Aaron had been sitting in the car, watching the restaurant and the parking lot for over forty minutes. Greg had been known to be tardy while on a project, but not showing up at all wasn’t unusual for him either.
“He’s not coming.” Anyone watching from outside the vehicle would have thought Aaron spoke to himself.
Dex’s answer came from car speakers that were Bluetooth-connected to Aaron’s cell. “Then the game is on.”
Aaron gripped the steering wheel and scanned the parking area one more time. The restaurant lot had been steadily filling for the past half hour, but Greg’s black SUV hadn’t been among the stream of arrivals.
“I’m waiting another ten minutes.”
“Go now.” Dex’s reply sounded muffled as if he held the receiver under his chin and focused on something other than a conversation Aaron was paying good money to have. “He’s already late enough for you to trip him up.”
The steering wheel squeaked as Aaron wrung the leather in indecision. “I don’t want to play that kind of game with him. It’s dishonest.”
“You know all about mind fucks. They’re not dishonest. They’re part of the thrill for the sub.”
Aaron made a doubtful sound in the back of his throat.
Dex sighed. “You wanted to take the next step, see if he’s ready for heavier play. So take it.”
Six months ago when Aaron had wandered into that infamous LA club with Dex, he hadn’t truly pictured this moment of truth. His stomach churned with an uncharacteristic display of nerves. Against all reason, he pressed the Ignition button, and the car purred to life. The drive along the winding roads at sunset would be beautiful, but he doubted he’d notice a single detail.
“He’s going to be pissed,” Aaron muttered and pictured Greg’s dark scowl.
Dex snorted. “From what you say, pissed is his default.”
“He’s going to have a right to be pissed.” There was a difference between handling Greg’s anger and handling his righteous anger. For one, when someone else caused the emotion, Aaron knew how to defuse a hurting and confused Greg. When Aaron caused the pain, however, it was another story. “I haven’t lied to him. Ever.”
“Too late, sweetheart,” Dex said. “I told you to tell him at the beginning.”
“I wanted to be ready.” The words ran together in a guilty muddle.
“No, you didn’t.” Footsteps and the creak of a swinging door said Dex went somewhere, probably to his play space. “You wanted to control something you weren’t supposed to control. You were afraid he’d say no to this new you, and Greg isn’t allowed to say no the way you have things set up. Before you met me, you’d never even heard of a safe word.”
If he wasn’t driving, Aaron would have closed his eyes. Dex might be a professional Dom, but he was also a licensed psychologist, and he’d figured out the combination lock to the inside of Aaron’s skull six months ago. Hell, six months ago, Aaron hadn’t even been sure what kind of games he and Greg had been playing. It had all started as a way to give his lover some badly needed boundaries and had turned into something murkier where lines of sex and power blurred.
“So, tell me, Dr. Valenti,” Aaron demanded, his tone more acerbic than he normally allowed. “Why did you let me keep seeing you if you knew I would end up here?”
“And where, exactly, is here?” Dex asked.
Aaron blew out an exaggerated breath. “Here is me having all this knowledge but unable to tell Greg how I gained it without losing his trust. Trust, which you’ve made abundantly clear is a required component of this…this…game.”
Dex chuckled darkly, and six months of being tutored in bondage and beatings worked the dials of Aaron’s Pavlovian response. He shivered and navigated the next curve in the road by rote, seeing in his mind’s eye a man at Dex’s feet, his head cranked back and a large red ball gag in his mouth. Next, Greg’s face swam before Aaron, the same gag spreading his lips. Aaron’s cock awakened.
“You were supposed to end up here, Mr. Blake, so you could learn from your mistakes,” Dex said, then whispered, “Next time I tell you to heel, you’ll heel, won’t you?”
A moan reverberated across Aaron’s car speakers, and Aaron realized Dex hadn’t intended the last statement for him. He pictured that moan coming from Greg’s compliant lips and swallowed down a flood of saliva. Shifting in his seat, he adjusted the legroom in his trousers. Ultimately he’d learned all this so he could safely pleasure Greg and keep their relationship fresh. This was all about taking their sexual relationship to the next level. He had nothing to feel guilty for. Not really.
