THE gray leather was so soft it felt like silk in Jason’s hands. It was a good solid piece, though, about two inches wide, with four heavy D rings attached. It was the kind of collar that would tell a man he belonged to somebody—not that there was someone Jason wanted to belong to. Not that I want to belong to anyone. He swallowed back his discomfort. A little light bondage with his sometime-boyfriend Terry was one thing, but—
Jason jumped at the sound of the rich baritone voice behind him and not-so-silently cursed himself for getting caught window shopping. The dealers’ room wasn’t open yet; he was only allowed in because he was working off his convention membership by helping with setup. Setting up didn’t include pestering the merchants.
Normally Jason didn’t even pay attention to anything in the dealers’ room at a con. He’d been going to science fiction conventions for eight years—since he was fourteen—and the dealers’ room always looked the same: displays overflowing with novels and comic books, tables piled high with CDs and DVDs. There were movie posters and action figures. Plush Lovecraftian monsters. The sword dealer was set up next to the guy who sold replicas of Star Trek phasers and Stargate zat guns. Across the aisle was a woman who did custom corsetry work—for both women and men. Next to her was the guy who sold uniforms: Starfleet, Stormtrooper, Colonial (as in the Twelve Colonies of Kobol). If it was on TV or in the movies, he could get his hands on it.
The last few years Jason had noticed more brass and leather making its way in the dealers’ room, thanks to the rising popularity of steampunk literature and the Victorian culture it came from. He didn’t mind. There was nothing hotter than a good-looking guy decked out in Victorian-era garb, and all the better if he was wearing leather.
Jason wasn’t wearing leather, but what he did have on was almost as good: a black fishnet shirt that showed off the silver hoops in his nipples, and a pair of ass-hugging jeans with a couple of gray bandanas tied into the belt loops at his right hip. Those were more for show than anything else. Nobody around the science fiction community knew the “hanky code” supposedly used in the leather community. Jason wasn’t even sure anybody actually used it in real life; it was just one of those things he’d read about online. Different-colored hankies signified different kinks. Gray was for bondage.
He turned to face the shop owner to apologize for getting in his way (and hope the guy didn’t complain about him being where he didn’t belong)—but his mouth went dry and his throat refused to work. He found himself staring at a brawny chest. He looked up. The shop owner smirked down at him. The guy was at least a foot taller than Jason, and while he wasn’t exactly Incredible Hulk muscular, Jason didn’t think he lost too many arm-wrestling contests, either. He certainly made Jason feel small simply by standing there smiling.
The epitome of “classically handsome,” the merchant had a strong jaw, cleft chin, and dimples. Jason loved drawing faces with dimples. His gaze flickered further up and he noticed the full mustache, baby-blue eyes, and short-cropped blond hair. He’d never liked mustaches much, but he was suddenly ready to make an exception.
“See something else you like?” the guy asked him with a lopsided grin.
Heat rushed to Jason’s cheeks. “Yes. I mean, no! I mean….” He floundered, certain the tips of his ears were as red as the ballroom carpet. “Sorry, I know you’re still setting up. I saw this”—he held up the gray leather collar—“and I guess I couldn’t resist.”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
Jason’s heart hammered in his chest. The guy couldn’t possibly mean that the way it sounded. Could he?
“C’mon.” He took Jason by the shoulders and turned him around so Jason’s back was to him once more before lifting the collar out of his hands. “Let’s try this on for size.”
“I….” Jason licked his lips. Even without seeing a price tag on it, he knew he couldn’t afford a collar like that. “I really don’t think—”
But the merchant didn’t give him the chance to finish his sentence. “Jesus, boy, you got enough hair? Lift that mop outta my way.”
“I… huh? Sorry, I…,” he stammered. Why was he apologizing to a total stranger about the length of his hair? Didn’t he get enough of that shit at home? If it wasn’t his father, it was Dad’s girlfriend, Alicia, ragging on him about his hair, his clothes. His attitude. According to them, no one would ever hire someone like him. He usually didn’t remind them that he had a job. After all, waiting tables wasn’t “real work,” it was what college kids and unskilled adults did to pay the bills.
