IN ELEMENTARY school—first or second grade, the exact date elusive now—Tackett Austin had discovered he was different. He’d shown up on the playground late for recess, the groups already decided. Some boys played ball. Others used index finger and thumb as a pretend gun, running, ducking, rolling, and shooting at each other. Then there was the group of girls playing hopscotch, boring game, while another group of girls sat on the monkey bars watching the boys and their antics. Tackett, without hesitation, joined the girls on the monkey bars and watched the boys. He took a lot of ribbing for that choice, got called names like sissy, freak, was bullied by the other boys, but he didn’t pay them any attention and never questioned the decision he’d made.
During his teenage years—while experimenting, learning blowjob etiquette and Tapping an Ass 101—he realized he had a propensity for kink. Tackett didn’t want a guy just sucking his dick; he liked to force them to take it. Vanilla didn’t do much for him, even when it was new. Without questioning the reasons why, he sought out like-minded kinksters. And the rest, as they say, was history.
Not usually one for self-introspection, rarely questioning his decisions or choices, Tackett was a little stunned to find himself sitting at the bar several decades later, questioning everything, every choice he’d ever made. Hell, he was staring at an empty glass, for fuck’s sake, debating if he should say screw it and order a double shot of bourbon or stick with water.
Tackett knew the exact moment it all changed.
He hadn’t been in the Guards of Folsom since the night of Ty Callahan’s collaring, six weeks earlier. He was impressed with the changes Blake and Ty had made to the place. Bobby, the previous owner, hadn’t done much to it over the years. It was always a great place to play, even if it was a little outdated.
The twenty-year-old booths had been replaced with soft leather couches, the scarred and worn tables gone and new black shiny ones brought in. Instead of the medieval feel it had previously, the club now had a warm, comfortable ambiance even with the dark color scheme and low lighting. The power play being exchanged between Doms and subs, leather and sex the prevalent scent in the air—that was still the same, but now in a sleek new modern setting.
Perhaps it was the modern part that bothered him, reminding him that, like the previous décor, he was outdated. However, he knew there was more to it than that. Ty’s collaring ceremony had been beautiful, and as Tackett had watched, he’d known he was witnessing something he’d never experienced before, although he’d seen hundreds of collarings. This one, for some reason, had caused him to look at his life, and he wasn’t very happy with where it had taken him.
Forty-five years old, and what did he have to show for those years?
Sure, he owned a successful financial company, had more money than he could ever spend, all the toys afforded by wealth, good friends, and a steady diet of sweet little sub boys to delight in. What was there not to be happy about? And he had been happy, or at least he’d thought he was, until he’d seen the love between Blake and Ty and realized what was missing from his life. How empty it truly was. Had envy kept him away these past six weeks? Perhaps, but it was more than simple jealousy.
Life had become a predictable series of events. Wake, eat, work, fuck, sleep, repeat. At his age, how long did he have before the fawning subs would find a new Dom to worship? When he no longer had the strength or the energy to satisfy, what then? Maybe not next week, or even next year, but it would feel like the blink of an eye and he’d wake up one day an old man, alone.
“Another drink, sir? Maybe something a little manlier this time?”
Tackett looked up and met Micah’s laughing blue eyes. Oh, this one was a pistol all right. Micah couldn’t be much more than twenty-one, twenty-five, tops, and while he had sub written all over him, he also had an air of confidence that rivaled most Doms Tackett knew. How the hell this smartass kid had ever gotten a job in a BDSM club was a mystery.
“Manly? And what would a kid like you know about manly? Have you even started shaving yet?”
“Only my balls, sir.” He chuckled and picked up the empty glass off the bar. “Another tonic with a lime twist? Or could I interest you in a marshmallow cake-tini? You’ll love it. It’s pink and has these yummy little sprinkles on the rim.” Micah’s smile turned playful. “I could even add a cute little umbrella.”
Ten years ago—hell, six weeks ago—Tackett would have answered the challenge in those baby-blue eyes. He’d have wiped that teasing smile off and left a completely different kind of smile behind, one made from pure bliss and sedation. However, the melancholy funk he’d been in was still riding him hard, and he simply wasn’t up to playing the game tonight.
