin pushed himself upright on shaky arms and looked at Liam. “One more time?”

Liam’s eyes softened. “I love you, Austin.”

He knew that. Of course he did. But hearing Liam say it, in that moment, made Austin smile.

Chapter Seven

The online dictionary told Jay that sadism was “a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by the infliction of physical or mental pain on others (as on a love object).”

He liked the idea of being a love object, and he didn’t have any problem with the idea of having physical pain inflicted on him when it was Liam doing the inflicting. Mental pain… Well, Liam sure as hell got off on coming up with plans that made him realize that sometimes there just wasn’t a good choice even if Liam had helpfully provided him with options—though in the end it usually worked out that he enjoyed himself.

He thought about writing out “Sir is a kind sadist” a hundred times but decided against it. Liam could get bitingly sarcastic if he thought Jay was being what he called “a cheeky brat,” and that wasn’t fun.

He popped the last bit of sandwich into his mouth and began to write. The processing office was empty, with everyone else either on duty or out having lunch at one of the local cafés or fast-food outlets. He had a book he was halfway through, and it was killing him not to take it out and plunge back into the story, but being punished at work like this was all kinds of hot. Even if Liam wasn’t watching him suffer, his blue eyes warm with appreciation.

After the first few lines, he’d memorized the definition and could write it without concentrating on the words. That probably wasn’t what Liam had intended, but it gave Jay a perverse pleasure to think about something else while he was doing what Liam had ordered. Liam might be able to control his behavior—that didn’t mean he could control Jay’s mind.

The pen tip moved in repetitive loops on the paper. Jay wriggled in his chair, relishing the discomfort caused by Liam’s hand moving in repetitive patterns through the air, ending in sharp smacks on his bare ass. He loved the riding crop, especially the fact that he’d feel the bruises from it for days. Liam using his hand felt so intimate.

God, he was getting hard from nothing but memories. The anticipation in the moment before Liam hit him. The flash of pain when he was struck, followed by the slower burn as the overall pain level crept up. Jay wondered how the burn of actual fire would compare. Not that he’d never burned himself cooking, but it had been a long time and he felt like he needed a reminder. He was pretty sure it wasn’t the kind of thing he could do on his own, just based on previous experience trying to re-create what he got from a session.

Jay paused to adjust himself. The deep ache and throb in his ass as he shifted his weight didn’t do anything to lessen his arousal. How many lines had he written so far? He should have numbered the paper first. He was just about to start counting when his cell phone, sitting on the table, vibrated itself three inches to the right.

It was a text from Austin. Jay hit the button to read it.

How’s work? L and I talked about the basement renovations, and then we went back to bed. (Home now, though.) Was really hot. Wish you’d been there.

His first reaction was one of genuine relief that Austin was in a better head space. Getting fucked by Liam was guaranteed to do that to both of them, and Austin’s mood had been so uncertain that some one-on-one time was probably just what he’d needed. Jay looked forward to getting the details later.

Following on the heels of that was a stab of envy. They’d both be walking around smiling, enjoying the afterglow, and he was sitting here with a rampant, raging hard-on—all because of Liam!—and forbidden to do anything about it. Even feigning a headache and going home, not that he’d do that, wouldn’t help, because Austin wasn’t allowed to get him off either.

“So fucking unfair,” he muttered and tossed his pen down. When Austin was suffering too, it didn’t matter as much, but now it was just Jay feeling frustrated and left out, and he hated that.

His dick was hard enough that he needed to adjust it to lie comfortably inside his jeans. Couldn’t do that here, where anyone might walk in. There was a men’s room in the hallway…

A minute later he was in a stall, his jeans pushed down, his dick in his hand. Felt so fucking good to touch himself freely, not holding back in case a too-hard rub of his fingers brought the genie out of the bottle.

He wasn’t breaking the rules. He was just catching up. If he’d still been at the house when they decided to get busy, he’d have gotten off with them, so this was a climax he was owed.

He watched the head of his dick disappear, then pop up again as he worked it with his hand, sliding along the shaft, his grip punishingly tight, just the way he liked it. With his other hand he reached up inside his shirt to torment a nipple, pinching and tweaking it. They were always tender and swollen. He played with them a lot, clamping them until they were all he could think about or getting Austin to suck and bite them.

If Austin were here now, Jay would fuck him hard. Put him up against the stall wall and slide into his hole with one long, firm shove, just the way Liam had. Maybe some of Liam’s cum would still be slicking Austin’s hole; maybe it would still be stretched from being used and he’d get so deep on that first thrust that Austin would arch and cry out, stammering his name, his body so open, so ready…

Jay came hard, pressing his lips together tightly to muffle the sounds of relief that escaped him. That morning he’d come with Liam’s hand on his dick; he shouldn’t have needed this again so soon, but he was starting to realize Liam was like a drug. The more he had of the man, the more he wanted. Just the thought of Austin and Liam together, Liam’s big cock fucking Austin open, made Jay’s spent dick twitch in his hand.

Jesus, he’d just jerked off at work. Hastily he grabbed a handful of toilet paper and wiped up the evidence, then put his clothes back in place. Thank God no one had walked into the bathroom while he was in the middle of his little fantasy; he wasn’t sure he’d have been able to stop.

Now he had to finish the punishment Liam had given him and prepare for another, because he’d have to confess that he’d come without permission. The thought of not admitting what he’d done barely crossed his mind. There was no point in any of this if they weren’t honest.

It turned into one of the longest workdays Jay could remember, even though the library’s hours were shorter on Saturdays and they were able to lock the doors at five o’clock. Jay winced as he got into his car—changing positions was hell when his ass was this bruised up, and at that point he wasn’t enjoying it anymore, just hoping it would heal fast so they could do it all over again.

“Hey, did you get my text?” Austin asked from the kitchen as he shut the front door, and Jay sighed.

“Yeah, I did. Sorry, I meant to text you back—”

“No, it’s okay; I’m not mad. I just wanted to make sure you got it.” Austin looked worried when he came to join Jay, who’d just kicked his shoes off.

“Oh, I got it,” Jay said grimly, throwing himself onto the couch without thinking and letting out a yelp. Spanked by the couch. “Fuck, that hurt!”

“Jay…” Austin sat beside him, very carefully not jostling him. “Want to soak in the tub; then I’ll put some more cream on it?”

“No. Yes.” Jay leaned his head back against the couch, feeling exhausted. “So you and Liam had sex?”

“Are you upset?” Austin’s face clouded over. “It just happened. We were in the basement talking about the renovations, and we kissed, and the next thing I knew we were heading upstairs.”

“I’m not upset about that,” Jay said, aware of how grumpy he sounded. “He’s our fucking boyfriend. It’d be horrible if we felt guilty about anything we did with him. You’re allowed to have sex with him when I’m not there, or get spanked, or anything else you want to do. It’s not like you waited for me to go, then jumped each other.”

Austin’s eyes went wide with shock. “It wasn’t anything like that! Jay, if you’d been there too, it would’ve been great. I wanted you there.”

“I know.” Jay rubbed his forehead, which ached as much as his ass. “Ignore me. I’m suffering from a terminal case of guilt and taking it out on you.” He heaved a sigh and blurted out the words fast. “I got that text when I was doing the lines for Liam. So I was turned on because, well, what I was writing was making me think about Liam, and I figured I was owed if you two had gotten off, so I…I, uh, jerked off in the men’s room. I broke the rules.”

Austin knew him too well not to have figured out something was wrong pretty fast, but Jay wanted to confess, not have it dragged out of him. This was the easy part. Austin would understand, even sympathize. Liam would be mad as hell.

“Shit.” Austin sounded genuinely upset, but Jay was pretty sure it was on his behalf. “Liam’s going to be pissed off. God, why now?”

That wasn’t the kind of understanding Jay had been expecting, and he found himself angry at Austin for making him feel worse. “Because I fucked up, okay? First with Liam, so I had to do that stupid punishment, and then again because I was jealous. No, not that you were having sex with him. That’s fine; I told you that. Because I didn’t get to be there. It was stupid, I know. I don’t need you to rub my nose in it.”

Austin looked stricken. “That’s not what I meant. I know you didn’t do it on purpose.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I’m an asshole. Come here.” Jay reached out and dragged Austin over to lean on him. “It was just a shitty day, and I feel guilty as hell. It’s not your fault.”

“Promise you aren’t mad? I wouldn’t have done it if I’d thought you would be.” Austin hugged him and stroked his side.

“I’m not mad at you or Liam, I promise,” Jay said. That was what Austin meant, after all. “Just at myself.”

“Well, don’t be. No one’s allowed to be mad at you.” Austin lifted his face for a kiss, and Jay gave it to him willingly, happily. He loved Austin so much, more than he’d ever have imagined he could love anyone. “Come keep me company while I finish making dinner. Do you want a glass of wine?”

“I want a bottle of wine,” Jay said. He got up, moving awkwardly, every shift in position tugging at the drum-tight skin of his ass, and followed Austin into the kitchen. “The question is, do I call Liam and tell him now? Or do I wait until after dinner?”

“It’s up to you,” Austin said.

Jay groaned. “I don’t want it to be up to me! I’m a freaking sub. I like being given orders.”

Austin snorted. “Liam wouldn’t agree with you. You fight him all the time.” He took a bottle of white wine out of the fridge and unscrewed the top. “Do you think when we move in, he’ll want us to always call him Sir?”

“I don’t know. It’d take some getting used to.” Jay tried to picture it, being in sub mode all the time. Exhausting or arousing? He couldn’t decide. He was certain he knew which Austin would choose.

“Kneeling whenever he comes into a room,” Austin said dreamily. “Only speaking when we’re spoken to… Hours naked or in bondage…”

“Oh God.” Jay took out two glasses from the cupboard, overwhelmed by the way his body was responding to that with a shiver of desire and fear. “I can’t imagine going that deep and then facing Monday morning and someone who’s returning a DVD with the disc missing and trying to say it was like that when he checked it out.”

“It’s going to take some adjusting to; you’re right,” Austin agreed, pouring them both big glasses of wine. “For Liam—for Sir too.”

The first cool, fresh gulp of wine tasted wonderful. “If it doesn’t work out and one of us decides it’s too much, will you mind?”

“It might be me deciding that,” Austin pointed out. “Fantasies aren’t always as much fun when they’re real.”

Jay drank more wine, feeling a buzz already because he was drinking it quickly. “Yeah. And I’ve decided. I’m eating first, then talking to Liam.”

Austin took the wineglass from his hand before he could reduce its contents still further. “Then you can save this. If he thinks you’re even halfway drunk, he won’t like it.”

“He’s not going to like it no matter what,” Jay said, but he didn’t argue when Austin put his wineglass in the fridge.

Forty minutes later, the pasta dish he’d eaten lying heavy in his stomach, he sat on the couch and called Liam, going to speakerphone as soon as Liam answered. Austin’s hand was warm in his, Austin’s expression both sympathetic and anxious.

If he was honest with himself, the part of Jay that loved to be subdued and disciplined was eagerly anticipating Liam’s reaction and the inevitable punishment coming his way. He got off on being punished, after all. But like an oil slick on water, polluting it, the sense that he’d failed Liam made him feel too ashamed to enjoy that anticipation. He’d agreed to Liam’s no-coming rule willingly, knowing Liam relished the idea of them being under his control even when he wasn’t with them. Needing permission to come made every climax more intense and meaningful. Being perpetually aroused and frustrated was a delicious torment he craved no matter how much he complained.

Mostly.

Bottom line, he’d spoiled the trust between himself and his Dom, and that was what was making his gut ache.

“Sir? It’s Jay. Can I talk to you?”

“I’m on the other line. Hold on a minute, and I’ll finish up that call.” Liam clicked back before Jay could agree to wait, leaving him hanging.

“Other line,” he whispered exaggeratedly to Austin, then remembered it was on speakerphone anyway. They both waited silently for much longer than the requested minute. Jay was starting to get irritated when the line clicked again.

“All right, I’m back,” Liam said. “I apologize—business thing, and I wanted to be able to give you my full attention, so I had to finish the call properly.”

“It’s okay.” Jay bit his lip, and as he opened his mouth again to confess, Liam broke in.

“Is this about earlier today?”

“Yes,” Jay said. “Um, no. Wait. What are you talking about?” He wasn’t unused to feeling thrown off balance, but he hadn’t expected it in this conversation.

“Austin and I. After you left. I’d assumed that was why you were calling.”

The whole sidestepped discussion slid back into place. “Oh. No. Well, a little bit, but only tangentially. I was actually calling to confess.”

“I’m not a priest, Jay,” Liam said. Now his voice was harder to read, like he was himself again instead of someone worrying about being in trouble. Which was interesting and an idea Jay would have to explore further. “What have you done?”

It was harder to tell Liam than he’d expected. Not being in the same room didn’t help; in fact, it made it worse. Jay liked being able to read Liam’s body language and tailor his responses to it, intuitively knowing when he was close to stepping over a firmly drawn line. Now he was flying blind, and it made his nervousness rise to the point where he seriously thought he was having one of Austin’s panic attacks.

“I jerked off.”

He’d planned to say more—explain, justify, apologize—but the three words slipped out before he could censor them.

“I see. I’m assuming you’re not going to offer a ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse like telling me you forgot you aren’t permitted to do that?”

Liam’s voice was measured, even calm, but Jay still winced. Austin’s grip on his fingers tightened to the point of pain. “No, Sir.”

“Talk me through it.” Implacable now. “Every thought leading up to disobeying me.”

“I was doing the lines at work,” Jay began. “It made me… I was hard. I didn’t plan on doing anything about it, I swear. I mean, God, I was at work.”

“You already said that.”

Liam’s terse reminder rasped Jay’s nerves raw. “Yeah, well, Austin texted me about what you’d done.”

“And that upset you?”

“No.” Jay huffed out a breath of sheer exasperation. How many times did he have to say it? “Why would it? Jesus. No.”

“If you swear at me again, Jay, you’ll discover what soap tastes like.”

There was one benefit to being across town from Liam; he could roll his eyes.

“Austin, did Jay just react to that in a way I’d find disrespectful?” Liam inquired, his tone mild enough to be a warning, because no one sounded that chilled when they were pissed.

Austin gave Jay an agonized look. “Uh, Sir—”

“Don’t put him in the middle,” Jay said sharply. “It’s not fair. I rolled my eyes, okay?” There was a long silence, expectant, patient, and he grudgingly added, “Sir.”

“Setting your attitude aside for now, go back to what happened.”

“It turned me on more thinking about the two of you,” Jay admitted after an inward struggle. “But mostly it made me think I was, uh, owed an orgasm? Austin got to come, so I figured I should too?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“I’m—” Jay bit his lip, savaging it with his teeth until Austin laid his fingers across Jay’s mouth to stop him. “I screwed up, Sir. I’m sorry. I’m really fuck— No, I didn’t mean that—” Tears, rare when he wasn’t in a scene, welled up, shocking him by their suddenness. He pushed the phone at Austin and turned his face into the cushions piled at the end of the couch, muffling the audible sounds of his distress before Liam heard him.

