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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.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

“Come upstairs with me,” Logan said as soon as he’d shut off the car, and John, hard from one kiss in the car and desperate for more, was quick to obey. Following Logan let him watch Logan’s ass as they went up the stairs. God, he wanted to reach out and touch it. That morning he’d woken from a dream in which Logan had been on top of him, fucking him face-to-face, and he’d been able to clutch Logan’s ass with both hands.

He hadn’t jerked off, but he’d wanted to.

“Go into the bedroom, and take off your clothes. I’ll be right in.” Logan was as good as his word, joining him with a bottle of water he set on the bedside table before John had even finished freeing his erection from his underwear. Logan reached for the hem of his T-shirt as if preparing to take it off, and John, hoping he wasn’t breaking a rule, interrupted him.

“Please, Sir. Let me undress you?” He craved the sight of Logan naked, and he wanted to be involved in the process.

Logan hesitated, then nodded. “Okay.”

Forcing himself to move slowly, John peeled off Logan’s shirt and was faced with his collection of colorful tattoos. For the first time he gave them his full attention. Close up, objectively, they were beautiful. There was a bird with spectacular, long feathers twisted around Logan’s rib cage on one side; reds and oranges swirled together at the bird’s head but turned into blues near its tail. On Logan’s left shoulder was a tattoo that was more abstract than anything else, this one done in black and grays with a few hints of gold.

He’d thought tattoos were ugly, but like this, the ink under Logan’s skin was anything but.

“You’re beautiful,” John said with reverence, his previous objections dissolving in the face of the warm, living art before him. “Can I touch you?” It was a stupidly worded question—it was impossible to finish undressing Logan without touching him—but Logan seemed to understand what he’d meant and answered in the affirmative.

“I didn’t like them at first.” It was important to be honest. He’d hidden his feelings from Ava or pretended to share her opinions for the sake of peace. That had gotten him nowhere. “They seemed to get in the way of my seeing you. And I’ll admit I was snobbish about them. But seeing them up close…” He pressed a kiss more reverent than passionate on the bird’s head, then another on Logan’s nipple, the thin silver ring cool against his lips. “They’re part of you. I can’t separate you from them, and I don’t want to.” He traced a swirl of ink with his finger, then placed his palm over painted skin, and his other over bare. There was a difference, subtle, but he sensed it.

“Planning on getting one of your own?”

John drew down Logan’s jeans, then his briefs, helping Logan step out of them, then peeling away Logan’s socks. “God, no.”

Logan chuckled. “Thought not. But I’m glad you’ve lost your aversion to mine.”

“I have. I’m sorry for being so judgmental before.” Would Logan agree and punish him for it? John couldn’t decide if that crossed a line, but knew he’d accept any discipline Logan handed out. He trusted Logan to be fair.

“Forgiven.” And that meant the answer to his unspoken question was no. Odd to recognize a pang of disappointment. Silly too, because if he was angling for a spanking, all he needed to do was ask, he was sure of it.

Or beg.

And maybe not for a spanking with Logan’s hand, but something harsher. He’d pictured himself writhing under the slash of a cane or whip and shuddered with an emotion too darkly intense to face head-on. The pain tore down barriers he’d put up. Showed him a different version of himself, strong, confident. And wasn’t that strange, to gain confidence in submission, in ceding control to another man?

And if a spanking was effective, what would a deeper level of pain accomplish?

“Stay with me.” Logan tapped John’s cheek reprovingly. “Always with me. No wandering off in your thoughts. It’s a bad habit to get into, during a scene, especially.”

“I understand.” He did, and sank down to his knees to indicate he was serious. “What can I do for you, Sir? What would you like?”

Logan stroked his upturned face with a look that had to be affection. Please, God, let it be real affection. “Beg to suck my cock.”

A shiver of desire ran through John. “Please, Sir. Please let me s-suck your cock. I’ll—I’ll do anything you want if you’ll let me.”

“You’ll do anything I want either way,” Logan told him, rubbing a thumb over John’s lower lip. “It will take more than that to convince me.”

John had never imagined there might come a time when he’d be willing to beg to suck another man’s cock. For twenty years he’d tried to forget about the nights in the dorm—fumbled groping, kissing his roommate whose mouth had tasted like cigarette smoke. The first time he’d wrapped his lips around another man’s erection, he’d been so turned on, he came from the touch of the sheets against his skin.

“I’ve never wanted anything as much as I want to suck your cock right now. Taste it, have it choke me, own me. Please, Sir, let me. I’ll show you what a good job I can do. What a good sub I can be. For you.”

“Why do you want to?”

“Because—because…” He was an idiot for not being able to put it into words. “Because I want to make you happy.” It sounded stupid, and he closed his eyes, determined to try again. “Because, Sir, I want to do whatever you want me to. Please.” His gaze wandered to the erect cock in question, and his mouth watered with need. “Please, Sir. Please let me suck you.”

“Such sweet begging.” There was a hint of mockery there, but John sensed it wasn’t meant to do more than add a frisson of humiliation. “I think you’ll need to prove how eager you are with more than words. Stick out your tongue so you can’t speak. That’s it. Now hold still. Move and I’ll take your belt, that nice thick strip of leather, and let you feel it across your ass.”

Tongue out, he had to look ridiculous, but he obeyed, face burning with embarrassment. Logan grasped his cock and rubbed the head over John’s tongue, leaving behind a taste John longed to savor. Saliva pooled in his mouth, but swallowing was difficult, if not impossible, and would certainly result in movement, so he let it drool over his chin, close to weeping with humiliation, but with no danger of his thoughts wandering.

“You think I’m cruel? It’s okay to think that.” Logan swept the crown of his cock through the wetness on John’s skin. “I am. I love torturing you, John, seeing how much you hate losing your dignity, but how much you love obeying me, pleasing me. It’s a balance, yeah? Hard to get the hang of, but you’re doing so well.” He released his cock and used his fingertips to trace the line of John’s mouth. “Going to face fuck you. Think you can take me in your throat? Probably not, but we’ll work on that. I’ll love deep throating you, owning your breath, seeing you struggle, then slipping into the place where your body obeys me. Because every single fucking muscle is mine to command; you know that, right?” His cock came to rest on John’s tongue, warm, hard, heavy. “Nod for me, John.”

He nodded, and as he brought his head up, Logan rammed his cock home, filling John’s mouth in a strong surge of movement.

Owning it as he’d begged Logan to do.

John struggled to breathe as Logan pulled out, then pushed in deeper, cock reaching the back of his throat with the next thrust. His gag reflex was triggered, but he fought that too, focusing on the pleasure he must be giving Logan. It was easy to remember being the recipient of a blowjob—it hadn’t been that long since he’d had one—and to remember the sensations he enjoyed most. Not that it seemed likely he’d have a chance to practice any of those things tonight, not with the way Logan was fucking his mouth. He wasn’t giving a blowjob; Logan was taking one, and his role was that of a willing vessel.

Logan curled his fingers into John’s hair, or tried to; it was too short to be gripped properly. “Don’t cut your hair again until I give you permission,” Logan said. “God, you look good with my cock in your mouth. I’ll have to take some photos of you like this.”

Startled, John looked up at him.

“What, you don’t like the thought of that? Pictures of you with my cock stretching your lips wide, my shaft slick with your saliva? Are those tears in your eyes? No, don’t look away.”

If he needed to meet Logan’s gaze, it was with the tears spilling down over his cheeks, but there was nothing John could do to stop it. Logan was fucking him, and he was staying still as he’d been ordered. No way was he going to move and risk being punished. He’d be good for Logan, whose blue-gray eyes were looking down into his like steel, cold and unforgiving.

Delicious, perfect cruelty.

I’m falling in love with you over and over.

It was true. Starburst moments of clarity, centered on this man, a bone-deep certainty of self, and a deep gratitude. Would any dominant man have brought this response from him? Maybe, to an extent, but what he’d learned to feel for Logan went beyond sexual arousal or a complex response to pain and the sweetly filthy degradation of body and spirit. Kink aside, he’d still love the man he knelt before, still crave his approval and a return of the love he offered up with his suffering.

He let his tears fall for Logan’s pleasure. More tears shed these last few weeks than in the rest of his life, salt-hot droplets leaching away the sterility of his life and bringing strange new growth to arid soil.

“Use your tongue on me. Like a whip. God, yeah. Gonna whip you, John. Tie you to a wall, spread out like a canvas waiting for the brush. Stretch you wide so your skin’s taut, your muscles straining, make you wait and wait for your first taste of leather. God, I can’t wait to flog you raw.”

Neither could John. Eager, hungry, he did as he was told, furling the length of his tongue around the solid column of flesh, flicking, stroking, until his jaw ached like a rotten tooth and sweat pearled on his forehead.

Yet when Logan came with a guttural cry, spunk flooding John’s mouth, he regretted it was over, no relief surfacing.

“Hold it. Don’t swallow.”

Obedient, Jon forced his throat muscles to lock, the thick, warm fluid a vivid presence in his mouth. Logan withdrew his cock, dripping with cum, then fell to his knees and kissed John, tongue diving in to taste what he’d put inside John, reclaiming it.

Logan cupped John’s face, lips brushing John’s. “Now swallow. Good. Lick my lips clean.”

Moaning, unbearably aroused, John ran his tongue over the cum-slick lips so close to his. “Please,” he murmured. “May I come? Please, Sir. So close.”

“You want to, don’t you?” Logan’s hand wrapped around his shaft, thumb near the head but not touching it, not yet. “You may come, but only with me from now on.”

John had been warned that this was on the horizon, the moment when Logan would order him not to orgasm or even masturbate without permission. “Yes.” Logan worked his cock, hands skilled. “Yes, Sir. God, yes, I—” Pleasure exploded through him, and he shuddered, head falling forward onto Logan’s chest as he came and came.

“Up,” he heard Logan saying some interminable amount of time later. “John. Get up.”

Weak in the aftermath, John forced himself to obey. Logan only made him go as far as the couch, thank goodness, and grabbed a fleece blanket off the back of it to wrap around him. He was shivering, he realized. “I’m okay.”

“I know you are.” Logan held him close. “Take all the time you need. No hurry.”

“I don’t know why I’m cold.”

Logan tucked the blanket around him more firmly. “It’s a normal enough reaction. Drop, remember? We talked about it before.”

He tried to nod; his teeth chattered. “F-forgot.”

“Don’t worry. It will pass, and I’ll be with you as long as you need me.” Logan’s voice was so comforting that John pressed closer, utterly trusting in a way he hadn’t been for years. Maybe ever.

He kissed the only part of Logan within reach, the warm skin over his collarbone. Heat radiated from Logan’s body like a furnace. “I’m never cold.” He was the person wearing a sweater when everyone else was in thick parkas and wool hats.

“Never say never.” Logan’s lips brushed the edge of his ear, and he shivered again.

“That’s not helping,” he complained.

“Heh. Do you have any idea how inspiring you are?” Logan asked.

No. Tell me.

After waiting for a response John was incapable of giving right then, Logan said, “You push me. I’m doing stuff with you I’ve never done before. Asking more from you than I’ve ever dared ask. And I do it knowing you’re with me every step of the way.” He stroked John’s hair. “If that changes, promise you’ll tell me. This is uncharted territory for me as well as you. I’m more experienced, but in something like this, that doesn’t count for as much as you’d think. Sure, I can practice with a flogger or a cane, do research to make sure I don’t hurt you, but that’s basic. I’m talking about emotional responses, and yours are off the scale. You fucking break me, John. Break me open.”

His voice shook, and John stopped shivering at that sign of vulnerability. Logan needed him. Time to give reassurance, not take it. “I promise.” God, words. So inadequate. Clumsy, imprecise. Where was telepathy when he needed it? “I’ll tell you, but you know I’m with you. Nothing’s been too much, too extreme. Push me. Push us. Hard until we slam up against a limit, and then we’ll see what it takes to get past it if it’s something one of us wants to try.”

“I’ll do that.” Logan fell silent for a while, and the quiet wrapped around John, insulating him from the world. His body ached, stressed, sated, but he welcomed the twinges.

“What would you like to do to me? With me?” he asked eventually. “I’m too new to this to have fantasies yet. You must have some.”

“Oh God, so many!” Logan laughed, low in his throat. “I’d wear us out. Uh, most of mine focus on 24-7, I guess. A sub who never stops being my sub. Total control. But that’s a hell of a lot of work, and I don’t know how practical it is when we have jobs and don’t live together. Plus, it’s too early for you, and I mean that.”

The idea held a certain attraction, but John suspected if Logan proposed painting him purple, he’d go for it because of the source. “Fair enough. Something we could do now? I want…want to give you something. A thank-you.”

“You do that whenever you go to your knees and look up at me.” Logan groaned. “God, I’m hard a moment later, I swear. You’re incredible like that, expectant, trusting. So fucking hot.”

“Please?” He told himself it was the last time he’d ask; after this, he’d let it go. Leave it to Logan to bring it up, if he ever did.

“I’ll tell you when I think of something,” Logan assured him. “Not now. I hear that you want to, and it means more than I can express, but I have to be responsible for your well-being above everything else. We’re done for tonight. That’s how you can thank me: by trusting me to make that decision.”

John smiled even though Logan wouldn’t be able to see it. “Yes, Sir.”

* * * * *

“Do either of them have any food allergies?” John asked, pausing in front of the canned tomatoes.

Logan scratched his neck. “Not that I know of.”

It was Sunday evening, and they were at the supermarket, shopping for the next night’s dinner party. Despite Logan’s insistence it was a casual meal and he didn’t need to stress about it, John found it hard to let go of the knowledge that this would be the couple’s first time in his home, eating something he’d cooked. Logan was their friend, and they’d probably forgive him if John’s culinary skills were subpar, but it would shape their opinions of John, and he hated the thought of them deciding he wasn’t good enough for Logan.

“Maybe we should go back to the stir-fry idea.” He turned around and surveyed the shelves of Asian sauces.

“Or maybe you’ve already found a recipe for this Cajun chicken dish and should stick with that. You’re overthinking this. Stop.”

“It’s—” John caught sight of Logan’s face and broke off. “I’m sorry. You’re right.”

“Doesn’t matter if I’m right or not,” Logan told him. “I’m in charge, remember?”

He nodded and reached for a large can of diced tomatoes. “I remember. I want everything to be perfect. For you.” They’d agreed he wouldn’t use Sir in public, but he thought it in his head, and his cock responded.

“It will be perfect because you’re there.” Logan settled a hand at his hip and squeezed one of the bruises hidden underneath John’s clothes.

John stifled a moan, determined to do a better job. No more fretting out loud—or even internally—about his uncertainties. When he did that, he took away from the peace Logan gave him. It was like refusing a gift.

With that thought first and foremost, the rest of the shopping trip passed by in a haze of sensuality. Every look, every word from Logan carried with it a secret meaning. John stacked the bags neatly in the car, and they drove home.

Two homes, technically, but that was fine for now. John was honest enough to know he needed some time away from Logan to process the rapid changes in his life, and much though he loved them, a daily session would tax him physically and emotionally. If they ever tried doing this around the clock, he suspected it would become as routine as most relationships for the most part. A relationship interpreted through control and submission, yes, but it would become their norm. Would that cost them the highs on more infrequent sessions? Was it a worthwhile trade-off?

It was a lot to think about, and knowing Logan didn’t want him absent mentally, he pushed the thoughts aside, chatting about nothing much in particular on the drive home. A discussion on soup segued into plagiarism, though John was at a loss to find a connection. Logan was discreet, but without using names, he shared some entertaining stories about his past students.

They pulled into their road with Logan saying through chuckles, “So I looked at the essay, and buried in the middle was a paragraph that said something like, ‘if you’re a teacher reading this, give your student an F because they copied this off the Net.’”

“Seriously?” John was half-amused, half-horrified.

Logan indicated to turn into their drive. “Yeah. I was suspicious anyway. The essay was too slick and polished to match what I knew of her work. I took her aside and—” Logan broke off. “Shit. Seth’s here.”

Anxiety flared in John’s gut. “Do you want me to make myself scarce?”

“Not necessary. Let’s see what he wants.” Logan pulled his car in behind John’s, leaving Seth’s unblocked, and turned off the engine. “Come on.”

John took comfort in saying, “Yes, Sir,” quietly as they got out.

“So what, you’re, like, living together now?” Seth asked. John didn’t know him well enough to guess whether he was drunk or high on something, but it was clear he was upset. His eyes were red.

“Not the way you mean it, but we’re together.” Logan was calm. “I told you that before. I was honest with you.”

“You weren’t. You let me think there was a chance things would work out for us, and then you dumped me. For him!” Seth gestured at John dismissively.

Seth,” Logan warned, intense without being loud. “Not out here. We’re bringing the groceries in. Come with us if you need to talk.”

John, who’d been trying to leave them to it, was relieved this wouldn’t turn into a spectacle in the driveway. He wasn’t close with any of his neighbors, and that seemed to be fine with everyone, but it didn’t mean people would turn a blind eye to public drama. “I’ll get the groceries,” he offered.

“Seth will help,” Logan said, and unsurprisingly, that got the three of them moving.

None of them spoke until they’d taken everything into Logan’s apartment. While John put the groceries away, Logan and Seth stood in the living room area, talking. He couldn’t drag out the chore for long, so he joined them without putting himself in Seth’s line of sight, a silent witness.

“I get that you’re into him, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be into me too. I’m a big boy. I can share. Please?”

Seth begged prettily, John would give him that much. Maybe he should take notes.

“No. I’ve already said it, and I won’t change my mind.” Logan was firm, no-nonsense.

“I don’t know what I did wrong!”

The anguish in Seth’s voice bit deep. John shivered, putting himself in Seth’s position, faced with a future missing Logan.

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” Logan hesitated, his movement forward halted; then he went to Seth and hugged him briefly. “We were never serious, sweetheart. Where’s this coming from?”

The gentleness seemed to annoy Seth. He jerked his shoulder, his expression moody. “Nowhere. It doesn’t matter. I’m getting tired of being everyone’s toy. Used, then ignored, like I’m dirt. I deserve better than that.”

“No argument here. I’m not the man to give it to you, though. I’ve never lied to you, have I? So trust me one more time when I say the perfect Dom for you is out there, not in this room.”

Seth sighed. “I’m sick of waiting. I’m lonely.”

John sympathized with him, he did. He considered offering to make Seth a cup of tea, but this was Logan’s home, not his, and it was Logan’s place to make the offer. He didn’t want to make things worse. He fussed around, straightening a stack of books in an overflowing bookcase while Logan continued to reassure Seth in a soothing voice. “We can still be friends,” Logan said.

“Right, because that would be emotionally healthy.” Seth sounded like he was regaining his composure. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to hang out sometimes, but…maybe not right away.” He looked at John. “I’m sorry for showing up like this. If I were you, I’d be pissed as hell.”

“I’m not,” John said. He remembered a time when—if he’d known where she lived—he might have turned up at Ava’s front door, begging for her to take him back. She’d probably anticipated that and hidden her whereabouts for that reason. “I get it. It’s never easy when relationships end.”

“To be fair to Logan, it was never a relationship. He’s right; he was honest with me about things being casual. I tried not to hear it because I didn’t want to.”

“You told me to text if I had questions.” John ignored Logan’s quick frown. “Sub-to-sub questions. Is that offer still good?”

Seth nodded, his shoulders going back, a spark of animation showing. “Yeah. If they’re not about a certain someone. I’m not made of stone. But in general, sure.” With what John read as courtesy, nothing more, Seth turned to Logan. “Does he have your permission to do that, Sir?”

Clearly unhappy with the honorific, Logan nodded, his lips a tight line.

“Okay, then. Leaving. Walking toward the door. Out of your lives, never to be seen again.” Seth inched slowly away, casting a hopeful look their way. “Unless you’ve reconsidered the threesome. Think how much you’d enjoy having two naughty subs to spank.” He grinned. “Oh, your faces! Joking, I swear.”

Logan shook his head, exasperated but amused, John thought. “Brat. One last order. No, two. Don’t mope around, because I’m not worth it, and don’t rush into finding a new Dom. You deserve the best, and don’t settle for anything less.”

“I hear you,” Seth said. “I won’t. But I won’t promise I won’t call you some night when I’m very, very drunk, so I hope if I do, you won’t hold it against me.”

“I’ll try not to.” Logan went in for another brief hug, and John tried not to let jealousy overwhelm him. “Have a good night. Talk soon?”

“When I’m ready,” Seth said too cheerfully to be convincing, and tromped off down the staircase, leaving John and Logan in the apartment.

“I’m so sorry,” Logan told John once Seth was out of earshot.

“It was fine. I’m not saying that to make you feel better. I mean it. Do you think he’ll be okay?”

Logan nodded, going to the window and staring down at Seth’s car. “I think so. He had a bad moment, but it’s over now. Thank you so much; it would have been easy for you to feel insecure about the situation and say things to make him more uncomfortable, and you didn’t. I appreciate it.”

“I like him,” John said honestly. “I mean, I don’t necessarily want to be his best friend—or his friend at all—but he seems like the kind of person who says what he thinks. I appreciate that. It’s reassuring not to worry that someone’s thinking one thing but saying another.”

“That’s true. I still appreciate your making things as comfortable for him as possible.”

John stepped closer to Logan and looked into his eyes. “I’d do anything for you.”

Logan smiled, then raised his hand to caress John’s face. “I plan to make you prove it.”

“I know.” John turned his head, nuzzling into that cupped palm, kissing it. “To be honest, I can’t fucking wait, Sir.”

Chapter Eleven

Logan yawned and took a sip of coffee to kill the next one. John had woken him early on Monday with a blowjob, showing commendable initiative, but Logan’s pleasure had evaporated when he’d caught sight of the time.

“I know your first lecture isn’t until ten, but we can do some prep for the meal before I go to work. I want everything to be perfect.”

Neither the reasoning nor the BJ had saved him from a spanking. Logan had delivered it without fuss, hauling a protesting John across the bed and pinning him to it, his knee in the small of John’s back, his hand heating skin that looked better red anyway.

It wasn’t the worst start to a day ever. And John’s coffee was rocket fuel even when he used Logan’s cheap coffee to brew it. Logan took another sip, luxuriating in his bed, the sheets heavy with the scent of sex. When John stepped out of the shower, he’d rouse himself and strip the bed, maybe open a window or two.

He was busy planning the day, so the buzz of his phone took a moment to register. Setting his coffee down on the night table, he swapped mug for phone.

“Yeah, hello. Logan here.” God, it’d better not be a student freaking out over an assignment. They weren’t supposed to have this number, but somehow a few of them had gotten hold of it. It’d be unethical to fail them for disturbing him, but so fucking tempting.

“Logan, it’s Ricky.”

“I hope you’re not calling to cancel for tonight. John’ll be crushed.”

“You’re going to wish I was.” Ricky’s voice was mechanical, dull, and hearing it made Logan sit up straighter. Clearly something was wrong. “Where are you?”

“At home. Why?”

“Are you alone?”

“John’s in the shower. Ricky—”

“Okay, good. I didn’t want… This is hard to say. It’ll be worse to hear. I’m sorry.” Ricky took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Logan fought the urge to snap at him to get on with it. “Seth was in a car accident last night. They called his parents from the hospital when he got there, but… Logan. He died.”

Time seemed frozen even though the thud of his heartbeat told him it hadn’t. “Seth’s dead?” The question hung against blankness. He wasn’t shocked or sad in that moment, but gripped by the certainty he’d misunderstood.

“I’m so sorry. I hate to be the one to have to tell you, but Adrian’s in no shape to talk, and I didn’t want you to see it on Facebook or something.” It made sense that Adrian would be the one who was more upset; he and Seth had been friends for a few years, having bonded over a mutual love of shopping.

“Seth’s—dead? Are you sure? I mean, are they sure it was him?” Logan didn’t hear Ricky’s answer and didn’t have any recollection of the next minute or two. He was lost in his head, remembering Seth’s smile and imagining his final moments. Had he suffered? Had he known he was dying? Had he been afraid?

“Logan. Logan.” John’s voice, then his hand taking the phone away. “Who’s this?” The mattress dipped beside Logan as John sat. “Shit. Okay. Yeah, I will. Don’t worry. I’m sorry, Ricky. We’ll call you later, okay? Bye.”

“Seth’s dead,” Logan said. He seemed to need to say it out loud again, as if that meant he was admitting it was true.

“I’m so sorry.” Logan heard John’s distress and wanted to respond to it, but shock and grief held him prisoner, his reaction to the news kicking in with dreadful force, sweeping aside his ability to talk. “God, that’s awful. He was so young. Do you know what happened? Ricky said it was a car accident.”

Logan held up his hand to silence John and push away the news, the truth he couldn’t accept. He’d lost elderly family members, but never anyone his age, never someone he knew, had cared for.

Never someone whose death was his fault.

“It’s because of me.” He stared at his clasped hands, squeezed painfully tight. “I sent him away upset, and he died.”

“No.” John put a sheltering arm around Logan, as if he were trying to keep Logan safe. What a stupid thing to do. There was no safety in this world. Not when people walked out of a room, got into a car, and disappeared forever. “You don’t know that. Don’t add guilt to your sadness. For all you know, there was another driver involved or— Well, you don’t know.”

“Yes, I do.”

Logan shrugged off John’s arm and turned away, the sheets tangling around his legs, trapping him. Had Seth found himself pinned under metal, flesh torn, bones broken? God, please let it have been fast for him.

His rejection of John’s touch wasn’t a rejection of John but a denial of the comfort John offered. He didn’t deserve it. He’d found someone new and brushed Seth away like an irritating bug. And now he’d never see Seth again. The friendship backing the sex they’d shared wouldn’t have the chance to develop, and Seth would never find his perfect someone.

His mind conjured horrific pictures again, the body he’d known intimately bleeding, burned—oh God, what had happened to him? How had he died? He heard Seth screaming, not with pleasure, but fear and agony, and shuddered convulsively, sickness rising. His vision grayed, his skin clammy.

Dimly, he heard John’s voice, deep and calm. “Logan, don’t shut me out. Let me help. I’ll call the college for you and tell them you won’t be coming in. And I’ll take the day off work. You won’t be alone with this.”

“I can’t.”

“Can’t what? Can’t let me help? I’m not sure you have much choice there.” John took Logan’s chin in his hand and turned his face until their eyes met. “Go take a shower, and we’ll figure everything else out afterward.”

Logan didn’t have it in him to argue. He went and turned on the water as hot as it went and let the sound of it beating against the tiles cushion him from the rest of the world. He didn’t make more than a cursory attempt to wash. By the time John came to check on him, he was waterlogged, his fingertips wrinkled and his skin bright red with the heat.

“Do you still have any hot water?” John asked.

“Not much.” It had gone lukewarm a while back, but he’d been in denial because he wasn’t ready to get out. When his shower ended, he had to go on with the rest of his day.

“Okay. When you’re ready, I made something for you. Something my grandmother used to make for us when we’d had a shock.” John was quiet for a few moments. “Do you want me to—”

“No,” Logan said. “Stay. I’m getting out.” He made himself reach over and crank the faucet handle to the off position. When he pulled the shower curtain back, John stood close by with a towel, waiting for him.

“I called the main office on campus and let them know you’d need someone to cover your lectures if that was possible, or to post something to let students know they’re cancelled if it’s not. The woman I spoke with—her name was Carrie Walczak? Something like that; I wrote it down, it’s on the notepad in the kitchen—said she’d take care of it, not to worry. And I called in sick.” John was watching him, head tilted to one side slightly. “So whatever you need to do today…I’m your man.”

“I need to know what happened.” Was that rusty croak his voice? He touched his face. Had he cried in there without knowing, tears lost in the water coursing down? No. He would’ve noticed. “Need the details.”

Slowly, on autopilot, he dried himself.

“I’m not sure that’s—”

“A good idea?” He flung the towel away, a dramatic gesture that failed completely since it landed in a soft heap a few feet away. “I don’t fucking care!”

“Possible,” John finished. “I’ll see what’s online, but the only people who know for sure are the police and his family. You can’t ask either of them. The police won’t tell you, and it’d be cruel to question his parents today. Unless you know them well?”

Logan shook his head. “Seth loved them, but they didn’t understand him. They wrapped their heads around him being gay, but the kink was a step too far. He kept in touch with them, but it was mostly phone calls and the odd visit. I never met them.”

“I’ll go online and see what there is; then I’ll call Ricky.” John steered Logan out of the bathroom. “Get dressed, and drink what’s in the mug on the table, then come over to my side of the house. I’ll use my computer to search.”

John still owned a computer with a tower, a fairly recent model with a large monitor, but not portable. It baffled Logan why he didn’t get a laptop like everyone else.

Being ordered around by John should’ve seemed strange, but nothing this morning since the call was normal. He did as John had suggested and dressed, then fetched the mug from the kitchen. The hot drink inside had the distinct tang of alcohol, but he wasn’t sure what it was, so he took it with him over to John’s, where the door had been left unlatched for him.

John’s computer was on a desk in the corner of the den where his TV was. He glanced up as Logan came in. “Nothing yet.”

“What is this?” Logan asked, gesturing with the mug carefully so he wouldn’t spill it.

“My grandmother’s recipe.” John smiled wryly. “Hot honey-lemon water, with a secret ingredient of my own. She didn’t believe in giving whiskey to children, but I’ve found it’s more effective that way for adults. Drink it. I’ll drive you anywhere you need to go, though there isn’t enough alcohol to do more than take the edge off.”

Logan sat and sipped at the drink, letting the warmth of it wash through him. “I don’t know what to do.”