“I’ll just take another water.”
Micah’s smile faltered, but he recovered quickly, though the laughter in his eyes dimmed when his baiting tactics proved ineffective. “Yes, sir.”
He set another water—without a cute umbrella—down in front of Tackett. “Thank you.”
Micah opened his mouth to say something, but snapped it shut when Blake took the stool to Tackett’s right. “Good evening, Tackett.” He nodded toward the water. “I take it you’ve come to play tonight?”
He was aware of Micah’s eyes on him, felt the younger man lean in a bit closer, no doubt wondering what Tackett’s answer would be. If Micah was hoping to play with him, he was going to be sorely disappointed.
“Evening, Blake.” Tackett picked up his glass and tipped it at him. “No playing tonight—just thirsty.” He took a sip, then set the glass back down and stole a glance at a now-scowling Micah.
Ever observant, Blake also noticed Micah’s interest in their conversation. “Micah, there is a customer who requires your assistance.”
The flirty smile reappeared on the kid’s face, and he took a step back. “Yes, sir.” He winked at Tackett and went back to work. Tackett’s gaze was drawn to the exaggerated swish and sway of Micah’s hips.
Blake chuckled. “I do believe you have an admirer.”
Micah placed his hands on the bar in front of the customer at the end, spread his legs, and pushed out his tight little butt. Jesus, the kid was begging to be beaten. Tackett shook his head at his antics.
“Nah. I’m guessing that boy is just a terminal flirt.”
“He’s a flirt, all right. It makes him a very popular bartender, but he saves these kinds of extremes for when you’re around.”
When Tackett turned away from Micah’s backside, he had schooled his features, not showing any interest. “What’s his story, anyway?”
“He started working here right around the same time Ty was hired. He came from the Whip.”
“They got tired of his antics, I take it?”
Blake shook his head. “No. He actually came highly recommended.”
That took Tackett aback. He glanced down toward the end of the bar, where Micah was now mixing drinks, but turned away quickly when the kid caught him staring and winked at him again. “As a bartender or as a sub?”
“Both. He just hasn’t found a Dom he wants to obey. That pup needs a seasoned Dom with an iron fist and a lot of patience.” The look on Blake’s face was sly when he added, “Someone like you.”
“Not interested,” Tackett responded without hesitation. In his current state of mind, he simply wasn’t up to the challenge of bringing an insolent pup to heel.
“That’s too bad. I think you’d be a good match.”
“Micah!” Bobby’s deep baritone voice bellowed behind Tackett, making him jump. “A bottle of our best bourbon and three glasses.”
Tackett’s longtime friend took the free stool on the other side and slapped him on his back. “Happy birthday, old man.” He stabbed a thick finger at his glass. “We can’t toast your birthday with water.”
Tackett cringed internally. Fuck! I should have kept my ass home. He’d been hoping to avoid the subject of his advancing age; then again, he’d come to the Guards of Folsom, so maybe on some level he was hoping someone would remember. His family, apart from his mom and dad, sure as hell hadn’t remembered.
“Thanks, Bobby. Nothing like keeping it on the down low,” he muttered.
“Why would I do that? The day of your birth is to be honored, your life celebrated. Don’t tell me you’re worried about age. You, my friend, are in your prime.”
Tackett arched a brow at Bobby. “I’ll remember this when your birthday comes around. Half a century, if I’m not mistaken.”
Bobby laughed heartily, his big belly shaking with it. “I’m sure you will, old friend. I’m sure you will.”
Micah set three glasses on the bar and poured two finger-widths of George T. Stagg from Bobby’s private stock into each glass. He didn’t say anything and Tackett didn’t meet his gaze, but he was aware of Micah’s eyes on him.
The three of them each took a glass, and Bobby raised his. “Like fine bourbon, you just get better and better with age. Happy birthday, Tackett.”
“Happy birthday,” Blake echoed, and they all clinked glasses.
Tackett took a large gulp. The dark-amber fluid was smooth, and it warmed him all the way down to his gut.