“Jay.” Austin’s hand settled on his back, more comforting than a simple touch should have been. “Liam, I think we’re going to need a minute here. No, Jay, come on.”

Jay found himself turned around and pulled into Austin’s embrace. He didn’t resist even though he was embarrassed. Instead he clung to Austin, hiding his face against Austin’s stomach. Stupid. Not like Liam could see him.

“Jay, can you hear me? Austin, can he?” Liam asked.

“I think so,” Austin said.

“Jay, I want you to take ten deep breaths. In and out, slowly.”

“Good,” Austin murmured, petting his hair as Jay tried to obey. “He’s doing it, Liam.”

“Good boy.” Liam’s approval made Jay try even harder despite the shudders that were running through him as he attempted to stop crying. “Everything’s all right. Listen to me. I know you’re upset, but this isn’t the end of the world, not even close. Do you need me to come over?”

“No,” Jay said forcefully. “I don’t—”

“Shh, it’s okay.” Austin hugged him more tightly. “You really did have a bad day.”

“I’m coming over,” Liam said decisively. “And I’m not angry, Jay. I mean it. If I get there and find you’ve worked yourself up even more, I’ll put you over my knee as a way of saying hello. You know I wouldn’t do that if I were angry.”

As threats went, it felt more like a security blanket. “That’s… I wish you would, Sir.”

“You wouldn’t like it.” Liam sounded very sure about it. “I’d make sure you didn’t. Calm down. Austin, make him a cup of tea.”

The call ended there without the usual courtesy of a good-bye, and Jay exchanged a startled glance with Austin. “He’s coming here?”

“Well, it’s not like he’s not allowed to.” Austin glanced around and moaned, releasing his hold on Jay. “Shit, the place is a mess.”

On the apprehensive side, no matter what Liam said, Jay sat up straight. “No, it’s not.”

Austin was already on his feet, darting around the room and making what was already tidy even tidier. Abandoned on the couch, Jay wiped at his wet face irritably. There didn’t seem to be much point in continuing to cry, but he wasn’t close to the calm Liam had demanded, and no amount of slow breathing would get him there. “You’re supposed to be making me tea!”

“I will, I promise. I just need to sort through these magazines.” Austin cast a harried look over his shoulder. “Put the kettle on? That PG Tips stuff Liam likes is in the cupboard with the cereal, I think, right at the back.”

Jay got to his feet and deliberately knocked a cushion Austin had plumped onto the floor, stomping on it heavily as he stalked into the kitchen.

Tea. He hated tea.

He dumped out the few inches of water that had been sitting in the kettle for who knew how long and refilled it, then put it on the stove. The box of tea bags Liam liked was exactly where Austin had said it would be—Austin always knew where stuff was. Hell, maybe he had a labeled diagram in his head. Jay was probably lucky there wasn’t a written one to go along with it and a rule that he had to follow it exactly.

Jay found a mug, put a tea bag in it, and went in search of a box of tissues for his dripping nose.

“Tea?” Austin reminded him as he went past, and Jay didn’t even try to keep from rolling his eyes again.

“I know. I’m on it.” The tissue box in the bedroom was empty, and he had no one to blame for it but himself, since he remembered taking the last one a few days ago. There weren’t any new boxes in the hall cupboard, but he finally found one under the bathroom sink. He blew his nose loudly a few times, then took the opened box of tissues into the bedroom where Austin was pulling the blankets up and straightening them. “You know Liam won’t care how the place looks.”

“I care,” Austin said.

“Yeah, but you have OCD.” Jay sighed, listened for the whistle of the kettle and didn’t hear it, and swapped the new box of tissues for the empty one. “Can I help?”

“No, I’ve got it. Just deal with the tea?”

Watching the kettle boil felt like the times Liam put him in a corner, staring at the wall, a punishment he reserved for when Jay was at his most fidgety or petulant. Jay had never worked out if Liam did it to calm him down or as a more efficient way to drive him to the point where he needed a good, hard spanking to quiet the chatter in his head. Sometimes it was effective, and he could find clarity in the blankness filling his eyes and the awareness that he was submitting. More often, he fought the command to stay still, because not moving was intolerable. Kicking and squirming over Liam’s knees as the stiff bristles of a hairbrush were rubbed ruthlessly over freshly spanked scarlet skin was easier.

He made the tea and, on an impulse since he’d overfilled the kettle, made some for Austin and Liam too. If it felt like a social occasion, maybe Liam would feel restrained by good manners and go easy on him.

He took one look at Liam’s face five minutes later and changed his mind. Liam swept into their small apartment as chilly and brisk as the north wind, his searching gaze boring through Jay, who put his mug down on the coffee table before he spilled its contents.

“Sir, I—”

Liam dropped his coat over a chair and held up his hand. “You told me quite enough on the phone, thank you, Jay. I’m not here to listen to excuses or apologies, just to deal with the situation before it gets out of control.”

He sounded so fucking competent, the perfect executive, his blue shirt open at the neck, the sleeves rolled up neatly to expose muscular forearms dusted with dark hair.

Jay remembered Liam had mentioned the possibility of fisting him. Those strong, capable hands, the power in those arms harnessed to perform an act that required complete trust to change it from brutally invasive to an encompassing possession… God, he wanted it as much as he wanted the lick of flames against his skin, but he’d fucking blown it now. Destroyed Liam’s trust for the sake of a quick gasp and shudder a foot away from a toilet, the stink of pine cleaner making him gag.

Austin stood, going over to Liam with a confidence Jay guessed came of a clear conscience and dropping to his knees. Austin always looked so happy to be doing that, so relieved when Liam rested his hand on Austin’s head briefly in acknowledgment.

“Sir, it was my fault for texting him,” Austin began, his head ducked. “I should’ve waited.”

Okay, so maybe Austin wasn’t feeling guilt-free, not that there was any need at all for him to blame himself for Jay fucking up.

“Austin, if there’s any flagellating to do around here, you can leave it to me,” Liam said, clearly agreeing with Jay. “This is Jay’s fault, and he knows it. Go and sit by him, please.”

It was amazing how Liam took over no matter where they were, Jay reflected. Some people would think being in someone else’s house meant they had to defer to them, but not Liam. They were his subs, so wherever they were, they were his to command.

Jay found that oddly comforting.

The couch sank under Austin’s weight as he sat and reached for Jay’s hand. Whether it was supposed to be a request for support or an offer of it, Jay didn’t know, and he wasn’t sure he cared, either. The feel of Austin’s hand against his was familiar and reassuring.

“We can’t have a repeat of what happened today,” Liam said. “I’m sure you both realize that. Jay, it’s clear that you aren’t at a place where I can trust you to follow the rules based on my words alone. You require assistance, so I’m here to provide it.”

He went over to the chair where he’d draped his coat and rummaged in the inside pocket, coming out with something Jay didn’t recognize at first.

Liam made an impatient gesture. “Stand up. No, Austin, not you. Jay, take down your pants.”

Puzzled, Jay did, pushing them down to his knees as Liam stepped closer, allowing Jay to identify what he held. It was a chastity device, a combination of shiny chrome and what looked like black plastic.

“Don’t get hard,” Liam told him, but unfortunately that wasn’t something Jay could control right then. Which he supposed was the bigger problem, and getting bigger by the minute. Quickly, as if he’d done this before, Liam fastened the device around Jay’s swelling prick and slipped a tiny padlock into place.

“Rubbing you anywhere?”

It had all happened too fast. Jay had expected a spanking, but if he’d guessed in time what Liam was going to do, he wasn’t sure he would’ve dropped his pants.

Then he got a look at the serene confidence in Liam’s eyes and knew he would have.

“I… No, it feels…” He paused, searching for the right word. Not fine. Not okay. Not good. His dick was encased in plastic, enclosed, caged away. He couldn’t touch it.

When Liam’s hands closed over his, Jay realized he’d been scrabbling at the plastic frantically, trying to get to warm, familiar flesh and failing.

“No,” Liam said quietly. “That’s off-limits now. You can wash and urinate without difficulty, and it won’t show under clothes if you’re sensible about what you wear, but you don’t get to touch yourself. I hold the key.”

Austin was silent beside him, through shock or envy of the totality of Jay’s enforced obedience, Jay wasn’t sure which. This went beyond anything Liam had done to them. He was humiliated beyond words, still struggling with the reality of his situation.

“You can’t do this.” He was horrified, aroused, furious in equal measure, and the storm of emotions ripping through him was dizzying. He loved a dash of humiliation in a scene, but this was breathtakingly beyond that. His pants were around his ankles, hobbling him, air cool on his bare legs and ass. He couldn’t take his eyes off what lay between his legs, the curved plastic shell so out of place and alien looking. His dick, responding to his arousal as if it’d decided that emotion was strongest, tried to harden and couldn’t, compressed by the unforgiving shell of the device.

“I have done it,” Liam pointed out reasonably. “I’m your Dom, Jay. I’m owed your obedience. If you try to withhold that from me, I won’t permit it. I can’t be with you twenty-four/seven, even after you move in, so this is my way of ensuring I have that obedience.” There wasn’t a hint of gloating or triumph in his voice, just a matter-of-fact assertion of his rights.

“How long does he have to wear it?” Austin’s voice was stifled, subdued. Jay spared him a glance and saw Austin was twisting his hands restlessly in his lap, a sure sign he was agitated.

“Until I’m satisfied he’s learned his lesson.” Every word was crisp, Liam’s English accent very much to the fore. Liam tilted Jay’s chin up, forcing Jay to stare into his eyes. “I’m not angry,” Liam told him. “I expected this to happen at some point. The fact that I already had this device to hand should tell you that.”

“Take it off,” Jay begged him, his voice breaking. “Please, Sir. Please.”

“No. Don’t bother asking again. The answer won’t change. I’ll take it off when I judge you’re ready and not a moment sooner.”

There were tears in Jay’s eyes again. He turned toward Austin beseechingly, and Austin stood and gathered him close. It felt good to be hugged, even with his cock caged and his pants down, but it wasn’t enough to make him feel better. “I can’t do this,” he said against Austin’s neck.

“You can. Liam wouldn’t ask you to do something you can’t do.” Austin didn’t sound particularly convincing.

“Jay,” Liam said sharply, and Jay pulled away from Austin and looked at him. “Fasten your trousers and come here.” Liam sat down on the sofa chair while Jay forced his fingers to do as he’d been told and stepped closer. “Here.” Liam patted his knee.

Awkwardly Jay perched himself on Liam’s lap. He was off balance, not just physically but emotionally, and he twitched when Liam reached for him, but all Liam did was pull him close and hold him. Jay felt himself relaxing by degrees into Liam’s solid warmth. After a minute he sighed and curled even closer, clinging to Liam.

“This must seem unfair to you,” Liam said. “Austin, you don’t have to hover there. Come here and sit next to me.”

Jay didn’t open his eyes to see if Austin obeyed, but he didn’t have to. Of course Austin would obey. Austin was the perfect sub—liked being humiliated, liked being on his knees for hours, didn’t break the rules. The surge of resentment Jay felt toward him in that moment sickened him. He loved Austin. Maybe he could learn to be more like him.

“Jay, you haven’t answered me.”

Liam’s previous statement had been just that, a statement, not a question. Jay hadn’t realized it required an answer, and that wasn’t fair, either. “No,” he said softly.

“This isn’t a punishment,” Liam said. “It’s a tool. It’s meant to help you, not hurt you. Did you feel guilty when you broke the rule?”

“Yes.”

“There, see? This will keep you from doing anything that would make you feel guilty.” Liam patted Jay’s groin, bumping the device without enough force to hurt—that might make Jay hate it even more. He squirmed on Liam’s lap, wincing as his sore ass twinged.

“Why aren’t you angry?”

Liam chuckled. “Because I’m used to you misbehaving to get my attention?”

“Spank me,” Jay said, even though he knew that would hurt more than he’d enjoy. He opened his eyes, looking up at Liam’s face. “Do that instead.”

“No. You’re too bruised from last night. I wouldn’t be able to do more than pat you, and I’d find that frustrating.”

“And it’s all about you.”

Liam ran his hand over Jay’s groin again. “How does it make you feel to be wearing this?”

“Humiliated!”

“But you enjoy that. Both of you. And I’m not laughing at you, and Austin’s so hard he’s finding it difficult to stay still—but perhaps he should try before I remind him of how much I dislike fidgeting.”

Austin flushed and murmured, “Yes, Sir,” folding his hands in his lap. He was hard; Jay could see the shape of Austin’s erection clearly.

“Humiliation is a response to external judgments. It’s not an emotion you need to be feeling with us. Try again.”

Jay curled his fingers into the front of Liam’s shirt, the smooth fabric smelling clean and fresh, as all of Liam’s clothing did. “Helpless. Frustrated. I can’t touch myself. I can’t get hard. You’ve taken that away from me.”

“Yes, I have.” Liam brushed Jay’s hair back from his face, studying him intently. “Jay—Austin, I would’ve used these devices on you at some point even if you hadn’t broken the rules. You’ve just made it sooner rather than later.”

“Why?” Austin sounded genuinely bewildered. “We’ve been good for weeks, Sir.”

Liam settled back on the couch and drew Austin closer, his arm around Austin’s shoulders. “Why? Oh God.” He shook his head, a rueful smile on his face. “Sometimes I think you two leave me out of the equation or think I’m doing you a favor. Because it turns me on, of course. I’m sitting here so hard I ache, and I’ve been like that since I locked that thing around Jay’s cock. It’s incredibly arousing to control him on this level.” He arched his eyebrows. “What, I’m not allowed to enjoy this?”

“I…I could do something for you?” Austin offered hesitantly, licking his lips. He had the look of a puppy waiting to be kicked, but Liam must have seen it as easily as Jay did, because Liam’s answer was gentle.

“Not tonight, love. Much as I’d prefer to spend the evening with the two of you, I’ve got to work.” He sounded genuinely regretful, though right then Jay wasn’t sure he could stand to spend an evening with the man, not knowing what Liam was choosing to do to him. “Jay?”

“Yes, Sir?” Jay managed not to sound resentful. He hoped.

“Try to remember I’m doing this for you, not to you. It’s for your benefit; my enjoyment of it is a bonus, that’s all. I know you trust me; trust me that this is the right thing for you just now. All right?”

Jay sighed and looked at Liam. “Okay. I’ll try.”

“Thank you.” Liam stroked his face, turned to kiss Austin, then disentangled himself from them and stood. “Austin, I’m counting on you to keep an eye on him for me.”

“Yes, Sir. You know I will.” Austin followed Liam to the door, and Jay found himself on his feet, then his knees, holding on to Liam’s slacks. He didn’t know why, wasn’t sure what he was trying to accomplish. He just knew he needed something more before Liam left.

“Please,” he said.

Liam’s hand settled on his head. “You won’t convince me to change my mind.”