“You don’t have to know. There isn’t a handbook. People do the best they can, and that’s what you’re going to do too.” John was typing at the same time he spoke, gaze intent on the computer screen. “Let me call Ricky back and see if he knows anything more, or has any ideas on who might.”

“Sure. Whatever makes sense.” John’s voice sounded strange to him. He went from an ears-stuffed-with-cotton-wool deafness to everything being overloud and echoing. The realization of Seth’s death hit him again and again, as if his memory was on a goldfish-in-a-bowl loop, and each time hurt as much as the first. More, because the truth sank a little deeper with each repetition, coming close to being accepted.

He wasn’t ready to do that. Seth couldn’t be out of reach. It made no sense. If he took out his phone and texted, Seth would reply, a flirty, fun response, guaranteed to leave him smiling.

John left the room to make the calls, taking Logan’s phone to do it since it had the numbers he’d need in it and his didn’t. That brought it home how new his relationship with John was. John didn’t know his friends yet, was a name to most of them, an unknown quantity. Yet even in his grief, he didn’t see John as a stranger. Their connection was too powerful for that. He regretted sending Seth away with what now seemed heartless speed, but he had no regrets over finding John.

At a loss, he sat on John’s couch, staring blankly at the mantelpiece over the open fireplace. There were gaps in the ornaments across it, and he wondered if Ava had taken items when she left, or if they’d been photographs John found unbearable to look at.

What did Ava look like? Blonde? Dark-haired? Tall, petite? And why was he giving her any attention when he should be focused on Seth? He grunted, angry with himself, and stood, pacing the room, the activity an outlet for his emotions.

John came back, eyes wet with tears. “I talked to Ricky.”

“Tell me.” He didn’t close the gap between them, though he longed to hear the news with John’s arms around him. “What happened?”

“Sit down. Please?” John was stubborn when he wanted to be, and it was clear he had Logan’s best interests at heart, so Logan didn’t argue, and sat.

“He was on Route 112, headed west.” That made sense; he lived in that direction. “His car crossed into the other lane and almost hit a minivan head-on.”

“Oh my God.” Logan’s stomach lurched imagining it. “Was— Is the other driver okay?”

John swallowed and nodded. “It was a woman. Her two kids were in the backseat. They were shaken up, but none of them were hurt.”

Carefully, Logan leaned forward and set his mug on the floor near his feet. “And Seth? Do they know how he died?” The last word choked him.

“He swerved off the road and hit a tree head-on. He was still alive at the scene, but he never regained consciousness.”

God. Logan stared down at his hands, his fingers laced together. They were shaking. He couldn’t bring himself to look at John and see whatever might be written over his face. Any hint of an accusation, and he didn’t know what he’d do. He wasn’t sure he’d recover from John blaming him.

“I’m so sorry.” John sat, reaching for him.

Logan pushed him away. “Don’t.”

“This isn’t your fault.” John sounded convincing, but Logan knew it was a lie. It was his fault Seth had been upset behind the wheel, distracted enough that his car had wandered into another lane and then into that tree.

“When he went away, he smiled, remember? Made a joke. You’d gotten him into a hopeful frame of mind. And things between you were casual. You said that. He said that. He wasn’t suicidally depressed, for God’s sake! He was a grown man, Logan, not a teenager. He understood relationships sometimes don’t work out, no matter how much one person has invested in them.”

“Will you stop talking? Please? Stop trying to make me feel better, stop pretending you knew him when you didn’t, stop acting like you were friends when you know he resented you.”

His cutting words slashed John to the bone, judging by his pallor and wide, shocked eyes. Logan regretted hurting him, but taking the easy way out of this situation wasn’t an option.

“I’m going back to my apartment.” He stood in a single, jerky movement. “I need space.”

John rose too, blocking the path to the door. “It’s the last thing you need if you’re going to sit there blaming yourself unnecessarily.”

“Yeah, well, it’s my choice to make.”

He walked around John, only to find John in front of him again, a living wall between him and escape. “Logan, please. Stay here, or let me come with you. Or I’ll drive you to see your friends. I appreciate you’ll want to be alone to let it out, but not when you’re in this state of mind.”

John hadn’t called him Sir once since the call. Understandable. A Dom took care of his subs, and he’d failed Seth so completely, he didn’t deserve to be in a D/s relationship with anyone, especially someone as vulnerable and new to the scene as John.

“I know you’re used to being the one in charge,” John said gently. “That must make this extra hard—I get that, I do—but if Seth had been this upset and tried to get in his car last night, you would have stopped him.”

“That’s not fair. I’m not getting behind the wheel.”

“I disagree. It’s still fair to compare the two. Go back to your apartment if you need to, but let me follow you. I won’t say a word. I won’t even hang out in the same room, okay? You shouldn’t be alone right now.”

Logan was tired of arguing. “Fine. Come with me.”

He thought John had changed his mind because he walked up the stairs without a shadow; by the time he reached his door, though, John was behind him, and he realized John had gone back for his phone. “Thank you,” Logan said as John pressed his phone into his hand, and meant it for much more than the phone.

John nodded and lifted his mouth into a tight smile. He pointed toward the kitchen and moved in that direction without a word.

Logan looked down at his feet, which were bare. He’d gotten dressed, but not put on his shoes before going over to John’s house.

Maybe John was right, and he shouldn’t be alone.

He went into the bedroom with the intention of at least finding some socks. The tangle of bedcovers and the faint smell of sex lingering in the air distracted him, and he ended up sitting down instead. An hour ago none of this had happened—well, no, of course it had, because it had happened last night; he hadn’t known about it yet—and things had been good. He’d been happy. Now the day stretched out in front of him, and he had no idea how to get through the next ten minutes, let alone the next ten hours.

John appeared in the doorway and seemed to guess what Logan needed without asking because he took a pair of socks from the chest of drawers. Logan knew subs and Doms, hell, vanilla couples too, who anticipated their partner’s needs with uncanny insight, but had never had it happen to him. John went to his knees before Logan, avoiding his gaze, and separated the socks with more care than the action demanded. He put his hand on Logan’s right foot, the warmth of his skin a sharp contrast to Logan’s chilled flesh.

“May I put these on you?”

“Don’t! Jesus, no games. Not today.”

John glanced up then. “I’m not trying to start anything, but if this is what you need from me, I’ll stay on my knees all day. And it’s not a game. It’s who you are. Who we are. There’s no need to turn away from it if it helps.”

“It doesn’t.” He leaned over, snatched up the socks, and tugged them on roughly. “Get up.”

“Yes, Sir.”

That verged on defiance, but Logan couldn’t chastise John without assuming a role he’d rejected.

“Ricky said he and Adrian are meeting some of your other friends for lunch at Sheeran’s if we want to join them. If it’s too awkward for me to be there, I’ll drop you off. You’re right; I didn’t know him, not well.” John’s confidence and control of the situation seemed to have fled, leaving him unsure of his place in Logan’s life, and in the face of his uncertainty, Logan’s anger faded away.

“Come here, please.” He waited until John sat next to him, then leaned his head on John’s shoulder. “God, I’m sorry. You haven’t been anything but great, and I’m being an asshole.”

“You’re not. You’re grieving.” John paused before beginning to speak again, slowly. “A friend of Ava’s died… I don’t know, five or six years ago maybe. So I’ve done this before. I know what it’s like. You’re allowed to be sad and angry and whatever else you’re feeling, and I won’t take it personally.”

“I hope that’s true, but it still doesn’t give me permission to treat you badly.” He sighed, wishing they could go back to bed and pretend none of this was happening. Not for sex, but comfort.

“Do you want to go to the lunch? I told Ricky I’d text him and let him know.” John put an arm around his shoulders.

“Yeah. And of course I want you to come. I don’t want to go through any of this without you.”

“Well, you don’t want to be going through it at all. I understand. Tell me what you want—what will help you, and what will make things worse—and I’ll do it. Other than leaving you alone when you’re upset.”

Logan nodded. “You were right about that.”

“I’m glad. I thought maybe I was overstepping my bounds. Not because I’m your sub, but because we haven’t been together long.”

John’s bluntness was refreshing. He never hid behind half-truths or expected Logan to guess what was on his mind. It made life easier. “Don’t feel that way. As far as I’m concerned, there’s more connection between us in a short time than there ever was with Eli and me.”

“Will he be there?”

Logan sighed. “I guess. And expect it to go on into the night. Some people won’t get off work until five, or won’t have heard yet, but word will spread, and Seth said he expected people to party when he was gone, not mope around. Of course, he never expected it to happen.” He shook his head. “God, I can’t wrap my head around it.”

Three hours later, a whiskey in his hand and a picked-at platter of nachos at his elbow, he still hadn’t managed to accept the reality.

Sheeran’s was a gay bar that’d slowly morphed into being a safe space for people into the scene. Logan’s job made a certain amount of discretion necessary, but he didn’t do much in public with a sub to draw attention to himself. Maybe if Eli had wanted to take it further… But he hadn’t, and Logan’s scenes were conducted in his home, not bars.

John had hung back as friend after friend embraced Logan, expressing shock and grief in different ways. The bar had held an uneasy mix of people there to eat and drink, those who hadn’t known Seth and those who had, but gradually the balance had tipped, and now it was a full-blown wake.

A large glass jar on the bar was filling with money, a label on the side stating that the proceeds would go to the shelter Seth had volunteered at. Logan had donated, and he’d seen John push folded bills through the opening, his expression somber.

No one had blamed him yet. He was on edge, waiting for an accusing look, a confrontation, but it hadn’t come.

“Logan.” A familiar voice cut through the buzz of conversations around him. Eli.

He was at a loss. Should he stand? Were they supposed to hug? On any other day he’d know what to do. Today things were different. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Eli made an aborted gesture as if he’d been about to put his hands in his pockets but changed his mind. “I figured we’d bump into each other at some point. Didn’t think it would be like this.”

“It sucks,” Logan agreed and decided to stand. He didn’t decide to hug Eli, yet somehow they were doing it anyway, arms around each other tightly, holding on. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too.”

They stood like that for a long time, the sounds of everyone talking and forks clinking on plates a gentle background to an embrace they needed.

“How are you?” Eli asked when they untangled themselves.

“Okay. How are you?” It was an automatic and dishonest reply, and Logan grimaced when he heard how false it sounded.

“Yeah, neither of us is okay, but I get why you’d say it. I miss him already; we’d been hanging out a lot recently.”

Surprised, Logan said, “He never mentioned it.”

“No, well, he wouldn’t. He wanted someone to listen to him, you know? While he figured things out.”

“And by ‘things,’ you mean…”

“What he’d do once he’d accepted things with you weren’t going to work out. Don’t get me wrong, Logan; I don’t think he was in love with you, and he didn’t think so, either. But he’d built up a future in his head where he settled down, nice little house, white picket fence.” Eli shook his head. “No, sorry. Definitely not white. He probably would have wanted purple. Anyway, it was a fantasy, one with you playing the part of his husband in recent months. He had a hard time shaking the idea.”

Eli’s words, sensible and accurate, should’ve gone some way to dispelling a portion of his guilt, but the alcohol swimming in his system blocked them. Part of him knew Eli was right, but the horror of the news still gripped him tightly, and it seemed the only escape was to blame himself. Except that didn’t make Seth come back.

“He came to see me yesterday.” It was a confession. “Desperate to get back with me, even if it meant sharing me with John.”

“John, yeah, I’ve heard about him.” A faint smile crossed Eli’s face. “Seth didn’t know if he wanted to fuck the guy or punch him, but I had the impression he liked him. Where is he?”

Logan swung around, searching the busy room. He slipped on a piece of lettuce dropped from a plate, staggered, then grabbed onto Eli for support. “Sorry. Little bit drunk, but that was the lettuce’s fault, I swear. Uh, somewhere? Ricky took him away to introduce him to people.”

“So you were one of the last people to see Seth?” Eli sighed, shaking his head. “That’s rough. If you’d kept him there a few minutes longer, or if he’d left earlier, who knows if the accident would’ve happened, huh? But that’s life. You can’t know.”

Not knowing was the worst. Logan hated his ignorance, but details might tip him over the edge into a dark place. He sat back down on the stool he’d been occupying and reached for his drink, swigging the rest of it in one quick swallow. “I want to skip forward a few weeks until this isn’t so, you know, real.”

“Yeah. It sucks.” Eli dropped onto the stool that was technically John’s and lifted a hand to catch the bartender’s attention. “Hey, could I have a draft, please? Whatever pale ale you have; I’m not fussy. What are you drinking, Logan?”

“Whiskey. Thanks.” He’d started the day with it and decided he might as well continue. A hand dropped onto his shoulder from behind, and he turned to look. “Ricky, there you are.”

“Returning your boyfriend safe and sound, as promised,” Ricky said. “Eli! When did you get here?”

“Just now. So this is the famous John?” Eli and John shook hands, and Logan watched as the two of them sized each other up. John was taller, but Eli outweighed him by at least ten pounds. “I’m Eli, Logan’s evil ex.”

“That’s not what I heard,” John said. “Logan has nothing but nice things to say about you.”

Technically Logan wasn’t sure that was true, but he appreciated the sentiment.

“Wish we’d met under better circumstances.” Eli rubbed his face, a habit of his Logan remembered, both hands scrubbing his cheeks, leaving them pink. “Shit, I’m tearing up again. I keep looking at the door and expecting to see Seth walk in, you know? Everyone’s here, so where’s he?”

“Oh God, I know exactly what you mean. He was always ready for a party, and he’d have gotten this one going in no time.” Ricky blinked away tears himself, then smiled, the effort behind it obvious. “I’m planning to take over at the shelter for him. Not sure how much use I’ll be, but they’ll find something for me to do, I guess.”

“The shelter meant a lot to him?” John asked. “I’m sorry we didn’t get to discuss it, but I only met him a couple of times.”

“It was his way of paying it forward,” Eli said. “His cousin lived on the streets in New York for a while, fighting addiction, and a shelter worker found her outside, dying of hypothermia, and saved her life. They sent her to rehab, found her a job and a place to stay, and encouraged her to contact her family.”

And she’d relapsed a year later and died of an overdose, but Logan didn’t share that. He wasn’t sure Seth had told many people about the tragic ending to what was meant to be a success story.

“Yeah, he loved helping those kids get back on their feet.” Ricky fumbled for his phone. “He texted me last night about one of them getting a painting bought by a local library.” His hand flew to cover his mouth. “God, was that why he crashed? Distracted driving? What time was it? When did he die? Oh shit, shit…” Distraught, he tapped at his phone, frantically searching for the text.

“Easy.” Logan rested his hand on Ricky’s forearm. He didn’t dissuade Ricky; he knew he’d do the same thing if their situations were reversed. “Don’t freak out.” The words emerged slurred, and he bit his lip, finding it numb. Weird. His tongue was too big for his mouth. That usually happened at the dentist’s.

“Too late,” Ricky said, scrolling. “Where’s Adrian?”

“He’s over there, talking to that couple,” John said. “Do you want me to get him?”

“Yes.” Ricky continued to stare at his phone. “Seven thirty. He texted me at seven thirty. What time was the accident? Do we know?”

Logan wanted to be comforting and say the right things, but he wasn’t sure what they were, and it was becoming obvious he’d had too much to drink. Taking care with each word, he said slowly, “I don’t know. I’m sure we can find out.” Was that the wrong thing to say? Drinking more wasn’t a solution, but his glass was right there, so he did it anyway.

“Ricky? Baby, what is it?” Adrian wrapped his boyfriend in his long arms. He wore a fancy top hat with black lacing on it that would have been more appropriate at a theater than what was shaping up to be more like a funeral. Logan thought it was stupid. Seth would have loved it.

Ricky was too upset to speak, and Eli took over the job of explaining. “He thinks maybe Seth texting him might have contributed to the accident.”

“What? That’s crazy. Honey, don’t do this to yourself. Seth wouldn’t want this; you know that.” Adrian petted Ricky’s hair and tried to soothe him.

Logan caught John giving him what was so clearly a meaningful look; it deserved all caps and a few exclamation points. Fine. He got it. Faced with friend after friend making him see Seth wasn’t crazy in love with him and had plenty to live for, he knew Seth hadn’t been looking to die. He’d never thought that anyway. But the belief that Seth had been distracted because of Logan’s rejection persisted, and if that was true, the tragedy lay at his door.

Why couldn’t John see that? And why didn’t he stand now and tell everyone in the bar what he’d done? Get it over with. He stood, and the world spun around him. He was unused to drinking, let alone on an empty stomach, and the alcohol had taken over his body without resistance. He mouthed the words banging against his head trying to get free, but they came out as garbage, a meandering babble he heard with a detached part of him jeering. What a fucking fool he was making of himself.

An arm came around him, supportive, capable of taking his weight and steering him toward the door. He struggled, but John was stronger, bent on getting them out into the early evening air, fresh and cool.

The relative chill and quiet hit home, not sobering him—he was too far gone for that—but jarring him into a semblance of awareness. “I’m drunk. Really, really drunk. Never get drunk. Not safe.”

“Yeah, you’ll regret it soon, but if it helps take the edge off today, it’s no bad thing. And the hangover will stop you from making a habit of it.” John didn’t let go of him, and they were getting some curious stares from people passing them on the sidewalk. “Okay to walk to the car? Want to throw up before we drive home?”

“No. I’m okay.” They only went another half a block before he changed his mind and ended up getting miserably sick in the gutter.

“Don’t fight it. You’ll feel better if there’s less of it in your system.” John supported him when his knees threatened to buckle.

“I was fine until you mentioned throwing up.” Logan heaved again. His sinuses were burning, and he hoped maybe he’d pass out and not regain consciousness until tomorrow.

“Want me to carry you?”

“God, no!” He would have slapped John away if he didn’t need his help staying upright. “Do not carry me. I don’t care what happens. I don’t care if I fall and break my leg and split my head open and bleed over the street. You do not have permission to carry me. I do not consent.” He tried for a stern, no-nonsense tone, but ruined it with some more dry heaving.

“Right. If you break your leg, I’ll leave you lying in the street rather than carrying you.” John steadied him and got him marching along again.

Logan realized he had no memory of where the car was and put on the brakes. He might be drunk enough to need assistance, but that didn’t mean John made decisions for him.

“What now?” John asked, sounding exasperated, and somehow Logan found the strength to pull away from him and step back, putting space between them.

“You’re not the one in charge here!” He was being unreasonable, and he knew it.

John put his hands on his hips and glared at him. Glared. “Well, maybe I should be the one in charge, considering the state you’re in!”

“There’s nothing wrong with me! Sure, I had a couple of drinks, but that’s all.” More than a couple, was the truth, but he was fuzzy on the exact number. He found himself stumbling off the curb between two parked cars without having intended to. He lost his balance, staggering backward, grabbing at the slick hood of a car, and finding no purchase.

“Logan!”

If he’d grabbed John instead, he’d have been fine, but John was far away, and the white SUV coming toward him, horn blaring, was much closer. He fell, sprawled on the road, head striking stone, pain flaring in his elbow and ass. But the hot rush of air from the vehicle as it skidded by him, missing him by inches, drove the pain away, leaving nothing but a vast emptiness.

He struggled to absorb his predicament. One minute he’d been on the sidewalk, the next staring at a license plate speckled with dead bugs and dirt. He had to move. Other cars would follow, and then he’d be like those bugs. Splatted. Dead.

But even as he struggled to right himself, going to his hands and knees, John was there, cradling him, yelling furiously after the SUV whose driver hadn’t stopped after that wild swerve, then asking him questions, so many fucking questions.

Passing out seemed like the sensible thing to do, but he clung grimly to consciousness as John dragged him to sit on the sidewalk, then wrapped him in a hug as painful as the fall. He stank of puke, fear-sweat, and booze, but John didn’t seem to care.

“We should get your head looked at. You might need stitches.”

“Is it bleeding?”

John explored the rising bump with a light touch. “Don’t think so.”

“Then forget it. I want to go home.” God, he sounded pathetic. “Don’t fuss over me, for God’s sake, or not here. Get me home, John. Please. Before someone comes out and sees me like this.”

He wasn’t a sub, but he knew how to beg as well as give orders, it seemed.

“I’ll do that.” There was an odd tone to John’s voice. Grim, stern. Not the gentle submissive sweetness Logan was used to. “And we’re discussing this tomorrow when you’re sober. You might forget bits of tonight, but hold on to that thought, Sir.”

Chapter Twelve

John sat on the edge of his bed, a sigh escaping him. It was after nine p.m., and Logan was stretched out asleep, nothing but a sheet draped over him to his waist. John had been ruthless when they’d come back to the house, dragging Logan into the shower and washing the stink of vomit and misery off him, forcing him to brush his teeth and drink three glasses of water, then informing him he wasn’t allowed to sleep alone.

“I’m okay,” Logan had said, but he’d run out of fight half an hour before. “I can stay at my place.”

“You can, but you won’t.”

Watching him now, peaceful, John worried about what he’d gotten himself into. He was ill prepared to take charge of Logan. It wasn’t that Logan’s reaction to Seth’s death shocked him—he’d meant everything he said about being understanding and not taking what Logan might say in his grief personally—but he hadn’t expected the need for such a dramatic shift in the roles they played. No conversation could have readied him for how this would feel.

He reached out and smoothed Logan’s dark hair back over his ear, unable to keep from touching him.

Logan stirred and muttered something unintelligible.

“Shh. Go back to sleep.”

“Room’s still spinning.”

“It’ll be better in the morning.”

It was a lie. In the morning Logan would feel like crap, and the sorrow over Seth’s death would still be there. The guilt Logan persisted in clinging to puzzled John. He’d seen how mercurial Seth was. It was possible he’d left them smiling, only to fall into a brooding depression, but it was beyond belief that he’d crashed the car deliberately. And even if his thoughts had been on Logan’s rejection and his attention had wandered, that wasn’t Logan’s fault.

Maybe Logan would be more open to reason tomorrow, when the initial shock had faded to acceptance.

And maybe John would feel less like yelling at him for walking into traffic. Reliving the moments when Logan lay helpless on the ground, that fucking monster car bearing down on him, left him shaking with anger and fear, so he turned his mind to the best way to help Logan regain perspective.

Going back to the routine of work would be a good distraction, but Logan’s hangover would make it an ordeal, and the bump on the back of his head provided an excuse to take a day off. He knew Logan’s schedule, the rough outlines, at least. Tomorrow was Tuesday, and he had the morning free, usually spent helping students one-on-one, with a lecture in the afternoon. His TA, Beth, could handle Wednesday’s duties. John hadn’t met her, but he’d gotten the impression of someone efficient and calm from what Logan had said.

It was late, but not that late. He found Logan’s phone and made a call to a sympathetic, unflappable Beth, freeing Logan’s schedule for the next two days.

So if not work, how could he get Logan through this?

An idea occurred to him, vague at first, but becoming more defined as he considered it.

It wasn’t how their relationship was supposed to work, but it didn’t feel wrong to take charge of Logan’s life for a brief period. He knew when Logan had suggested switching roles, the intention was to do that within a sexual context, during a short scene. Forty-eight hours of normal life wasn’t the same. They hadn’t done that in their usual roles yet, though John wanted to try it. Even so, the idea took shape as he returned to watch over Logan. Give Logan no time for obsessing, only healing, no decisions to make, nothing to worry about. Wear him out physically so sleep came easily.

Love him. Care for him. And if he did anything as mind-blowingly stupid as staggering into the road blind drunk, John didn’t mind being the one delivering a spanking for once.

Logan seemed deeply asleep again, so John crept out of the room and downstairs into the kitchen, where he surveyed the contents of the refrigerator. It was in need of restocking, but over in Logan’s apartment was a fridge loaded with vegetables and the other food they’d bought in preparation for having Ricky and Adrian over for dinner—a dinner they’d rescheduled for next week. Logan had said he didn’t cook; maybe being asked to make a meal with John would be a good distraction from his thoughts.

John made up a tray with a bottle of water, a glass of orange juice, and two ibuprofen in a tiny dish, and set it on the end table on Logan’s side of the bed, then slipped in beside him and closed his eyes. He didn’t think he was tired, but within minutes he drifted off.

In the early morning, he woke to the first light of sun peering over the horizon and a faint shaking of the bed. It took a few moments for him to realize it was Logan, crying as silently as possible.

“Hey. Come here.” John gathered the other man close and held him. At first Logan was tense, resisting without pulling away.

“I hate that he’s dead.” Logan’s voice was rough as if he’d been crying for a long time; for all John knew, he had. “He didn’t deserve this.”

Muzzy with sleep, not used to serious conversations immediately on waking, John found it difficult to find the right words. “No, he didn’t. But it isn’t something you did to him, okay? Sometimes bad stuff happens, but that doesn’t mean you should blame yourself.”

Logan sat up and wiped his face. He didn’t look angry. If anything, he looked blank, as if he was numb, not hurting. “I keep forgetting and then remembering again.”

“That’s normal. People don’t bounce back from losing someone in a day. It takes time.” More awake now, his head clearing, John brought Logan up to speed. Maybe focusing on the mundane would help. “Speaking of which, I freed up your work schedule for the today and tomorrow—Beth’s going to handle things—and I’m taking PTO. I have everything planned.”

“What?” There was a hint of the anger he’d seen last night. “I didn’t ask—”

John cut him off. “Do you even remember what happened last night?”

Logan rolled his eyes and made a bitter, dismissive sound. “Oh yeah. I made a fool of myself in front of my friends and my sub.”

“No. You were drunk, yes, but we left before you did anything to apologize for. Your friends knew what you were going through because they were too, and strangers don’t matter. You didn’t pass out or start a fight.”

“Threw up.”

“Outside. No one saw.”

Logan rested his head on the wall, winced, and leaned forward. “Fine, I was an angel. So why did you take it upon yourself to arrange my life? Not that I’m going along with your plans. When my head stops pounding, I’m going in.”

“Remember why it’s pounding.”

He saw Logan’s gaze shift. Oh yeah. He knew. “We covered this. I drank too much.”

John sighed. Tough-love time. He reached out and tapped the bump on Logan’s head, not hard, but with enough force that Logan yelped. “You got that playing chase-a-car like a badly trained puppy. You scared a few years off my life, and I warned you last night we’d discuss it. Consider the discussion started.”

“It was an accident. It could have happened to anyone, even if they were sober.”

“You mean like what happened to Seth.”

Logan scowled at him, his lips set in mutinous lines. “It’s not the same.”

“It is. We have no idea what his frame of mind was in the hour or even the minutes before he lost control of his car.” Going in for the kill, knowing it was unfair but hoping it would get through to Logan, John asked, “If you were offered a do-over of last night, letting you keep Seth with you until you were sure he was in a good place emotionally, would you take it?”

“You know I would.” Logan wasn’t looking at him anymore, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t paying attention.

“Then understand why I feel responsible for making sure you’re emotionally and physically stable before sending you back to your daily life like nothing happened. You’re reeling, and you have every right to be. Please don’t think this is me judging you. I’m not.”

“You’re that worried about feeling guilty if something happens to me.” It was a sneer, but Logan’s heart clearly wasn’t in it.

“Yes,” John said simply.

“Because you see what a shit job I’m making of the process.”

Here was the place to shape with words the truth John had known for days. “Because I’m in love with you.”

Logan’s bloodshot eyes widened. “John? No. You can’t. It’s too soon.”

Maybe he had some sadist in him, because he got a kick out of knocking Logan’s metaphorical feet from under him. “Too soon to tell you or to do it? Because I could’ve kept my mouth shut for a while longer, but you gave me no choice about falling in love.”

“I don’t—” Logan rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth, then jabbed a finger at John. “You’re doing it again,” he accused.

“What? And do you want me to stop?”

“Breaking me open by being honest and shit, and no. It’s who you are, and it’s why—oh God—it’s why I love you too. Part of it. The incredible sex doesn’t hurt. Am I still in disgrace, or do I get a fucking kiss from my sub along with the lecture?”

God, he wanted nothing more than to deliver that kiss and more, surrender to Logan’s will, and reap the rewards of that surrender, but he stood firm. “You get a kiss, Sir, but you’re still turning yourself over to me for the next two days. And I mean going all in. You as my sub, me as your Dom.” Even saying it aloud didn’t make the notion less ridiculous, but it was his plan, and it was all he had to offer.

“What?”

“You bumped your head, Sir, but your hearing’s fine, so I won’t repeat it.” God, this was strange. Off balance, feeling his way, John fought to keep his voice and expression confident.

“Am I the only one seeing a contradiction in you giving me orders and calling me Sir when you do it?”

“Yes,” John lied, regretting the use of the honorific. It’d slipped out, an indulgence he got a thrill from every time. “You said you’d want to sub for me at some point, and I told you if I did, I’d see it as a form of service. I know this isn’t how you saw it playing out if we switched, but tough. When do you let your subs argue and dictate? You don’t. So if you allow me to be in charge for a set amount of time, put as much effort into being a sub as you do being a Dom. That way, we’ll get something from the experience.”

“You’re serious.” Logan blinked at him. “You’re a complete novice and a sub at heart, but you want to be my Dom 24-7, no breaks, for the next two days? Control me, punish me, fuck me?”

“Control you? Yes. I’m not sure about the other two; it’s not as simple as swapping roles, and we’d be fooling ourselves if we tried to pretend it was. But I want to take care of you, and it seems the only way you’ll let me do that is if we set some limits. Am I wrong?”

Logan was mulling over everything he’d said; at least if his suggestion was rejected, he’d know Logan had given it serious consideration.

The decision he’d have to make if Logan refused wasn’t something he wanted to think about until he had to. John refused to continue in a relationship he wasn’t happy with, but he was old to be starting over at nearly forty. At any age, he doubted he’d find anyone who suited him as well as Logan did.

