EVAN NICHOLS stared blindly out the window as the plane hurtled through the sky, taking him toward Las Vegas, toward his best friend, toward his new “adventure.” He couldn’t quite believe he’d agreed to Rhys’s far-fetched plan, but he’d never been able to say no to the other man. Not when they were kids, and not now. The fact that they lived on opposite sides of the country didn’t matter one bit. The fact that they each had their own lives mattered even less. Rhys needed him and Evan could help. Which explained why he was on a plane with an open-ended return flight and no clue how long he’d actually be staying in Las Vegas.
He sighed. He’d never wanted a permanent relationship, never wanted a 24/7 sub, but if Rhys had his way, that’s what Evan was about to get. And not just any sub. A damaged sub. A sub he was supposed to wean off a 24/7 relationship. A sub he was supposed to teach the joys of a BDSM relationship instead of the horrors he’d experienced at the hands of an out-of-control sadist who called himself a Dom.
How the hell had this happened?
He knew the answer to that even as the question formed. Rhys had asked. Rhys, who had been his best friend since they were two. They’d done everything together. Played soccer and T-ball. Gone camping and fishing. Discovered they liked cock instead of pussy. And then discovered they shared a taste for domination. People in their neighborhood growing up had stopped thinking of them as two people. They were a unit. Rhys and Evan. Inseparable.
They’d been lovers for a short time. He’d given Rhys his virginity and taken his friend’s, but they were too much alike to function as a couple. Their mutual need to dominate their lovers had led them together into the world that had become their lives. Jobs had eventually separated them physically, but nothing could sever the connection that went deeper than brothers.
And that was why, even years later, Rhys had the number Evan only gave to family. Why Evan was uprooting his life, traveling across the country for the foreseeable future to try to help a sub who wasn’t really a sub. A sub who had gotten caught in a mixture of miscommunication and irresponsibility and was now so broken, so incapable of functioning outside a scene, that Rhys had called him for help.
Evan still maintained that Rhys needed to be the one to help Takoda, not Evan, since he was a complete stranger to the wounded man, but Rhys claimed he’d tried and failed. That surprised Evan, given that Rhys was one of the most capable and compassionate Doms Evan knew, but they’d never lied to each other. If Rhys said he couldn’t do this, then for whatever reason, Rhys couldn’t do it.
Rhys hadn’t explained, really. He’d been upset, drunk, and, if the uncharacteristic panicked edge to his voice was any indication, nearly hysterical as he described the shape Takoda had been in when the police found him in the basement of another local man—Evan hadn’t caught the name—bound, plugged, gagged, and beaten bloody. The bastard had insisted it was consensual, but the police hadn’t believed it. Rhys said Takoda still wouldn’t talk about exactly what happened, but he didn’t believe the scum for a minute, not when Takoda had never been part of the BDSM scene.
“How did you get mixed up in this then?” Evan had asked.
“He works for me,” Rhys replied, as if that had explained everything. It did, to some extent, because Rhys deliberately hired people to work at his club who weren’t part of the BDSM scene so that he could keep his customers separate from his staff. “He’s been with me for five years, the perfect employee, and we became friends.”
The word caught Evan’s attention. It wasn’t the word itself, but the way Rhys said it, like he wanted to say more but held back. The hesitation set warning bells ringing in Evan’s head. “So why didn’t you claim him for yourself?”
“Because he wasn’t part of the scene,” Rhys reminded Evan sharply. “Hell, Evan, he’d never even had a lover until this sadistic bastard started sniffing around him. I reminded the cocksucker of my policy; Takoda turned him down flat. But the prick didn’t give up. And then one day Takoda didn’t show up for work.”
Rhys’s voice broke when he said those words, self-recrimination so heavy in his tone that Evan had spoken just to break the spell. “What happened?”
“I called him, of course, but he simply said he was sick and he’d be back at work the next day. I accepted it. I let him hand me a stock excuse and didn’t press any harder than that. The next day, he was back at his post with a pasted-on smile. I chalked up his slightly off demeanor as a result of being sick, but he didn’t get better and so when he asked for a couple of days off, I said yes. That weekend, the bastard asked for Takoda by name. I took great pleasure in sending the fucker on his way, but then Takoda disappeared. It took the police almost ten days to find him.”
Evan hadn’t known what to say to that, so he had waited in silence, giving Rhys the time to regain his composure, to tell Evan the rest. “They finally found him, in the bastard’s basement, beaten bloody, suspended from his arms bound behind his back. He’d been left there for so long that his shoulders were wrenched from their sockets.”
“Did they get the guy?”