“I should get back to work,” Jason told the merchant. “I’m supposed to be helping with setup.” He started to pull away, but the big man leaned in close and put his hands on Jason’s shoulders, stopping him in his tracks.
“I’m sure you can play hooky for a few more minutes,” he whispered into Jason’s ear, his tone lilting. Seductive.
“Huh?” was the wittiest comeback Jason could come up with.
“Let’s see what this looks like on you.”
“I… yeah… okay.” God, could he sound any more like a clod?
The merchant cleared his throat. “Hair, boy.”
“Right. Sorry.” Jason lifted the long, curly black hair off his shoulders, exposing his slender neck. He closed his eyes as the merchant slipped the gray collar around his throat. It was heavy. It felt good. The only collar he’d ever worn before was the one he’d bought for himself a few months ago, from the pet aisle at Walmart. It was so much more satisfying when someone else buckled the soft, sturdy leather into place, even if it was only someone trying to make a sale.
“There.” The merchant laid his hands on Jason’s shoulders once more. “How’s the fit?”
“Perfect, sir.” Jason faltered. But sir was a generic enough courtesy, and the shop owner looked a few years older than him. Well. Maybe closer to ten years older, not that Jason minded. Older guys knew what they were doing in bed. Not that he thought the merchant was flirting with him, he was just trying to make a sale. He wasn’t going to succeed. “I’m sorry, sir, but I really can’t afford something like this. I didn’t mean to waste your time.”
“Who says you’re wasting my time? ’Sides, last time I checked, looking was free.”
Jason glanced over his shoulder. “I can’t actually see anything, you know.”
The merchant rolled his eyes at Jason’s petulant tone. “I think I’ve got a solution for that.” He reached to the table behind him and passed Jason an antique brass hand mirror. “There you go. What d’you think?”
Jason gaped at his own reflection in the oval glass. The charcoal-gray leather was the perfect complement to his pale skin and almost the same color as his eyes. How was he ever going to go back to wearing a cheap dog collar after seeing the way he looked in a real collar?
He gave himself a good mental shake. Why would he want a real collar? Real collars were for submissives. Slaves. Jason wasn’t either of those things, he just dabbled with bondage once in a while. He licked his lips nervously and cast another glance up at the merchant, because looking at the other man was easier than looking at his own reflection.
“Kinda makes you look like you belong to somebody, eh, boy?” the big man observed.
“Yeah. I was just thinking…. I, erm… just out of curiosity, how much is it?” He had to ask.
“The hardware on there is all hand forged. I can’t go any lower than two hundred.”
Jason’s heart sank. “I really wish I could afford that, but I’m not even sure I’m going to be able to afford school next semester.” God, he sounded pathetic. He wasn’t trying for sympathy, the words had just come out.
“Gotta have priorities, boy.”
Jason gave him a questioning look.
“School first,” he elaborated. “You’ll have time for stuff like this later.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
Jason took a last look at himself in the mirror before the merchant undid the collar’s clasp. He felt an immediate loss when it came off his neck. He smiled anyway. “Thanks for letting me try it on….” He sought out the man’s name badge, but the only thing printed on it was “Sir.”
“Henry Durand.” He held out his hand.
Jason accepted. “Jason Kennly.”
“Good to meet you, Jason.” Henry’s hand swallowed Jason’s up whole, but his grip was light. Friendly.
“You too. Well, I guess I should get back before somebody realizes how long I’ve been gone. See you around the con, Sir,” he added, despite the fact that they’d exchanged proper names.
Henry quirked an eyebrow, then laughed. “I’ll be right here, boy,” he shot back with a wink. “I might even let you model a few other things, if you like. Got a set of cuffs you’d look good in.”
With heat burning in his cheeks, Jason beat a hasty retreat. He told himself that Henry Durand was probably an accountant or something, that selling collars and leather BDSM gear was only a weekend gig, but even the thought of Mr. Tall, Blond, and Handsome sitting in front of a pile of income tax returns wasn’t enough to make his dick go soft.
THE only advantage to showing up before 10:00 a.m. on the first day of a weekend-long convention to work setup was that as soon as his shift ended at six, Jason was free for the rest of the weekend. He had his own hotel room, a rare luxury and one he knew he was going to end up regretting at the end of the month, when his Visa bill came. The interest rate on his card was insane, but he was sick of sharing a room with ten other people, which was why he wasn’t telling anybody he had his own room this weekend. He didn’t want ten or more people suddenly deciding he was their very best friend in the hopes of getting crash space.