It was this or nothing.

Logan shook his head. “You’re not wrong. And what happened last night… I’d hate to ever put you through that. Okay. Let’s try it your way.” He offered John a weak smile. “Any chance I can garner a little sympathy for this headache I’m nursing?”

John leaned in and rewarded him with the promised kiss, gratified when Logan pressed closer to him, obviously needing the contact as badly as he did. “Yes. Did you take the painkillers I left for you?” He glanced over to check before he’d finished asking the question. “No. Here, take these and drink this, then lie back and we’ll see if you can get a little more sleep.”

Logan sighed heavily as if a great weight had been lifted from him. He took the tablets and drank the juice and half the water.

“Good. Now come here. Yeah, like that.” They settled themselves so Logan lay with his head cradled on John’s shoulder. “Comfortable?”

“Mmhm.”

“Sleep then. I’m here. I’ll take care of you.”

“Still seems weird.”

And with that, Logan closed his eyes, his breathing slowing gradually as he sank back into sleep. John waited until Logan was so far under that moving wouldn’t disturb him, then eased away. Faced with a challenge or an unfamiliar job, he tended to research first and act once he was well-informed. This was no different.

Coffee brewed, he powered up his computer. Then he hit a block. What should he look up? He didn’t want to get sidetracked into porn, though at a later date that was tempting, if only to show him what was out there and examine his reactions to it. He suspected that would be overwhelming and not applicable to his current situation.

Okay, work backward. What did he want to accomplish? Easy: to get Logan through a difficult period and out the other end without Logan spiraling into depression or self-destructive behavior. And, yeah, he didn’t need to do it this way, but something about this course of action fitted the way they were. If he’d been a cook, he’d have baked comfort food; if he were a doctor, prescribed medicine or therapy. But he was Logan’s sub—new to it, maybe, but committed—and it made sense to use that connection between them to deal with this situation.

He wanted his Dom back, the intelligent, passionate man he loved. Logan was entitled to a space of time to grieve, and the wound Seth’s death had made was fresh; his instincts told him Logan needed to be shoved off this path quickly before he lost his way. He didn’t want the idea that Logan was responsible for the tragedy to take root. No. Salt the earth; give it no opportunity to flourish.

Keep Logan busy. Focused on the push-pull of submitting and following orders—he counted on Logan’s perfectionism and craving for a 24-7 relationship to help there—Logan wouldn’t have time to brood.

Physical activity came to mind. Flush the alcohol out with sweat. John grinned. The garden needed digging over, and there was a challenging hill on a trail through nearby Sarris Park. He’d never reached the top without being out of breath. Making Logan walk up, back down and up again a few times would exhaust him nicely. And to make it fun, he could time him, come up with some penalties or rewards. He wasn’t sure about topping Logan sexually, but the reward of a blowjob was easy, and as for a penalty…

He pictured Logan across his knee, ass up, and swallowed. It appealed, and it didn’t. He wasn’t sure about that.

For today, they’d distract themselves with hard work. John went back to the bedroom with a book, intending to read until Logan woke, but ended up sitting there beside him, propped up with pillows, and looking at him. It was a pleasure to study Logan’s face as long as he wanted to, taking in the strong line of his nose and the wisp of hair in front of his ear, threatening to become a sideburn. He couldn’t resist reaching out to touch it, but regretted the impulse when Logan stirred and yawned.

“What time is it?” he muttered.

John checked the clock. “After nine.” Not late by most people’s standards, but Logan was an early riser like him. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Do you remember what we talked about before you went back to sleep?”

“Yes. I’m hungover, not stupid.”

“I’ll let that one go because I didn’t tell you when we’re starting.” Not because he honestly wasn’t ready and had no idea how to deal with it. “We’re starting now. Get up, shower here, go over to your place, brush your teeth, and get dressed. Then come back here and have some breakfast.”

Detailed instructions with no room for uncertainty helped him, so maybe they’d work for Logan too.

“I don’t usually eat breakfast,” Logan pointed out, but it wasn’t defiant, more a statement of fact.

“Today’s different. Today we’re doing things my way, and I intend to put you to work, so you’re gonna need fuel.”

For a long moment Logan didn’t move or speak. Then, slowly, he pushed himself upright and went into the bathroom. There was a pause, then the sound of the water in the shower being turned on.

John allowed himself a moment to freak out unseen, waving his hands wildly and screaming silently up at the ceiling. It was a tension-relieving exercise he recalled from a long-ago drama class, and to his surprise, it worked. In class, the screaming had been loud enough to make his ears ache. Grinning at the thought of Logan’s face if he’d witnessed it, he went to prepare some food.

Logan appeared soon, hair damp and falling loose around his face, dressed in a baggy T-shirt in a washed-out beige and equally baggy jeans. John didn’t like the choice of clothes. They were practical and suitable for what he had in mind, but they spoke of Logan’s depressed state of mind. Logan usually dressed in a way that showed off his body and his tattoos. He wore dark or dramatic colors, formfitting but not overly tight garments.

Pick your battles, he told himself.

“Good, you’re here.” He beckoned Logan over. “When you come into the room, I want you to walk over to me and—” And what? He’d begun the order with no clear idea of how to finish it. Improvising, covering his pause by a quick stir of the eggs he was scrambling on the stove top, he continued, “Ask if I have any orders for you.”

Logan quirked his eyebrows, his skepticism plain, but with an air of humoring John, he wandered across, stood before John, hands behind his back, head bowed. “Do you have any orders for me…Sir?”

The pause, the parody of genuine respect, and the upward glance from eyes filled with a sardonic challenge, made John’s response easy. He grabbed Logan by the arm, spun him, and walloped his ass hard. “Try that again,” he suggested.

Logan twisted his head around, gave him a furious glare, and stalked away, back rigid. “No! We’re not doing this. We’re not.”

It was better than apathy.

John let him get to the door before calling out his name, putting a whipcrack in it, the way his mom used to when they’d well and truly crossed a line. “Logan! Back here. Now. And consider yourself lucky I don’t make you do it on your hands and knees.”

Logan turned, face a mask of incredulity. “John, we can’t do this. I know I said I would, but it’s stupid. This isn’t who we are.”

“It is. And it’s what you need.” And he was so sure of that, not a trace of doubt showed in his voice or expression; he knew it. “Let me take care of you, Sir. The way you would if I needed it.”

“Then be my sub for the next two days. I’d like that.”

So would John, but he shook his head, not letting Logan’s cajoling reach him. “Not open to negotiation. We do this, or we do nothing. Your choice, but if you agree to it, I want wholehearted cooperation. Do I treat it like a game when I kneel to you? Is my submission a joke, something to snicker over?”

“No! No, of course not.” Logan was by his side a breath later, eyes dark with concern. “John— You’re beautiful when you kneel. You make me feel—God, so strong. So lucky. I’m acting out here, pushing you. Testing you, I guess.” He smiled wryly. “I’ve had subs do it to me and hated it, so I should know better than to inflict that brand of brattiness on you.” He went to his knees, showing no hesitation, and bowed his head again. “Sir, I’m sorry for my poor behavior. May we start over? May I have a second chance to show you how obedient I can be?”

God, it was a rush to hear the sincerity in Logan’s offer. Head whirling with confusion, John drew in a deep breath. “I’ll allow it this once, but if you disobey me that flagrantly again, I’ll discipline you in a way you won’t enjoy. Not a spanking. I think you’d like that.” And I don’t know if I could give you one. He touched Logan’s damp hair. “Up. Back over to the door, and we’ll take it from the top.”

Logan bent over and pressed his lips to the top of John’s foot. He wore socks, but the light touch thrilled through him. “Thank you, Sir.”

Better.

It was a relief that Logan managed to obey him after that. Even when they’d finished their meal and John said, “I cooked, so you get to clean,” there was only the briefest hesitation before Logan nodded.

“Yes, Sir.”

John sat and watched as Logan set the pan in one side of the double sink and ran hot water into it, then turned to load the dishwasher. He wasn’t careful about putting things where they belonged, stacking items haphazardly. John was ready to dismiss it as a difference in style before he remembered that—for the next two days, at least—he had the power to have things exactly as he wanted them.

“No.” He stood, moving closer. “The juice glasses go on the inner part of the rack. Larger ones on the outside.”

Again, that brief hesitation, but this time Logan glanced at him before obeying.

“Do you have a problem with how I’d like you to do things?” John asked.

“No, Sir.”

“I think you do. Separate the utensils by type when you put them in.” He crossed his arms, expression deliberately stern, and watched as Logan continued. “No, wash those by hand. They won’t get clean enough otherwise.”

“Yes, Sir.” A hint of annoyance now. Was Logan even aware of it? Would John know when the line had been crossed? Being on this side of the equation was more difficult than he’d imagined, and he worried he’d fail, let Logan down. “May I ask a question, Sir?”

“As long as you don’t think you’re entitled to an answer.” God, was he fucking this up?

“If you don’t mind, what did you have planned for the rest of the day?”

Okay. Deep breath. It was a simple question, and he did have an answer. “You’re going to do some gardening for me. We might go for a hike—I haven’t had a chance to check the weather yet—and I’d like you to cook dinner this evening. Don’t forget my coffee mug.” John pointed to the table.

“No, Sir.” Logan picked up the mug and stared at it. “This is hard,” he said unexpectedly. “If I screw up, don’t think it’s because I’m not trying.”

“I won’t.” John went to him and hugged him, mug and all. “And if I step over a line, tell me. And none of my plans, well, they don’t involve…”

He stumbled to a halt.

“Getting your kink on with me naked and begging for mercy?”

“Something like that.” John stepped back. “Finish cleaning up here. There’s work to do outside. And, Logan?”

“Yeah?”

“That T-shirt goes in the trash tonight, not the laundry.”

Logan plucked at it with his fingers, his expression bemused. “Mind telling me why?”

“No, but I won’t. Trash it. I’ll buy you a new one.”

“Don’t bother.” Logan shrugged, a glimmer of amusement showing. “It’s one of Eli’s. I never liked it either.”

If it were up to him, John thought, he’d make Logan try on the clothes in his closet and toss out anything that wasn’t slim-fitting, any item that didn’t showcase that wide chest and narrow waist. Wait: if it were up to him?

“Put the rest of the dishes in the dishwasher—I don’t care where they go—and start it up. Then we’re going over to your bedroom.”

Not permitting himself to indulge in the thought that he was invading Logan’s space, John opened Logan’s dresser drawers and rifled through them, holding up some jeans and shirts and eyeing them before tossing them onto the bed. The unmade bed, he noted. Logan would need to do something about that as well. By the time Logan joined him, he had a sizable pile going.

“I’d like you to try these on for me,” he told Logan. “Although you don’t need to bother with anything that wasn’t yours originally, whether it belonged to Eli or anyone else. Any of those can go there on the floor, and I’ll have you throw them away later.” He pointed toward the corner near the bedroom door.

“Yes, Sir.” It seemed to be Logan’s default reply, not that John had a problem with that. He pulled off the oversize T-shirt and chucked it into the corner. “Is there something in particular you’re looking for?”

“Fit, mostly.” He didn’t need to explain himself, but it seemed right to do so. “I like looking at you. I don’t want you hiding yourself under anything that’s too loose.”

Logan smiled faintly and tried on the first shirt in the pile. It was a deep blue that looked fantastic on him, though it was baggy.

“Turn around. Hm. Pull it in at the waist.” John tilted his head to one side, thinking. “No, I think it’ll have to go. It’s a shame, it’s a good color for you, but it doesn’t fit you properly.” He was a fraud, pretending to know anything about fashion when he didn’t. He’d have been happy to wear an ill-fitting, outdated suit to his work dinner if Logan hadn’t insisted on that shopping trip. But he pushed his lack of qualifications away.

Having already thrown the shirt over to join the discard pile, Logan undid his jeans, letting them drop to the floor. He wasn’t wearing underwear, and seeing him naked for the few seconds it took for him to reach for the pair of slacks that was next in line buoyed John’s courage.

Even the tattoos seemed muted today, as if Logan’s sadness had leached the color from them. John stepped in close. “Wait.” Cock thickening, his body responding to Logan instinctively, he held Logan’s face, fingers wide, then brought his mouth down on Logan’s in a warm kiss. He was aroused, but he kept the kiss approving, not passionate. Sex would be a distraction and a challenge. Their roles then were too clearly defined to be easily upset.

“You’re being nice to me,” Logan murmured when John ended the kiss. “I thought I was in trouble.”

“No. You’re not being punished. You haven’t done anything wrong, if we don’t count the near miss with the car. This is me giving you a safe space so you can mourn and act out and heal without anyone but me seeing it. And I’ll watch over you.”

“In case I chase cars again.”

“Yes.”

Logan glanced to the side, sighed, and nodded. “Yeah. And I might. You calm me down by being you, and this switch deal is working better than I thought, but under it, yesterday’s emotions are still there, waiting to explode.”

“And if they do, I’ll deal with it. I’m not trying to rush you through grieving, but I don’t want you hurting yourself in the process.”

“I’ll try.”

“No. You’ll do it. Now stand still, hands behind your back.” John broke his resolution a minute after making it, dropping his hand to caress Logan’s cock, finding it as hard as his. The silky skin on the shaft, the smooth, cleft head, the tight balls furred over with dark hair… He explored them at his leisure, torturing himself as much as Logan, who stood, breath quickening, face contorted with the effort it took to remain unmoving.

“Sir? Is this a reward or discipline?” Logan asked, his voice strained, eyes half-closed.

“Neither. You’re mine, and I can touch you as and when I like.” John didn’t inflict any of the pain he would’ve enjoyed, but he made his grip firm as he jacked Logan’s erection a few times before releasing it.

Logan’s hips swayed forward, mutely pleading for more. Naughty boy. John smiled at him and took hold of the ring through Logan’s left nipple, tugging and twisting it until Logan yelped.

“Ow! I’m sorry, Sir. I won’t move again.”

“You’re moving now,” John pointed out. “Hold still for a count of ten, or I’ll do that again to both of them.” He wrapped his hand around Logan’s cock—this time it was a test—and stroked it, watching Logan as he did so. Logan’s lips were parted, his breathing uneven, but he didn’t move. John didn’t particularly want to stop; he had to force himself to let go and step away. “Okay.”

Logan swallowed. “Okay?”

“Go back to what you were doing.”

He found a twisted pleasure in watching Logan try to tuck his erection into his slacks before zipping them up. They were dark khakis he’d never seen Logan wear, and as soon as they were on he understood why: they were far too tight.

“Those aren’t your size.”

“No. I remember buying them, but I don’t remember them fitting like this.” Logan turned at the waist, then tucked one thumb into the waistband with some effort. “Maybe I shrunk them by mistake.”

“Let me see.” What John meant was let me get my hands on you. He moved over behind Logan and “checked the fit” by pressing up close to him and sliding his palms along the front of the slacks until his hands framed Logan’s cock. He leaned in and murmured in Logan’s ear, “Are you uncomfortable?”

Logan shivered. “Yes, Sir.”

“Good.” There was no chance of him shoving his hand down inside the slacks, so he had to make do with grabbing Logan’s cock roughly through the fabric. “And now?”

Sir.

It was a moan of desire, not an answer, and John punished him for it with a slap, light because the target he chose was Logan’s balls. Logan quivered, panting harshly, close to losing it. John was astonished at how quickly Logan had gotten turned on, but he supposed in his emotional state, every reaction was amplified. If Logan found catharsis through a climax, that was fine with John.

But Logan had to earn it.

“You’re not allowed to come.” Though John wanted to feel Logan’s control crumble like dry sand and know he was the cause. “Later, maybe, if you’ve pleased me, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near that point yet, do you? You’re trying, but you can do so much better, and I won’t accept anything less than perfection.” God, his balls ached, full and heavy.

It would be selfish to ease his suffering at the cost of increasing Logan’s, but what would Logan do if their positions were reversed? John smiled wryly. Logan’s payback for these two days would be epic, but he’d cope. Hell, he’d love being on the receiving end of Logan’s revenge.

“I’m hard,” he announced. “Entirely your fault, so you’d better make amends. On your knees. No, don’t turn around.”

He sensed Logan’s bewilderment but ignored it. Logan dropped to the floor, his back to John.

“Pull down the zipper. I want your cock sticking out where I can see it.”

With a soft, distressed whimper, Logan set about the awkward task of easing a swollen, rock-hard cock through a narrow gap, edged with metal. When he’d finished, he looked obscene, the tight fabric taut over his balls, the deep red spear of flesh jutting up, the head shiny, wet.

John rested his hands on Logan’s shoulders, feeling the tension in the muscles. Tonight he’d massage Logan head to toe, leave him limp and drowsy so sleep came easily. He took a handful of Logan’s hair in one hand and used the other to unfasten his slacks and push them and his briefs down to his ankles. He stepped out of them, moving awkwardly but maintaining his grip on Logan’s hair.

Naked from the waist down, he stepped as close as possible, then, holding the base of his cock, he rubbed the shaft across the side of Logan’s neck and his jaw. He wasn’t sure what he was doing, but it seemed important to keep Logan off balance to a certain extent. Logan probably expected an order to blow John, so that was out.

“You’ll smell of me all day,” he said, inspiration striking. “You won’t forget who owns you because every breath you take, you’ll know. Going to jerk off on you, leave it to dry on your skin. If you’re lucky, I’ll aim at your back, not your hair or face.”

“Please.” Logan’s voice was soft, as if he weren’t sure if he was allowed to speak, but hearing it aroused John more.

“Yeah. I want you to beg.” He hadn’t understood on more than an intellectual level, until today, how it was on this side of the equation, and now that he was experiencing it, he saw the appeal. “Tell me you want it.”

“I do, Sir. I want you to mark me as yours.”

John’s view of Logan’s cock excited him. He imagined it from Logan’s perspective—balls half crushed by too-tight fabric, sharp metal zipper teeth biting into sensitive flesh. He worked his erection hard, masturbating with more speed and force than he normally would have, filled with perverse envy, not sympathy. “You’re mine.”

“I am, Sir. I belong to you. You can do anything you want to me.” God, Logan sounded like he meant it.

What if it were true?

“You could—you could fuck me outside,” Logan continued. “Undress me up against your car, turn me around like this, push your cock into me.”

“Wouldn’t you be worried someone would see?”

Logan nodded, and even that slight movement of his head meant his ear bumped into John’s knuckles. “Yes, Sir. But it wouldn’t matter if it was—if it was what you wanted.”

What he wanted right then was to rip those too-tight slacks off Logan and fuck the hell out of him. He missed the act more than he’d thought. Until his body stopped cooperating, sex had been plentiful and varied. Not entirely satisfying, and he guessed he knew why now, but he’d had no complaints. Submitting to Logan fulfilled him, but he was open for experimenting. He had a lot of that to do before he knew with confidence where his limits lay.

Fucking Logan lay well inside them, he was sure of that.

He tugged Logan’s head back, exposing the taut bow of his throat. If he stepped to the side, then leaned over, it was possible to get the crown of his cock lodged between Logan’s lips. Awkward angle, but he loved the view. Logan, face hot, cheeks pink, the tip of his tongue tickling John’s cock was gorgeous. And his cock liked it too. He twisted sideways so his cock rode the shallow channel of Logan’s lips, then gave up and stepped in front of Logan, letting go of the damp hair with reluctance.

“There’s work to do.”

“Yes, Sir.” Logan’s gaze was fixed on John’s cock. He ran his tongue across his lips, chest heaving, those damn rings glinting. John wondered how sensitive pierced nipples were. Not that he would ever— “Anything you say.”

“No coming,” John warned him again. “I’ll use your mouth or ass anytime I feel like it, but you need to earn it. If you’re hard all day and your balls turn blue, I don’t care.”

Logan’s breath caught, the pink in his cheeks deepening. “You’d like that? Knowing I was suffering? Making me wait to come?”

Why did he have a feeling Logan was taking mental notes here? “You bet.” Drunk on power, he gestured at Logan’s erection. “Lick your palm, then jerk yourself a few times. Don’t go easy on yourself either. I want you on the edge, so close you’re screaming for it.”

Logan closed his eyes for a moment as if readying himself for the ordeal, then brought his hand to his mouth. With a flicker of his eyes, he drew his tongue across his palm, making it erotic, debauched, until John bit back a groan. “Whatever pleases you, Sir.”

The slick sound of Logan’s hand on his dick pushed John’s buttons, but he focused on what he was watching instead of how close his climax was. He’d learned not to think about that too carefully, since when he did, he ended up more likely to lose his erection and… There it went, his cock going softer despite the incredible sight of Logan on his knees.

Frustrated, he grabbed onto Logan’s hair again, more roughly than he had previously. “Open your mouth.” He sounded angry, and he supposed he was, though not at Logan.

Logan obeyed, hand still moving on his cock for two more strokes before he dropped it to the side as John pushed his wilting erection between pink lips. God, Logan knew what to do with his mouth. He hadn’t been ordered to suck, but he did, and John was too grateful to reprimand him for doing something he hadn’t been told to do. Heat and wet and… He hardened again and sighed with a combination of relief and arousal.

“Don’t want to come in your mouth,” he said. Dangerous to think about that again, but in that moment he thought that with Logan’s mouth on him, he might be invincible. He tightened his grip on Logan’s hair, tugging his head to a slightly different angle.

For someone who’d rarely played sub, Logan seemed to have slipped into the role with little difficulty when it came to sucking cock. He let John guide the position of his head, relaxed his throat, provided suction, and gave no indication that he might choke. It wasn’t long before John went from only half erect to fully erect again, and as soon as he had, he wished he could fuck Logan’s mouth while listening to him beg for it at the same time. He understood why Doms liked to hear their subs beg, and knew it was something he’d never forget. When he was the one on his knees, he’d know how powerful those words were, would know that on some level he was the one in control rather than the one being controlled.

Mindful that saying he’d do something and not following through was a bad habit to get into, he pulled free as his orgasm hit, so relieved to have reached that point, he cried out as he directed the powerful jolts of spunk to land on Logan’s chest, masking the vivid ink, if only temporarily.

Logan threw back his head, mouth wet with spit, lips bee-stung, and made no attempt to avoid being splattered or to wipe his chest clean.

So good, but John had no intention of being merciful. This had been a detour, unintended and self-indulgent. Time to get back on track.

When he’d recovered enough to give orders in a steady voice, he told Logan to dress, picking out clothes that fit better but were loose enough to allow him to move freely.

He watched the too-tight pants go onto the discard pile with mild regret, but he didn’t need them to conjure the image of Logan on his knees, cock rigid. That would stay with him for a long time.

“And now you get to sweat,” he told Logan.

Logan smiled at him, all innocence. “While you supervise, Sir?”

John grinned back at him. “Tempting, but I need the exercise too. This we’ll do as a team.”

“Dom and sub?” Logan shrugged casually, stating a self-evident fact. “We’re always a team.”

“I guess we are,” John said slowly. “Yeah, I guess we are.”

Chapter Thirteen

“Now I want to set up the trellis for the snap peas,” John said. “It’s in the garage. I’ll—” He paused, and Logan could hear his brain working. “Go get it, please. It’s leaning up against the wall near the trash barrels.”

Hiding his smile, Logan said, “Yes, Sir,” and went to find it.

John was trying so hard to take care of him, to keep him busy so he didn’t make himself crazy worrying about the part he’d played in Seth’s death, that it was impossible not to be grateful. That they were stumbling, falling into step briefly, then stumbling again hardly mattered. In this instance, it was the thought that counted.

Logan sure was hoping John would let him come at some point, though. His balls ached, and it wasn’t a sensation he was used to. For him, desire and fulfillment walked hand-in-hand when it came to getting off. He denied himself to heighten his pleasure, but this torture lay far beyond what he’d do to himself. Did John enjoy it? Or endured it? Something to ask him later.

The trellis was right where it was supposed to be, and between the two of them they were able to get it set up between the two rows of peas without much trouble. Staking it was a little more complicated, but they figured it out.

“Then as the pea plants get taller, we encourage them to grow up the trellis if we need to. Apparently most of them do it themselves.” John stood back, hands on his hips, and surveyed their accomplishments with satisfaction.

Meanwhile, Logan became aware his thumb, which had been sore for a while, was now throbbing. He examined it and discovered something jammed under the nail. Any other time he would have worried at it with his teeth as a first line of attack, but his hands were filthy with God knew what, and that was probably a recipe for infection.

“John.”

John turned sharply, not to rebuke Logan for using his name, but with immediate concern, judging by the quick step he took. “What’s wrong?”

Logan held up his hand. “Splinter or something. Can I take a moment to deal with it?”

“Let me see.” John winced as if his nail was the one with half a tree wedged up it. “Ouch. Looks sore. We’ll get you cleaned up first, then see what’s going on. This is my fault. I should’ve told you to wear gloves. I’m sorry.”

Being fussed over was novel. Logan’s mom, though loving, wasn’t the demonstrative type, and any illness had brought out her efficient, not nurturing side. Logan stared at his hand, cradled in John’s, and took a moment to marvel at how his life was changing.

“Not your fault. And I never wear gloves for stuff like this.”

“From now on you do.”

“You won’t be the one giving orders soon, love,” Logan said gently. “But maybe I will for gardening.”

John blew out a rueful breath, ruffling the hair hanging over his forehead. “It’s easy to forget this is temporary. Come on, let’s go inside.”

When his hand was under running water, dirt and flecks of green swirling around in the sink, Logan asked, “Is this making you reconsider being my sub? Do you think it doesn’t suit you as well as being in control?”

It was a possibility. John’s reaction to his first encounter with D/s had been visceral and strong, but had Logan’s natural inclination to be the Dom nudged John into a role that didn’t suit him?

“No.” John’s reply came without hesitation. “But it’s been educational. It’s taught me how to be a better sub.”

“For me too.” He twisted his hand free of John’s and held it up, water streaming down. “You’re going to feel this on your ass again soon. And I’m done taking it easy with you. Time to see how far we can take this.”

John smiled, guided Logan’s hand down, and turned it. “But not yet. Okay, there’s a chunk of wood in there, and it’s bleeding. Let me see if I can get it the old-fashioned way.”

To Logan’s shock, John bent his head and sucked the tip of Logan’s injured finger, tongue flickering, the suction strong. The discomfort of the splinter had distracted him from his arousal, but it flared back to life.

“What are you— Ow!”

“Got it.” John spat a shred of wood onto his palm. “They look tiny when they’re out.”

The throbbing eased immediately, his finger sore but no longer protesting an alien invasion. “Thanks. I think. Is that sanitary?”

“My mom did it to me.” John shrugged, washing his hands, then reaching for a tea towel. “Rinse again. I’ll get some antibiotic cream.”

Logan did more than rinse; he slathered the area with dish soap and scrubbed it before washing the soap away, and by the time he’d finished, John was back with the cream and a Band-Aid. He applied both, but didn’t let go of Logan’s hand right away, instead lifting it to his mouth and kissing Logan’s knuckles with an affection that made Logan’s stomach clench. “I didn’t say it back.”

To his credit, John didn’t pretend to have no idea what Logan was talking about. “Not in so many words. You did, a little while ago, but it was casual. It’s okay.”

He shook his head. “It’s not okay, but it isn’t you. I’ve never said it to anyone, not those three words.”

“Never? Not even to your parents?” John threw away the Band-Aid wrapper and moved to sit down. “Get us a couple of beers and join me.”

Already relaxing into the role, Logan noted with some amusement, but this was a serious conversation and not the time to tease. He grabbed two beers from the bottom shelf where they were kept and handed one of them to John, then sat. “Maybe when I was a kid; I can’t remember. Anyway, that’s not the same.”

“No, I guess not. Didn’t you love Eli?” John grimaced. “I’m sorry; that’s a personal question. You don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to.”

Logan snorted and set his bottle down on the table. “If you can’t ask me personal questions, I don’t know who can. I did love him, in my way. But I never said it. He did, and a few times he complained that I didn’t say it back. We fought about it, because from my perspective, he was forcing me to say it. I got stubborn. I’m not easy to live with.”

“Good thing we’re neighbors, then.” John twisted the cap off his beer, drinking some in a long gulp. “Whoa, I’m thirsty. We should have had water earlier; we were working hard.”

“Not that hard, and it’s not that hot out,” Logan protested. “I think I’ll have water, though, if you don’t mind, Sir. The beer’s not settling well.”

“Of course not.”

Logan waited until he’d gotten a glass, gone to the freezer for ice cubes, and was standing in front of the sink running water to say, “We’re still in the early stages of this. The relationship, I mean, not what we’re doing today and tomorrow. So if you decide it’s not working out for you—”

He’d forgotten how quickly John moved when he wanted to; before he finished his sentence, John stood behind him, turning him around so his ass was pressed against the edge of the sink, where the water ran in a noisy flood. “Stop.”

Logan stopped. “Yes, Sir,” he whispered.

John reached past him and turned off the water with a decisive twist. “I told you I loved you. How does that translate as me having doubts or wanting a way out of this?”

Mute, Logan shook his head. John’s gaze held him captive, the strength of his emotions completing his bondage.

“That’s right. Nothing. Logan, you’re better than this. Braver than this. You’re shaken by Seth’s death, I get it, but don’t let that spill over into what we’re building here.”

He found his voice. “You’re the brave one.” John going to his knees in Logan’s office… God, he’d never forget his pride in that, as if he’d already claimed John as his sub. “I want this, John. You, me, the kink, the love. I want it, but I’m scared shitless in case I screw it up.”

