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Accept My Surrender

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Chapter One

“Logan—” Seth whimpered and wriggled his bare ass in a way that was surely meant to be enticing, but Logan wasn’t playing. He took this seriously, and he’d already warned Seth once.

He sharpened his voice to a knife’s edge. “What’s my name?”

Seth’s breath caught as he realized his mistake. “Sir. I’m sorry, Sir.”

“You should be sorry.” Logan had been prepared to end the spanking he’d been giving Seth in favor of fucking him, but now he’d dole out a punishment instead.

And with something other than his hand, which throbbed, as painful as Seth’s reddened ass must be. He reached between Seth’s thighs and gave his balls a squeeze while he considered his options, ignoring Seth’s whine since it was clearly involuntary.

“Your choice,” he decided. Making Seth pick wasn’t a kindness. Seth had told him once it made each stroke sting more, knowing he’d asked for it. “Five strokes with my hairbrush, or ten with the paddle.”

The paddle was nearby, a classic choice he’d used dozens of times. His hairbrush was a wild card that caught his eye, a spur-of-the-moment option. Logan had never used it for anything but its intended purpose, so he wasn’t completely sure of where it ranked as a spanking toy. Maybe it should be ten with the brush, five with the paddle? Sometimes a Dom had to be spontaneous, but he didn’t want to screw up.

While he waited for Seth to decide, he scratched his chest. The tattoo around his left nipple was a month old and had healed well, so the itch was in his head more than anything. New ink took some getting used to, his reflection catching him off guard at first. Before the session he’d changed into clothes that allowed him to move freely and strip quickly, and he’d paused before the mirror for a while, admiring the way the addition blended into the art already decorating his body.

It wasn’t vanity. He was appreciating the skill of the artist, not the body Jody had used as a canvas.

Maybe he’d apply some moisturizing cream after the session. Make sure the skin wasn’t too dry. Swap soaps. Or—

“I’ll take the hairbrush, Sir.”

Jolted from his thoughts, Logan took a moment to process Seth’s words. “Oh. Yeah. Good choice.”

Shit, what was wrong with him, zoning out like that? Seth deserved his full attention during a session. Chiding himself, he reached for the brush.

The brush was clogged with his hair, long dark strands wound around the bristles. It seemed wrong to use it like that, but he couldn’t fiddle around cleaning it with Seth waiting, ass up, cock rigid.

Oh, what the hell. He scrubbed the bristle side over Seth’s ass and grinned at the surprised, indignant squeal.

“Gonna leave you bruised.”

Seth moaned, clearly on board with that. “Yeah. Please, Sir. Something to remember you by. Love being marked.”

“Are you saying without them you’d forget me between now and Friday?” Logan didn’t wait for Seth to reply. He brought the brush down, ridged wood striking flushed, tender skin, and yeah, these marks weren’t like his ink; they were temporary, random, but beautiful too.

For this, he was the artist, and he loved applying each and every stroke.

One of the reasons Seth was a challenge as a sub was that he was more into the pain than the play. It was fine; a different mind-set. At least his tendency to forget focusing on pleasing and obeying Logan created plenty of opportunities for the punishment he craved, though Logan was sure most of the time it was accidental.

Seth gasped with the next stroke, shoulders hunching. Good. That allowed Logan to make the next one harder. Logan relished the rush of swinging his arm with the right amount of force, the pained whimper that escaped Seth’s lips.

“How many is that?” he asked.

“Four, Sir.”

He aimed number five for the spot on Seth’s ass that was darkest red, knowing it would be the most sensitive. Seth howled when the brush struck him, then dropped his head. He was trembling, sobs escaping him, stifled, soft sounds.

“Now I’m going to fuck you.” He let the brush fall to the floor and squeezed some lube onto his fingers, tracing Seth’s hole, creating a space of a few seconds for Seth to protest without expecting him to.

“Please.” Seth was definitely crying. “Please, Sir, I want you to.”

“Doesn’t matter if you want me to or not.” Logan rolled a condom onto his dick and pressed against the entrance to Seth’s body. “I’m going to.” He thrust forward, less careful than with some partners, and shut his eyes as the exquisite clench of Seth’s ass sent a wave of lust over him.

Dirty talk was wasted on Seth when his ass was the focus of attention, but Logan enjoyed it, so he let himself go. Words poured from him, honing his arousal until it sliced through his control, leaving it shredded. Words that taken out of context would seem cruel, but here, in the shabby bedroom he rented, were his way of complimenting his sub. And sure, they might seem cheesy too, but in his experience, few people were capable of poetry and romance balls-deep in a guy they’d spent the last hour tormenting and spanking.

Gasping now, a familiar tingle intensifying at the base of his spine, he snarled, “That’s it, you slut. Take it. Every single fucking inch.”

Seth wailed, then shrieked, incoherent now as Logan pounded into him mercilessly. Too loud a wail. Sheila, his elderly landlady, was a sweetheart, and even with her hearing aid turned up high, she didn’t hear much, but close to climax Seth’s cries were high enough to shatter glass.

Logan paused, balanced on his knees, and grabbed a handful of Seth’s curly blond hair, yanking back, then slapping his free hand across Seth’s mouth when it was within reach. “Keep it down, or I’ll gag you with the dildo I shoved up your ass earlier. The one I need to clean with fucking bleach because you’re a dirty little slut with no respect for your Dom.”

The threat was empty, and he’d never use a harsh cleaner on a sex toy, but his irritation was real enough. He wasn’t squeamish, but he liked his subs to prepare for a session, and that included a douche as well as being in the right mind-set. Seth had arrived whining about the price of gas, chewing on cinnamon gum when he knew Logan hated the smell, and complaining that the room was too cold to go naked. He’d earned each hard, punishing slap, each twist of the clamps attached to his nipples and balls.

He hadn’t earned a climax, but too late to forbid it. Seth licked Logan’s palm, frantic wet laps followed by a bite, and shot over the towel Logan had spread across the lurid purple bedspread Sheila had bought for him. In her weird and wonderful world purple was the official color of gayness.

“Jesus,” Logan muttered, then shifted his grip to Seth’s waist and fucked him harder. It took a couple of thrusts before he came too, dizzy with the rush of spunk and the accompanying pleasure.

Seth stayed cooperatively still until he was finished, then melted away from him and down onto the bed, apparently indifferent to the wet spot he lay on. “Mmm. You’re so good at wearing me out.” He lifted his face, showing off his dreamy smile. “Thanks for the fuck.”

They had an agreement that once they’d come, playtime was over. It didn’t suit Logan, which was why their relationship was casual and limited, but with no long-term partners on the horizon, it was better than nothing. “No problem.” Logan patted Seth’s hip—one of the places he wouldn’t have a bruise tomorrow—with one hand while disposing of the condom with the other. Then he flopped down onto the bed beside Seth, who rolled toward him.

“Did you have fun?”

“Sure. Did it seem like I didn’t?”

Seth shrugged one shoulder. “No. I’m checking. We said we’d keep doing this as long as we were both on board. I’d hate to find out later you were humoring me.” He sounded confident that wasn’t true. Seth’s ego was as resilient as his ass, in Logan’s opinion.

“Do I seem like the kind of person who’d go along with something I wasn’t enjoying to make someone else happy?” Logan heard what he’d said and lifted an eyebrow at Seth. “Don’t answer that.”

Grinning, Seth said, “You’re fun. I like hanging out with you, but I wouldn’t be emotionally devastated if you wanted to move on. Or if you met someone else. Someone serious, I mean.”

Logan snorted. “I meet people all the time. Doesn’t mean I want to commit until death do us part.”

“Same here.” Seth yawned without showing the slightest desire to snuggle in closer. “Got any juice? Water? My mouth’s bone-dry.”

Didn’t he always? Drinks were on the table under the window, beside a bowl of trail mix; a soft throw was draped over a chair in case a sub become shivery.

He went for water, not out of a bottle because that was hell on the environment, but tap water he’d chilled in a filter jug. Seth seemed pretty together, so he poured the cool water into a glass, skipping the straw, and took it over to him.

“Thanks.” Seth gulped it fast, then held it out for a refill. “More?”

He hated the way Seth switched off after they were done. None of his submissive behavior carried over. Once the immediate afterglow faded, Seth seemed to relish pushing limits he stayed within when they were playing. Tempting to call him on it, but what was the point? Seth would resent it, and it wasn’t part of their agreement.

Part of him got a kick out of the aftercare, so he nodded and refilled the glass, then brought the trail mix over to the bed. He took a handful, craving the quick energy boost. He was the Dom, sure, but he needed some TLC too, though the session hadn’t been intense. Hard to get in a good frame of mind with his landlady’s TV blasting out a daytime soap and in a room decorated mostly in pink because the last person to use it was Sheila’s granddaughter. Leanne had moved out of her mom’s home after her parents’ divorce and stayed with Sheila until she went off to college. Sheila spoke about those two years wistfully. Leanne hadn’t kept in touch beyond a Christmas card or the odd phone call. Too busy enjoying life in LA as a hairdresser to the stars. Or so she said. Logan suspected the hairdresser part was accurate and the clientele more down-market.

“So we’re good for Friday?” Seth stretched, slopping water over the pillow. He swiped at it, doing nothing to dry it but making a great job of spreading the dampness. “Oops. Never mind, it’ll be dry by the time you go to bed.”

Or he’d swap it out for the spare he kept on the top shelf of the closet. He hated musty-smelling pillows and took them to the laundromat regularly for a wash and dry in the huge industrial machines. Sheila was happy for him to use her laundry room, but the first time he’d tried to put a pillow into the washing machine, the thing had gotten unbalanced and made a break for freedom, lumbering across the floor and scraping it in the process.

“Friday’s fine,” he agreed. It wasn’t like he had anyone waiting in the wings. He picked what he suspected was a sliver of almond from between his teeth. “What are you doing this weekend?”

“Going hiking with that gay men’s meet-up group.”

“You don’t sound too thrilled about the prospect.”

Seth shook his head. “I’m not much of an outdoor person, I guess. Kind of out of my element. But I promised Meg I’d give it a shot after she listened to me complain for hours about how I didn’t have a boyfriend.”

“Is a boyfriend who drags you up a mountain most weekends better than no boyfriend?” It seemed like a fair question to Logan, but Seth’s face fell.

He recovered quickly, though, and countered, “Well, maybe some of them aren’t outdoor people either. They can’t all be jocks. But for the right guy I’d learn to love hiking boots and sleeping in tents.” Seth reached over and ran his fingers over Logan’s chest, tracing the design of one of his older tattoos. “I do like a man with definition.”

“Mine’s from the gym, not from traipsing through the wilderness,” Logan pointed out.

“Still hot.” Seth continued his exploration of Logan’s ink. “Why only on your arms and chest?”

“I like to see them, so my back’s out, and my legs are too damn hairy for them to look good there.” It was a question he’d answered before, so he replied without thought. He had definite ideas about where they worked on him and where they didn’t. He didn’t judge anyone else’s choice of placement; their body, their business, but he saw his tattoos as a kind of clothing, a layer of protection, and he didn’t want them visible unless he chose to share them.

So at certain clubs, he went bare from the waist up, and at work he went with his mood, sometimes taking pleasure in wearing a long-sleeved shirt, buttoned high, hiding all of them, sometimes letting them show in glimpses—his arms, a flash of the ones under his collarbones. Any negative reaction, he met with indifference.

Seth squirmed, reaching back to touch his ass. “Jesus, that hairbrush stung like a bee. Loved it.”

“Yeah? Maybe next time I’ll put you over my knee and use it properly. Roll over and let me see the marks.”

That was an order Seth was eager to obey, if his speed was any indication. He arched his lower back, sticking his ass out for Logan’s inspection. Logan touched the reddened skin, observing the places where the marks were darkest, then pressing on them lightly. He smiled when Seth hissed.

“Will I have bruises?” Seth was hopeful, not worried.

“Yeah. Not for long, though. Maybe a week.” Which meant he’d be able to see them again on Friday. “I’ll try harder next time.”

Seth smirked. “Only if you’re willing to go for more than five strokes. I can take twice as many.”

Logan was sure that was true, and it wasn’t that he wouldn’t have enjoyed doling them out, but part of him suspected it would take their relationship to a place neither of them wanted it to go. Better to keep it light, a spank and fuck, nothing too emotionally draining. “Could and should are two different things.”

“Yeah.” Seth sighed and rested his head on his arms. “You want to kick me out?”

“Not until you’re ready, but I have a lecture in an hour. Can’t be late.”

“Guess not.” Seth didn’t ask what the lecture was about, and Logan didn’t offer any details. Kink aside, they didn’t have a lot in common. Logan considered himself a political activist, and Seth had never cast a vote in his life, at school or as an adult.

No point,” he’d said dismissively when Logan mentioned the long line at the voting booths. “People who want to be in charge don’t need my help to get there.

A tap on the door had them sitting upright. Logan resisted the urge to cover himself with a sheet since the door was locked and Sheila respected his privacy too much to walk in even if it wasn’t. “Yeah?” he called. “What is it, Sheila? Do you need help with something?”

He did a variety of odd jobs for her, from humane spider disposal to replacing lightbulbs and opening jars.

“I don’t want to interrupt you and your friend, dear, but I need a word with you before you go to college.”

“Sure. I’ll be with you in five minutes.”

She sounded vague, her voice wavering in volume. “Thank you, dear.”

He waited for the creak from the last step that told him she was safely downstairs, then slapped Seth’s ass, enjoying the jiggle of spanked-hot flesh. “Okay. Time to go.”

It didn’t take more than a few minutes for Seth to put himself together and get dressed, wincing when he pulled his jeans up past his thighs.

“You gonna live, tiger?” Logan asked.

“Are you kidding? I’m gonna be checking out my bruises in the mirror tomorrow morning and thinking of you.” The look Seth gave him was a little too close to hero worship for Logan’s comfort. That was the danger with playing Dom to a sub on such a casual basis—the relationship had a tendency to get intense even when you didn’t mean it to.

Ugh. He’d have to consider whether continuing this was a good idea. “Well, I’ll see you on Friday.” Logan finished dressing and glanced quickly in the mirror to make sure his hair wasn’t too out of control. “I’ll walk you out.”

“You don’t think I got you in trouble, do you?” Seth stage-whispered when they stepped out into the hallway. “I mean, I didn’t think I was that loud.”

“Okay, one, you were, but two, I’ve told you before she’s practically deaf. So no, I don’t think you got me in trouble.” Still, if he decided he needed to back off things with Seth, Sheila made a convenient excuse.

After seeing Seth out, Logan headed for the kitchen, knowing a mug of tea would be waiting for him. Sheila’s parents had emigrated from Wales before she was born, and she’d been brought up to consider no conversation complete without a hot drink to sip. He’d refused her offer of tea a few times after moving in until he saw how upset it made her to see him sitting without a mug in his hands. It wasn’t bad once he’d acquired a taste for it. She brewed it strong and added milk, no sugar, leaving the inside of the mugs tannin stained. God alone knew what the tea had done to her insides over the years.

“There you are.” She patted her white, fluffy hair into place, the gesture automatic, a faded attempt at flirtation. She’d been a minx in her day, or so she’d told him. He believed her. Her mind got lost in the past sometimes, but as she put it, she knew her arse from her elbow, a saying she used with a dimple showing, as if she thought she was being naughty.

“Did we disturb you?” If she had heard more than he intended, he’d make that the last session here. It would be awkward, but he’d manage. No way was he upsetting or embarrassing her.

“What? No, of course not. I like it when your friends visit, you know that. Bit of life around the place.”

He took a seat across from her and helped himself to a cookie from the plate she’d set out. Store-bought cookies, though she’d shown him her grandmother’s recipe book, the pages marked with greasy fingerprints, crumbs deep in the creases. Lard featured a lot. Listening to her muse over her favorite cakes had left him with an urge for a Victoria sponge without knowing what it was.

“You wanted a word with me?” Sometimes she forgot between one breath and the next, and it bothered her when she realized, so he kept his tone light.

Without preamble, she launched into what she had to say. “Well, this is awkward, but you know my son, Dylan, has been pressuring me to move down to Florida with him, and as it turns out, he contacted a realtor on my behalf, dipping his toes in the water, so to speak.”

Logan saw where this was headed, and he didn’t like it.

“I haven’t enjoyed the winters here since I was a child, and the thought of the sunshine…” Sheila gazed wistfully at a calendar on the wall showing a tropical beach scene. “In any case, we decided to list the house, a bit of an experiment as it were. To see if there was any interest. I didn’t mention it to you because…” She frowned as if her train of thought had gone somewhere she didn’t want it to. “What was I saying, dear?”

Dismay filling him, he prompted her automatically. “You listed the house.”

“That’s right, I did.” She nodded her approval, as if he’d been clever. “The realtor insisted it would sell in the blink of an eye, with the way the market’s been, and what do you know if she wasn’t right. We had four offers in twenty-four hours—she never had time to set a sign out front or organize an open house—and, well, one of them was too good to pass up. Thirty thousand dollars over the asking price, can you imagine?”

“You sold the house,” Logan said flatly. The way she’d talked about it, he’d thought he’d have a few months at least before it went on the market, plenty of time to find another place to live.

“Now, don’t be upset.” Sheila’s hands twisted on the mug she held, and Logan shoved another cookie into his mouth to keep himself quiet. She deserved a chance to explain as much as she deserved to sell her own house. “It happened so fast! If I’d thought for a minute it would sell, I’d have told you about it, of course.”

Logan cut through to the meat of the matter. “How long until I have to be out?”

“Thirty days. I know, I know, it’s so soon. I wish I’d been able to give you more notice, but the buyer sold his house, and these things are so complicated. Don’t worry—I’m going to return this month’s rent and your security deposit immediately, and I’d like to offer you two thousand dollars to help make getting settled in a new apartment a bit less stressful. If you think that’s enough?” Her eyes were worried.

“What? No! I mean, yes, it’s enough, but it’s not— You don’t have to do that. I mean it.” He took her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze, then hiding a wince. His palm throbbed from spanking Seth. “You’re a sweetheart, but I’ll be fine. I’ll miss you, though.”

“I want to do it. You’ve been so good to me. I know I’m always asking you to do jobs for me, and you’re so patient when I forget where I put things.”

Choosing his words, well aware Dylan mistrusted him, seeing his tattoos and piercings as the outward sign of inward degeneracy, Logan said, “I do that because I want to. Because we’re friends. The rent and the deposit, fine, but that’s it. If you want to make me happy, keep in touch, okay?”

Tears formed in her eyes, then spilled down over cheeks soft with age. She wiped them away with a tissue pulled out of the sleeve of her cardigan. “I’ll miss you too. Miss this town. But oh, I want to be where it’s warm. By the ocean. Dylan says I can see it from my bedroom. Imagine that!”

“Sounds idyllic.” He caught sight of the clock by the door and groaned. “I’m going to be late for my lecture if I don’t go. Can we pick this up later? And don’t worry. Anything you need—packing, forms to fill out, whatever—I’m here if you need me.”

“Goodness me, yes, off you go.” She smiled at him. “Can’t start without you, though, can they?”

He grinned, picturing the Gender and Justice first-year class, all eagerness to learn and take that knowledge out into the world. “Knowing my students, they probably could and would. Now give me a hug, okay? I’ll miss those as well.”

Logan didn’t let himself think about how fucked he was until he pulled out of the driveway onto the street. It was wide, with plenty of room for on-street parking, and far enough from campus that most of the people who lived there weren’t students. On particularly nice days in early fall and late spring, he’d sometimes walk to college for the exercise, but he didn’t have time for it today even if it would have given him an opportunity to figure out where the hell he’d live.

He’d moved in with Sheila after breaking up with his boyfriend. They’d been sharing an apartment two streets away from Eli’s job at a print shop, and it seemed unfair to ask him to move when it was so conveniently located for him. Plus the breakup had been Logan’s idea, mostly. One of his students had been friends with Sheila’s granddaughter and hooked him up with her. At the time, he’d believed the universe was smiling down on him, compensation for his ruined relationship with Eli.

Plenty of his friends would be happy to let him crash on their couches for a couple of nights, and he had the money for hotel rooms, but those were short-term solutions, and he needed a more stable situation. For the first time in years he wished his family still lived nearby. His parents were in California now, though he’d grown up here in town, the Atlantic coast an hour away, the town surrounded by rolling hills and farmland.

Living with Sheila had been the perfect compromise, saving him from the complications of needing to set up utilities and deal with buying new furniture. Maybe he’d find something similar if he asked around.

The noticeboard outside the office seemed the ideal place to start asking. He borrowed a pen and a card from Alan, who worked the reception desk with chilly efficiency. Alan handed them over with one hand, reaching for the phone with the other. Logan mouthed a thank-you, then drafted a quick plea in bright-green marker.

WANTED! URGENT! Lecturer in need of furnished rental appt/room in private house. Willing to share utility bills and help out with chores.

He added his contact details in pen when the marker ran dry on him, and attached the note to the board using four pushpins.

He’d do more toward solving his problem later. Time to do his job.

Chapter Two

John expected the knock on his front door, had been waiting for it, nerves jangling, but he paused for a moment and took a deep breath before answering it.

He’d seen the sign on the bulletin board at Gardiner College about a professor looking for a room to rent, and called to set up a meeting the day before. In the year since his wife moved out unexpectedly, declaring their marriage was over, he’d considered from time to time renting his garage apartment. Living so close to campus, there were always students looking for a place to stay, and the thought of someone else under the same roof was comforting somehow, even if it was on the other side of a wall. Still, he’d hesitated to pull the trigger, reluctant to put himself in a position of having to evict someone if Ava came back. She’d used the apartment as an art studio, and no matter how slim the chances of her returning, she’d be furious with him for co-opting her space if she did.

He’d taken the sign as a sign, a nudge from the universe to push him forward out of his months of stasis, waiting for a call that never came.

It was a source of reassurance that the person in need of a room was a college professor. He pictured a quiet, older man, educated enough to make stimulating conversation. No parties or loud music to contend with. He drew the line at renting to an undergraduate student. They seemed impossibly young and brash. What would he have in common with them? Nothing at all. They were playing here, putting off joining the real world.

And here he was, putting off answering the door.

He strode the few steps necessary and opened it, revealing a man who looked so little like his expectations, he was shocked into silence. Young. Younger than his thirty-nine years, for sure. The man was tattooed, colorful designs crawling up his arms, disappearing under the rolled-up sleeves of a heavy cotton shirt in navy. Long dark hair pushed behind his ears and an arrogant, lithe strength were more appealing, but the man unsettled him.

“Logan Briscoe?” John asked doubtfully.

“That’s me. John Lee Sailer?”

“Also me.” John realized he was staring into Logan’s dark blue-gray eyes and forced himself to normalcy. “Come in, please.” He stepped back to make room and closed the door by pushing it with his foot. “I don’t say this often, but this week I’m glad for daylight saving time; at least you weren’t getting here in the dark. Hard to assess the neighborhood if you can’t see it.”

“I’ve been living on the other side of town.” Logan gestured vaguely behind him. “Similar neighborhood, though.”

“Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? Water? Beer?” This was a business transaction, he remembered too late, not a social call, but he couldn’t take back the offer now.

“Sure, a beer would be great.” Logan followed John into the kitchen and accepted the cold bottle John handed to him. “Thanks.”

“Anyway, this is my place, and the apartment’s through there and up the stairs.” He’d left the door from the kitchen to the garage ajar. “I spent an hour on it after work, but there’s still a fair amount to go. Well, you’ll see.”

“Why postpone the inevitable?” This time Logan went first, swinging the door open the rest of the way and heading for the narrow stairs.

The ceiling light in the apartment’s kitchen was already on, and John saw the space with fresh eyes. There was no evidence of the hour’s cleaning he’d done. The sink’s porcelain was stained, maybe permanently, with a muted rainbow of colors, and one of the cabinet doors was missing, revealing a collection of small jars of paint, cups with paintbrushes propped up haphazardly, and stacks of old newspapers. The air held smells of chemicals and decay.