“I know. That’s not what I wanted.” Jay rubbed his face against Liam’s knee. “I need to tell you something.” The images on the videos he’d watched were burned into his brain, and at that moment he felt like if he shared them with Liam, if he had that to look forward to, he’d be able to get through the next however many days not being able to touch his dick. God, please let it be days and not weeks. He wouldn’t be able to stand it.

“Tell me,” Liam said.

“You said if there was something I wanted to try, you’d let me.”

“If it’s something I’d enjoy and not extreme to the point of being dangerous,” Liam agreed. “I’ve got a list of my own, but when I only have you two for a few hours a week…”

Jay blinked at the mingled frustration and yearning behind the words. It’d never occurred to him that Liam wanted more than he was getting. And Jay really wanted to know what was on Liam’s list. Breath play? Sensory deprivation? Role-playing? Liam as a severe principal with a cane to use on a pair of naughty students had a lot of appeal, and Jay could definitely get behind Liam as white-coated doctor with a set of sounds or a speculum. He pictured himself tied to an examination table, his feet in stirrups, spread open, utterly helpless, with Liam pulling on some latex gloves with a brisk snap. Jesus, he had to stop thinking like this. His dick was struggling to find space to harden and failing.

“What did you have in mind?” Liam prompted him.

Jay licked dry lips. “Fire play,” he said without preamble. He needed to say this, but he needed Liam gone so that he could pant and moan and cling to Austin for comfort. He was sweating, his hands shaking, unbearably worked up with no outlet. “It’s dramatic, and yeah, there’s a risk if it’s not done properly, but I trust you. I’ve been reading up about it, watching some vids… I could give you the links?”

“I’m not sure I feel qualified to do that,” Liam said slowly. It wasn’t a rejection, which was something, but it wasn’t the instant approval Jay had hoped for either. “And there isn’t a chance in hell that I’d do it until I felt capable of doing it safely.”

“But you’ll think about it? Please, Sir?” Jay pressed his mouth against Liam’s erection in a fervent and humble kiss, knowing he wasn’t being kind when Liam had to leave, but not caring much. Liam had time for a blowjob if he really wanted one; his cock was like steel, and he would’ve come within a few minutes. Turning them down was a subtle way of reminding them that he could control himself even if they couldn’t.

Not that Jay had any choice in the matter now, and God, that sucked.

“I’ll think about it,” Liam told him. “Which means exactly that—nothing more, nothing less. Don’t make any assumptions. I’ll probably have more questions for you before I have an answer. Now relax and get an early night. I think you need it.” Without another word Liam swept from the apartment and down the stairs, and after a few seconds Austin closed the door behind him.

Chapter Eight

Liam sighed and rubbed his eyes, which were feeling the strain of long hours at his computer. It wasn’t late enough to justify going to bed—and truthfully he wasn’t ready to—but it was most definitely time for a break in his self-imposed task.

He pushed his chair back and stood, stretching his arms above his head. The notepad where he’d been keeping track of the information he was gathering was flipped to the third page, and his job was nowhere near finished.

It wasn’t that the notion of fire play was so far removed from things he’d considered, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t been surprised when Jay suggested it. Of course he ought to have expected something like it. Jay loved to push the boundaries of their sessions, to take things past mild pain and into a space that was darker and more serious. And Liam believed that he was personally capable of providing far more intensity for his sub than anything they’d done so far. Still, the thought of working with combustibles and live flame was disconcerting. It certainly wasn’t something he’d consider doing without first educating himself, and fortunately the Internet was a font of information.

There were many sites that focused on the kinkier aspects of BDSM. There were far fewer that provided the kind of safety detail Liam was looking for, and making his way to them had proved more time-consuming than he’d originally imagined.

He thought of Jay’s long, dark hair on fire and gave a convulsive shudder of revulsion, but he could see the appeal of that swift flash of heat and pain as the accelerant painted onto skin flared up for a brief second. He’d watched men and women lie quietly as it was done to them, deep inside sub space, calm and relaxed, their trust in their Doms absolute.

It’d be worth any amount of research and more to see Jay like that.

His head buzzing with too much new information, his neglected office work another source of guilt, Liam walked out into the hallway, intending to go upstairs and soak in the tub. Instead he found himself walking down into the basement.

What would it be like to have them here with him? He’d shied away from the idea at first, unsure of how solid their relationship was and unwilling to jeopardize it by rushing them. There’d also been a valid concern about what people would think. Liam was impatient of convention to a certain extent, but he wasn’t foolish enough to think that moving two young men into his home would go unnoticed by his neighbors. He’d already fielded some awkward questions now that Austin and Jay visited more often and sometimes spent the night.

It was amazing how nosy people could be, but he’d managed to quell their curiosity by being blandly polite and saying very little that mattered.

He was more concerned about his children. He couldn’t exactly throw Jay and Austin out into the street when his kids came to visit. If their apartment was indisputably separate and the two of them so clearly a couple—and Liam still seen as straight…

The punching bag he’d have to get rid of hung from the ceiling, swaying gently as he slapped it with his hand. The sound it made was very different to the sound of palm against skin, but the action was familiar enough.

He wondered if Jay had tried to remove the chastity device yet. The memory of the incredulous horror flashing through Jay’s eyes when he’d realized what had been done to him brought a grin to Liam’s face. Poor boy.

But God, how hot had it been to drive away with the key warm against his chest, hanging from a thin silver chain? He only had to think of Jay’s cock locked away like that for his own to swell urgently.

He’d intended to use the devices on both of them one weekend, but Jay had ruined that plan. Liam had felt a stab of annoyance over that, but Jay’s distress had soothed it away. There was no doubt that Jay was repenting his impulsive action.

“Owed an orgasm,” Liam said under his breath as he headed back upstairs. “You have got to be kidding me.”

Postponing his bath a little longer, he went back into his office, his decision made. He had some phone calls to make.

* * * * *

Years had passed since Liam had used a library. He rarely had time to read for pleasure, and when he did, it was usually because he was on an airplane. All the books he’d read in the past five years had been either purchased at airport gift shops or been handed to him as wrapped presents.

This library—Jay’s library, as he’d come to think of it—wasn’t unlike most others he’d been inside. The walls were painted a soothing gray green, the tables and chairs looked sturdy, and everywhere the eye could see were tall rows of shelves covered with books. The far wall had a row of desks with computers on them; that was new. Liam paused near the front desk, where an older woman with short, curly hair and a pair of reading glasses hanging from a beaded chain around her neck was perched on a wooden stool.

“Can I help you?” she asked brightly as he stepped closer.

“I wanted to get a library card,” he said.

“Of course. I just need to take a little information and see your driver’s license?”

He produced his license and waited while she put on her glasses and typed up his information, then printed out a sticker and handed him his new card. “Now, fiction is on this floor, and the mysteries are in the back corner over there.” She pointed and looked at him thoughtfully. “You don’t look like a mystery sort of person, though. Nonfiction is upstairs, the children’s room is downstairs, and the DVDs are in that alcove. Is there anything I can help you find? We do close in about twenty minutes.”

“I was hoping for some books on home repairs and renovations, that sort of thing,” Liam said. “So those would be upstairs?”

“That’s right.” She turned to the side and tapped at a different keyboard. The screen of that computer was angled away from Liam, but he could glimpse a list of books. “Let me see. Can you narrow it down a little? It’s a wide field.”

“I’m remodeling my basement.”

“Ah!” She tapped some more, then gave him a bright smile, undimmed by the hours she’d undoubtedly spent doing this for dozens of people. “Then I can tell you exactly where to go: 643.5. Here, I’ll jot it down for you.”

He was more than capable of finding his way to that section, but out of the corner of his eye he saw Jay approaching, a book in his hand. Jay hadn’t seen him, and Liam took the opportunity to study his wayward sub, noting even from a distance that Jay looked tired. It showed in the slump of his shoulders and the scuff of his shoes against the carpet. Liam couldn’t imagine that sleeping on his stomach would’ve been comfortable for Jay, and he knew that was how Jay usually spent the night. He couldn’t resist giving Jay’s groin a glance, but as he’d promised, nothing was showing under Jay’s loose-fitting pants.

“It’s been quite a while since I was in a library,” he said, accepting the piece of paper with a smile. “Perhaps someone could help me since I don’t have much time before you close?”

“Of course! Jay, could you show this gentleman to the six hundreds? He’s doing some work in his basement.”

“Sure, let me just…” Jay’s words died away as he turned from shelving the book he held on a cart by the reception desk and saw Liam.

For a moment Liam felt guilty, as if he’d trespassed. There was no welcome in Jay’s eyes, just surprise at seeing Liam here, in his world. Then Jay smiled, the polite smile any library patron would’ve received.

“I’d be happy to help you, sir. If you’d follow me?”

The sir didn’t sound right, Liam decided, watching Jay’s backside as Jay began to walk toward the stairs, more life in his step now. Too pro forma. Jay probably had to call a lot of men sir during his work hours, and that made Liam feel fiercely possessive, though he was self-aware enough to laugh at himself for being ridiculous.

He caught up to Jay at the foot of the stairs. “You didn’t look happy to see me.”

“We’re always happy to have new patrons,” Jay told him with a downward glance at the card Liam was still holding. “We are closing soon, though, so I’d ask you to make your selections quickly.”

“Brat,” Liam said softly, recognizing what his father would’ve called “dumb insolence,” though he viewed it more as the start of an invigorating tussle of wills. One he intended to win, naturally. “How long did it take you to accept that it wouldn’t come off? One hour, two?”

It was Tuesday, so Jay had been seething with resentment for three days. Liam felt a deep sympathy for poor Austin, who’d probably suffered the most, not that Jay would see it that way.

Another sign that moving them in with him would be for the best. He had ways of handling bad moods that weren’t open to either of them. Still, he’d told them they’d do some trial runs first, and the renovations would take time. There was no immediate rush, after all.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jay said, which worried Liam until Jay met his gaze. “I have to be able to do my work. Any other time I’m yours. Not here.”

That was more than fair, so Liam nodded. “Let’s find those books, then, shall we?”

Jay led him up the stairs and passed another desk with a different woman sitting behind it, then to long rows of numbered stacks. “Down here,” Jay said, gesturing so that Liam could go first. “There are some on finishing basements, but that might be more basic than what you’re looking for? I mean, yours is finished already.”

“I don’t know,” Liam admitted. “I tried looking for some online, but it was too hard to tell which might have what I wanted in them. I thought if I could open them up, flip through them…”

“Yeah. Hm.” Jay put his hands on his hips and studied the row of books in the 640s. He pulled out three books seemingly at random. “Why don’t you take those over to one of those tables, and I’ll pull some more?” He thrust the books into Liam’s hands and crouched down to examine the shelved titles more closely, acting as if Liam would do as he’d suggested.

After a moment Liam did, bemused by the fact that he’d walked right into this situation. He’d imagined coming into the library and pushing Jay off balance a bit, but he’d also expected Jay would be happy to see him. Instead he’d got this practical, work-focused young man who knew his job well and was prepared to take control of their interaction. It wasn’t a side of Jay he’d never seen, but it wasn’t what he’d anticipated.

Only one of the books seemed to suit his purposes, but by the time he’d pushed the other two aside, Jay was at his side with another four. “I think this one will work,” Jay said, setting the pile down and patting the top book. “The others, I’m not sure. But I could be wrong. I don’t know exactly what you’re thinking of doing.”

“That’s something I’ll have to talk about with my new tenants,” Liam said, smiling. “It’s not up to just me.”

“I guess not,” Jay said. “Any relationship needs compromise to make it work. Tenant and landlord, parent and child…” He let the rest of his sentence hang, but Liam had no trouble finishing it: Dom and sub.

Yes.

A recorded message sounded through small speakers set high on the ceiling, announcing the closure of the library in ten minutes and advising all patrons to check their materials out immediately.

“What are you doing after work?” Liam asked, gathering up the books he’d decided he wanted. They were heavy in his arms, all angles, but he liked the possibilities they held. “If you’re not busy, I’d like to do something with you and Austin. We could call him, meet up somewhere, and look through these books? Maybe get something to eat?”

He wanted more of that kind of interaction with them. Sometimes he felt excluded from their lives, and it disturbed him. As a husband he’d been used to Barbara sharing every detail of her daily activities with him, until it’d reached the point where they had nothing to say to each other. He’d been bored at times, but he’d appreciated that she’d shared things with him, even if, looking back, it’d been mostly superficial confidences.

He didn’t want it to be that way with this new relationship, but he was floundering, too harsh sometimes, too willing to let them use him as a Dom, nothing more, at others. He wondered if they remembered how limited his experience was, though reminding them was the last thing he intended to do. They needed to have confidence in him, even if he sometimes doubted himself. It was like juggling knives—and if he ever shared that thought with Jay, knife play would show up next on Jay’s to-do list, not that Liam would agree to it. He had some limits of his own, and cutting Jay’s skin, no matter how carefully, went beyond them.

Austin’s reaction to the idea would be all the incentive Jay needed to remove it from his list, though. The two of them balanced each other well; Austin curbed Jay’s wilder impulses, and Jay showed Austin that limits were fluid and individual.

“Austin’s picking me up in a few minutes,” Jay said. “My car’s in the shop, and they couldn’t get the part until tomorrow. I don’t think we had any plans beyond that.”

“Then let’s wait for Austin and decide what to do when he gets here?” They started down the stairs to the front desk, Liam uncomfortably aware that with Jay still on the clock, the situation wasn’t under his control.

“I’ve got this,” Jay told the woman librarian, and she nodded.

“Did you find what you needed?” she asked.

Liam smiled at her. “I think so.”

“Good! There are a lot of resources. That’s why we’re here.” She began taking books from a bin under the side of the desk and putting them on a wheeled cart as Jay took Liam’s new library card and checked out his books.

The front door swung open, and Austin came in. As he passed through the electronic sensors, they went off, beeping frantically, and he rolled his eyes, then stopped dead when he saw Liam. “Liam! Hi. Sorry, Nancy, we lost one of the due date cards again. Feel free to dock Jay’s paycheck.” He handed the books to the woman. “What’s up?”

Nancy looked confused, glancing from Austin to Liam and then to Jay. Liam supposed he couldn’t blame her—Austin had failed to play along with the game that Jay and Liam were strangers. It wasn’t Austin’s fault, but Liam suspected there’d be questions and an explanation from Jay the next day.

“I was checking out some books on home renovation,” Liam said.

“Cool! You almost ready to go?” Austin asked Jay.

Nancy patted Jay’s shoulder. “You go ahead; I left early last night, and it’s been so quiet.”

“I just need to get my coat.” Jay waved vaguely to the left. “I’ll meet you out front, Austin.”

Austin. Not “both of you.” Liam grimaced. He had some bridges to rebuild.

“Is there a problem, Sir?” Austin asked as they walked out into the crisp fall air, a hint of frost making the leaves that’d drifted onto the pathway crunch underfoot.