Jason took a long hot shower and used two towels to dry off, just because he could. He wrapped a third towel around his narrow waist and enjoyed taking as much time as he wanted to dry and style his hair. He shaved carefully—the only thing less attractive than stubble were the little nicks he got when he rushed—and applied smoky black kohl to his eyelids, and then got dressed. Instead of putting the fishnet shirt back on, he opted for a plain black turtleneck. He wanted to feel something around his neck, and after having a real collar on, if only for a few minutes, the Walmart collar in his suitcase wasn’t going to cut it anymore.
Finally, he shimmied into his best ass-hugging jeans and tied a single gray bandana into the belt loop on his right hip. Wearing it on the right meant that he liked to be the one getting tied up—assuming anyone had any idea what it was supposed to mean at all. All that really mattered to Jason was that he knew what it meant.
After a last quick once-over in the full-length mirror to be sure he looked perfect, Jason headed down to the main lobby to see who was hanging out. He wasn’t the best-looking guy in any room, but his mother had always said it wasn’t what you had, it was what you did with it that mattered. He doubted she’d approve of his life choices, but it didn’t matter. She wasn’t around to see them.
As soon as he stepped off the elevator, Jason spotted his best friend, Kendra Lewis, across the sea of costumes and faces. Kendra was in full Colonial Warrior garb—original Battlestar Galactica, not the one from a few years ago. She was a purist. They’d grown up together in Troy, two kids from the same trailer park. Now she was a student way, way up north at Michigan Tech. He was living in the middle of nowhere with the father he hadn’t even met until a few years ago, and going to community college.
“You coming or going, boy?”
Jason jumped at the sound of the rich baritone voice behind him and whirled around to find Henry Durand standing there, grinning down at him. Jason’s brain seized up and his dick swelled painfully inside his tight jeans. Henry had changed into a black leather tank top and tight black leather pants. He carried a large duffel bag and had several lengths of nylon rope slung over one shoulder.
“’Course if that’s not just for show”—Henry nodded toward the gray bandana on Jason’s hip—“I’ll expect to see you in the demo I got ‘roped’ into giving. Pun intended.” He winked.
Jason opened his mouth. Then he shut it again. Henry knew…? Shit. Not that there was any way a guy like Henry Durand was ever going to be interested in him. Unless maybe Jason could tempt him into a casual fuck…? Hell, Jason would settle for blowing him in the men’s room and having something good to think about later, when he jerked off in his room all alone.
“Well?” said Henry. “That just for show, or are you for real?”
Before Jason could make a second attempt at intelligent speech, he felt a pair of arms wrapping themselves around his waist. He didn’t have to turn his head to know it was Terry, his on-again-off-again boyfriend. At the moment, they were off again, even though Terry didn’t seem to realize it.
“I’ve been looking all over the con for you!” He landed a sloppy kiss on Jason’s cheek. “You avoiding me or something?” His tone was playful and he smelled like cheap vodka and Juicy Fruit gum, a sure sign that he was already drunk.
Jason pulled out of the unwanted embrace and turned to face Terry. “I was working setup. Sorry you couldn’t find me.”
“Well, I found you now.” He tried to grab onto Jason again, but Jason pushed him back. Terry pouted at him. “You’re not still pissed at me about the other week, are you?” he wanted to know.
“No,” he lied. Jason turned around to find that Henry was already halfway down the hall. He considered running after him, but how pathetic would that look?
“I’m headed up to the con suite,” said Terry.
“I’ll meet you up there in a minute.”
“Where are you going? There’s nothing happening for a few hours—”
“I said I’d be up in a minute!”
“I could give you a hand getting up,” Terry offered lasciviously, brows raised.
“No. Thank you. I’ll see you in a few.” Jason turned on his heel and walked away as quickly as he could, hoping to get lost in the crowd.