The sound Logan made, a choked-off grunt of dismay, had John turning to look at him. “I know. I’m embarrassed to show it to you. It’s not up to my standards. I hope you see that from the rest of the house. I— When my wife left, this space was so much hers that I acted as if it didn’t exist. As if without her using it, it ceased to exist.”

“That’s understandable.” Logan wrinkled his nose. “Not good for you in the long run, but I guess you don’t need me to tell you that.”

“No. I don’t.” God, he was prickly these days. Moderating his snappish tone, he asked, “So do you want to see the rest of it? Bathroom’s in good shape, and the bedroom’s over here with a small room opposite.”

Logan grinned. How old was he? The smile took his age down to a teenager’s, impish, inviting. “Are the walls pink? Because I adore my current landlady, but the room I live in belonged to a young girl, and I’m this close to having Barbie tattooed on my ass.” He held up his hand, fingers pinching the air to illustrate.

“So there’s room for one more? From here, it looks as if you’ve used every available piece of skin.” It slipped out before he censored himself, the question tinged with his distaste. He hated tattoos. They were so often badly done and such a waste of money.

“Ooh, burn.” Logan’s smile disappeared. “The ink on my body disturbs you enough that you can’t help criticizing it a few minutes after we meet? Now that might be a problem. And I plan on having men over for sex from time to time since I’m gay as well as tattooed.” He tilted his chin up, challenging John. “Want to tell me how that offends you too? Go ahead, but if you do, you can rent this dump to someone else.”

Logan’s confrontational attitude rocked John back. Shit, what was wrong with him? When had he become so judgmental? He hastened to speak, panicked in case Logan interpreted his silence as prejudice. “I’m not offended. It’s none of my business what you do with your body.” He meant it on multiple levels. He was the landlord; as long as the men Logan was fucking weren’t underage, it didn’t matter to him. He rallied, meeting Logan’s gaze unflinchingly. “And we both know you’ll rent this dump because from what you told me on the phone, you’re down to the wire and don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Logan eyed him with what seemed like grudging admiration. “Yeah. That’s true enough. But if my having guys over is a problem, well, I’d rather know before I move in.”

“It won’t be a problem.” Explaining his recent sexual history wasn’t something he wanted to get into then, though he assumed they’d talk about it sooner or later if Logan became his tenant. It wasn’t a secret. Personal, yes.

“You have any gay friends?” Logan asked, so clearly expecting the answer to be no that John smiled.

“The answer to that is not as simple as you might think.” Friends? Not anymore. When his life had been as half a couple, John-and-Ava, he’d thought they had plenty of gay friends, but after Ava left, they’d faded out of his life with vague promises to keep in touch. Her crowd had been artists, musicians, creative types that included flamboyant gay men and plenty of people whose sexual orientations seemed fluid. “I thought I did. Turned out they were my wife’s friends, not mine.”

Nodding, Logan said, “That happens sometimes.”

Logan poked his head around the bedroom and bathroom door, seemingly satisfied with what he saw. They were small rooms, but what could he expect from a garage apartment?

“Anyway, that’s the extra room there.” At nine-by-ten, it was suitable for an office or maybe a nursery. Everywhere they stepped, years’ worth of artwork was scattered around, some of it lying flat on the floor, other pieces leaning against the walls or each other. There was barely a pathway through the space into the small room, requiring the careful placement of feet like a child playing some twisted form of hopscotch.

“I’d tell you not to worry about stepping on anything, but…”

“It’d be disrespectful,” Logan told him. “You don’t have to explain.”

“I know it’s kind of a mess right now, but I’ll get it cleaned up.”

“Yeah, it’ll be fine.” Logan went over and tapped the wall the room shared with the main house. “What’s on the other side?”

John wasn’t sure why it mattered, but there was no reason not to answer. “Spare room. I use it for my books and storage. My bedroom’s at the far end of the house, so don’t worry, you won’t hear me snoring. And apparently, I do. Did.”

“Sometimes I talk in my sleep. Maybe your snoring and my talking will cancel each other out.”

“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way, but we can only hope. So what do you think?”

Logan didn’t keep him waiting long. “It has potential. Yeah. Let’s do it. I’m willing to make do without a kitchen for a week if it means I can sleep in my bed instead of getting an aching back on a friend’s couch.”

“I’ve done that myself.” The couch was the one in his house, when he and Ava had argued until the atmosphere in the bedroom was rank with anger and he’d escaped, leaving her to the victory of a lonely bed.

“I can borrow a truck on Saturday and move my stuff in then if that works. And help with whatever’s left of the cleanup over the weekend.” Logan shook his head. “Hang on. I never asked what you want for rent, or if you need references before you make a final decision.”

“Going through this process once is enough for me. How long have you been at the current place?”

“Over a year. It’s month to month, and that works for me, but if you’d prefer a lease, I’m fine with that.”

“According to the Internet, that’s safest for both of us. I was thinking eight hundred a month.” John headed for the stairs, unwilling to spend any longer in the apartment. Cleaning it out would be a catharsis and an ordeal, but in that moment he needed to be away from the memories.

Logan followed him down the stairs, a shadow at John’s back. He was aware of the man’s scent with each breath. He was sensitive to personal odors. If he didn’t like the way someone smelled, he usually disliked them. His reaction to Logan’s musk was complex. It stirred him in ways he couldn’t give a name to, disturbing him.

“Eight hundred?” Logan echoed. “Wait, are there bodies buried under the foundation? Is the place haunted?”

John led the way through the garage and pushed open the door into the kitchen, then locked it behind them. “That seems low to you?”

Logan ran his hands through the wealth of his hair, static leaving strands of it clinging to his fingers. Ava’s hair had been long once, down to her waist, until she’d cut it off in a spurt of temper after getting paint stuck in it. The loss of it, a sensual cloak falling across her body, brushing his skin when they made love, had devastated him.

“Shit, yeah! I’m paying six hundred for a bedroom in a small house. This is an apartment. What else? Oh yeah. Utilities? Will I have a hard time setting up Wi-Fi?”

“I have unlimited Internet, and the router’s on this side of the house, so you’re welcome to the password if you don’t abuse it by downloading illegally and getting me into trouble with my ISP.”

“No problem.”

“And the utilities…” John scratched his mouth with his thumb, then stopped when he saw Logan stare at his lips, a glimmer of interest in his eyes. Did Logan think he was flirting? “Provisionally, let’s add fifty dollars to the rent, and after three months, we can sit down and compare bills from before you arrived with after you moved in to see if that’s fair. If I’m overcharging you, I’ll give you a refund; if you’re having hour-long showers and running up huge bills, I’ll increase it.”

“Works for me.”

“Obviously, you need to be considerate when it comes to noise, but so do I.” John smiled at him, a rusty creak of a smile. God, he was in such a slump. Still, renting the place was a step in the right direction. He took pride in that. “Now’s the time to confess about your electric guitar.”

Logan smiled. “No guitar. I’d reassure you by saying my current landlady never complained, but she’s pretty hard of hearing. I promise I’ll keep it down, and on the off chance my TV’s too loud, bang on the wall to let me know.”

“That’s what texting’s for. Oh, hey, we forgot our beers.” Back in John’s clean, neat kitchen, their bottles were still sitting on the countertop. “I printed out a sample rental agreement for you to look at and give me your thoughts. It’s a draft, and I’m sure there are things I haven’t thought of.”

An hour later, beer abandoned in favor of coffee, John decided they’d get along well enough. They’d hammered out a lease agreement that suited them and moved on to more general conversation. John steered talk away from his private life but told Logan about his job leading the HR department at the local factory.

“Heilsa? I’m addicted to the Green Dream smoothie and the cherry-almond bars.” Logan was clearly delighted.

“The original owner was Icelandic, which is where the name came from,” John told him. “He retired when his health failed, but his children took over, and they’re committed to keeping everything organic and green, whatever that means in real terms. I’m not involved in that side of it. My job would be the same if I worked for a company building spaceships or making paper clips. I don’t go out of my way to buy expensive snacks.”

“Expensive’s in the eye of the beholder.” Logan finished his coffee and set the mug down gently. “It sounds like you’re saying you don’t have a passion for your work.”

“It’s not that,” John protested. “I’m saying that my work, personally, is separate from what the company manufactures. Though I do prefer to avoid junk food, so I approve of what they make. I care about HR, following the law, and finding compromises that keep my employer and its employees happy. If I didn’t, I’d find another job.” He was passionate enough about what he did from day to day that he didn’t think it mattered whether he cared about the products.

“What if the company was making something you were morally opposed to?” Logan’s expression was intense. He rested his tattooed forearms on the table, and it was obvious he was invested in the conversation.

A flicker of resentment sharpening his words, John said, “I’m not morally opposed to granola bars.”

“That’s not what I’m asking. Say Heilsa closed down, and a different manufacturing company opened in its place and wanted to retain you in your position. What if that company made, I don’t know, bullets, and you were part of the gun-control crowd?”

“I am part of that crowd, but that doesn’t mean I’m morally opposed to bullets.”

“You must be morally opposed to something!”

John picked up his mug, peered at the inch of cool coffee remaining, and set it down again. “Cruelty?”

“In general?”

“Well, sure. To animals in particular.”

“Okay. So pretend your new employer manufactures dog-fighting equipment.”

“Isn’t all you need for dog-fighting a couple of dogs? Are we really having this conversation?” John suspected Logan was pushing his buttons, but the reason for the goading escaped him.

“I want to know what kind of man you are.”

Oh. “I’m not sure you can learn that from one conversation.”

“Maybe not.” Logan leaned forward, tapping the side of his thumb against the table. “You strike me as a man who takes a while to open up, and we’re virtually strangers. I know nothing. Yet. And I won’t unless I ask questions.”

Intensely uncomfortable, John looked down at his hands. “I’ve already told you more about myself than I’d tell a stranger.” He didn’t know why he’d shared even that much, not when it might be used against him.

“I wouldn’t use it to hurt you.”

Their gazes met, held, an electric moment of connection leaving John adrift when Logan glanced away, as if a lifeline had been withdrawn when his fingers were about to close around it.

“Without knowing you, how can I be sure of that? I knew my wife, or I thought I did, and before she left, she made weapons out of any secret I’d shared.”

The bitterness in his words left his mouth tasting foul. He stood and went to the sink, rinsing out his coffee mug, then refilling it with water, gulping it down. It didn’t help.

“Then I guess we swap secrets. Even it out. You know I’m gay. Your turn.”

“I suspect everyone knows that about you,” John said drily. He sat again, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Not because you look it, if that’s even a thing, but because you make a point of telling them. And aren’t we a little old for games? How old are you, anyway?”

“Twenty-seven. You?”

“Thirty-nine.” John winced. “God, when did that happen?”

“So your wife left before your midlife crisis? What would it’ve been? Flashy car? Not a tattoo, I’m guessing.” Logan held up his finger. “Got it. A walk on the wild side. My side. Ever appeal to you?”

“Sex with a man?” It was surprisingly easy to keep his reply casual, but his heart rate sped up, sweat prickling his back.

“For starters.” Logan smiled as if something amused him.

Goaded by that smile, John said shortly, “Been there, done that, so no.”

“Huh?” Logan leaned in, dark eyes sparkling with interest. “Oh, come on! Share. You can’t drop that on me, then clam up.”

John shoved his chair back without rising. Where had the air gone? He should open the window. Get more water. Make Logan leave. “This conversation is over. I’m done.”

“You’re the one who fessed up.” Logan folded his hands in prayer, mocking John with a twist of his mouth, a hint of steel showing. He wasn’t smiling now. “And it’s good for the soul, or so they say. Tell me, John. Talk to me. Tell me who he was and what he did to you. Won’t shock me; I can promise you that.” He took John’s hands in his, his grip merciless, tight. “Look me in the eyes, and tell me.”

“Fine.” John drew a shuddering breath and looked into Logan’s eyes, which were gray then, not the faintest hint of blue in them. “In college, my roommate and I had a thing. It only lasted that year, and he had a girlfriend the whole time, so neither of us thought anything would come of it. We never talked about it afterward.”

He’d lived with sickening guilt and shame the whole time, fighting the belief that being gay was wrong, a battle he’d since won, but unable to ignore Gareth’s existing relationship. They’d stolen from Gareth’s girlfriend with their kisses and rough, desperate groping.

Logan waited, but when John didn’t force any more words out, he said, “But that wasn’t all.”

Shocked—John hadn’t thought to go beyond that sordid tale of his college days, easily explained away by lack of experience and the flush of youth—he felt the heat in his cheeks intensify to the point where he wanted to press his hands against his burning skin to hide his blushes. Logan hadn’t released his hands, but when John, embarrassed by their position, tugged to free himself, Logan let go immediately. John curled his hands in his lap, the lingering pressure of that strong grip something to be savored. When was the last time he’d been touched? Too long. “No.”

“Tell me.”

Why not? Why not share with this young man with the compelling eyes and open, forceful charm? Recklessly, John answered. “After Ava left. I hooked up with a few people. First through online dating. Went out to dinner, came back to the house for a drink.” Short sentences seemed easiest. “Had sex. It wasn’t working.”

“You didn’t get off?”

He shook his head. “No, I did, but there was…something missing. I don’t know.” He’d spent far too much time trying to make sense of it and failing; difficult to explain something he didn’t understand himself. “So then I met a couple of men on Craigslist. That didn’t work either. I gave up.”

“On sex? Forever? That doesn’t seem realistic.”

“What’s the use? I’m too old to change.”

“Thirty-nine is middle-aged. You’ve got decades ahead of you. And you haven’t exhausted the possibilities.”

Outside, the spring evening had turned to full night, a patter of rain striking the windows. Inside the kitchen, with the smell of coffee filling the air as the residue in the pot simmered away, John tried to make sense of Logan’s words.

“Enough for now.” Logan tapped the table, a restless drumming that spoke of frustration to John, though he wasn’t sure why Logan would feel that way. He had the sense of missing something significant about their conversation, a subtext he was blind to. “I’ll come around on the weekend to help you with the cleanup, then move in.”

Jolted by the change from the intimate to the practical, John nodded. He cleared his throat to make sure his words emerged in a normal tone.

“Okay. I have a work thing tomorrow evening, so that’s out, but Saturday morning I’ll be up bright and early. If you’re serious about helping get the apartment straightened out, there’s no reason you can’t move in.”

“Sounds great. I appreciate this. I would have figured something out no matter what, but having your apartment dropped in my lap was better luck than I hoped for.”

“It’s a good situation for me too. I needed the motivation to get the place cleaned out. Been stagnant a little too long.” John rubbed his knuckles against his jaw, the sensation of Logan’s grip lingering.

“It’s a fresh start for both of us,” Logan agreed and pushed back his chair. “I’ll be on my way. Lots to do.”

John saw him to the door, walking behind him and getting an excellent view of his ass, rounded, firm. Was it natural to stare? To feel a surge of confused arousal?

“John.” Logan stepped over the threshold and turned back. “Don’t give up.”

Give me a reason not to.

But before he found the courage to say it, Logan walked away, his order delivered, leaving John to wonder what would’ve happened if he’d spoken.

Chapter Three

Logan walked toward John as the guy arched his back, massaging what had to be aching muscles, then turning away. Logan carried two takeout coffees on a cardboard tray with a paper bag wedged between them, making speeding up problematic, so he called to John instead.

“Hey! Wait up!”

John must’ve been working for hours. Cardboard boxes and trash bags were stacked against the garage wall, separated into two, presumably one to donate, one to ditch. Was there anything left in the apartment?

John saw him, raked him with a glance, then looked away, a flush rising. He made Logan’s mouth water. Tall, rangy, strong, with a sculpted face, all hollows and straight lines. The blush was intriguing. Logan had dressed down for what he assumed would be a day of getting sweaty and grubby, in running shoes, jeans, and a long-sleeved gray Henley. His hair was tied back, and his eyes were gritty with sleep. Late night, but worth every yawn. Seth, as if sensing his time as Logan’s sub was nearing its end, had been on fire. Logan had come three times, and Seth had crawled over him, licking at exhausted flesh, begging for more attention at whatever cost to his well-punished ass. In the end, mindful that Sheila was in the room opposite, Logan had gagged him, tied him to the leg of the bed, and gotten him off with the thickest dildo he owned, fucking Seth’s ass raw with ruthless, strong strokes.

As farewells went, it’d been a good one.

“I brought doughnuts.” Logan shook off the pleasant memories. “I know, I know, you’re into healthy eating, and doughnuts don’t qualify, but I figured the hard work you’ll be putting in will burn off the calories.” He glanced at the collection of boxes. “Um, have already put in, apparently. What time did you get up?”

“Quarter of six. And I’d love a doughnut.”

“You took it black last time, but I have some of those little creamers if I remembered wrong.”

“You remembered right. Thanks.”

“It’s the least I could do.” Logan passed over John’s coffee and a doughnut, an old-fashioned glazed, fragrant with nutmeg and cinnamon, sugar flakes dotting the surface, then set the cardboard tray down on the ground beside the boxes. He rubbed his hands together, revving himself up for what was to come. “Okay, so you’ve got me for three hours. Then I have to meet my friend Sharif over at my place—he’s going to help me bring my furniture over in his truck.”

Mouth full of sweet fried dough, John nodded and swallowed. “We can do a lot in three hours. This stuff’s for Goodwill—supplies that were either unused or mostly new—and next I planned to pack up the artwork and move it to the spare room. I found some crates in the shed; Ava must have left them.”

“Other artwork?”

“Oh, right. I forgot you wouldn’t have seen the results of her stained-glass phase, or the needlepoint. They’re tucked away in a couple of closets.” He blew through the hole on the lid of his hot coffee. Logan watched the purse of his lips, picturing them rounded with a dildo or his cock. And he had to stop that, or even in loose jeans, his reaction would be obvious. John had been on his mind too much since they’d met, with no good resolution to his interest. Older, inexperienced, vanilla…and his landlord. Four good reasons to back away, and there were more if he looked. Shame the place he wanted to look most was at John.

“We’ll need work gloves for the stained glass,” John told him. “She didn’t finish everything she started, and there are a lot of sharp edges. You should have seen her fingers during that phase. She bled on everything.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah, at one point she had bandages on each and every finger, and she couldn’t put her mascara on without jabbing herself in the eye with the brush. I wasn’t sorry when she stopped. The glass cost a fortune too.”

“Can any of it go back to the store? Assuming she bought it from the place on Stanley Street, that is. I know the woman who runs it, and if it’s usable, she might give you something on it. Sarra’s selling online, and she’s doing so well, she’s running low on stock, she tells me.”

“I never thought about that. There’s a lot, some still with price stickers attached.”

“Worth a try.”

John nodded. “I’ll call the store, and if she’s interested, I’ll take it over. Thanks for the suggestion.”

“Welcome.”

They moved upstairs into the apartment, taking the drinks and snacks with them. Logan told himself the stairs would keep him in shape, though since his room at Sheila’s had been upstairs too, there wasn’t any real change there.

John indicated the crates. “We can use them if we don’t overfill them. They’d be awkward to carry.” He sipped some of his coffee, then asked, “Will you miss living in your current place?”

“With Sheila? I suppose so. I’ve been there over a year, so she’s a friend at this point.”

“You didn’t want to get your own place before?” It sounded as if John was trying to be delicate in ferreting out more information, sensitive to the possibility that Logan might have a complicated past.

Logan set his doughnut down on the crumpled-up bag it had come in and rubbed a fingertip across his bottom lip. The movement drew John’s attention to his mouth. He resisted the urge to lick his lips and see John’s reaction to that. “Too busy, and the timing was never right.”

“Where did you live before Sheila’s?” John must have realized he was staring, because he looked away and focused on his coffee cup, prying the lid off to allow his drink to cool.

“With my boyfriend Eli. Our place was close to his job, so when we split up, it made sense to let him stay there, but it was in the middle of a semester. Moving to a furnished place was all I had time for. Sheila saved my sanity. And now you’re doing the same.”

“It’s a way to make some money out of unused space. We’re both benefiting.” John hesitated. “And even if I don’t see much of you, it’ll be nice to have someone else in the house.”

“You’ll see me.” Logan grinned at him and tried not to think about how much he wanted to see all of John. “What, am I expected to come and go under cover of night? I won’t annoy you, dropping in every hour of the day, but there’s no reason we can’t socialize, is there?”

“I suppose not.”

“And maybe we’ll bump into each other at the college. I never asked why you were there when you saw my notice. For a class, I assume, but which one?”

John explained he was taking the Intro to Italian class. “Europe in general, but Italy in particular is somewhere I want to visit. And Greece. Ancient history is an interest of mine, always has been.”

“I don’t know much about it.” Logan gestured, swooping his hand up and away. “I live more in the now, looking to the future.”

“The past influences both, and it holds lessons it’s dangerous to forget.”

It didn’t come as a surprise to Logan that John spent a lot of time thinking things through, analyzing them. “I don’t disagree, but it’s too early for philosophy.” Logan picked up his doughnut again. “Way too early. My brain is still asleep. But we could crack open a bottle of something and hammer it out one evening.” He tore off a piece of doughnut, sugar scattering. The floor was too messy for it to matter, though John frowned, a fleeting show of disapproval. “I saw your bookshelves. Do you loan books out, or did you learn the hard way not to do that?”

“People get one strike; then they’re out. But I’d trust you to take care of them, and if you didn’t return them, well, I know where you live. Why? What did you want to borrow?”

“Won’t know until I see it, but if Romans and Greeks interest you, maybe they’d do something for me.” He popped the food into his mouth, chewed, swallowed, then added, “I have the feeling we’ll find out we have a lot in common.”

John studied him thoughtfully but sounded relaxed enough when he said, “Well, you’re welcome to look through them anytime. I’m happy to loan you whatever interests you.”

“Thanks. Okay, let’s stop stalling and get to work. I want to make significant inroads before I have to deal with moving furniture.” Logan stuffed the rest of his doughnut into his mouth and washed it down with a few gulps of coffee.

They worked companionably for a couple of hours, first packing up the canvases and lugging the crates down and then up the stairs again to John’s spare room, then untangling the piles of needlepoint and supplies, which was a fruitless effort as far as Logan was concerned. There were hundreds of little skeins of thread in as many colors, some of them tossed in on top of uncompleted pictures, and it would have made more sense to toss the whole lot into the trash.

“Good thing you don’t have a cat,” he commented, wanting to break the silence. “This would be even harder.”

“Ava had one when we married. Kind of stripy. I don’t miss it.”

“You don’t like cats?”

Carefully separating a collection of brown thread from a bunch of reds, John pricked himself with a needle and winced. “Ow. No, cats are fine. Ava’s hated me on sight and never changed its mind. Anytime I came into a room, it would run away.”

“A cat with awful taste. Got it.” Logan nodded at a garbage bag. “If you want to turn your head, I’ll ditch it in there and save you a ton of work.”

“It’s wasteful,” John objected, though Logan sensed the offer was tempting.

“It’s sensible. Would the threads be useful to someone? Yes, but sorting it will take forever, and look, now you’re dripping blood over them.”

“Slight exaggeration.” John stuck his pricked finger in his mouth, licked it clean—God, his mouth—and exhibited it. “See? It’s stopped.”

“John.” Logan captured his hand while he spoke. “Put them in the trash.”

“What?” It’d been an order, not a suggestion, but John, clearly bewildered, shook his head. “I can’t—”

Logan stood silent, waiting, not allowing any hint of disapproval to show. Tension filled him, exhilarating, painful. Would John obey or walk away? He liked to think he knew a sub or fellow Dom when he met one, but did he? When he was in a bar surrounded by men in leather and attitude, it wasn’t that difficult to hazard a guess that they were like him.

John was more of a possibility than a certainty, based on scraps Logan had cobbled together. The dissatisfaction with vanilla sex was something, yeah, but selfish partners or John’s inexperience might be the cause. The moment at the kitchen table when John had surrendered a secret because Logan had told him to, now that was worth considering as significant.

With John’s hand in his, warm, shaking, a sense of power filled Logan, along with a deep possessiveness that was new to him. The vulnerability and hurt he’d seen in John called to him. He wanted to soothe both away, make John strong and whole.

Then break him open with a loving hand to expose John’s core.

