I LOVED it when it was evening and all was quiet and peaceful. No traffic noise intruded into the house, and in the lounge, the only sound was the slow ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece. Give me a mechanical clock any day. Not that I had anything against more modern timepieces, but there was something soothing about the sound. The clock had been my grandmother’s, and I took loving care of it, making sure it was oiled and wound. Right then my evening was perfect: the tick of the clock, a glass of Cabernet on the table next to me, and a worn, hardcover Sherlock Holmes novel in my hands. I’d lost count of how many times I’d read The Hound of the Baskervilles, but rereading a favorite book was a warm, comforting experience. The wine created a warm glow inside me. I took another sip.

And then my phone rang.

The temptation to ignore its clamoring call was huge. I was happy, comfortable, and anyone ringing me at home during the evening had to want something. All my friends knew my routines, especially since Oliver….

I closed my eyes. I could almost hear that edge of amusement in his voice. “You going to answer that, Sir?” And yes, I could see the gleam in his eye as he awaited my reaction, tense in nervous anticipation. Brat loved pushing my buttons. With a sigh, I picked up the call.

“Damian? It’s Leo. We need your help.”

I placed the wine on the table. “What can I do for you?” My interest was piqued immediately. It had been quite a while since the co-owner of my BDSM club had called me at home.

“Sorry to disturb you, but you were the first person I could think of. We have a boy. He’s nineteen, and he needs help.”

“Go on.” I listened intently as Leo told me about Jeff, a young man who had been forced into prostitution by Curtis Rogers. That damned name would haunt us forever, it seemed. Nearly every member of the club knew of him by now. And we all knew about Thomas’s boy, Peter. Leo’s business partner had finally found a submissive that was perfect for him. I couldn’t wait to meet him.

“I know it’s late, but we hoped you might be willing to let the boy stay with you for a time.”

I stroked my chin. It had been a couple of years since I’d been responsible for anyone. Not since…. I swallowed hard. “For how long, Leo?”

“A couple of weeks should be plenty,” he replied.

I thought about it. After I lost Oliver, I’d nearly given up being a Dominant, and my times at the club had become less frequent. And when I did go, there were no scenes or penetrative sex with the subs, just cuddling. I needed to feel close to someone, even if only for a brief time. My visits had become so infrequent I’d even debated giving up my membership. But something inside me wouldn’t let go, maybe in the hope that things would change. It was painful, however, to see the growing number of guys who were now in relationships. It seemed everywhere I looked, there were men in love. And that hurt.

“Damian? Are you there?”

I shook the cobwebs from my mind. “Yes, sorry. I think I could find room for the lad. Bring him around.” I ignored my pounding heart as I said good-bye and hung up. I didn’t expect my guest immediately, but I got the spare room ready as fast as possible. Clean bedding, towels, toiletries…. It would be strange to have another person in the house again.

Less than two hours later, the doorbell rang. I wasn’t prepared to find six men on my doorstep, only four of them known to me. Leo and Thomas greeted me warmly, and I recognized Alex, Leo’s sub and lover. Ben, Collars & Cuffs’ barman, stood behind them with another young man, and then I was introduced to Jeff. My first impression was that he seemed a haunted boy. His soft brown eyes darted constantly, scanning the room, the contents, and the people. I invited them in and showed them to the lounge, offering them a seat. Jeff glanced at the high-back leather chair and then around the room. The young man with Ben turned out to be his submissive, Scott, who tugged Jeff to sit down and then perched on the arm of the chair. Jeff sat on the edge of its deep cushion, seemingly fearful of everyone but Scott, who had placed an arm protectively around Jeff.

“Can I get you some tea, Jeff?”

“I don’t… no, I can’t,” Jeff replied. Interesting response. I asked the others, but they, too, begged off.

I took my chair and sat observing Jeff. I was surprised by how similar, yet different, he was from my Oliver. I sighed. Oliver had sat in the chair Jeff now occupied. I couldn’t help but be drawn to the youth’s plight. Already I was mulling over in my mind what, if anything, I could do to help him.

My guests didn’t stay long, but during their brief visit, Jeff didn’t utter a word. As Leo, Thomas, Alex, and Ben got up to leave, Scott led Jeff to the fireplace and proceeded to talk quietly to him. Jeff listened, shaking his head now and again. I gave them some privacy and followed the others to the front door. Moments later Scott joined us. I bade them farewell and returned to the lounge to find Jeff back in the chair. He was wary, muscles wound tightly, clearly ready to spring at the slightest provocation.

