Monday, December 28, 2015

4th Day of Christmas Author Spotlight: Felice Stevens

Author Bio:
Felice Stevens has always been a romantic at heart. While life is tough, she believes there is a happy ending for everyone. She started reading traditional historical romances as a teenager, then life and law school got in the way. It wasn't until she picked up a copy of Bertrice Small and became swept away to Queen Elizabeth's court that her interest in romance novels was renewed.

But somewhere along the way, her reading shifted to stories of men falling in love. Once she picked up her first gay romance, she became so enamored of the character-driven stories and the overwhelming emotion there was no turning back.

Felice lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Her day begins with a lot of caffeine and ends with a glass or two of red wine. Although she practices law, she daydreams of a time when she can sit by a beach and write beautiful stories of men falling in love. Although there is bound to be some angst along the way, a Happily Ever After is always guaranteed.


Ryder Daniels has spent the last year recovering from rejection: his parents couldn’t accept his sexuality and his lover chose drugs over his love. The only bright lights in his life are his younger brother and his rescued pit bull. But now his mother's punishment for his lifestyle has cut him off from his brother he loves so deeply. Devastated, he throws himself into the work of the Pit Bull Foundation he and his friends started.

Jason Mallory can no longer hide the dissatisfaction of his relationship with his longtime girlfriend. When her marriage ultimatum pushes him to break things off, he's determined not to jump into the dating scene. But when a group of injured pit bulls are found on his construction site, he can’t forget the guy who shows up to help.

After Jason adopts one of the dogs, he and Ryder become fast friends—until one night, Ryder lets down his guard and Jason recognizes his desire. Soon, they can’t deny the passion between them but will family differences and ugly prejudices keep them apart, or can they fight to prove that love is precious, no matter the flavor?

Memories of the Heart #1
Ruthless, Controlling, A Loner. All words used to describe Dr. Micah Steinberg by the hospital staff for their next head of surgery. When a letter arrives from his grandmother’s friend at the assisted living facility, his orderly world tilts dangerously out of control.

Josh Rosen had everything until it was revealed much of his world was a lie. Forced to re-evaluate his life, Josh gives up his career and returns home to New York City to care for his beloved grandmother. What Josh didn’t figure on was an attraction to a man who on the surface, appears to be exactly like the life Josh chose to leave behind.

As Micah struggles with the reality of his grandmother’s illness, the bond they share deepens, as Josh helps Micah heal, then open his heart. Micah discovers there is more to life than work, control and success. Josh is in deep but has yet to tell Micah who he really is.
When the fight for the hospital’s head of surgery turns ugly, Josh’s past and present collide. Micah must let go of the past and accept who he is, if his life is going to move forward.

Life is full of surprises, and as both Micah and Josh learn, love can happen whether you plan for it or not.

One Step Further #2
Alex Stern has it all; good looks, charm, a job he loves and everyone calls him a friend. He lives life to the fullest at a breakneck pace, in the city that never sleeps. But Alex is also a master pretender; not even his best friend sees the pain that Alex hides so well. Alex himself isn’t sure who he is or what he’s searching for, he only knows that he hasn’t found it yet.

As a veterinarian, Rafe Hazelton loves each animal that crosses his path; they don’t care if he stutters a bit or that prefers men. Their love is unconditional, but his life is still empty; they can only give him so much. New friendships convince him it’s time to break the wall of loneliness he’s hidden behind since childhood and discover what he's been missing.

Alex and Rafe forge a friendship that turns physical, and they both swear that the relationship will last only as long as the fun does. But when old heartaches come to light and secrets hidden for years are revealed, Alex and Rafe discover if they accept what’s in their hearts and take it one step further, the greatest reward is waiting for them in the end.

The Greatest Gift #3
After five years, Alex Stern and Rafe Hazelton have what seems to be the perfect marriage. Alex is entering his last years of residency and Rafe’s veterinary business is busier than ever. For Rafe, all that is missing is a child, but Alex, afraid of ending up to be a man like his father, isn’t as sure. He doesn't want to make any mistakes.

When a new patient enters the hospital, Alex is drawn to the young, desperately ill single mother, who shares her fears for the future of her young son. Rafe worries about the toll on Alex becoming emotionally invested in a patient, yet he too can’t walk away once he meets the little boy, and together they vow to help in any way possible.

Families are not always born of blood— love is a gift no one can plan for. And sometimes from the darkest of tragedies, the brightest light will shine.

A Walk Through Fire #1
Years after running away from an abusive foster family, Asher Davis still inwardly struggles with the guilt of leaving his foster brothers behind. He’s climbed to unimaginable heights as a ruthless, high-powered attorney, creating a life of power and control. He takes whatever and whoever he wants.