Rebellious, clearly disturbed by the order, John bit his lip, a bad habit Logan would find ways to cure if John were his to control. He’d never been in that position. Eli hadn’t been interested in 24-7 or anything close to it. What would it be like? Tedious hard work? Or deeply satisfying? He’d love to find out. “It’s my choice.”

“Always,” Logan agreed. “So you can choose to do something that saves time on a busy day, or you can carry on tidying up the mess your wife left behind when she left you.”

It struck home. He saw the flinch, followed by an explosive reaction. “That’s not fair! She—” John picked up the bundle of threads, skeins scattering, and thrust them at Logan. “You want them? Take them!”

Oh, well now. That wouldn’t do. Ignoring the stab of a needle, Logan handed the bundle back, pushing it into John’s hands. “Give them to me properly, or put them in the trash the way I told you to.”

John’s nostrils flared, his inner struggle playing out on his face, clearly unable to decide whether to comply or refuse. It was an internal battle Logan had seen on the faces of a dozen subs, but most of them had known what they were. Their choice lay in pleasing Logan by submitting or earning themselves a punishment most of them craved. In this case, John hadn’t yet realized or accepted his true nature, making the struggle one based in confusion.

Or maybe Logan was wrong. He’d be willing to bet he wasn’t, though.

Stiffly, John went over to the garbage bag and tucked the tangle of threads into it. He straightened and turned, meeting Logan’s gaze, but didn’t say anything. Was he waiting for more? Ready to call the whole thing off and send Logan on his way?

Logan nodded, smiling but showing no warm approval John might take as sarcasm. Nothing to see here, no need to comment. La-la-la, moving on. Turning away, he went back to sorting through the pile he’d been working on. He was careful that his body language made it clear he wasn’t angry or annoyed, and within a minute John went back to work too.

“I’m sorry,” John said. “You were right. Maybe you should be in charge of this project instead of me.”

What project? The cleanup, or shaping you into the perfect sub? Logan shook his head. “No. But it wouldn’t hurt to listen to my input once in a while. You might be a little too close to this to have any objectivity left. Understandably.”

John sighed. “Okay. Let’s throw out the loose stuff and save what’s finished. Unless it’s ugly.”

“Yeah, some of these are pretty bad.” Holding up a partially completed needlepoint, Logan asked, “Is this supposed to be bears?”

“Raccoons, maybe? I’m not sure. Not that it matters. Trash it.”

With a clearly defined rule, they worked much faster and by ten thirty had moved on to the closet that held the stained-glass supplies. Logan’s attention was torn between the job at hand and watching John, who somehow became more attractive to him by the hour. What was it about the man that was so appealing? It wasn’t his appearance; it went much deeper than that, but Logan had played Dom to plenty of men and never been this smitten.

He left to meet Sharif, reluctant to part from John, who gave him a helpless glance as if, without Logan, he wasn’t sure how to proceed. With the incentive of John’s welcoming smile on his return, he hurried through the work at Sheila’s, stopping to have a final cup of tea and refusing to let her dwell on anything but the happiness in store for her.

“Sunshine and oranges,” he told her.

“And the ocean,” she added, smiling dreamily, so his last sight of her was a good memory to hold on to.

He returned to the new apartment with Sharif’s van loaded with odds and ends. Sharif, a short, bubbly man, greeted John with an exuberant hug. Startled but apparently not displeased, John returned the hug.

“You’re saving his life,” Sharif said, dark eyes twinkling. “No, saving mine, because I’m too kindhearted to let him sleep on the floor, but my couch is new, and he likes to eat cookies in bed.”

“Lies, all lies.” Logan paused, holding a cardboard box sealed with yards of tape and unmarked. It contained his collection of toys, and he intended to tuck it into the back of the bedroom closet first thing before anyone had a chance to wonder what was in it. “And you bought that couch last year. It’s no longer new.”

“It still looks new and will continue to do so without you covering it with crumbs,” Sharif said.

John and Sharif followed him with more boxes, and when they returned to the truck, they prepared to carry his mattress between them.

“I can get that,” Logan protested. He set the rolling suitcase he’d been about to take into the garage on its end and tapped John’s upper arm gently with the back of his hand. “Swap with me.”

“No, I’ve got it. It’s fine.”

“I know it’s fine. That’s not the point. Swap.” Logan’s voice was no-nonsense.

Sharif wasn’t part of the scene, but it fascinated him, and he was well used to Logan’s partners behaving in ways that to someone not clued in would seem odd. He didn’t show any surprise at the direct order, but Logan guessed in Sharif’s eyes, John was now labeled “submissive.” Damn. Sharif was too polite to quiz John, but he’d act differently around him, assuming John answered to Logan, and they weren’t at that point yet and maybe never would be.

This balancing act was a challenge.

John drew in a deep, slow breath, releasing the mattress at the same time as Sharif. It wobbled, then came to rest against the side of the truck. “It’s your mattress, so you get to say who handles it, I guess.”

“That’s not the issue here. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.” And he knew in John’s eyes he was being unreasonable, even rude, but better a momentary irritation with the new lodger than genuine discomfort and hurt. Logan sensed John’s need to submit, tasted it like the tang of salt in the air by the ocean, but if it was wishful thinking, he needed to know. Testing John’s reaction to an order that made no sense could save them an awkward conversation later.

“How fragile do you think I am?” John threw up his hands, his frustration evident in the clipped tone of his voice and the tight press of his lips. “Okay, I’ll leave you to it if that’s what you want.”

Sharif took out his phone and walked away, saying, “Need to call my mom. Be right back.”

“That was tactful.” John didn’t watch Sharif go. His attention was on Logan, who was used to being the focus of a sub’s attention and returning the favor. He drank in John’s angry, confused expression, the taut stance, confrontational but all show. God, he wished John was his to school and tame.

“Yeah. He’ll be back soon. And he probably does need to call her. He takes her grocery shopping on Saturdays, and he’s running late.”

“We’d be finished sooner if you’d let me help.”

“Maybe I’m not in a rush.” Logan stepped closer and touched John deliberately on the face, a tap of his fingers, gentle but conveying a message. Behave. Calm down. I’ve got you. “Maybe I’m enjoying spending some time with you, but I want it to be on my terms.”

“Anyone tell you about your control issues?” John inquired. “Point out that you’re not the ruler of the world and no one has to bow down to you and grovel at your feet?”

Ooh. Intriguing choice of words.

“Maybe,” Logan said slowly, “that wasn’t something I needed anyone to tell me.”

They were standing so close to each other that he saw the different colors making up the hazel of John’s eyes, leaf greens and nut browns, earthy, warm shades.

“Don’t people find your bossiness annoying?”

“Some of them do.” Logan leaned forward, closing the space between them by another half inch. “Some of them like it.”

Which one are you?

They weren’t touching, but he sensed the electricity between them, saw John tremble. “I don’t…” John’s voice was barely a whisper. “I don’t know how to do this.”

“Don’t worry.” Logan smiled, sure of his man now, exhilaration fizzing through him, his misgivings forgotten in the face of John’s need for guidance. “I do.”

Chapter Four

Don’t worry. I do.

What the fuck did that even mean? John had turned Logan’s words over and around without shaking loose anything that made sense. Sharif had returned a moment later, killing the tension with his presence, restoring normality.

John would’ve hated him for the interruption, except it was impossible to dislike someone so friendly. He’d escaped the situation by doing a run to the Goodwill store, followed by a trip to the dump. When he’d returned, the moving in was complete and Logan’s door was closed. He could’ve gone over and demanded answers, but cravenly, he’d retreated into his half of the house and sat there with a coffee he forgot to drink, staring at a TV channel about cooking as the room darkened around him.

Things didn’t change much over the next few days. On Sunday, Logan was gone, catching up on work at his on-campus office, and he usually taught classes on Mondays and Tuesdays. John caught sight of him through the window at seven on Tuesday evening, after hearing the still-unfamiliar thud of a car door closing in the driveway, but after that all was quiet until an hour later.

John had been trying to get up the courage to rap on Logan’s door when he realized there was a conversation going on next door, and not a one-sided phone conversation. There were two people in the apartment, both men. The words were a vague mumble, but the conversation seemed companionable.

Curious, John checked the driveway and discovered a third car there, one he didn’t recognize. Logan must have a friend visiting; he’d said he didn’t make a habit of socializing with students.

“You need to get yourself a life,” John muttered to himself and went upstairs to take a shower, putting as much space between him and Logan’s apartment as possible. The man deserved his privacy.

Freshly washed, hair smelling of the anise dandruff shampoo he’d used preventatively for decades despite a complete lack of actual dry-scalp issues, he left the bathroom naked, still drying his hair. He was passing the spare room when the sound of a man crying out, not loud but clear enough, came through the wall that connected his home with Logan’s apartment.

It halted him in his tracks. Heart pounding hard, he listened for a repeat, unsure of what he should do. Was Logan hurt? In trouble? The sound came again, hoarse, deep, wrenched from a man in clear distress. He took a stumbling step through the doorway and closer to the wall. Logan’s voice reached him, calm and rich with that warm approval John had experienced firsthand.

“You can take it. Another few minutes. You’re doing so well. Hurting so beautifully for me. Turn to the mirror. See yourself. Yeah, that’s it. I’m here with you. You’re not alone in this.”

“Can’t— Take them off, please, Sir, please!”

“If you need a break from the clamps, you know what to say.” Logan’s voice gained an edge; John heard it even muffled by the wall separating them. “I’m not hearing your safe word, so nothing ends. In fact, you can take them tighter than this, and you know it.”

“Oh God, please, please—”

If the man was begging for more, not an ending, John didn’t know. The roaring in his ears drowned out any reply Logan made. He stretched out his hand, bracing it against the wall, then dropped his other hand to his cock, which was surging to rigidity, painful in its completeness. He was achingly hard, bent over as lust stabbed through him, swift, accurate thrusts.

“I won’t remove them until I’ve come, so if you want them off, you’ll have to please me,” Logan said.

Impossible to know what that meant either, but the visual in John’s head was clear enough. He saw himself on his knees, lips wrapped around Logan’s cock, shaft stretching his mouth wide and threatening to choke him. He remembered other blowjobs with other men, how his saliva slicked the way, how he had to be careful to breathe through his nose. On the other side of the wall, everything had gone quiet. He didn’t need more to take him to the edge, though; his hand on his cock and his imagination were plenty.

Logan’s rough hand caressing his hair.

The smell of Logan’s skin.

The press of Logan’s cock spreading him open for the first time.

“Take it,” he heard Logan say, and didn’t know—didn’t care—if it was fact or fiction. “Yeah. You’re such a good little slut. Take it.”

And like that, cock in his fist, John was over the edge, coming so hard he had to choke back a groan.

He leaned against the wall, heedless of the chill against his skin or the cum streaking his hand, dripping to join splashes on the carpet. He’d never come like that before. Ever. Never had his control stripped from him so ruthlessly.

And Logan wasn’t even in the room.

Stealthily, moving as if a too-loud breath would alert Logan to his eavesdropping, John cleaned up in the bathroom, keeping his mind blank as he went to his bedroom to dress. His clothes weighed him down, irritating skin sensitized by his climax. He wanted to strip bare again, touch his cock and reawaken the ecstasy, but he didn’t deserve it. Not after something as shameful as that voyeurism, if that was what it had been when he’d used his ears and imagination, not his eyes.

When he allowed himself to think about it later, a whiskey warming his mouth, steadying his nerves to a certain extent, he knew, guilty feelings be damned, he’d do it again.

How could he not? The rush of sensation, the sense of belonging at Logan’s feet, head bowed or staring up, waiting for an order, resonated with him as no truth had before. He was clueless, terrified, and determined to clutch his secret to him, not share it, but he’d listen again.

As he thought it, he heard the slam of a door, followed by a car engine kicking in. So Logan was alone now. Was he as sated and relaxed as John pictured him, lying on his bed, naked or, God, dressed in leather, the heavy scent of arousal lingering in the air? What had he done to the man with him? Clamps. Jesus. John fingered his nipple through the thin sweater he’d tugged on. He tried an experimental pinch and twist, but without Logan involved, it did no more than send a vague tingle through him.

No. This was… Impossible, that’s what it was. People accepted things they couldn’t have all the time, like mansions and expensive vacations and good relationships with their parents. There were things within his grasp, and things out of reach, and this was definitely the latter.

Finishing his whiskey, John set the glass down with a decisive clink and went to bed. He’d gotten this far in life by concentrating on his work and doing what he knew needed to be done.

It had worked so far. He’d stay on the same path and hope for the best.

Deep in his gut, he knew it wasn’t going to be that simple.

Somehow, he made it through the next day of work, after being awake half the night, staring at the ceiling. He wasted a good hour of time he should have been using thinking about other things, contemplating whether to cancel on going to his Italian class with his friends Cat and Michael, but eventually decided to go. If he skipped a class, he’d be behind, and learning a language at his age was more difficult than he’d expected. He appreciated the effort required to stretch his brain, and tonight—for the first time—he needed distraction from more than the dissolution of his marriage.

Even in his haze that morning, he’d remembered to take a meal out of the freezer and put it into the refrigerator to thaw, but he had a late lunch and was nowhere near hungry by the time he left work. He went straight to campus instead and found himself with an hour to kill.

John read the bulletin board, but everything seemed the same as it had the week before, with the exception of Logan’s note about looking for a rental being gone. He wandered past Logan’s office—mindless wandering, no intent behind it—but the door was closed, and the two-sided sign on it reading THE PROFESSOR IS… was flipped to OUT.

Right, because Logan was teaching a class. John wondered where it was and if it was tiny like his Italian class or in one of the larger lecture halls.

It didn’t take long for him to find out; peering through the window at the back of the second large lecture hall revealed Logan pacing at the front. His words were inaudible, but he was confident, animated, gesturing with graceful, firm movements. Only the front half of the hall was filled with students.

The door creaked as a student crept out, bumping into John. “Sorry!” she whispered and walked off.

Before the door finished swinging closed, before he had a chance to think about it, John sneaked into the room and sank into one of the chairs in the back row.

Logan didn’t notice him, or if he did, he gave no sign. Absorbed, eloquent, he commanded the class, his students listening with flattering attentiveness.

John didn’t fully take in the subject. Logan was building an argument, and he’d missed too much to understand the context. On the board behind the lectern, Logan had scrawled a quotation by Jessica Valenti: The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult. Now tell me that’s not royally fucked up.

John didn’t know the author, but the sentiment made him uncomfortable because he recognized the truth in it. He’d treated and considered Ava his equal on paper, but she’d accused him of gender bias more than once without giving examples beyond a vague assertion that he bought into stereotypes.

Added to his guilt was the knowledge that Logan’s lecture might have been about aphids on roses and it wouldn’t have mattered. John wanted to see him move, rolled-up sleeves exposing those damn tattoos, lithe, powerful, sexy as fuck. Hear him lower his voice to an intimate, conversational tone he got away with because the acoustics were good and the class silent. See him run his hands through his dark hair, and remember him doing it when he was close enough to touch.

Jesus, I’ve got a crush on him. And so have half the kids here, judging by the way they’re drooling over him. Pathetic. I’m making a fool of myself. Stalking him. If I leave, will he see me? What will he think?

He rose and struck his knee on the wooden row of seats in front of him, a hollow boom of sound drawing everyone’s attention. Heads turned, someone snickered, a hum of whispers shattering the quietness. He froze, then straightened and muttered an apology.

“If you have to leave, please do it quietly.” Logan fixed him with a stern gaze, his displeasure at the interruption evident. John waited for Logan to acknowledge their relationship, address him by name perhaps, or forgive him with a smile, but Logan gestured at the door dismissively. “Off you go.”

He said something John didn’t hear through the roar in his ears, but it prompted a wave of laughter that continued after he’d gotten through the door and into the hallway.

Yeah, that went well. Maybe as an encore, you can trip and throw coffee over him next time you meet. Or set his hair on fire.

Still burning with humiliation, he struggled through the Italian class despite Cat and Michael’s clear delight in seeing him. It reminded him how isolated he’d been since Ava left. She’d been the social butterfly, creating engagements seemingly out of thin air without ever needing to check with anyone about their schedule or calling a caterer. Her ideas seemed to manifest from the ether fully formed. In her absence, John kept his head low and continued in the same manner he always had: slow but steady.

Not that he’d won any races lately.

“That was fun! Harder than I expected too,” Cat said, turning around as the class began to disperse. “I don’t think that app I found is helping much; did you try it?”

“Yeah. At least it’s a little bit of practice in between classes.”

“We were gonna go grab some dinner.” Michael shrugged into his jacket, soft leather, expensive like most of his belongings. He was a man who believed in living up to his income without ever straying into debt. “You want to come?”

“Thanks, but I promised myself I’d eat up some leftovers before they go bad,” John told them. “Maybe next time.” Lying left his conscience smudged, but he needed an excuse to leave. He had other things to do.

This time Logan’s office door was partially open, one student in there talking to him while two others loitered in the hallway. A hot surge of jealousy swept over John. Why were they more entitled to Logan’s time than he was? The emotion faded, leaving him confused and ashamed.

“Are you next?” the young man leaving Logan’s office asked.

John had too much pride to say yes. “No, I think they were.” He gestured at the two students leaning against the wall, but they shook their heads and kept talking.

“Come in if you’re coming in,” Logan called, then looked up and saw him.

John stood waiting, silent, tense with wondering what Logan would do or say.

“You wanted me?”

God, yes. And sharing that thought would lead to more humiliation, so silence was the way to go. He shook his head and stepped back, but Logan’s mouth compressed, his eyes a dark glitter of annoyance. At least… Was it? Or another emotion John was failing to translate?

“John.” His name spoken by Logan was compelling, drawing forth a response he couldn’t deny was sensual, erotic even. “Come in and close the door.”

Obeying was less of a struggle every time Logan demanded it of him. Was this how animals were trained to jump and sit or beg for treats? The thought passed through his mind too quickly to register as more than a flash of heat and longing.

The door made a metallic clicking sound as it latched behind him, punctuation to John’s decision.

“Tell me why you’re here.” Again, it wasn’t a question. John moved closer, unable to stay by the door, and Logan swung his chair sideways so they were facing each other. Close enough for Logan to lean forward and press his mouth to John’s cock if he chose.

John swallowed back an inappropriate sound of longing and answered, his words jerky. “I wanted to apologize. For before. Interrupting.”

“I don’t mind if people want to sit in on a lecture, as long as they’re respectful. Arrive on time, listen without talking or texting, and don’t leave before it’s over. Most of my students are young and need to learn discipline.” Logan drew the word out deliciously as if it were a promise.

Nodding, John said, “I didn’t mean to.”

“Oh? You ‘accidentally’ came uninvited into my lecture?” Stern but not angry. It was a killer combination when it came to turning John on, if the ripple of lust tightening his balls was any indication. Were they flirting? Was that what this was?

“I intended to slip in without anyone noticing.”

Logan stretched out a hand toward him and hooked a finger into the space between buttons on his shirt. Tugged. John had no choice but to move forward an inch or two, until his legs and Logan’s brushed against each other. “I’m not sure I believe you.”

Oh God. Hooked like a fish, but they wriggled, desperate to break free, and he wanted to stay still, wait patiently for Logan’s next move or order. He forced his expression to a blank calm, but inside his thoughts swirled chaotically. “It’s true,” John protested. “I’m not lying.”

“Oh, maybe not technically. But I suspect part of you wanted to be noticed. Wanted me to see you. Isn’t that the case?”

“You’re… What is this? What’re you doing? Is it because I told you about— Do you think—”

“You talk too much.” Logan reached up with his free hand and tapped John’s lips with his finger. “Stop babbling. Listen to my question again, and answer yes or no. Did you want me to see you?”

“Yes.” The single word left him on an exhalation. “Logan—”

“One word,” Logan reminded him.

John rolled his head, frustrated, his breath coming in harsh gasps as he fought to learn the rules to Logan’s game. He wasn’t naive. He knew, theoretically, something of the way Logan found his kicks, but only basic knowledge, and he’d never applied that vague awareness of people who got off on pain and ownership to himself.

Until Logan moved in and brought his world with him, a world where men suffered to reach pleasure, allowed their bodies to be hurt in ways he couldn’t imagine, offering up that pain to their partner like a gift.

Did he want that? It aroused him, he knew that much, but was it what he wanted to experience? His mind loved the idea, but would his body agree?

“Something’s different about you.” Logan narrowed his eyes, studying John intently. “You’re not surprised. Scared, yeah, but shocked, no. So what’s brought on that change?” He smiled, lips curling. “Oh. You heard me with Frank. Is that it?”

Not trusting himself to speak, John nodded.

“And you liked it. That’s not a question, but you can tell me I’m right if you like. One word. Am I right?” With each of the last three words, he tugged on John’s shirt, sharp, demanding tugs that brought John closer, left his cock rigid, his erection so obvious he wanted to cover it with his hands, hide it from Logan’s view.

John’s throat was closing with stress, but he understood it was the word Logan wanted, not another nod. “Yes,” he said hoarsely.

Mouth curving into that same smile, Logan released him. “You wanted to apologize, but you haven’t done it.” He pointed at the floor. “I’d like that apology now, if you don’t mind. From the floor.”

“I— What?” But it would have been a lie to say he didn’t understand. He knew what Logan was asking for. He’d already crossed a series of lines, ending up in a place much further from where he’d started than he ever could have imagined, but this was the final line. Once he stepped over it, retreat was impossible.

Would he want to?

John sank to his knees. The tile floor was hard and cool through the fabric of his slacks. “I’m sorry for interrupting your class the way I did. It won’t happen again.” Shivers ran through him, but his voice only shook a little.

“Oh God.” If his voice shook, Logan’s was raw, a scrape of longing, a shiver of need. “You did it. Fuck, you have no idea what you’re doing to me right now. Come here. Here.”

He stood, bringing John up with him, his hands strong on John’s arms. Their grip steadied him, but Logan’s mouth on his in a kiss devastated him, stripping thoughts from his mind, leaving an empty space for Logan to fill.

The kiss was hard, demanding more than any kiss John had given or received. Logan branded him with it, marking him as taken, leaving John’s lips on fire, bee-stung, wet from the final pass of Logan’s tongue across them.

They stood, breathing heavily, foreheads touching. Logan’s hands were on John’s ass, a southward migration he vaguely recalled, and his rested on Logan’s narrow hips.

“You’re forgiven.” Logan’s voice did as much to John as his kiss. His balls tightened more, achingly full, his body seeking a release he knew it wouldn’t get. Not with the hallway full of students and the door closed but unlocked. “And if you want this to end here, slate clean, tell me, and it will. Landlord and tenant. Friends if you like. Take your time. Think it over. I’m not going anywhere.”

“What, you’re moving into your office and staying here permanently?” It was a terrible joke, but it was the best John had to offer, and he wanted to lighten the mood. His ego wouldn’t allow him to show how deeply shaken these few minutes had left him.

Logan smiled, eyes soft and gentle. “Thank you for having a sense of humor. Remember there are times it isn’t appropriate to use it.”

John shied away from deciphering that warning. He nodded and, with great inner strength, removed his hands from Logan’s body. “I should probably go.” Leaving was the last thing he wanted to do, but he’d experienced a year’s worth of spontaneity in the space of two hours’ time, and his head was spinning.

“Right. You know where to find me.” Logan looked at him with concern. “Are you okay to drive?”

“Yes. Thanks. I have to go. I’ll see you later. Or whenever you like. Whenever you want to—”

He left the room before Logan answered, face hot, eyes blurred with the shock of what had happened, ears ringing, as if his actions and arousal had overloaded his senses. People eyed him with curiosity as he blundered down the hallway, but he was too stunned to care. No. Not stunned. Alive. Heart racing, skin tingling, acutely aware of himself as a man with needs in a way he hadn’t been for months.

Before he’d arrived at his car, his brief euphoria had faded into numbness. Had he done the wrong thing by going to Logan’s office in the first place? If he hadn’t gone, maybe none of the things that had happened afterward would have transpired. Or would Logan have made sure they did? He pushed the button on the key to unlock his car, fumbled, and dropped the key chain. It bounced and stopped dangerously close to a storm grate. John retrieved the keys carefully, got into the car, and shut the door.