“I let you keep seeing me because we all have to work through our own shit–No. On your knees. You know better.” A sharp crack rent the air, and Aaron winced. He’d never slap Greg. Ever. That act would damage Greg’s sense of self-worth–and if there was one place Greg couldn’t take any more damage, it was to his ego. At one time Aaron might not have known why he wouldn’t do it, but he’d always known not to, even before Dex showed him the literal and figurative ropes. “If nothing else, you weren’t playing safe. You need to be safe, even if your games involve silk ropes and rose petals.”
Thinking of all the years he’d engaged in a pseudo Dominant/submissive relationship with Greg without really knowing what it was or what they were doing, Aaron shuddered. How many times had they done things where Aaron could’ve hurt Greg mentally or physically? This time, guilt wormed its way into Aaron’s middle unhindered.
“You know,” Aaron said, “I never thought of it in that way. It’s the way we are together. The way Greg expects me to be. How I’m comfortable being.”
“You know what I mean.” Heavy breathing and shallow cries formed the backdrop to Dex’s reply. “Slavery went out almost two centuries ago. You can’t own Greg. He has the right to say no.”
“And I always respected that. Even if I didn’t know what we were doing.”
It was difficult to explain how the relationship with Greg worked. “I just know him. He likes the boundaries. Half the time I think he’s the one who’s setting them, not me.”
“You’re a self-centered fuck.” There was no passion to the insult, just matter-of-fact reality. “You let him top from the bottom because it keeps you from having to take responsibility for the relationship. For any consequences to your actions.”
Aaron’s gut clenched. How many times had his inner judge said the exact same thing? If there’d been a place to pull over, he would have. Instead he took calming, meditative breaths and tried to grasp for words that he’d been unable to find the entire time he’d been working with Dex.
“We went through hell together. It forms a bond. I’ve known him for over fifteen years. I’d never hurt him. He knows it.”
A rhythmic slapping took up in the background. “Shouldn’t you be focusing on what you’re doing?” Aaron asked.
“My assistant is taking care of him. You have my full attention,” Dex answered. “But how do you know you’ve never hurt him? What about that scene in the graveyard when you were kids?”
“That wasn’t a fucking scene. That was a brawl.” Bile rose in Aaron’s throat at mention of the long-ago fistfight that had almost gotten Greg killed. “And if I’d known you were going to take it out of context and hold it over my head like an emotional ransom note, I never would have told you about it.”
Dex harrumphed. “From what you say, I’m betting Greg fetishized that moment and even pushed you into it. He wanted it, and you weren’t aware he was topping from the bottom. You nearly killed him because you couldn’t keep your cool with a pushy sub.”
“We were teenagers! I didn’t even know what submission was.” Despite his bid to remain calm, anger crept into his tone. “That’s the most half-assed theory I ever heard.”
“Oh? Do you really think S and M is only something we do after we join Fet Life? Or do you think it’s something we gravitate toward much earlier? Way before we have all the pretty little labels to affix?” Dex had gotten on his soapbox, and Aaron pressed his lips together to refrain from shoving him off it. “Even you just said Greg still controls most of your scenes–pushing you in unexpected ways. Ways that could end up making you lose control. Just like you did back then.”
Aaron let out a frustrated growl as he turned onto the road to his and Greg’s house. “Stop putting words in my mouth.”
“If I ever put something in your mouth, Aaron, you’ll know it.” Dex’s smile was evident in his tone. “We’re done tonight. Good luck.”
“But–” The dead air on the other end of the line shut Aaron up.
