Master awaits with a towel spread wide between his hands when I step out of the shower. He swaddles me in rich cotton, but it’s his embrace that warms my soul. The minty kiss he leaves on my lips sticks with me while I pull on my jeans and red tee.
I retrace my steps to Artkid while Master showers. A click-through from the poetry site brings me to a sparse home page with a handful of poems, none even approaching the impact of the one I recited last night.
“You look pretty absorbed over there.” Master catches my gaze in the mirror as he chooses today’s boxer briefs from the top drawer of the dresser. After weeks of this half-city, half-suburb living, both places feel like home though there’s no place quite like Master’s dungeon. My own apartment is nothing more than a storage unit at this point, one I will gladly relinquish at the end of my lease next month.
“I was . . . until you distracted me.” I ogle Master’s muscular backside as it disappears into the sexy, black Under Armours.
He tosses off my compliment as usual. “Oh? Is something exciting happening in the world today?”
“I have no idea. I was researching that poet.”
“Ah.” Master’s reflection glances up from his selection of shirts to find me staring. “What did you learn?”
“Not much. He or she hasn’t left many breadcrumbs to follow.”
“Hmm.” Choice made, he pulls his navy waffle-weave long-sleeve tee over his head. His shoulders dimple and flex and disappear. I love that shirt, and he knows it. Master’s broad shoulders might be my favorite feature, especially when I consider the years of whip wielding and heavy bag work amassed in those muscles. Off he goes to the closet, where he pulls out his newest pair of low-rise jeans. I’m a fan of those, too. “Perhaps a bit of art appreciation might stimulate the muse?”
“We shall see. I’ve followed him and tweeted out his poem with a request for more.”
“Excellent.” Master fingers his black leather belt before passing it through the loops. Whether this is for my benefit I couldn’t say, but it most definitely earns a twitch from inside my briefs. I set aside my iPad and wait by the door while he zips his boots. He kisses me before reaching for the knob. “Ready?”
The purpose behind our breakfast meeting asserts itself, but I’m not alone this time to wrangle my demons. I take Master’s hand. “Yes, and starved.”
The host greets us by name and leads us through a thicket of tree trunks meant to invoke an enchanted forest. The first time we ate at the Garden, Master asked the maître d’ where he keeps his machete. The fact that Master does not invoke our long-running joke tells me that our upcoming topic may have sobered him as well. We limit ourselves to small talk until the waiter has delivered coffee and taken our orders.
Master clasps my hand, and I scoot right up next to him in the booth.
“That’s better,” he says. “Now then, should we start with our biggest, scariest fears, or did you want some foreplay?”
Christ. “A little lube might be nice.”
Master throws his head back and laughs. “Okay, Dane. Maybe we should start by actually defining what it is we’re considering.”
I give him a nod. Yes, please.
“What I envision is one or more scenes to take place in my dungeon. You and I would craft each scene together beforehand.”
“I get to design scenes with you?” Twitch.
Master gives me a knowing smile. “Heady stuff, eh?”
Busted. “Who wouldn’t want a peek behind the wizard’s curtain?”
“To be frank, Dane, it’s not going to amount to much more than a peek—for a variety of reasons. You’re going to find out pretty quickly, if you don’t already know, for all my careful planning, it’s rare that a scene goes exactly as I’ve imagined. Especially when the sub is . . .”
“Extraordinary?” I can’t help it. Master’s compliment is lodged there permanently.
Master laughs again. “I was going to say challenging, but that works, too. In Tyler, we have a vast unknown, a person who has experienced traumas we can guess at, but we can’t predict how they will manifest in scene.”
“That’s terrifying.” The words have left my mouth before the obvious kicks in.
All remnants of humor are erased from Master’s expression. “Yes, Dane, it can be.”
My head drops forward with the enormity of the burden I caused my Master to bear. “How did you . . .?”
He draws our joined hands into his lap and drops a gentle kiss in my hair. “It’s what I do.”
“What you did.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, there. Let me rephrase that.” He waits for me to lift my eyes. “The ‘sub whisperer’ is who I am and who I will always be, inside the dungeon or out. Dane, I haven’t stopped helping people; I’ve just taken the dungeon piece out of the equation. Since our exhibition at Aro’s club, I’ve gotten more emails and calls than ever, doms seeking advice, invitations for the two of us to play.”
“I feel mildly less guilty about robbing the world of your gifts, now.”
The beginning of a blush colors Master’s cheeks. “Dane, I couldn’t give a damn about the world. You’re my concern. There. You happy? Now you know how selfish your Master is.”
“I’m a little happy.” Nice timing on the lemon ricotta pancakes. “And now I’m a lot happy.” Master’s yogurt and berries are a sad little breakfast compared to the splendor on my plate. “Will you have a bite, at least?”
“No, they’ll look better on your ass than mine.”