He wished he had someone to call. Cat and Michael were probably his closest friends, and that wasn’t saying much. He might get in touch with Michael if he needed help moving some heavy furniture, or Cat if he needed advice about a medical issue—she was a physician’s assistant—but otherwise their relationship was limited to casual social situations.

For this, he was on his own.

Chapter Five

Logan sat in his car outside his new home, turning his door key in his hand without moving to get out of the car and use it. He didn’t want to push John, but neither did he want to leave him unsupported and alone. John had a dozen questions, most likely, and a shitload of uncertainty scouring away the pure joy and heat of that moment in Logan’s office when he’d gone to his knees.

Closing his eyes, cock hardening at the thought of it, Logan smiled. God, so fucking sweet a surrender, so perfect in every way. And then that kiss… He groaned, the sound shocking him. How was John doing this to him? He’d played with dozens of subs, never connecting to them more than fleetingly, and though he’d been with Eli for a while, it’d been much the same with him. Which explained why they hadn’t made it to their first anniversary, not that they would’ve celebrated it. Maybe with a spanking and sex, but no hearts and flowers.

John, sad, bitter at times, confrontational, judgmental, older, inexperienced, still hurting from his wife’s rejection… And brave. God, so fucking brave. To take those hesitant steps on a foggy path, then launch into a headlong run when Logan told him to, took courage and spoke of the guy’s hunger. If this kink was new to him, it would be that much more intense.

Logan had known how he rolled most of his life. Knew he liked boys, not girls, knew a mention of a spanking in a story as a young child made him feel stirrings of desire his body wasn’t ready for. He’d worked in a secondhand shop as a teenager, a seedy place with a stack of ancient videotapes in a box under the counter that was brought out for certain customers when the shop was empty of women or kids. Most of it was straight porn, vanilla shit, all huge tits and orgies, but there’d been a few hard-core ones with whips and bondage. He’d stolen one and watched it one night while his parents were away at an office party, coming his brains out over and over, closing his eyes and picturing a whip in his hand and a man kneeling, begging for it to mark his flesh.

He’d replaced the tape the next time he’d worked. He didn’t need to see it again. Not when every frame had been burned into his memory.

It was after eight when he shut his apartment door behind him, still undecided about how to deal with John. It had been a long day on campus, with an early class at the start, filling in for an absent colleague, another later in the day, and a series of meetings with students at the end, interrupted of course by John’s visit. Logan kicked off his shoes with a sigh and set his laptop bag on the rug. He planned to buy some secondhand furniture on the weekend, if he had time. For now he’d make do with a set of folding table and chairs John had found in his shed and a recliner Sheila had given him. It was less than ideal.

He’d told himself he’d cook tonight, but he’d eaten down his supplies at Sheila’s so there’d be less to move, and hadn’t been to the store since. His options were limited to a package of noodles or a frozen pizza he was pretty sure was freezer burned beyond edibility.

Choosing the noodles, Logan took out one of his few pots and set it in the sink, then turned on the tap to add water. The faucet made a whining sound, shuddered briefly, and fell into the sink with a clatter as water shot upward, hit the ceiling, and came raining back down on him.

He shouted and lost a good ten seconds to total panic, attempting to smother the jet with his hands, then gathered himself enough to dive under the sink and find the water cutoff. Even soaking wet as he was, it was a relief when the spray of water stopped and was replaced by the worrisome sound of dripping. Fortunately his pocket was only damp. He pulled out his undamaged phone and texted John. Emergency in the apartment! He’d sent the message before he realized this wasn’t the best way to reconnect with John after their earlier encounter.

Not that it mattered. John didn’t respond via text, but in the space of half a minute was knocking on the door. “Logan. It’s me; let me in.”

It wasn’t often that obeying someone else’s order appealed, but in this case it did.

“What is it? Are you okay?” John was out of breath, as if he’d rushed up the stairs, but he wasn’t flustered or panicking. Logan appreciated that. He touched Logan’s arm. “You’re soaked.”

And you needed to touch me to find that out when water’s dripping down my face?

Encouraged by John’s concern, Logan gestured behind him. “Faucet fell off. Water everywhere. I can start the cleanup here, but you’ll need to check the garage in case it’s leaked into there. I turned off the water fast, so it’s not too bad.”

“That qualifies as an emergency?” John pushed past him and went over to the sink. “More of an inconvenience, since you figured out where the emergency shutoff is.”

Annoyed, Logan followed him. “Excuse me? The faucet fell off! It was raining in here! What if it’d done that when I wasn’t around?”

“Unlikely,” John said absently, examining the faucet. “With no water pressure involved, I doubt it would’ve fallen off. Look, it’s corroded. The water’s hard in this area, and it’s hell on appliances.” He knelt and checked underneath the sink, heedless of the water, his position pulling his slacks tight against his ass, providing a distraction Logan didn’t need. “What were you doing?”

“Making dinner. Well, trying to.” He’d have to get water from the bathroom if he wanted his noodles now, and by the time they cleaned up, he’d be starving. What a fucking miserable end to his day, and after things had gone so well in his office too. What would John think of him now? Incompetent? Prone to overreaction? Damn.

“Seems secure enough down here. I can put in a new faucet myself tomorrow night after work. Maybe replace the sink while I’m at it. The paint didn’t clean off it all that well.” John stood, the bottom half of his pants dark with water. He met Logan’s gaze, then dropped his respectfully, as if acknowledging Logan’s dominance but unsure how to demonstrate it.

He had so much to learn, and it was impossible for Logan to let go of the hope that he’d get to be the one to teach him.

“That would be great, if you can do it, but I’ll help you.”

“Hang on a minute,” John said, ignoring the offer, “and I’ll get some towels so we can clean this up.”

None of the water seemed to have come out downstairs in the garage—hopefully that didn’t mean any of it was hiding somewhere rotting a support beam or something—and John found a box of old towels that looked like they’d been used as rags in the garage, then followed Logan back upstairs. They were in their socks, leaving damp footprints behind them. Logan peeled his socks while John laid towels on the kitchen floor.

“At least some of it went back into the sink.” John seemed less bothered by the incident than Logan would have expected. “Do you like lasagna?”

“What?” Logan was using another towel to wipe the cabinets dry, and he paused, turning to look John’s way.

“Lasagna. For dinner. I have some heating up in the oven, with salad on the side. Would you like to come over and help me eat it?” John bit his lip, a frown showing. “Uh, I didn’t mean to push you into seeing me before you’re ready. We don’t need to talk about, well, you know. Stuff.”

Logan hastened to reassure him. “That sounds great. Of course, I was looking forward to plain noodles from a packet. Love that lack of nutrition they provide.”

“Student food, huh?” John gave him a sidelong glance with a hint of mischief showing. “News flash: you’re a teacher.”

Enjoying John’s unexpected playfulness, mild though it was, Logan retorted, “News flash back at you: we’re not paid much. And my cupboard’s bare. Sheila fed me as often as I cooked myself. I was supposed to have space in her kitchen for my food, but she kind of took over. Said cooking for herself was boring, but cooking for the two of us was fun. And then to save bringing it over, I used up what I had. I need to do a huge grocery shop and stock up on pretty much everything.”

“Well, for tonight, you’re covered.” John looked around, then walked to the door. “You’ve done most of it. I’ll get back to my side and set the table. See you in a bit.”

“Sure. And thanks for—” He was talking to air. John had hurried away, feet clattering on the stairs.

Huh. Logan wasn’t used to people taking off like that. And in a sub, it was disrespectful not to wait to be dismissed, but that didn’t apply here, of course.

Not yet.

He changed into dry clothes, made a mental note to find out where the nearest laundromat was, and dug around in the box of toys he hadn’t unpacked until he found the dust-covered bottle of wine that had ended up in there. It had been on the top shelf of his closet at Sheila’s while he’d lived there, next to a couple of bottles of hard liquor. They were his emergency stash, meant to be medicinal, and since he didn’t consider himself a wine drinker, this bottle had been untouched the longest.

John had left the door to the house ajar in a way that was surely meant to be welcoming, but Logan still paused. He might be in charge in the bedroom with a consenting partner, but that didn’t mean it was okay to barge into someone’s home.

“Hey, it’s me,” he called through the doorway, and he heard John call back, “Come in! Please.”

“I brought wine.” Logan gestured with the bottle as he joined John in the kitchen. “It’s not Italian, sadly, but it’s red.”

“Great.” John frowned again, confusion crinkling his forehead. “I don’t know where I put the corkscrew.”

“If you don’t like wine, we don’t have to—”

“No, no. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s hard to get through a bottle by myself if I’m only drinking one glass at a time. And these days, most of the bottles are screw top. Hang on, let me look.” It wasn’t until he’d rummaged through a second drawerful of utensils that he found a corkscrew. “Aha! Here, could you open it, please? I want to take the lasagna out before the top gets too browned.”

As far as Logan was concerned, there probably wasn’t such a thing. He managed to ease the cork out of the bottle without breaking it, then looked around. “Wineglasses?”

“Top shelf there.” John pointed with an oven mitt.

Logan was a hair too short to reach the top shelf, but if he stood on his tiptoes and stretched, the task was possible. Instead, he said, “Get them down for me, please.”

John hesitated, his gaze going from the glasses to Logan. Logan liked a sub with an easy-to-read face, and John’s qualified. He saw John go from mild irritation to understanding, then acceptance with a hint of excitement. All so new to him. Was it like walking through a haunted house, adrenaline making every creak a monster about to pounce? Or did John feel nothing but avid curiosity as to what lay beyond the next corner? With a drawn-in breath, John took the glasses down without comment, setting them within easy reach of Logan and giving Logan a shy glance before returning to what he’d been doing.

Another question answered.

“Thank you.” Logan poured some wine into two glasses, reconsidered, and added more. “Is there anything else I can do?” He was caught in a weird position between Dom and guest, and it was awkward as hell.

“Sit down and make yourself comfortable? It’s ready.” John brought a large bowl of spinach salad over to the table.

He was being a good host, nothing more, but Logan indulged himself, reimagining the service John provided as that of a deferential sub, eager to please. He flushed, aroused with a tinge of guilt. It wasn’t fair to his host to use him as jerk-off material. He should stop. Now.

Or was that the last thing John wanted?

“I planned to come over and see you.”

“Oh?” John set a trivet on the table, then brought the lasagna over, cradling it with cloth-covered hands. The heavy dish slipped, but he caught it in time, though it landed with a thud. “Sorry. I’m nervous around you. I won’t pretend I’m not, because pretending and covering up my feelings cost me Ava. I’m not making that mistake again.”

“I love your honesty.” Logan never held back from praising a sub when they’d earned it in his eyes. “And I like my subs to be a little nervous sometimes. It’s a motivating force if it’s set against a background of trust.”

“Your sub,” John repeated and shook his head. “I’m not there yet. It’s a word to me, nothing more.”

So much for not discussing the subject. “But one you recognize. Dominant and submissive as nouns, not adjectives. Is this something you’ve imagined for yourself before?”

John held up his hands as if warding off an attack. “You’re rushing me. A few nights ago you were with Frank, was it, and now you want me? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind casual sex, but this is more than that. This is huge, and I don’t want to, uh, explore this side of me with someone who’ll be like Ava with her hobbies.”

“You’ve mentioned her a lot. Are you sure you’re over her? Ready for this with anyone?” Logan countered, reluctant to make promises that might be beyond him to keep. He didn’t do exclusive. Not since Eli. “Maybe you’d prefer to submit to a woman?”

“No.” It was a forceful and immediate response, which meant it was true in his experience. “To the last question, at least. Over her? Hard to know if I’ll ever be, completely.” Also true, Logan thought. “Ready to take my sex life in a new direction for the second time? Is anyone ever?”

“Maybe it’s not a new direction, but the right direction? Trust me; what you did in my office wasn’t the act of a man happy with a vanilla lifestyle. You went to your knees for me. That means more than you seem willing to admit.”

“I’ve admitted it to myself. That’s the first step taken.” John went back to the refrigerator for a bottle of salad dressing. He set it next to the salad bowl and dragged out a chair.

“True. And I don’t want to rush you into taking more or into taking them with me.”

“I’m attracted to you,” John said bluntly. “And if you weren’t living with me, I’d have less reservations, but you are; and if you try me on for size, decide I’m not a good fit, and replace me, I won’t lie, hearing you make another man scream won’t be easy.”

“God, of course it won’t.” Logan screwed up his face, torn between taking a chance with John and giving up his string of subs. But what were men like Seth to him? Casual encounters, briefly satisfying but far from challenging. They asked nothing of him, and he got nothing back. Domming John held the potential of more, and it tempted him. “I want to try it with you, and I promise while we’re together, I won’t go with anyone else. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll find somewhere else to live if you give me a reasonable amount of time.”

“Don’t talk about leaving when you’ve barely finished unpacking.” John gestured at the food. “Please. Dig in.”

Logan helped himself to food, the steam rising from the lasagna warning him to let it cool before tasting.

“It smells good.”

“Thanks.” John stirred the food on his plate with his fork. “Okay. Under those conditions, okay. So what now?”

“Don’t rush it. But don’t think you’re stuck either. One of the major tenets of this kind of relationship is consent. You’re a free agent, not a slave. Well, some subs are slaves, but that’s not relevant to you. That’s a whole different setup. We’d be having sex with me in control and you submitting, plus the pain aspect. And that’s something you might not enjoy and where communication and honesty are vital.” Logan wanted to be sure John understood that he always had options. “I’ll ask you again if you want to be my sub. Take whatever time you need before you answer.”

Was that relief or disappointment he saw? Had John expected to agree and be naked and in chains five minutes later? “I have a lot of questions.”

“I bet. We’re both here for the next thirty minutes while we eat, and I’m free the rest of the night, so why don’t you ask some of them? But after I’ve had a few mouthfuls of lasagna, because I’m starving.”

“Oh God, sorry.” John shoved a forkful of food into his mouth and swallowed after what looked like one chew in evident haste. “Please, eat while it’s still hot. Everything else can wait.” John had clearly taken Logan’s words as a rebuke, which wasn’t what Logan had intended.

“Stop,” Logan said, and John froze. “No, not that. Don’t stop eating. I meant, stop assuming you know what I’m thinking or what I mean. We don’t know each other well, but I think you’ve figured out by now that when I want something, I don’t hold back.”

“I guess. So what do you want?”

Where to start? Logan shrugged. “I would love a session with you. See what gets you off, where your limits are—though that’s a long-term project. Most of the subs I’ve been with have a fair idea of what they like and how much they can take. You don’t. If I said I wanted to spank you, you’d have an immediate reaction to the idea, but if it was a positive one intellectually, that doesn’t mean you’d like the reality of my hand on your ass or the pain involved if I went to town on you. I’ve never been with anyone as new to the scene as you. It’d be a challenge.” He grinned. “I like challenges.”

“So my appeal lies in my inexperience?” John gave him a wry look, regaining his confidence from what Logan read of his body language. He had moments of insecurity when he tried to act the way he thought a sub should, followed by a return to confidence when he treated Logan as an acquaintance. “That’s not flattering. You’re lucky my ego can take a beating even if my ass might not be able to.”

So which reaction was natural? Was the confidence based on habit, or was John not naturally submissive? John was a jigsaw with the picture missing, a jumble of pieces that might form a familiar whole or might create something new.

“No. Your appeal lies in you being sexy as hell,” Logan said bluntly. “I want you. I wouldn’t be happy in a vanilla relationship, but if you wanted to fuck, I’m confident it’d be better than your last few times.”

“I hope you won’t be insulted if tell you that wouldn’t take much, and I’ll try not to be insulted that you’re not eating.” John took another bite of lasagna and sighed, the line of his shoulders relaxing.

“I’m eating,” Logan protested and cut his lasagna with the side of his fork, watching cheese ooze. He lifted the chunk to his mouth and tasted it. “Oh my God, this is so good. You should be insulted if anyone ever refuses to eat this.”

“I might be, but I didn’t make it. My friend Cat—I take the Italian class with her—gives me a lot of hand-me-down meals. She thinks she’s doing me a favor. You know, ‘poor John, his wife left him, and if I don’t give him a couple of dinners a week, he might starve to death’ deal.”

Logan swallowed his third bite, savoring the rich sauce, and asked, “Thinks she’s doing you a favor?”

“Yes, but she doesn’t need to. Ava loved to cook when she’d get attention for it, like if we were having people over, or there was some kind of potluck or a bake sale to raise money for kids to go to summer camp. But she left the everyday stuff for me to deal with.” John shrugged and served himself some salad. “I like cooking.”

Filing that away for another time, Logan held his plate out when John gestured for it and served him too. The salad was mostly spinach, but it also contained shredded carrots, chopped nuts, dried cranberries, and a leafy green Logan didn’t recognize. “Well, at least she knows how to cook.”

“Oh, I agree. If it was awful, I’d wait until she left and put it directly into the trash.”

As a statement, it didn’t quite ring true. “No, you wouldn’t.” A man who seemed to have plenty of money but considered returning unused glass and saving half-complete project supplies he had no use for didn’t seem likely to throw away edible food because he didn’t love it.

That got him a grin. “Well, maybe not. I hate waste.”

“Then stop wasting your life. I kissed you, and you tasted… You tasted hungry. You miss sex, and why the hell wouldn’t you? So even if you’re not ready for anything serious, get back on the horse.”

“Or on my knees?”

Logan processed that image silently, then replied, “You looked content like that. It wasn’t a joke to you. An effort maybe, but once you’d decided to obey me, you relaxed.” He set his fork down, concentrating on the man across from him. “Tell me about it. If you walk away after this, fine, but tell me your emotions, your reactions, from the moment I told you to kneel.”

John tilted his head, his expression quizzical. “Another order?”

“Not yet. You’re my host, not my sub. I won’t beg, but I’ll say ‘please’ if you like.”

“I was embarrassed in the lecture hall. Humiliated. I didn’t like knowing I’d failed. I’d made you angry, spoiled the rapport you’d built with your students. I deserved to be punished for that.” John screwed up his face. “And how cliché is that?” In a mocking voice, he said, “Please, Sir, I’ve been a bad boy. Won’t you spank me hard?”

“Stop right there.” The snap in Logan’s voice was real. “Don’t censor yourself or judge your words. Talk to me. I’ll hear what you mean, no matter how you say it. And penance is a fundamental part of many religions. Instead of saying a Hail Mary to gain absolution, you get your ass bared and a few strokes from my hand or a hairbrush.”

“I went to church with my parents when I was growing up,” John said. “First, Sunday School, when I was little; then I sat in the pew with them and listened to the sermons. I tried to believe in God, in heaven. But I never convinced myself it was real. It’s a lie people tell themselves so they feel better about dying.”

Logan wasn’t religious himself, so he thought he understood. “You don’t have to believe in God to believe that penance makes you feel better,” he pointed out. “There’s a reason people do it. It works.”

“I don’t know if it will work for me.”

“You haven’t answered my question.” Logan looked down at his plate and stabbed his fork through some spinach leaves, trying to give John a little space.

“You said it wasn’t an order.” John exhaled forcefully and picked up his glass of wine. He drank some of it and set it down again. “I’m sorry. I hate to be rude like that. This isn’t an easy conversation for me. How did it feel? Awkward. Like my instincts were screaming two sets of opposite instructions, and I didn’t know which one to follow, and like whichever one I did, I’d wish I’d gone with the other. And then, I don’t know. The moment I decided, it was like someone flipped a switch, and for a few seconds I wasn’t being held back by society or stress. Like time stopped.”

Logan, who’d had not-dissimilar conversations with subs before, was experiencing an epiphany too. Where the hell had John come from, and how had he been the man lucky enough to find him?

“It’s an incredible feeling, isn’t it?” Their gazes met, held, a moment of sharing. “For me, I get it when a sub goes to that place because of me. Or the first time in a session I strike them and their skin answers the blow.” He rubbed his mouth. “And now I’m getting poetic, but it’s how it seems. There’s this sound I create with my hand or a paddle, a flogger, whatever; then there’s this echo before the skin goes dark and the bruises rise.”

“And that’s like a whisper.” The words were a murmur themselves, low but confident. Not a question but a certainty.

“Oh, you’ve got to let me show you what it’s like.” Logan bit his lip, forcing the pain on himself as a rebuke. “Sorry, sorry. No pressure. I want you to get that feeling again, for longer. There’s part of you that’s been closed off, and now that you’ve unlocked the door, I want to go through it with you. And I know what’s waiting, but it’s never exactly the same for every sub or Dom.”

“Like we’re going to Europe, but some of us end up in Greece and some in France?”

There was that flash of dry humor again. Logan appreciated subs who took submitting seriously; it mattered to him, and he wanted it to be important to them, but a leavening of humor helped ease potentially uncomfortable moments too.

“Yeah. So tell me when you want to book a ticket.”

John picked up a leaf of lettuce glistening with dressing and twirled it absently, not meeting Logan’s eyes. “Tonight? Or are you too tired?”

Throat constricted, Logan shook his head. “No.” It emerged as a croak. So Dom-like and in control. God, was he being selfish here? John might be better off with a Dom closer to his age, one with more experience. Sure, he’d gone with plenty of subs, but apart from Eli, how many had come back for a second session? Not many, and though that was mostly his decision, not theirs, it meant he wasn’t used to learning a sub’s limits over time.

“Then we’ll give this meal time to digest, I’ll take a shower, and you can show me.” John popped the lettuce in his mouth, chewed, swallowed, and smiled at Logan. “Thank you.”

Oh, sweet holy fuck, they were doing this. Logan shoved his doubts away and made his voice strong, smooth. “No more wine for you, then. Pour it away, please, and drink a glass of water.”

John picked up his glass and without hesitation stood and followed Logan’s orders to the letter.

What left Logan achingly hard, close to falling in love, was the way John drank the water. On his knees, facing Logan, in slow sips, his gaze fixed on Logan, tears forming in his eyes without spilling over.

Chapter Six

John was dreaming, or maybe sleepwalking. Nothing seemed one hundred percent real, not while he cleaned up after dinner, hand-washing two wineglasses, and not when he went to take a shower. It was dark outside the window that looked into the branches of the trees lining the side yard; when he peered up into the sky through the other window, the one that looked into the backyard, he saw the glimmer of stars.

He must be dreaming. That was the only explanation for washing, paying particular attention to the parts Logan might be interested in, knowing he’d have sex with Logan soon after. How involved it would be and what it meant, he didn’t know, and somehow he was okay with that. He, who introduced himself by three of his names for the sake of full disclosure, who stayed an extra fifteen minutes at work to make up for coming back two minutes late from lunch, who made lists and sublists as a means of control, was calm about putting his body into Logan’s hands.

Logan had told him to dress in loose, comfortable clothing and knock on his door, then wait, kneeling, at the top of the landing. John counted the steps as he went up. Twelve, thirteen. For a long moment he hesitated, aware that no matter how strongly he’d believed he’d already crossed this line, here was a more significant one.

He knelt. Leaned his forehead against the door and took a deep breath. The wood was cool against his forehead, hard and unyielding. Would Logan be like that when he took control? John had taken it for granted that with sex came softness, intimacy, a loving give-and-take. Not with his few recent, disastrous encounters, but in general. Did that—could that—exist alongside pain and submission?

Only one way to find out.

He knocked.

Logan’s footsteps were soft but audible, and when the door opened, he looked down at John with approval. “Good. Come in.”

Unsure whether Logan meant for him to stand or crawl, John paused. God, he didn’t even know if he was allowed to ask questions! How unprepared was he? This was a mistake—

“Stand up and come in,” Logan clarified. “And no, that wasn’t my original intention, but I can see we need a few minutes to come to an understanding about the rules.”

“Rules? Who makes them?” It was silly, but his mind went to a table of leather-clad men and women debating the details of this strange new world he was visiting. Would they dictate the size of a paddle, the way a Dom should be addressed, outlaw the color pink from any scene anywhere?

Resolutely bringing his unruly thoughts under control, knowing they were a release of tension, nothing more, though the question was genuine, he waited for Logan’s reply.

