Excerpt: Relearning the Ropes

Marcus rolled over to stare at the clock. 3:25 a.m. A month ago, at precisely that moment, his phone had rung. He’d answered it, expecting it to be the only person who ever called him that late, his friend Julius, but instead it was Julius’ lawyer. The man apologized for waking Marcus, but Julius was dead—condolences, of course—and Julius left the care of his sub, Charlie, to Marcus, and could Marcus please go over to Julius’ house and fetch Charlie?

At 3:45 that morning, Marcus went and picked Charlie up, and for the past month, Charlie had slept in the spare bedroom across the hall. Marcus hadn’t slept since. Not that he didn’t like or want Charlie. He did, on both counts. He loved Charlie, was quite in love with Charlie. But if Marcus wanted a live-in sub—which he didn’t, his life was far too busy and complicated, and he was entirely too set in his ways—he wouldn’t have chosen one like Charlie. Charlie was a complex little creature, delicate and high-maintenance. He took everything Marcus knew about how to treat a sub and turned it upside down.

He thought back, remembering how, a little over two years ago, Julius had phoned him in the middle of the night, music blaring in the background so loudly Marcus could barely hear himself speaking, let alone Julius. Julius had gone down to his favorite club, spotted Charlie, and Marcus ended up loaning him $500,000 to buy the battered and bruised sub out of the sex slave ring he’d been held captive in. Charlie had come such a long way since then, learning to live as a sub instead of a slave and finding a niche in the working world. Marcus didn’t want to do anything to set him back.

Marcus groaned and flipped over onto his other side, putting the mocking glare of the clock’s bright red numbers behind him. Aside from Charlie, Marcus never dominated a man he’d loved. He didn’t have a clue how to reconcile the two. Charlie needed clear boundaries, a clear definition of their relationship, but how was he supposed to define their relationship to Charlie if he couldn’t define it for himself? He tried to treat Charlie like any other sub, but the fact of the matter was Charlie wasn’t just any other sub. Sold into sexual slavery at fifteen, Charlie was dragged all across the country before he’d landed in Julius’ hands.

Marcus was all business when he served as a Dom at Anton’s BDSM playhouse, clinical, almost; for most of the men he played with, that was enough—the domination, the control. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d even had sex with any of them. But Charlie, Charlie needed more. Charlie needed the total package. The only question was could he give it? He sighed and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to force himself back to sleep.

*~*~*

Charlie pushed his breakfast around on his plate, tapping his fork against the edge of the white china and frowning.

“Is there a problem with your eggs?” Marcus asked. He’d followed Julius’ recipe exactly, right down to the Roma tomatoes and fresh parsley. Since Julius’ death, Marcus had tried hard to keep life normal for Charlie—to show him had nothing changed. God knows Charlie had been abandoned—physically and emotionally—too much in his life. The fact Marcus and Julius were polar opposites when it came to how they treated their subs had been jarring enough.

Marcus had painstakingly cataloged the contents of Julius’ food cupboard and stocked his own with the same items, going across town for some things. He even went so far as to bring some of Julius’ art pieces to his house so Charlie would have something familiar to look at, though he had to admit, he hated the brightly colored, chaotic abstract pieces. Although more than a few other Doms warned Marcus that keeping things status quo was the wrong tactic. But Anton, who owned the playhouse where he’d met Charlie—and who some considered an expert on all things BDSM—said Marcus should try to keep things on as much of an even keel as possible. Anton had worked with all kinds of submissives over the years. When he spoke, Marcus listened.

“No.” Charlie shook his head quickly. “They’re perfect. Thank you for cooking them, Master.”

Marcus nodded. Cooking. Another thing he had to learn. They realized quickly that, unlike Marcus, Charlie’s temperamental guts simply couldn’t handle eating out for every meal. If Marcus didn’t want Charlie to starve, one of them needed to cook, and Charlie was far too timid in the kitchen.

“May I speak to you man-to-man, not sub-to-Master for a minute, please?” Charlie asked.

Man-to-man. A phrase Charlie picked up from their friends Eric and Vincent. “You may.”

Charlie looked down and shifted in his seat. “I’d rather not go tonight, and if I have to go, I’d rather not go alone.” He turned his head to the side in an age-old gesture of submission. “It’s just that, I used to go out with Julius, even to work stuff. And now….”

And now indeed. The fact Charlie dared such a question spoke of how much he truly didn’t want to attend the party. He hated such things, feared them to the point Marcus wondered if it were really some kind of phobia, and how much of a hand Charlie’s first Dom, that sadistic ass Stephen, contributed to it. But the question said something else too—how much Charlie relied on Julius, how much he missed Julius, and how much he needed Marcus. “The party is a work function. You know it’s important. The social aspect of a job is just as meaningful as the nose-to-the-grindstone part. Especially if you want to advance past entry level.”

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