“No, I really did just want the books, but I think Jay feels I’ve intruded on his personal space,” Liam said ruefully. “I should’ve asked him to get the books for me, I suppose.”

“That’s crap.” Austin came to a halt, and Liam paused too. “It’s a library. They’re for everyone. And you’re our Dom. We don’t have personal space when it comes to you.”

“I’m not sure Jay sees it that way, and I’m not sure I do either, but I would never make either of you feel uncomfortable at work or in public and I hope you know that.” Touched but taken aback by Austin’s fervency, Liam settled the books more securely under his arm and began to walk again, seeing Jay emerge from a staff entrance a few yards away.

“Sheesh, it’s gonna be a cold night.” Jay shrugged into his coat and zipped it, then wrapped his arms around himself as he joined them.

“You wouldn’t be cold if you had any body fat,” Austin said, slinging an arm around Jay’s shoulder in an utterly comfortable, familiar way that gave Liam a pang of envy. It made him want to gather both of them close.

“I was hoping we could spend the evening together. I’d like to get your input on the renovations before I meet up with the contractor. Jay, have you had dinner?”

Jay shook his head. “I was going to have a sandwich or something when we got home.”

“Why don’t I buy you a meal? Somewhere we can sit and look over these books?”

“Yes, please,” Jay said, looking and sounding in that moment more like the Jay that Liam knew. “If we go to Maloney’s, I can get a Cuban—is that okay?”

“Of course.” The sidewalk was uneven, the old bricks pushed out of place by the roots of the now tall trees that lined the road.

“It’s not far,” Austin said, “and there’s never any space to park at Maloney’s. We could walk there if you like?”

It was addressed to both of them, but somehow Liam got the feeling that Austin wouldn’t have added the Sir he loved to say even if he had been speaking directly to Liam. Austin was sensitive to moods and evidently considered himself off duty, so to speak.

Still rattled from Jay’s assumption of authority in the library, Liam decided an equal footing wasn’t a bad place to be right then. It wasn’t as if they weren’t always equal in the ways that counted; he might be the one giving the orders, but he’d never thought of any sub as beneath him. It took guts to act on a deep-seated need to submit and to accept what a Dom dished out.

“Sounds good.” Jay held out his hand to Liam. “Let me carry one of those books before you drop them.” He grinned. “If you return them damaged, we might take back that brand-new card of yours. We’re very protective when it comes to library material.”

“Says the man who took back a book covered in glue and moss once.” Austin shook his head. “Don’t put anything down near one of his dioramas, Liam. I swear they eat anything around them in the night and spit them out covered in gunk the next morning.”

“It was an accident, and I paid for a replacement!”

And just like that, they were squabbling as normal, and Liam allowed himself to relax, handing each of them a book to carry and keeping the heaviest for himself. The night air was definitely colder than it had been over the past week or so, though it didn’t seem to matter to a group of teenagers who walked by, all wearing T-shirts with no jackets in sight. There were plenty of cars parked parallel to the sidewalk, and most of the businesses were open.

It was a short walk to Maloney’s, a coffeehouse that also served sandwiches and salads, and a bell above the front door announced their arrival in a way that made Liam wince. Orders were taken at the counter, and then customers seemed to seat themselves. Half a dozen tables were taken, and one woman was working at a laptop with a huge mug of coffee at her elbow.

“I’m so hungry,” Jay moaned, stepping up to the counter.

“Hey, you two! Long time no see,” the redhead at the register said. “Let me guess, a Cuban?”

“My stomach loves you,” Jay told her. “And a side of onion rings?”

“I’ll get a chocolate shake if you’ll help me drink it,” Austin said to Jay, who nodded. “Too late for coffee for me. I don’t want to be up all night.”

“And if you’ll add a cup of tea?” Liam asked, handing the girl enough cash to cover the order. She didn’t blink an eye over the fact that Liam was paying for all three of them; he had to hope it wasn’t because she thought he was Austin or Jay’s father or uncle.

She gave Liam back his change with a smile. “I’ll bring it out as soon as it’s ready.”

“There’s a booth in the back,” Austin said, pointing. “We should grab it before someone else does.”

They settled into the booth, Liam on one side and the boys on the other. He would’ve been surprised if one of them had sat next to him, but it didn’t stop him wondering if they were starting to see him as some stern father figure. God, that would be a disaster.

“I wish Patrick was here,” he said wryly. “It’d even up the numbers.”

They glanced at each other first before looking at him, a question in their eyes.

“We’d love to see him again sometime,” Jay said, sounding as cautious as a man navigating a stream by hopping from one slippery rock to another, “but we’ve kind of lost touch the last few months. He’s met someone else; we told you, remember?”

“Of course I bloody remember. I’m not senile.” Oh great. Now he was snapping at them. Liam stacked the books and pushed them to one side. “Sorry. It wasn’t a genuine wish to see him, though I agree it’d be nice. I was just feeling…isolated, I suppose.”

“I know what you mean,” Austin said. “Two of us, one of you…”

“And when we give you a hard time, it probably feels like we’re both twins.”

Austin opened his mouth, and Liam held up his hand, grateful the background music allowed him to speak freely if he kept his voice down. “Before you say a word, Austin, no, I’m not tired of you or looking to swap the pair of you for one nicely obedient and well-trained boy who’d bore me to death in a week.” He patted the top book. “Now why don’t we take a quick look before our food arrives, and you can see if any of the layouts look appealing.”

“If you give me the dimensions, I can sketch out anything you have in mind,” Jay offered. “It’s what I do when I plan a diorama.”

“He’s really good at it,” Austin put in.

“I’m sure he is.” Liam smiled at Jay. “It’d be very helpful to have something to show to the contractors. Thank you.”

“So we’re really doing this?” Jay asked.

“I haven’t done more than check out some books and arranged for contractors to come by next week and give me some estimates,” Liam said. “Am I rushing you too much? I know this idea isn’t one you’re entirely happy with.”

Jay stared at the table as if he wished there were something to fiddle with, then shook his head. “No, it’s okay. It’s good. I think we have to keep moving forward.” He glanced at Austin, whose relief was written all over his face.

Liam wished there was a way to give both of them exactly what they needed. It was impossible. Austin needed the security of being as close to a full-time sub as their schedules would allow, and Jay didn’t, but Jay would go along with it for Austin’s sake. Well. Liam would just have to do his best to be sure Jay got the things he needed too. If that meant experimenting with more intense sessions, so be it.

Austin slid one of the books closer and opened it. “We need a place for Jay’s dioramas.”

“I thought I’d relocate the exercise equipment, though I hadn’t quite sorted out to where.”

“I don’t need that much space,” Jay protested, but Liam and Austin gave him identical looks of doubt and he subsided.

“I think, with some sort of built-in cupboard for storage, we’ll be able to consolidate your current setup into less square footage,” Liam said. “But you still need enough room for a good-sized worktable.”

“Maybe like this?” Austin pushed the book toward the middle of the table so they could both see the photograph he indicated “It says it’s for scrapbooking, but it’s the right idea. I guess some of the drawers would have to be taller—”

“And some of them would have to open out.” Jay frowned and flipped through the next few pages. “What if the work surface folded up? Like one of those old-fashioned beds that went up against the wall during the day? I don’t know what that’s called.”

“But when you’re building something big, you can’t break it down.” Liam drummed his fingers against the table, shuffling ideas in his head as if this were a work-related problem, not a personal one, striving to get some objectivity. “How about a shed in the garden? A big one, I mean? Easy enough to run power out to it, which would mean you can heat or cool it depending on the season.”

“I’d never see him,” Austin said bluntly. “He goes up into the loft space for hours, but at least I can hear him moving. If he was out in the yard…”

“You can’t build me a room!” Jay leaned over the table, color rising in his face. “You’re just… It’s too much. All of it.”

For all his protests, there was a flash of yearning in his eyes. For Austin, used to a big family and a crowded house, moving in with Liam wouldn’t seem that big a deal in some ways, but for Jay, whose parents had shuffled him between them until he’d grown old enough to step out of range, even making a home with Austin must’ve seemed new and scary.

And now I’m—we’re—asking him to abandon it and take an even bigger step into the unknown.

Liam had been blaming himself for Jay’s recent hostility, but he was beginning to wonder if it stemmed from unacknowledged fear rather than true resentment.

You’re their Dom, he told himself. Take the reins. Stop overthinking something that should come naturally.

“A workshop would be a useful addition to the place if it turns out you need it,” he said. “Stop being such a drama queen. Austin, I think you’ll find I won’t permit Jay to withdraw from us for hours at a time, any more than I’ll put up with you tidying obsessively. I’m counting on you both to put some life into the place, not turn it into a show home.”

“You can’t push us around like this.”

If Jay had intended it to sound defiant, he failed miserably.

Liam reached inside his shirt collar and tugged at the chain around his neck until the key hanging from it was visible. Jay’s eyes widened. “Is that—”

“It’s exactly what it looks like. Proof that I don’t push you around without your full approval and consent. I see our food’s on the way, so I suggest, as my grandmother would’ve said, that you save your breath to cool your porridge.”

“Huh?”

“He means shut up and eat.” Austin dug his elbow into Jay’s ribs, a friendly nudge. “And I’m starving, so that gets my vote too. Thank you.” This last was directed to the hostess, who set down the tray with their food and started doling it out without requiring a reminder of who had ordered what.

“You’re welcome. If you need anything else, just let me know.” She took the tray with her when she left, tucking it under her arm. As soon as her back was turned, Austin stole an onion ring from Jay.

“Food thief,” Jay said with affection.

“I’m a horrible boyfriend,” Austin told Liam. “I should be giving him my food, not taking his.”

“I’m not that skinny,” Jay protested. “And it’s not my fault that my metabolism is out-of-control fast. If I could turn it down or up or whichever it is, I would.” He took an enormous bite of his sandwich.

“There doesn’t seem to be much wrong with your appetite,” Liam said drily. He enjoyed watching the gusto with which they ate. It matched the enthusiasm they had for sex, and he wondered if the two were connected. They were both sensual pleasures, after all.

He took a sip of his tea—not strong enough, but it’d do—and settled back, flicking through one of the books as they ate, content to let the conversation drop.

When their plates were empty, he waited for a cue from them about what they wanted to do next. Outside a scene, he still found it difficult to relate to them, though it’d been getting easier before this current roadblock.

“How’s your mother, Austin?” he asked. “You said she’d been trying to shake off a cold?”

Austin wiped his hands on a paper napkin. “She’s still coughing like someone who smokes a pack a day—and she’s never touched a cigarette in her life—but she says she’s feeling human again. She’s mostly worried about my brothers catching it. They’re complete babies when they get sick.”

“And you’re stoic and uncomplaining,” Jay said with a roll of his eyes.

“I think it’s a guy thing. My wife said I regressed to age seven when I came down with a bug.”

Mentioning his wife always felt like throwing a stone into a still pool and disturbing the placid water, but Liam wasn’t going to pretend Barbara and his kids didn’t exist.

“Want to hear something funny?” Jay said, ending the patch of awkward silence. Without waiting for either of them to answer, he said, “April’s in love.”

“It’s not funny,” Austin muttered under his breath. “It’s tragic. For him, anyway.”

Liam’s brief interactions with Austin’s sister had been enough to establish a strong dislike for the girl, but he had the impression that Austin was the only one who was allowed to say negative things about her. “I take it this is new?”

Austin nodded and stirred what was left at the bottom of his milkshake cup with his straw. “She met someone at college. She talks about him likes he’s different from the previous boyfriends. No, like she’s different, with him.” He frowned and sat back. “Can we get out of here? If you guys are done, I mean?”

Outside, the streetlights were lit up, and the street wasn’t much emptier than it had been half an hour before. Jay slipped an arm around Liam’s waist, tucking himself into Liam’s warmth, and after a few seconds of surprise Liam put an arm around his shoulders in return.

“So yeah, she sounds really serious about him. Like she wants to live up to his expectations,” Austin said, and Liam realized he was still talking about his sister. “It was probably the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had with her.”

“And that’s saying a lot,” Jay added.

Dry leaves crunched under their feet as they walked. “Let’s cut across the park,” Austin said, and they changed course, following the brick path between two large swathes of lawn lined with trees that were now mostly bare of leaves.

A jogger was on the path, heading toward them, her breath puffing out on the air. Liam expected Jay to break their embrace, if only so they could let her pass through their group, but to his surprise, Jay called out to her, bringing her to a halt in front of them. She was medium height, stocky, her blonde hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, her face flushed with exertion.

“Hi, Laura,” Austin said, grinning at her. “Don’t you know keeping fit isn’t good for you?”

She snorted, moving from foot to foot. “I’m cooling down after a five-mile run. You and the hobbit here wouldn’t make it past one, if that.”

Curious, Liam squashed his instinctive desire to step in front of his subs and defend them. They were both clearly happy to see Laura, so he’d be doing nothing but making a fool of himself.

“Going to introduce me to tall, dark, and wondering who the hell I am?”

“I can see you’re a friend of theirs, which is good enough for me.” Disentangling himself from Jay, Liam held out his hand. “Liam Thornton.”

She shook it briefly, the clasp of her hand firm without being overpowering. “Laura Sims. So…”

“It’s okay,” Austin said when Laura looked unsure of what to say. “He’s a friend of Patrick’s.” He turned his head to smile at Liam. “Laura’s the one who introduced us to Patrick.”

Liam appreciated the way Austin was being discreet and at the same time laying the foundation for frankness if he felt inclined. Austin hadn’t come out and told Laura that Liam was their Dom, but from the keen interest in her eyes as she studied Liam, she’d drawn her own conclusions.

“You two still in that apartment over near the realty office?” she asked Jay, and he nodded.

“Maybe not for too much longer, though.” Jay glanced at Liam.

“I’m thinking of becoming a landlord,” Liam said, hefting the books he was holding. “Doing some renovations.”

“Good.” Laura gave him an appraising look, and Liam met her gaze evenly until she glanced at Austin. “I’ve never liked the idea of you two on your own, since Patrick left. You seem like the types who are better off with…more security.”

“I keep an eye on them,” Liam assured her.

“I can see that. I’m glad.” Laura smiled and seemed finally to relax a bit, as if until that moment she’d been on her guard. “I talked to Patrick a couple of weeks ago. He seemed good. Happy. And not worried about you, which should have been all the reassurance I needed. Still, it’s good to see it with my own eyes.”

Austin’s hand slipped into Liam’s, and he inched half a step closer. “What about you? How are you?”

Smiling, Laura said, “Sweaty, at the moment. But I’m well. Busy—I like to keep busy. It’s important to have a full life.”

“Are you…keeping an eye on someone?” Liam asked.

She chuckled. “I am. Chris—remember him, boys? He’s waiting for me to get back so I can give him the spanking he earned this morning for burning my toast, then arguing that it wasn’t his fault. That’s why I’ve made the run a long one. Never hurts to keep a sub waiting and build up the anticipation.”