“Happy birthday, Mr. Austin, sir,” Micah said.
“Thank you.” Tackett caught the slight lift of the kid’s lip, a teasing smile, and the laughter was back in his baby-blue eyes.
They continued to stare at each other.
In the time since Tackett had first met Micah Slayde, the younger man had been growing out his chestnut locks, and the curls now covered his left eye. Tonight he was wearing a white button-down dress shirt, black slacks, and black-rimmed glasses. He looked innocent, but Tackett wasn’t fooled. He had seen Micah in nothing but a pair of low-rise jeans and a leather harness, and he knew beneath the geek wear Micah was currently sporting there was a lean muscular body with piercings in both nipples and his navel. He also had several tattoos on his arms, and one on his left hip of a gun with the barrel pointing toward the impressive bulge.
“Boy, don’t you have other customers?” Bobby scolded.
“Yes, sir,” Micah responded, not taking his eyes off Tackett. “Just waiting to see if the birthday boy will require anything further from me. Anything at all.”
Blake chuckled at Micah’s proposition and the way he emphasized the word “anything.” It was an open invitation, as evidenced by the hopeful look in the kid’s eyes. Tackett would be a fool not to be tempted, and he’d never been accused of being an idiot. However, that didn’t mean he had to act on the temptation, and he refused to be baited.
After throwing back the rest of his bourbon, Tackett set his glass down and pushed it toward Micah. “Sure, you can pour me another drink before you go.” Two could play the cocky game.
Micah hesitated, but when Tackett only continued to smile at him, he huffed, then poured another two fingers into his glass.
“That’s all, boy. Just leave the bottle,” Bobby instructed. When Micah continued to stand and stare, Bobby added, “Boy, don’t make me take a leather strap to your ass.”
Bobby’s threat made the smile return to Micah’s face. He finally turned away from Tackett, showing his back to Bobby, and wiggled his ass, taunting, “Yes, sir. I’m going, sir.”
Bobby grabbed the bottle and poured himself a drink before passing it over to Blake. “What the hell have you done to our sweet young boy, Tackett?”
“Me?” Tackett glared at his friend. “I just came in for a glass of water and I ended up with some cocky little pup giving me shit.”
“Our young Micah is smitten.” Blake set the bottle down without adding any more to his glass. “I think it’s you, rather than Bobby, he was wiggling that sassy ass at.”
It didn’t look as if Blake had taken a sip of his drink. Come to think of it, Tackett couldn’t ever recall seeing Blake drink alcohol when he’d been in the club—another thing that demanded Tackett’s respect. He wasn’t a big drinker himself, but tonight he had no intention of playing with any of the boys, so why not enjoy some birthday spirits?
He took another sip of his drink. “His mistake. He’d get more action from big ol’ Bobby here.” He nudged Bobby with his elbow.
“Oh hell no. Rig would kill me if I brought home another stray. He prefers going to the pound and checking out the mutts first. Besides, I have a feeling that boy isn’t going to give up until he’s at the other end of your whip.”
“Your reputation is legendary,” Blake added with exaggerated jubilance. “You have ruined the poor kid for all other Doms.”
“I should have stayed home,” Tackett grumbled.
“Nonsense. Grab your drink,” Bobby said, getting to his feet and snatching up his glass and the bottle of bourbon. “We’ll finish our drinks in the office. I have a great new selection of cigars. Come, come.” He left without waiting for a response.
Tackett turned to Blake, who just shrugged, left his untouched drink on the bar, and started to follow. “He’s the boss.”
That wasn’t true. Blake had bought the club awhile back. Blake and his boy and lover, Ty Callahan, were equal partners in Guards of Folsom, but Bobby, having been such a fixture, had stayed on while trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his newfound freedom. He and Rig had talked about traveling, perhaps to look for their next sub, but so far hadn’t acted on the talk.
Owner or not, maybe Bobby was still the boss on some level, because Tackett followed him to the office without question too.
MICAH watched Tackett as the man followed Blake and Bobby out of the lounge to the offices. Every step deliberate, confident, more like an elegant dancer than a large, muscular Dom. Holy hell, the man was sexy. The way Tackett carried himself, the air of authority and, good God, that gorgeous face and body.