Blaming himself for the death of his parents, Dr. Drew Klein retreats into a shell of loneliness, merely going through the motions of life.  After a disastrous, short-lived marriage, Drew decides to leave his lucrative medical practice to set up a clinic for abused young men and women. The decision has more repercussions than Drew could ever imagine when the dark and sensual Ash Davis volunteers to help.

Although Drew isn’t gay, Ash is inexplicably drawn to him. He vows to simply bed him and forget him like he's done with every other man.  However, Drew's sweet and caring nature and unexpected passion stun and frighten Ash, who questions his right to any happiness at all.  And when Ash befriends an abused young man who unwittingly draws the clinic into danger, threatening Drew’s safety and that of his beloved grandmother, Ash discovers that there is nothing he won’t sacrifice to protect the love he never thought he’d find.

After the Fire #2
A single bullet destroyed the dreams of Dr. Jordan Peterson. With the man he loved dead, Jordan descends into an endless spiral of pain that nearly costs him his friends, his career and his life. When Jordan meets the aloof Lucas Conover, the investment banker’s mysterious past and unexpected kindness shocks Jordan back to a life he thought was lost forever.

Betrayal and abandonment by the foster brother he’d worshiped as a child taught Lucas Conover never to trust or believe in anyone. Living a solitary life did little to free him of the nightmare of his past; it reinforces his belief he wasn’t meant to fall in love. Working closely with Dr. Jordan Peterson forces him to meet another person whose suffering equals his own and Lucas can’t shake the unexpected the first man to ever get under his skin.

Mutual respect and rising desire bring Jordan and Luke closer than they ever imagined, and each man must come to terms with their past as they struggle to create a future together. And learning to trust in themselves and love again after tragedy and a lifetime of pain, may be the only thing that saves them in the end.

Embrace the Fire #3
Brandon Gilbert has spent years in hiding, but finally he’s accomplished his dream of working as a public school teacher. When offered the chance to help bullied children, there was no way he could say no. Not to mention that meeting Dr. Tash Weber, the psychiatrist who helps them, a sad yet sexy older man, ignited a spark inside Brandon he’d never had before.

Though five years have passed since the death of his lover, Dr. Sebastian "Tash" Weber has no interest in relationships or love. But young, enigmatic Brandon awakens his heart and his desire. Despite Tash’s best efforts to push him away, Brandon unlocks the passion for life Tash thought he’d lost forever.

Falling in love wasn’t part of the plan for either Brandon or Tash, but neither family disapproval nor self-doubts can stop them from embracing the fire that burns between them. And when Brandon returns home to fight for a future he never imagined possible, he and Tash discover that the one thing worth fighting for has been with them all along.

Beyond the Surface #1
On 9/11, firefighter Nick Fletcher’s world changed forever. He's unable to rid himself of survivor’s guilt, made worse by the secret he hides from his family and co-workers. Nick's life is centered around helping burn victims, until he is reunited with the man he’d once loved but pushed away. Now he has a second chance at a love he thought lost forever.

For fashion designer Julian Cornell, appearances mean everything. His love affairs are strictly casual, and the only thing he cares about is making his clothing line a success. A chance encounter with the man he loved long ago has Julian thinking for the first time in years there may be more to life than being seen at the best parties and what designer labels to wear.

When Julian’s world takes an unexpected turn, it's Nick who helps him regain perspective on what matters most in life. Julian, in turn, helps Nick accept who he is and understand he isn’t responsible for tragedies he couldn't prevent. Lost love found can be even sweeter the second time around and after all the years apart, both men learn to look beyond the surface to find the men they are inside.

Betting on Forever #2
A weekend fling in Atlantic City couldn’t be more out of socially shy Zach Cohen’s comfort zone, but a bet with his best friends forces him to put aside the humiliation he’s hidden for years, stepping away from behind his computer screens and on line world. When he meets Sam Stein, despite their spark, Zach expects nothing more than a night of passion and a kiss goodbye. Yet weeks later, he can’t keep the man out of his head.

After a split second decision with tragic results ends his twenty year police career at the same time his relationship falls apart, Sam Stein is drifting through life. At his best friend’s urging he agrees to a trip to Atlantic City to clear his head. What Sam doesn’t plan on is meeting Zach Cohen, whose sweet nature and honesty has him thinking maybe he could move forward, until Zach leaves him without explanation, reinforcing Sam’s belief that people can’t be trusted.

Well-meaning friends refuse to let Zach and Sam hide from each other, forcing them to realize their weekend is much more than a one night stand. Before that can happen, Zach must come to terms with his past and stand up for his own independence, while Sam has to learn to take a chance and believe in himself and people again. All bets are off when dreams become reality and forever doesn’t seem to be long enough.

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: O Come All Ye Kinky

20% of all proceeds from O Come All Ye Kinky will be donated to the Domestic Violence Project of the National Leather Association–International.