For a moment Liam panicked. He wasn’t used to discussing the lifestyle in public, though there was no one around to hear them. Laura was a stranger, after all, and— Austin tightened his grip on Liam’s hand, and Jay moved closer again, supporting him, shielding him.

It’s okay, he told himself, seeing the understanding in Laura’s eyes. She’s like me. She knows. She’s safe.

“I’ve found it a useful tool.” He cleared his throat. “Jay generally gets impatient enough that by the time I’m ready to begin, he’s earned himself a few extra strokes for whining.”

“Sir!”

Exhilaration filling him, Liam continued, “And Austin frets himself to the point where I could spank him with a feather and he’d still yell.”

“That is so not true.” Austin shook his head. “Two of them,” he said across Liam to Jay. “They’re ganging up on us. They’ll be swapping spanking tips next.”

“Discussing their favorite paddles…”

“Enough,” Liam said firmly, freeing his hand so he could administer a brisk smack to the backs of two heads. “Laura will think I haven’t trained you properly.”

“Laura thinks you’ve got a double helping of trouble,” she said, her amusement plain.

“I’m not complaining.” Liam wasn’t, and wouldn’t, and it was still important to him that he said it out loud so that Austin and Jay would be reassured. “In any case, I like a challenge.”

“I can see that you do.” Laura glanced at her watch and grimaced. “As much as I enjoy tormenting my boy, I should really get going. Could I give you my number, Liam?”

The thought hadn’t occurred to him, but as soon as she mentioned it he jumped at the chance. With the things he’d been considering adding to their repertoire, it would be brilliant to have someone to bounce ideas off. “Of course. Here, just add it in.” He gave her his cell phone and watched as she typed in her information.

“Great,” she said, handing it back. “Nice to meet you. Call me!” And with that she waved and walked off into the night.

“That was nice,” Austin said. “We haven’t seen her in ages.”

“And Chris. Maybe we could get together with them sometime.” Jay sounded wistful.

“I’d like that,” Liam said, surprising himself by how much he meant it. “I assume you know her from the meetings you went to?”

“Yeah. I miss the meetings too, but we just drifted away from them,” Jay said as they began to walk.

“They wouldn’t be my cup of tea, but why don’t you start going again?” Liam suggested. “And maybe we could have Laura and Chris over one night when you’re settled in.”

“But that could be ages away. Couldn’t we just meet up at your place anyway? Please, Sir? Laura’s really nice, and you’ll like Chris. He’s super subby. Twenty-four/seven slave, with a collar and a contract.” Now it was Austin’s turn to sound wistful.

“‘Super subby’?” Liam rolled his eyes. “Talk English, Austin. And stop trying to wheedle me by looking adorable. It won’t work.”

Jay snickered, earning a glare from Liam that sobered him for a moment before Liam grinned at him. “Fine, Austin’s got a secret weapon. But I’d like to see them, so this isn’t me giving in, just so we’re clear.”

“As crystal,” Jay said. He brushed his hand against Liam’s, his attitude changing, his head lowered. “Sir…”

“Yes?”

“You said me wearing the, uh, you know, turned you on.”

“I don’t think this is really the time or place…” Liam began, a wave of heat rising to color his cheeks.

“No, Sir. But if you came back with us, it might be.”

Intrigued, happy that Jay had shaken off his mood, Liam asked, “What did you have in mind?”

“I want you to see me wearing it,” Jay whispered. “Make me watch Austin come from whatever you’re doing to him. Tease me until I’m crying, begging you to take it off, but don’t listen. Don’t be kind. I don’t deserve it. I want you to see me learning my lesson, Sir.”

The thought of it made Liam shiver with arousal. “Yes,” he said hoarsely. “God, yes.”

Chapter Nine

Austin let Jay go in first, then closed the apartment door behind him, shivering. It was mid-November, an icy sleet falling, and their place wasn’t much warmer than outside. There were drawbacks to living at the top of the old house. God, he was looking forward to moving. Liam’s home was always at the perfect temperature, no drafts, no cool spots. Hell, even his bathroom floors were heated.

With Liam knowing exactly what he wanted done and the contractor he’d hired conscious of the bonus Liam had promised him if the work was done quickly, the basement renovation had gone well. The last of the work had been completed the day before, and they’d planned to spend the weekend painting, then move in the following weekend, after the smell of paint had faded.

The space was light, roomy, the glass doors leading out to the garden taking away any sense of being underground. Liam hadn’t skimped on anything, and there was no doubt that it was exactly what he’d promised it would be—a self-contained apartment big enough for the two of them.

Austin wondered if they’d ever use it as more than a place to keep their clothes.

“You want to take a shower?” he asked Jay.

“Not right now.” Jay sighed and stretched, then flopped onto the couch. “I mean, I need one, but I’m exhausted.”

“We were bowling, not running a marathon,” Austin said with a grin. They’d met up with some friends to bowl, followed by pizza. It’d been fun in an undemanding way, and he’d enjoyed it.

“Those balls are heavy,” Jay said. “And I swear mine weren’t round. Did you see the way they kept swerving into the gutter?”

“Try throwing with your eyes open,” Austin suggested drily.

“Austin? Can I tell you something?” Jay rolled onto his side, his smile vanishing, his gaze intent.

“Of course,” Austin said. He sat down and pulled Jay half into his lap, running a hand roughly along Jay’s spine the way Jay liked.

“I can’t stop thinking about the fire play. I told Liam I wanted to weeks ago, and he just…forgot about it.”

Austin sighed. “He’s been busy, Jay. You know that. Busy at work, then the builders ripped everything up… Give him time.”

“Do you think he’ll do it?”

“If he really didn’t want to, he’d have said so right away, not messed you around. He’s a jump-right-in guy, not a toe dipper.”

“It feels like he’s going to keep me waiting forever.” Jay sounded so sad. “Not knowing if it’s ever going to happen…that’s what I can’t take.”

“I know.” Austin stroked Jay’s long, silky hair.

“Would you do it?” Jay sat up and gripped Austin’s hand, lifted it to his mouth, and kissed it. “We can do it on our own. We’ve done other stuff. Maybe, if we could just do it once, if I could get it out of my system before we move in, I’ll be so good for him, I really will—”

“You know you’ll just want more,” Austin protested. “Shh, come on. It’ll be okay. You have to trust that Liam will give us what we need.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Jay said, his voice sharp and almost angry. “You’d be happy if all he wanted was for you to clean his floors on your hands and knees for the rest of your life.” Jay’s face fell into miserable lines again. “Sorry. Jesus. I didn’t mean that.”

Austin kissed him because they both needed it, cradling Jay’s face between his hands. “I know. And you’re not totally wrong.” It still hurt, a little bit, but mostly it was an indication of how much Jay needed more than he was getting. And despite Austin’s encouragement that Jay trust Liam, chances were all Doms had a line they wouldn’t cross. Austin wasn’t sure if Liam’s was on the other side of fire play, not when it was so risky and the potential damage was so extreme. “We’ll figure it out, okay?”

“Is that a yes?”

“It’s not a no. I guess it’s a maybe.”

Jay might have wanted more, but that was as far as Austin would go until he’d done some research of his own. He could see why Liam was dragging his feet.

* * * * *

Gulping down a last mouthful of coffee, Austin headed for the door. “Jay, I’m going. Are you still in the shower?”

“No, I’m here.” Jay walked in, his wet hair hanging straight and heavy, his chest bare, a towel wrapped around his waist. “You’re heading off early.”

“Fridays are always busy, and I want to make sure I can get away early tonight.”

Jay scratched his ribs, drawing Austin’s gaze. Jay’s skin was flushed from the heat of the water, but in the cooler air of the room his nipples had tightened. “Got time to kiss me? Or am I too wet?”

Austin would’ve found time to kiss Jay if the building had been on fire when he asked like that, provocative and teasing on the surface, vulnerability peeking out. “Why do you think I told you I was leaving? Come here.”

Jay in his arms, warm and smelling of grapefruit shower gel, made breaking the kiss harder than usual. Austin couldn’t stop caressing Jay’s back, loving the way the dampness made his hands drag at the skin. Whatever Jay had been doing in the shower had gotten him horny as hell, his breath coming fast and shallow.

“Want to suck you before you go,” Jay murmured into his ear, rubbing up against Austin, as demanding as a hungry cat, the towel falling to the floor. Even though Liam had removed the cock cage after a week, the memory of it touching Austin’s thigh during a hug from Jay was vivid. Austin had flinched, stepped back, leaving Jay with hurt darkening his eyes. If Liam ever used it on him, Austin wasn’t sure he’d be able to bear it for more than a day. “All I can taste is mouthwash. Want to taste you. Please? Just for a minute?”

Austin was tempted, not least by the way the residue of the mouthwash would make his cock tingle, but stopping before he came got harder every time they did this.

“Really want to, even if it makes me late, but I can’t risk it.” He couldn’t stop petting Jay, though, straining toward him, his hardening cock craving contact with something—Jay’s thigh, his hand, anything.

His hands clamped on Jay’s ass, Austin bit Jay’s shoulder, moaning at the way Jay surged against him, wanton and needy. Jay would kneel for him with nothing more than Austin’s hand on his shoulder as a signal, open his mouth wide, take Austin’s cock, sucking and licking at it greedily…

The phone rang, the interruption sending a wave of adrenaline through Austin, his heart pounding as he pulled away from Jay and moved to answer it. “Hi, hello?” God, he sounded like an idiot; the apologetic glance he directed at Jay was for more than the fact that they’d been interrupted.

“Austin—good, I wasn’t sure if I’d catch you before you left.” It was Liam, impatient and hurried.

“I was just getting ready,” Austin told him. “Is everything okay?”

“Depends on who you ask.” Liam sighed. “I’m sorry. I have to cancel our plans tonight.”

Austin’s heart sank. “Okay.” It wasn’t okay, not by a long shot, but he could tell from Liam’s tone of voice that he wasn’t happy about it, either.

“It’s not. It’s completely unacceptable, but it’s also unavoidable. I’d get out of it if I could. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s okay. We understand.”

Jay wrapped the discarded towel around his waist and came closer, reading Austin’s distress like an expert. He slipped an arm around Austin’s waist and waited.

“I’m so sorry. I’ll make it up to you, I swear it. Apologize to Jay for me? If I manage to get out of the office sooner than I think, I’ll phone you.”

“Okay. Bye.” Austin waited until he was sure the call had disconnected before throwing the phone onto the couch. “Tonight’s off.”

“Shit,” Jay said. “Why did we have to take up with a lawyer? We should have known better.”

“Little late for that now,” Austin said, running a hand through his hair. “He said he can’t help it. He’s really sorry. I’m sure he was looking forward to it as much as we were.”

“Yeah.” Hugging him, Jay said, “Well, whatever. We’ll do something tonight without him, right?”

“Right.” Austin kissed Jay and headed for the door. “Love you.”

It wasn’t until Austin was getting into the car that he realized when Jay said “something,” he meant fire play. Knowing there’d be no Liam that night made it tempting to give in, to do what Jay wanted, and by the time Austin arrived at work, he’d come close to making up his mind.

Austin had been at his job long enough that it was second nature. It was simple for him to compile paperwork and file insurance forms and answer the occasional phone call while thinking the whole time about fire play. He’d done a lot of reading, and he’d bought the things they’d need, including two new fire extinguishers. Every rule for how to play with fire safely had been committed to memory, repeated over and over again.

If they were going to do this, they were going to do it right. There was no way Austin would chance hurting Jay. Well, not in a way Jay didn’t want to be hurt, and the possibility there was a looming future in which Jay pushed further and harder was something Austin couldn’t contemplate just then.

He made his way home with his thoughts still focused wholly on Jay and was relieved the apartment was empty. Dealing with Jay’s wild anticipation would be too much. He had to be in the right head space for this. It gave him time to set the stage, though he didn’t plan to do anything until later. They usually went to Liam’s at eight; he’d stick to that time and frame the new experience with the familiar routine.

The small room that was technically his bedroom, only used when one of them was sick, seemed like a good place to do it. Austin stripped the bed to a single sheet and put the small fire extinguishers on either side of it. He’d bought a fire blanket from a camping store, and he spread it out on the bed. It was gray and scratchy, but he couldn’t see Jay caring about that.

Austin had decided to go with something really simple, hoping to satisfy Jay’s curiosity with as little risk as possible. He’d seen videos of hairstyling mousse spread on skin in a design and then ignited. It wasn’t supposed to hurt. He’d experimented in the bathroom, squirting the mousse out into the sink and lighting it with a match, a jug of water at hand just in case. The experiment had gone well, but he hadn’t felt the slightest desire to test it on his skin.

If Jay wanted more, he’d gotten a small bottle of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. Like the mousse, that could be applied to skin, lit, then smothered with a wet towel, but Austin was hoping not to go that far.

He sat on the edge of the bed and put his head down. His stomach was tight with nerves. This wasn’t his fucking job; it was Liam’s. It felt all wrong for him to be standing in Liam’s place and doing this to Jay, but Jay wasn’t going to wait for Liam’s decision. Not when there was a possibility that Liam would decide he didn’t want to do it. Jay’s mood was still volatile, veering wildly between rebellion and ardent submission. The cancellation of the session had been the worst news possible.

The click and creak of Jay coming through the front door propelled Austin to his feet. He couldn’t let Jay see him stressing about this; it would fuck up the experience. Part of the session was about the Dom—or in this case the person standing in for the Dom—being in control so that the sub didn’t have to be. If the Dom’s confidence was lacking, the whole thing would be an exercise in futility.

Austin went down the short hallway toward the kitchen, where he could hear Jay opening the fridge. “Hi,” he said to Jay’s back, then, as Jay turned around holding a bottle of beer, “Um, no way. Not tonight.”

Jay’s face lit up like sunshine on water. “Does that mean yes?”

“It means yes,” Austin confirmed and was too late to fend off Jay’s rib-crushing hug. “Ow, hey! That bottle cap is sharp!”

“Sorry,” Jay said, backing off. “Sorry, I was just—”

“I know.”

Jay was grinning so widely that it had to hurt his face. His hands settled at Austin’s waist, tugging him closer. “God, I wish you could fuck me right now.”

There was no way Austin could do that without coming, and they both knew it. They’d just have to put everything they had into tonight’s session and wait until tomorrow night with Liam to come. “Me too. Let’s split a sandwich, okay? I don’t want to go into this on an empty stomach.”

“Okay.”

Jay washed lettuce leaves and sliced a tomato while Austin put mayo on multigrain bread and layered on turkey and ham. It was harder to choke down bites than Austin had imagined, but not just because he was stressed out. Now, infected by Jay’s excitement and enthusiasm, Austin was eager too.

“Get naked,” he told Jay as he put their plates into the dishwasher. “Leave all your clothes in the bedroom, and for God’s sake, tie your hair back.”

“Do you want me to shower first?”

Austin hesitated and cursed himself. Liam never did that. “Yes, but don’t use deodorant or body lotion or—”

“Since when do I use lotion?” Jay asked with a grin. “Do we even have any?”