“Yes, thank God,” Rhys assured him. “He’s already in prison. And Takoda has been curled up in a corner on the floor of my house for the past five weeks. He responds to direct commands, but he can barely function without direction. Evan, I had to tell him I expected him to get up and go to the bathroom when he needs to. That I expected it. God, I get sick to my stomach just thinking about it, and I know I don’t know the worst of it. I saw the marks on his body, saw the torture chamber where the bastard kept him, but he won’t talk about it and I don’t know how to help.”
“Have you tried a therapist?”
“He won’t talk to anyone else at all,” Rhys explained. “Only to me, but not about that.”
That made some degree of sense to Evan, but it made his current situation all the more baffling. He hadn’t gotten a straight answer out of Rhys as to why his friend thought Takoda needed another Dom after his disastrous introduction to the lifestyle, but Rhys had insisted that Takoda only really responded when Rhys addressed him in Dom mode, and so that was where they had to start. The fact that Rhys was so determined to be involved said more to Evan about how much Rhys cared for the abused sub than any words that left his mouth. Evan wasn’t sure they were doing the right thing, but ultimately it came down to one thing: Rhys had asked.
Next to that, everything else was secondary.
WHEN Evan got off the plane in Las Vegas, Rhys was waiting exactly where Evan expected to find him: right on the other side of the security checkpoint. They embraced in the way of family or old friends, the extended hug drawing a few stares but no comments. This was Vegas, after all, the “city where anything goes.”
“Takoda didn’t come with you?” Evan asked when they finally separated.
Rhys shook his head. “He’s still not comfortable going out in public. I can get him to go out to the pool with me, but that’s about it.”
Evan frowned. “You know this is never going to work, right?”
Rhys shrugged. “I don’t know what else to do. He isn’t functioning except to do exactly what I tell him, nothing more, nothing less. If that’s what I wanted, maybe that would be okay, but it isn’t, and honestly, even if it were, I’d feel uncomfortable taking it at the moment because how can he consent to anything in the state he’s in?”
Evan snorted. “And yet you want me to act as his Dom and do exactly that.”
Rhys’s face fell. “I don’t know what else to do.”
“Let’s get my bag and go to your house. Even if this just turns into a chance for us to visit and for me to meet your new man, it’ll still be worth the trip.”
Rhys smiled sadly. “But he isn’t my new man.”
Not yet, Evan agreed silently, but you want him to be. That realization was all it took. Rhys’s plan was beyond crazy, and Evan still wasn’t sure why Rhys didn’t just do it himself, but whatever the reason he was here, he was here now and he’d do everything in his power to make sure Rhys got what he wanted.
They got Evan’s suitcase and headed out into the hot, Nevada summer. Evan could feel the arid air sucking the water directly out through his skin. He made a mental note to get a water bottle and keep it with him and full all the time. He’d never survive otherwise. The desert wind ruffled Rhys’s longish blond hair. It hadn’t been that light the last time they’d been together, making Evan wonder if it was highlighted or if the sun had bleached it that blond. The dark tan suggested the sun was responsible. “So what does Takoda think of your hippy look?” Evan teased as they reached Rhys’s SUV.
Rhys just laughed. “He’s Native American, Evan. His hair is twice the length of mine, probably more.” His face grew more serious. “The bastard used the threat of cutting Takoda’s hair for punishment as a way to keep him under control.”
“‘The bastard’ has a name, even if I’m not sure you’ve told me what it is,” Evan said firmly, his Dom cadence slipping into his voice as he turned toward Rhys to impress the importance of this rule into his friend’s mind. “We’ll use it. Otherwise, it gives him power still, and that’s the last thing Takoda needs. He’s just a man, and furthermore, at the moment, he’s a powerless man. You did say he was in prison, right?”
“Yeah, they got him and the judge wouldn’t grant bail. The trial hasn’t started yet—I don’t know when it’s scheduled to begin, even—but Kade won’t be going free for a very, very long time.”
Kade. Evan committed the name to memory. He hoped they wouldn’t have to use it often, for Takoda’s sake, but he would use it when appropriate rather than some sobriquet that would increase his stature rather than decreasing it in Takoda’s mind.
He let the silence stretch between them for a few minutes as Rhys navigated his way out of the airport. When they were safely on their way away from the Strip and toward Rhys’s house, Evan took a deep breath and rolled the dice. “You do realize what it’s going to look like to Takoda when I leave and you step in to offer yourself as a lover and Dom.”
“What are you talking about?” Rhys asked without taking his eyes off the road.
“It’s going to look to him like you only want him if he’s ‘normal,’ since you couldn’t be bothered to deal with him yourself while he’s broken,” Evan said bluntly.
“What the fuck?” Rhys demanded, his head spinning toward Evan in shock.
“Watch the road,” Evan snapped back.
Rhys jerked his attention back to the heavy traffic, cursing under his breath as he narrowly avoided hitting another car. “Explain,” he ordered, his own dominant tone resonating in the car.