It worked—either that, or Terry wasn’t in the mood to chase after him. Jason didn’t care which; he ducked into the first empty conference room he came to, to collect his thoughts. He didn’t even know for sure why he’d bolted. The other week wasn’t the first time Terry had stood him up. It probably wouldn’t be the last. It didn’t matter. All he wanted to do now was figure out what kind of demo Henry was doing and find it.
Feeling like an idiot, he peered out the conference room door to make sure the coast was clear before heading for the registration table to grab a program book.
TWENTY minutes later, Jason stood outside one of the smaller ballrooms. The door was closed, and he had a swarm of butterflies flapping around his stomach. He considered forgetting the whole thing—the demo had already started—but it was either go in late or meet up with Terry up in the con suite. Or wander around on his own, looking pathetic.
He didn’t want to see Terry and he didn’t feel like wandering around aimlessly.
The other option was to hang around outside the ballroom door, wait for the demo to end, and catch Henry coming out. But that would be even more pathetic than running after the guy.
Taking a breath to calm his nerves, Jason opened the door and stepped inside. Thirty or forty people sat up near the front of the room, listening to Henry talk about safe, sane, and consensual play.
Suddenly, Henry stopped speaking and fixed Jason with dark glare. “You’re late,” he snapped.
Jason’s eyes widened—he was sure people in the hallway must have heard Henry’s voice. Certainly everyone in the ballroom turned to stare at the intruder.
“I was starting to think I was gonna have to find me another volunteer,” Henry continued in the same angry tone. Jason’s stomach lurched and his dick snapped to attention—he had no idea why. He was not into humiliation, public or otherwise. Was he?
“Well, don’t just stand there, boy. Get your ass down here! These nice people don’t got all night, you know.”
Jason swallowed hard. He had to be kidding!
“You want to get tied up or not?” Henry demanded.
Only there was no way he was going to let a total stranger tie him up in front of a room full of people he didn’t know. Then again, what could be safer? Nobody would ever try anything underhanded in front of witnesses—not that he seriously expected Henry to do anything bad.
Trying very hard not to look at anyone—and knowing that everyone was staring at him—Jason walked the fifty or so feet to the front of the room. It was both the longest and shortest walk he’d ever taken.
“Have a seat.” Henry nodded to the floor at his feet.
Jason hesitated—but then dropped passively to his knees determined to play along. It would probably be fun. He’d read the description in the program, and it definitely sounded enticing:
Tied up in Knots
Presented by bondage expert Henry Durand
Safe, sane, consensual, and FUN play begins with learning the ropes! Bring a partner and come for a two-hour bondage demonstration that will leave some of you tied up in knots. 18 and over only.
Trying to remember what he’d read online about the way a submissive was supposed to act, because he was pretty sure that was what Henry expected, Jason dropped his chin a little, squared his shoulders, and kept his eyes focused on the red carpet in front of him. He’d rather not have to look anybody directly in the eye, anyway. Instead, he glanced surreptitiously around the room and felt a wave of relief when he realized he didn’t know a single person there. He settled his gaze back on the carpet and listened to Henry talk. When Henry reached out and started stroking his hair, Jason smiled and leaned into his touch. He could definitely think of worse ways to spend a Friday night.
Henry sounded like he knew what he was talking about, and he made a big deal out of safe play. He even harped about always using condoms as if people didn’t know better—it was the twenty-first century, for crying out loud. Then again, looking at the number of people still contracting HIV and other shit… yeah, maybe it was important to keep talking about safe sex, even though Jason had no idea why anyone would choose not to wear a condom.
Suddenly Henry fisted his hand into Jason’s hair and gave a sharp tug, forcing Jason to look up at him. “You done daydreaming, boy?”
“I… sorry… I…,” he stammered, blushing. “Could you please repeat that please, sir?”
“I asked you if there were any medical conditions I need to know about.” Henry sounded pissed.
Henry paused, then gave a curt nod. He eased up his grip but didn’t let go of Jason’s hair. He knelt down so they were eye to eye with one another. “You gonna be okay tied up for an hour or so?”
“I should be.” He wished he sounded more confident.
“Need a piss break before we start?”
Jason blinked and he stared at the other man, too startled to answer.