“It just said not to on all the sites I visited, and I’ve memorized all the safety instructions,” Austin said. “I guess I’m more nervous about this than I should be.”

“Come into the shower with me,” Jay said, his hands on Austin’s shoulders. “It’s still early, and it’d relax you. We’ve got all night. There’s no rush now that I know it’s going to happen. I want to enjoy it.” He bit his lip. “I want you to enjoy it too. Are you really freaked by the idea?”

“Yeah, kind of, but I still want to do it for you,” Austin answered with enough truth to it that Jay looked satisfied. “I thought we could try the mousse.”

Jay nodded. “Yeah? It’s a good place to start. What design are you going to do? Where are you putting it? My back? My ass?”

I don’t know, Austin wanted to scream at him. I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to do this. With an attempt at playfulness, he turned Jay around and swatted his ass lightly. “Less talk, more showering. If I’m in charge for the night—”

“Then you need to work on your English accent— Ow! That hurt.”

“It was supposed to,” Austin said. “Bedroom. Strip. I’ll start the shower.”

Jay joined him in the bathroom before the water was hot, naked and shifting his weight from one foot to the other as if eager for what was to come. He had goose bumps, and his hair was tied back as Austin had instructed. “Brr! Should have turned up the heat.”

“Let’s see if you’re still saying that in half an hour,” Austin told him. It was impossible not to be happy in the face of Jay’s happiness, and when it came right down to it, he’d read everything he’d been able to find. He was probably a lot better prepared for what they were about to try than most people.

“Can I get in? Come on, you get in too.” Jay didn’t wait for him, disappearing behind the shower curtain with a rustle of plastic.

Austin quickly shed his clothes and joined Jay. It felt so good to wrap his arms around Jay’s naked body and let the hot water beat down on them, but he started to get hard immediately.

“Let me suck you,” Jay murmured. “Just a little.”

“No. I wish I could.” He hated having to refuse Jay, but in another twenty-four hours Liam would almost certainly let them both come. They had to wait. “Turn around so I can wash your back.”

Austin worked the soap into a lather and applied it to Jay’s perfect skin, running his fingers over it. The thought of doing something that would scar Jay—even if Jay wouldn’t mind, and he probably wouldn’t—freaked him out and was the main reason he was hesitant. He couldn’t bear the thought of Jay’s beautiful body being marred by scar tissue he’d put on it.

“We have to be really careful,” he said.

“I know,” Jay told him. “We will. I’ll do everything you tell me.”

“If you don’t, it’s not happening. Because I love you, not because I don’t. You know?”

Jay nodded. “I’d be the same way with you. But what we’re doing is baby stuff.”

Austin leaned his head against Jay’s shoulder. “I’m putting something on you and setting it on fire. Not baby stuff.” He shivered reflexively, then realized his hands were clutching Jay’s upper arms too tightly to be comfortable. He eased off, conscience stricken by the red marks his fingers had left, though Jay hadn’t protested. Why would he? Liam did much worse, and Jay just begged for more. “Let’s get out.”

“Sure.”

They dried off, and Austin pulled on a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. Jay stood naked, his eyes dreamy. Austin took two small towels from the linen cupboard outside the bathroom. “I’m going to soak these and wring them out. Can you take another towel in there that I can put them on so I don’t get the bed wet?”

“Sure,” Jay said again. Austin had the feeling Jay’s response would’ve been the same no matter what he’d said. Jay was focused on what was to come, anticipating it with the intensity of a kid with an upcoming birthday.

Austin just hoped he could make this worthwhile.

When Jay was lying on his stomach, the long tail of his hair pulled forward over his shoulder, well away from his back, a rolled, damp towel across his shoulders providing a protective barrier, Austin took a deep breath. It didn’t do much to help slow his racing heart, but running his hand over Jay’s back did. A strong connection between them formed, based on a shared trust, a shared love. He’d felt that way with Liam so many times, draped over Liam’s lap or kneeling at his feet. He’d planned to ask Jay if he was sure about what they were about to do, but instead he asked, “Are you ready?”

“Yes, Sir,” Jay said, the words spoken quietly but clearly.

He wanted to ask Jay not to call him that, but it would just ruin things. Austin wanted this to be as good for Jay as he could make it. He lit the squat candle and checked the Q-tips he had ready on a plate, the wide cup with a tiny amount of isopropyl alcohol in it, and the empty dinner plate. He reached for the bottle of mousse, the brand he’d chosen the result of hours of research, and shook it well before squeezing a very small amount onto Jay’s back in a horizontal line that went from just beneath one shoulder blade to the other.

“Here we go.” Austin dipped a Q-tip into the alcohol, lit it on the candle, and touched it to the end of the line of mousse.

The flame flared faster than he’d expected, but it was over in a matter of two seconds, a brief flash and then gone. Austin hastily wiped his water-dampened hand over Jay’s skin to make sure the flame was out—apparently it sometimes kept burning and you couldn’t really see it, which, if it was true, made fire play even more dangerous.

“How was that?” he asked anxiously. “Talk to me.”

“Weird.” Jay sounded calm, at least. “At first it was cold, then it was colder, now it’s warm. It didn’t stay hot for more a few breaths.”

“Do you…”

Jay sighed, a quiet exhalation. “Oh yeah. Again. Please. I just wish I could see it.”

“If I did it on your chest or stomach, I’d need to shave you to be safe,” Austin pointed out. “Just concentrate on how it feels.”

“I can do that.” Jay stretched out luxuriously and wriggled his ass. “Do it there?”

The second time it was easier. Austin drew a lopsided heart across Jay’s ass, smiling as the foam expanded, white and thick.

“Ready?”

He got a contented murmur; then the foam was burning, consumed in a moment, leaving nothing behind. Chemical magic.

Jay cried out with pleasure, a soft, wordless sound. “Oh yeah. Oh God, I love it. More. No, wait. Try the alcohol directly on me this time.”

Dubious, his doubts returning in a rush, Austin picked up a fresh Q-tip and soaked it in the alcohol, then drew a random squiggle on Jay’s back, low down.

“That’s it,” Jay encouraged him.

Austin stared at the candle flame, watching it flare and bend, responding to a shift in the air. Had Jay opened the small window in the bathroom? The flame held his gaze, flickering wildly, but in the end he shook his head, unseen by Jay, before swiping the wet towel across Jay’s back. “No. I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“I’m glad to see you’ve got that much sense at least,” Liam said from the doorway, his voice so rigidly controlled it was clear he was furious even without seeing his face.

Not that Austin could have kept from turning, though he was careful to wet his fingers and put the candle flame out first. “Sir.” He didn’t know what else to say. He was terrified, like a little kid who’d just been caught playing with matches.

Liam came closer and picked up the wet towel, wiping Jay’s skin with it a second time. “Jay, go get in the shower immediately. Use soap, and do not come out until you’re sure you’re clean. And don’t argue.”

The look on Jay’s face made it obvious he’d been thinking about trying to explain, but he bit his lip, nodded, and crept away. A moment later Austin heard the shower turn on again.

“Sit down,” Liam said grimly. “No, don’t. Clean up all of this. In five minutes I don’t want to be able to see any sign of what you were about to get yourselves into.”

“I’m sorry,” Austin said, figuring he’d say more even if he didn’t know what it would be.

“I didn’t tell you to speak,” Liam snapped.

Trembling, Austin did as he’d been told, quickly but without being careless. He put everything that had been in contact with flammable liquid into the bucket of water, which he carried to the kitchen and put beside the sink. He poured the alcohol back into the bottle it had come from and took the fire extinguishers to the kitchen as well. Then he returned to the bedroom and began to fold the blanket Jay had been lying on.

“I can’t believe you,” Liam said. His voice was low, as if he was so angry he didn’t dare raise it. That was good. Austin didn’t want to see what Liam out of control was like. “I know Jay has a tendency to do stupid things on the spur of the moment. He’s impulsive; he doesn’t always have sense when it comes to ideas like this. But you—I thought you knew better.”

Austin finished folding the blanket and took it to the closet, where he tucked it onto the top shelf.

“Let me see your hands,” Liam ordered, and Austin went to him, palms up.

“I’m not burned,” he said, offering that up as if it would calm Liam down, when he knew, he fucking knew it wouldn’t. “And Jay’s okay—”

Liam’s hand pressed against his mouth, not a slap, just a reminder that he wasn’t supposed to talk. Austin knew that hand. It had spanked him, caressed him, held him down. He’d kissed it, sucked the long fingers until they were wet and hot from his mouth, then spread his legs so Liam could slide them deep inside his ass.

Now Liam’s hand was cold and stiff, all warmth fled.

“You speak again, and I’ll go. I’ll walk out of here. I don’t want to hear what you have to say when I’m this angry. I don’t trust myself.”

Austin closed his eyes, shame and panic rising. He was light-headed, the room swirling around him. Oh God, that choking, suffocating darkness, the cold sweat on his back… He was going to pass out or throw up.

Liam snatched his hand away, and Austin let himself be guided to the bed, let his head be pushed between his knees, submitted to his body voiding itself into the wastepaper bin, fortunately empty.

He threw up, retching helplessly until his mouth burned, acid-coated, and his nose ran. The world smelled revolting, and his eyes were watering, his skin clammy.

A damp towel came to rest against the back of his neck, soothing but still a shock. Then Liam used it to wipe his face.

The shame was about the only thing he couldn’t puke up into the bucket. It lay in the pit of his stomach, heavy, greasy, impossible to dislodge.

Austin wanted to beg Liam for forgiveness. He wanted to say he was sorry, so sorry, to claim all responsibility and deny Jay any. Instead he did the only things he could do—he took the damp towel from Liam, scrubbed it over his mouth again, and slid off the bed to kneel on the floor at Liam’s feet.

Liam didn’t touch him, didn’t say a word.

The sound of the shower wasn’t audible anymore; Jay must have turned it off. A moment later Jay came into the room—naked, still dripping water like he hadn’t bothered with a towel. Liam made an impatient gesture, and Jay nodded and knelt down half a world away from Austin.

“This is the line,” Liam said grimly. “This is where you learn my limits. I need you both to do some hard thinking. Do you trust me to give you what you need? Or are you going to be peering around every corner hoping to sneak something more, like greedy children? You’re both far too old to be acting this way.”

“Sir…” Jay said in a whisper, but Liam shook his head.

“No. I said I wanted you to think before you answered me, and I meant it. I don’t want you falling over yourselves to apologize and promise the world if it’ll get you spanked and forgiven. That’s just more instant gratification for you, and you don’t deserve it after what you’ve put me through.” The tight, clipped words faltered, a look of shock passing over Liam’s face. “God, I think I said that exact thing to my son once.” Liam swallowed, his mouth twisting, his composure lost for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice shook, raw with distress and anger. “You’re making me feel like your father, damn it, and I don’t want to be that to either of you. Your Dom. Your lover. Not a fucking substitute for a dead man and an uncaring one.”

Had he ever thought of Liam that way? Austin’s memories of his father were like a handful of beads, separate, small incidents captured in a hard shell, unchanging. They had no depth to them, no background to set them against.

Nothing about Liam matched those memories. Liam was…Liam. Lonely, reserved, living in a house that said nothing about him—but capable of so much warmth and imagination during a scene. Liam, learning to love them almost against his will, still sometimes unsure when he was in bed with them, until they brought him to the point where there was nothing in his eyes but incredulous pleasure. Liam, so fucking patient, endlessly pushing them to do more, give him more, demanding, perfectionist, ruthless, perfect…

“No.” He forced the word out through stiff lips dry with panic. If Liam left them, walked out for good… “We don’t see you that way. We don’t.”

Liam sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. “I honestly don’t know whether to believe you.”

“I’m not lying to you, Sir—” Austin started.

“Stop. Don’t call me Sir, not now. Just be quiet, both of you. Let me think.” Liam looked wrecked, like he’d walked in on them cheating on him instead of playing around with a candle and some flammable liquid.

That wasn’t fair, Austin knew. It was the kind of thing Jay would say out loud—he wouldn’t mean it, not really, but he’d say it. Normally Austin wouldn’t even think it. He waited, glad he’d been told not to say anything, because he didn’t have any idea what to say. The thought of Liam leaving them made him feel cold and sick. He wiped his mouth again.

“Get dressed,” Liam said wearily. “Austin, if you want to go rinse out your mouth and that bin, go ahead. We need to talk, and we can’t do it like this.”

“I’ll clean the bin,” Jay said, as subdued as Austin had ever seen him. He disappeared with it, leaving Austin to give Liam a helpless look, wanting some sign from Liam that everything would be okay.

Instead Liam got to his feet. “I’ve changed my mind. I can’t stay here. I need…I need some time to work out what the hell I did wrong.”

“Nothing,” Austin said urgently. “Liam, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

He wasn’t sure Liam heard him. There was a blind, dazed look on Liam’s face for a moment, followed by a frown of concentration. Then Liam shook his head as if he were being pestered by a fly and walked to the door.

Austin wanted to chase after him, grab Liam’s arm, say the right things, all the perfect words to mend this, but he stayed where he was.

He heard Jay saying Liam’s name, heard Liam say something about talking to them tomorrow, but that was vague and far away, muffled voices in a fog.

The only clear sound, painfully sharp and final, was the slam of the door.

Chapter Ten

Liam got into his car and closed the door, robbed of a satisfyingly emphatic slam by modern engineering. He made up for it by yanking at the seat belt so hard it jammed. Once he’d dealt with that minor issue, he shoved the key at the ignition slot and cursed as the key ring fell from his shaking hand.

He needed to leave before Austin or Jay looked out the window and saw him still sitting here, but he was in no condition to drive. Trying to be sensible, he bent over and retrieved his keys, carefully inserted the car key into place, and left it there.

The street was deserted on this chilly evening, with a fine sleet falling to discourage anyone but dog walkers and the hardiest joggers.

Liam leaned back in his seat, his breath coming in loud, harsh pants.

Walking up to their apartment, anticipating his welcome, using the key they’d given him with a pleasurable sense of belonging… He’d thought about how thrilled they’d be to see him, hadn’t considered explaining how hard he’d worked all day toward the possibility that he’d be able to finish up in time to see them, no matter how briefly.

Hearing Jay’s voice, thick with arousal, and feeling immediate annoyance that they were breaking his rule again, only to discover that they were doing something so much worse…

He struck the wheel with his hands, once, twice, jarring it, leaving his palms throbbing, but it wasn’t enough to drain the rage and distress rising to suffocate him. He couldn’t sort his reactions out, separating disillusionment from concern, hurt from loss; they formed a tangled, messy knot.

“So fucking stupid,” he said, needing to hear it said, even with no audience but himself. “How could they do that without me? Anything could have happened. Jesus.”

When he thought of what Austin had been about to do, he wanted a bucket of his own to throw up into. He saw Jay’s hair, that dark, smooth fall of silk catch fire, the smooth skin on his back bubble and blister, and choked on sourness.