“If you do, hell, if I do, we’ll fix it.” John rolled his eyes. “I don’t have a good track record either. A failed marriage and a wife who left me.”

It occurred to Logan for the first time that John was still married. A flicker of unease passed through him because he didn’t like that idea, but he didn’t bring up the subject.

“Okay. No more doubts.” Easier to say than do, but it was a start. “Love you. I do. Or I’m on my way to it, and that’s a placeholder.”

John grinned, shaking his head. “A placeholder. Fine.” He kissed the side of Logan’s neck, finding the precise spot that sent a shiver down that side of Logan’s body, goose bumps rising. “No more gardening, but a hike sounds good.”

“Yeah, sure.” Mind hazy, his body slipping into a state of readiness, Logan forgot to add a Sir, but from the low growl John gave as he added teeth to his next kiss, he was punished and forgiven in the same act.

And if the hike was anywhere farther than the bedroom, he’d be surprised.

John tugged the edge of Logan’s T-shirt away from his neck and bit the flesh that had been bared. Hard. Logan gasped and for a second thought he was trembling before he realized it was his cell phone vibrating in his pocket.

“My phone.”

John released him, gesturing that he should get it.

A glance at the screen showed him it was a text from Ricky.

Check this out.

“It’s a text, but it doesn’t mean anything.” Puzzled, he showed the phone to John as it vibrated again. “Oh, there’s a link.”

He clicked, and a local news website opened in his browser. The headline read: INVESTIGATION CLOSED IN FATAL GREENVILLE CRASH. Logan’s heart leaped into his throat as he waited for the story to load, so anxious that he was barely aware of John guiding him over to his chair.

Before he scrolled down to the words, a news clip played, the audio too quiet to hear. Logan turned the volume up quickly as a reporter, a red-headed woman wearing an emerald-green top, said, “…and hit this tree. The driver, twenty-four-year-old Seth Kinnear, was taken to the hospital, but later died of his injuries without regaining consciousness. At first, the cause of the crash was unknown, but police investigators have now determined that a defective tire was likely to blame. The company that manufactured the tires, AllWheel, recently recalled thousands of tires after two dozen accidents were connected to one of its most commonly sold tires.”

Logan played the clip a second time, then a third. He wasn’t sure he’d made sense of it, wanted the information it contained to sink in.

John reached for the phone, took it away from him, and set it on the table. “Are you okay?” he asked gently.

“It wasn’t my fault.”

“It never was.” John sounded so certain of that. “This might reassure you, and I’m glad if it brings you some peace of mind, but it was never your responsibility. Ever.”

“You say that, but I couldn’t— I never would’ve—”

And the tears came then. Selfish ones—because a burden he knew would’ve gotten heavier, not lighter, was lifted—and ones born of regret for a waste of potential. Some people died and left the world not much different or even better for their absence, but Seth wasn’t one of them.

“I miss him,” he choked out. “I broke up with him, yeah, but I would never have— We’d have stayed friends. Seth would’ve made sure of that.”

“I wish I’d gotten the chance to ask his advice.” John’s voice shook. “Gotten to know him better.”

Logan reached out blindly, knowing John was there, offering comfort and, by the sound of it, in need of it himself.

They sat at the table, locked in an embrace, until Logan had no more tears to shed. He stood and went to the sink, washing his face, head aching, nose blocked, throat raw.

The cool water helped, but knowing he wasn’t alone in his grief helped more.

Smiling was impossible, but he held John’s gaze, trying to convey his emotions. Then he wondered why the hell he was holding back. Who knew how long they had to be together? Why hesitate when he knew what John meant to him?

“I love you,” he said without qualification or evasion. “I love you so fucking much. Don’t leave me.”

John rose and came over to him. “Easiest promise I’ll ever get to make…Sir.”

He wrapped his arms around John and held on, speaking into the side of his neck. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“Same. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that gets you out of our agreement.” Pulling back, John took his face between both hands and smiled. “Not that I’d want to do it full-time from this side, but I can’t say I’m not enjoying it.”

“Yeah, I was starting to get that impression.”

Spinning him around, John slapped him on the ass, not hard enough to hurt. “Go put on some shoes that’ll be comfortable for hiking.”

“What? You were serious about that?” It wasn’t that Logan was opposed to the idea, though the vast bulk of his physical activity had taken place at the gym.

“You thought I wasn’t?” John raised an eyebrow and looked so gorgeous doing it that in that moment Logan would have agreed to anything, even playing sub for an extra day or two if it made John happy. “No arguing. Go get ready.”

“Yes, Sir.” Logan traded his sneakers for the one pair of heavy-duty boots he owned. They weren’t right for hiking, but they’d do the job well enough, he supposed.

Two hours later, he’d discovered he was wrong. The boots didn’t fit perfectly, and he was pretty sure he’d have a blister on the outside edge of his right foot by the time they reached home. It was hard to care when they reached the top of the hill at Sarris Park and the whole valley stretched out below them, green and lush in ways he sometimes forgot the world could be. There were still a couple of hours until sunset, but the horizon was already tinged with pink. “Red sun at night, sailor’s delight?” John asked. “Isn’t that the saying?”

“I think so. I don’t know much about boats.” He slipped an arm around John’s waist. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

John looked pleased. “I thought you’d like it.”

“I have the feeling I’d enjoy most things if you were involved.” Logan gestured at the sky. “Look at those clouds. Fluffy as floating lambs. I remember being devastated when my mom told me clouds were wet fog, pretty much. I had this plan to hitch a ride on one if it came past my bedroom window, and go to the ocean.”

John gave a huff of laughter. “How old were you?”

“Six? Seven?”

“I’m sorry you were disillusioned, but glad you didn’t fall out of the window.” John led them to an outcrop of sandstone holding some warmth from the sun. “You mentioning your mom made me realize we haven’t done the usual small talk about families and stuff like that. I’ve fallen in love with you, and I don’t know your birthday or where you’re from.”

“Goes to show how trivial that data is.” Logan shrugged, settling his ass against the rock. A hawk circled overhead, dark against the sky, looking for supper or maybe enjoying the thermals. “I’m from this town, and my birthday’s March 12. Parents are only kids and so am I, which means I don’t have much immediate family. No aunts, uncles, cousins. Grandparents dead. Mom and Dad moved with Dad’s job three years ago, and they’re in California now. Don’t see them more than once a year, but we’re close in the ways that matter. If I needed them, they’d be on the first flight out of LAX, and I’d do the same for them.”

“They didn’t mind you being gay?”

“My parents?” Logan snorted. “Not a chance. They’re conventional in some ways, but when it comes to civil liberties and self-expression, they’re as committed as it gets.”

“And the kink?”

“That’s my business, and they’d agree.” Logan picked up a pebble and tossed it from palm to palm. “They never pried. I kept my porn in a desk drawer, not hidden, because I knew they wouldn’t snoop. They aren’t the huggy-kissy type, but I never doubted I was loved. And you?”

“My parents don’t know I’m kinky either.” John sounded so serious Logan glanced at him before realizing he was kidding.

He grinned. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

“I do. Obviously they don’t know I’m bisexual. I’ve never told anyone about my—what should I call it, fling?—with my college roommate.”

“Not even your wife?”

John shook his head. “No. I thought about it a few times—I know it would have impressed her; she’d have loved the idea that my past sex life held anything sordid—but somehow saying the words out loud intimidated me too much. I have a transgender niece, and my sister and parents have been supportive and accepting of her, so I’m sure it will be fine.” There was something in his voice that told Logan he wasn’t a hundred percent sure. “My ex-brother-in-law, on the other hand, bailed on the marriage and being a father six months after she came out. It’s been hard on her.”

“I’m sure.” Shrugging off his backpack, Logan unzipped it and found the two water bottles they’d brought along. He offered one to John. “And the other stuff?”

“Um. My birthday’s in mid-December. I grew up in Connecticut, and my parents still live there. One sister, one niece. I thought it was less complicated having a small family, and being married to Ava, who came from a big family—four siblings—proved that was true. There were a lot of expectations, and everyone seemed to be disappointed.”

Logan drank some water and wiped his sleeve across his mouth. “Have you done anything about initiating a divorce?”

“Another thing I’ve thought about recently. For a long time I hoped she’d change her mind and come back. Plus I figured if she was the one who wanted our marriage to be over, she could be the one to go to the trouble of filing paperwork and whatever else is involved.” John looked at him. “I’m not interested in getting back together with her anymore, in case that wasn’t clear.”

“I assumed that because of how you’ve committed to me. You’re not a man to split his loyalties or cheat.”

“Technically, I am cheating, but she made it clear when she left we were free to see other people. She was thinking of herself more than me. I’m sure she expected me to become celibate and grow moss on my cock.”

Logan laughed aloud at that. “Uh, sure. Didn’t she know you? You’re one hell of a passionate guy.”

“With you, yeah. But before you, it wasn’t far from the truth.”

“Glad to have brought rain to your desert.”

“You’ve done more than that.” John nudged Logan with his shoulder. “How does it feel to be a life-changing experience?”

“Freaky.” Logan stared around him. “Were you serious about taking me to this work do of yours?”

“Yep. Trying to wriggle out of coming?”

“It’s not my idea of a fun night, but no; if you want me there, I’m going.”

“So what do you do for fun? Where do you go to meet the subs you play with?”

“Used to play with,” Logan corrected. “Online, no surprise there’s an app for it, and in bars. Mostly, it’s a case of getting familiar with the local scene, then making sure you don’t do anything to get people bad-mouthing you. Smallish town, and as I said, I grew up here, so it wasn’t difficult to get an introduction. If you’re expecting a fancy club with secret passwords or elaborate dungeons in mansion basements, forget it. Not in this town.”

“You mean the stuff I’ve seen in movies isn’t real?” John feigned shock.

“Right? Life’s a series of disappointments.” Logan drank some more water, then shoved the bottle back in the pack. “If you want a list, I guess I’d go with: reading, watching movies, going to the gym. I mean, the gym isn’t fun, but I like the adrenaline rush after a hard run. I used to belong to a gay men’s pinball club, but the guy who organized it moved out of state, and things kind of fell to pieces without him.” He’d had one of the hottest blowjobs of his life in the bathroom stall of a vintage pinball arcade, but it was probably insensitive to mention that.

John leaned over and tucked his water bottle into the backpack too. “Pinball? I haven’t played that since high school, and it was already outdated then.”

“It’s fun. There are a handful of old-style arcades within driving distance. You’d get a kick out of the guys that run them. Most of them are self-taught in how to repair the machines, and they love what they do, so much so that they appreciate anyone who comes in excited to play.”

“Even if it’s a club of gay guys?” John sounded doubtful.

“Even then. One time—” Logan was interrupted by the sudden arrival of a black dog. It ran up to them, tail wagging furiously, open mouth panting. “Hello.” The dog turned to look back down the trail, and its tail whacked Logan on the side of the head. “Hey!”

John stood and slapped his hand against his leg. “Come here, buddy. Good dog.”

The dog came over to him and allowed its ears to be scratched. “Kelly!” a woman’s voice called, and the dog ran off toward her only to return a moment later with her at its heels. “I’m so sorry,” she said. She wore a bright-pink vest and carried a hiking stick. “I didn’t mean to let him startle you like that.”

“It’s fine.” Logan rose too, mostly to keep himself from getting whacked in the head again. “Kelly, is it?” When he patted Kelly’s head, the dog sat on his feet, tail swishing across the ground.

“He usually sticks right by me. He’s not the smartest dog, but last year he ran off after a porcupine and ended up getting a face full of quills; he’s been a little more cautious since then.”

“I’m sure he heard us talking. We must not have seemed too threatening,” John said. “Who’s a good boy?” It was a relief to Logan that the words were directed at Kelly and not him.

“He’s a handful at times, but I wouldn’t know how to cope without him.” She glanced between them, and Logan did his best to project harmless vibes. It was quiet up here, and he didn’t want her to feel uneasy. He’d been part of an impassioned discussion once with some of his students on the subject of reasonable fear. It’d ended with a male student storming off, refusing to admit any woman needed to be wary of him on a lonely street at night because she should know he was harmless. Some people never got it. “Do you two own a dog?”

“No, but I wouldn’t mind someday.” John addressed Logan. “What do you think?”

Logan shrugged, torn between honesty and tact. “They’re great company but a lot of work, I imagine.”

“True. And don’t get me started on picking up the poop in my yard when the snow melts.” The woman checked her watch. “Oops! Didn’t realize how late it’d gotten. I have a yoga class in two hours, and I’m parked way over on the west side.”

“We’re parked there too,” John said. “Do you want company? It’s getting dark, and the trail’s tricky in places.”

She gave them a doubtful look, as if realizing one friendly dog wasn’t much protection against two men. “Um…”

“Call someone and tell them what you’re doing, and send them our photo if you like,” Logan suggested. “But we’re honest, law-abiding citizens. I’m a lecturer at Gardiner, and John here works at Heilsa.”

The woman snapped her fingers, making the dog bark joyously, frisking around her legs. “I’ve seen you before!” she said to John. “Oh God, where was it? Gardiner? Was that it?” She frowned at Logan. “But you said you were the one who worked there?”

“Logan works there; I take Italian classes once a week,” John explained. “What are you taking?”

“Oh, I’m there three nights a week. Monday it’s Indian Cooking, Thursday, Art History, Friday, Car Maintenance, and there’s a book club once a month.” She smiled at them. “I’m Sue, by the way.”

Chatting easily, John and Sue fell into step headed down, the dog more of a menace than the uneven trail. Logan followed after them, enjoying the view of John’s ass and grinning at his partner as he charmed Sue’s apprehensions away.

“And then—Kelly, no! Come here!—I took Chinese cooking and discovered it wasn’t for me—too many fiddly ingredients, and I don’t like some of the common ones—but I was better at cooking in general than I’d realized. So I took a Mexican class after that and now the Indian.” Sue paused and took a leash out of her pocket. “Kelly, come here.”

The dog, who had wandered past Logan and was sniffing some bushes, perked up and ran by, tripping Logan.

“You’re the worst dog ever,” Sue told him, clipping the leash to his collar. “And you still need to lose ten pounds.”

“He looks fine to me.” Not that Logan had many other dogs to compare Kelly to.

“That’s not what the vet says. I keep cutting his food back a little at a time, but somehow he never loses any weight. I’m starting to suspect he’s cheating on me with another owner.”

“Or breaking into the fridge at night while you’re asleep,” John suggested. “Is there any chance he’s getting out of your yard?”

“Nope! Not a chance. I mean, look at the size of him… What do you think he’s going to do, sneak out through a crack in the fence?”

They paused at the top of the last slope leading down to the parking lot, admiring the hot pinks and pale oranges of the sunset. It was quiet; the parking lot was at the top of another hill, the road far enough away that the cars were visible but not audible. For a moment it was like time had stopped, it was so peaceful. Then Kelly whined and tugged at the leash, and John looked over at Logan and smiled.

“Well, thanks for the company,” Sue said. “I’m sure we’ll see each other around.”

She drove away with Kelly’s nose pressed against the window, the sound of barking growing fainter as the distance between them grew.

“Please tell me you don’t want a dog,” Logan begged as they drove after her, John’s hands steady on the wheel. “Because a cold, wet nose isn’t my idea of an alarm clock.”

“I thought of one for company, but with summer coming up, I didn’t want the hassle of finding a kennel for a new dog if I went away.”

“Anything planned when it comes to a vacation?” It was odd to think of them headed their separate ways for a vacation, but what they had was so new, Logan didn’t want to presume too much. In some ways, what they had was solid; in others, fragile as glass.

“I thought about Italy. Put my classes to some use. It’s something Cat and Michael want to do, but tagging along didn’t appeal to me. Three’s an awkward number.”

“I’d love to see Europe, hell, anywhere in the world, for that matter, but I don’t own a passport, so I guess I haven’t put much effort into making that particular fantasy come true.”

“We could go together, with or without Cat and Michael.”

It sounded good to Logan either way, though even now he was hesitant to make complicated plans this early in a relationship. Fortunately, he had the world’s perfect excuse, and it was completely genuine. “Do you think they’d wait until next summer? I’m already signed up to cover another professor’s classes while she’s on maternity leave. I have a handful of four-day weekends, but otherwise it would be hard to get away.”

John nodded. “I’d want more than a couple of months to plan an extended trip like that anyway. I like to do a lot of research.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Logan was in the passenger seat of his car, which was different, but John had decided he’d drive, and it hadn’t occurred to Logan to argue, considering the dynamic they were exploring. “I mean, I’m sure that’s wise.” Belatedly, he added, “Sir.”

“I don’t do it because it’s wise; I do it because it’s fun. Reading reviews, checking out B and Bs and restaurant menus… That part’s as good as going there. Better, sometimes. The Internet makes everything look so perfect.” John accelerated, passing through an intersection with the light about to change to red. “Italy? You’d be into that?”

“Sure. I’m not against travel, but I’ve been busy. College and then more school, and all of a sudden I was an adult with a full-time job. And I like my job, so remembering to take time off is a challenge.” Slowly, he admitted, “Eli was pretty frustrated about my schedule. Sometimes I think he suspected I was cheating on him. I wasn’t. But teaching isn’t nine-to-five, so it was hard to blame him for wondering if I was up to no good when I’d come home late two or three nights in a row.”

“Did you ever think about it?”

“What, cheating? No. Never. Don’t get me wrong; occasionally I admire a hot guy a few seconds longer than I should, and I’d be lying if I said I never dreamed about sex with someone else when I was in a relationship. I don’t think my subconscious counts. Especially if the dream guy I’m in bed with is David Beckham.”

John smiled at him before turning his attention to the road again. “Even I’ve had that dream.”

“Hey! Hands off my fantasy guy, buddy.”

“Hands off, Sir,” John corrected with mock sternness. “Is this a hint for sex with one of us in shin pads and a soccer shirt? Because I’m using my safe word if it is.”

God, it was good to laugh again. Seth wasn’t forgotten, not today, with his grief fresh, but Logan welcomed moments like this when the tight misery constricting his chest eased and the warmth of John’s love and friendship left him smiling.

Truth be told, the ability to mourn without guilt was precious enough to cherish.

Slipping into Dom mode without apology, latching on to what might lie beneath John’s words, he asked, “Would you be into that? Role-playing, I mean?”

“I never thought about it. I’d feel silly dressed up and pretending to be someone else.” John took his gaze off the road for a quick glance Logan’s way. “Wait, is this your way of answering me about a fantasy I can fulfill? Because if so, forget what I said. I’m in. Well, I’ll give it my best shot.”

“I’d love to try it,” Logan admitted. “Nothing elaborate, and I guess you’d be naked too soon to make costumes worth it. Besides, it’d be a suit or something similar.”

“Go on.”

Encouraged by the husky tone to John’s voice and the way his fingers tightened on the wheel, Logan did as he was told. “Desk, polished, huge. You bent over it, taking my discipline as a way of avoiding being fired.”

“What have I done wrong?”

“Hmm. Been indiscreet and let slip some information to a competitor. Or maybe you’re surly, with a bad attitude, and I know exactly how to make you behave.”

“Are you a lawyer?”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m your boss, and when I find out you screwed up and confront you, you’re not apologetic. You don’t want to admit you made a mistake, try to pretend like it was some kind of misunderstanding, but I know better. I tell you unless you come clean and let me penalize you however I see fit, you’re out. Fired.” Logan was loving the idea of this more and more as he continued. “Are you willing to do anything it takes to save your job?”

John fell into the game easily. “Anything, Sir. I can’t lose this position; it’s too important. I have…um, a sick grandmother.”

“Bullshit. If you were worried about being able to take care of your grandmother, you wouldn’t take risks like you do, knowing there was a chance you’d get caught. What’s the real reason?”

“I have a porn addiction,” John said, soft and ashamed. If Logan hadn’t known they were playing, he would have believed it. “I need this job, Sir. Please don’t fire me. I’ll do whatever you say.”

“Your ass has been driving me crazy since the day you were hired. I want to see it.”

John glanced at him, all innocence. “You mean a picture?”

“I mean right now, in person, in my office. Take off your trousers.”

“Sir, I’ve— I’ve never—”

“Oh please. Don’t try to tell me with your porn watching you’ve never seen gay porn. I know you’ve watched some porn star with a huge cock fucking another guy up the ass.”

“Yes.” John bit his lower lip, into the fantasy now. In a minute Logan would have to tell him to pull over to the side of the road. “Is that what you’re going to do to me?”

“If you let me, you can keep your job.” Logan lowered his voice, made it sound seductive, full of promise. “Isn’t that what you want?”

“No.” Before Logan reacted, in character or out, John said, “I’d want to do it anyway. Take a hard fucking from you, let you own my ass. I watch the filthiest dirt you can imagine, and I see you on-screen doing it to me. I—I think maybe I hoped you’d catch me, make me pay.”

“Is that so? And do you think that’s gonna buy you any mercy?”

John groaned. “God, I sincerely hope not.”

“Good answer.” Logan shook his head. “Okay, time-out, because if we keep this up, we’ll crash—”

And in the space of the time it took to say it, he saw Seth, skidding, panicked, fighting the wheel, and broke out into a cold sweat, shivering, sick to his stomach.

John brought the car to a halt on the shoulder, sending up a spatter of loose stones as he braked sharply. “Hey! Logan. Come here.”

Ignoring John, he slammed his fist against the dashboard, anguish twisting his gut. “Jesus, why can’t I stop seeing him? I’m spoiling everything.”

“Yeah, I’m going to yell at you for that. I mean, it’s been a whole day since your friend died. You should be over it by now.”

The sarcasm steadied him as comforting words wouldn’t. He leaned back, head bumping the rest, and sighed, welcoming the throb from his bruise there as a reminder of how reckless he’d been. “Sorry. I’m all over the fucking place.”

“Which is why we’re out here, not at work, and why I’m in charge for a while. So you can find your bearings and move past this at a natural pace.” John stroked Logan’s hair, then cupped his cheek. “The fantasy isn’t spoiled, and yes, we were reaching the point where it flipped over into frustrating because we can’t make it happen, not out here, but we will. Soon. When the time’s right. I can even provide the desk. There’s one in storage that was too heavy for the study, but it’s ideal for what you have planned.”

Logan resisted the urge to respond immediately because John was right; he needed to give himself some time. Instead, he focused on slowing his breathing and calming his racing heart. “Okay. I’ll try to cut myself a little slack.”

“More than a little. As much as you need.”

“Right. What you said.” He sighed and leaned back against the headrest. “Can you take me home now, Sir?”

John kissed him, a brief brush of lips against the corner of his mouth. “Of course.”

Chapter Fourteen

John had finished buttoning his new white shirt when the buzz of the doorbell interrupted him. “I’m getting it,” he said to Logan as he passed the bathroom, where the other man was in the shower. “Were you expecting anyone?” He didn’t have a lot of unexpected visitors.

“At your house? No.” Logan shut off the water as John was starting downstairs.

Of course not. How stupid of him. He glanced out the window and saw Cat standing at the door. That made sense. It wasn’t unusual for her to stop by with some meals for his freezer. “Cat, hi,” he said as he opened the door.

“Oh my gosh, what are you— Oh, is it your work banquet? You mentioned it last week, but it went in one ear and out the other. I swear I’m ridiculously absentminded these days. There’s no excuse for it.” She came in when he stepped back, and he followed her into the kitchen.

“Let me take those for you,” he offered even though it was already too late.

“I’ve got them. Now, it’s a chicken casserole with broccoli and a sort of Alfredo sauce—I didn’t follow a recipe, it was off the cuff—and a shepherd’s pie thing. Is there room in the freezer?” Cat had already set the two containers down on the counter.

“Probably, as long as we rearrange things—” John realized with dismay as they gazed into the opened freezer that there was more in there than he’d remembered.

Cat raised an eyebrow. “When did you develop an ice-cream addiction?”

To be fair, there were half a dozen ice-cream containers, from pints to half gallons, Tetrised in among meals Cat had delivered over the previous weeks and the inexpensive low-calorie ones he took to work with him on days he didn’t expect he’d be able to leave the building long enough to grab a quick lunch.

“They’re mine.” Logan came into the kitchen. He wore his suit pants and had a towel draped around his shoulders; his chest was still damp, but John saw he’d made an effort to dry himself. “Don’t get me wrong, John bought them, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not the one eating them. I’m Logan, by the way.”

Flushing, Cat shook his hand when he offered it. “Catherine. My friends call me Cat. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“All good, I hope.”

She rallied. “Not good enough. They skipped the part where you’re gorgeous—the ink and the piercings? Love them—but I suppose John tells you that.” Giving them a teasing glance, she added, “Or is it the same for two men as it is for a man with a woman, and compliments have to be gouged out with much effort and sweat? I can’t remember the last one I got from Michael, though if you asked him what he thought of me, he’d— Okay, I’m babbling. Make me stop.”

“Are you freaked out by me or the idea of John with a guy?”

Logan’s frankness seemed to steady her. “More the latter, though don’t for a minute think Michael or I are disapproving in any way. It’s a case of adjusting to John dating again more than anything.” She sent John an appealing look. “Since Ava left, you’ve taken yourself off the market more or less. I assumed you hoped she’d come back and didn’t want things to be complicated.”

It was odd to look at Logan and see him through Cat’s eyes. John experienced a moment of shock at the contrast between the formal pants and the bright colors painted across Logan’s muscular arms and chest, the glint of metal through his nipples. It was followed by a surge of love and pride.

His. And he belonged to Logan. That certainty made his answer simple.

“If she was coming back, she’d have done it by now. I’m tired of living my life in limbo. Logan’s got me moving forward again.” John wasn’t demonstrative in public, but he slipped his arm around Logan’s waist, drawing him in for a brief hug. “Changed my outlook.”

Logan grinned and pressed a kiss on John’s lips, equally brief, equally staged. “And you’ve done the same for me, love.”

“Hmm.” Cat pursed her lips. “You’re so sweet together, my teeth ache.”

“Neither of us will mistake that for a compliment,” Logan told her.

“Oh, I think John might know me well enough to,” Cat said. “You, though, I’m going to have to spend some more time with. Michael and I were talking about doing brunch at 32 Foster tomorrow—you should join us. Say yes.”

John glanced at Logan, who nodded. “Yes, sure. That’d be fun.” And a little nerve-racking, but he’d known that sooner or later Cat and Michael would expect to meet Logan.

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, Cat, I need to go finish getting dressed. Wouldn’t want to embarrass John here in front of his colleagues.” Logan left the room, and John stubbornly refused to let his eyes linger where they wanted to, at the small of Logan’s bare back, a spot he was particularly fond of.

“I don’t think there’s much chance he’d embarrass anyone,” Cat said with appreciation.

“Not me, anyway.”

“I have to admit, I’m a little surprised you’re taking him to this banquet, though. Isn’t it, um, kind of public?”

“It is, especially since most of them remember Ava. But I didn’t even consider not bringing him once I knew he’d be willing to go. That must say something.” Besides, many of the company’s employees were immigrants from Iceland, a country known for its progressive LGBT rights, and there were at least a dozen employees in same-sex relationships. “People would find out sooner or later.”

“You’re serious about him.”

“I am.”

“So your marriage to Ava was a sham? I don’t know who I feel the sorriest for.”

“What? No! How can you say that?” Moderating his voice, he touched her arm lightly. “Cat, you’ve been our friend for years. We were happy. You must’ve seen that. I’m not comfortable discussing my love life with you in detail, but there was nothing fake about my marriage or my feelings for Ava. And the same goes for Logan. We click on so many levels, match up perfectly.” There was a trace of doubt in her eyes, so he decided to dispel it with a confidence he hoped stayed private. “And he’s not my first male lover, so don’t leap to another conclusion and decide this is me experimenting and it’s a temporary attraction.”

Her lips parted, her shock evident. “It’s like I never knew you,” she murmured, but was that a hint of approval he heard? “You seemed so placid. Ava was the risk-taker, the one with ideas. But all this time you had these hidden depths.”

“I’m fascinating and intriguing, no doubt about it. And if I’m late, I’ll be fascinating and out of favor with the management, so maybe we could do this some other time?”

Logan came back into the kitchen holding a tie. “I hope you can knot this for me. It’s been so long since I had to wear one, I’ll probably screw it up.”

“Oh no,” Cat said, grinning.

“What?” John asked. She wasn’t refusing to postpone their conversation, was she? They’d be late!

“Wait right here. I have to get something from my car. I mean it, I’ll be quick, so don’t go anywhere.” She dashed out before John responded.

“She’s bossy.” Logan lifted his chin when John’s knuckles bumped it trying to fasten his tie. “I like her.”

“Shocking.”

“It is. Those of us who have, shall we say, stronger personalities, we tend to clash, especially in smaller groups.”

“Spoken like a true professor.” John drew the fabric through the loop and adjusted the knot, then stepped back to see how it looked. “Nope, it’s crooked. Hang on.”

Logan waited patiently as John fiddled with it some more. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, you know,” he said, his voice gentle. “You’re not the one expected to know his way around tying a knot. Where’s your tie?”

“Upstairs.”

“Go get it.” There was a hint of an edge now, and John knew what that meant. He knew how he’d feel when he obeyed too. Knowing made it easy to go, though Cat would be back any second and might notice the dynamic between them. That was more sharing than he cared to do.

He hurried up the stairs, out of breath when he grabbed his tie from the back of the chair in his room, but not from the exercise. Logan did that to him, robbing him of dignity in some ways but giving him strength in others. He couldn’t imagine his life without Logan in it now, short though their time together had been. Didn’t want to try. And if anyone gave Logan as much as a scornful look tonight, let alone hostile words, John, with the company’s zero-tolerance policies on discrimination at his back, was prepared to defend or attack as needed.

