MARCHANT BELARUS sat in his customary place at the end of the bar in his BDSM club, sipping at his ice-cold Coke. He frowned as Tony spilled another drink across the polished wood. “What’s with you this evening? That’s the fourth drink you’ve spilt in the last half hour.”
Tony growled under his breath as he mopped up the mess and dropped the sopping cloth next to the others behind the bar.
“Stop growling and tell me the problem.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me.” When Tony hesitated, Marchant said, “Let’s put it another way. Tell me, or I’m going to start charging you for all the wasted drinks.”
“I need a session with a Dom.” Tony felt ready to crawl out of his skin. He needed something—or someone—to steady him.
“That’s easy enough to arrange.”
Tony shook his head. “I don’t want another flogging.”
“What do you want?” Marchant asked.
“I’m lonely,” Tony finally admitted.
“You want a Dom of your own.”
“I know I should be grateful I can get flogged or spanked anytime I want, but it’s not enough.” It hadn’t been enough for a long, long time.
“I understand.” Marchant’s tone gentled as if he realized Tony’s issues couldn’t be cured by the simple lash of the leather.
“Do you?” Tony looked at him sadly. “You have Ed.”
“I’ve only just met Ed, and I’m older than you,” Marchant pointed out. “I waited a long time to find someone who suits me the way he does.”
“You think I’m being impatient.”
“I think you look around you and see all these young subs coming through the doors, and none of the Doms give you a second look because you’re just Tony, the man who pours their drinks and deals with their problems.”
“Are you trying to make me feel better?”
“Is it working?”
“No,” Tony said shortly.
After he’d taken another sip of his drink, Marchant said, “What else? Are you hacked off with me?”
It was still early and no customer in earshot, so Tony decided to be honest. “Yep.”
“Want to talk about it?”
Tony bit his lip. He liked working for Marchant, but the guy didn’t take fools gladly and staff had been sacked for dissing his subs, and Ed wasn’t just any sub, he was the one for Marchant, anyone could see that.
Evidently his feelings were written plain on his face because Marchant snorted. “Talk. I’m not going to take your head off.”
Tony considered his words carefully. “You’ve not been around recently.”
Marchant inclined his head. “I’ve been training Ed.”
“Not in the club.”
“He’s not ready for it.”
Tony knew Marchant was handling Ed with kid gloves and with good reason. It had been a long time since he’d seen anyone as vulnerable as his boss’s new submissive. “The club has missed you.”
Marchant sighed. “I hear you, Tony. You don’t need to say it. I’ve been neglecting the business.”
“You’re a great Dom and the best master Ed could have.”
“But a lousy boss.”
“You’ve been… distracted since he agreed to be your sub.” Tony didn’t want Marchant to think he was jealous of Ed, because he genuinely liked the fragile man, and he and Marchant had never been interested in each other.
“But I’ve got a business, and it’s not fair to expect you to run it.”
“Members have been missing you,” Tony said. “I’m only the barman and a house sub. They don’t see me in the way they see you.”
Marchant frowned. “Have the Doms been giving you trouble?”
“Not as such,” Tony lied. “Although you can tell they think I’m just a sub and I’ve got no real authority.”
“Perhaps we need to change that.”
“I may be built like a brick shithouse, Markie—Marchant—but I don’t think I can be a Dominant.”
“Call me that again during work hours, and I’ll put you over my knee.” Marchant’s tone was mild enough, but Tony knew he’d overstepped the line.
Marchant acknowledged his apology with a nod. “I’ll talk to Ed.”
“He’s your priority,” Tony said.
“I love Ed, and I want to train him, but my club is my life, and you are important to me too, Tony. I have invested too much time and trouble to lose you.”
“You need an assistant manager.”
Marchant hummed. “I’ve been thinking….”
“Heh. What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Do you want the job?”
“Call girl.” Marchant rolled his eyes. “You said no one treated you with authority. How about you have the title to go with all the responsibility I’ve heaped on your shoulders?”
Tony was about to respond when a Dom with a shock of red hair approached the bar, closely followed by a young sub.
“Two waters, please, Tony. Hey, Marchant. I thought you’d been abducted by aliens.”
Marchant sighed. “I haven’t been gone that long.” He glared as Tony opened his mouth. “Hush, you.”
“Yes, boss.” Tony gave him a mocking salute. He tipped ice into the glasses and poured the water.
Marchant studied the young man hiding behind Jordan. “I don’t know you. I’m Marchant Belarus. Welcome to my club.”
Tony looked at the sub as he shyly greeted Marchant. Slim, pretty, and typical of the subs Jordan and most of the Doms liked. He sighed inwardly.
“I’m going to make Tony the assistant manager of the club,” Marchant said to Jordan.
“’Bout time. He’s been doing the job for years. Mike, this is Tony. He knows everything and everyone here.”
“I guess he has,” Marchant agreed. “You don’t think the Doms will give him any trouble?”