There was a half-empty bottle of water in the cup holder. He opened it and swallowed down as much as he could stomach. It helped with the taste in the back of his throat, but not much else.

As he sat, his anger cooled to an icy resolve. He hated the position they’d forced him into. He wasn’t interested in punishing them for misbehaving, not for this sort of misbehavior, at least. They were adults, and he’d meant it when he said he didn’t want to be a father figure to them. When he disciplined them, it was for mutual pleasure or small disobediences within a scene, nothing else. He would never have punished Jay for spending too much on books or Austin for getting a speeding ticket; that was none of his business. This did come under his authority, he supposed, but it still felt uncomfortably like being faced with his children, guilt-stricken and wide-eyed, caught with a packet of cigarettes and a lighter, about to experiment with smoking.

He’d taken away their computer privileges for a week, shown them photos of their Great-Uncle George in the terminal stages of emphysema, and made them give every penny of their saved allowance to a cancer charity, setting back their acquisition of a new iPod each by a few months. Barbara thought he’d been too hard on them, but to the best of his knowledge neither had ever smoked after that.

Dealing with Austin and Jay wouldn’t be as simple.

Christ, where did they go from here? He needed—no, he loved them too much to call it quits. He refused to consider the possibility of walking away from them for good.

You’ll never be able to introduce them as yours, a voice he’d been ignoring for months whispered in his head. Never be able to tell the world you’re their lover, their Dom, their anything. And if you did, if people find out…boom! Life, career, everything, over. Are they worth that?

His hands were shaking again. Fuck.

Reluctantly Liam accepted that they had to deal with this now. As much as he wished he could take some time—drive home, have a few drinks, go to bed—and put off discussing what he’d just walked in on and how they were going to move forward, they were adults, and waiting wasn’t going to make it any easier. It would just delay the inevitable.

The steps up to their apartment were like a mountain he needed to climb, but the door flew open as soon as he knocked, as if they’d been waiting for him. He felt a moment of shame for having left the way he did, for the twin looks of despair and hope on Jay’s and Austin’s faces, and as that moment passed he realized what he needed to do.

“Pack a bag,” he said crisply. “Both of you.”

“Sir?” Austin’s voice was higher than usual, a surprised squeak that at another time would’ve made Liam smile. “Where are we going?”

“Where do you think?” Liam asked, allowing some asperity to show. “To my house, of course. Where I can keep an eye on you both.”

“Your house? Not ours? Did I screw that up too?”

Jay sounded so desolate, so lost that Liam couldn’t stop himself from pulling Jay to him in a quick, comforting hug, releasing him to do the same to Austin. Even as angry and worried as he was, he couldn’t see them like this and turn away from their distress. Then he took a step backward and held up his hand, warding them off. They got one hug. No more. “No. You screwed up plenty, but not that. It’s going to be your home. You’re just moving in sooner than we planned. I mean it. Pack. Now.”

He waited by the door as they got together what they’d need for the night and the next day, using the time to calm down and plan ahead. They’d need to talk—not a conversation he was looking forward to—and he’d need to deal with what lay beneath this reckless stupidity, but God, he didn’t want to do it tonight.

They joined him at the door, each with an overnight bag, Jay’s most likely containing two or three books, if not more, both of them looking chastened and apprehensive.

“Have you eaten?”

“We had a sandwich before…before we…” Austin’s voice faltered. “I don’t think we’re very hungry, Sir.”

“You’ll both eat something later,” Liam told them. Austin’s sandwich hadn’t been inside him for long, after all. “Sure you’ve got everything you’ll need?”

They nodded meekly, leaving him to wonder how long it would be before they were back to normal with him. He liked them submissive but not subdued.

They’d lost so much ground tonight…wandered so far offtrack. His fault? It had to be. He was supposed to notice these things, be aware of how they were feeling…

“Time to go,” he said before he could get too lost in self-recriminations.

Liam waited until they were outside to speak again. “Both of you in my car. We’ll come back for the rest tomorrow.” Or maybe the day after, he thought, but no point in making it more difficult than it already was. “Austin in front.” Letting them both sit in back would make him feel like a chauffeur, and having Jay in front would make Austin fret, which was yet another issue they’d have to clear up sooner or later.

Neither of them spoke on the drive to his house, and honestly Liam didn’t want to get into a complicated conversation while he was behind the wheel. It was better to wait.

They were like pale shadows in the entryway as Liam closed the front door behind them and removed his shoes. Fine droplets of water coated all of them from the short walk from the car to the door—jackets, slacks, hair. “Let’s sit down,” he said. It wasn’t an order, more a request, but just then he might have been able to suggest anything and they probably would have gone along with it. All three of them sat on the couch, Jay in the middle.

Hopefully sitting would loosen their tongues. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“Jay thinks it’s his fault,” Austin said quietly. “But really it was more mine. If I hadn’t agreed to try it, that would have been the end of it.”

“It’s not so much that you did it, though I’ve got some new gray hairs after walking in and seeing you about to set fire to Jay’s back. It’s more the reason why you couldn’t wait or trust me to be the one deciding if it was safe or not.” Liam glanced between them. “I said I needed to work out what I’d done wrong, and I meant it. For you to think that was something you were justified in doing, I must have failed you along the line, and I’m so very sorry.”

Jay laughed, but there was no humor behind it. “We’re all blaming ourselves. How screwed up are we?”

“It’s better than blaming Liam,” Austin said. He addressed Liam directly. “You didn’t let us down. Jay just needed it so much, and you weren’t saying yes or no, and then when we found out you couldn’t see us tonight… Jay’s not good at waiting. But I should have said no. Shouldn’t have gone behind your back and gotten the supplies.”

Thank God they were talking, finally. “Yes,” Liam told Austin. “You should have refused. Or come to me, though I suppose your first loyalty is to Jay.”

And didn’t the idea of that sting.

Austin looked thoroughly miserable. “I want him to be happy. I saw how you and he have been fighting, and I thought if I did it, he’d be less…”

“Of an asshole?” Jay suggested.

Austin met his gaze steadily. “Yeah. Because you were ruining the scenes for me, if you really want to know. You get off on being forced to give in, and I understand that, and it’s hot watching Liam make you, but the last few months it’s been a power struggle, and that’s just wrong.” He pointed at Liam. “He’s in charge, not you, Jay.”

Jay looked awful, washed-out, his lips trembling. “I didn’t… God, Austin, I never meant to spoil things for you, or you, Liam. I just… I didn’t know where I stood with you once we started sleeping together. I thought you’d open up more, that you’d spend time with us, but nothing really changed, and I felt…used. Like you’d found out you liked guys too, and hey, look, here are two hot ones I can play around with. You say you love us, but you never show us.”

“I got that,” Liam said. “It’s why I asked you to move in. Wasn’t that enough?”

There was a sullen twist to Jay’s mouth now. “We’re moving into the basement. Locked away from you.”

“Oh, for God’s sake!” Liam pressed his lips together before he said anything else, giving himself a moment to push back his annoyance. “That’s not a— It’s not a prison. One of your objections to moving in was losing your independence, Jay. Remember that? Giving you your own space to retreat to was to solve that problem, but I don’t expect you to live anywhere but up here with me.”

“You’re not being fair,” Austin said, but his words were addressed to Jay. “He’s right. And you know it has to look like we’re living apart from him. Otherwise people would start gossiping, and none of us want that.”

Jay hunched his shoulders, bowing forward so that none of his face was visible. “I know,” he said, his voice cracking. “I just… God, why don’t you punish me, Sir? Stop talking and tell me to get naked, tie me up, whip me?”

Liam snorted. “Because I have a feeling you’d enjoy that far too much.” He ran his hand down Jay’s back. “Stop being dramatic and talk to me. Get it all off your chest. I won’t snap at you again. This is what I want. You telling me how you feel. I just wish you could’ve done it before, but I’m guessing that’s down to me being terrifying?”

“You aren’t,” Austin said. “Not really. It’s just so complicated. I guess there are people who’ve figured it all out—after years together, probably—but we aren’t there yet. I think Jay and I want to know that you’re in this long-term. It’s a little scary, knowing that this is kind of a first for you. We aren’t sure if you’re going to wake up one morning and decide you’re done or you made a mistake.”

“I don’t think I will.” Liam swallowed. His throat was dry, but he didn’t want to break this moment of communication by going to get a glass of water. “I don’t want to. You’ve no idea how much I miss you during the week when you’re not here.”

“Actually miss us?” Jay asked. “Or miss ordering us around?”

“Not like that,” Austin said quickly. “He means—”

“I know.” Liam understood that Jay wanted to know if it was being a Dom that he missed. “I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that was part of it, but it’s not all, not by a long shot. There are things we need to sort out—how to be who we are with each other, in addition to the roles. But if I’ve been derelict in my duty of interacting with you as people as well as subs, I think you’ve both had a difficult time fully embracing your parts. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” he hastened to add. “It isn’t a failing. In all relationships, there can be a moment when it becomes clear the people involved aren’t well suited. I don’t think that’s the case with us.”

“If we lived on a desert island, yeah, but we don’t. Do you still want us to move in? Really?” Jay was astonishingly good at finding every doubt Liam had and exposing it. “Because I won’t if you’re going to panic about what people will think.”

“You have to admit we can’t tell people the truth. Even before you met me, you didn’t share everything with your families and friends. They know you’re gay, but nothing else.”

“Well, it’s none of their business.” Austin shrugged. “Everyone wants what they do in bed to be between them and their partner.”

“I won’t pretend I’ll ever be comfortable with telling people we’re a threesome and into BDSM. I’m not planning to tell my children you’re my partners, let alone my subs. If you move in, it’ll be as my lodgers to the outside world, but it’s not because I think there’s anything wrong with what we are and what we do. It’s just…”

Raising an eyebrow, Jay said, “Society tells us there’s plenty of stuff wrong with it, and you believe it. At least, part of you does.” Jay sounded completely earnest. “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame you. Especially because you’re new to the gay thing. Or bi thing.”

“I’m still attracted to women,” Liam told him. “Or I assume I am. My attention has been focused on you lately. I can’t imagine having time in my life to notice anyone else, to be frank, and before you take that the wrong way, it’s not a complaint.”

Austin touched Liam’s arm, a tentative touch as if he expected Liam to pull away. “Is this really what you want?”

“You two in my life? Living with me? Yes.” Saying it aloud made him want to say it again, louder. “Really. Yes. With the potential risks to all of us, yes.”

“We’re not doing anything illegal,” Jay said.

“You’re being naive if you think that’ll matter to people,” Liam said bluntly. “It won’t. They’ll see me as a pervert preying on younger men and you as my victims. At the very least, we’d be faced with ridicule, endless questions, gossip behind our backs…”

“But you still want to risk it?” Austin asked. “We matter that much? Because you could get your itch scratched plenty of ways, you know. You don’t need us. Any sub would do.”

“Austin…” Liam felt helpless faced with Austin’s bleakly despairing words. “I do need you. I love you. Both of you. I could walk away, go back to being alone and unfulfilled, but why the hell should I when I’ve been lucky enough to find you? I’m not doing anything wrong, but it would hurt people—my children—if they knew about us, and I won’t do that to them. I’m not sure what you’re saying. Do you want me to come out to them about being with you but keep the rest private? Tell them I’m bi? Tell them everything? Nothing?”

He paused, aware his voice was rising and that he’d just hit them with a barrage of questions without giving them the chance to reply. “Tell me what you both want from me,” he said, moderating the volume of his voice but not the force behind his words. “If I can give it to you, I will, and if I can’t, I’ll say so.”

“I don’t want you to come out to them,” Austin said. “I mean, eventually, sure. I don’t like the thought of anyone being in the closet forever. But not right away. I don’t think that’s a reasonable thing to expect.”

“We aren’t only talking about what’s reasonable; we’re talking about what you want.”

“We want to be with you,” Jay said softly. “We do. And I don’t want to have to worry all the time about accidentally outing you, or us. Because sooner or later I’ll probably let something slip.”

“If you do and it isn’t deliberate, I’ll do my best to be understanding.” The thought of it made Liam’s stomach twist unpleasantly.

“Okay.” Austin took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then said, “I want to go through with the move.”

Jay nodded. “We have to try it.”

Liam hesitated.

Were these two his midlife crisis, his red sports car, his young mistress? He didn’t know. They didn’t feel like it. They felt more like a second chance to be what he was. His marriage had sent him walking a different path, and he couldn’t regret that choice entirely, not when it’d given him two children he loved, but he couldn’t deny his needs, and he needed Jay and Austin so desperately.

Needed to dominate them, needed to love them. Those weren’t separate needs, but one.

“I had two keys cut this morning,” he told them. “I was going to crack open a bottle when I handed them over so that we could toast you moving in, not drag you both here a week early in the middle of an emotional crisis, but when does life ever go to plan?” He dug his hand into his pocket and took out the keys, new and shiny. “Well?”

There was a pause. Then they each claimed a key, and a moment later Liam found himself being hugged, being kissed, and if his eyes stung with tears, he managed to keep them from falling.

Chapter Eleven

“Hey, it’s me!” Austin called as he shoved the front door of his mom’s house open with his shoulder and almost dropped the box he was holding. A blast of warmth hit him—it was freezing cold outside, though they hadn’t had much in the way of snow yet—and he hastily kicked the door closed again to keep the heat in.

“You’re late,” his mother called. He followed the sound of her voice into the living room, where she was knitting on the couch. “I thought you were going to be here before lunch.”

“The morning kind of got away from me,” Austin said. He set the box down near the end of the couch. “Sorry. I should have called.”

She didn’t seem worried, though. “Here, just give me a second to finish this row, and then I can hug you.”

“Okay. I’ll go get another box.” In the amount of time it took Austin to collect the second of the four boxes from the backseat of his car, his mom had not only finished her row but left the living room altogether. “I feel like you’re avoiding me!” he told the ceiling loudly.

“I’m making you some cocoa!” she called from the kitchen.

“That would be great if I was ten years old!” he shouted back. “Two more trips.” He heard her laughing as he went outside again, and by the time he set the last box next to the couch, his fingers more than a little bit numb with the cold, cocoa was sounding pretty good. “Thanks,” he said and kissed her on the cheek.

“Tell me again why you’ve moved out and I’m still storing your stuff?” she asked.

Austin gave her an apologetic smile. “No room at the new place. And it’s things like old yearbooks—don’t want to toss them out, but I don’t really need them either.”

Sarah handed him a mug, fragrant steam rising. If she’d added marshmallows, Austin was going to drink around them, though. “You were so vague about the new place, and you hung up before I could ask you about it.”

He’d done that deliberately, but that wasn’t something he planned to share. “Uh, well, ask away.”

She clicked her tongue against her teeth, the exasperated sound so familiar that Austin felt a pang of homesickness. “No, you tell me. Sit down right here, and talk to your mom.”

Feeling like a spy captured by the enemy, about to be interrogated, Austin did as he was told. When he was obeying Liam, he never felt this young and helpless, but his mom, sweet though she was, could do it to him with a word or a look.