“I do. Always.” There was a hint of surprise there, John noted. Logan stepped back, and John walked in, then pushed the door closed behind him. “You expected to have a say in them? No. You can use a safe word to tell me if you’re uncomfortable. I’m guessing you know what they are?”

John nodded.

“Yeah, I guess most people do. I know safe words are important, but don’t worry about them tonight. You tell me to stop at any time, no matter what we’re doing, and I will. Simple. Easy. Nothing to remember.”

“Okay. What should I call you? Should I get undressed? Do you have condoms, because I don’t know where mine are. But you might not like the kind I use, or you might…” He stared at Logan’s groin, wondering what lay beneath the black jeans he wore with a snug black sleeveless T-shirt. He’d browsed the net for gay porn once and come across an eye-watering page devoted to metal in cocks, nipples, balls, and more. Some of the cocks had been gaudy with ink too. “Are you pierced as well as tattooed?”

“John. Stop talking now unless I ask you something.” Tap. That finger of Logan’s against John’s mouth was as effective as a gag. “If you want to ask me something, touch your lips with your finger and wait for my permission. You’re curious and nervous, I get that, but questions are a form of controlling the situation, and that’s for me to do, not you.” Logan cupped John’s face, his breath warm and mint-scented. “Trust me to take care of you. And yes, I want you naked, but not now. I’m not rushing this. Did you think I’d strip you, spank you, fuck you, and send you away, total time elapsed twenty minutes? No way. Not happening.”

John nodded. It was a challenge not to ask questions when he had so many, but he understood giving up control was a major aspect of this, and part of him yearned for that surrender.

“Tell me what makes you most nervous,” Logan said.

Too afraid to tell the whole truth, John tried to find a reply that would be true enough. “What happens afterward.”

“What do you mean? Between us?”

“Yes. Are we friends?” Does it change who I am? That was the more important question, but still not the most important. John wasn’t sure when he’d have to admit that.

“I’d like to think so, even though it’s only been a short while. If you don’t want that—”

“I do!” John knew immediately that interrupting had been rude, and dropped onto his knees, head low, before he had a chance to think. “I’m sorry.”

For a moment he was afraid Logan might say to forget the whole thing, because there was no response. Then Logan touched his head lightly. “You’re forgiven. So you’re worried that we won’t be friends outside of this, but you want to be?”

A direct question required an answer. “Yes.” He hadn’t realized, even climbing the staircase to Logan’s apartment, how complicated this would be. It wasn’t even Logan’s apartment. It was his. How could this possibly work when he was the landlord and Logan was the tenant? Didn’t that ruin the whole dynamic?

Logan broke into his admittedly obsessive thought pattern. “You’re thinking too much. And too loudly.”

John had no idea how to stop thinking. He put his finger to his lips and blinked up at Logan, begging for permission to speak and ask for advice.

“No. First lesson. You can ask, hell, you can beg, but I won’t always give you permission.” Logan grinned and tapped his chest. “Sadist. Let me ask and you answer for a while. Get up, and come into my bedroom. You can kneel by the bed. That position might make answering me truthfully easier, yeah? Remind you of what we’re doing.”

Impossible to argue. John did as he was told and shut his mind to the surrealism of kneeling to a man in a room his wife had painted a deep ivory three years ago, before hanging heavy green drapes. He’d offered to help, but she’d been on an independent-woman kick. He approved of that in principle, but the curtain pole wasn’t level, and it irritated him every time he saw it.

It’d been a two-person job, damn it.

Tonight he barely registered anything in the room, though Logan’s belongings were scattered around, wiping away the memory of how it once looked. The bed. He noticed that. King-size bed, covered in a thick quilt, dark purple and black, clashing with the drapes.

Logan was right. Kneeling, his knees protesting, calves soon tingling with pins and needles, loosened his tongue.

“You’re worried you’re risking a potential friendship for a quick fling? Well, we’ve already gotten sex all over the friendship, so that’s a done deal. You know I’m kinky as fuck, and I know you have the potential to be. Changes nothing. Most of my friends aren’t in the scene; some of them know I am, some don’t. I have to trust someone to share that with them. It’s personal. And yeah, I told you, so take it as a compliment.” Logan sighed. “Now I’m babbling. Okay, tell me one thing—one!—that you’re worried about, but make it the most important one, the thing you want to share least because you think it’ll cost you too much.”

He knew the price of sharing a secret. No way. Not happening. “I’m your landlord. If we have a dispute, if you’re too noisy or late with your rent, how could I dictate to you?”

“Nope. That’s so far down the list, it’s on page three. As your Dom, if we get to that stage, you don’t get to dictate to me, but as your tenant, go ahead. And as a friend too. Even with my boyfriend, we never carried the Dom and sub relationship on outside the bedroom. I wanted to, but he wouldn’t. So I’m used to punishing someone for being disrespectful during a scene, then an hour later having them flip me the finger for channel hopping.”

It sounded unworkable to John, but he remembered Logan’s reaction when his tattoos were criticized, and kept his mouth shut.

“So try again,” Logan prompted. “Worry. Big one. Connected to us. Huge.”

“What if this doesn’t work out and we end up hating each other? As a living situation, it would be impossible.”

Logan rolled his eyes. “First, that’s the same worry in a slightly different form, so it doesn’t count, and I’m insulted you think I’m too stupid to realize it. Is that what you think of me? That I’m stupid?”

“No!” John was torn between being devastated that Logan was so perceptive and being impressed by it. “No. I don’t think you’re stupid.” There was a fold in his sweatpants trapped under his knee, but he refused to shift his position to fix it. He clenched his left hand into a fist and focused on that instead.

“Tell me the truth. What has you so knotted up? It’s written all over you, you know.”

He froze. If he did, this would be over before it started, and he had no idea how he’d move on with his life, knowing he’d fucked up the chance at something special by admitting he was defective. Though Logan would’ve found out soon enough. How could he have ignored that fact?

“Then we’re done.” Logan gestured at John that he should stand up, and turned toward the door. “I don’t do this with anyone who isn’t willing to be honest—”

“It’s me,” John blurted. He hadn’t gotten up, and he covered his face with his hands, deeply ashamed and unable to look at Logan. What did it matter? This was something he couldn’t have whether he told or not. “I can’t—” Panic seized him, the words he’d never spoken out loud choking him. Breathing went from automatic to a complex series of movements beyond his ability.

Hands on his shoulders, strong, and a reassuring voice. “John. It’s okay. I’ve got you. No, let me. Breathe.”

His chest was tight, and his heartbeat pounded in his ears. He turned toward the source of strength and pressed close, clutching at Logan. He was terrified of dying alone, and in that moment it seemed death was knocking at the door. Air around him and none of it was reaching his lungs.

“Hey, you’re okay. I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere. Told you that before, didn’t I?”

Logan murmured comfort, but John’s breathing was still erratic. He’d pass out, and there was no one to help him.

“John!” Logan’s voice sharpened to an order that wouldn’t be refused. “Breathe!”

His chest loosened, and he heaved in a desperate lungful of air, the whoop of it loud in the otherwise quiet room. His heart was thudding. Was this a panic attack, or something more serious? He wasn’t too young for a heart attack; no one was.

“Okay. You’re okay.” Logan rubbed his upper arm soothingly. “Whatever it is, you’ve been hanging on to it for a long time, huh?”

“Too long.” He reached up, grabbed Logan’s shoulder, shook it. “Make me tell you. Please. Make it an order. Don’t give me a choice.”

Logan nodded. “If that’s what you need. Tell me. Now. I’m waiting. Tell me.”

It was a way of fooling himself, nothing more. Silence was still, always, an option. But the uncompromising order shook the words free, so they tumbled out of him, jagged shards of shame. “I can’t perform with a partner. Can’t stay hard, can’t climax. By myself, yes, though not always, but with Ava, with those men… I didn’t tell you the truth about why it didn’t work out, why she left me. Years. It’s been three years, and I can’t—I don’t know why—I’ve had tests, I’ve—”

“Shh.” Logan drew him to his feet and hugged him close. “Good. That’s so good. That’s perfect. You told me. I’m proud of you.”

“I’m no use to you,” John whispered into the curve where Logan’s neck met his shoulder.

“Are you kidding me?” Logan’s answering whisper was fierce. “What has your cock got to do with submitting? You do that with your mind, your will, not a few inches of flesh. And if you can jerk off, you can jerk off in front of me and give me that. It’s not a factor, John. It’s not. I’ll take it off the table by telling you you’re forbidden to come, until I give you permission anyway, and you won’t get it tonight. Your punishment for dragging your feet.”

“My punishment is forbidding me to do something I’m incapable of?”

“You are capable. When did you come last? What triggered it?”

“Listening to you through the wall.” That was easy to admit because Logan knew about that transgression. “I’ve never come so hard in my life. But with you, if you were in me or sucking me, I’d go soft; I know I would. Did.”

“Let’s move up onto the bed and get comfortable if we’re going to talk.” They sat on the bed, Logan leaning back against the headboard. “No, come here. Like we were before.”

Resuming the same position was off the table—it had been one born of desperation and terror—but John was willing to be pulled back into Logan’s arms. “I’m sorry.”

“For freaking out? Don’t be. It’s understandable when you’ve been dealing with this for what must feel like a long time.”

“No, I meant…for not telling you.” John whispered the words. “It was like lying.”

“Avoidance isn’t entirely the same as lying, and as I said, I understand why it was so hard for you to talk about it. I’ve forgiven you, so it’s time to let that part of the conversation go.” There was a warning in Logan’s tone, and John heard that more apologies would be unacceptable. “Are you able to answer some questions?”

He didn’t want to, but he could. “Yes.”

Logan’s arm tightened around him briefly. “When did it start?”

“With Ava. She gave up on her birth-control pills and didn’t seem to care if she got pregnant or not.”

“Were you hoping she would?”

“Get pregnant? No.” John tried to judge if that was an accurate answer. “Well. Maybe part of me hoped she would. I thought, with a baby, she might settle down. Seem less restless. The rest of me knew it wouldn’t make a difference, but it would have been nice. Hypothetically.”

“Did she give you a hard time about it?” Logan stiffened, then groaned. “Shit. That wasn’t a pun.”

“It’s okay.” John found himself smiling, his mood lightening in a way he didn’t expect. Taking deep, full breaths helped. “Not at first. She was sympathetic and happy to try anything I wanted, from sexy lingerie to different positions. But when it didn’t help, and the doctor suggested drugs I didn’t want to take—I have weird reactions to medication sometimes—she was annoyed I wouldn’t try them. But when there wasn’t a physical issue, because solo I was fine, what was the point? I didn’t need anyone to tell me it was in my head. I knew. And she’s an intelligent woman. She decided the reason was her, and she saw every failed attempt as a rejection, so she rejected me and left our marriage.”

“Did you ever try the drugs?”

“Since she left? No.” Because he suspected Logan would ask for more details sooner or later, he decided to share them now while it didn’t seem as difficult. “I tried having a few drinks with one of the men. Thought it might take the edge off, you know? But if anything, it made things worse. I knew that was a possibility, but it seemed worth a try. He was nice enough about it.” Not all of them had been, so he appreciated the ones that were. “One of them offered to get me high, and I was desperate enough to try that too. No good. Inhaling made me cough my lungs out, and I’m not that good-looking even when my eyes aren’t bloodshot and my voice shot to hell.”

Logan traced the edge of his ear with his thumb. “You are good-looking. I don’t know who put it into your head that you’re not.”

No one, if he thought about it, but attractiveness was based in confidence, and his had been shredded. “One guy wanted me to, um, top him? I was hard before we started, but as soon as I tried to penetrate him, well, I lost it.”

“But you were able to get an erection and achieve orgasm with the first guy? Your college roommate?”

“Yes.” Like nothing he’d ever known, even the early weeks with Ava when he’d been so head-over-heels in love that he thought about sex all the time. “I didn’t have any issues then. I mean, I was a lot younger.”

“And you came your brains out listening to my session.”

Grateful Logan didn’t mention the man’s name and bring him into the conversation, John nodded. ”Understatement.”

“I’m not worried,” Logan said. “Your cock’s not broken, the kink turns you on, and I’m aware of the issue, so you can relax. And a climax is forbidden tonight, remember. So enjoy your spanking. You can get naked now, please. Oh, and to answer your question, I’m a traditionalist, so let’s go with ‘Sir.’”

Taken aback, John pulled away and stared at Logan. “What?” Logan raised his eyebrows, and John amended his reply. “Sorry. Uh, we’re still doing this, uh, Sir?”

“Two extra spanks for those damn annoying uhs. And yes, we are. It’s why you’re here, remember?”

Yes, but had he been insane? “I’m too worked up emotionally, don’t you think?”

Logan hooted with laughter. “Sweetheart, by the time I’ve finished with you, you’ll be a sobbing, snotty mess. You got a head start, that’s all.”

“That doesn’t sound appealing.”

Sobering, Logan cupped John’s face. “I’m telling you a session is a safe place to let everything out. And you will. The pain breaks holes in your walls, and what’s inside comes out. Sometimes it’s pure joy, sometimes not. But it’s honest, and that’s what counts. Now, you can leave if you like. You know where the door is. But trust the man who walked up those stairs and knelt at that door. He knew what he wanted, and this is his chance to get it.”

He didn’t want to leave. Even with the panic attack he’d had, there was no question of retreat. He had to explore this intense, vibrant world of possibilities, not go back to black-and-white dullness, every passionate impulse stifled. “Yes, Sir.”

Taking his clothes off in front of an interested spectator was awkward. He was an undress-in-the-dark sort of guy when it came to new partners, and baring himself for an audience wasn’t on his list of favorite things. But he forced himself to obey because not doing so was unthinkable.

“Fold your clothes neatly, and put them over there.” Logan gestured, and John obeyed. “Now come back and stand here. No, hands at your sides; if I want to look at you, you’ll let me.”

God, it wasn’t easy to put himself on display like this. He hated it. He kept his gaze low, focusing on the bottom edge of Logan’s quilt.

“You hate this,” Logan said, startling him; he looked up and met Logan’s gaze, which was amused, and became aware his expression radiated disobedience, even though his hands were still at his sides.

He looked down again. “I’m sorry, Sir.” He was terrible at this. He sucked.

“Turn around,” Logan told him, and with relief John did so, only to find his apprehension mounting. Not knowing was worse than looking. “Good. I’m going to tell you something now, while you don’t have to worry about the expression on your face giving you away. Everything you’re feeling right now—frustrated, insecure—is normal. There’s nothing wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you’re not meant for this.”

Hearing those words reassured him, and by the time Logan told him to turn around again, John was able to show him a less challenging face. Submitting was difficult. For every sub? Or was it a sign he wasn’t cut out to be one, any more than he’d been suited for the career of astronaut, no matter how ardently he’d wanted it as a young boy. He struggled with the concept of blind obedience, even with his body insisting in a dozen different ways that it loved the idea.

Logan shifted his position on the bed, feet on the floor. “Now come here.”

The flex of Logan’s right hand sent a shiver through John. Desire for Logan, yes, but did he want this? He knew so little of what turned him on. Maybe it had been the act of eavesdropping, not what he was listening to. Or maybe he got off on causing pain, not receiving—no, he was sure he didn’t.

“And you’re back to thinking. Over my knee and I’ll give you a focus for your thoughts, John.”

He couldn’t do it. He was taller than Logan, older than him too. To place himself bare ass up over Logan’s knee was ridiculously undignified.

Logan crooked a finger, face unsmiling, but a glimmer of understanding showing. He didn’t repeat his order, and John, with a silent wail of panic, took the few steps needed to reach Logan’s side. Then, without giving himself time to second-guess the action, he draped himself awkwardly over Logan’s thighs.

He had help. Logan held him, guided him into a more comfortable position, his warm hands stroking John’s back and ass, touching him with a lack of hesitation that did more to calm John than words. This was normal for Logan; it was obvious in the assured way he spread his legs an inch wider, the tug that meant John’s stomach wasn’t pressed against anything solid, allowing him to breathe easily.

“This is a taste, no more. It’ll leave you smarting and red, but in an hour you won’t see much. Maybe a faint bruise or two. If you want me to stop, say so, and I will. Understand that?”

“Yes, Sir.” He forced out the words, still unable to say them without hesitating over the honorific. He used it at work sometimes, but it carried no weight. With Logan, he heard the significance, and it choked him even as it thrilled him to the core.

“Good.” And Logan slapped his ass. Hard.

He’d expected more talk, some soothing pats and a slow buildup, not this crack of skin on skin. The flat noise startled him into yelping, squirming to escape the pain that followed. Logan’s free hand tightened around him, holding him in place for the second spank.

His ass burned hot and cold, but the smart was fleeting. He sucked in a steadying breath, and Logan struck again mid-inhalation, turning a gasp into a moan.

He’d never been spanked as a child. Would it have been this shattering an experience then? It wasn’t the pain, but the situation that overwhelmed him. Another slap, harder than the first two, and then a fourth. Any wondering John had been about to do was driven from his brain, which was focused on the sting followed by a burn as blood rushed to the area. He couldn’t see his ass, but he imagined what it looked like—pink instead of his usually pale skin, rapidly heading toward red.

Logan hit him again. John had thought any sounds he’d make would be more experimental than anything else, but each slap made him cry out. Not loudly, but an involuntary escape of sound.

“I’ll stop if you ask me to,” Logan reminded him.

“No,” John said, his voice strange to his ears, desperate, pleading. “No, Sir.”

“No?” Logan rubbed his palm roughly across John’s ass. Confusingly, it comforted and brought pain at the same time. “Good.”

Realizing how he yearned to be praised, John was determined to allow this to continue as long as Logan wanted it to, even if the pain was building as struck skin responded to fresh blows. Could he hold out that— God, whenever his brain followed a thought, it was interrupted by that flash of pain. The burning between one slap and the next didn’t have time to fade anymore. It was a constant ache, as if he’d fallen asleep nude sunbathing and forgotten sunblock. The effect of each slap ratcheted upward until he realized his eyes were burning too, spilling tears onto the floor below him.

He watched them fall, his vision dazzled with fresh tears, his harsh gasps sometimes a moment behind the crack of Logan’s hand, sometimes in time with it. Not after; the slaps rained down so fast now there was no after, only a jump from one to the next.

Logan had to have run out of untouched skin now. Must be spanking sizzling flesh, bright with pain. Merciless slaps, landing with no sense of holding back. Then John’s legs were spread wider by Logan’s hand, and oh God, oh God, the backs of his thighs took a flurry of hits, followed by two stinging slaps on his inner thighs.

Another would break him. He accepted that truth and fought for the words to make it stop. The hell with pleasing Logan. He was dying here, his ass permeated with heat and agony, both soaking so deep, nothing would draw them out. His head ached, blood rushing to it, and his knuckles were raw, hands fisted, chafed by the carpet.

And he was hard. Rigid, rock-hard, his cock approving each blow and murmured word his pain-fogged mind took in without comprehension. Pleasure suffused him out of nowhere, a vast cloud of it, enveloping him, cushioning him from the exquisite torment Logan had inflicted by lowering his hand a score of times.

Now he wanted another slap, craved it, needed it to send him over. God, he was about to come with someone else for the first time in years, and he wanted it. Where was the next slap? Why wasn’t Logan—

“That’s it; it’s done.” Logan stroked the ass he’d punished, a light kiss of contact. It still hurt, but not enough. “God, you’re stunning. Wait until you see yourself. Breathe now, that’s it. So proud of you.”

Furious, John twisted around, glaring up. Stammering, voice thick with tears, he snarled, “N-no! Don’t stop. I’m so close. Don’t you dare fucking stop!”

Logan’s face went from open and pleased to shuttered in an instant. He pushed John off his lap onto the floor—it wasn’t far to fall, but the impact sent hot pain through his punished ass—and stood. “Not another word. I want you to go across the hall into the bathroom. On your hands and knees. Count to sixty, collect yourself, and crawl back here and ask for my forgiveness. You may be a novice, but there’s no excuse for the way you spoke to me. Now.”

Shaking, aware that he’d fucked up royally and might never have this again, John went. His face burned as hotly as his ass as he imagined Logan watching him crawl away, erection hanging down underneath him.

He hadn’t been told to shut the door, so he left it open. He hadn’t been ordered not to touch himself, but assumed it was the rule since Logan had said he wasn’t allowed to come. If he touched his cock, he’d definitely come. When was the last time he’d been so hard or wanted release so intensely?

Think. Somehow, he’d believed Logan understood how damaged he was over his sexual dysfunction, and expected Logan to be as amazed as he was that he’d been able to achieve an erection without any sexual contact. Because being spanked wasn’t foreplay, was it? If it was, society was even more messed up than he’d previously realized, and okay, he needed to stop this line of thinking and focus on apologizing for being inexcusably rude to the last man on earth he should have mouthed off to. He might be inexperienced, but he wasn’t ignorant of the conventions between people like them.

John counted to sixty and crawled back across the hallway into Logan’s bedroom. His erection hadn’t subsided, but he refused to let himself make any attempt to cover it as he sat back on his heels. “I’m so sorry, Sir. There’s no excuse for the way I spoke to you just now. None. I promise it won’t happen again. Never.”

“Never say never.” Logan’s lips quirked in a shadow of a smile. “It’s easy to promise, harder to deliver. And speaking of harder, did you forget you weren’t allowed to come?”

“No. Well, yes, in the heat of the moment, I guess I did, but it’s been so long, and I thought you wanted…” He trailed off. What did Logan want? What mattered to him? He didn’t know.

“One of the worst things a Dom can be is inconsistent. I said it, I meant it, and it stands. If you’d come when you were over my knee, believe me, I would’ve disciplined you for it. Yeah, it’s good you’re turned on, but I didn’t expect anything else. And it was still a solo effort in some ways. I didn’t touch your cock.”

The truth of that had his erection dwindling to nothing, though the throb of frustrated desire surged strongly within him. With nothing to say, he hung his head, acutely aware of his burning ass.

“Now come up on the bed. Face down. I want to see what I did and talk you down.” Logan flexed his hand as he’d done earlier, but with less freedom of movement. “Jesus, my hand hurts. Worth it, yeah?”

John climbed up on the bed and lay on his front, arms tucked in close to his body. He would have thought instinct would urge him to face away from Logan, to protect himself from being seen, but instead he found he wanted to see Logan’s expression. “Yes, Sir. Thank you.”

He was unsure what he was thanking Logan for, but he did know that for the first time in ages he didn’t feel alone.

It was something.

Chapter Seven

Can I see you tonight, Sir?

Logan read the message on his phone and sighed. It wasn’t the first time in the past few days Seth had texted him, and so far he’d managed to put him off, but soon enough he’d have to make it clear their relationship was over.

Only one session with John, but he saw the writing on the wall, and Seth had been a complication for a while on multiple levels.

Busy tonight… Talk tomorrow?

The reply was swift. Are you mad at me? Did I do something wrong?

Ugh. Seth hadn’t done anything wrong. They weren’t a good match and never had been, and Logan thought he’d been clear from the beginning that they were casual at best. He’d even tried to set Seth up with another Dom he knew, hoping they’d hit it off, but within two weeks Seth had been back on his radar, asking for attention. And it wasn’t that Logan didn’t enjoy the time they had together; it was that Seth didn’t challenge him, didn’t keep him up nights imagining new ways to break him.

Not at all. I’ll call you tomorrow. I promise.

That worked, because Seth knew him well enough to believe he kept his promises.

It was true he had plans tonight. He looked forward to his second session with John so much that he’d already come up with half a dozen possible scenarios. He knew from experience these things rarely followed a set path. Their first session had been a perfect example, despite ending on a good note. Logan had walked John downstairs to make sure he was okay, and made it clear he wanted him to take the next night off to rest and recover, warning him that his emotions in the aftermath of his first session might surprise him, and to call if he needed to.

John had charmed him by leaving him a note under his door the day after their session, sealed in an envelope, handwritten. It was brief and to the point, with the dry humor he associated with the man peeking through in its dual format.

Dear Logan,

I took the afternoon off to do some plumbing. I hope the new faucet performs well and the sink is an improvement. Please let me know if the showerhead needs cleaning or the water temperature is too hot/not hot enough.