Henry smirked. “Guess I’ll take that as a no.” He let go of Jason’s hair and stood up—and Jason saw that he wasn’t the only one with a bulge between his legs. God, did he actually have a chance with this guy? He doubted it would be more than a casual fuck, but he’d take whatever he could get.
And Henry was glaring at him, seeming to realize his mind had started to wander again.
Jason dropped his gaze. “Sorry, sir.”
Henry didn’t acknowledge his apology. “Up on the table, on your knees, back to the audience.”
Jason did as he was told. The table was hard under his knees; he wasn’t sure he could really kneel on it for an hour. But he’d already committed to the demo, so he tried to relax and enjoy himself. His dick certainly seemed to think they were having fun—it was straining painfully against his jeans.
Henry leaned in. “How do you feel about taking off your shirt?” he asked, his voice pitched so only Jason could hear.
Jason gave him an apprehensive look. He didn’t want to refuse, but he wasn’t real sure about stripping in front of a room full of strangers either.
Instead of pushing him like Jason expected him to, Henry returned his gaze. His expression was calm, steady. Reassuring. “I’ll be right here the whole time,” he promised.
Jason licked his lips. Nodded. He removed his turtleneck and set it down next to him.
“Good boy.” Henry smoothed his fingers through Jason’s hair. “Hands behind your back,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear.
Jason obeyed. He closed his eyes, trying to relax as Henry wound and knotted the soft nylon rope over his arms. He worked slowly, explaining everything he did as he went. Jason let his whole world becoming the sound of Henry’s voice, the steady, sure touch of his hands. The scent of well-cared-for leather. He didn’t have to concentrate very hard on blocking out the rest of the people in the room; Henry was the only one who mattered. The only one who existed besides him.
Before long, Jason’s arms were encased in rope. It felt… incredible. Sensual. He gave an experimental wriggle but couldn’t move at all. He’d never felt so helpless. So horny.
Strong fingers brushed against his hands. Without thinking, Jason curled his fingers around Henry’s. Henry leaned in close, speaking softly so no one else could hear him. “You doing okay?”
“Yes, Sir.” Sir with a capital S.
Henry shot him a quizzical look—then he nodded. He gave Jason’s fingers a gentle squeeze. “No pins and needles anywhere?” he asked. “No pinching?”
“No, Sir. I feel… I’m doing fine.” He felt his cheeks growing warm again. He was doing better than fine, and if Henry took one look at the front of his jeans, he’d know it. One touch was all it would take to make him come on the spot. “I’m good, Sir.”
Henry smirked, blue eyes twinkling with humor. “That you are, boy. But things are about to get a little more interesting.” He winked, flashing that lopsided smile. “Hope you don’t mind.” Without waiting for an answer, he straightened and turned back to the audience. “Of course, if you’ve got a lippy little cuss for a partner, you can always fix that with more rope,” he said, eliciting snickers from everyone but Jason.
Jason started to protest. He wasn’t lippy!
But Henry cut him off. “Open up, boy,” he ordered. He was holding a length of rope in front of Jason’s mouth.
Jason hesitated. It was no longer a matter of pride, it was a matter of whether or not he was willing to give up what little control he had left to a total stranger. But he’d come this far—what was the harm in going a little further?
As if reading his thoughts, Henry leaned in close again. “It’s brand-new rope. I took it out of the package a couple of hours ago,” he whispered in Jason’s ear. “It’s never been used before tonight. Besides, do you honestly think I’m gonna try anything weird in front of all these witnesses?”
Jason almost laughed. “This isn’t weird?”
Henry rolled his eyes. He seemed to be having a hard time not laughing, too. “I think gagging you was the right idea, boy. Now open up. You’re making me look bad, here.”
Jason smirked. “You could always spank me later if you want to, Sir,” he teased.
“Watch it.” Henry's tone was one of warning. “I might take you up on that. Boy.”
Fuck. Henry sounded serious. Jason’s cock and balls ached. The only option seemed to be to play along, but…. “What if… I mean….” Only he didn’t know how to ask what he really wanted to ask. What if there was a problem and he got a charley horse or needed Henry to untie him or something?
Henry just smiled. “You mean how’re you gonna let me know if you get into trouble while you’re all trussed up?” he asked.
Jason nodded, no longer trusting his voice.