“We’re moving into a basement apartment in a house owned by a friend,” he began.

“Yes, you told me that. What friend? Is it bigger than your old place?”

“Yeah, I think it is, and it’s closer to work for both of us. I can cut maybe ten minutes off the ride into work by taking the freeway and coming off at the Wilson Street exit.”

“That’s good, but a basement… Is it damp? Dark?”

“No, it’s really nice,” he assured her and launched into a description of the basement’s amenities that made him almost wish he was moving into it. Still, it wasn’t as if they’d never go down there. Hole up and ignore Liam, no, but it’d be good to have the extra space for all of them to use, and Jay would definitely annoy Liam less if all his diorama supplies were out of sight. That moss got everywhere.

“It sounds lovely,” she said when he ran out of words. “You still didn’t say who the friend was, though. The way you describe the basement, it’s a big house, and unless one of your friends won the lottery…”

“Ha, they wish.” Austin licked his lips. “It’s Liam. I’ve, uh, mentioned him before, right?”

She frowned. “Liam? The man you introduced me to at the library last month?”

“Yeah. He was looking at Jay’s dioramas in the gallery show. You liked him.”

Her frown wasn’t going away. “Well, yes, he seemed charming—that adorable accent—but why on earth would he want you both living in his basement? He’s a lawyer, isn’t he? It’s not as if he needs the money.”

“He’s divorced,” Austin said, trying not to seem too eager to give an explanation. “Two kids about to start college, child support… And he’s away on business a lot, and he likes the idea of someone being there keeping an eye on the place.”

“He must miss his children,” Sarah said, and Austin knew she was talking about herself as much as Liam. She should be thrilled April was out of her hair for a while.

“He does. But it’s not like they’re little.”

Sarah had a cup of tea, but she was letting it sit like she always did until it was barely warm anymore. “That doesn’t matter. Was it a nasty divorce?”

“I don’t know.” Austin shrugged like it wasn’t important to him, which was a joke because this whole conversation felt like walking through a minefield. “He doesn’t really talk about it.”

“And asking questions is awkward.” Sarah nodded. “Still, maybe he wants to keep an eye on the two of you. Like you’re his substitute kids, since he misses his and isn’t a full-time parent.”

Austin managed not to choke on his last swig of cocoa, but it was a close thing. “Um…yeah. Maybe.”

“It could get tricky,” she warned him. “You’re his tenants, and you have rights, but remember it’s his house, and he’s not going to be happy if you’re playing your music too loud or having parties that go on late.”

“Mom!” he protested. “If we listen to music, we wear headphones, and I can’t remember the last time we had a party, wild or otherwise.”

“You’ll have a housewarming one, though, won’t you?”

Austin opened his mouth to say that wasn’t going to happen, then reconsidered. Showing everyone the apartment would hammer home the idea that they were tenants, no more than that, and people would expect them to do something to celebrate moving in.

“Sure, when we’re settled. A Saturday afternoon open house in a week or two, maybe. I’m not sure what days Jay has to work.”

“Am I invited?” Sarah asked, her eyes twinkling. “Or do I have to crash it?”

Austin snorted. “You know you’ll be there all day making sure it’s tidy and cooking enough food to feed an army.”

“You make it sound as if I’m one of those awful, interfering mothers,” she said indignantly but with a telltale blush. “I’ll come over to help if I’m asked, but otherwise—”

“You’re asked,” Austin said. “We couldn’t do it without you,” he added and watched her smile grow until she looked years younger.

They chatted for a while; then Austin stood and rolled up the sleeves of his heavy sweater. “Let me make a start moving the boxes down to the basement. Do you want them anywhere in particular?”

“No, just make sure they’re not blocking the stairs— Austin!” He turned his head and saw her staring at him, a concerned look on her face. “Whatever have you done to your arms? You’re black-and-blue!”

Shit, shit, shit. He’d forgotten the lingering bruises from the night Jay and Liam had taken turns holding him down; it had been easy enough to hide his arms under his shirtsleeves at work, especially since it was winter and cold enough to warrant long sleeves. Today he’d pulled the sweater on over the T-shirt he was wearing, figuring he’d be warm enough like that with the physical exercise of moving the boxes.

He’d already been too slow at replying to his mom’s concern. “Oh, these are old,” he said and continued down the stairs, hoping she’d let it drop even as he knew she wouldn’t. He should have come up with an explanation long before now—he wasn’t quick on his feet, and now that he was under scrutiny, his brain was caught in a whirlwind of self-recrimination instead of thinking up excuses.

“What happened?” Sarah asked, waiting at the foot of the stairs as he carried the box over to the shelves against the wall.

“Nothing,” he said. “Mom, it’s no big deal.”

“You’re covered with bruises,” she countered. “It’s a big deal to me, and it should be to you too.”

“Jay and I were trying to disassemble one of his old bookcases last week,” Austin said. “You know, getting ready to move. The thing must have been put together wrong, because he unscrewed one corner, and the whole thing fell apart on top of me. It was that one with the columns, remember?”

She didn’t look convinced, and he sighed. “Mom, I’m not a battered wife saying my black eye came from running into a wall.”

“And I’m not blind, and I can see those bruises are from fingers.” She came close enough to touch him, fitting her hand to a line of bruises, the match close enough to make her point.

He stepped back. “Mom, please. I’d tell you if something was wrong, and it isn’t. I—God this is embarrassing—I got them during sex, okay?”

“Jay did this to you?” Her eyes widened with shock. “Jay? I can’t believe— He seems such a gentle man. Austin, you have to tell him—talk to him.”

An inappropriate, ill-timed bubble of laughter was trying to force its way out, but Austin quelled it. There wasn’t anything remotely amusing about this, and if he started to laugh, he’d end up gasping for breath, mired in a panic attack. He wished Liam was here, a solid, comforting presence, infinitely reliable and calm.

“Mom, talking about my sex life with you is really, really awkward, which is why I lied to you just then—though the bookcase did fall on me—but trust me when I say he didn’t do anything I didn’t want him to.” At more than one point, he’d begged for more, his voice cracking with the intensity of his need, the two of them using one hand to hold him down, the other to play with him, toying with his body until he was writhing, desperate, shameless, willing, as ever, to do anything for them, loving them so much in the moment of his climax that he’d felt tears sting his eyes. “Sometimes we, uh, we play a bit rough. Jay’s got bruises of his own, if that helps.”

“I’m… Well, I…” His mother’s face was flushed now, pink with embarrassment. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Join the club.” Austin wished she’d at least move out of the way so he could go back upstairs for another box. It wasn’t like he was going to bulldoze his way past her. “How about we just agree to pretend this never happened?”

Her eyes met his, serious. “Only if you promise me everything’s okay. You aren’t hiding anything from me?”

“Mom,” Austin said helplessly. “I’m an adult. I don’t tell you everything. I’m sure there are lots of things you don’t tell me—”

“That’s different. I’m your mother.” Sarah was firm, feet back on solid ground. That was good.

“I know. I just meant, there are things I’m not going to talk to you about. Like my sex life.”

“I don’t want to know about it,” she said. “As long as you’re not doing anything…dangerous.”

Part of him wanted to ask what she’d classify as risky, but he didn’t really want to know. Everything he did with Liam and Jay could look freaky to an outsider, but really, they didn’t push it too much compared to some couples he knew. Though if Liam and Jay ever played on their own, that might change. Austin knew Liam wanted solo sessions with both of them, and though he looked forward to being one-on-one with Liam, picturing what Jay would ask for when it was his turn made Austin’s stomach clench with a mixture of arousal and apprehension.

And the apprehension was the reason Liam didn’t want him there. He held Jay back, he knew it, and that wasn’t fair to any of them.

“I’m always careful. We both are. We love each other too much not to be.”

God, he’d come so close to saying we all are.

Sarah sighed. “I suppose I’ve got to accept that, but I am not looking forward to the next time I see Jay.”

Austin did laugh then. “Thanksgiving’s only two days away, so you won’t have to wait long. Oh God, don’t blush when we come in! He’ll wonder what he’s done.”

“If you tell him…” Sarah looked mortified. “I couldn’t bear him to know I thought he was hurting you—or that we discussed what you do in bed.”

“I won’t, I promise.” Austin held up his hand. “Pinky swear. This conversation never happened, remember?”

As he drove back to Liam’s—to his home—he kept seeing the relief in her eyes as she’d agreed, but under it had there still been a lingering suspicion? He wasn’t sure, and it fretted at him until he snapped at Liam during supper and found himself over Liam’s knee, his ass stinging from a flurry of brisk slaps.

Knowing he’d earned it, turned on by the spanking, he let Liam’s hand beat the stress away—until he flashed back to his mom’s concerned face and started to struggle, as panicked as if she’d walked into the room and found him like this.

“Stop,” Liam said, one hand on his lower back and the other on his still-clothed shoulder. “Austin, stop.”

He stopped struggling, though it wasn’t easy, and as soon as he did, Liam helped him sit upright, an arm around his waist. “Sorry,” Austin gasped.

“What on earth was that?” Liam sounded calm. Calm was good; it helped Austin take a few deep breaths. He was aware of Jay watching from his chair.

“I don’t know.” It was a relief he hadn’t had to use his safe word because Liam knew him well enough to tell something was wrong. “It was good until I panicked. It wasn’t anything you did.” He looked at Liam quickly.

“I didn’t think it was,” Liam said. “But thank you for the reassurance.”

“Austin…” Jay was worried, and Austin didn’t blame him.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I dropped that stuff off at my mom’s today.” God, sitting on Liam’s lap, his ass bare, with his pants around his knees while talking about his mom was so disgustingly wrong. He stood and pulled them up, fastening them. “She saw the bruises on my arms.” Austin yanked at his sweater sleeve and held out his arm in illustration.

“Fuck,” Jay said, summing it all up perfectly.

“Language,” Liam said automatically. “What happened then, Austin?”

He was breaking his promise to his mom, but he didn’t have a choice. “I told her some bullshit—” Liam cleared his throat meaningfully, and Austin apologized. “Sorry, Sir. I didn’t mean to swear. She didn’t buy it, so I told her some of the truth. Not all of it,” he added hastily when Jay’s eyes widened. “I just said we played rough in bed, and she was so embarrassed she didn’t want to ask many questions. She was worried about me.”

“Only natural,” Liam said, his voice gentle. “It’s difficult for an outsider to get what we do and why we like it, but for a parent it triggers all kinds of protective responses. I can see why she’d be disturbed.”

“I didn’t tell her what we’re into,” Austin said, meeting Jay’s gaze. “The words kink or BDSM didn’t come up at all. But she thought you’d hurt me and I was being…abused or something, and I couldn’t let her think that, not about me or you.”

“Sure,” Jay said, still looking stunned. “Wait, she thought I was beating you up? Me? Shit, that’s… I thought she liked me!”

“She does! She just…” Austin went over to Jay, hugging him and feeling the tension in Jay’s body. “We’re close, always have been. When Dad died and I had to help her with the family and the house…I grew up fast, and she’s always felt guilty about that, like she let me down. She’s protective of all of us, April especially, but when it comes to me, she’s fierce. I got in trouble at school once when I missed an essay deadline because I was dealing with a broken pipe until two in the morning, and she stormed down there and gave the teacher hell. Scared him to death.”

“Good for her,” Liam said. “We only met briefly, but—”

“You’ll get to see her again soon,” Austin said tiredly. “I don’t know how it happened, but we’re having a housewarming next Saturday or the one after that, and she’s coming over early to help.”

“If I say fuck again, do I get a spanking for swearing?” Jay asked. “Because I really, really want to.”

“No, you’ll get to do the dishes by hand and by yourself,” Liam said with a fleeting smile at Jay’s pout. “Spanking you isn’t much of a punishment or a deterrent. Austin, a party is inevitable, I suppose. People will want to see your new home and how you’re settling in. It’ll have its awkward moments, but I’ll make myself scarce as soon as possible.”

“I hate that it’s so complicated,” Austin said. “We’re going to need a list just to keep track of who knows what, and I’m going to spend the whole time following people around, making sure they aren’t having conversations they shouldn’t. It’s like having all these different lives that aren’t allowed to meet.”

Liam looked concerned. “We’ll sort it out. You’ve only just moved in; a few weeks from now, it will be fine.”

“Do we tell our friends about you?” Jay asked Liam. “No, I’m not being rude; I’m serious. Are you a secret from everyone? Or just family?” Austin noted Jay hadn’t said “our” families, since that honestly wasn’t even an issue.

“There are already people who know about us,” Liam pointed out. “It isn’t a secret; it’s…it’s information we share selectively.”

“It kind of is a secret,” Austin said. “I mean, people like us don’t mind the whole threesome deal, but friends we just know from school or work would.”

“So we have two parties,” Jay said. “One kink, one vanilla.” He brightened. “Oh yeah. I know which one I’m looking forward to most. You can keep us naked and on a leash all night, Sir.” He caught his breath. “Oh God, would you whip me with everyone watching? Please?”

“No,” Liam said. “Absolutely not. I’d like to meet up with Laura again, and we can invite her and her partner over for drinks, maybe dinner, but a party with you on display like that…no.” He rolled his shoulders as if trying to shed a memory. “I’ve been to events like that years ago, back in England, and they weren’t as much fun as they sound.” He bit his lip. “Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true…but the potential for disaster is there, and given I don’t know these people…no.”

“We know them,” Jay said, but he subsided when Liam met his hopeful look with a blankly indifferent stare.

Austin agreed with Liam. What they did was private, and though he liked being around people in the scene, the thought of being spanked or whipped in front of an audience was enough to make his toes curl. The monthly BDSM meetings they’d gone to the year before had been sedate, even if the topics under discussion had been anything but. He couldn’t picture those people naked in Liam’s family room at all, and seeing that most of them were straight couples, he didn’t want to.

“This discussion isn’t getting us anywhere,” Liam said. “Austin, I can see it’s been stressful for you, but you handled the situation, so don’t dwell on it. Maybe starting off a load of washing will take your mind off things. Jay, clear the table and deal with the dishes.”

“What about you?” Jay asked, making Austin roll his eyes. God, would Jay just stop pushing?

Liam smiled and stood. “How thoughtful of you. I’ll have a coffee in the family room. And when you bring it to me, perhaps we can take a moment to discuss your attitude.”

He walked around the table to Jay and tilted Jay’s chin up, studying his face before patting it. “You don’t need to misbehave to get my attention, Jay.”

“Sir…”

“Trust me to see when you need taking in hand,” Liam said as if Jay hadn’t whispered his name. “Trust me, Jay.”

Austin, close enough that he could’ve touched them, his ass still warm from Liam’s hand, felt excluded, shut out. In that moment it was just the two of them, locked in their ongoing struggle.

Without taking his gaze off Jay’s face, Liam reached out and slapped Austin’s ass, ending his isolation. “Laundry.”

Grinning, his good mood restored, Austin went to obey.