Best,
John

Sir, I apologize again for the times I was less than perfect in my behavior. You gave me so much that it seems ungrateful to ask for more, but I’d prefer to ask forgiveness for that sin than not commit it.

Yours to command,
John

P.S. I can’t sit down without thinking of you, but I didn’t need the reminder.

When had a sub made him laugh aloud with a pang of longing mixed in? Never until John. Logan wanted to see the bruises change color day by day, then fade, leaving unmarked skin for him to imprint. Maybe he’d order John to present himself each morning for a brief inspection. God, yes. His cock stirred to life at the thought of it—John bent over a chair, trousers dropped, ass up, bruises on display for him to study. He’d send John on his way with a few brisk slaps and a hard-on, knowing John’s mind would be on him for hours.

Knowing he wouldn’t be able to forget John either.

Now, he told himself he absolutely had to figure things out tomorrow before he talked to Seth. He didn’t want to hurt Seth, who was already more attached to him than he ought to have allowed, but he needed to be honest and make it clear he’d need a little space and time to figure out where things were going with John before anything else happened.

By the time evening rolled around, Logan was eager for the clock to strike six. He’d stopped by the local Indian restaurant and picked up some dinner for the two of them, though he didn’t intend to let John eat much until after their session. He set the table and laid out the food, checking the clock as he did. There was nothing wrong with leaving a sub waiting until his Dom was good and ready, but John was still insecure and new to the scene. Best not to give him too much time to wander toward thoughts that would give him doubts.

There was a knock at the door, and he glanced at the clock again. Exactly six. He would have allowed for a minute or two on either side, because no clocks were perfect, but it pleased him that John was on time.

He opened the door, and there John was, kneeling, with his head bowed, and Logan could see the back collar of his T-shirt, which was worn threadbare. It made him want to grab it, twist the soft fabric, and tear it off John. Or maybe that primitive urge was because John was kneeling at his feet, and the sight stirred him in ways he hadn’t expected. At Sheila’s, he’d ushered subs in without formality, and any kneeling Seth did was to put his mouth at a convenient height for fucking; he wasn’t interested in subtle displays of submission. John seemed so at ease down there, so composed. “Come in. Stay on your knees.”

John obeyed, crawling over the threshold. Logan swung the door shut and stepped around him, heading for the kitchen.

“Follow me. Have you eaten?” He’d told John not to, but it never hurt to double-check.

“No, Sir.”

“Good. I’ll feed you later. For now, I’d like you to kneel here beside me while I eat.”

“Can I talk to you?” John brushed his fair hair back off his forehead, frowning with concentration in a way Logan found appealing. Though that wasn’t surprising—so much about John worked for him. “Not questions about this, not while you’re eating, but regular conversation?”

Logan sat, gesturing to John to come closer. The request made him wonder how much latitude he was prepared to allow. He wasn’t used to this. He’d never brought a sub into his regular life, never shared a meal with one, privately or publicly. Never extended a scene beyond slap, torment, fuck. Half of his ideas came from books he’d read or porn he’d watched. John deserved better than secondhand dominance.

He dug deep, going with his instincts. “No. If I ask you a question, yeah, I want an answer, but the point of kneeling in silence is to get you in the right frame of mind for the session. Watch me. Get to know my habits. Maybe you’ll serve me a meal one day and it’ll come in handy. Don’t fidget, but if your knees hurt or your legs go numb, raise your right hand, and I’ll give you permission to walk around. Pins and needles aren’t sexy. Same goes for needing to use the bathroom, though…” He paused, then shook his head. Baby steps. John wasn’t ready for Logan to have complete control over him, bodily functions and all, and for that matter, neither was Logan. “Raise your left hand for that.”

John nodded, making the gesture respectful in some indefinable way, and Logan smiled before taking a mouthful of fluffy basmati rice with a rich, not too pungent sauce covering it. He wasn’t hard, but a tingle of desire enlivened his senses. He knew what was to come, and anticipation was sweet and hot within him.

Eating didn’t take long. He planned to have the other half of his meal later, when John ate, but he’d barely had time for the lunch that had consisted of a granola bar, and it wasn’t any better to go into a session with low blood sugar than with a full stomach. John remained quiet throughout, no fidgeting. Not a single raise of either hand. Of course, he was the kind of man who probably made a list of things he’d take care of in advance, and that surely included using the toilet. That was something Logan might use to his advantage at some later time.

“Put this away, and we’ll have the rest of it later,” he said, waving at the food containers on the table. “No, you don’t have to kneel for this. Then join me in the bathroom.”

That morning he’d cleaned the sink and the full-length mirror hanging on the back of the door, making sure everything gleamed in preparation for this. He didn’t always come up with elaborate plans for sessions, but he liked to have an idea about how he’d start things off, and in this case he wanted it to be with John forced to confront his reflection.

John came in. “Should I kneel now?”

“No. Take off your shirt, and stand here.”

Naked to the waist, John allowed himself to be positioned where Logan wanted him, directly in front of the mirror. Logan stood slightly behind him and to one side; he wasn’t tall enough to see over John’s shoulder, and he wanted to monitor John’s expression while they did this.

“Tell me what you see.”

“Um. Myself?” John sounded uncertain, as if it were a trick question. That wasn’t what Logan intended, but he didn’t find the response unacceptable.

“Yes. Describe yourself.”

John’s gaze met his in the mirror, then darted back to his reflection. “Pale skin. Blond hair. Hazel eyes, I guess, though brown works too.”

“Go deeper.”

“Uh, reasonably fit for a man pushing forty. No six-pack maybe, but not flabby.”

Logan snorted. “You’re in better shape than me. Maybe we’ll go hiking sometime. I’d like to get to the top of Matlock Ridge and see the view.”

“It’s stunning. And it’s not much of a hike. Three hours to the summit and that’s taking it slowly.” He turned as he spoke, addressing Logan, who put his hand on John’s chin and pushed.

“Back to this view.”

“I’m sorry, Sir.”

“We need to work on your attention span.” He reached around and took John’s nipple between thumb and forefinger. “Show me what the pain does to you. Don’t exaggerate, but don’t hold back.”

John shuddered, wetting his lips as Logan pinched, then twisted the small piece of flesh. Some men weren’t sensitive there, or had nipples too flat to be easily clamped, but John’s hardened nicely, giving him plenty to play with.

Within a few moments, John moaned, eyes sliding closed until Logan dealt out a particularly sharp twist accompanied by a command to keep looking in the mirror.

“Want to know what I see?” He ran his other hand down John’s back. “A sexy man in his prime, waiting to discover what he’s capable of. Now strip. I want to see if I left any bruises on your ass.”

He doubted there’d be much to see. John probably considered the spanking harsh, but from Logan’s perspective, it’d been anything but. A warm-up, nothing more.

John undressed with less hesitation than the time before, though the sidelong glance he gave Logan suggested the inequality between them troubled him. Logan knew it was off-putting to be naked around someone who wasn’t. He dreamed about it now and then, waking with a lingering sense of unease. But getting John out of his comfort zone was his goal, so he ignored the appeal in John’s glance.

“Look at yourself, not me,” he ordered and stepped back to get a better view of John’s ass.

It was a shapely ass, muscular. Most men Logan was intimately familiar with who were fortunate enough to have an ass like this would wear tighter pants to show it off, but the ones John wore were loose, hiding how round his was. There was only the faintest hint of a bruise on the underside of one cheek, and that might well have been a shadow; Logan had to touch it to be sure.

John flinched.

“Does it hurt?” Logan asked.

“No. It was tender yesterday, but it’s fine now.”

Good. He might decide to spank John again, and it was nice to know he wouldn’t have to hold back. In most cases he wouldn’t have worried about it, not with a day off between sessions, but a new sub like John required a careful hand. Logan cupped that rounded ass, giving it a squeeze as if testing it for something. He slid his fingers lower toward the crack, and now he was testing something—listening for a change in John’s breathing to tell him this was a turn-on.

There it was.

He stepped closer still, drawing his hands around John’s waist. With John blocking his view of the mirror, he had to imagine what the reflection looked like to John: his naked body, two hands that weren’t his moving downward in the direction of his groin.

With a soft sound of pleasure, John leaned back against Logan, hips tilting, offering himself up. It was encouraging, but with a tinge of regret, Logan stopped him. “No. Stand still. No matter what I do, you’re not to move, understand me?”

“Not easy,” John murmured, obeying. His cock thickened, and Logan craned his head, watched it, admiring the length and heft. He enjoyed riding a sub from time to time, controlling the fuck, and John’s cock would stretch him nicely.

He didn’t spare much thought for John’s issue with holding an erection. Not with his hands sliding down to caress a solid shaft rising from hair a shade darker than on John’s head. He tugged at some of the hair, then cupped John’s balls, rolling them across his palm.

“If it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

“Fun?” John sighed. “It’s been a long time since sex was fun.”

“That’s in the past. Now keep watching and don’t move.”

He planned to make obeying that last order difficult. Not impossible—he didn’t like setting a sub up for failure, then punishing him for it—but challenging.

With care, Logan played John’s body. It was an incredible instrument, made to receive the pleasure and pain he intended to show it, and in the quiet apartment, he heard the sounds his hands brought forth.

“Can you see how beautiful you are?” Logan hadn’t used the word beautiful in reference to a man before, but that didn’t make it any less true in this instance.

John gasped as Logan’s thumb slipped through the fluid that had beaded at the tip of his cock. “No, Sir.”

Not being able to see everything himself was intolerable. He let go of John with one hand—John whimpered but didn’t move—and stepped to the side. In this position, he could stroke John’s cock with one hand and tease him with the other. He pinched a nipple until John was trembling, then let it go and ran his finger down along John’s crack. “Have you ever bottomed?”

“Yes. Once.”

“Did you like it?”

There was a pause before John replied. Logan wasn’t sure if it was because he was hesitant to answer or because he was distracted by the physical. “No, Sir.”

“I’ll expect you to trust me when I say that it’s more than possible to enjoy being fucked if the person on top is experienced. Who did you try it with?”

“One of the men I met online. He—” John broke off as Logan stroked him more firmly. He was fully erect now. “He might not have known what he was doing.”

“Why do you say that? Tell me what it was like.”

“I don’t—I don’t think he used enough lube. And he said it had been a long time since he’d worn a condom.” John was doing well at keeping still, but Logan sensed it was becoming more difficult. “He wanted me on my stomach. Said I was…too tense.”

Logan quelled his annoyance at whoever the hell had done a number on John’s shaky self-confidence. “Huh. You weren’t tense after I spanked you. I’d do it then. Spank you so fucking gently you’d think I was playing, but I wouldn’t stop. Hit after hit until you were ready to think I was using a paddle, not my hand, your ass so tender and hurting so much, so fucking good.”

John exhaled, the sound carrying with it so much longing that Logan smiled, elated. They were on the same wavelength, no doubt about it. He carried on with words, stilling his hand for the moment, lulling John into listening. “I’d put you on your back so I could see you, so your ass rubbed against the bed and you never forgot, not for a moment, what I’d done to you. You’d have tears on your face, but I’d let them dry there. Wouldn’t wipe them away. Love making a sub cry.”

Ah. John didn’t like that last part, judging by the brief tightening of his lips. The reference to tears, or Logan’s other subs? Logan went with the second option and adjusted to make everything he said relate to John alone. “When you cry, I know I’ve reached you. Gotten past the barriers. The way I will when I’m inside you. You think because I love bruising you, I’ll hurt you when we fuck? No. Later, way later, I’ll use dildos on you that make your eyes water, watch you pant and squirm and sweat trying to take every last inch for me, but not until you’re ready.”

“Please. Oh God, please.”

Logan worked his finger deep, breaching John in a smooth, forceful push with the tip, no more. And there it was. John moved, pushing back to get a deeper penetration, a greedy, impulsive snatch at more than his Dom had given.

Grounds for punishment. A flicker of pleasure warmed Logan. He got a kick out of delivering discipline when it was deserved, though it was usually for minor infractions. He’d never played with anyone who’d both screwed up in a major way and wanted a severe punishment. Mostly it was a case of a few extra swats or another minute with the clamps on.

He didn’t want his subs to be troublesome or defiant, but part of him relished the idea of administering an intense, severe reprimand. He fantasized about it, turning to role-plays in his head from the classics, like a teacher caning a wayward student, or a judicial whipping in place of a prison sentence. Like a good many people, he suspected, his fantasies went a hell of a lot darker than his reality.

Logan stepped away, standing in front of John, arms folded. “You didn’t hold still,” he said, careful to keep his tone mild. “Do you think I should overlook that or deal with it?”

It didn’t matter what John said. He was getting punished.

John swallowed and met his gaze briefly, then looked down, respectful. “I deserve to be punished, Sir. I didn’t mean to break the rule. Your rule. I’m sorry. But an apology doesn’t change that I did it.”

That’s right, John was a rules follower, and it made sense to Logan that he’d acknowledge his wrongdoing and agree that punishment was warranted. “You’re right, and I’m glad you see it that way, not that it would matter if you didn’t.”

The real question was what punishment would be most effective?

Logan considered his options. A more intense spanking would be something John would enjoy on some level, and it was important to make sure a punishment wasn’t a reward in disguise. Whatever he chose needed to be convincing enough to deter John from breaking a rule next time around. Ending the session was something he’d do with a sub who still enjoyed the act of defiance even after multiple and increasingly severe sanctions. That wasn’t the case here, of course, not for something as minor as moving. It wasn’t Logan’s intention to shame John into feeling he’d failed and risk turning him off what seemed to have potential to be a compatible relationship.

It wasn’t until he had that thought that Logan realized how invested he already was in John and what they might be to each other.

“What kind of punishment do you think would be appropriate?” he asked, wanting to hear what John would say, though he didn’t expect to go along with the suggested punishment.

“I don’t know, Sir. Isn’t that for you to decide?” John was uncertain, with good reason. “No—if you’re asking, it’s because you want to hear what I’ll say. I think…my punishment should be worse than a spanking. I—I enjoyed that more than I thought I would.” He blushed. “Maybe hit me with something other than your hand? A…a whip, or some kind of paddle? If you have one.”

“You’d still enjoy it.” Logan grinned at him. “The eternal dilemma of a sadist punishing a masochist.”

“Is that what I am?”

A dimple. John had a fucking dimple, appearing in his cheek when he grinned back shyly. Logan wanted to find a wall and bang his head against it. The guy was candy on a stick, and Logan wanted to lick him wet and sticky. He was doomed. Doomed by a dimple.

“Not sure yet. People get off on different aspects. Loss of control, pain, bondage, humiliation, sensory deprivation—the list’s endless. What does it for you, we’re gonna find out. Mild pain does, I’d guess, since the spanking made you hard.”

“That was mild?” The shock in John’s voice was adorable.

“On a scale of one to ten? A three.”

“Shit.” John’s hand flew up to cover his mouth even as he apologized again, muffling the words, if not the sincerity.

“And now I know how to punish you.” Logan drew John’s hand away, then traced John’s lips with a light touch, tickling the sensitive skin. “Your mouth gets you in trouble a lot. Let me help you with that.”

If John expected an order to drop to his knees and blow Logan, he would be disappointed. Kneeling, yeah, but Logan had a brand-new ball gag waiting to be broken in. And John with his wrists tied to his ankles, back arched painfully, cock standing to attention, mouth straining to accommodate the gag would be a beautiful sight.

Logan wasn’t indecisive by nature. In this instance, he gave himself permission to be cautious as he took John into the bedroom and first laid him down on his stomach, then tied his hands behind his back. “All right?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir.”

“I’d considered restraining your feet as well, but I’ll save that for a future session.”

“Yes, Sir.”

God, he was so obedient. A powerful urge to strip naked and jerk off over John’s body, marking him with his spunk, passed through him. He let it arouse him further.

“Now I’m going to put this in your mouth. You won’t be able to speak, so if you have an emergency, I want you to wiggle your toes. If you’re in pain, or if you feel sick, don’t hesitate. You’re the only one who knows if you have a genuine problem, and it’s your responsibility to communicate that. I have to be able to trust that you won’t let me put you at risk. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir.”

It didn’t take more than a minute to ease the ball into John’s mouth and secure the strap, making sure it fit comfortably.

“Good. Can you wiggle your toes for me?”

Wiggle.

Logan patted John’s bare ass a little longer than was strictly necessary and moved to sit on the other side of the bed. He hadn’t reassured John that this punishment would last for only ten minutes at most—he was curious to see how John would respond to the uncertainty. Where he sat, he was out of view, and he remained still. John knew he was in the room, within reach even, but Logan didn’t intend to speak to him until the time was up.

John tested his patience. The sight of him bound and gagged was a powerful one, erotic, demanding Logan’s arousal as a right. He curbed his need to possess John and stayed within his self-imposed limits. Unmoving. Silent. Breathing shallow and slow so even that faint sound wouldn’t give him away.

After a minute or two, John moved, a restless shrug, a pull at his bound wrists. When he found himself held securely—Logan knew his knots, though in this case he’d settled for wide, black Velcro-fastened straps—a shudder racked his body.

Logan closed his eyes and concentrated hard on not going over there to fuck John. Seeing a sub discover how helpless he was—huge turn-on. Fucking massive. And clearly John agreed. If he wasn’t achingly hard, his cock drooling, Logan would hang up his flogger.

He needed John to get the message that obedience and respect were vital. The way Logan reinforced this was by doling out consequences when he said he would, so that John trusted him to maintain control. Without that trust, John would never be able to relax into his role.

The minutes ticked by. Other than that one test of his restraints, John didn’t move, but his breathing did shift, becoming quicker and less even. When the time was up, Logan moved to release him and found his face wet with tears.

“Here, that’s it.” Logan murmured a few words of reassurance as he eased the ball gag from John’s mouth. It hadn’t been in place long enough to do more than make his jaw temporarily sore, so Logan knew the tears weren’t about physical discomfort. “Now your hands. No, let me; don’t try to help.”

Freed, John wiped his face and slid down off the bed onto the floor, ending up on his knees. “Thank you.”

“For what? And that’s a serious question.”

“For…” John worked his jaw, then wiped his mouth. “‘For punishing me’ sounds weird. I don’t want to be punished. It means I’ve screwed up. I won’t do that deliberately, I promise, but I’m curious about what you’ll do to me. Part of me wants the pain and what goes with it. Am I making sense here?”

“You like the destination, not the route?”

“Yes!” John smiled at him. “So thank you for coming up with something I learned from.”

Giving in to temptation, Logan stroked John’s hair and face. He was a tactile man and enjoyed physical contact with a partner. He looked forward to exploring John inch by inch with his hands and mouth, learning his hot spots, and discovering the texture and scent of his skin. “And you know what I’m going to ask next.”

“I learned being restrained is scary and a huge turn-on. That even though I knew you were in the room—”

“I’ll never leave you when you’re restrained,” Logan put in quickly. “Don’t worry about that.”

“I know.” John smiled again, a trusting, happy smile. “But I pretended you had. That I was in disgrace, abandoned. And it…” He rolled his shoulders, his smile fading, clearly unsettled. “I liked it and hated it at the same time. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.” He corrected himself, “Sorry, Sir. I keep forgetting to say that. It’s not a lack of respect. It’s the novelty of it.”

“It’s not important to me that you say it constantly,” Logan assured him. “Some Doms will feel differently, though. Remember that.”

“I will. But—I can’t imagine wanting this with anyone but you.”

Logan shook his head. “You can and you probably will, at some point, and maybe sooner than later.” The thought of it made him jealous of something that hadn’t happened yet, envious of a faceless man who would get to touch John in ways that by rights belonged to him.

John’s expression was troubled. “I can’t imagine it,” he repeated and looked down. “Although a week ago I wouldn’t have imagined this either.” He gestured at his erection. “So thank you for that too.”

“Don’t make the mistake of attributing it to me. You aren’t able to get hard because I’m magical in some way. We’ve found something that gets you out of your head long enough to allow your body to respond the way it’s meant to, and that’s all.” Logan patted the bed. “Come up here.”

John stood—he was graceful for such a tall man—and sat beside Logan, his weight flexing the mattress. He seemed at peace, relaxed and ready to do whatever Logan asked him to.

“How comfortable are you with being touched or kissed?”

The answer he received was unexpected. John shifted closer, wrapped his arms around Logan, and kissed him on the lips, briefly but warmly.

“Ah…” Logan floundered for a moment, unsure if John was assuming control in a way that needed discouraging or earned points for providing his answer so clearly. “Okay, I’ll take that as comfortable. Good.” He asserted his authority by hugging John closer.

Or maybe he did that because it was so damn good to have John against him, strong, eager, happy. The only improvement would be if they were both naked, but that could wait.

John nuzzled Logan’s neck, pressing kisses against it, his breath quickening. “God, I want you so much. Will you fuck me now? Please?” He put his hand on Logan’s thigh, rubbing it, fingers close to the swell of Logan’s cock. “I can’t wait to see you naked, feel you inside me.”

Logan knew he should put a stop to this, but he’d been fantasizing about fucking John for days. The formality and structure of a session was something he’d been led to believe was vital after discussions with other Doms online and in person. John’s mouth was hot on his jaw, lips soft against his ear. Logan needed to be the one in charge, refusing to allow John to make any decisions and probably even requests at this stage, while they were establishing boundaries. John’s touches, from the hand on his thigh to the one tucked into the waistband of his jeans, were respectful, asking, not insisting.

“Please, Sir,” John whispered, and Logan threw caution to the wind.

Turning, he pushed John down onto the bed and straddled him, kissing him fiercely with the weight of gravity on his side. John strained upward, and Logan held him against the mattress. Their mouths clashed. John went wild under him, his bare erection pressed to Logan’s thigh, forcing Logan to pin him with every ounce of strength he had, a battle John lost with a happy moan. When they kissed again, John was pliant, parting his lips to take Logan’s tongue. He tasted good, addictively good, and Logan lost himself in the pleasure of learning that taste.

After a while, Logan moved down and bit John’s left nipple, teasing it with his tongue and teeth until John gasped out another of those desperate sounds. Knowing he was the first partner to drive John to true arousal in years made his cock harder, and he rocked his hips, wanting John to know he wasn’t the only one eager for more.

“I’m going to fuck you. Is that what you need? My cock in your ass, opening you up?”

John thrust up against him, trembling with eagerness. “Yes. Please, Sir.”

“Stay here. I mean it; don’t move.” Getting up, Logan stripped off his clothes and grabbed a condom and lube from the drawer where he kept them. He glanced at John, who was panting for air, cock hard and reddened, and noted that he hadn’t shifted an inch. “Good. Spread your legs.”

He slid a lube-slick hand between John’s thighs and pushed a finger into him without hesitation, watching his face for signs of true discomfort, ignoring John’s involuntary wince because it vanished a moment later.

“You’re being forward, assuming I’d do whatever you wanted me to.” Logan pushed his finger deeper, feeling the hot clench of John’s body. Cock, finger, or tongue, this act was so fucking intimate. “Thinking I’d agree to fuck you because you asked? What if I told you this was all I’d do? Fuck you with one finger and then walk away, leaving you hard and aching.”

John gasped and closed his eyes. “I’d deserve it.”

That was a much more reasoned response than Logan had expected considering how aroused John was. He was tempted to ask what John would say if he threatened to fuck him hard and dry with no care for his comfort, but that bordered on cruel, and this was about trust. He withdrew his finger and added a second for the next slow thrust. “I’m the one who decides what you deserve, John.”

“Yes! Oh God, please.”

“I like hearing you beg. Gonna make you crawl and cry and beg for so much. You have no idea.” He didn’t either, but with John as inspiration, he was sure he’d dream up something suitable.

“I’ll live on my knees if you want me there.”

It was the kind of lavish promise anyone made during sex, but it turned Logan’s desire into full-on lust, provoking a possessiveness that shocked him. With a low growl, he tore his fingers free, wiped them on the sheet, and took care of suiting up, hands shaking with impatience. If the condom tore, he’d turn the air blue with cursing. Luckily for his dignity, it cooperated. He caught John staring at him, eyes wide as he took in Logan’s tattoos and piercings for the first time, and grinned, glad of the distraction. He’d hate to spill the moment he was inside his sub.