He hesitated before picking up the coat hangers with their suit jackets. Sometimes Logan would praise him for anticipating requests; other times he might reprimand him for doing something when he hadn’t been told to. John decided he’d risk it.

When he returned to Logan, Cat was back too, a camera in her hand.

“What’s that for?”

Cat rolled her eyes. “Whipping cream with. It’s a camera, John; what do you think it’s for?”

Logan kept his face straight, but John was conscious of a blush rising at the mention of whipping when his ass knew how leather stung. “I meant— Oh, you know what I meant!”

“I want to take you two together when you’re dressed up.” Cat’s voice was no-nonsense, similar to Logan’s, though it didn’t have the slightest effect on John’s libido. “It’s an occasion, and it deserves to be captured on film.”

Not commenting that John had brought the jackets, Logan reached for his and slipped into it, setting the empty coat hanger on the table. “Where do you want us?”

He was going along with this cooperatively. It made John suspicious.

“Hmm, good question. I guess in the living room? There’s probably the most space in there.” She went to investigate as John put on his jacket and buttoned it.

“You don’t mind?” Logan asked quietly. “I’ll tell her I’m not comfortable if you want me to take the blame.”

“I should ask if you mind.” John smiled uncertainly. “Our first photo as a couple.” It didn’t have to be a big deal, but somehow it was.

His uncertainty was wiped away by Logan’s smile. “That sounds good.” Logan leaned in, making their conversation impossible to overhear. “Though it’d be more like us if you were naked, on your knees, and in my collar.”

Swallowing back a moan, John countered, deciding to pay Logan back for turning him on. Even if it was the kind of revenge that backfired. “A collar with a leash, Sir? Handy to keep me close and to use on me if I needed a reminder of how to behave.”

“You shouldn’t give me ideas.” Logan’s eyes were hot with desire. John thought if they touched, they’d get zapped, not by static electricity but the lust building between them. “God, I want to do that. And I will, but I’ll try to remember you’re my partner tonight, not my sub.”

“No.” They had no time for more, but John shook his head firmly. “Always yours,” he murmured and grinned when Logan followed him into the living room, administering a pat to John’s ass soft enough to be inaudible, but most definitely tangible.

“Oh good. I was starting to wonder if I’d have to come break up an ardent embrace.” Cat had taken a painting down off the wall and set it on the couch. “I’ll put it back when we’re done. It’s easier to photoshop a nailhead out than the whole picture. Can you stand there?”

Logan seemed amused. “She takes this seriously.”

“I do,” Cat agreed. “You won’t be sorry, though, once you see the results.” She peered through the lens at them and shook her head. “I wish I had my lights. John, take the shade off that lamp, please? And fix Logan’s collar on the side there.”

By the time he’d done as she asked, she seemed ready to proceed. What followed was a series of suggestions. John was never convinced they successfully captured one before she’d moved on to the next.

“Now look at each other,” she said. “No, not like you’re mannequins modeling suits. Better. John, move your right hip forward and— Yes, like that! Logan, put your arm around John’s shoulder. Hmm, no, try his waist. Good.” The whole time her camera made soft clicking sounds. “Logan, look at me?” More clicking.

“We’re going to be late,” Logan said.

Cat sighed. “I know. Okay, how’s this: I’ll stop for now if you’ll promise to let me take some more at an unspecified future date.”

“Sure. As long as you promise not to sell these as advertising for the suit manufacturer. You know, since you were denigrating our modeling ability,” John said.

“Done. But I wasn’t denigrating your modeling ability, I was commenting on how you were unnaturally stiff. Oh God, pretend I didn’t say that out loud.” Cat giggled as she put her camera away. “Okay, I’ll get out of your hair. See you tomorrow at brunch? Is eleven too early?”

“No.” Logan answered for them, though Cat had glanced at John when she asked the question. “That works for us.”

John saw that assumption of authority bugging the hell out of most people; it would’ve gotten Ava’s hackles rising, he knew. Between them, though, it seemed like a subtle, discreet reminder of what they were to each other, and he loved it. It was with some reluctance that he added his agreement, wanting to erase Cat’s mild surprise.

After a few more comments about the photographs, she left, waving at them before getting into her car. John closed the door, turning to Logan with a sense of being buffeted by a strong wind.

“Did that go okay or not?”

“She’s your friend; you tell me.” Logan scratched the back of his neck. “Remind me never to take up a career as a model. I ache all over.”

“We should get going, I guess.” John brushed at his new pants, the crease in them sharp and precise. “I want to kneel to you, but I’d ruin these if I did.”

“Why do you want to?” Logan asked the question as if the answer mattered, stroking John’s hair lightly, then slipping his hand back, cupping John’s nape. “For reassurance?”

“Maybe. Or as a way of stocking up because I can’t do it once we leave. Is that ridiculous?”

“Topping off your submission levels?” Logan gave a quiet chuckle. “That’s an idea. I could make you take them off and spank you so you’d have no difficulty remembering who and what you are to me.”

“That’s tempting, but we’re on the verge of being late, and I panic when that happens.”

“You don’t need to. Whether we’re early, late, go or don’t go, could be up to me, not you.”

“But that’s not where we are. Not yet.” Did he want that much control moving from his hands to Logan’s?

“Not yet. Maybe never. But you like the idea,” Logan said shrewdly. “And if I made it an order, you’d be bending over the couch, ass up, in a heartbeat.”

“I would, but don’t? Please, Sir?” John begged. “Walking in after everyone’s seated and interrupting a speaker would be rude.”

“We’ve got plenty of time.” Logan frowned at him, chewing his lower lip as if mulling something over. “Is this panic over walking in late or walking in with me?”

John tried to think because he wanted to give Logan an honest answer. “A little of both. Combined. Knowing everyone’s eyes would be on us, wondering about you and what you meant to me… That feels overwhelming. It makes me anxious.” Talking about it did that.

Reaching out, Logan squeezed his shoulder. “Okay. Sometime, I’ll challenge that kind of destructive anxiety by confronting it. But not tonight.”

“Thank you, Sir.” John gave up on worrying about creasing his pants and knelt, pressing his forehead to Logan’s thigh.

“Enough of that,” Logan said. “Or I won’t believe you’re worried about being late. Let’s go.”

They took Logan’s car, John sitting in the passenger seat, trying not to fret. There’d be an open bar, he knew, but he’d never allowed himself more than one drink at a work function, and tonight would be no different. That one would definitely take the edge off, though, and he looked forward to it.

After so many years working for Heilsa, the novelty of seeing his coworkers in suits and dresses had worn off, but part of him still enjoyed the spectacle. “John!” Britt, a manager who worked in accounting, stopped him before they’d gotten far to shake his hand. “You remember my husband, Werner?”

“Of course. Good to see you again. This is my boyfriend, Logan.” He was proud he hadn’t paused before saying it.

“How nice to meet you,” Britt said.

Logan extended his hand, shaking Britt’s, then Werner’s, smiling at them. “It’s great to meet you.” He glanced at Britt. “So do you work with John? Or in another department?”

Britt laughed, taking a sip from a glass of white wine. She was tall, elegant in a formfitting dress in some shimmery white material, strong arms bare to the shoulder. “John and I fight over forms not filled in and totals that don’t add up. But accounting and HR share common enemies, which makes us friends, yes?”

“I won’t ask who the enemies are.” Logan shook his head, directing his attention at Werner. “Office politics are a minefield.”

“Which is why I’m happy being self-employed.” Werner snagged a canapé off a tray as a waiter walked by. “I own a small landscaping company and run it with our two sons.”

John knew how this went; the exchanged, quickly forgotten names, the brief summary of jobs, family, health. It was as scripted as a play in many ways, with alcohol causing some to forget their lines as the night wore on. At the Christmas party two years before, there’d been a fight in the parking lot, with two women kicking off their high heels and launching themselves into the fray as the snow fell around them. John had helped break up the tussle, his good mood soured by the vindictive insults the women hurled at each other.

They drifted away from Britt and Werner and headed for the bar.

“I’m not drinking alcohol tonight,” Logan said, “but I feel naked without a drink to hold.”

“Soft drinks are free too,” John told him. “And the company provides cabs to anyone who came in a car but goes over the limit.”

“That’s good of them.”

“It avoids lawsuits, but yeah, I think the motivation is genuine concern.”

“You can have one drink,” Logan told him casually. “Either now or with your meal.”

“What?” It fit with his plans, but he stumbled over the concept that Logan had set a limit for him. Some perverse impulse made him test his boundaries. “I’m not driving, and we’ll be here for hours. I can have two or three and still be sober when we leave.”

“Doesn’t matter. One.”

John was stuck; arguing wasn’t an option, not here where dozens of his coworkers might overhear. There was a wide gulf between showing up with his boyfriend when no one realized he had one and allowing everyone to figure out the two of them had an unusual dynamic. His job was important to him. He didn’t want to risk losing the respect he’d built up over the years. “Okay,” he said quietly.

They ordered drinks—he’d stick with cola for now—and went to find their table. There’d be a sit-down meal and a recognition ceremony in a little while, but until then they were free to mingle.

“Nice place,” Logan said. God, he looked good in his suit, his long hair pulled back. Even with any hint of his colorful tattoos hidden, John knew they were there. To his surprise, he found himself wishing they showed. Though he’d disliked them initially, he’d grown to see them as an extension of Logan, an outward sign of his personality.

“What? Oh, sorry. Yes, it is.”

Logan grinned curiously at him. “What were you thinking about?”

“I’ll tell you later. Here we are, table eleven.” Two men were already sitting at the table, though John only recognized one of them. “Nils, hi. This is Logan.”

Nils set down his glass and stood. “Hi, Logan, I’m Nils. This is my partner, Sean.” They shook hands; then John and Logan sat.

John was immediately aware of a current of tension in the air, manifesting itself in an awkward silence. He put his hand on Logan’s thigh, his action hidden by the long white tablecloth, and was relieved when Logan patted it reassuringly.

Deciding to abandon tact in favor of bluntness, John addressed Nils directly since he was the one avoiding looking at Logan. “Is there something wrong?”

“No, of course not.” Nils smiled stiffly. “These events are a little stressful, that is all. One must behave well and say the correct things to the appropriate people, not laugh too loudly or drink too much, not—”

Sean broke in on the flood of words. He was dark-haired with brown eyes set deeply in a face John thought of as rugged, in contrast to Nils who was blond, blue-eyed, and conventionally attractive. “Nils, calm down. I’m sure we’re with friends here.”

“Yes, of course,” John said, puzzled. “Did I do something to offend you, Nils?” He racked his mind, but his interactions with the guy were minimal. Nils was involved in the sales department.

Logan sighed, breaking his silence. “The elephant in the room isn’t anything to do with work, John. More a shared interest the four of us have.” He nodded at Sean, ignoring Nils without making it an insult, more a courtesy to Sean, John realized. “Good to see you again.”

Of course, John thought, with more irritation than relief. Of course it would turn out that one of his coworkers was into the scene and knew Logan, because his life wasn’t complicated enough and he couldn’t have one place where things remained consistent.

“Logan and I met a couple of years ago,” Sean explained to Nils and John. “We have some friends in common.”

At least Sean seemed to understand that discretion was important.

“It can be difficult to relax at these functions.” Nils spoke carefully, as if in code. “John and I are aware that we work with these people and must maintain our professionalism.”

“When people forget, things can get ugly.” John debated bringing up the incident in the parking lot two years ago in case it amused Nils, but decided against it. “I never hear about any difficulties in your department, Nils?”

“No, everyone I work with is surprisingly sensible. I doubted if this would be the case when I came here from Iceland. I was hesitant to make the move.” Nils glanced at Sean, then picked up his drink again.

John had a dozen questions, but this wasn’t the time or place to ask them. Later. When he was alone with Logan. Would he get the answers? Logan had shared some gossip about his friends, but minor stuff, never malicious, and when it came to the subs he’d played with, he was closemouthed.

It’s personal,” he’d explained. “It needs to be private, between Dom and sub, unless both agree to share their experiences in maybe a teaching capacity. You’ll meet some of them, and I don’t want it to be in your mind that this guy’s into fisting and that one can only come if he’s wearing a diaper. And I made those examples up. Well, not the fisting. I’ve known a few subs who love that. But you get the point.”

Trying to keep the thread of the conversation going, John said to Nils, “I’m glad you did.” God, he was dying of curiosity here. Sean was a Dom, or a switch like Logan? Not that Logan fitted the sub role too well in John’s opinion. He’d needed that change of perspective during his grieving process, perhaps, but Logan’s personality seemed heavily weighted toward the dominant. Was Nils sitting on an ass welted the way John’s was so often? Was he covered in bruises from clamps or chafe marks from ropes?

It was too intimate a knowledge to have of a man he knew so little of in other matters. He glanced away, uncomfortable, on edge, and saw a couple headed toward their table to fill the final two places. Tom was close to retirement, placid, a little dull. Debbie, his wife, was chatty, ready to share anecdotes about her grandchildren, and sweetly oblivious to her audience’s lack of interest.

He’d never welcomed them with such enthusiasm before. They took it in their stride, but he noticed Sean and Logan exchange a knowing grin.

The hell with them. Burning with a resentment he knew was unjustified, he poured a glass of white wine from the complimentary bottle on the table. One glass, but he filled it to the brim, obeying Logan in theory but defying him at the same time.

John lifted his eyes to find Logan’s watching him. “They’ll be serving dinner soon,” he said blandly, as if Logan had asked for the information.

“Good,” Logan said. “Do you look forward to this during the year? A night to relax on the company’s dime?”

Debbie launched into a description of meals in years past, from the time they’d decided to try something different and had a sushi buffet and raw oyster bar, through last year’s heavy meat-and-potatoes theme. She included a bit more detail about her digestive system’s reaction to so much protein than John would have preferred, but happily moved on to discussing what sort of desserts they might be offered at the end of the evening.

Throughout it John sipped from his one glass of wine. It was puzzling how something he’d been prepared to do became oppressive and unfair when Logan ordered him to do it. He’d follow the rule, though, and not try for a second glass or complain again.

“John, would you show me where the men’s room is, please?” Logan asked during a break in Debbie’s long-winded diatribe about a neighbor’s early morning woodworking hobby.

“Oh, the restrooms are over there,” Debbie said, pointing. “Past the bar and down that long hallway.”

“I’m prone to getting lost,” Logan lied. “It’d be better for everyone if John showed me.”

There was no way to refuse. John finished the wine in his glass in a few quick swallows and stood. “We’ll be right back.”

As they left, he heard Debbie say brightly, “I thought it was only us girls who went to the restrooms in a group,” followed by a giggle and a shushing noise from her husband.

He didn’t speak on the short walk, though he was careful to acknowledge smiles and waves from people at the tables he passed. A mixture of apprehension and excitement intoxicated him more than the wine, which lay uneasy in his stomach, drunk too quickly. With a sense of being at the end of a leash only he and Logan saw, he followed Logan, who once away from their table dropped any pretense that he didn’t know where to go.

He’d talked about being leashed and collared as a joke more than anything. It occurred to him that Logan could make it a reality with little difficulty, around the house, at least, and he swallowed hard.

With the appetizers about to be served, the men’s room was empty. Three stalls lined a wall, their doors pushed inward, and the soft lighting made the fixtures seem less utilitarian. The tiled floor and gold-framed mirrors added to the sense of luxury.

“Nice,” Logan commented, fingering a dried-flowers arrangement in a tall vase. “Do you want me to deal with this here, or wait until we get home and you’ll get double what you’ve earned?”

“What? You want to— Here? You can’t!”

Logan swung around to face him, eyes glittering, though his voice was calm. “Yeah, I can. How long do you think it’d take to give you a dozen swats? It’s noisy enough out there that no one would hear us, and it’d settle you down. But if you prefer to wait, I’ll allow it. As long as you’re clear that when I say double, I mean it. If you make me wait, I’ll make it count.”

“Sir, please,” John whispered. “I didn’t mean—”

“Oh, you’d better stop right there.” Logan tapped John’s lips. “You were about to lie to me. Didn’t mean to defy me? Didn’t mean to challenge my authority? Didn’t mean to spoil any chance of us finishing the night with a scene by drinking too much? Are any of those statements true?”

“I didn’t want to spoil the night, but the others…” John hung his head, guilt and shame added to his turbulent emotions. His cock hardened in response to Logan’s stern gaze, thickening to the point where it distorted the front of his pants unmistakably. “I’m sorry, Sir. Truly, I am.”

Logan lashed out, the back of his hand striking the bulge of John’s erection, the blow light but painful due to its target. “That might as well go away,” he said. “You’re not coming tonight. In fact, until I say so, you’re forbidden to touch your cock in a sexual way. I can’t enforce it, but if you want to disobey that order too, you’re chipping away at what we’re building, and I hate that idea.”

Stricken, John stared at Logan in dismay. “I didn’t know that was what I was doing.”

“Didn’t you?”

“No. No, Sir. That’s the truth. Along with the other things you said. Those are true too, and I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have done any of them if I’d realized.”

“Come with me.” Logan went into the largest stall, the handicap-access one, and John followed without waiting to see if anyone was coming into the room. He wasn’t worried about what Logan might have planned; he was more concerned that he’d crossed a line without knowing it was there, and what that might mean. “Lock the stall.”

John did as he’d been told, then turned to Logan. He wanted to plead for forgiveness but knew that wouldn’t make things better. He waited.

“You were angry that I told you not to have more than one drink,” Logan said. “Why?”

He was tempted to say he didn’t know. “I didn’t expect it,” he said slowly, thinking out loud. “Tonight is work related for me, and it’s where I’m the one in charge. It didn’t occur to me you’d take control of any aspect of the evening.”

“No?” Logan sighed without it seeming to relieve any of his tension. “That’s partially my fault, then.”

“No, Sir, it was mine. I didn’t even plan to have more than one drink anyway, so there’s no excuse for my behavior. I was being defiant for the sake of it. I’m sorry.” Deciding it was worth the risk, John added, “Please discipline me now. And not because I don’t want twice as much later. Because I deserve it.”

“You’re scared someone will walk in.” Logan turned him around. “Undo your belt, and take down your slacks. Keep your hands at your sides.”

Every sound seemed magnified, from his hoarse breathing to the rustle of his pants as they fell to pool around his ankles. The main door creaked, he remembered that, and he strained to hear that creak, but he wasn’t sure of anything right then, not with his arousal and fear fighting for precedence.

“Stop struggling. Trust me. I won’t let anyone hear us, won’t let you be embarrassed.” Logan stroked John’s ass. “Naughty boys get punished. My sub gets disciplined. And you’ll take it in silence and thank me afterward. Clear?”

“Yes, Sir. Yes. Please.”

Please what? He wasn’t sure. The first slap landed, oddly distant through his briefs, though he guessed Logan had left them on to muffle the sound of his slaps. They came down hard and fast, a flurry of them, leaving his ass hot and his dick swollen unbearably.

“Done.”

“Thank you, Sir.” It was over. He was left stranded in a place he’d never visited before, aroused by the pain, mild though it’d been, and the humiliation, but with no outlet for it.

Logan turned him and eyed the bulge with disapproval. “Make that go away. Now.”

“How can I do that?” John protested.

“Think about that Debbie woman staring at it and giggling.”

It didn’t work immediately, but the image was enough to leave John able to fasten his pants in comfort.

“Better. Can you go back to the table with a straight face?”

“Oh, I think my face is pretty well bisexual at this point,” John said, trying to hide his grin and failing. He made no attempt to dodge the extra slap Logan aimed at his now-covered ass; it made his grin wider.

“Naughty,” Logan said, this time with approval. “Come on. We don’t want them wondering if even your experience wasn’t enough to keep me from getting lost.”

That was the last thing John had been concerned about their tablemates wondering, but surprisingly at that moment he didn’t care one way or the other. He was happy to be with Logan.

Happy to belong to Logan.

Chapter Fifteen

The air was warm enough that Logan had no hesitation about leaving his jacket in the car. John stood with his coat in his hand, looking out across the field with a doubtful expression.

“What’s wrong?”

John shrugged. “I don’t want to carry it, but I might need my phone and it doesn’t fit into these jeans.”

It was the kind of minor problem John obsessed over unless Logan stepped in. “You don’t need your phone. If you want to take photos, use mine, and if anyone needs to reach you, they’ll have to wait.”

John gave him a grateful look, tossed his coat in the trunk, out of sight, and stood waiting for Logan to lock up, hands by his sides, back straight. Without discussing it much, they’d fallen into ways of behaving around each other in public that spoke to their dynamic subtly, with nothing overt enough to trigger curiosity.

Unless the person watching was also in the scene. A week later, Logan was still wondering what the odds of being seated at the same table as Sean were. John hadn’t pried, but he was owed an explanation at least, and Logan had provided it.

Telling John they’d once shared a sub for a torrid night that’d left the three of them exhausted would’ve been indiscreet, even hurtful, but he’d been frank enough about their relationship, which hadn’t consisted of much beyond that night. He’d discovered he didn’t like sharing a sub, and Sean had taken over in a way that rankled. They’d been better friends before it happened than after.

“It’s a beautiful day.”

Logan nodded, throwing back his head to study a cloudless sky, the brisk, warm wind invigorating him. The parking lot was packed, and the huge field crowded with onlookers and competitors. He’d never known kite flying was so popular in the town, but John had told him the competition was in its ninth year.

“Michael’s never won anything, but he loves it. And the kites are spectacular. He’d appreciate it if we were there to cheer him on, if that’s okay with you, Sir?”

What could he say to that? John’s pleading look, filled with hope, was too enticing to reject.

“John!” It was Cat, calling to them and waving. She had her other hand up to shade her eyes from the sun. “I forgot my sunglasses. I feel like such an idiot.”

“You can use mine,” John offered. He handed them over and made an obvious effort not to laugh when she tried them on. They were comically large on her narrow face.

“Maybe not,” said Cat, giving them back. “Thanks, though. And thanks for coming, Logan. I know this isn’t your scene.”

For a heartbeat Logan thought she was revealing that she’d figured out their secret, but John looked unconcerned. “He’d rather be at the gym,” John said.

“Not true,” Logan protested. “I mean, maybe it is, I guess, but I don’t know yet. I can’t believe this has been going on for so long and I never knew about it.” A small child shrieked nearby, and he winced.

“It takes a little getting used to.” Cat tugged both their sleeves, guiding them toward a spot where fewer people were standing. “Oh, look, there goes the butterfly kite again.”

Logan, who hadn’t so much forgotten his sunglasses as failed to realize he might need them, peered up into the blue sky. “Where?”

“There. Orange and black.” John slung an arm around his neck and pointed.

“Is the butterfly kite special in some way?” Logan asked as the kite dipped gracefully toward the ground, dropping a number of small objects before righting itself and climbing again.

This time it was a chorus of children’s excited voices. Two dozen of them ran toward the spot where the objects had fallen.

“Candy,” Cat said succinctly. “Keep clear of the butterfly, and you’ll be safe. Comparatively.”

“But suppose I want some of the candy?” Logan heaved a sigh. “Kids have all the fun.”

Cat grinned at him and fished out a bite-size chocolate bar from the pocket of the designer hoodie she wore. “Here. Take this and save yourself some bruises.”

“You think I’ll be polite and say ‘no, no,’ but I won’t.” Logan grinned back at her and took the bar, unwrapping it and breaking it in two, offering a piece to John. John didn’t seem enthused over eating a piece of squished, melting chocolate, but he popped it into his mouth anyway, following Logan’s example dutifully. Good boy, Logan thought. Aloud, he said, “Okay, now I’m on a sugar high. Tell me what I should be looking out for, because this is new to me.”

“If it’s a one-time visit, enjoy the sights and don’t bother with the details.” Cat waved her hand at the sky. “It’s an aerial ballet, with music, stunts, synchronized flying, oh, you’ve no idea! The kites are gorgeous; look at the colors! And the way they swoop and dive, you’d swear they were alive.”

“You sound as into it as Michael,” John commented. “Why don’t you fly one?”

She grimaced. “Then it becomes work. I’ll stick to photographing the event and being a source of encouragement. All the fun, none of the effort. Oops, got to go. If you get bored of wandering, we’re over there with chairs and a cooler of snacks.”

She was gone before they replied, darting through the crowd like a hummingbird, small, fast, and focused.

“Where should we start?” John asked, making it clear it was a genuine question, deferring to Logan with a gentle courtesy Logan loved. It wasn’t rote submission and trite phrases trotted out, but a natural yielding to Logan’s authority couched politely but with an undercurrent to it that appealed to Logan.

“Didn’t Michael say there’d be some kind of Kites 101 setup for beginners? Maybe we should find that.” Logan might not be into kites, but he was a good sport; he’d agreed to come, so he’d play interested spectator for a couple of hours.

John gestured off to the right side of the field where, beyond the milling people, Logan saw a few tents. “Over there. Let’s go check it out, if that’s what you’d like to do.” Again, his word choice was casual and wouldn’t have aroused anyone’s suspicions, but Logan heard the respect and willingness to follow wherever he led.

“Sure.”

There were enough people holding the hands of small children or pushing strollers or wrestling with kites that it took much longer than it should have to make their way through the crowd to the area they were aiming for. It reminded Logan of the many rallies and protests he’d been to over the past decade, and he made a mental note to take John to one in the near future.

Half a dozen tents staked next to each other created a passageway, with tables staffed by volunteers showing different kinds of kites, video demonstrating how to fly kites, photos of winners from previous years’ competitions, and more. Logan might have been minimally interested in the subject matter, but he did enjoy John’s animated descriptions and enthusiasm.

“And here’s where they sell kites. See, that’s a box kite, and these are diamonds, and— Oh God, are you bored?” John bit his lip.

“No,” Logan hastened to assure him. “I’m not bored. I like seeing how into it people are; it’s like a whole different world.”

“That was my reaction going online to research what we do.” John smiled wryly. “It’s never a good idea to do that. Like looking up a symptom and discovering you’ll be dead in a week according to some sites.”

“You looked it up?” Of course he had. If he prepared for a vacation with meticulous thoroughness, a lifestyle change like becoming a man’s submissive after decades of vanilla sex with a woman would call for intensive investigation. “When we go home, show me some of the sites. I can give you a list of others to try if they don’t cover the bases.”

“Trust me, they covered plenty.” John shuddered. “Too much detail in some cases.”

“I wish you’d come to me first.”

“Why? What sites—” John broke off. “Can we do this later?”

“You brought it up,” Logan reminded him, “but sure.” He gestured at a stall selling cheap kites for kids to play with, a world away from the hi-tech ones belonging to the competitors. “Let’s buy one and fly it. There’s a place set aside for it; I saw a sign pointing to it.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. If I know what’s involved, I’ll feel more involved.” And there was something about the way the scraps of fabric twisted and swooped in the air that appealed to him, a joyous conquest of an element.

“You never flew a kite as a kid?” John asked as they made their way to the stall. “I thought everyone did.”

“Guess I’m not everyone.”

“Don’t I know it,” John agreed and reached out to squeeze his hand.

John hung back and let him make the final decision on which one to buy, not that there were many choices. Logan settled on the kite with the brightest colors—fire-engine red, orange, yellow—under the theory that it would be easy to distinguish from the others up in the air. Assuming he managed to even get it up, of course. He’d already seen a small child attempting it to the point where the little boy’s kite was battered from being dragged through the grass.

“I’s fying it!” Another child, mouth rimmed with what was hopefully chocolate, announced to them as they walked over to the field. He held the line handle, oblivious to his father’s hand higher up on the string, managing the kite.

“You are! Good job!” John said.

“I hope you’re that encouraging when it’s me looking for affirmation,” Logan muttered.

“Don’t worry; I will be. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

Logan crouched down to tie the line to the kite; he wanted to make sure it was knotted properly. “Spoken like someone who hasn’t ever flown a kite either.”

John grinned. “Untrue. I’ve flown plenty of kites. I mean, not with a ton of success, but I’ve gotten one up in the air at least…twice.”

“I’ll definitely look to you as the voice of experience, then.” Standing again, Logan glanced around, trying to find a direction in which to run not already cluttered with people. “This seems like a recipe for disaster.”

John touched his arm, the brush of his fingers sending a shiver through Logan. He responded to John on a physical level in a way that made him wonder if John knew the power he had. And emotionally, well, that was a battle he’d lost a while back. Too soon to think of forever, but he’d reached the point where picturing a life without John in it was depressing as hell. “Over there. The ground slopes so we’d get some momentum.” He licked his finger, then held it up. “Yeah, the wind’s working with us too.”

“Look at you going all Bill Nye on me,” Logan teased. “Sure, why not?”

It was fun, he realized thirty minutes later, out of breath, grass stains on his jeans from falling and sliding a few feet, face hot from exertion. Fun in a way he’d never associated with a relationship. So maybe he’d never fly a kite again, but the perfectionist in him was damned if he left the field without succeeding at least once.

“Again!”

“Again?” John was bent over, hands on his thighs, panting. “You’re a sucker for punishment. I’m suffering here.”

“If you’re the one suffering, I’m not the one being punished.” Okay, so it wasn’t strictly true, but John would know what he meant. Logan brushed his hands off on his pants and handed John the kite. “One more time.”

“Okay.” The Sir went unspoken, but Logan heard it all the same.

John glanced behind himself, backed up, and held the kite in position, stretching as high as he could, raising fabric and frame into the sky.

“Go,” he whispered, and Logan moved backward at the same time John let the wind lift the kite, and this time it didn’t crash to the ground but kept going, up up up. It tugged on the string and went higher. Logan took another half dozen steps in reverse, feeling like there was a fish at the end of his line, something alive and struggling against him.