What the hell have I got to do to get your attention? Micah thought before he lost sight of Tackett.
Since the first time he’d laid eyes on the sexy Dom, Micah had been taunting and teasing him. He’d done everything he could think of—from acting like the timid submissive all the way to a naughty pup. The only thing he hadn’t tried was to drop to his knees, lick the man’s boots, and beg. He wasn’t opposed to putting tongue to boot, but Micah didn’t beg for a date. If a man was good enough, he could make Micah beg for a lot of things, pleasurable things, painful things, but a date wasn’t one of them. Maybe that was what was so intriguing about Tackett Austin.
He’d always known both boys and girls found him attractive, and he was vain enough to use it to his advantage, at least where the boys were concerned. That hadn’t changed, only now he liked dominant men rather than boys. He knew he looked good—he took care of his body, was meticulous in his appearance and clothing—and he’d seen Tackett checking him out, so what the hell?
Tackett wasn’t in the club just for the drinks. He didn’t play a lot; Micah had only seen Tackett take one boy into the back rooms, a boy Micah still planned on bitch-slapping when he got the chance. Bitch-slapped thrice: once because Vincent had known Micah was scoping out the sexy Dom and had moved in anyway; another whack for the way that little bastard had smirked at Micah before being led to the back; and finally, one just because the little bitch had gotten Tackett before Micah had.
“Boy, you want to get your head out of the clouds and get us something to drink?”
Micah turned to the two newcomers who had sat at the bar without him even realizing it. He blinked a couple of times, trying to get back to reality, the charming smile he used on customers already pulling at the corners of his mouth.
“What can I get you, sir?”
Micah recognized the Dom. He didn’t know Max on a personal level, nor had he done a scene with him, but he knew he was highly respected and much sought after. Max had a reputation as being one of the kinkier Doms, into some hard-core shit, even surpassing Bobby and Rig. Pony play seemed to be one of his favorite kinks, one obviously shared by quite a few in the scene, since his live shows always sold out. Nothing Micah was into. The idea of prancing around with a tail sticking out of his ass and a bit in his mouth didn’t trip his trigger. Now, the part about being ridden hard, riding crop smacking his ass, bucking bronco, cowboy boots with spurs, hell yeah, that tripped all kinds of hot-as-fuck switches.
The other man with Max, Micah didn’t recognize at all, but he had a very obvious submissive vibe. Micah would also bet the stranger was either new to the scene or didn’t get out in public much. He had a wide-eyed stare and looked so freaked out, he could be knocked over with a feather.
“Two bottles of water,” Max replied. He turned to the man next to him. “Rule one, boy. Never, ever play with anyone who has been drinking alcohol. Most clubs, at least the respectable ones, watch for it and don’t allow it, but if you see a Dom drinking, or smell it on his breath, you don’t play with him. Got it?”
I knew it. Welcome to the world of kink, Micah thought. Man, this cute guy was going to be one popular sub. Doms loved to break in newbies and introduce them to the lifestyle, especially one as hot as this brown-haired stranger.
Putting thoughts of Tackett on the back burner for the moment, Micah grabbed a couple of bottles of water and set them on the bar. “Would you like me to open them, sir?”
Max threw some bills on the bar. “Thanks, boy. I got it.”
Micah moved to take care of other customers, since the club was starting to get busy. He heard Max tell the guy never to accept a drink or an opened bottle of water from anyone. Max was definitely the kind of Dom Blake sought as members of his club. Blake wasn’t a normal club owner. Yes, he catered to the Doms, like most clubs did, but the difference at Guards of Folsom was that this club was all about the subs and providing a safe environment for them, unlike the owners of the Whip.
Ty Callahan was one lucky son of a bitch to have someone not only dominate him, love him, and care for him, but also view him as the most precious thing in his Dom’s world. Wow. You didn’t see that often enough.
I wonder if Tackett would think I was precious.
Micah shook off the thought. He had drinks to serve and customers to please, but he was determined to find out what kind of Dom Tackett Austin was firsthand.