“How would I go about earning my yellow belt?”
“Is that something you want?”
Dane’s kneeling over his duffel bag, placing his rolled belt on top of his folded gi. “Sure.”
I shouldn’t be surprised. Why am I still surprised?
“To be honest, Dane, you know all the moves, and you’ve got the forms down for the next three belts. All you need to do is memorize the yellow belt creed, which should take you all of three minutes.”
He stands up, brushes off his knees, and smiles. “What is it?”
The same part of my brain that recalls poetry has no trouble regurgitating the oath I took so many years ago. Now, if I could only remember what I ate for breakfast this morning.
“I come to you with only karate. I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles or my honor, should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong, then here are my weapons: karate, my empty hands.”
“Okay, you’ve got it?”
I can only shake my head and laugh. “I’ll set up a test with Fran.”
“You can’t administer the test?”
“Not officially.” I step over and cup his ass. “I can put you through your paces though and make sure you’re ready.”
He smiles. “I’m counting on it, Master.”
“Okay if we eat lunch at Jack’s today?”
“Sure, I can always find something on the menu.”
We head out into the cold morning, a bag slung over each of our shoulders and our hands connected between us. “Dane, I need to get you back into my dungeon.”
Dane’s even gait takes a stutter step. “Whoa! Way to drop that bomb out of clear skies!”
If you think that one’s bad, wait ‘til you hear the one I’m saving for later!
“Sorry. I’m staring down a deadline here—you know, we only have one more week on our contract.”
Wow, that came back quickly.
“Before you make any kind of decision about our future, it’s only fair you experience the full effect of being my submissive.”
He’s quiet. I look over at him, but his gaze is lowered to the sidewalk. Unreadable.
“So, I’d like to take you out to the house after the show tonight. We can spend the night, have some dungeon time, and be back to the city in plenty of time for your show tomorrow.”
Shit, not answering.
I give his hand a jiggle. “Dane? Are you having a problem over there?”
He pulls in a deep breath and exhales loudly. “And I guess before you make any decisions about our future, it’s only fair you experience the same.”
Technically, he’s right, but my decision was made long ago.
“I see that you’re worried, but I’m having a hard time figuring out if you’re afraid you’ll disappoint me or I’ll disappoint you.”
He stops abruptly and tugs me back with him, a far cry from the perfect heel he’s spoiled me with. “Never! You haven’t let me down once since I met you!”
“Dane, I appreciate that, but it’s not exactly true. I’ve made my mistakes.”
“Nothing that mattered, and you always hear me when I talk to you about things.”
“Don’t you know I feel the exact same way about you?”
Dane’s face lifts toward the sky. Aw shit. He’s fighting a quivering chin when his gaze meets mine again. “What if I mess things up? What if I freak out again? I don’t think I could bear it now, not after things have been going so well.”
I move in front of him and take both of his hands in mine. “Let the shit spew, Dane. We’re strong enough to handle it together. Don’t you see? This is exactly why we need to get in there and get serious. I’m not afraid of what we’ll find in the dungeon; I’m more concerned that something we don’t address now will come back later on.”
“Later on this week?”
Okay, now he’s asking point-blank about our future.
“Personally, I’m hoping we’ll have more time than that together, Dane.”
He blows out another breath and nods. “I trust you, Master.”
“Good. Now, if I could only get you to trust yourself a little more.”
He gives me an eye roll, but there’s the beginning of a smile with it.
“Dane, there is so much more I can do with you . . . do to you in my dungeon. Don’t you deserve the very best torture I can mete out?”
It’s Dane’s turn to be on the receiving end of “one of those” winks. He takes it in stride, chuffing and shaking his head.
“Imagine if you tried to do that dance last night without the pole. It still would’ve been spectacular—don’t get me wrong—but . . .”
“I get your point. I want that, too.”
“Oh, I know you do. Believe me, what I have planned for you—”
Here comes his blush. Hallelujah!
“Okay, never mind that right now,” I say. “Let’s go eat, huh?”
Funny how things go. A conversation that begins with fear and anxiety meanders its way through the long, cold walk home from lunch, while talk of paddles and feathers and spanking chairs and whipping benches blossoms into a burning need. I ask you: What kind of master would send his boy off to work in such a state?