“I’ll give you a guided tour after we fuck.”

He kissed him again, driving his tongue deep, seeking out John’s taste avidly. Biting John’s neck, low enough for the mark not to show, he drank in John’s moans of pain and delight even as he positioned his cock at the entrance to John’s body. He’d planned to spank him first, but he couldn’t wait, or think beyond the next few minutes.

Holding his breath, anticipation fizzing through him, a shaken champagne bottle of it, he dropped his hand to his cock and guided it in the first crucial inch, trusting John to cooperate.

Forgetting John’s lack of experience.

John froze, went silent, and Logan immediately realized what he’d done and that John had been about to let him without complaint. It was such a horrific thought and complicated situation that he wouldn’t spend the time to sort it out in his head then. He needed to focus on showing John how to get enjoyment from the act, not only because he hoped for a future with this man, but because it was the right thing to do, even if tomorrow John told him they were done.

“Easy,” he murmured. “Relax. I know you want this, but if you’re tense, it’s going to hurt a lot more than it needs to.” He pulled back and reached for the lube again, knocking it off the bed in his haste. Damn. He scooped it up with a hiss of impatience at his clumsiness.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

“No.” Logan’s voice was stern now; the last thing he wanted was for John to blame himself for something that was absolutely not his fault. “Don’t apologize. It was me. I’m so turned on, I forgot you’re new to this, not that that’s any excuse.”

“I forgot too. I’ll try to relax.”

“If you have to try, it kind of defeats the purpose. What I want you to do is close your eyes and tell me what feels good.” Carefully, Logan eased three lubed fingers—not as wide as his cock—into John’s hole, giving him time to adjust. He left them there until the muscles gave up their attempt to keep him out, then went back to two fingers and thrust deeper, searching for John’s prostate.

Even if he hadn’t been familiar with the anatomy of a male ass, John’s reaction would’ve told him he’d hit the target. John moaned and shook, eyes going from closed to wide open in surprise. “God. That. That feels—God, so good.”

“Doesn’t for everyone, but when it does…”

John took him by surprise again, sliding his hands under his knees and pulling up and back. Yeah, that would work. Logan eased his fingers free and tried with his cock again, after taking a moment to admire the sight of John holding himself wide and open, his lube-slick hole an inviting target.

Second time around was better. Inch by inch, gaining ground with each thrust, Logan got where he wanted to be. John’s erection had wilted, but that was okay. It’d come back, and if it didn’t, he wasn’t too worried. This was more or less John’s first time bottoming. It was uncomfortable, a little painful, and a new experience. Finding the pleasure in it wasn’t guaranteed first, second, or third time of trying. Because Logan knew taking a cock was a struggle for an inexperienced partner, he didn’t rush. It killed him not to fuck John with ruthlessly hard strokes, owning his ass, using him, but it was too soon for that.

Getting John used to sex with a guy, at the same time as introducing him to submission and masochism, left Logan with a lot of balls in the air. Praying he didn’t falter and drop one, he ran his hands down John’s thighs. “Doing okay?”

“Mmhh.” The stifled sound came through tight lips. John’s ass wasn’t clenched, but he was concentrating so hard on relaxing that he wasn’t having any fun, Logan guessed.

Maybe it was time to distract him. Logan brought the flat of his hand down on the side of John’s ass, striking the taut skin hard enough to leave a mild sting, no more.

The effect was all he’d hoped. John cried out as if a crop had slashed him, body pliant in an instant, face slack with delight.

“That’s what you need.” Logan thrust in again, the deepest he’d managed yet, and slapped John again. It wasn’t the right location, and he didn’t have the leverage to make it a real spanking, but the sound was sharp.

John cried out a second time. His cock responded too, thickening as it hardened. Good.

Together, they found a rhythm. John was strong enough to be a full participant in the fucking even under Logan’s weight, and now that he’d relaxed into the experience, there was nothing to quell his pleasure. Shifting, Logan braced one hand beside John’s hip and used the other to slap the spot that had to be darkening into a bruise but continued to elicit cries and moans.

“I won’t order you not to come,” Logan gasped between thrusts. He was so focused on John’s arousal that his was a buzz in the background, not forgotten, postponed.

John lifted his hips to meet the next thrust. He was trembling, eyes shut, but when Logan leaned in to kiss him, he responded wholeheartedly. “I don’t—know if I can. But it’s…” He seemed unable to finish what he’d been about to say.

Logan fucked him harder, finding an angle that increased the pressure of each inward stroke against John’s prostate. It was a difficult angle to maintain for more than a few thrusts, the strain on Logan’s thighs and lower back immediately obvious.

They weren’t at a place yet where he could order John to climax, secure in the knowledge his sub was hovering on the edge, desperate for release. They needed time to build to that level of awareness. If he made it a command and John failed to achieve orgasm, it would destroy the progress they’d made. He longed to see John’s face twisted in ecstasy, the white splatter pale against his skin, the smell of spunk rich on the air, but if it didn’t happen, this session was still a success in his eyes.

“Gonna come inside you. Own your ass. Mine, John. You’re mine. Say it.”

He was never sure if he came because the channel enveloping his cock rippled, internal muscles flexing and applying pressure in exactly the right places, or because John’s answer drew it from him.

Eyes hazy with arousal but fixed on Logan, his voice strong, then cracking with emotion, John cried out, “Oh God, I want you to own me. Yes. Yours. Yours, Sir. Please.”

Logan’s orgasm was intense, but not as intense as the realization that his order hadn’t been words spoken in the moment, but the truth.

He wanted John to belong to him, body and mind, heart and soul.

Chapter Eight

It was a sunny, warm spring afternoon, and John was on his knees.

For a change, the kneeling was in the yard, his hands dirty as he planted the seedlings he’d bought at a local garden center. He’d considered a vegetable garden last year but had never gotten around to it. This year he’d jump-started the process by hiring someone to come in with a rototiller and prepare the soil, and taken the man’s advice about using seedlings. He was a strong believer in taking small steps and knew there was no benefit in trying to do everything himself when he was a novice. Why risk ending up disappointed and abandoning the whole project if things went badly?

He patted dirt around a tomato plant a few inches tall, its scent strong, as evocative as perfume, and sat back on his heels, admiring it. Ava had been against spoiling the look of the garden with vegetables, but now he was free to do what he wanted with the yard. Logan had been nothing but encouraging, recommending the garden center on the other side of town.

John’s indulgent daydream about Logan was interrupted by someone’s voice calling, “Hello? Anyone home?”

Maybe it was the mail carrier with a package. “Back here!” He stood, brushing dirt off the knees of his worn jeans, as a young man came around the corner of the house.

“Hi. I’m Seth. I’m a…friend of Logan’s. His car’s not here, so I guess he’s not home, but the garage door was open, so I figured someone had to be. Are you the landlord?” Seth was slender and blond, friendly on the surface, but John saw a watchfulness in his eyes and the hint of tension in his shoulders.

“That’s me. John. I’ve been working on this.” He gestured at the garden plot. “And it’s easier to leave the door open when I’m going in and out. Logan’s on campus, I think.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” Seth stood there, hands on his hips, head tilted to one side as he studied John.

Was he being unhelpful, even rude to Seth? “Did you want to leave him a message or something?” Surely that was unnecessary; this guy had to be fifteen years younger than John, and even he’d mastered the dubious art of texting a few years ago.

“Not sure he wants to hear from me these days.” Seth pouted, a full-on pout that morphed into a wicked grin. “You’d think he’d like to hear me beg, but noooo.”

Oh. Seth wasn’t a friend of Logan’s, but a sub. Seth, not Frank, so at least John wasn’t face-to-face with a man he’d heard screaming in pain and lust. It was difficult to hide his rising blush, and Seth’s grin widened.

“So you are Logan’s new toy. My competition.”

“That’s not— I’m not—” John took a deep breath. “From what I understand, Logan was never exclusive with any of his subs.”

“True, but I was his go-to sub. The others were one-offs.”

“Like Frank?” The question popped out.

“Frank? Oh, him.” Seth sniffed. “Back in San Francisco, and I hope he stays there. He was with Logan five years ago; then he moved. When he’s back here visiting, they usually walk down Memory Lane together. So sweet. Thinks he’s such a pain slut, but take it from me, one look at a heavy-duty rattan cane and he’d faint.”

Making a mental note to look the cane up, John nodded without commenting on Seth’s assessment. “I see.”

“Do you? Because Logan’s flipped over you, and I can’t see why.” Seth pursed his lips, no affectation this time. “Taller than him; that’s awkward for OTKs. And you’re stunning if I went for older guys, but you’re a newbie, right? I mean, you must be. Never seen you at a munch or any of the places us kinky freaks hang out in. And Logan doesn’t eat fresh meat.” Seth winked. “He likes them seasoned and well-hung.”

And rude, apparently. John scowled at him. “If Logan’s happy with me, and I’m happy with him—”

“Oh, spare me the valentine.” For the first time, a hint of vulnerability showed through the brashness. “I’m upset here. I didn’t mind sharing him; there’s a lot of Logan to go around. But he’s finished with me, with everyone, and I said that was okay when I didn’t think it’d happen, and now that it has, I’m lost.” He threw out his arms dramatically on the last word and struck his hand on the wall of the house. “Ow!”

“Let me guess, theater major?” John tried to sound dismissive but failed. Being dumped sucked as he knew from personal experience. “Shit, did you cut yourself?”

Seth inspected his knuckles. “I hope you have good homeowner’s insurance.” He glanced up. “I’m kidding. I’m sorry. I’m not usually like this. It’s… I was attached, you know?”

On impulse, John nodded. “Come in, and I’ll find you a Band-Aid.” The seedlings he hadn’t planted yet were in the shade along the foundation, safe from the sun, and it would be good for his karma to be kind to someone struggling. God knew he could have used a little understanding in the first months after Ava left.

Trailing along after him, Seth said, “Thanks. You don’t have to be nice to me.”

“I’m pretty sure I do, what with my house assaulting you.” Joking with Seth was risky, but Logan wouldn’t have been involved with someone untrustworthy even if Seth was a bit of a drama queen. They went through the garage into the kitchen, and John waved at the sink. “Wash it out, and I’ll be right back.”

He found a box of Band-Aids in the medicine cabinet and went back to find Seth dabbing at his scraped knuckles with a paper towel, hissing as blood welled up again.

“You want me to do it? It’s hard with only one hand.”

“Sure. Thank you.” Seth looked away as John finished drying off his skin and stuck a Band-Aid on. There was no good placement; the sticky parts either had to go across the rest of the knuckles or up along Seth’s finger.

“It probably won’t stay.” John eyed it doubtfully. “I mean, unless you can keep it in that position.”

“It is my favorite hand. And I guess I’m going to be making a lot more use of it, now that Logan doesn’t want to see me anymore.” Seth’s lower lip wobbled.

“Oh, hey.” Awkwardly sympathetic, John patted Seth’s shoulder, then staggered back a step when Seth flung himself into a hug that was initially one-sided. Hugging Seth back was an experience. Seth snuggled in close, buried his head against John’s chest, and squeezed tight. John settled for more awkward patting, this time on Seth’s back, praying his cock didn’t leap into life in an automatic reaction to the proximity of an undeniably sexy man.

Seth released him, staying close, beaming up at him. “I like you. Even if you are a Dom-stealing, heartbreaking slut.”

“I do my best,” John said. “Want a beer?”

“I’m driving, and I’m a total lightweight, so no, but I’d adore anything diet, cold, and fizzy.”

They ended up on the patio with a can of soda each. The black chairs were made of some weather-resistant artificial material that looked uncomfortable but wasn’t. Ava had bought brightly colored floral cushions for them, but John didn’t plan to bother with them this year. If they were left out overnight and the dew dampened them, they took forever to dry. Huge green pots she filled with annuals stood empty, but he planned to plant in them and put hanging baskets on the brackets attached to the wall. He liked the splash of color that flowers brought, but most of his attention would be on vegetables this year. The idea of walking out and picking lettuce and tomatoes to put in a salad or sandwich was an attractive one.

“And I mean, if I can’t be with him anymore, I at least want to be friends, you know?” Seth was like a broken record, yet it was impossible not to feel sorry for him.

“I don’t see why you can’t still be friends.” John regretted the words as soon as he’d spoken them. The last thing he should do was encourage Seth to continue any kind of relationship with Logan, no matter how casual. Deep down he knew Seth had been truthful when he’d said Logan preferred partners with experience, and that was a category in which he fell short. Not to mention he still hadn’t come with Logan, though he’d been close a couple of times.

He set down his soda and saw that Seth was watching him. “Are you in love with him?” Seth asked.

It was too personal a question, so John hedged. “I don’t know. Are you?”

Seth sighed. “Maybe. I didn’t think I was until he decided he didn’t want to see me anymore, and then I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I have an addictive personality, but it’s not that. I guess I believed sooner or later he’d decide he wanted to settle down, and I’d be there.”

“He hasn’t settled down with me,” John pointed out. “He’s renting my apartment.”

“And fucking you.” Seth’s shoulders were slumped.

“I don’t know if that means anything.” He wished he were sure that it did. It would have been comforting to think what was going on with Logan was more than a dalliance.

He’d never wanted anyone the way he wanted Logan. Being in the same room with him was distracting; thank God they didn’t work together. He’d never get anything done. Everything about Logan aroused him, from his appearance to the smell of his shampoo, and when Logan was around, John did nothing but imagine what Logan had planned for him next.

“Maybe he’s not the settling-down type,” Seth said with clear hope. “I’d learn to live with having him part of the time as long as I got to have him sometimes. You know? What do you think? We could share. Even have a threesome once in a while?”

“Like on special holidays?” John tried to sound amused, but it took an effort. Seth’s barrage of questions was overwhelming.

“Yes! Oh, you’re teasing me.” There was the pout again. It was endearing enough that John had no difficulty seeing what had attracted Logan to Seth.

“I’m so new to this that the thought of adding another man to the mix is terrifying, to be honest.”

Seth leaned in, eyes sparkling. “How new? I mean, you’re gay, yes?”

“Bi. Still married, technically, but my wife and I have been split up for a while.” It had to be the sun, unexpectedly warm, that was to blame for his oversharing. He didn’t know Seth, and here he was telling him personal details as if they were old friends. Definitely sunstroke.

“Ooh.” Seth stared at him, nibbling his lower lip. “So Logan’s your first guy as well as your first Dom?”

Sweat prickled the back of his neck. “No and yes. Listen, this is a lot of personal—”

Seth patted John’s thigh. “Honey, I haven’t gotten started. Subs talk. It’s what we do.” Seth considered that. “Well, I do. Why not? It’s fun. Who else knows what we go through?”

“Uh…”

“What do you like? Spanking? Bondage? Wax play? CBT? Too tame?”

“No, they sound—”

“I’m dying to try a whipping post sometime, but it’s not like there was space in Logan’s bedroom at Sheila’s, now is it?” Seth twisted around and gazed at the house. “Do you have a dungeon?”

“Do I have a what now?”

“You know; a dungeon. A special room—or series of rooms, depending—where you can play. People outfit them with all kinds of things. Beds, punishment benches, bondage chairs, swings… Your house seems big enough. Is the basement finished? Not that it matters. You could get a contractor and say you were going to put in a home gym and—”

“I already have a home gym,” John said faintly.

“Even better!” Seth clapped his hands together. “Move that stuff out into a spare room or whatever, and bingo, instant dungeon!”

Seth’s enthusiasm was contagious, but John found it exhausting too. “I don’t know that I want a dungeon.”

“Oh, trust me. You will. But you haven’t told me what you’re into.” Seth looked at him expectantly.

“I think I’m still figuring that out. Logan’s been really supportive.” That made it sound more like Logan was a therapist than a Dom. Probably best not to go into too much detail, not only because it left him exposed as a bug on its back, but also because he wasn’t sure Logan would approve of him sharing personal details.

Unless Logan shared this with everyone, he realized, cold despite the sunshine. He’d been with so many partners. Maybe it was routine and there was nothing special about John.

“Anyway, do you know when he’s coming home?” Seth asked.

John had missed part of the conversation. “No. No idea.” They had tentative plans to have dinner, but it depended on Logan’s unpredictable schedule. Sometimes students showed up at his office unannounced, needing help with a concept or to complain about their grades.

“Maybe I could hang around until he gets back?”

“I have to shower and, uh, stuff.”

Seth pulled a face. “Douching is the worst. I mean, it’s great being squeaky clean, and I know some Doms freak at the sight of the tiniest bit of shit, but I can think of more fun things to shove up my ass than a nozzle followed by a gallon of water under pressure.”

What? He was supposed to be… John rubbed the back of his neck, striving for a casual smile. “I hear you.” There. Noncommittal and noninformative.

“I’ll get out of your hair, then.” Seth stood, his reluctance plain. “You’ll tell him I came by?”

“I promise.”

“Do you have your phone?” Seth took his out, tapping at it with a finger whose nail was chewed ragged. “We can swap numbers in case there’s anything you want to ask me, sub to sub. I’ve been in the scene forever, and if I’m not into something you have questions about, I can put you in touch with someone who is. I know most of the players in town, and I’m in a few groups online too.”

Touched by the offer, John swapped details and showed Seth to the door. He was closing it when Logan’s car pulled up. It was awkward. He’d said good-bye to Seth, so going out there would seem intrusive, but he didn’t want either of them to think he was withdrawing in a huff.

Best to give them some privacy, he decided, and shut the door. It was a challenge not to move to the window and peer out, but he managed to stay away. He couldn’t hear anything through the closed door—probably good, since if he had been able to, it would have meant they were shouting. Also bad, because instead of reality, he had his imagination suggesting scenarios: Logan and Seth making up. Making out. They’d get into Logan’s car and drive away, back to wherever Seth lived, and that would be the end of whatever John and Logan might have had together.

He heard the bang of a car door being slammed and the sound of a car reversing in the driveway. He was too afraid of what he’d see to look out the window, and when someone knocked on the other side of the door—which he was still leaning against—he jumped.

“John. Let me in.”

Logan.

Opening the door quickly, John launched into an explanation. “I’m sorry if that was awkward. He showed up looking for you, and he was upset. I didn’t want to send him away.”

“Are you going to let me in?” Logan seemed amused.

“Of course.” He stepped back to make room, and Logan came inside.

I’m sorry. I should have made it clear to him before now that it wasn’t okay for him to show up here, but I didn’t think I had to. My mistake. It won’t happen again.”

“It was fine. He was nice enough.” John didn’t want to go into more detail about their conversation unless he had to.

“He is. Don’t be fooled by what he shows you. He projects this superficial air, but he volunteers at a shelter for homeless teens and fundraises for it. He gossips, sure, but if you tell him something in confidence, he’ll take it to his grave.” Logan raised his eyebrows, smiling. “And you don’t care about any of that because you’re wondering what he’s like as a sub and if he’s better than you.”

“I—” John put his hand on the hallway wall to brace himself. “No. I mean…is he?”

Logan, unusually for him, kept his distance. His hair hung loose today, framing his face, and he pushed it back with both hands, tucking it behind his ears, exposing the vivid colors decorating the back of his arms and the silver-and-turquoise studs he wore. John was used to the tattoos now, though he’d never examined them closely. Or touched the rings through Logan’s nipples. Mostly, Logan did the touching, the looking, and John was passive, taking what he was given. Still shy, a little worried about making a mistake.

Maybe he should be braver.

“No, because I grade my students, not my subs. John, I’ve called it off with Seth. While I’m with you, I don’t plan on seeing any of the subs I sometimes do scenes with, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re building something here. Too early to call it a relationship, maybe, but that’s where I hope we’re headed. If this is news to you and you hate the idea, tell me now before I fall any deeper.”

John was glad his hand was still against the wall because though it wasn’t news, hearing it stated again left him weak with relief. Logan was looking at him, face expressionless. His blue-gray eyes were pure blue in that moment. “Yes,” John said. “That’s— I want that. I know you said at the start you wouldn’t, but I didn’t know if this, us, meant anything to you, or if I was one in a long line of…” He took a deep breath and let it out in a huff. “Wow.”

“Come here.”

It was easy to obey such a simple request. They hadn’t done much of what John thought of as typical early-relationship affection like hugging or holding hands, and he willingly wrapped his arms around Logan’s body and hung on.

“I should have been clearer sooner,” Logan murmured with regret. “Made sure you knew we were on the same page.” His hand cradled the back of John’s skull.

John let himself melt against Logan, breathing in the scent of him. A huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and he longed to freeze time and stay there forever.

“Are you okay?” Logan asked.

He nodded and forced himself to pull back. “A little overwhelmed. It’s been kind of a weird day.”

Logan smiled. “How’d the gardening go?”

“Unfinished, but there’s still time. I’ll go back to it. Uh, if that’s okay with you.” John wasn’t sure how this worked. Was he a sub 24-7 now? “Is it? May I finish it, Sir?”

“You’re asking for permission outside a scene?” Logan sucked in a sharp breath. “Okay, one, that’s new for me. Two, I’m so fucking turned on right now, I want to say no and tell you to get naked instead, but that’s an abuse of power, and—”

“Tell me.” Blood pounding in his ears, John raised his hands to the top button on the faded plaid shirt he wore but held back on sliding it free. “No, order me. No more scenes. No more hitting pause. You never stop wanting to dominate me, do you? This is new, and I’m clueless about ninety percent of it, but I think of you and I want to go to my knees every single fucking time, so order me. Please, Sir. You want me? I’m yours. Take me here. Use me. Tear the clothes off my back if you want me naked. Use them to tie my hands, or gag me, or whip me. Let me be your sub every second of my day because these last few weeks have been the happiest of my life, and if I know that’s what I am, even when you’re not here, I’ll feel owned. Wanted.”

Logan shuddered and grabbed a handful of John’s shirt, twisting it so the fabric pulled tight across John’s lower back. “Is that what you want?”

“Yes. God, yes.”

“One week,” Logan decided. “We’ll try it and see what we think. Evaluate how it went. Whether we’re both on board with continuing.” His lips curled upward, but whatever his mouth was doing, it wasn’t a smile; it was too sadistic for that. “Into the front room. Take off your clothes.”

It was midafternoon, and the shades were up, the house close enough to the street that anyone walking by could have looked in and seen them. John didn’t hesitate. He swiftly unbuttoned his shirt and shrugged it off his shoulders, but had barely tossed it onto the nearby recliner when Logan grabbed his wrist and spun him around, fingers twisting his nipple the same way he’d twisted his shirt a minute before. The flare of pain was an exquisite distraction.

“I didn’t tell you stop.”

True. It wasn’t easy to concentrate with his nerves screaming and Logan close enough behind him that Logan’s shirt brushed against his skin. He fumbled to undo the button on his jeans, eager and uncoordinated. He shoved the layers of jeans and boxer briefs down, then had to kick off his shoes before he shed everything else.

“On your hands and knees.” Logan was in glorious Dom mode now, his orders short and to the point, and again John obeyed quickly, kneeling on a thick rug patterned in abstract swirls of cream and black. He was more focused on the sound of Logan’s pants being unzipped and then the feeling of slick fingers—where had Logan been hiding the lube?—between his ass cheeks.

God, he was so hard. Even though he wasn’t able to come unless he was alone, knowing he was capable of sustaining an erection throughout a sexual encounter was a relief. “Please, Sir. I want you. Inside me.” If orgasm was impossible, he could participate in this way, at least.

“And what you want is more important than my pleasure?”

“No, Sir.”

“I think you need a lesson in priorities, John.”

God, when Logan used his name at moments like this, a sharp stab of emotional pleasure arrowed through him. It was so deliberate, said with as much meaning as John’s use of Sir. It told him he was Logan’s sub, his to command, and he tensed, longing for what was to come.

Logan struck the back of his thigh, bringing the skin there alive. “Spread for me. Use your hands. Wide open.”

It meant resting awkwardly on the side of his face as he reached back, fumbling to grab his ass cheeks and hold them apart. The humiliation burned his arousal to ashes, then ignited a new flame, hotter, more intense. He didn’t want to be fucked now; he wanted his Dom to use him. There was a difference, and he relished it.