“Go, go.” Logan was repeating John’s word under his breath, encouraging science to work in his favor with what was nothing more than magical thinking. He kept expecting the kite to turn and dive—with his luck, it would knock some little kid off their feet at the last second—but it kept climbing until it was as high as any of the other kites nearby.

The kite’s movements were transmitted through the line. It twisted and danced, the connection between them strong enough that if he closed his eyes, he could picture himself up there, moving with strength and grace, held up by a force gentle enough to stir a leaf or harsh enough to uproot the tree. A hand closed over his, and he opened his eyes to find John gazing at him with amused love.

“What?”

“You’re adorable,” John said.

“I’m pretty fu—uh, sure I’m not.” Logan scowled at him with mock affront. No one was in earshot, so he added, “Call me cute, and you won’t sit down comfortably for a week.”

John flinched, glancing around, then relaxed, shoving his hands into his pockets. Hmm. Logan didn’t like that lack of trust, but he filed it away to deal with later. “I’d never call you that. But when you look like a kid on his birthday, it’s hard not to go aww.”

“Make an effort. I have a reputation to maintain. Big, bad Doms aren’t cuddly.”

“I thought the point was that you could be whatever you liked because you’re the one calling the shots?”

It was perceptive enough to distract Logan from the kite, and a sudden gust of wind tore the cheap plastic handle from his grip. “Hey! No!”

John reached for it but missed. They stood watching as their kite, unanchored now, maintained its height for a long moment before spinning in on itself and accepting its fate.

“Maybe it’s like that saying,” John offered.

“It’s a victim of gravity?” Logan asked.

“No. That’s more a song.” They were still looking at the kite as it slowly made its way back to earth on a diagonal. “Will it go into the parking lot, do you think?”

“What do I know? Apparently I can’t tell the difference between a song and a saying.”

“You know: if you love something, set it free.” It was clear John wasn’t thinking about his choice of words. He didn’t have an ulterior motive. “Maybe it will come back.”

The kite fell lower and was hidden by the crowd.

“Okay, maybe not,” John admitted, turning to look at him.

“Would you come back?”

John frowned, head tilted as he considered the question and Logan. “That assumes I leave. I’m not planning on doing that.”

“You might. People do.” Seth did. Had. “They can’t help it.”

“Okay, now we’re talking about more than kites.” Slipping from bemused to concerned, judging by the hug Logan got, John stayed close to him, hands on Logan’s shoulders, seemingly unconcerned about the reaction of anyone watching. “People go, yes. They get jobs in different states or countries, or they want the ocean when they’re in a desert, or the mountains when they live at sea level. And they’re still on the planet, and unless they’re in a deep hole, with crappy reception, you can text, call, or vid-chat with them. And if they go somewhere you can’t reach them, if they die, you hold on to your memories and keep them alive. And if you want me to promise I’m in this for the long haul, I will. It doesn’t scare me.”

“It terrifies me, but the thought of not being with you scares me more.” This was what confession did to him—panic followed by relief, chased by apprehension over the fallout.

“Don’t worry. I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere.” John slid his hands up to cup Logan’s face briefly. He smiled. “Well, right now I’m going to find our kite.”

“I’ll get us something to drink.”

Logan was glad of the few minutes alone to collect himself. It hadn’t been a new conversation for them, but it had been the first time he’d admitted in so many words how important John had become to him, and now that he had, he basked in the afterglow. A little bit shaken, but good.

“Two bottles of water, please,” he said when he arrived at the front of the refreshments line. “Oh, and some popcorn.”

“Found it.” John joined him as he stepped away from the food truck. “Its maiden voyage was a bust in the long run, I guess. It’s kind of mangled. I’ll have Michael look at it later—I know there’s special repair tape—and see what he thinks.”

“Or put it in the trash,” Logan suggested.

John shrugged. “That seems kind of…disrespectful, somehow. I’d rather hang on to it for now, if you don’t mind.” There it was again, that hint of deference so easily slipped into everyday life.

“Sure.” Logan handed him one of the bottles and drank from his.

There were loudspeakers attached to poles and scattered around the perimeter of the field, temporary ones with long cables connecting them to a central sound system. After a preliminary crackle, a man announced the start of the endurance competition, running alongside the judging for the children’s kites. The categories there seemed endless: silliest, most colorful, best made, and a dozen others. Logan wondered if the intention was to send most of the kids home with a prize.

“What’s the endurance trial?” he asked John.

“You have to keep your kite in the air for an hour. If it touches the ground, you’re out.”

“Is Michael doing it?”

“Probably. Want to head over and see? We shouldn’t distract him, but he’d like the support.” John tucked the ruined kite under his arm. “I wonder if they’re doing a kite fight? That’s when the kites are made of thin, light stuff, nothing durable. The lines are abrasive, and the idea is to cut your opponent’s line with yours.”

“That sounds brutal.”

“In some countries, they attach razors to the lines, but if they did it here today, it’d be an abrasive coating on a line.” John pulled a face. “It’s exciting, but in other places, it’s led to deaths. The kites float away when the lines are cut, and they belong to the first person to catch them, so kids chase them, and it doesn’t end well. Plus, the kites can get caught in trees and hurt wildlife that get tangled in the line. I mean, it’s sharp.”

“Okay, if they do that, we don’t watch.”

“They won’t,” John assured him. “Do you want me to go back to the car and get the folding chairs while you look for Cat?”

“If you don’t mind, sure.” They’d be here for a couple of hours and had thought it would be nice to be able to sit part of that time.

It wasn’t difficult to find Cat, who’d told them she’d have a bright-pink camp chair with a sunshade over it. She seemed delighted to see him and gave him a hug. “It was so nice of you guys to come. Thank you.”

“Thanks for inviting us. It’s a beautiful day.” Logan pointed back toward the parking area and sidestepped a woman with a stroller passing by. “John went to get our chairs.”

“I should have brought extras for you.”

Logan nudged the cooler beside Cat’s chair. “Seems like you had enough to worry about.”

“Oh no. This is fun! I don’t worry about any of this. It’s what I’m good at: organizing stuff, making lists, that kind of thing. Here, sit down in Michael’s chair until John gets back. He’s out there, see? In the orange baseball cap?”

Michael’s orange cap made him stand out from the crowd, which Logan was beginning to understand was the point of Cat’s color choices. He was left of center among the kite fliers, standing with his feet planted, gaze focused on his kite.

Logan liked him, liked both of them, though they were still in that awkward phase of getting to know each other. The three-hour brunch they’d shared last week had helped, of course, and that had been when Michael invited them to come today. “Popcorn?” he asked, holding the paper box out toward Cat.

“No, thanks. I brought four times as much food as we’ll need. Speaking of which, feel free to help yourself to anything. There’s cut-up vegetables, hummus, cheese, grapes, some sandwiches, homemade crackers and cookies. Yes, I went overboard. You’d do me a favor if you ate some of it.”

“Happy to help,” John told her, arriving with the chairs in time to hear her offer. “I’m starving.”

When she turned away in response to a call from Michael, John quickly set up the chairs, waving away Logan’s offer of help. “Let me do it. And can I get you some food?”

“You don’t need to wait on me.”

John gave him a direct look. Voice low, the music blaring out from the speakers making private conversation easy, he asked, “Don’t I? Isn’t that part of it too? Not the sex and the pain, but the service?”

“I never had that,” Logan answered honestly. “Quick sessions where nothing mattered but both of us getting off was about it. This is as new to me as it is to you in some ways.”

“New good or new bad?”

“Good,” Logan assured him. Did John not see the effect this conversation was having on him? He wanted to take his sub away and reward him in all kinds of ways for being so thoughtful. Ways they’d enjoy. “But don’t spoil me. I can get my own food without you feeling you’re failing in your duties.”

“It makes me happy to do things for you.” Everything about him, from his expression to his tone of voice, told Logan it was true.

He’d have to wrap his head around this being part of their dynamic because he certainly wanted John to be happy.

There you are! I thought we’d have to walk around this whole field a third time before we found you!”

Logan looked up to see Adrian and Ricky coming toward them.

“You should have worn, like, bright yellow, so you’d be easy to see,” Adrian continued. He himself was dressed in a snug-fitting blue shirt made from a shiny fabric; it would have been more appropriate club wear than it was for an outdoor activity.

“He’s exaggerating,” Ricky told them. “We didn’t even go around one whole time.”

“What? We were walking forever!”

“If you’d chosen more practical footwear, it wouldn’t have been an issue.” Ricky gestured at Adrian’s shoes, a complicated mess that seemed to include several feet of lacing. “I told you to wear your sneakers.”

“They don’t match my shirt.” Adrian sniffed. “Anyway, hi! We made it.”

Logan smiled at John, who’d been watching the conversation as if it were a tennis match. “I’ll admit it; I didn’t think we’d see you.”

“It’s such a nice day, it seemed like a shame to spend it indoors,” Ricky said.

“Skin cancer,” Adrian remarked to no one in particular. “I’m drenched in Factor Sixty, and I can still feel the freckles popping out all over me.”

John broke his silence. “I can’t see any on you.”

Bless you.” Adrian beamed at John as if he’d received a compliment. “So how’s life treating you, honey? Is Logan being good to you? Because if he isn’t, well, he’s bigger than me, so I probably wouldn’t punch him, but I’ll unleash my inner bitch and tear him to itty-bitty shreds if needed.”

“I’d pay to see that.” Ricky threw his arm around Adrian, bringing him in close, then tickling his ribs until Adrian yelped. “Down, tiger. They look good together and you know it.”

“I do.” Adrian nodded for emphasis, breaking free and giving Ricky a fondly exasperated glare. “I always know. When Pete and Dylan broke up, didn’t I call it two weeks before?”

“He did,” Logan told John. “But since we’d seen Dylan sucking face with the bartender, it wasn’t much of a stretch.”

“Hey! Don’t diss my powers!”

“More people to eat the food?” Cat walked over, smiling, her gaze flicking from the newcomers to John as if assessing his state of mind. That irritated Logan, but mildly. He couldn’t fault anyone looking out for John. “Hi, I’m Cat. Are you friends of Logan’s?”

“I’m Ricky, and this is Adrian.” Ricky was an expert at handling Adrian after all these years and knew when to jump in. “We went to high school with Logan. John mentioned this kite festival when we ran into each other earlier this week, and Adrian was eager to check it out. He’s a fan of anything that reminds him of his childhood.”

“I never left it behind entirely,” Adrian admitted. He was toning it down, on his best behavior. Logan knew that meant he’d decided he liked Cat and didn’t want to overwhelm her with the full brunt of his personality in the first ten minutes. After that, all bets were probably off. “So it’s your husband who’s the kite flier? Which one is he?”

Cat pointed. “Over there in the orange hat.”

Adrian made appreciative sounds and drew her away, asking questions that she seemed happy to answer.

“She’ll be eating out of his hand before the day’s out, mark my words,” Ricky said.

Logan nodded. “He knows how to turn on the charm when he wants to.”

“I’m glad he still wants to turn it on for me.” Ricky gazed at his departing boyfriend with affection.

“You’re great together,” John said unexpectedly. He didn’t usually comment on other people’s relationships.

“Thank you.” Ricky wasn’t as physically demonstrative as Adrian, but the smile he gave John was as warm as a hug. “It’s nice to hear that from someone who doesn’t know us that well. Though I hope that’s a temporary situation.” He addressed Logan. “We should hang out more. Losing Seth’s made me see how easy it is to assume life won’t change, and be lazy when it comes to the stuff that matters. Like not staying in touch. I don’t want to do that with you.”

“Hey.” Lost for words, Logan kicked at the grass, exposing earth and getting the toe of his shoe muddy. “Not gonna happen. And we’re doing that meal we had planned, right, John?”

“Whenever you say,” John agreed, making it sound casual, though Logan read it as more than that. This must be what diplomats went through, carrying on a conversation with an earpiece in, translating a foreign language. Or in this case, adding Sir in a submissive way that went straight to his cock. “Looking forward to it.”

“Sounds good.” A shadow passed over Ricky’s face, but Logan watched him shake off his mood and paste on a smile. “It’ll make a change if we leave without indigestion, so don’t worry that the bar’s too high. I remember once Logan had us over for a barbecue and managed to burn most of the food and still have it raw in the middle. Now that takes skill.”

“Logan doesn’t need to know how to cook, any more than I need to know how to lead a college lecture,” John said. He sounded comfortable and relaxed, not stressed like he was desperate for excuses. “I’ll try not to burn the meal, but then I won’t be cooking it on the grill.”

“Will there be dessert?” Adrian had come back in time to talk about food. “Can it be gooey chocolate? We’ll bring something; I’m not trying to make more work for you. I’m into chocolate right now.”

“Right now?” Logan asked, rolling his eyes. “You’ve been a glutton for chocolate the entire time I’ve known you.”

“No, there was a nine-month period—I think it was in 2010—when I wasn’t, remember? During my vegan phase?”

“I don’t think that lasted nine months, hon.” Ricky reached out and caught Adrian’s hand. “Maybe three.”

“No, it was definitely longer than that, because I didn’t eat cake at three or four birthday parties. That’s one of the main reasons I gave it up,” Adrian confided, focusing his attention on John, who seemed flattered by it. “How depressing is a birthday party without a good, dairy-and-egg-laden cake? Am I right?”

“Well, yes,” John said, though Logan would be surprised if he ate cake twice a year. He was too focused on healthy living to treat himself to sweets. “Do you have a favorite flavor?”

“Of cake? Hmm. You know, I’ve always wanted to try red velvet, but every time I’m about to, I get tempted by something with chocolate frosting. But red velvet’s supposed to be chocolate, isn’t it? It’s that the frosting’s cream cheese. Oh, and I like cheesecake, but that’s not cake, I don’t think. It’s more like cheese pie.” Adrian glanced over at Cat, who’d been dividing her attention between Michael’s kite flying and their conversation. “What do you think?”

She hissed at him and patted her stomach. “Don’t use the c word. The cravings kick in faster than you’d believe, and the next thing you know, I’m scavenging the kitchen for leftover trick-or-treat candy.”

“Calories.” Adrian sighed. “Another naughty word starting with c. We should make a list.” Two kids ran by, yelling at each other for no apparent reason. “But maybe not in public. So what day shall we do this?”

It seemed awkward discussing a dinner party in front of Cat when she wasn’t invited, but Logan wasn’t sure how well his friends and John’s would mix, so he didn’t extend an invitation for Cat and Michael to join them. It was going okay so far, but with a few glasses of wine in him, Adrian might let something slip that left John exposed. Logan had seen people’s expressions alter when they discovered his sexual preferences, and shrugged off any negative reactions easily enough, but John was more vulnerable.

“I’ll call you,” he said. “Do you want to walk around some more? John and I haven’t seen everything yet.”

“I’d like to see Michael from the other side of the field,” John said. “It’s a different view from over there. Cat, we can go by the booths if there’s anything you need?” It was hard to know if he was being tactful or generous.

She shook her head. “God no, and you’d better come back here when you’re done and help us eat some of this, or I’ll blame you next week when my pants won’t button.”

“Yes, ma’am.” John added a little salute that acted as a shield for any twinge of jealousy Logan felt, robbing his reply of any significance.

They skirted the edge of the area where the main competition was going on, Adrian exclaiming as the butterfly kite dropped another batch of candy into the crowd. “It’s like Christmas Day!” he said, clapping his hands.

“Weird, alternate-reality Christmas Day,” Ricky said, grinning.

“Santa Claus is a vibrant, creative individual.” Adrian was haughty, sure of himself. “If anyone can drop candy from the sky, it’s him.” He frowned. “It’s a pity those kids are so quick. We don’t stand a chance, not against those speedy little legs.”

“I’ll buy you some candy on the way home if you still want it then,” Ricky promised.

“That’s not the point; I can buy candy anytime. It’s about the thrill of the chase.”

“You’re both nuts,” Logan told them. He meant it fondly.

“Ooh, honey. You know I like those too.” Adrian fluttered his eyelashes.

To Logan’s delight, that made John crack up, snorting with laughter until they joined in, the shared amusement bonding them.

“Sorry,” John said, catching his breath. “Sometimes I lose it if something hits me the right way.”

“So we’ve heard,” Adrian said archly, then covered his mouth. “Oops?”

“Behave,” Logan told him with a growl that was mostly put-on. Adrian wouldn’t care about being scolded, but Ricky was as protective as Logan in his way. “Or I’ll buy you the toffee that glues your teeth together.”

“Threats.” Adrian fanned himself. “Is anyone else getting hot and bothered?” Ricky gave him a warning look, and he subsided. “I’ll be good; I’ll be good. You two are no fun. John, come with me, sweetie. Let’s see what the crowd over there is looking at.”

He tucked his hand under John’s arm and towed him away, John casting a save-me look back at Logan.

“He wouldn’t talk like that in front of people,” Ricky said as they followed. “He’s got more sense, I swear.”

“Oh, come on. We both know that’s not entirely true.” Logan nudged Ricky with his elbow and smiled at him conspiratorially. “We’ve been friends a long time. You don’t have to explain him to me. I accept him for who he is.”

“Yeah. I’m glad.” Ricky looked worried.

“What? What’s going on?”

There was no need for them to slow down—John and Adrian were too far ahead to overhear—but Ricky did anyway, and Logan matched his pace. “He’s having a hard time at work. They hired a new customer-service person and, well, I guess he rubs her the wrong way or something. You know how he can do that.”

It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time Adrian’s over-the-top personality had gotten on someone’s nerves, but he’d been working at the same upscale florist for at least a decade and seemed to love it. “Can’t they avoid each other?”

“Apparently not. He feels like she’s stepping on his toes, even though she was hired to do exactly what she’s doing.”

“He didn’t think that meant he wouldn’t be able to interact with the customers,” Logan guessed. The back of his neck stung, hot from the sun despite the brisk breeze.

Ricky nodded and pushed his glasses up his nose. “And he still can, but not enough to suit him. He isn’t angry, though. He’s, I don’t know, depressed.”

“You wouldn’t know it by looking at him.”

Ahead of them, Adrian was laughing at something John had said.

“I can,” Ricky said and left it there.

It never occurred to Logan to doubt him. When it came to John, he saw the shields John created, caught his evasions. And saw the love waiting to be shared along with every hurt he’d suffered.

With a surge of fellow feeling, he took Ricky’s hand for a moment, squeezing it before releasing it as Ricky turned with a surprised expression on his face.

“What was that for?”

“Do I need a reason?”

“No.” Ricky gestured at their partners. “Do they worry about us the way we fret over them?”

“Yeah, of course they do.” Logan allowed himself to be distracted by the flex of John’s ass as he walked. “But they don’t do it right.”

“Amateurs,” Ricky agreed, and without speaking, they increased their speed, catching up to John and Adrian within a few strides.

Chapter Sixteen

“Shit, shit, shit.” John found himself cursing as he shoved his feet into his threadbare slippers and rushed out into the garage where the trash cans were kept. He heard the garbage truck a few doors down, and Logan had forgotten to put the cans out again.

In the past months they’d fallen into a comfortable relationship, and John was happier than he’d ever been, but that didn’t mean there weren’t hiccups. The garbage cans were one of those. While they’d still been getting their living situation straightened out, Logan had volunteered to put them out at the curb on trash day. More often than not, though, he didn’t remember until it was too late. As a result, the cans currently held three weeks’ worth of trash bags from both the house and the apartment, and despite the cold, early December weather, they stank.

The first time the garbage had gone uncollected, John had reminded Logan to put it out. The second time, he’d been irritated as hell. How hard was it to drag a couple of cans down the driveway? Too hard, apparently, and John refused to suffer another week of getting out of his car into the garage and having his nose assaulted by the stench.

“Shit, hang on,” he muttered as if his words could magically slow down the truck. The garage door rattled upward, and he half ducked under it, lugging two trash cans and sliding on the thin sheet of ice from the inch of snow that had melted yesterday afternoon only to refreeze last night. He slipped again and righted himself in time to see the truck rumble callously by, the driver either not seeing him or not caring. “Fuck!” he yelled, too angry to care if anyone heard him.

He paused a minute to catch his breath, which was gusting out in white plumes. He was only wearing his bathrobe and the ratty slippers. He’d gotten out of the shower when he heard the truck, and rushed down the stairs, risking a fall with his speed.

Slowly, he trudged back up the driveway, rolling the cans behind him, seething in silence.

Logan, dressed for work, came out into the garage and seemed surprised to see John. “Oh hey. Is it Thursday?”

“No, I thought it would be fun to take the garbage cans for a walk,” John said darkly. “Yes, it’s fucking Thursday, and we missed garbage pickup. Again.”

Logan held up his hand. “Hey. A little respect in your tone?”

That was enough to destroy any vestige of hope that the situation could be resolved without yelling. John thought of himself as easygoing, but there’d been a handful of times when he’d surprised people by losing his temper spectacularly. It was as if years of compromise and placation provided fuel for a state of mind in which he wouldn’t have shifted position if a tank were bearing down on him.

“What the— No! You don’t get to play that card. I’m your landlord, and you’re my tenant. You have responsibilities, ones you took on, and I expect you—”

Talking over him, Logan snapped, “Listen, my phone was dead, so the alarm didn’t go off, and I’m running late—”

“Then you should’ve charged it!”

“I was too busy tying you up and turning your ass—”

The ass in question was bruised and sore, but for once that wasn’t a source of secret delight as he went about his day. The riding crop Logan had used for the final three strokes had left painful welts, pain that soap and hot water had reignited. “Will you keep your fucking voice down?”

Logan gave him a fulminating glare but had the common sense to hiss out his next words. “You’re my sub first, landlord second. If there’s an issue bugging you, bring it up in an appropriate way; don’t scream at me and stamp your feet.”

John grabbed the nearest can and shoved it hard, sending it crashing against Logan’s legs. “Put them back in the garage until next week.”

Brushing at a stain on his pants from the can, nose wrinkled in distaste from the smell of curry sauce from a takeout they’d had three days earlier, Logan said evenly, “Not a chance in hell. You dragged them out; you put them back.”

“I dragged them out in my bathrobe and slippers because I was trying to get them to the curb before it was too late.” He was pretty sure his wet hair had ice forming on each strand. “Because I was doing your job. I buy the trash bags, and you put the garbage cans out. That was our agreement, right? I didn’t misunderstand?”

“You know you didn’t.” Logan hadn’t made a move to put the cans back. “I only agreed to that because you didn’t like the trash bags I was buying.”

“Oh, so I bullied you into it?” The trash bags Logan referred to had come from the dollar store and been so flimsy that they’d rip at a harsh look. One of them hadn’t even made it successfully from Logan’s kitchen to the garage, and since he’d been carrying it at the time, John hadn’t found the resultant flood of soggy garbage remotely amusing.

Logan rolled his eyes. “It’s not that big a deal. Relax.”

“Are you kidding me? I gagged at the stink when I got out of my car the other night. I’m afraid to take the lid off either of these cans in case I discover there are maggots! Do you know what the health department would say if they did an investigation?”

“John. Calm down. The health department doesn’t care about our garage or whether we put the trash out last week.”

Three weeks, Logan! Three weeks. It’ll be four by the time the garbage truck comes around again. It’s unacceptable.” John crossed his arms over his chest, scowling at Logan with genuine anger. He was fed up. Something had to change.

Logan took out his phone and glanced at it. “I can’t do this now—I’m late. We’ll talk about it tonight after work, okay?” He turned away without waiting for a response, heading back through the open garage door toward his car.

“No. We’re talking about it now.” Furious, John grabbed hold of the trash cans and rolled them over to the other side of the driveway, blocking Logan’s car.

“A three-year-old would call that immature.”

“Yeah? Well, a toddler has more grasp of—”

“John?” The deep, musical voice, rich as honey, that had captivated him at their first meeting rang out, silencing him. “What on earth? I heard you from the cab. Who’s this?”

Ava. Familiar and a stranger, a city gloss overlaying her so he had to look closely to find his wife. Her hair was copper, gleaming, silky, hanging in deceptively casual waves around a face that had most definitely gotten work. She was swathed in a long gray coat fastened in a complex way with a single giant button, and her knee-high black leather boots accentuated her slim legs. Her purse he recognized only because she’d dreamed of owning one for years, despite it costing as much as a used car. The suitcase standing beside her was Vuitton.

Caught up in his sour mood, his immediate, ungracious reaction was to wonder if she’d landed a rich boyfriend.

“Me?” Logan stalked past John, bringing the windchill with him, and grabbed the trash cans. “I’m the lodger. I’d stay for introductions, but I’m late, and I have chores to do apparently.”

Instead of replacing the trash in the garage, he dragged it across the road to add to the cans still waiting to be emptied. John opened his mouth to protest, but Logan kept walking, then knocked on the door of the house opposite, presumably to ask permission for what he’d done.

He’d get it. Miss Saunders adored him after he’d scooped up her straying cat wandering two blocks away, getting deep scratches in the process, and returned it safely.

“Well, now.” Ava smiled at him. Conspiratorial, mischievous. “He’s new and shiny.”

John didn’t know what to do. He’d forgotten her ability to waltz into a situation, even one where she was out of place, and fit herself into it as if she belonged. “He’s renting the apartment.”

“So I gathered. You’ll have to tell me about him. Would you get my suitcase, please? I had my nails done.”

It was easier to do as she’d asked than to argue, and more than anything else he wanted—needed—to know why she was here. She’d come in a cab, not a car, but he’d heard from a mutual friend that her mother died only a few months after she left him, and he knew Ava and her siblings must have inherited a lot of money. Michael had suggested that as Ava’s legal husband he was entitled to some of it, but John had shaken his head. At the time he’d hoped their separation was temporary; calling her up and asking for money would put another nail in the coffin of their marriage.

She went in through the garage to the kitchen as if she still lived there, careful not to brush against John’s car, which admittedly was coated with salt from the roads. “It doesn’t look any different,” she said as he followed her into the house, setting the suitcase against the wall. Turning, she eyed him up and down. “I hope this isn’t your new normal.”

“I got out of the shower a few minutes ago,” John said. He pulled his bathrobe more tightly around him. “I heard the garbage truck coming and made a run for it.”

“Well, that’s reassuring. And that’s your tenant? He looks familiar.”

God, please let her be wrong. The thought of Ava being friendly with Logan before she left horrified him. “He’s a professor at Gardiner.”

“Hm.” Her interest had already fled. “And my studio? My art?”

“You left, Ava. You didn’t give me any reason to think you were ever coming back, so I packed up your things.” He wouldn’t admit that he’d thrown most of them away unless she backed him into a corner, because he was pretty sure she’d be furious.

She brushed his words away with a flick of her fingers. “Oh, they don’t matter. All those silly little hobbies of mine…” She shook her head, smiling ruefully. “You had the patience of a saint to put up with me, but don’t worry, I’ve moved past dabbling. Though it might be fun to hang one or two of them in my apartment as a joke and get Marcus to give me his opinion.” She covered her lips with her hand and giggled. “He’ll faint. Or rip them down.”

“Marcus? Is he your new— I mean, are you seeing him?”

God, this was awkward. Still on edge and simmering from the run-in with Logan, it was difficult to switch gears and make polite conversation with a woman he’d once loved but never expected to see again.

“Every day, but not the way you mean.” She grinned, a bawdy grin that his body responded to out of habit. “Gay, darling. So very gay. And in his sixties, not that it matters. He’s my boss at the gallery. Total sweetheart unless you get on his wrong side, which I’ve avoided doing, thank God.”

“You’re working in an art gallery?”

“In New York, yes. It’s tiny but exclusive. You know the sort of place—white walls, empty space, a few choice pieces, and the real profit is in home decor, which is my department. And I’m not exactly an employee. I invested in the business, so I’m a junior partner.”

That would take care of the inheritance. “I’m happy for you, but why the visit? And why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” Annoyance stirred. She’d expected him to be waiting, a place open for her, his plans unimportant, his life presumed static.

And without Logan, that might have been the case, but not now.

To some it would seem paradoxical, but submitting to Logan had made him stronger. Dealing with people at work, he now showed a confidence he realized he’d lacked. His social life was thriving, his friends liking Logan, and Logan’s, in the scene or out of it, accepting him cheerfully. The two groups hadn’t mixed, but John planned for an open house at Christmas to change that.

He couldn’t shake his irritation with Logan, not yet, but deep down he saw the argument for what it was—a ripple on smooth water. Their bonds as lovers, as friends, and yes, as Dom and sub were too strong for an argument to sever.

And the makeup sex would be incendiary, a realization that went a long way to soothing his mood.

“I thought it was time we talked. I tried to call, but I never managed to catch you at home,” Ava said.

“You could have left a message.”

“If I’d been able to figure out what to say.” She shrugged, and her hair, longer than he remembered after that drastic cut, down to her shoulders now, gleamed in the morning light.

“So showing up seemed like a better idea?” It was hard not to let his frustration creep into his voice.

Ava shrugged again. “No. But honestly, I didn’t think you’d still be here this late. You leave for work at eight twenty on the dot.”

“I guess I’m mellowing in my old age.” Easier to tell her that than to try to explain that Logan had challenged him to relax his strict personal standards when it came to the time he left for work, and rewarded him handsomely when he managed it.