“How about I show you your room?”

Jeff nodded and rose to his feet, muscles still tense. I gestured for him to follow me and led the way upstairs to the spare room on the other side of the bathroom.

I indicated the en suite with a brief flick of my hand. “There’s a toilet and washbasin in there.”

He gazed quickly around, no emotion showing on his face. Such a closed-off expression.

“Do you need anything before you go to sleep?” I wanted to hear the voice that went with that haunted, handsome face.

Jeff shook his head and mumbled, “No, thank you.” He watched me uneasily.

With resignation, I walked over to the bedroom door, Jeff following me. No sooner had I crossed the threshold than he closed the door, and I heard the lock click into place. I stared at the painted wooden door for a moment and then went downstairs, curled up in my wide armchair, and picked up my glass of wine to take another long sip. I grabbed my book but could not get back into the story, so I closed it with a heavy sigh and returned it to the shelf. My thoughts returned to my young charge. I climbed the stair as silently as I could and stood at the door, listening to his murmured cries. The need to knock on the door welled up inside me, but the thought of scaring the boy more than he already was gave me pause. I returned to the lounge, drained my wine, placed the glass in the dishwasher, and went to my room.

I pulled back the duvet and sat down on the edge of the mattress. My thoughts were of Oliver. Jeff now occupied his room, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Oliver would approve. I reached toward the bedside table and pulled the picture of the two of us to my chest. Night was always the worst time, when I missed his warmth beside me or in my arms. I kissed the picture as I did every night and placed it back in its spot. I climbed into bed, turned off the light, and rolled over to try and sleep.

Tomorrow I’ll work on getting Jeff to trust me. He’d probably been hurt many times and needed someone stable in his life. I hoped I was up to the challenge.





I LAY in the bed with one eye on the door. I kept thinking that at some point the man, Damian, would enter. Maybe I should leave the key in the lock. At least I’d hear it fall if he tries to get in. But I was so bone-weary and in urgent need of sleep I couldn’t summon the energy to get out of bed. And yet sleep wouldn’t come. I stared at the door. Finally I sighed, reached into my pocket, and pulled out the second to last of the pills. Okay, so I didn’t need them often, but it had been a stressful day. Prior to today, the last time I had taken one had been a couple of days ago, but when Scott approached me at the university earlier, everything had come rushing back to me.

I swallowed the pill, wincing at the bitter taste. Then I lay back and relaxed. If Damian came to collect, I’d be ready. He would have what he wanted, and in the morning I could go.

It wasn’t long before the darkness swallowed me.



I WOKE to the sound of birds, and panic set in at the unfamiliar surroundings. I didn’t go home with anyone last night, did I? I lurched up, my eyes not yet adjusted to the dimness. A clock on the bedside table claimed it was nearly five in the morning. I clutched the corner of the duvet, trying to think. Slowly it came back to me. Scott had found me and taken me to see his Sir. I’d been around enough to know something of the lifestyle and what the men who followed it expected. Damian hadn’t made much of a first impression, but to be fair, I’d been incredibly nervous, and with the pill, I wouldn’t have noticed him unless he’d had two heads or something.

I sighed, threw back the rest of the chocolate-brown cover, and got to my feet. I was a realist. Men only helped for one reason, and I had learned early on they always expected payment.

The one thing I wasn’t sure of was what form of payment this man would claim. If he hasn’t already, that is…. Did he come in here last night when I was asleep? I hadn’t checked the door. I stripped off my clothes, touched my crack, and found no evidence Damian had visited me last night. I heaved a sigh of relief.

I stepped into the en suite bathroom and used the washbasin to clean myself up as well as I could. I gazed at my reflection in the mirror and shuddered as thoughts raced through my brain. What’s become of me? Have I really fallen this low? Oh God, please let this one wear a condom.

There was no putting it off any longer. I unlocked the door, and the bitter aroma of coffee assailed my nose. I crept downstairs, following the scent. I paused at the kitchen door and took a deep breath before walking in, nude, ready to repay Damian for his hospitality. There was no one there. The coffee machine sat on the kitchen worktop, half full. My mouth watered. I hadn’t had coffee in such a long time.

“Help yourself, young man. There’s milk in the refrigerator and sugar in the cabinet above the coffeemaker.”