More slaps, slow, harsh, scalding the back of his legs and his inner thighs, sending the air from him in short gasps. Then Logan reached between John’s legs and grabbed his balls, squeezing and twisting them with a steady pressure. The agony became unendurable, and at the moment it did, Logan released him. John sobbed out a thank-you without knowing if it emerged as intelligible. Logan’s fingertip next, then the nail, running over the strip of skin between his hole and the tortured throb of his balls, a light, maddening stroke and scratch.

“I could play with you like this for hours.” Logan ran his finger up the rigid shaft of John’s cock, then pinched the crown, still reaching between John’s legs. His forearm was cool against spanked skin. “Hold you on the edge until coming was torture, not relief. Make even that pleasure feel like pain. And you’d love it.”

Would he? A month ago, he’d have thought the idea ludicrous, but not now. Now he saw the truth in it. God, he’d changed. Or some part of him, dormant, sleeping, had woken.

“And you’re coming for me today. I want to see you writhe, hear you groan and whimper, catch your cum in my hand, and make you lick it up. You don’t get to save that for when you’re alone now. Not when you’re mine.”

John tensed. He didn’t know if it was possible for him to—oh God.

Pain ripped through him as Logan shoved four fingers into his hole and used the other hand to twist his balls again. He shrieked. Logan worked those fingers inside him, wet with lube but nowhere near slick enough. He was being split open, and the pain pushed away everything else. This was what Logan meant by being owned. Even his thoughts weren’t his anymore.

He lost himself in it. Logan continued to hurt him, moving from one part of his body to another. His nipples were pinched, his cock squeezed to the point where he couldn’t breathe, his inner thighs and even his balls slapped until one blow merged with the next, and his erection hurt with the need for release. Then Logan put a hand between his shoulder blades, pressing him even more firmly to the floor, and forced his cock inside him.

“You’re mine,” Logan said as if the words hadn’t already been echoing in John’s brain. “Mine to use however I please.”

Yes.

Logan thrust quickly, cock stroking over what John knew was his prostate. He was dimly aware that his arms were shaking with the effort of holding his cheeks spread wide, but his focus was on his ass, his entire world narrowed to what Logan was doing to him.

A hand—Logan’s hand—closed around the head of his cock, stroking it, and he heard Logan’s voice say, “John. Come.”

Orgasm tore its way through his body, his nerves firing, his scream in his ears.

He collapsed onto his stomach, cramped hands by his side, vaguely aware of the wetness smeared across his skin and the dusty smell of the rug. He was done. Empty. A flicker of joy at his ability to come again crossed his mind, but it didn’t seem important. Of course he’d come. Logan had told him to.

Logan rolled him over, and John blinked up at him, eyes bleary, unfocused. Logan looked… Oh God, when had anyone ever met his gaze with so much approval and pride blazing out? Warmed by it, John smiled up at his Dom, basking in the afterglow.

Logan dragged a finger through the wetness on John’s chest and smiled back. Then he held his finger in front of John’s mouth, far enough away that John needed to crane his neck to reach it with his tongue. It didn’t taste good, but symbols rarely did.

“Now you can finish weeding.” Logan laughed when John groaned. “Or we’ll do it together later. After…”

“Yes, Sir?”

Logan hummed, lips pursed, his gaze appraising. Then he sighed. “So much I want to do to you. With you. But I’m a patient man. Let’s clean you up. A soak in the bath, I think.”

“I don’t need a bath, not when I’m gardening later,” John objected. “I can take a quick shower.”

“It wasn’t a suggestion,” Logan said, gently enough that John didn’t feel rebuked, but reminded. “And you’ll stay in for thirty minutes. No book to read. Yes, I know you do that; I’ve seen the paperbacks in there. You’ll be blindfolded and forbidden to use your hands or talk. I want you to use the time to think things through. Decompress.”

It sounded like an ordeal, but John nodded submissively. “Yes, Sir. Uh, you’ll be there? In the room?”

“You never need to ask that. The answer’s always yes.” Logan flicked John’s swollen nipple. “And who do you think is going to scrub you down?”

You, Sir. It didn’t need to be spoken out loud.

Chapter Nine

“I don’t need a new suit,” John said as they pulled into the parking lot beside the mall. “The old one’s fine.”

“It’s not,” Logan told him firmly. The suit in question had to be at least a decade old, and while it may have fit well at one time, it was too tight across the shoulders and more than a little threadbare. “We’re not arguing about this.”

John, who looked like he’d been ready to protest more, pressed his lips together and nodded.

“It has nothing to do with looking forward to seeing you in a properly fitted suit,” Logan added after they’d locked the car. “Nothing at all.”

That was what John had needed to hear. He relaxed and fell into step beside and slightly behind Logan. His instincts were good. Logan had never instructed him on how to walk in public to demonstrate respect without being obvious, but here he was doing it perfectly.

They’d parked at the mall entrance nearest the men’s store Logan had in mind, and within minutes they were inside, browsing the racks.

“Your old one was black,” he said to John. “Did you want to go with that color again? Or would you be open to something different?”

John slid a few suits aside and picked up a pale-gray one. “If I’m going to get a new one, it might as well be different. What do you think of this?”

“That’s a great suit,” a saleswoman said before Logan answered. She’d sidled up to them without being noticed. “Let me measure you, and we’ll find some things you can try on. Is it for work?”

“Yes. It’s a yearly awards banquet kind of thing.” John hadn’t sounded excited about it when he’d described it to Logan a few days before, but explained that not going wasn’t an option.

It was her job to help customers and sell clothing, but Logan wanted to shoo her away. If anyone was wrapping tapes around John or choosing what he wore, it should be him. He gave her a sidelong glance she ignored, her focus on John.

“Oh, they can be boring, I know, but free food and drink! And I’m sure your date will love the chance to buy a new outfit. Do you have anyone in mind?”

Now that qualified as fishing, but Logan didn’t leap in. Let John handle it. Logan was curious to see John’s reaction, if he was honest. After years of being married to a woman, it had to be strange to step away from that identity and claim a new one.

John gave Logan an amused smile, unfazed and relaxed. “Well, I wasn’t planning on making you suffer too, but if I get to see you in a suit, I’d be willing to make it up to you any way you choose.”

God. Way to make me want to bend you over the nearest flat surface, John. “That’s a tempting offer.”

John’s smile widened, a world of meaning behind it. Logan was already planning a scene to take place after the event. The higher the level of boredom, the more John would suffer. From his experience of similar parties, there was no chance John’s ass would escape unscathed. And now he wanted to get John home because sex in a changing room wasn’t an option. Too cramped, too risky. He’d push limits, but not in public, not when it might endanger their jobs.

“Well?” John asked, “Would you like to be my date for the evening?”

The sales assistant bit her lip, but to her credit didn’t miss a beat as she expanded her focus to include Logan. “You’d make a handsome couple, and with the sales we have going on, it’s the ideal time to invest in a suit. We have a buy one, get the second half-price promotion. It’s supposed to be for a single customer, but I’ll waive that.”

Logan had a good suit already and no need for another. “We’ll see. Maybe something will catch my eye.”

Again, the woman seemed well able to read between the lines. “If there is, I’d be happy to help you with it. In the meantime, let’s get your partner here measured and find him something he likes. Sir?”

It was worth the whole evening in Logan’s mind to see John’s reaction to being called sir—the pause and instinctive glance in Logan’s direction, then the sharp realization that the sales assistant was speaking to him. “Right. Of course.”

Logan followed them to the back of the store, furnished with a triple mirror. Although the woman, who introduced herself as Dani, was nothing but professional, he resented her touching the man who belonged to him. He was glad when that part was over and she said, “Why don’t you go find a few things you like, and I’ll see if I can find a few I think might look good on you? Meet back here in five minutes?”

As soon as they had a moment alone, John muttered, “Can’t I wear my old suit?”

“Still not arguing about it,” Logan said, smiling because Dani was looking toward them. He made a mental note to reprimand John later for asking again after he’d already been told no. “Go find something you like. Where was the one you picked up before?”

“Over here.” John went off in search of it, and Logan wandered in the other direction toward a display of ties. Most of them were on the somber side, but there was a selection with brighter colors and intricate patterns. He lifted one with blues and purples swirled together; it reminded him of an Easter egg.

“That’s nice, but it’s not you.” John was already standing next to him, holding three suits.

“Did you choose three that were next to each other?” Logan asked.

“Maybe.” John seemed fine with that. “I like this one for you.” He pointed at a different tie with his free hand, one with red and orange in a strong, masculine pattern.

“It reminds me of the tattoo on my right shoulder.”

“Mm.” John’s gaze shifted as it always did when Logan’s ink was on view. He disliked Logan’s tattoos, and Logan was getting more than a little frustrated by his attitude. John had made his position clear, and Logan respected it, but the ink was part of him, and John’s rejection of it as a valid choice continued to sting.

Setting that aside to deal with at a later date, he picked up the tie, drawing the heavy silk across his palm. “I don’t need a suit, but I’ll buy this.” He checked the price. “Wow. For this price, I want an introduction to the silkworms.”

“Let me buy it for you.” John took it from him and draped it across the suits. “I’ll try these on and be right back.” His voice faltered on the last words, probably in response to Logan’s annoyed expression. He tried to control it but knew he’d failed. “Logan? Sir?”

“I don’t need you to buy my clothes,” Logan snapped. He drew in a breath, calming himself. “Sorry. That wasn’t the tone I meant to use. Thank you, but it’s unnecessary. Give it to Dani, and tell her to put it aside for me. Then change into the suit, and come out. I want to see you in it.”

Being able to look at John in the first suit he’d chosen, a medium gray that fit him beautifully in the upper body but wasn’t quite right in the slacks, made Logan feel better.

“Hmm, no, they’re too loose in the thigh.” Dani folded the fabric above one of John’s knees to demonstrate. “See? Let me get you a different pair— I’ll be right back.”

There were other people shopping nearby, including a man accompanied by his wife and a child in a stroller. The toddler was whining and tugging at her seat belt, both parents making half-hearted attempts to distract her. Two sales clerks were busy with customers, and no one was paying Logan and John the slightest attention.

“I’m sorry,” John said in a soft voice. He was worried, Logan realized. Worried that he’d hurt Logan, not that he’d be punished for some transgression. “I didn’t mean to—”

Logan shook his head. “Forget it. You’re forgiven.”

Dani came back with a seemingly identical pair of trousers. “Okay, try these, and let’s see if they’re any better.” She waited until John had gone into the dressing room to ask, “Have you been dating long?”

Usually Logan didn’t entertain this kind of small talk, but he was slightly off-kilter, and refusing to answer would be rude. “Not long.”

She nodded. “Sorry about before. Sort of flirting with him, I mean. I didn’t realize you were together, but it wasn’t professional of me either way.”

“I’m sure your job requires a certain amount of buttering people up,” Logan said. “Customer service.”

“Not that kind of service,” she said, smiling and then more widely when he grinned in return. “Oh, thank God. I was pretty sure you had a sense of humor, but for a minute there…”

“I’m not usually the person who gets accused of not having a sense of humor.” The door to the dressing room opened, and they turned their attention back to John.

The suit jacket fit smoothly, showcasing his wide shoulders and tapering to his slender waist. The sleeves were the right length, and the trousers clung to John’s muscular thighs before falling to the floor. He wore his newest pair of dress shoes, and although the color was off—they were a dark brown instead of the black that would look better—the overall effect was exceedingly pleasant.

Neither Dani nor Logan had moved or spoken, and John’s original expression of satisfaction faltered. “I thought it was okay.”

“It is,” Logan assured him, as Dani said, “Better than okay! You look great. Wow,” and bustled over to adjust the jacket and button it.

Over her head, John met Logan’s gaze, and this time what he saw made his face light up as Logan projected his approval and appreciation. Along with a little lust because, damn, John paid for dressing.

Logan knew one thing: if he walked into the dance naked, everyone would still choose John to stare at.

Well, maybe not if he was naked…

They arranged for the pants to be hemmed and picked up later in the week—with John again reacting with some amusement as Dani went to her knees to pin up the excess fabric—then left with Logan’s new tie in a small bag swinging from John’s hand. Dull-gold tissue paper cushioned the tie, fastened by a tiny sticker with the store’s logo, the bag spritzed with cologne. Fancy, unnecessary, but Logan approved of the way Dani walked around the counter to hand him the bag instead of passing it across to him. Any Dom knew the details mattered.

It made him wish he had a list of instructions for John to follow. They didn’t live together or sleep together, parting after a session, but maybe he’d arrange for John to spend the weekend. Friday night to Monday morning with his sub. Making even the quiet moments an ongoing act of service and submission would be a testing but potentially rewarding experience. Or was it too soon?

Lost in thought, it took him a moment to register his name being called. He glanced around and saw Ricky and Adrian, friends of his from high-school days, standing by a map of the mall and waving at him.

“Logan! Long time no seeeee!” Adrian was more than a little camp and believed everyone loved him. It was probably true. He pulled Logan into a hug as soon as he was close enough. “How are you?”

“Fine, how are you? This is John. John, this is Adrian, and that’s Ricky.”

“The fabulous Adrian.” Adrian shook John’s hand and smiled widely. “We’ve known Logan here forever. And aren’t you a cool drink of water.”

“Tone it down a little, Ade. You’re attracting attention.” Ricky slung an arm around his boyfriend.

“Oh no, not that!” Adrian rolled his eyes but did as he’d been told. “So is this the new boyfriend, Logan?”

John looked alarmed, as if he suspected Logan had been talking about him behind his back, his eyes wide. “Adrian’s like this with everyone,” Logan reassured him. “Yes, he’s the new boyfriend. Good guess.”

“He doesn’t seem like your type.” Adrian tilted his head, frowning as he studied John.

“Ade! Jesus.” Ricky sounded as horrified as if he’d never seen this sort of behavior before.

“Oh, honey, I didn’t mean it like that.” Adrian reached out and touched John’s sleeve. “You’re gorgeous. Obviously. Logan’s last couple of boyfriends were shorter. That’s what I meant.”

“Shorter?” John scratched his head. “Not sure how I can accomplish that. I could crouch? Or buy Logan some high heels?”

Adrian blinked at him, taken aback by John’s quiet words delivered with utter seriousness; then he rolled his eyes and smacked his face lightly. “Bad me! Silly me. Got to say, Logan would rock them. Remember the Red Heels Race senior year?”

“Still got the blisters.” Logan turned to John, including him. Nothing worse than being the odd one out when old friends reminisced. “It was to raise money for a local women’s shelter. The guys, students, teachers, any parents who wanted to do it, did a lap of the football field in red stilettos. Funniest thing ever. Half of them stopped running after ten steps.”

“You didn’t,” Ricky said to Adrian. “First, last, and only time you came in the top six of a race.”

Adrian preened, running his hand—carefully—through black hair glossy with product. “What can I say? Born to be a drag queen, honey. It’s in my genes.”

“Tempting to make a pun, but John’s probably wondering what the hell he’s gotten himself into.” Ricky smiled at John, pushing his glasses up, a habit of his. He’d worn contacts for a while, but Logan had barely adjusted to seeing Ricky in them when he decided they didn’t suit him. Tall and lanky, with sandy hair in a messy style, he seemed the last man the stylish Adrian would go for, but they’d been together for years. Seeing them slow dance at the prom, blissful, smiling, oblivious to the glares they were getting from a scattered few in the crowd, was Logan’s main memory of the night. They’d looked so right together, and he’d wondered where his guy was. Of course, even back then, he’d known he had a smaller field to choose from. Gay and submissive cut his choices down to zero at high school. “So you’re his landlord as well as his, ah, boyfriend?”

Logan heard the hesitation and knew it’d registered with John. “Yeah, and when are you coming over to see the place? No need to buy a housewarming gift, but I wouldn’t say no if you gave me a cutting off your spider plant. I killed the last one. Sheila overwatered it.”

“Which is why the next green plant you get from us will be made of plastic.” Adrian sniffed. “You can’t be trusted with the real thing. And blaming a sweet little old lady? Shame on you.”

“Fair enough. Its other fate would have been dying of thirst.” He’d never had a green thumb, which was one of the reasons he was so impressed with John’s fearlessness when it came to jumping in and starting a garden when he’d never done it before. For a man who didn’t tend to be impulsive, John made some daring choices. “Anyway, you’re changing the subject—are there any nights you’re free next week? Come for dinner. Monday or Tuesday works for me.”

“Well, if John here’s part of the invitation, let’s say Monday.” Adrian hooked his arm through Ricky’s. “That works for you, doesn’t it, honey bear?”

“Sure. We’ll bring dessert.” Ricky worked at a bakery off campus. It did a brisk business in doughnuts, cookies, and simply decorated but decadent cakes that students tended to buy for each other’s birthdays.

Speaking of dessert,” Adrian said, “I went in to visit Ricky the other day, and guess who was there? Eli.”

Great, that was exactly what Logan wanted, to talk about his most recent ex in front of his new boyfriend. He glanced at John, but it was hard to read his expression. “Yeah? How is he? I haven’t talked to him in months.”

“He’s fine. Still pining, of course.” Adrian seemed to recognize that John wasn’t following the conversation. “Logan’s ex. Poor boy’s having a hard time moving on.”

“I thought the breakup was mutual.” John was looking at Logan questioningly.

“We came to see we weren’t good for each other.” Logan didn’t want to have this conversation here. “But in the end I was the one who broke things off.”

“He’s okay,” Ricky said. “He’s been dating again. Don’t listen to Ade’s dramatic version of events.”

Without the smallest pang of jealousy, Logan said, “I know. I saw him at Covingtons with someone. Tall guy, six-two or three, bald head. Ugly-hot.”

“Is Covingtons the place that was raided last year?” John asked over Adrian’s “mmm!” of approval.

Logan sighed. “Yeah. It’s a leather bar, and some of the businesses around it weren’t happy, but the raid didn’t turn up anything, so the cops told them in a tactful way to suck it up. We’ll go there sometime. I want to show you off.”

As a way of subtly getting the message across that John was his sub, he hoped it was effective. Logan didn’t need to say it aloud now; Adrian and Ricky would draw their own, correct, conclusions.

He sometimes wondered about their dynamic. Ricky was definitely in charge as far as shaping his boyfriend’s behavior went, but Adrian, for all his fluttering, had a core of steel. Maybe they didn’t play his kind of games; maybe they did. He’d never asked because he suspected they didn’t want to share details of their sex life but would be equally uncomfortable with lying to him.

Their business. And John was his.

On the way home, John asked the question hanging over them. “You said you had reasons for not wanting to be with Eli. Would you— I don’t want to do anything he did that upset you.”

When John floundered for words, it was a sign he was disturbed. Logan didn’t brush him off. Trust and truth between a Dom and sub were vital. “You wouldn’t. I wanted something from him that he wasn’t prepared to give, and there’s no blame on either side. He had the right to turn me down. But we argued about it, and he couldn’t let the subject drop. It ate away at us until everything fell apart.”

John was quiet in the passenger seat next to him.

“You want to know more. Go ahead, ask whatever questions you need to, and I’ll do my best to answer them.” It was easier like this, sitting side by side, than it would have been if they were facing each other.

“It’s not easy to talk about exes,” John said. “If you don’t want to, I understand.”

“You’ve been open about how things happened with Ava.”

John shrugged.

They drove in silence; Logan hadn’t put the radio on. There was a fair amount of traffic as they merged onto the highway, and he needed to concentrate on driving, so he decided to leave the ball in John’s court, to continue the conversation or end it there.

“Whatever you need, I want to give it to you.”

Logan sighed. “I appreciate the sentiment, but it isn’t that simple.”

“What was it that Eli refused you?”

And there it was: the six-million-dollar question. Logan would have preferred to put it off, even though that wasn’t the responsible way to handle the situation. It wouldn’t benefit either of them to get deeper into this relationship if it was destined to end for the same reasons his previous one had. “Sometimes,” he said slowly, “I want to be the one who isn’t in control of a session.”

More silence as that sank in.

“You wanted to bring someone else into the scene? A threesome with you two and a Dom?”

Surprised, Logan shook his head. “No. That never occurred to me. Eli might have gone for that, but I wouldn’t have liked it. I wanted to switch, not see another man give orders to my sub.”

“If he wasn’t a, uh, a switch, then you were asking him to do something outside his comfort zone.”

“That’s how he saw it.”

“Was he worried about the effect on your relationship?”

God, how carefully was John choosing his words, giving the impression of a man walking on glass and trying not to break it. “Partly.”

“Because I think it’d be difficult to kneel to a man after he was the one kneeling to you.”

“I know; I get it, okay?” Irritated, bad memories rising to choke him, Logan drummed his fingers against the wheel. “Don’t worry. It’s not something I’ll ask you to do. You’re obviously as anti the idea as he was.”

“At this stage, yes.” John leaned back, relaxing, as if finding out what was on Logan’s mind had reassured him in some way. “I’m still figuring out what it means to be a sub, and adding anything else into the mix would confuse the hell out of me. But that’s now. And looked at one way, it’d be another way of serving you. Another act of submission.”

Despite his experience, this specific idea had never occurred to Logan, and hearing it voiced out loud was enough to dissolve his irritation. “You’re too smart for your own good, you know.” A lifetime with John would never be boring, not when he had this capacity to challenge his partner.

“Not sure how to take that,” John admitted.

“As a compliment. That’s how I meant it, anyway.” They’d both had plenty of this topic for one night, so he decided to shift the conversation. “So can you tolerate a dinner with Adrian and Ricky? I know Ade’s an acquired taste.”

John shook his head, clearly in response to the last comment instead of the actual question. “He’s funny, and I know where I stand with him, at least. Was he like that in high school?”

“He reined it in, which is probably why he made it through the four years with his self-esteem intact. He didn’t let his freak flag fly until after graduation.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking, that it would have been hell for him when he was a teenager. He and Ricky have been a couple for a long time?”

“A long time,” Logan agreed. “They were already super close when I met them, and then at some point it kind of morphed into them being actual boyfriends. Not sure I could put my finger on the moment that happened.”

“I liked seeing you with them. So yes, I can tolerate a dinner. If I’m invited.”

“You are, or I wouldn’t have asked. I won’t cook. I can manage frozen dinners for myself, but other than that I wouldn’t subject anyone to my attempts in the kitchen. Ricky likes spicy, so I’ll probably get Thai.” Logan slowed the car and made a turn into their neighborhood.

John’s hand, resting on his knee, tensed briefly into a fist. “I’d be happy to cook a meal for your friends, Sir.”

“You’d be a guest. Guests don’t cook!”

“Why am I a guest?”

God, Logan hated driving and talking. He wanted to study John, not the road, especially with that note of hurt in John’s voice.

“Because I invited you to my place. But if you want us to do this dinner as a couple, that sounds like such a good idea, I’m claiming it as mine.”

“Like me.”

And that was said so quietly, Logan came close to missing it. They were a minute away from home, but he pulled over to the side of the road, put the car into park, and turned to face John. “Like you. Yes. So you’ll cook and serve the meal, and sit at the table opposite me, and know with each bite you take that you’re being the perfect sub, that you’re so fucking hot I’ll wish Ade and Ricky weren’t there. And I’d make you do the dishes too, but I guess I fail Strict Dom 101, because that doesn’t seem fair. Now kiss me. No, don’t take off your seat belt, and no hands. Lean over and kiss me.”

Twisted awkwardly, eyes shining, John strained to reach Logan, who didn’t move an inch. He was out of reach and he knew it, but he wanted to hear John—

“Please, Sir. Please. I want to, but I can’t. Please.”

Oh yeah. John begging, lips so close the words were tangible, was temptation incarnate. Logan leaned in and made the kiss possible, cock hard, arousal building. John moaned into the kiss, tongue flickering tentatively against Logan’s lips until he parted them to permit its entry.

Breaking away took an effort of will, but Logan needed more than a kiss. He wanted John’s full submission, the sight of John kneeling, begging again, this time for Logan’s cock in his mouth.

With hands that shook with impatience, Logan took a cursory glance around, put the car into drive, and headed for home.