“Oh, come on. Neither of us believes that.” Gentle teasing at most, of the sort he would have accepted and maybe even called affectionate until recently. “May I sit down?” Ava rested her hand on the back of a kitchen chair, and John had a sudden, sharp flashback to the night Logan had tied him to it, naked, and given him a long blowjob that had left him shaking and sobbing as he begged to come. Logan hadn’t let him. Not then. Not until he’d straddled John and fed his cock into John’s mouth, fucking it with slow, deliberate strokes and leaving his cum dripping off John’s face. The permission to climax had barely left Logan’s lips when John had shot, guttural sounds ripped from him as he shuddered through his orgasm, the pleasure intense enough to leave him dazed, blissed-out.

“You were going to let yourself in here while I was at work, but you’ll ask for permission to sit?” John waved at her. “Yeah, of course. Go ahead.”

She sat, her expression hurt. “I didn’t know if my key would still work. For all I knew, you’d changed the locks. You had every right to.”

“I thought about it, but I didn’t,” he admitted, sitting too.

“Anyway, I’d let myself in, and… I don’t know. I planned it out up to that point; then my mind went blank.” Ava smiled, a hint of sadness in her eyes. “I wondered if maybe you’d gotten yourself a girlfriend.”

John was glad to answer without lying. “No, no girlfriend. You?”

“Marcus takes up my work hours and most of my free time as well. He’s good to me. Introduced me to his friends, helped me find an apartment.”

Tired of waiting for her to get to the point, he broke through the chitchat. “Ava, I began divorce proceedings last month. Is that why you’re here?”

Her eyes widened; then she nodded, a sharp jerk of her head. “You know it is. I opened the letter from your lawyer on Tuesday, and I— John, I’m happy in the city, and I love my new life, but you’re my husband. For better or worse, right? I walked away from boredom, not you.”

“I was part of that boredom,” he pointed out, not without sympathy. Still exploring the novelty of his submissive side, he couldn’t imagine turning his back on it. “Truth be told, we had our moments, but the passion didn’t last long, and when that went, what was left?”

“Hey!” She smacked the table with her fingertips. “That’s cold. We were good together. Everyone said we were the perfect couple.”

“And yet you left.” John spotted a sweater of Logan’s in the laundry basket he’d left in the corner, intending to start a wash when he returned from work. It brought home how entwined their lives were. Sure, they lived apart, with Logan paying rent scrupulously, but three or four nights a week they met up to eat and sleep together. That would’ve happened the night before, but John, worn out by the scene, had wanted to go to bed early, and Logan had papers to grade, so they’d gone their separate ways.

“Now I’m here. Not to stay, but to ask if you’ll come back with me.” She leaned forward, fixing him with an imploring gaze. “Join me in New York, John. You’ll get a job, a better one, with more scope and potential. I can show you the city, and we can be with people who— God, they’re interesting—involved in politics and social issues, they travel, they’re cosmopolitan, exciting… And you’d love my place. It’s the top floor of this nineteenth-century restored brownstone, and the neighborhood’s vibrant, friendly. I walk to the farmer’s market on Saturdays when the street’s waking up, and stop off for a coffee at this place run by an Italian couple. Best coffee I’ve ever had, and their pastries are to die for. I explore the nooks and crannies the tourists never get to see, amazing architecture, and then there are the museums, the shows. Oh, you’d love it!” The tumbled words slowed. She stood and came over to him, winding her arms around his neck, her signature perfume fragrant on the air he breathed. “And you’d love me again. Because I never stopped loving you.”

“It sounds—” He broke off. It sounded pretty damn good.

“I know I showed up out of the blue and knocked you off your feet,” Ava said. “I know you hate surprises. I should have written to you, then called once I’d given you a heads-up, but when I opened that letter from your lawyer… I didn’t realize until that moment how much I missed you. Didn’t you miss me?”

They’d been together too long for him to feel okay about lying to her. “Yes. I missed you.” He patted her arm and eased away in as gentle a manner as possible. “But you can’t hit me with this and expect me to say yes.”

“I know. I know.” Ava went back to her chair, but she gazed at him warmly now, clearly hopeful he’d come around to her way of thinking. “It would be stupid for me to expect a decision in five minutes. You need some time. That’s understandable. I was hoping you’d be willing to let me stay here, though? Maybe for a few nights?”

“At the least you’ll stay here today,” John said, not committing further. “I have to go to work. You won’t be able to get into the studio, though. I put new locks on there before I rented it out, and even if I hadn’t, it wouldn’t be okay to intrude upon a tenant’s privacy.” Had he done a good enough job of making his relationship with Logan sound like nothing more than a casual landlord-tenant friendship?

He’d tell Ava the truth eventually. Of course he would. He needed a little time to figure out how to do it, that was all.

He went upstairs to dress, uneasily aware of the sounds she made moving around, familiar but intrusive, then gave her an awkward peck on the cheek and left. He wound his way through traffic, same route, same car, same woman waiting back at the house as there was two years ago.

But he’d changed. He held on to that truth throughout the difficult day, his mind elsewhere, mistakes piling up. Logan didn’t text or call. In some ways, that was one less problem to deal with, but it was a problem that wouldn’t go away. Logan had seen photos of Ava. He knew who she was, and he had to wonder what she was doing back in town, but he hadn’t gotten in touch.

That spoke of deep anger after the argument or, viewed optimistically, he was giving John space to handle Ava.

At three he cracked, finished early, and headed not for home but the college. By now he knew Logan’s schedule by heart, and Logan was in his office from three to four, door closed to students unless it was an emergency, prepping for the next day.

The hallways of the college were quiet, most students in class. Those that weren’t drifted past him, locked in silent worlds, headphones on or texting. He reached Logan’s office with the strong desire to clap his hands and check that he hadn’t gone deaf.

He knocked. Manners and a sub’s respect for his Dom made that necessary. And didn’t he love the small, subtle acknowledgments of what they were to each other, like Logan’s hand closing on the back of his neck as a signal for him to kneel?

“Come in,” Logan called and, as John pushed the door open, added, “This had better be important. I’m— John.”

“No, I’m John. You’re Logan. You must be swamped if you can’t keep track of who is who.” He went into the office and closed the door behind him, hoping he was smiling encouragingly. The lack of contact over the course of the day had troubled him more than he’d like to admit even to himself, and he was worried Logan thought Ava’s reappearance complicated things too much.

Logan rose to his feet and didn’t waste time on small talk. “That was your wife who turned up this morning.”

“Yes.” John didn’t want to sit when Logan was standing, and this wasn’t the time to argue about legalities. “I didn’t expect her to. I’d have warned you if I knew.”

“Is she back for good?” Logan gestured at the chair that was available for his students during office hours. “Please, sit.”

“Are you sure? I’m not interrupting?”

“Interrupting what? I’ve been useless all day,” Logan said. “John. Sit. Please.”

“I’m not a dog,” John grumbled but sat when Logan did. “I’m sorry about this morning.”

“No, I’m sorry. It was my fault, not yours. You’re my landlord, and I need to remember that, even though the dynamic goes against what we’d both prefer.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be your landlord.” There had to be a way to arrange that through a lawyer so that Logan’s rent was looked at as a monthly payment toward eventual ownership of the apartment.

Logan’s expression had gone blank. Slowly, he asked, “Do you want me to move out?”

“No! God, no, that’s not what I meant.” John drew his tongue over his lips, finding them dry. “It’s complicating things between us, you renting from me.” He explained his idea to Logan, watching for his reaction.

Logan screwed up his face. “And you think that would make it less complicated? John, I don’t want to buy the apartment. It’d screw up any future sale of the house to have it divided like that. And I’m not sure it’s yours to sell. Doesn’t your wife own half of the house? Wouldn’t you need her permission?”

“I—” John ground to a halt. Why hadn’t he thought of that? The mortgage had been paid off a few years before because he’d taken his parents’ advice and gotten onto the property ladder early, before house prices rose steeply. He’d bought a small house, sold it, moved up to a bigger one, making a profit on the sale, then repeated the process to buy his current home when he’d married Ava. Ava had contributed toward the deposit, and her name was on the papers with his.

“Yeah,” Logan said flatly. “Thought so.” He tilted his head. “So what did she say when she found out you were seeing me?”

He’d expected the question without coming up with a good answer. “I didn’t tell her. It didn’t seem like the right time.”

Logan rolled his eyes. “Great. Now I’m your dirty little secret. Or do we go the sitcom route with comical misunderstandings and a dramatic reveal before the commercial break?”

The bitterness in Logan’s voice made John wince. “No! I’ll tell her; I will.”

“What makes you think you need to?”

John shook his head, bewildered. “What?”

“When we had dinner with Cat and Michael last month, Cat said something about your wife—”

“Stop calling her that,” John said wearily. “You’ve made your point.”

Logan flapped his hand impatiently. “Ava, then. You were over at the salad bar, and I was on my way back to the table. Cat didn’t know I was in earshot, and she said Ava had invited her to stay and do some early Christmas shopping. They’re still in touch, by the sound of it, so how likely is it that Cat never mentioned me?”

Not likely at all. Why hadn’t that occurred to him? Cat loved to gossip and matchmake. She’d been devastated when Ava left, though she’d accepted Logan warmly. How much of that warmth was fake? Did she see Logan as John’s midlife crisis, inevitable but short-lived?

“Did she tell you why she’s in town?” Logan asked when John stayed silent, turning over what he’d learned.

He shook off his introspection and met Logan’s gaze. “She came back because I served her with divorce papers and it panicked her. She wants me to go to the city with her. For us to get back together.”

Shit. Why had he blurted it out like that, as an option, instead of couching it as an impossibility, a joke?

“Well, maybe you should consider that, then. We did sign that lease, but as long as you’re willing to give me a reasonable amount of notice, I’m sure we could work out something, whether you decide to sell right away or rent the house for a while.”

John cursed himself for being an idiot. “None of that’s what I want. I want… I want you.”

“As your Dom, it’s not my job to give you what you want,” Logan said, as distant as if he was lecturing to a hall full of disinterested students. “It’s my job to give you what you need, and right now we need some time to figure out what that is.”

What the hell did that mean? “So what now?”

“I won’t come home tonight. Spend the evening with your wife—Ava, sorry—and think about what will be good for you in the long run. Life is complicated enough already, John. Don’t make it any worse than it has to be.” Logan managed to smile without looking happy. “Go on. I’ll come back tomorrow night after work, and we can talk.”

“But—”

John. We’re not arguing about this.” It was Logan’s no-nonsense voice, one John had learned to listen to.

He nodded. “Okay. Promise you won’t disappear on me?”

“I promise. I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“Then believe it of me. We’ve got something here that’s—”

“John.” Logan stood, walked to the door, and held it open. “Time to go.”

If the door had been closed, giving them privacy, he would’ve gone to his knees, and Logan knew it. Trapped into acting against his instincts, John left, giving Logan one final, pleading look, reading no answering warmth in Logan’s eyes.

He glanced back as the door closed and saw Logan’s shoulders slump, his head go down.

What the fuck had he done? And how was he going to fix it?

For want of anything better to do, he went home. Ava met him at the door, smiling, dressed in soft shades of purple and gray, elegant but at the same time approachable.

“You’re home early! Dinner’s not ready yet, but let’s share a glass of wine while we wait. It’s a cassoulet. You always loved it, remember? And for dessert I foraged around and made a fruit strudel.” She patted her flat stomach. “Naughty of me, but I’ll walk it off tomorrow.”

“You didn’t have to cook.” He tried and failed to keep his annoyance from showing. Ava rummaging through his cupboards and fridge, seeing the leftovers of the meal he’d prepared for Logan, the new beer they’d discovered a liking for… It was an invasion and one he resented.

“Oh, but I had all day with nothing to do! Maybe you can take tomorrow off so we can talk? Or are you way ahead of me and you’ve done that already?”

“No, and I don’t intend to. Ava, why did you pretend not to know who Logan was?”

To her credit she didn’t fake surprise or ignorance. “When I’d walked in on the two of you going at it hammer and tongs? Really, darling, it didn’t seem the time. And I didn’t want to embarrass you.” She walked into the front room, forcing him to follow or be left talking to her back. An open bottle of red wine stood on the coffee table next to an empty glass and one half full. Picking up the used glass, she took a sip, then stared at him. “Well, he’s gorgeous, I’ll give you that, and from all accounts he’s far from a boy toy, but you can’t expect me to see him as serious competition.”

“Why not?”

She gave him a pitying smile. “What have you got that he wants? What do you have in common? Fine, you wanted to explore your sexuality. I understand that. Hell, I think it’s great. But he’s temporary. There’s no future with him the way there is with me. Cross sex with a guy off your bucket list, and go back to who you are at heart.”

“You don’t know who I am.” John sat and for lack of anything else to do reached for the empty wineglass.

“Oh, let me pour you some.” Ava picked up the bottle but hesitated when John turned the glass upside down. “Now, I know you haven’t given up drinking. There’s beer in the fridge for one thing. Don’t be silly.”

“I’m not.” He considered dropping the glass onto the floor to make his point, but his conservative nature insisted that would be wasteful. It wasn’t the glass’s fault.

“Come into the kitchen so we can talk,” Ava said, taking control of the situation again.

Silently, John followed her. Ava set her glass on the table and went to the oven to check on her cassoulet, spending more time than John knew was necessary leaning over with her shapely ass on display. The fabric of her dress clung to her curves. “It will be another half hour at least. I wish you’d called to let me know you were coming home early.”

“I didn’t know you were making dinner,” John pointed out. “Or even if you’d be here when I returned home, honestly.”

“But you must have hoped I would be, or you wouldn’t have left work before the day was over. You did, didn’t you? Normally you wouldn’t have been back before six fifteen or so.”

“I left early because I wanted to stop by Gardiner and see Logan.” There didn’t seem to be any reason to sidestep what was going on here. “He and I are building a future together, Ava. I’ve moved on. I’m sorry if that’s not easy to hear—”

She waved his apology away. “John, we’ve been married a long time. A long time. I know you better than anyone, and I think we both know you have…well, should we call them issues? Gay men have high expectations when it comes to certain things—it’s not a stereotype—and while I’m sure Logan’s been understanding so far, it isn’t realistic to think he’ll tolerate that sort of thing long term.”

“Huh?” It’d been months since he’d had an issue with climaxing, so long that it took a moment to work out what she meant. When he did, his laugh was unforced. “Oh, that! Yeah, not a problem with Logan, trust me.”

“Well, isn’t that nice for you.” Ava drew in a sharp breath. “So I’m to blame for your failure to perform, is that it?”

He saw the hurt beneath the bitterness, and his heart ached for her. “No. Please don’t take it personally, Ava. It was nothing you did. I was— There was something missing.”

“A cock? I could’ve tried a strap-on if you’d asked.”

If he’d been drinking at the time, he would have choked. “Ava!”

“What?” She smiled, a challenging spark in her eyes, though her face was flushed. “You think I’m some sweet innocent? Some of the parties I’ve been to, some of the exhibits… It’s incredible what you can get away with in the name of art. One underground one in the summer was called The Process of Degradation and featured live models in the center of the installations. When the pieces were auctioned off, the models went with them. It was a stunt, of course, but—”

Panic that she was close to guessing the dynamic between Logan and him made his next words overly vehement. “I don’t give a fuck about your pretentious arty-farty exhibitions!”

“That touched a nerve.” Ava narrowed her eyes. “You were on the dull side in bed, but I don’t remember you being so prudish.”

This was the most surreal conversation he’d ever had. “That’s not the word Logan would use.”

“So you’re gay now? Is that what you’re telling me?” There was a challenge in her voice, as if she expected him to prove it to her somehow.

“I don’t know,” John said. “And I don’t care. It doesn’t matter where I fall on the Kinsey scale. I’m with Logan. That’s all.”

“You’re still married to me.

“Not for long.” He tried not to let the quiver of her lip upset him. He’d known her for so many years, and if he was honest, there were times he knew she acted how she thought she should instead of how she wanted to. It made it hard to know for sure if she was upset at the thought of their marriage being over, of losing him, or of being thwarted. “Ava, I didn’t file for divorce because I hoped you’d come back. It’s over; we’re done.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“It’s true whether you believe it or not. You can pretend the earth is flat if you want to. That doesn’t change the facts.”

“Come with me to New York.” Ava stepped forward, eyes gleaming. “One week, that’s all I’m asking. See what it’s like, spend some time with me. You’ll remember how good things were between us and realize what a satisfying life we’ll have together there. After what we’ve been through, don’t you owe me that much?”

It was a reasonable request, and a gesture that would placate her. It wouldn’t change anything, but—

And as he thought that, the sheer pointlessness of agreeing struck home. It wouldn’t change anything. He’d found his happiness with Logan. Looking for a different version of it with Ava was a waste of time. Oh, if Logan didn’t exist, maybe he would’ve tried it, though the upheaval of moving and looking for a new job was daunting. But to save a marriage that had once meant a lot to him, he’d have done it.

Now, though…

“I owe you? You walked out, Ava. You abandoned our marriage. And I moved on. I can’t step back.”

“I’m not asking you to! Forward, John! I’m asking you to go forward.”

“No. You’re asking me to follow in your footsteps, and we’re on different paths now. I can’t make you see that, so I won’t try. But the discussion’s over. We can stay in touch after the divorce. I’d like that. And I hope you’ll let me buy your share of the house from you, but if you won’t, well, moving might be a good idea anyway. We can sell and split the profits.”

“I don’t care about the house,” Ava said quietly. “You can have it.”

“That wouldn’t be fair.” John was a lot more concerned about what was fair today than he would have been a week ago or even yesterday. “We’ll figure something out. The lawyers can help with that.”

“Helping isn’t what they excel at, is it? I thought their specialty was making people miserable.” She sighed and took a seat, picking up her glass of wine and sipping from it. “Well, can we eat this cassoulet, anyway? Since I went to the trouble of making it?”

“Sure.” God, this was awkward. “I appreciate that you wanted to do something nice for me.”

“No, you don’t. You think I was trying to bribe you so you’d feel guilty and be more likely to do what I wanted.” She was quick to see through people; it wasn’t surprising to John that working at an art gallery or in decor would be something she’d excel at, especially if it included figuring out what customers liked and steering them toward pieces that would suit them. She shrugged. “Maybe you’re right. But I skipped lunch, and I’m starving. Will Logan be joining us?”

John shook his head, torn about how honest he should be. “He wanted to give us some space to work things out.”

“That makes it sound like he thinks he’s out of the picture.”

“Only because he wants to be sure I’m making the decision that’s right for me.”

Ava drank the rest of her wine, then fixed John with a determined gaze. “So what’s the right decision for you, John? Tell me.”

“I already did. My past was with you, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. But my future’s with Logan. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

“Then I want to meet him. Not that you need my approval, but it seems weird my friends know him and I don’t.” She gave him a playful look. “I promise to be on my best behavior. No awkward questions or staking a claim on you.”

“Sure, but not tonight. He made it clear he wanted us to have this time to talk, and he won’t appreciate me bugging him to change his mind.”

She raised her eyebrows, tapping her finger against pursed lips. “He sounds on the inflexible side. Bossy and controlling even. Are you sure that’s what you want?”

Biting the inside of his cheek to quell a grin, John assured her Logan was his perfect match.

And thank God they’d never gotten around to adding anything to the basement that revealed the way they played. Ava could’ve gone over the house from top to bottom, but not find anything more compromising than lube and condoms. The sex toys were in Logan’s apartment, with John forbidden to touch them unless Logan okayed it.

Except for the handcuffs they’d used a few nights before that’d needed a minor repair. Logan had allowed John to take them home to fix, and he’d put them—

Shit. He’d left them in the kitchen, on top of the microwave. Face burning, he stared at Ava, who smiled, a wicked curl of her lips. She knew. And she wanted John to know she knew.

“Ava, what did you— Did you—” He stalled. Froze. He couldn’t ask his wife if she’d seen the cuffs his lover had used to hold him still for a deep, rough fingering that’d left his ass stretched and raw, his cock slick.

Relenting, as if that moment of revenge was sufficient, she stood, walked over to him, and kissed his cheek. “They’re in the drawer by the fridge. And if things don’t work out, you know where I live,” she said. “Now let’s eat.”

Chapter Seventeen

Logan pulled up in front of the neighbor’s house first thing in the morning and left his car there instead of parking in the driveway. He’d told John he wouldn’t come home until that evening, but there were things he needed from the apartment for a lecture that day, so he planned to sneak in and back out again without being seen. The trash cans were still at the curb across the street. He went over and picked them up, choosing to carry them rather than roll them in case the noise caught John’s attention. It was awkward even though they were empty. They smelled worse than he’d remembered.

He left the cans near his half of the garage and went around to the extra door he rarely used rather than risk the rumble of the garage door alerting John to his presence.

He’d been doing his best not to think about John since last night. It wouldn’t do him any good to worry about what would happen. If John decided to get back together with Ava—his wife—Logan would learn to live with it.

Somehow.

He crept up the stairs, wincing at the way they creaked under his feet, when the door to the house swung open. “There you are.” Ava seemed delighted to see him. Not a good sign. She wore pink cotton pajamas with little hearts on them, her feet were bare, and her hair was artfully tousled. “John promised I’d get to meet you. He says you’ve been the nicest tenant. That you took his virginity, even.”

“Um…” Logan wasn’t the kind of person who often found himself speechless, but this was not a conversation he’d been expecting to have before eight a.m.

“His landlord virginity,” Ava clarified.

“Is that a thing? I don’t think it’s a thing.”

She shrugged, then put her hand on the small of her back, wincing. “That damn bed of John’s. It’s like sleeping on a pile of rocks. How do you cope with it?”

“I make John sleep on the lumpy side.”

“Ah. I hear you’re good at telling people what to do.”

“So my students claim.”

“I sincerely hope not. There’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

It was like fencing with someone who’d swapped rapier for bludgeon. “If this is your way of saying you’re taking John with you when you go—”

“No. This is me indulging my inner bitch. I’ve been so goddamned understanding and gracious about being rejected, I expect to see a halo when I look in the mirror.”

Logan tightened his grip on the handrail. Rejected? John had chosen him? Weak with relief, he snapped, “No halo visible from here, trust me.”

“Hmm.” She leaned against the wall, then straightened, brushing dust off her sleeve. “I slept in the spare room.” Thank God. “Not being a masochist, sleeping on a mattress my husband and his gay kinky lover used wasn’t appealing.”

“Understandable,” he managed. Jesus, how much had John spilled about them?

“And by the way, the four-poster bed? My idea. I’m sure you’ve put it to good use.”

Oh yeah. Not as much as she thought, because when he told his subs to stay still, they listened, but sometimes, because John testing his bonds and finding himself held was a thing of beauty. And that wasn’t for sharing with Ava.

“Tell me the truth. Did you come back to fuck with our heads or because you wanted him back for real?”

“Oh, honey. You don’t know me at all.” She gave him a pitying look. “I like to get my way, and not everyone gets my sense of humor, but I’m not mean. This wasn’t about fucking with John’s head. Do you even know what it’s like to have been in a relationship with someone for more than fifteen years? The connection never goes away, not completely. Things were good a hell of a lot longer than they were bad.” She tucked her hair back behind her ears and pointed into the house. “My feet are cold. Come in and have some coffee.”

“I’m not sure John would be too crazy about that idea,” Logan said.

“You’re not?” Ava snorted. “And I thought you were supposed to be smart. Well, suit yourself, but don’t blame me when John shows up at the back of one of your lectures today and makes some huge romantic gesture.”

Logan understood now why Ava had appealed to John on such a deep level. “Is he even up?”

“Why are you asking questions you already know the answer to? Of course he’s up.”

He found himself following her into the house without making a decision to do so, drawn by the desire to see John. He and John entered the kitchen at the same time from opposite sides of the room; they stopped when they saw each other. Ava looked from John to Logan and back to John again. “I’m going upstairs to brush my teeth,” she announced and went past John, presumably heading for the stairs.

John raised his eyebrows, standing tall, no sign of the sub in him. “You weren’t supposed to come home until tonight.”

“I know. I had to get a few things before class this morning; I was trying to sneak in without you knowing.”

John’s dignified expression dissolved into hurt. “You didn’t want to see me? You’re that ready to quit on us?”

“I didn’t want to say one thing and do another,” Logan said. “I wanted to see you. I wasn’t sure I’d get good news if I did. And I’d never quit on you. I was letting you have space to choose.”

“I hate that you believed there was ever a choice to be made.”

Being John’s Dom didn’t grant Logan a window into his head, but he spent a lot of time observing his sub. If John were a language, it was one he’d gotten fluent in, though there was room for improvement. That awareness told him John wasn’t being entirely truthful. “Wasn’t there?”

“No!” John shook his head. “Okay, when I saw her, and she laid out this new life and asked me to join her, it appealed to me. But in the way a vacation does. And after two weeks on a beach, I’m usually ready to go home.”

“So she’s the fun choice and I’m boring routine?” Logan folded his arms across his chest, tapping his right ring finger against his bicep. “I see that as a challenge to spice things up, so when you’re suffering later on, remember why.”

John grinned. “Yes, Sir.” His smile faded, and he cast a glance up at the ceiling. “She’s staying another day or two so she can catch up with her friends. I’ll call the lawyer too and see what progress has been made with the divorce proceedings.”

That had Logan going over to him, unable to keep his distance. Pulling John into a hug, he abandoned words and used his mouth to reassure in a different way, taking John’s lips in a kiss that left him longing for the time and privacy to claim more.

He hadn’t needed the threat of losing John to make him appreciate the man, but the glimpse of a future without him had been nightmarish. He wanted to wipe it out, bind them together again, with bonds that nothing and no one could break.

“Thank you for coming back,” John whispered into his ear.

“Did you think I wouldn’t?” Logan took John’s face between his hands and looked into his eyes.

“I thought I’d have to go through today not knowing what would happen. I dreaded it.”

“Well, here I am. And we’re okay.” He kissed John again, hugged him tightly. “Find out Ava’s schedule over the next couple of days. I have plans for you, and I don’t want to be interrupted.”

Despite his enormous relief at learning that John hadn’t thrown in the towel on their relationship, Logan spent the day in a haze of low-level anxiety and was glad when his office hours ended. He packed up his laptop, but when he opened his door, he collided with a student who’d been about to knock.

“Oh! Sorry. I know I’m late—”

“You are,” Logan told him. “I have office hours again tomorrow; come back then.”

The student, who Logan recognized but whose name he wasn’t sure he’d ever known, frowned. “But I needed to ask you about one thing. It’ll be quick, I promise.”

“It’ll have to be quick tomorrow.” Logan didn’t wait for a response and tuned out the young man’s continued attempts to engage, walking off down the hallway without looking back. He’d probably regret it tomorrow, but today he wanted to get home and get his hands on his boyfriend.

He called John from his car, watching students go by, huddled into their coats against a biting, sleet-flecked wind.

“Are you alone?”

“Hi. Yeah, Ava’s catching up with Cat and Michael. She called a few minutes ago and said she was going out for dinner and drinks with them and she’d be back around ten. We were invited, but I said no. Was that okay, Sir?”

Cock hardening at the deference in John’s voice, Logan said, “Yes, it was. I’m in the parking lot at the college, so I’ll be home in fifteen minutes. I want you ready for me.”

“Yes. Oh God, please. I need you.”

“Yeah, well, it’s mutual.” Logan longed to turn the key and get moving, but his phone wasn’t hands-free and distracted driving had killed three students at the college in the last five years. “Go over to my place. I don’t want any risk of interruption if Ava’s plans change. Be waiting in the bedroom, naked, kneeling in a corner, facing the wall. Use the time to get in a good headspace for me. I know you’re at work tomorrow, but tonight you’re giving me everything you’ve got, John. I want your submission, I want you showing me with every breath, every word, every move you make, who you belong to.”

“It’s you, Sir.” John’s voice was a whisper, but a forceful one. “I belong to you.”

“Yeah, well get ready to fucking show me.”

Logan ended the call, heart pounding, chest tight as if he’d been running. For all his eagerness to get to John, he sat in his car for a full three minutes before he considered himself fit to drive.

The garage door was still rattling down behind his car as he ran up the stairs, and he reached for the door handle to his apartment with a hand so eager his palm was sweating. He knew what he’d see when he went into the bedroom, but the sight of John’s bare back and ass, the long soles of his feet a pale, vulnerable pink, head bowed, was enough to send a bolt of lust through him.

He unbuttoned his shirt and dropped it into the laundry hamper. Taking off any more of his clothes would feel like breaking some unwritten rule from a rule book he’d never read or even seen.

He did take off his belt, though. He had plans for that.

“Good.” He settled his hand around the back of John’s neck. John’s hair had grown since they’d first gotten together, and there were times Logan regretted that it covered his neck now, but the rest of the time he appreciated having longer hair to thread his fingers through. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, Sir.” John’s voice was low and full of respect, but his body was tense with anticipation.

“What were you imagining we might do tonight?” It was a test, one he was confident John would pass, and John’s response didn’t disappoint him.

“Whatever pleases you, Sir. Whatever you’d like to do. I’m yours.”

“Yeah, you are.” He hesitated, but he had to say it. “John… If you’d decided to leave, I wouldn’t have stood in your way. You’re my sub, not my slave. Your submission is— Oh God, this sounds corny, but it’s your gift to me, not something I demand as a right. I mean, we say things when we’re playing, and we mean it then, but I don’t—”

And there he went, ruining the mood, destroying everything John had spent the last half an hour building.

John twisted around, peering up at him. “I understand that. I’m crazy in love with you, not stupid. And anytime you want to take it outside our scenes, I’m ready.”

“You mean 24-7?”