He swiped a palm down his face and inhaled deep through his nostrils, trying to push thoughts of Dex and his training out of his mind. He usually looked forward to having downtime with Greg and being able to relax and enjoy some hot, sweaty sex. Now that he’d been training under Dex, however? He knew too much. Too much that Greg didn’t know, and needed to know. Every time they’d had sex lately, all Aaron could focus on was choreographing the steps in his head. It was awful, and he wanted it to stop–to be like it once had been. They might’ve had a BDSM-lite relationship–or whatever the community called it–but it hadn’t been so fucking labeled and restrictive. Once upon a time, it had been natural and easy.
In the past six months, sex had become an ever-increasing minefield Aaron was less and less sure he knew how to navigate. If it weren’t for his and Greg’s outrageously conflicting schedules, Aaron was fairly certain Greg would have noticed the physical and mental distance between them. Tonight, Aaron had to man up and put the intimacy back into their relationship. He owed it to them both. Besides, he was ready, and it was time.
He pulled the car into the driveway and left it running as he stared at the front of the house. Greg’s SUV was in the drive. He was home. No movement came from the upper story. Either he was in the shower, or he was writing at the kitchen table instead of the office.
Aaron clenched his jaw in a bid for determination and shoved his way out of the car. The door closed with a heavythunk, and Aaron pushed away from the vehicle. He forced his feet to take him up the front steps, opened the front door, and stood for a moment in the foyer. Silence greeted him.
No answer came, and erotic tension stretched along Aaron’s spine, locking his vertebrae. The shower wasn’t running, which meant Greg was working. The setup couldn’t have been more perfect. Arousal and the comfort of a familiar and predictable dance–Aaron having told Greg to be on time, and Greg defying him, perhaps even on purpose with the whole topping-from-the-bottom thing–softened Aaron’s worries, bleeding some of the anxiety from him. This situation wasn’t so different from a thousand other nights that had played out over the course of their relationship.
Aaron stepped into the kitchen. Bent over his black notebook, scribbling furiously in the waning light, Greg was wholly unaware of anything but the screenplay he created. The sun cast a pink glow over his pale skin, and the line of his shoulders curved protectively over the pages. One arm rested on the table as he hugged the notebook to him. The scratch of the pen and movement of his lips with the dialog he wrote showed him transfixed with the scene. He was so deep. No wonder he’d missed the time.
The simplicity of his relationship with Greg struck Aaron in that moment. He knew this man in a way Dex would never understand. Maybe they hadn’t always been so close, but more than a decade and a half into their relationship, reading Greg’s reactions and moods was as easy to Aaron as spelling his own name. He didn’t have to think about what Greg needed, he just became what Greg needed. Now Aaron prayed Greg would understand that Aaron desperately needed something more in return.
* * * *
“You’re late.” Aaron’s tone registered as a placid breeze, drifting toward Greg like a caress. It was the calm before the storm.
Greg snapped his head up as erotic panic bunched his abs and made him suck in a breath. He’d only meant to sit for a minute after he’d showered and dressed at four this afternoon. The red digits on the microwave clock read 6:41, telling him he’d gotten lost in his latest project.
“Shit.” Greg gripped his fountain pen a little harder and awaited Aaron’s numbered penalty, loving the moment but hating himself for the failure.
“How’s the screenplay coming?” Aaron settled his hip on the edge of the table and twisted to look at Greg’s notebook. His tanned hand covered a portion of one page.
Apparently no number was forthcoming. Irritated with the deviation, Greg scowled at Aaron’s hand. “You’re going to smear the ink.”
“Sorry.” Aaron took his hand away. “Ready for dinner?”
“Yeah.” Greg settled the black leather cover over the pages he’d been laboring to get right for the past two days. They formed the beginnings of a project he and Aaron had undertaken with actors Kit Harris and Jeremy Ash to turn their favorite manga into a star vehicle. Now that Aaron had finally secured financing based off the treatment, buzz was building, adding to the pressure Greg already felt to do right by his friends–as if he weren’t enough of a perfectionist already. He stared at the notebook, realized where he’d gone wrong, and opened it again to scribble a few notes.