I jumped, startled, and spun to find Damian standing behind me, a bemused expression on his face. I shrank back. Why is he offering coffee? That was another lesson I’d learned early on—don’t take food or drink from anyone. After Curtis Rogers had drugged and blackmailed me into turning tricks for him and his “friends,” I couldn’t trust anyone but myself. I would never be that weak again.

I looked him in the eye. “I… I wanted to show my appreciation to you for allowing me to stay the night.” I swallowed. “How would you like me? As soon as I settle up, I will be out of your way.” I tried not to tremble as I awaited his decision.

Damian regarded me with something akin to amusement. “My dear young man, I think you misunderstood. You won’t be leaving.”

Fear clogged my throat. Oh, fuck. What had Scott done? Had he sold me to this man? I’d thought Scott was different, but… I caught sight of a cutting block on the counter, stocked with cutlery. I snatched a long-bladed knife and held it in front of me, hand shaking.

I expected Damian to run from the room, or at least cry out. I didn’t expect what he said, though.

“Be a good lad and grab me a mug, too. I take mine black and sweet.” He sat down at the kitchen table, ignoring the fact I still had a weapon.

Is he toying with me? “Please.” I winced, hearing my voice crack. “Please let me go.”

Damian’s face went flat. “Let you go? Dear boy, you’re not a prisoner. We want to help you. If you will let us.”

God, how many times had I heard that before? No one does anything without expecting something in return. The moment spun out, me standing there armed, Damian not even looking slightly perturbed. Okay…. Plan B. I kept an eye on him while I pulled a mug down from the cabinet. I dipped the spoon into the sugar caddy and put two heaping servings into his cup, which I then filled with steaming coffee. I placed it on the table and slid it toward him. His eyes twinkled when he looked at me.

“Seldom do I have this kind of service. My waiters are usually clothed. Not that I mind the extra attention.” He gave a chuckle and sipped his coffee.

Huh? I looked down at myself, suddenly embarrassed. “I’m very sorry,” I mumbled.

“Don’t be sorry on my account, boy.”

I beat a hasty retreat up the stairs to the room where I’d left my clothes. At the threshold, I took a whiff of myself and cringed. Even I didn’t want to be around me, I needed a shower that badly. I glanced wistfully through the bathroom door, wishing I could soak in the tub, but it was best if I got out while I could. I entered the bedroom and closed the door. Now what do I do?

Damian knocked, making me jump. “There are clothes in the chest of drawers,” he said through the door. “They should be about your size. If they’re not, we can see about getting you some later.” His footsteps moved away from the door.

I pulled open the top drawer and found jeans and T-shirts. They’d be a bit big on me, but were a definite improvement over the disgusting mess I’d brought with me. Still, they weren’t my clothes, and to wear them meant I’d owe Damian something else. At some point he’d collect. I folded the clothes and carefully put them back into the drawer before shutting it. My old clothes would have to do.

I slid into my ratty jeans, holes worn in them until they were threadbare. My shirt had seen better days. The sweat and grime had turned the cotton shirt a dingy gray color.

Damian knocked again. When I opened the door, his eyes widened slightly in surprise at sight of my clothes. I stood very still, hand still resting on the handle.

Damian sighed. “Look, I have a fair idea why you won’t eat or drink. Added to that, I seem to make you nervous. So I have a suggestion. I need to go out for a while. You’ll have some time on your own. While I’m gone you can help yourself to anything. You’re welcome to take a bath, if you like.” He pointed toward the bathroom. “There are towels in there, and that door locks from the inside. You might even find some bubble bath under the sink.” He smiled.

I couldn’t help snickering. Bubble bath?

“It’s not mine,” Damian said defensively. “It belonged to… someone else.”

And just like that, the happy look was gone and replaced by a forlorn expression. Whoever it was had obviously meant a lot to the man. Had they left him?

Then something occurred to me. “Can I leave?”

Damian tilted his head. “Where would you go?”

I pinched my lips together. “It doesn’t matter. Can I go?”

Damian studied me for a moment in silence. “No one has expectations of you. We just want to make sure you’re safe.” He shrugged. “If you think you can handle it on your own, go ahead. Leo and Thomas are trying to find someone to take you in.” He gazed at me intently, sending a shiver down my spine. “They can’t force you if you don’t want their help. Until then, you’re welcome to stay here.”

Damian gave me a brief but warm smile and then headed downstairs. Moments later, I heard the front door open and close.

I peered inside the bathroom at the deep tub, the thick towels already warming on the rail.

Fuck it. I could leave after a bath.