“Remember what I said before. I’ll be right here the whole time, keeping an eye on you.”
His tone was so reassuring that the only thing Jason could do was open his mouth and let Henry gag him. Nylon, he decided quickly, wasn’t one of his favorite flavors.
Henry turned his attention to the audience and started talking again. Unable to see what he was doing anyway, Jason closed his eyes once more and let himself get lost in the sensation of the tight bondage. The nylon was smooth against his skin; he’d never used nylon rope before. Or, rather, Terry hadn’t used it on him. He hadn’t played like this with anyone else, not that what he and Terry did was anything like this. Terry just used whatever he had lying around his apartment. Sometimes the results were good, and other times, Jason had to wear long-sleeved shirts for a few days so he wouldn’t have to explain the bruises and rope burns on his wrists.
Behind him, it sounded like Henry was having the audience members pair off to practice tying each other up while he watched. Jason wished he was turned so he could see what they were doing too. He’d never been to any kind of bondage demo before, and he’d have loved to actually learn something. Sure, he knew there were a couple of fetish groups in the area, but he was too afraid of running into someone he knew to actually go to a munch—a casual meet-up. What if he found out his old algebra teacher was a closet leather daddy or something? It would just be too weird and totally not worth the risk.
Wanting something else to think about, Jason let himself sink further into the situation, into the ropes binding his arms. His mouth. When he was tied up, he didn’t have to worry about doing anything wrong. He didn’t even have to worry about doing anything right, either. He didn’t have to think at all. All he had to do was lie there and accept whatever his partner did. Or at least, that was the fantasy. He had yet to experience it for real, not that Terry didn’t try. He just wasn’t into it the way Jason wanted him to be.
Henry, though…. Jason wondered what it would be like to be totally at that man’s mercy, helpless to do anything but get fucked however Henry wanted to fuck him. His cock throbbed painfully against his jeans. God, he was going to die if he didn’t get to jerk off soon. How much longer was Henry going to keep him tied up?
He realized his arms were sore, and shifted, trying to ease some of the tension in his shoulders. It didn’t help. He fidgeted. Now it hurt worse. His knees ached and he was pretty sure his feet were asleep. Okay, it was definitely time for Henry to untie him.
Jason opened his eyes, intending to turn his head and get the other man’s attention, but he discovered when he tried that he couldn’t turn it. Shit. Talk about being helpless! And why was the room so quiet behind him? Jason’s heart beat harder behind his ribcage as he stared at the ugly yellow wallpaper, trying to figure out what to do. Trying not to give in to the panic that squeezed against his chest.
He tried calling out, but the only sound he could make was a muffled cry. He couldn’t even scream for help! He drew in ragged breath after ragged breath. What if they left him there all night? What if…?
“Easy, boy, I’ve got you.” Henry seemed to come out of nowhere, and Jason felt two strong hands on his shoulders. He shuddered and leaned into Henry’s touch, desperate for human contact. Henry seemed to know exactly what he needed: he wrapped both arms around Jason and held him tight, warming his chilled skin. “Shhh, you did great,” he crooned. “Everybody’s gone, I was just seeing the last of them out the door. I’m sorry I left you, but I was only as far away as the other end of the room, I promise. I was watching you the whole time. You were never alone.”
Jason heard the words, but they didn’t sink in. All that mattered were the strong arms holding him close, making him feel safe.
“I am incredibly proud of you, Jason,” Henry said. “I’m going to untie you now, okay? Jason? You with me?”
Jason tried to nod, but he could barely move his head.
“Here, let’s start with that.”
In almost no time at all, Henry had the rope out of Jason’s mouth and was pressing a plastic cup of cold water to his lips. “Drink,” he ordered when Jason hesitated.
“I’ve gotta piss. That’ll make it worse.”
“A full bladder won’t kill you, and I won’t untie you until you drink this.”
Helpless to do anything else, Jason drank. “I can’t feel my feet,” he said when Henry eased the bottle away from his mouth.
“Okay, hang on. No, let me,” Henry instructed when Jason tried moving on his own. He helped Jason into a sitting position, bringing his legs out from underneath him, and maneuvered him so they dangled over the edge of the table. The pins-and-needles sensation was almost as unbearable as his aching bladde