John nodded. “It’s like you said; we answer to no one but ourselves. We’re not getting graded on this. We do what suits us; pull back, have time-outs, go deeper, whatever. But it’s getting so that going from one state to the other is jarring. I want to wake up knowing I’m your sub and that’s how you think of me. Go through my day with that at the back of my mind, so if you called me, I’d answer as your sub, even if I couldn’t call you ‘Sir’ because someone was listening. Kneel when you come into the room, take your orders, be perfect for you, or do my best, and if I screw up, get punished for it because I like it that way.” He took a deep breath. “I want to say I’m yours and have it be an accurate description of our relationship, Sir.”

“Well, if that’s what you want…” Somehow Logan managed to say it as if he was humoring John, but a second later his facade cracked, and he dropped to his knees and pulled John to him. “I should have called in sick to work this morning,” he said. “Made you call in so we could do this sooner. Do you have any idea how useless I was today?”

“Not as useless as I was. Anyway, if we’d been here, we’d have known Ava was next door, maybe coming over to knock any minute.”

Logan punctuated this horrific thought with an awkward, ineffectual slap on John’s ass. “That’s for mentioning your wife when you’re here naked and ought to be thinking only about me.”

“I’m sorry, Sir.” John half turned away, improving Logan’s access to his ass. “Do I need to be punished?”

“After everything you put me through? You’d better believe it.” He’d let the belt drop to the floor minutes before, but now he reached for it, gripping it tightly.

He caressed John’s upper back, appreciating the width of those shoulders and the smooth expanse of unmarked skin leading down to an equally unmarked ass.

“I’ve neglected you,” he said. “You look like no one cares about you enough to deal with your bad behavior or thinks you’re worth a whipping. And we know that’s not true. I care. You’ll be perfect for me, or you’ll suffer the consequences, John. And even perfection won’t save you from my hand on your fucking gorgeous ass, because I love spanking you, and I don’t do it half enough.”

John’s breath quickened, but he stayed silent, tense with expectation.

“So let’s deal with the last day or two. That mouthing off and insolence, the bad temper and swearing.” John shifted position, shoulders rolling restively. “Oh, you still think you were in the right over that?”

“I think…” John swallowed audibly, then surrendered. “No, Sir. It didn’t matter how angry I was. There were better ways to discuss it with my Dom. I’ve earned whatever discipline you feel is appropriate.”

“Yeah, you have.” He meant it. Even knowing he’d neglected a chore didn’t excuse John’s attitude. The Dom in Logan had been outraged, and he didn’t intend to let John get away with that temper tantrum. “My belt’s gonna sting, but so did your words.”

“I’m sorry, Sir. I only say it because I am, not in an attempt to get out of the punishment I deserve.”

“And what’s that?”

“Whatever you think will teach me not to make the same mistake again. I want to be perfect for you.” John’s voice was soft and broken. “Help me.”

Knowing he’d have to stretch himself to properly discipline a sub like John, one who learned instinctively what some needed months to be taught, Logan stroked a hand over John’s bare ass, wanting to remember it unmarked, smooth, before he carved his ownership onto it. “Put one of your hands on each wall,” he said. “Don’t move them until I tell you it’s okay.”

God, he was beautiful like this, muscles in his shoulders and upper arms flexed, pale skin a canvas for Logan to paint. Logan slapped the belt against his thigh, and John flinched at the sharp sound as if it’d been his flesh receiving the blow.

“I’m going to use the belt until you tell me to stop,” Logan said. “Don’t disappoint me by holding back your sounds or breaking a pain limit.” He didn’t give John time to reply, but drew back the belt and then hit him, not hard enough to hurt. This was the warm-up, to loosen his arm and give John an idea of what was to come.

The second smack of leather against skin was louder. John exhaled and let his head drop, steeling himself for the third blow. Logan didn’t make him wait for it—this was about driving him steadily to the point where his resolve would crack and force him to put a halt to the punishment. It was an exercise Logan had been meaning to experiment with, finding the place where John would draw a line in the sand.

It was easy to find a rhythm to the blows, but he quickly became concerned that John’s mental resolve might be stronger than his skin.

Then John spoke. “Sir. Please.”

Logan paused, the belt swinging from his hand. Red stripes, the edges indistinct, covered John’s upper back and ass, the color deeper in some places. He rolled his shoulders, working out the stiffness. “Enough?”

Harder.” John drew in a shuddering breath. “Please, Sir. Not many. I can’t take much more, but I want to feel you at your limit the same time I reach mine.”

Jesus. Logan rubbed his erection through his pants, drowning in a fresh wave of arousal and love. “Three and we’re done.”

John nodded, fingernails scraping the wall as he flexed his hands.

Logan didn’t hesitate. The first was harder, but still holding back, the second carried more force, but the third… He brought the length of leather across John’s upper back with a wicked crack, John’s deep groan of anguish and delight following it.

God, what a fucking turn-on that was. Logan drew the leather across his palm, tempted for the first time as a Dom to go further than a sub could take, knowing John wouldn’t stop him. He wanted to hear that sound again, his body thrilling to it, the sadist in him craving more. But before the thought formed fully, revulsion destroyed it. No. Never. He was in control here, of John, the scene, and himself, and John had taken enough from the belt for now.

Instead, he dropped the belt in John’s field of view, knowing John would understand what that meant, and after undressing, went to get some lube and a condom. He fumbled opening the bottle; his hands were too eager. “Get up. Keep your hands on the wall.”

It was easy to tell from the way John stood, slowly and stiffly, that he’d be sore later. Logan knew from past experience that John would be happy about it, happy without a trace of resentment or regret. He couldn’t resist the urge to touch the welts that crossed John’s skin, letting the heat of them warm his palm before sliding his hand lower to cup John’s muscular ass.

“I’m going to fuck you now. You don’t have my permission to come until I have.” He squeezed some lube onto his fingers and pushed two of them into John’s ass, feeling John’s body trying to keep him from entering.

“Please, Sir.”

“God, do you have any idea how much I like hearing you beg? Do it. What do you want?”

“Want you to fuck me, Sir. For a long time. Hard so I scream. I won’t come, I promise.”

“You’d better be telling me the truth.” Logan withdrew his fingers, and John whined in protest. “Someday we’ll do this without the condom,” he said as he rolled it on and slicked it with lube. “Would you like that?”

John moaned as Logan eased his cock into him. “Yes, Sir.”

“Good.” He pushed deeper, taking his time. When he was balls-deep, Logan closed his eyes and thought about tomorrow’s lectures—he needed something else to focus on besides how fucking good it was to be inside John. “Now you’re going to fuck yourself on me.”

“I— Sir?” John was trembling, unmoving, though Logan hadn’t asked him to remain still.

“I’m feeling lazy.” Nothing was further from the truth. Energized by the whipping and John’s response to it, he could’ve run miles without flagging. “And I want to see you punish yourself. Move your ass. You want a hard fucking? Take it. As hard as you can stand it, but don’t slow down, and don’t spare yourself. I’ll know if you do, and I won’t be happy.”

The subtle cruelty of it appealed to him, and from John’s groan, he appreciated it too. With something approaching reluctance, John eased away, then pushed back on Logan’s cock, taking it deep, but at so slow a pace it barely qualified as a thrust. Unseen, Logan raised his eyebrows but gave John a couple more of the timid back and forths before dealing with the situation.

“Not good enough, let alone perfect.” He raked his nails over whipped-red skin, dragging them from John’s shoulders to the base of his spine. John howled like a fucking dog, thrashing, head thrown back, wild and needy. Beautiful. “Scared you’ll come and lose the right to do it again for the foreseeable future? Is that it? Well, you’re not sparing yourself a punishment by disobeying me and ruining the fuck, so that wasn’t a good decision you made there.”

“Sorry! Sir, please!”

Using his thumbnail to draw random patterns on John’s back, digging it into flesh still hot from the kiss of the belt, Logan said sternly, “Last chance. Fuck your disobedient ass on my cock, and do it hard and fast, or I’ll use the belt on your balls. Smack them until they swell and throb and you can’t walk tomorrow without wincing.”

With a strangled sound of protest and longing, John moved, slamming back with enough force Logan needed to brace himself to meet it. “Yeah. Better. Good little slut. Show me how hungry your ass is for a cock rammed up it. I want to see you sweat and squirm.”

He punctuated his words with slaps to John’s ass, sharp, noisy ones that left color behind but not much pain.

John shoved back against him, driving himself onto Logan’s cock. Logan leaned forward and put his left hand on the wall near John’s, leaving his right free since it was clear being spanked was what was keeping John in motion. He slapped John. John went with the blow, rocking his hips away, then came toward Logan again in time for the next slap.

“Is that what you need? To be reminded I’m the one in charge here even if you’re the one moving?” It wasn’t an effective position for a real spanking, but Logan did his best to make the next slap as hard as possible.

John gasped and fucked himself on Logan’s cock. “Yes, Sir. Please.”

“That’s what I am. In charge of you.” God, the flesh gripping his cock was hot and slick, so tight. “You’re mine.”

“Yours,” John agreed. They were moving faster now, both of them, and any degree of care Logan had taken before was abandoned. It was rough; with any partner other than John, Logan might have categorized it as vicious, but this had too strong an undercurrent of mutual pleasure somehow.

“Harder.” Logan knew the order verged on impossible—they were already slamming against each other—yet John found a way, greedy as he was for Logan’s cock, to force its way inside him.

Logan reached around, groping blindly for John’s cock, knowing even the brush of his fingers might shatter John’s resolve. John knew it too from his panicked, “No!” but Logan didn’t relent, though he settled his hand against John’s stomach.

“Mine,” he growled, a reminder John shouldn’t need. “I’ll touch you when and where I want.”

“I’ll come.” John was close to sobbing now, still moving, but slower, an attempt to escape the inevitable. “Please, I’m trying so hard. Don’t make me be disobedient.”

Logan leaned over, resting his chest against skin still holding the heat of the whipping, and bit John’s ear. God, he was so close to a climax himself, glorying in John’s abject despair coupled with the slam-slide of John’s ass around his rigid flesh. “That’s what you should do. You don’t get a gold star for it. You hold off until I’ve come. My pleasure comes first. After I’m done with your ass, you can too, but you wait…for…me. Now move!”

Difficult to keep his voice steady. John bucked under him, rhythm lost, desperate, falling to pieces as Logan swept his hand down and grasped John’s hot, hard cock. One squeeze, one flick of his thumb through the slippery fluid beading the tip, and John’s defeat was inevitable.

John cried out as he came, his ass tightening in waves that threatened to take Logan with him. Logan managed to keep control, though, distracting himself with a series of rough thrusts until John relaxed, slumping forward into the corner where the walls met. Logan’s hand was wet with his release, but then he was much more focused on his cock. In the aftermath of John’s orgasm, it was possible to jerk himself even deeper, though he didn’t last more than another thirty seconds or so.

“God, yeah,” he muttered, the only warning he was capable of. He came in a blaze of heat and found it necessary to brace both hands on the walls to stay upright.

“I’m sorry,” John said as soon as he’d begun to recover. “Sir, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“Well then, you shouldn’t have. Don’t worry; I’m sure I’ll come up with a punishment.” He kissed the back of John’s shoulder, not ready to pull away from him yet.

John had a different idea, pressing himself farther into the corner. “I didn’t want you to have to. I wanted to be perfect.”

“Hey.” He didn’t like the way John’s voice sounded. Was he experiencing sub drop? Carefully, Logan held the edge of the condom as he withdrew and used admittedly damp hands to turn John around.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” John said again, refusing to meet his gaze.

“I know you are. Come on. I need you to sit down.” He wondered how long it would be before John sat without discomfort—he’d have some significant bruising as the result of Logan’s belt—as he led a resisting John over to the bed.

John reluctantly allowed himself to be pushed down, curling up on his side to avoid pressure on his back and ass.

“You had no choice. You were on the edge, and I shoved you over. You’re not in control of your body to that extent, and I wouldn’t expect you to be. Jesus, I’d be fucking a robot, not a man.”

“Then why do it?” The bewilderment in John’s voice had Logan wincing. “If you want me to be perfect, why take away any chance of achieving it?”

“Because I’m a sadist?”

“Try again.”

“No. I wasn’t being flip.” Logan settled in, arm around John, cradling him close and pulling the covers over them, heedless of the mess. Cum washed out, and John was shivering. “I enjoy making you suffer in sexual situations. After all these months, that shouldn’t be news to you.”

“No, but it doesn’t— It wasn’t fair.”

“You’re telling me I can’t touch you? Can’t make obeying a challenge? No. That’s not the way it is. I’ll never trick you, but I sure as hell will make life difficult for you if I want. I’m your Dom, not your mom.”

“And a terrible poet.”

“With a sub who’s forgetting his manners.”

John twisted around, facing Logan, eyes half-closed, drowsy but fighting it. “Are we doing this 24-7, always playing?”

“Yes. It doesn’t mean you have to call me ‘Sir’ every other sentence, but the respect—mutual, by the way—never gets a vacation.”

John sighed as if a burden had been taken from him. “Thank you, Sir. It might not work, but I’d love to try it.”

“Good.” Logan kissed him, settled them more comfortably, and drifted into a doze, never going so deep he lost his awareness of his sub. John’s breathing slowed, his shivers diminishing, and soon he was asleep.

It didn’t last long, but when John opened his eyes twenty minutes later, they were alert, and he had a smile for Logan and a kiss so eager and submissive, Logan told himself sternly that another session was out of the question. Though he intended to continue this dynamic they had going.

They showered, with Logan encouraging John to serve him, then making John kneel under the spray to have his hair washed. By the time the shower ended, Logan was hard and saw John was in a similar state.

Out of the shower, his skin showing marks Logan hoped would stay for a while, John went to his knees again. “Sir, can I suck you?”

“Yeah.” Logan’s balls tightened in anticipation, not only of John’s mouth on him, but what he had planned. “But only for a moment. I like riding the edge as much as I enjoy making you do it. So suck me until I tap your cheek, then stop. One lick after the tap, and I don’t care how sore your ass is, it gets spanked.”

“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” John certainly didn’t seem to have any hesitance about using the word Sir when they were in a scene.

The sight of him kneeling, leaning forward to press soft kisses to Logan’s thighs, humbled Logan. John kept his eyes lowered in respect, his touch gentle. He settled one hand above the back of Logan’s knee as he closed his mouth around the tip of Logan’s cock.

Warm lips slid wetly down along Logan’s length, and he groaned. “Yeah,” he murmured, threading his fingers into John’s damp hair. “You’re so good.”

John made a small sound of approval and increased his attention, as Logan had known he would. Some subs were uncomfortable with praise, but John wasn’t one of them. He sucked Logan the way he liked to be sucked, taking him quickly from pleasantly aroused to painfully so in the space of less than a minute.

Tempting as it was to let him continue, it was better not to be inconsistent. Logan had said he’d put a stop to this before it went too far, and now was that time. He let go of John’s hair and tapped his cheek gently.

Swallowing, pulling away carefully so as not to be accused of getting in the extra lick Logan had ordered him to avoid, John settled back on his heels, head lowered.

“I’m getting dressed, but I want you naked for the rest of the night. I’ll turn up the heat, but if you get chilly, let me know. It isn’t a punishment or a test. I want some eye candy.”

He intended on keeping John close, so he’d notice goose bumps or shivers soon enough.

John grinned, clearly not buying the label. “Thank you.”

“You don’t think you’re hot?”

John hunched one shoulder. “I don’t think I’m drool-worthy. But I’m okay with how I look.”

“There are places where I could show you off to a room of people like us and have everyone envying me.”

A skeptical look on his face, John said, “Maybe twenty years ago.”

“Arguing with your Dom?” Logan clicked his tongue reprovingly. “If it wasn’t too much like my day job, I’d make you write out, ‘I am hot and drool-worthy, and my Dom thinks so too,’ a hundred times.” He snapped his fingers. “Up.”

John rose, cock bobbing. Logan slapped it gently, then again, watching it move. Thick and long, it was one of John’s assets in Logan’s opinion. He had plans for it. CBT was an area they’d never explored, but that would change. Clamps, weights, spiked cock rings…mmm. “This got you into trouble tonight. I wouldn’t forbid you from coming for a week, but I have a feeling even without my intervention, you would’ve come before me. I’d like to see your control improve.”

“Yeah.” John bit his lip, a guilty flush rising. “I was so close, you’re probably right. Gah! I go from not being able to climax to doing it when you’d forbidden it.” He shook his head, his exasperation plain. “I’m sorry, Sir.”

“I know you are, but we’ll figure it out. You’re still new to this, and these things take time. If I didn’t have faith you’d learn, we wouldn’t have come this far together.” Logan reached out and punched him gently on the upper arm. “Hear the part where I have faith in you, because that’s the part that’s important.”

“Not the part where we’ve come this far but might not go much further?” Making a face, John contradicted himself. “I didn’t mean that. I don’t think it.”

“Part of you does.” Logan sighed. “If there’s something I can say to reassure you, tell me what it is. Otherwise, trust me and let time show I’m being honest with you. You know why relationships end?”

John’s expression made it clear he didn’t think Logan would like his answer. “Because people change?”

“You’d think so, and of course it’s not as simple as one answer across the board, but it’s kind of the opposite. Come on, let’s go in the kitchen; I need a snack.”

“You’re going to leave me hanging about the great mystery of relationships?” John asked, but he followed Logan into the kitchen and waited patiently as Logan opened the refrigerator, looking for something that appealed to him.

“It’s because people don’t change. Sooner or later, something comes out that the other person doesn’t like, can’t live with. It was there the whole time, hidden for a variety of reasons. Usually it isn’t because of deliberate dishonesty. Sometimes people are in denial so deep, they can’t even see it.”

“Convincing an argument though this is, I don’t see how it applies to our situation.”

“I’m pretty sure you do.” Logan took out a container of yogurt, pried the lid off, and peered into it. “Are you hungry?”

“No, Sir.”

“Well, have some juice anyway.” Getting down a glass, Logan poured him some. “Now, think for a minute and tell me why I brought up this particular subject.”

“Because…” John sipped some juice, stalling, buying time, but that was okay with Logan. This wasn’t a race. “Because neither of us is hiding anything. We’re already honest with each other.”

“So much more than a pretty face,” Logan said, grinning.

“How much leeway do I have to tell you when you’re being an asshole?”

“Serious question or rhetorical?”

“Serious.” John held the glass in both hands, staring down at it before raising his gaze to meet Logan’s. “We’re apart most of the day, and even going 24-7, we’ll need space, but at weekends and in the evenings, we might be together for hours at a time. Guarding my tongue to that extent could get old fast.”

John asked questions Logan didn’t have the answers to sometimes, but like the captain of a ship, uncertainty was a no-go area for a Dom. Admitting he was wrong or didn’t know was acceptable, but not waffling.

“Is your own space important? You don’t see us moving in together at some point?”

“And lose my rental income?” John grinned. “And that wasn’t serious. I don’t need the money, and I’d love to have you closer, Sir. Love for us to share a bed at night, wake up together. We could keep this apartment for times when one of us needed privacy, or turn it into the dungeon Seth wanted. A place to do intense scenes, kept locked so there was no chance of visitors wandering in.”

Hearing Seth’s name brought with it a pang Logan was used to, followed by a flash of affection. He thought about Seth most days, but with the sourness of guilt gone, what loss remained was bearable.

“You’ve given this more thought than me.”

“I’m a planner.” John swallowed his juice in three gulps, like a child taking medicine, then set it down. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“If I’m being an asshole, tell me respectfully. It’s not difficult. And don’t lose yourself in being my sub. I love you the way you are. I want us to be a couple, a Dom and a sub, not a Master and slave. And, yeah, there’s a difference.”

Enough talking. He gestured John to his knees. “Open up. I want to feel your mouth on me now that it’s cold from the juice.”

One of the things he loved most about John was how eager he was, how he flipped from everyday life to sex in an instant. It was an ability men were accused of having, usually by uninterested partners, but in Logan’s experience the change wasn’t usually so dramatic. Now, as John sucked on him, he was glad he hadn’t yet gotten dressed and grateful for John’s mercurial libido.

His skin prickled with sensation. The chill of John’s mouth wouldn’t last long enough to be anything but a brief turn-on, but it was one he enjoyed, and this time he intended to come. Coming inside John’s body—whether his mouth or his ass—was another one of his favorite things.

“You’re lucky you like it when I fuck your mouth,” he said. If it gave a Dom pleasure to come in his sub’s mouth, or on his face, he’d expect to do it even if the sub was opposed to the idea. A thoughtful Dom would take the dislike into consideration and not take advantage, of course. “God, you’re such a slut. You like everything I do to you.”

John, who adored this kind of dirty talk during sex, blushed and opened his mouth wider, relaxing his throat to allow Logan to push deeper.

“Someday we’ll set up a video camera and record this. You can watch it afterward. See what you look like on your knees with my cock in your mouth.”

From the garbled sound John made, the idea either appealed or horrified him, but the reaction was strong enough Logan planned to pursue it.

In fact, now everything was on track, it was one of many possibilities.

“I could see you in a collar.” John pulled back a fraction, glancing up. “And nipple rings.”

That lost him John’s mouth on his cock. John sat back on his heels, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and said firmly, “Sir, I’ll wear your collar with pride, but the only way any part of me gets pierced is when I get my flu vaccine.” He raised his eyebrows. “Respectful enough? Because if it wasn’t, I’m using the safe word we never picked.”

“You won’t need to.” Logan leaned down and pinched one of John’s nipples. “I was teasing. Mostly. I’ll find ways to torture them without a piercing, don’t worry.” He frowned. “Out of curiosity, though, what safe word were you planning to use?”

John smiled. “Trash can, Sir.”

Epilogue

John glanced at the clock. He had ten minutes until Logan arrived home from campus—maybe fifteen if he was lucky—and at least ten minutes’ worth of finishing touches to put on dinner. If he was focused and quick, he could do it.

The table was set, the meal he’d prepared keeping warm in the oven. There was dessert ready to go, a British dish featuring meringue and fresh strawberries they’d heard mentioned on a baking show on TV. Logan, who loved strawberries, hadn’t been able to get it out of his head since, and when John had opened the mail on Tuesday evening, he’d decided then and there he’d make it for tonight’s celebration.

Of course, Logan might end up delayed for any number of reasons, and he had no idea there was anything to celebrate, so he wouldn’t be rushing home. John had been telling himself for two hours that he’d be patient and understanding if Logan was late, but he was already anxious and knew that in reality that wouldn’t end until he heard the car pull up.

He carefully added the last layer of sliced strawberries, wiped juice from his fingers, and glanced into the stand mixer to make sure his whipped cream hadn’t turned to butter. No, it was perfect.

He’d slid the finished dessert into the refrigerator when he heard the slam of Logan’s car door. He slipped the apron he’d been wearing over his head, stuffed it into a drawer, and hurried to kneel in the foyer.

Kneeling was his idea. He’d greeted Logan like this once, and Logan’s reaction had been favorable enough to make it part of their routine. If favorable included being stripped to the bare minimum required, then fucked hard over the couch, his ass stinging from slaps delivered with Logan telling him how fucking perfect he was, how he wasn’t going to let John forget who he belonged to, and where was the goddamn lube? And routine maybe wasn’t the correct way to describe a life that held surprise after surprise as they explored a world of sensual pleasure, submission, and dominance.

But it held mundane moments too, plenty of them. Nights when they sat slumped on the couch watching TV, or tackled the to-do list of chores. They argued like any other couple, brief spats that meant nothing, or from time to time dealt with more serious clashes, none of which affected the connection at the core of their relationship. That was solid.

Logan’s slow smile and appraising look when he walked in made John’s heartbeat speed up. God, he loved Logan studying him like this, taking in everything, making sure his sub was in the same condition as when he’d left him.

Logan walked past him, brushing John’s hair with his fingertips, leaving him kneeling. John swallowed a moan. When Logan didn’t speak to him, it was a signal that John was forbidden to talk either and usually led to an intense session. He craved that release, but he wanted to share his news. Frustration and arousal warred, making him shift position, contemplating breaking the rule by speaking and taking whatever discipline Logan handed out.

He waited as Logan went into the kitchen. Quiet for a long moment, in which he guessed Logan was observing how he’d set things up and realizing what it meant. His heart was pounding. He knew Logan would be as thrilled as he was by the news, but he had no idea how he’d react. Logan’s unpredictability kept him guessing, and he liked that.

Footsteps again. Logan came around the corner. Their eyes met.

“Your divorce papers came,” Logan said quietly. His lips weren’t curved into a smile, but John still believed he was smiling inside.

Wasn’t he?

“Yes, Sir.” Logan had broken the rule about silence; now he could speak too.

“Do you realize what that means?”

John hoped it wasn’t a trick question. “Sir?”

For once, Logan didn’t play games. “It means you’re free. You aren’t bound to her anymore.”

“I haven’t been for a long time. But Sir—Logan—I’m not free.” John looked up at him with every ounce of love he had in his gaze. “I’m yours.”

“That’s a kind of freedom for people like us. Without a partner, I’m lost. Without you, I’m nothing.”

“That’s not true. You’re—” He broke off when Logan touched his lips, trained to instant obedience when it came to some signals.

“I need you, John. And let me tell you that without arguing because you need to hear it. We’re better together.”

He tapped John’s cheek, allowing John to reply. There was only one answer to give. “Yes, Sir. We are.”

“And you’re mine now.” Logan ran his fingers across John’s throat, eyes narrowed. “I could collar you. I’ve never done that, even in a session, but I’ve wanted to. A leather one for here, and a chain you could wear all the time that no one would see, or realize the significance of if they did, but we’d know.”

“Please,” John whispered, already feeling the weight of it. He’d wrapped a belt around his neck once, not tightly, and looked in the mirror. His reaction to the visual of the dark leather against his skin had left him trembling, the desire flooding him potent enough to make a forbidden climax a danger. He’d never dared ask Logan to make it a reality, sensing it was for Logan to decide, but he wanted it, oh God, how he wanted it.

As he remembered, his eyes fell on the belt Logan was wearing now, the same thick strap of leather he’d been spanked with during half a dozen sessions. What would it feel like to have it around his throat instead, threatening to bite into his windpipe at the same time it signified he was owned, that he belonged to Logan as surely as anything else he’d ever believed?

“You want it.” Logan brought his other hand up and circled John’s neck, both thumbs pressing into his flesh. His grip wasn’t hard enough to make breathing difficult; that didn’t mean it’d stay that way. A gentle squeeze would jeopardize John’s access to air.

If he’d ever doubted there was something atypical about the way his mind worked, his erection in response to that thought would have cemented it for him.

“Tell me what you want,” Logan said.

Lying wasn’t an option, he’d learned that, but he was so turned on, forming a complete sentence was challenging. “Your belt.”

A flash of surprise crossed Logan’s face, followed by confusion and then understanding. “Yeah? Is that what you want? Here?” His hands tightened on John’s throat.

“Tight,” John said hoarsely. “Make me know it’s there.”

“You push me places,” Logan said. “Never anywhere I don’t want to go, but in directions I never thought of trying.”

“As long as we go there together.” It wasn’t easy to share his emotions, even now, with a man who knew his body intimately and at times seemed to read his mind, but John tried.

“Get naked.” Logan’s voice was harsh now, an edge to it. “Without getting up. I want to see your cock drip, your balls go tight. Watch you shiver when the leather touches you.”

He undressed quickly, Logan’s restriction making it difficult to move with grace at times, but for all his eagerness, he tried. Submitting was easy; he strove to do it well.

His clothes folded beside him, he put his hands behind his back, clasped, offering his body up to Logan’s gaze and touch. For anything Logan chose to give him—pain, pleasure, or a mix of both. Because for him now, they were so entwined he couldn’t separate them. When his skin flushed hot, a tingle running through his belly, it might be from Logan gripping his cock and working it, or a paddle striking his bruised skin.

They were still in the foyer, but John ignored the cold tile under him, too caught up in the sight of Logan’s intensity as he slowly drew his belt free. Logan’s hands were big and solid, his knuckles rough. John knew their touch on his body.

“Hold your dick at the base, forward. So I can see. Yeah.”

Even with his cheeks burning as he obeyed, flushed with embarrassment, John loved the arousal in Logan’s voice. He might be the sub here, but that didn’t mean he was powerless. He was hard, though maybe not to the point where he was leaking fluid.

Not yet. He knew from experience it wouldn’t be long.

Logan didn’t ruin the moment with lectures about safe words or orders that he put a stop to things if they went too far. They’d been through that before, and he didn’t need a reminder. He stepped in closer and fastened the belt around John’s throat, then pulled it snug.

John exhaled, air leaving him in a rush, drawn back in an instant later. His hand clenched, crushing his cock, the pain insignificant, his reaction everything. Still warm from Logan, the belt seemed alive, wrapping around his neck, rough-textured and supple. Everything they’d done before seemed a prelude to this moment, Logan claiming him in a way that went deeper than exchanged vows or loving words.

He raised his free hand to his throat, pausing before he touched leather. “Sir? Can I?” Logan nodded, and John slid his fingers over the wide band, a deep groan pulled from him. “Oh God. Feels so good. Don’t want you to ever take it off.”

“I won’t.” Logan tugged John’s hair as if to emphasize his words. “The belt won’t stay, but me owning you is forever. There’s not a moment of your life from now on when you’re not wearing my collar in that sense. Mine. For always.”

John’s knees ached against the hard floor, his thighs burned from the strain of maintaining his position, and his heart was beating too fast. In other circumstances it would have been a warning that he needed to get out of the situation he was in as quickly as possible, fight-or-flight.

In this moment, though, he was exactly where he wanted to be.

The future stretched out ahead of them. It was a future they’d face together, no matter what happened.

“For always,” John promised.

* ~ * The End * ~ *