Aaron gently slipped the pen from Greg’s fingers. “Car’s still running. Let’s go.”
Greg hesitated, the notebook and Aaron calling to him equally.
Aaron placed a hand on Greg’s shoulder. “Eat first. I’ll be gone for three weeks. Soon you can work all you want.”
Greg stood. Even if he wasn’t hungry, Aaron deserved to have a nice dinner and a break. He’d been going nonstop for months to negotiate financing for the film, and his trip to Japan to meet with key investors would be no cakewalk.
“Didn’t we miss our reservation?” Greg asked, stuffing his wallet into his back pocket.
“When you didn’t show, I changed the time,” Aaron said pleasantly as he opened the coat closet.
Greg glanced at the clock again. He had kept Aaron waiting for over fifty minutes, and it wasn’t like Aaron didn’t know it. Even if Aaron wasn’t annoyed, there was always a penalty for lateness. Inhaling, Greg gathered breath to ask if Aaron was forgetting something, then he swallowed down his question. No sense waking the dragon. If Aaron had meant to give him a penalty, he would have. It was just…he had never forgotten before. It was part of their relationship that Greg relied on–a pressure relief valve that had seemed to erode more and more of late until he had begun to feel as if he and Aaron were the proverbial ships passing in the night. Greg frowned at his bare feet. Had the passion gone out of their marriage so soon?
“Greg?” Aaron arched one blond eyebrow.
Shaking off tendrils of worry and confusion, Greg slipped his feet into his loafers. He left the house as Aaron set the alarm and locked up. Outside, the sun had just disappeared, its last streaks across the Pacific melting to rose-tinted whitecaps rushing toward the visible slice of beach.
The screenplay still clouded Greg’s head, making everything unnaturally distant as if he glimpsed the world from behind a magical veil. Even the scuff of his footsteps along the paved path to Aaron’s car seemed otherworldly. He had just enough contact with the terrestrial plane to notice the top on the convertible was down.
“I need my coat,” he said, turning to go back inside.
Aaron chuckled. “It’s in your hand, Greg. I gave it to you in the hall.”
Greg looked down and noted the weight of the brown leather bomber draped from his fingertips. “Oh.”
He bet Aaron had tried to call him on his cell too, and he hadn’t noticed that either. In the zone totally and completely, he wouldn’t have registered anything less than a seven-point earthquake or, eventually, the steady and annoying buzz of the kitchen timer. Attempting to shove thoughts of the manuscript, his and Aaron’s unraveling sexual connection, and his own tardiness aside, he buckled his seatbelt as Aaron slid into the driver’s seat.
“Where are we going again?” Though forming words took all his mental faculties, he made an effort at conversation, knowing it would please Aaron.
Greg tried not to groan. “The place with the flowered wallpaper?”
“One and the same.” Aaron slung one arm around Greg’s headrest and turned to look out the rear window as he backed out of the driveway.
Always overbooked, not to mention overpriced, the trendy restaurant had a floral theme. Everything including the salt and pepper shakers was either covered in or made of flowers, even the cuisine. Though he’d never been, Greg had heard reports from enough acquaintances to never want to set foot in the place.
“If it’s a face full of flowers you want,” Greg muttered, “I can oblige for free.”
Aaron’s grin was both feral and triumphant, and a tiny shiver slithered down Greg’s spine as if Aaron had skimmed a nail from nape to tailbone with deliberate care. “Open the glove box.”
“What?” Greg managed.
“If I have to say it again, we’ll be at five.” Drawl soft, Aaron delivered the warning as if he were discussing the weather or a late-afternoon traffic report.
Greg sucked in a short, sharp breath. They were at four? Since when? Had Aaron counted three earlier? Maybe he had missed it. And when had Aaron said they were at four? Despite Greg’s confusion, heat rushed to his cock, and he swore he got a nasty case of chafing from the rapid rise of tender flesh against his zipper.