“You have yet to give me a single good reason why you can’t do for Takoda exactly what you’ve asked me to do,” Evan replied calmly. “I’m here because you asked, and that’s all I’ve ever needed, but Takoda isn’t going to see that. He’s going to see you, the one person he trusts, turning him over to another Dom rather than taking care of him yourself. And if that doesn’t drive him away for good, what self-esteem I help him regain will go right out the window when you step back into that position after having refused it when he really needed your help.”
Rhys shook his head, keeping his eyes on the traffic this time. “It’s not like that,” he protested, his tone begging Evan to understand. “I have tried, but every time I have to give him an order, every time he looks at me with that damn submissive expression on his face, I see him in Kade’s basement, beaten down and broken, and I freeze. The problem isn’t him. It’s me. I can’t be what he needs. He’s all I’ve ever wanted and I can’t get past my own fucking hang-ups to help him.”
Evan took a moment to digest that information. He’d suspected it, given what Rhys had said and not said on the phone, but the pain in Rhys’s voice made it so much more real. Before he could say anything else, Rhys went on, his voice soft now. “If the worst happens, if Takoda really can’t accept me later because I couldn’t help him now, I can live with that as long as I know he is well. I’d rather have him healed and not in my life than broken the way he is now.”
Evan nodded slowly. “You called me because you trust me the way you trust no one else,” he began. “Do you trust me enough to let me help you too?”
“I’m trusting you with Takoda’s life,” Rhys pointed out. “Next to that, trusting you with mine is nothing.”
“Then this is what we’re going to do. First of all, we’re not going to do anything for at least a week. Takoda doesn’t know me, has no reason to trust me except your word, and while he’d probably do what I ask if you ordered him to, that defeats the purpose. For the next week, maybe more, I’m just a guest in the house,” Evan declared. “If, in that time, an order has to be given, you will give it. No, don’t argue,” he insisted when he saw Rhys open his mouth to protest. “I don’t want Takoda thinking of me as a Dom, much less his Dom, until he’s ready to trust me on his own. Once that happens, though, I’ll be the only Dom in the house. That means yours too. When we do a session, you’ll be there with us and you’ll do what I say just like Takoda will.”
“And what purpose will that serve?” Rhys asked, his tone serious but willing to listen.
“Several purposes actually,” Evan replied. “First, it’ll show Takoda that a D/s relationship doesn’t have to be sexual at all, because while I love you dearly, I’m not planning on fucking you while I’m here. Secondly, maybe if you’re following orders, you can give Takoda what he needs. And even if you can’t, at least you’ll have tried, which might be the difference between him staying and leaving when I’m done. And hopefully if you’re the one touching him, even if it’s at my orders, he’ll fall for you rather than me. You know as well as I do that new subs have a propensity to fall for their Dom.”
“I know,” Rhys said, his voice barely above a whisper. “That’s another reason I called you. If he has to fall for someone else, I’d rather have it be you than anyone else because I know you’d never hurt him.”
“Oh, no,” Evan protested immediately. “No way. He’s all yours, buddy. I’m not leaving here with a sub in tow. I thought you knew better than to play matchmaker.”
Rhys rolled to a stop at a red light. “I’m not. I swear I’m not,” he insisted, turning to face Evan. Evan might have been skeptical but for the earnest look on Rhys’s face. “I want him. As my sub, my lover, my partner, or whatever combination of those makes him happy. But at least I know that if it doesn’t happen, you’ll let him down easily rather than just sending him on his way.”
Evan stared at Rhys’s expression a moment longer, until the honking of the car behind them drew their eyes back to the road. “You really do love him, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Rhys admitted hoarsely. “And the thought of anyone touching him, even you, makes me jealous as hell, but what he needs is more important than my feelings, and I can’t give it to him. And if I have to know he’s with someone else, I’d rather it be you than anyone else.”
“It won’t just be knowing,” Evan warned. “I won’t do a session unless you’re there too. Can you really do this, Rhys? Can you really watch me dominate your sub, not because you’ve decided to share him with another Dom for a session but because you can’t do it yourself?”
Rhys’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard at Evan’s words. “I don’t know.”
Evan almost called off the whole thing right then, but the desperation in Rhys’s voice held him back. If Evan backed out now, one of two things would happen. Rhys and Takoda would stay stuck in their current unhealthy stalemate, not really a couple but neither free to move on. Or Takoda would seek what he needed elsewhere without a seasoned sub’s confidence in his own limits, leaving him easy prey for anyone who chose to take advantage of him. As far as Evan was concerned, neither option was acceptable. He’d just have to see this through and make damn sure Rhys and Takoda ended up together.
What the fuck had he gotten himself into?