Jordan looked between Marchant and Tony. “No more than usual. It might make things easier for him than it has been lately.”
Marchant sighed. “I really have taken my eyes off the ball, haven’t I?”
“You’ve had your hands full,” Jordan said, “but Tony’s man enough to deal with the idiots.”
Tony concentrated on stocking the water. Yeah, he was more than capable of dealing with a few overbearing Dominants, but no one ever thought he might like someone to deal with the idiots for him.
“Well, now we have an assistant manager, I’ll pass the word around,” Marchant said.
“I haven’t said yes,” Tony protested.
“But you’re not going to say no, are you?”
Jordan snorted. “I think we’ll leave you to discuss this. My boy and I have a date with a flogger.”
Tony watched the sub fall into place behind Jordan as they walked away, and something inside him ached fiercely for that kind of commitment.
“How long has it been?” Marchant’s question disturbed Tony’s attention.
“How long has it been since you submitted to anyone on more than a one-off basis?”
“Two years.” Tony thought about it. “Probably nearer three.”
“That’s too long.”
“What can I say? Doms aren’t looking for subs who could make mincemeat out of them. I’m too old, too big, and too hairy. I should be a bear, except I’m not.”
Nope. He was a little guy inside a big guy, waiting for someone to realize it.
“Not every Dom is looking for the same thing,” Marchant said. “Why the hell would I have taken on Ed?”
“Because you like a challenge?”
Marchant’s new sub was nearly forty and had spent his life being an obnoxious jerk to everyone. Tony was sure there was a whole other side to Ed, otherwise why would Marchant be bothering with him. The one thing Tony knew about his boss was that he didn’t like arseholes, and he insisted on well-mannered subs in his club.
Marchant snorted. “You got that right. Listen, we’ll talk tomorrow about the new job. In the meantime, if anyone gives you trouble, send them to me.”
“Yes, sir.” Tony saluted him again.
Tony grinned at him. It was good to have Marchant back, and hey, he’d got a promotion. “Do I get a pay rise along with the extra work?”
“Tomorrow. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Now we need to concentrate on your love life.”
“I thought we’d just established I don’t have a love life.” Tony wanted to discuss extra pay, not the lack of a Dom in his life.
“You need to get off your arse, Tony. Master Right isn’t going to walk through that door, declare undying love for you, and whip you into subspace. That’s a dream for the newbies. You’ve got to get out into the real world and find that man.”
“You don’t find your Dom in the outside world,” Tony scoffed.
Marchant raised an eyebrow. “We have to eat and drink like everyone else.”
Tony remembered that Marchant had met Ed by tripping and throwing a large cup of Coke over him in a supermarket car park.
Marchant leaned forward and took the cloth out of Tony’s hand. He’d been wiping the same patch of bar over and over again. “Tony, you’re looking in the wrong place. Go and have some fun. Go to a gay bar. Hell, go to a straight bar. Just do something instead of moping in here.”
“When do I get the chance to go out? I work every weekend.”
“Where’s that card?”
“The man who gave you the card on the motorway.”
Tony had told Marchant about the blond guy on the M25. “In my car.” He’d not thrown it away even though he had no intention of phoning the man.
“Go and get it.”
“I’m working. The boss gets pissed if I slack off.”
“I’ll make your excuses. Now hurry the fuck up. It’ll be busy soon.”
Tony shook his head and made for the door, only doubling back when he realized he’d left his car keys under the bar. Marchant opened his mouth to shout at him, but Tony said, “Keys,” and he shut it again.
Tony shivered in the winter air as he jogged to the car. It took him seconds to find the business card. He’d shoved it in the glove compartment when he’d reached his parents’ house. As he walked back to the club, he turned the card over and over in his fingers.
He looked up to see Jordan smiling at him. “Hey. Where’s….” Tony struggled to remember Jordan’s new sub’s name. “Mike?”
“He’s talking to a couple of friends. I came out for a smoke. What are you doing?”
“To be honest, I’ve no idea. The boss wanted me to get a business card from my car.”
Tony hesitated a fraction too long, and Jordan arched an eyebrow, obviously expecting an answer. Tony was tempted to tell him to mind his own business, because Jordan was his mate, but in the club, he was an employee and Jordan was a client and expected Tony to treat him as such.
“Marchant thinks I need to get out into the world.”
“Find yourself a Dom, you mean.”
“Is it that obvious?” Tony asked bitterly.
“Only to those of us who watch you. We can all see you’re not happy.”
“Lonely and looking for the right Dom.”
Jordan guided Tony through the double doors of the club. “I know it’s not easy for you.”
“How the hell do you know that?”
“I see you look at each Dom who comes through the door.”
Tony pulled back in horror. “Are you all pitying me?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Is everything all right?”
Oh great, now Marchant was involved, a frown between his brows.
Jordan didn’t seem fazed. “Sorry, Marchant. I’ve stuck my nose in where it’s not wanted.”