If we’re at four, that means…
He fumbled for the latch on the glove box, and the little door fell open. A silicone cock cage shone white against the dark interior, its brass lock and key an indication of the device’s purpose. Greg gaped. Aaron had planned this? And since when did he buy things like cock cages?
Aaron’s smile widened, his polite veneer cracking so Greg could see the dark eroticism beneath his normally Zen-like demeanor. “Put it on.”
Realization dawned. The rat bastard hadn’t counted three out loud, so Greg would let down his guard and get to four. Usually Greg was very careful about letting things progress to this point. This aspect of the numbers game could be fun, but Greg liked to choose the time and place, because not only was Greg usually on orgasm restriction at four, but tonight Aaron had apparently decided he had to wear this medieval device as part of the punishment. Yes, this was precisely why Greg made good and goddamned sure not to reach four without a lot of careful planning. His cock thumped in protest, and he bit back the urge to swear.
“Want to know what I have planned for ‘five,’ Greggie?” Aaron reached over to ruffle his hair, a little aggressive.
In a bid not to smack Aaron’s hand away, Greg clenched his fist around the sensual torture device. If the cage was the way Aaron planned to carry out four, five would be unreal.
“No.” The word wasn’t supposed to come out hoarse, but it did anyway.
Idling the car at a stoplight, Aaron gripped Greg’s hair and tugged. A little twist exposed Greg’s neck and forced Greg to meet Aaron’s eyes. Lips curved into a sensually cruel smile, polite mask fully abandoned, Aaron dominated him with his gaze in the red glow of the stoplight. Greg’s cock tried to punch a hole through his jeans as he absorbed the raw, sensual power.
“Then put on the cage,” Aaron said, his high cheekbones and chiseled features marking him as a predator in the shadowed night.
The yes, sir stuck in his throat, and Greg glanced away.
Aaron let go of his hair and put up the car’s top while Greg undid his leather belt. His trembling fingers seemed to belong to someone else. If he thought he’d been high on writing, this surreal separation from his body sent him soaring. Fiction had nothing on what Aaron made him feel during sex.
In the back of Greg’s mind, he knew he was supposed to feel remorse for his lateness, but all he felt was turned on. Somehow he managed to work his button open and zipper down before he pushed his jeans and briefs around his thighs. His cock sprang free. Fiercely red, it bobbed with each jostle to the car’s suspension.
God, he hoped they didn’t get pulled over.
Examining the device in his hand, Greg surmised he was supposed to push his cock into the tube and stretch his balls through a series of rings. The bottommost ring he’d lock shut, securing the entire diabolical contraption. Hot flesh met his chilled palm as he grasped his cock to steady it. He bit his lip and focused on stuffing his too-hard, too-wide member into the tight silicone. Precum leaked, easing his way only slightly. At one-third length, his cock hit something flexible and pointy. The bite of the silicone surprised more than hurt, but he yelped and pulled the thing off.
He glowered at Aaron. “What the fuck?”
Aaron’s eyes widened as a small smile flitted about his mouth. “Something wrong?”
Greg held up the evil piece of plastic. “There are spikes in this thing.”
He squeezed the sensual torture device, crumpling it. When he released, the thing sprang back to its original shape.
Aaron had returned his gaze to the road. “Wait until you feel the ball separator.”
Greg choked back a laugh. “You tried it on?”
Frowning, Aaron shot him a look. “You don’t think I’d do something to you that I haven’t done to myself first, do you?”
This time Greg did laugh.
“What?” Aaron asked.
“You haven’t done quite everything to yourself that you’ve done to me.” Aaron raised his brows, and Greg flashed him a grin. “You can’t go fuck yourself, can you?”
“Wiseass.” Aaron’s eyes sparkled with amusement, and he glanced at Greg’s cock. “Let’s see if you’re still cracking jokes in a minute. Put on the cage.”
Having completed her Master of Library Science, when she’s not writing, Tibby works toward defying librarian stereotypes; yet, she lives with three cats, seven computers, and enough books to collapse a poorly engineered house.
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