It’s not all that much of a surprise when we find ourselves back at the Fillmore with our lips wrapped around each other’s cocks, a mere taste of things—and the two of us—to come. When the appointed hour arrives and it’s time for Dane to dance his gigantic heart out, off he goes with that big shit-eating grin I love so much.
We’re in for a good, long night if things go well. I press myself a cup of dark roast and drop into the couch facing the city streets. In the vacuum left behind, my thoughts find their way back to last night’s “I love you” and the relief on Dane’s face when I responded in kind. My gut told me not to force the issue today but not to shy away from the conversation if he initiated it—which he did not.
I understand what Dane meant, and I’m fine with it. Trusted and respected, safe and valued, Dane feels secure in our relationship, and he returns those feelings. By Eleazar’s definition, I’ve loved many a man—and maybe I have, but not the way I love this one: with a passion that burns deep in the pit of my belly, a pride that sits like a boulder in my throat, and a ferocity that never sleeps.
Fucking love feels a whole lot like my ulcer.
I have to hand it to the doc; his take on the situation has merit. Love isn’t taboo with Eleazar but a simple statement of a complicated set of emotions. Why do I feel the need to chop up my feelings and dole them out, one per part? The fact is, there’s nothing I’ve seen of Dane that doesn’t make me crazy excited to know more.
Dane doesn’t need to know the extent of my passion right at this moment, nor do I feel the need to press for some measurement of his. It’s liberating for both of us to have labeled and shared our feelings. Good for Dane, climbing out on that limb first. Part of me wonders if Eleazar encouraged him to express himself. I wouldn’t put it past the guy.
With the acknowledgments behind us, that issue can rest without festering. If there’s more to say on the subject by either of us, the ice has already been broken. That leaves two big fat conversations we need yet to have: what happens after our thirty days are up and what to do about Wayne.
The deadline weighs heavily on Dane’s mind. I’ll need to address it with him tonight. No reason he should suffer or stew.
From the gentle grace of my young lover, my thoughts turn toward much harsher business: Wayne. With the reassurance I needed from Eleazar, the time has come to make plans. I grab my phone to call Aro, and Edward’s birthday poem catches my eye.
“Fucker.” But damn, he makes me laugh.
From: Marcus Andrews
Sent: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 7:42 PM
To: Edward Cullen
Subject: Re: Birthday Poem
By your poetic barbs, I’m not stung
With sweet Dane at my side, I am young.
Let me say, Edward dear,
You are no Will Shakespeare
Things far better have rolled off your tongue.
Need me to draw a picture for you?
Thanks for the wishes. Love to your better half.
I’ve packed up, hired the car, caught up on my emails, and eaten the super-food-laden salad I brought back for dinner. Seriously, kale, quinoa, almonds, broccoli, AND black beans? I’ll be surprised if my chest doesn’t spontaneously sprout a big, red “S.”
Sigh. There’s no putting this off one minute longer, and now that I’ve dialed, I really fucking hope he picks up so I don’t have to steel myself all over again. Three rings and I have my answer.
“Ah, Marcus. Ready to deal?”
“Yes and hello, Aro.”
“Good. The sooner, the better. I really don’t like what I’ve been hearing about this vermin. What are your thoughts?”
“Above all, my boy is protected.” Whoops, that may have been a touch too strong.
“You know, Marcus, I do have a heart.”
Fuck. Insulting the guy is not going to help the cause.
“I’m sorry, Aro. I know you do.”
“It’s okay. Stop beating yourself up over it.”
How did he—
“Look, Marcus, we all have our weak spots, and this boy is clearly yours. Nothing wrong with that as long as you know it and manage it.”
“What are you trying to say, Aro?”
“Just this: I respect you, and I trust you in the dungeon more than any other man I know, but when this thing goes down, your focus is going to be on your boy—and rightfully so. Let’s not plan something that assumes otherwise.”
My fists unravel themselves, and I drop my head against the back cushions of the couch. “Fair enough.”
“Not to worry, my friend. I have already spoken to the other club owners, and they stand united with us. You will have plenty of reinforcements when the time comes, and please tell me that time is soon.”
“Yes, I hope so. I have to do this on a Monday night; it’s the only day Dane has free, and next Monday is out. Might Downstairs be available in two weeks?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“I’d like to put on a little demonstration.”