His ass looks mighty fine, but he’ll nail me with one of his glares if I tell him so. “Let me ask you something, Master. If you’re all ‘I don’t give a damn about the world,’ why are you so gung-ho about helping this kid?”
“I just told you. Because I’m the most selfish bastard on the planet.”
I must be giving him quite the perplexed expression right now because one and one are not adding up.
“For you, Dane. This is about you.”
So much for my intimate understanding of the wizard. He still manages to shock me every single day after all this time. I’m beyond speechless; I can’t even eat. I’m eatless.
“Me? How?” And monosyllabic, apparently.
“You’ve come so far from that person I met at Edward and Bella’s wedding, but there’s always been a piece of you I couldn’t reach. As long as you still blame yourself for what happened to those other boys, there’s a corner of your heart I can’t mend. The universe has given us a chance here, Dane. I have it in my power, finally, to help you find true peace and wholeness.”
Master is high on the prospect of finishing the job he’s started: Operation Fix Dane. “You know, sometimes I wonder . . . I hope you won’t take this the wrong way . . .”
Master’s spoon freezes in midair.
“If I hadn’t been so pathetic that night we met, would you have been interested in me at all?”
Master flinches and sets down his spoon. I’ve wounded him after all. An apology seems disingenuous; I’ve only asked a question.
Master finally answers after a long pause. His voice, profoundly sad and quieter than I’m used to hearing it, chills my spine in the worst possible way. “I can’t figure out which of us you think less of to hold such a question in your heart.”
My eyes brim with tears, but it’s Master who offers the apology.
“I’m sorry, Dane. I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad. You have every right to your feelings.”
Double crap. “It’s not as if I’ve been thinking about this for four months. It’s the idea of inviting this boy into our lives. I started to convince myself that you would fall for him because he is such a mess.”
Master chuckles. “Yes, because that’s first on my list of Mr. Right qualifications. Fucked up? Check!”
I raise my eyebrows and beseech him with the same thoughtful tone he leveled at me earlier. “Come on, Master.”
“Okay, Dane.” Master shifts to face me, moving our joined hands to rest on his left knee on the bench between us. “Can I deny the rush I got when you placed your hand in mine that first time? Hell, I’d trade that moment for any orgasm I’ve ever had. The first time I got you off in my dungeon? That was”—Master looks to the ceiling, shaking his head when he doesn’t find what he’s seeking—“the single best moment I’ve ever had as a dom. Did I get a charge out of helping you emerge from your shell, watching you succeed at work, reuniting you with your parents? Hell yes, Dane. I won’t deny any of that. It’s the ultimate power trip. Maybe I’m Dr. Frankenstein.”
Master goes quiet, and I realize he doesn’t know the answer to my question because he’s never thought about it before. When he continues, he’s more himself again, more self-possessed and less burdened by doubt.
“All of that happened. That’s just how it was. If you’re asking me to look back across the table and see another kind of man, a man like this person sitting next to me now—drop-dead gorgeous, young and buff, talented, confident, sweet, sexy, submissive as hell, happy . . . mostly, intense, intelligent, demanding—”
“Extraordinary.” I cut in with an echo of his earlier compliment, lending a light tone to match Master’s.
“Yes, that. Would I have wanted that man in my dungeon and in my heart? Yes, Dane. My answer is hell to the yes.” His smile contains a little extra sparkle for his youthful turn of phrase.
“We really have to get you off the internet.”
Ignoring the distraction, he continues. “There’s no version of you I wouldn’t have fallen in love with, Dane. And by the way, the converse holds true. Just because the boy is broken doesn’t mean I’m going to give him my heart, no matter how much his looks might remind me of an earlier incarnation of you. He’s not you. Only you are you.”
“You’re sounding quite Barney this morning.”
“That better be a good thing.”
“I was never a fan of the show, but I have to admit, I do feel a ton better now.”
“Good,” he says, snapping with ease into full-on Master mode again, “because your pancakes are getting cold. Have I totally ruined your breakfast?”
“No, of course not.” He feels so bad for my pancakes, he gives me back my right hand, and I take up my fork again. The warring sensations of sweet and sour work their magic on my taste buds while Master’s assurances soothe my soul. “So much for the plan to ease into my biggest fear.”
“Foreplay is overrated.”
I choke on my mouthful of food, nearly spitting syrup-soaked pancakes across the table. “Says the man who edges his submissive for three hours at a pop.”
He snickers into his fat-free latte. “Have we unearthed the worst of the iceberg, then?”
“Aside from my aversion to sharing you, which is not insignificant, my biggest fear is doing real damage to Tyler. What if we mess him up worse?”
Master lowers his cup, swiping away the remains of foam on his lips to reveal a smile. “There’s my Dane.”
I love lemon-ricotta pancakes and fat-free latte.
Here's a little bonus for you dedicated ladies out there reading and sharing your thoughts with each other and me, a picture of a devilishly handsome man named Jack Guy, who represents my image of Marcus so beautifully, I wanted to place him into the record. Enjoy!