Tony gritted his teeth. “Apparently everyone thinks I’m a fucking loser, boss.”
Marchant looked at the card in Tony’s fingers. “Don’t swear at me. Call him.”
“I don’t want to call him.”
“Call who?” Jordan asked.
“No one,” Tony said.
Marchant ignored Tony. “A bloke Tony met a few days ago. He gave Tony his card in case he was interested.”
“I’m not interested.”
Marchant and Jordan ignored him.
“A perfect distraction,” Jordan agreed.
“But I’m not interested in him.” It was true—kind of.
“You said he was pretty and had a great arse,” Marchant pointed out.
“But he’s not a Dom.”
Jordan looked at him seriously. “Not everything is about BDSM, Tony. Sometimes a hookup is just about having fun.”
“He’s right,” Marchant agreed.
Tony suppressed a growl. “You’re both involved with your subs.”
“Yeah, but I’ve had plenty of outside hookups. Variety makes for an interesting Tony.” Marchant plucked the card out of Tony’s fingers. “Go and have some fun with—” He looked at the card. “—Leo Markus.”
“I’m not calling him.”
“Give me your phone.” Jordan held out his hand.
Tony cursed himself for handing it over meekly. Marchant gave Jordan the card, and before Tony knew what he was doing, he was listening to the ringtone and praying Leo wouldn’t answer.
“Hello? Who’s this?”
“H-hi,” Tony stammered. “My name is Tony. You gave me your card.” He was acutely conscious of Jordan and Marchant watching him, so he walked away from the peanut gallery.
“I don’t remember… oh! The hot guy on the M25. I wondered who was calling me at this time of night.”
Tony flushed. “I don’t know about the hot guy, but yeah, the M25.”
“I’d given up hope you were going to call me.”
“No worries. Now you have, what can I do for you?”
Tony looked at Jordan and Marchant in panic. Jordan rolled his eyes, but Marchant said, “Invite him out for a beer.”
“Beer?” Tony managed.
“Cool. Are you free tomorrow night?”
“I’m working tomorrow—”
“No, you’re not,” Marchant said.
“I get the feeling you’re not on your own,” Leo said, but Tony was relieved to hear he sounded amused rather than pissed off.
“My boss,” Tony said. “He says tomorrow is fine.”
“I like your boss already. Where do you live?”
“Sutton. But I’ll be in Wimbledon tomorrow.”
“Even better. I’ve got a meeting near Wimbledon at five o’clock. See you at the Wetherspoon’s at seven. Is that okay?”
“See you then.” Tony put his phone away and scowled at Marchant and Jordan. “Happy now?”
“See,” Jordan said. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Tony stalked past them and relieved the sub who’d taken his place behind the bar. He was all kinds of pissed off at this interference in his life, but even more annoyed that he’d let it happen.
Marchant slid into his usual seat at the bar. “I know you’re pissed off with us.”
Tony served a sub and took the ten-pound note. He handed over the change before he spoke again. “Why did you do that to me? It was humiliating.”
Marchant sighed. “Working here can skew your thinking. It’s easy to think your whole life has to be about kink.”
“Yours is,” Tony snapped.
Marchant shook his head. “My life is about Ed, not kink. I want to make him happy. I also have a club to run. You’ve worked for me for five years, and this is the first time I’ve seen you so unhappy. Look, go on the date, maybe get laid, and enjoy yourself.”
“It’s not what I want,” Tony said miserably.
“I know, but unless you try something different, you might not find what you really need.”
To Tony’s relief, a couple of Doms wandered over to chat to Marchant and the lecture was over. Tony dug the card out of his pocket and placed it on the bar. He didn’t have to keep the date.
“If you even think of cancelling, I’ll smack your arse so hard, you won’t sit down for a week,” Jordan said.
“That’s not really a threat,” Tony pointed out.
“I guess not.” Jordan grinned at him. “Go on the fucking date. What have you got to lose?”
“My dignity. Oh, wait, I already lost that.”
“Tony, I hate to burst your bubble, but you’re not some dewy-eyed virgin. I’ve seen you being lashed and fucked against the cross, and you weren’t protesting about your dignity then. Go on the date, and we’ll arrange a session. Mike’s been desperate to see you in action ever since he met you.”
Tony looked at him skeptically. “Mike? Your Mike?”
“Yep. The kid who looks like a puff of wind would blow him away. Turns out he’s got a thing for big bears.”
“What’s he doing with you, then?”
Jordan shrugged. “He needed a sir, and I was there.”
Tony frowned. “That doesn’t sound like you.”
“It doesn’t have to be. We’re both young and learning. Anyway, go on the date tomorrow.”
“Do I have a choice?” Tony asked sourly.
“No.” Jordan beamed at him and wandered away.
Tony grimaced and shoved the card back in his pocket. He’d go because Leo seemed like a good guy and Tony really needed a night out. Then he’d demand his flogging, and they could leave him the fuck alone.