“Holy shit! Marcus Andrews on the circuit again? It’ll be standing room only!”
I have to admit his enthusiasm feels nice. “I’ve been giving this some thought, trying to envision the perfect scenario to appeal to his bloated ego. This needs to be a very exclusive gathering, the cream of the crops, so to speak.”
“Hahaha, yes, indeed. I’ll pitch an evening of ‘latest techniques in torture’ or something, label it ‘by personal invitation only’, get out word that it’s geared toward the power dom.”
“Yes, and imagine if Aro himself extended the exclusive invite! The asshole could hardly refuse such an honor!”
“Diabolical, my friend. Tell me more!”
Never hurts to appeal to the man’s ego. I can practically see Aro rubbing his hands together with glee.
“We stock the audience with carefully hand-picked guests: every club owner this side of the Hudson, anyone who places subs in the care of doms, as many of this guy’s cronies as we can unearth—”
“Yes! Let’s send a message that this abuse will absolutely not be tolerated.”
“Right, and just in case he has any decent friends who don’t know what an animal he is, we will strip away the façade.”
“Whatever’s left of him will be completely cut off from the community.”
“Yes, here and everywhere we cast our net.”
“We’ll all sleep better for it.”
“Absolutely. Last, but certainly not least, I want Dane to have a solid support system in attendance.”
“Meaning his very closest friends and his therapist—people who know how much this so-called ‘master’ cost Dane and how difficult this will be for him.”
“I’m with you, Marcus.”
“Thank you, Aro, if I haven’t said it lately.”
“You have,” he assures me, quickly moving ahead. “So, how does this work? You and your boy put on a lively show and make this Wayne endure the pain of watching, knowing what he’s lost?”
“Oh, no! No, no, no. Dane is not going to be laid bare for this freak—quite the opposite. My boy will be tucked safely away until the demonstration is well under way, and I have Wayne fully subdued on stage.”
“Wayne is to be your demo sub? How on earth will we accomplish that?”
This is my favorite part, and my lips curl into a big smile as I reveal my plan. “He’s going to volunteer.”
“Marcus, this guy doesn’t bottom. Why on earth would the man agree to this?”
“I haven’t quite worked out all the details, but we’ve got a room filled with the best and brightest, the most respected, most powerful doms in Manhattan—and of course, this shmuck, a wannabe of the grossest proportions.”
“Yes, he is violently sycophantic.”
“Ha!” Good thing I set down my coffee mug when I picked up the phone. “So, I show up without a demo sub and ask for a volunteer from the audience. There will be shuffling and embarrassed looks exchanged . . .”
Here’s the part where I keep getting stuck on the fantasy that Edward grabs Wayne’s arm from behind and waves it madly in the air. Fortunately, Aro chimes in.
“Until . . . someone in a position of great authority makes the suggestion that an enthusiastic accomplice of ‘Master Wayne’s caliber’ would honor the proceedings!” He cackles.
“Perfect! And while I’m busy trying not to vomit, Wayne-o will be begging me to tie him up!”
“Holy shit! I am loving this plan.”
“I gotta say, Aro, I am, too.”
“Two devious minds are better than one.”
“You flatter me.”
“Well deserved, well deserved. Now, what kind of equipment will you require?”
“Serious hardware. I want the fucker fully immobilized and trussed up like a pig at a luau.”
“Oh my! How very graphic!” Evil cackle. “No problem, Marcus. I can most definitely set these wheels in motion. Leave it to me. You said two weeks from yesterday, correct?”
“Yes, and let me assure you, Aro, I will keep things entirely above board. I wouldn’t want to make any trouble for you.”
“Awww, pity. Very well, then. I’ll make sure to have my security team primed and ready, and I’ll start circulating the word among the inner circle. This fucker won’t have a clue what hit him!”
“Thank you, Aro. I mean it. This means everything to me.”
For once, his voice lacks that treacherous edge. “I’m pleased I can help. Let’s stay in touch.”
“Absolutely. I’ve got some work to do on my end as well.”
“Yes, it sounds like you’ve got a boy to prepare.”
And people to gather.
There was simply no chance chapter 69 wouldn't contain a 69. Looks like someone is taking an overnight trip to Master's house. That might be awkward, huh?
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