Christmas is a time of love and joy, and the New Year is a time of renewal. But they are also times of stress and strife, family drama, pressure and heartache—a potent mix of high expectations and conflicted emotions. Add in power exchange relationships, kinky gift swaps, and unconventional love in a sometimes unforgiving world, and you have a formula for a sizzling anthology of stories that tug at your heart.

From Ava March’s forbidden Regency love among men, to Katie Porter’s scorching hot contemporary tale of two women discovering holiday happiness, everyone will find a favorite here. Pervertible toys abound: Lambda Literary Award finalist L.A. Witt’s candy cane, Jane Davitt’s wrapping paper and tape, and Alexa Snow’s Christmas candles all please and delight. Newcomer Elyan Smith and fan favorite Kim Dare both celebrate New Year’s Eve with romantic flair and kinky fireworks, while bestselling author Joey W. Hill’s poignant story of love lost and regained will lead you home.

Whatever your desires, we invite you to explore new fantasies and old with these eight kinky tales of holiday happy endings.

Stories Included:
'Twas the Night by Ava March
Percival Owen yearns for the nights when he can kneel before his lover, even though no self-respecting gentleman willingly submits to another. Michael wants his first Christmas with Percy to be perfect, but is frustrated by Percy’s inability to ask for what he wants. The gift Michael offers Percy—and that Percy offers in return—is the best Percy could ever hope to receive: his will to submit.

Tree Topper by Jane Davitt
Martin’s new to the scene, and his sub Stan has recently stopped taking him seriously. Their tree has floggers, clamps, and cuffs underneath it, but will they ever be used? Frustrated and confused, Martin knows it will take more than a star to guide him on his way to becoming the Dom Stan needs—but their path to happiness might be shorter than he thinks.

Candy Caning by LA Witt
Nate is dreading the annual Christmas visit with his family, during which they will ignore or insult his partner and Dominant. Stephen tries hard to take Nate’s mind off the trip with the promise—and threat—of a three-foot-long candy cane. It’s a race to see if Nate’s resolve or the candy cane will shatter first.

Ring Out the Old and In the New by Alexa Snow
Recovering from a mugging on the London Underground, Evan has barely left the house in weeks. His partner and Dom, Russell, finally manages to drag him outside on Christmas Eve, but it’s the surprise that Russell has waiting for him back home that helps Evan get past his trauma and remember what’s important: being on his knees for the man he loves.

Open Return by Elyan Smith
Fifteen years ago, Zach left the small Midwestern town he grew up in, confused and scared and determined to figure out who he was. Now transformed, he’s drawn back by the memory and promise of the dominant couple he left behind. Laura and Scott are still together, and as the year draws to a close, they explore old feelings and new ones as they discover they’ve all been waiting for Zach to come home.

His Very Last Chance by Kim Dare
Drew screwed up. So when his master, Kingsley, summons him on New Year’s Eve, he knows he deserves the punishment in store for him. Everything changed for Kingsley when he overheard Drew running his mouth to his friends on Boxing Day. Now, there’s only one way he can possibly ring in the New Year: starting over fresh, either with an ending or a new beginning.

Fireworks by Katie Porter
Rachel’s job is taking her to Tokyo, which means leaving behind her lover and submissive, Emma. When she summons Emma for one last hurrah on New Year’s Eve, Emma answers, hoping desperately to be able to break through her ma’am’s emotional barriers and find the spark of love among the glittering fireworks.

Submissive Angel by Joey W Hill
After Robert found Ange bleeding in an alley, he employed the man in his vintage toy store as an act of charity. However, this Christmas, the eccentric young dancer will offer his thanks—and himself—to teach a brokenhearted Master how to open his heart to love again.

Open Return by Elyan Smith
“Merry Christmas, buddy,” the bus driver muttered, leaving Zach to fend for himself among the faint carols and flickering decorations of the bus depot in Nowhere, Illinois. All Zach could think in return was, “I don’t want to fight tonight.” The incessant refrain from the Ramones’ Christmas track had haunted him since Melbourne. The bus pulled away, taillights disappearing in the gray of the distance, and Zach wondered what the hell he was doing.

The shakiness had set in when his confidence had slipped by the wayside somewhere over the Pacific. He’d spent most of the flight turning his sunglasses over and around, until he’d pushed them into his pocket just prior to landing. Now they pressed against his thigh, but they were more for hiding, and nothing here was supposed to be about that. He hefted his bag on his shoulder, pulled his hat low over his ears to protect against the cold wind and falling snow, and marched, well, home, trying to avoid spinning into maybes and what ifs.

Fifteen years hadn’t left much of a mark here: the decorations and signs in shop windows looked the same. The shaky singular traffic light on the main road didn’t look like it had ever been replaced. He followed street signs that had been faded fifteen years ago toward the edge of the town. Shop fronts stood empty now, though, and the diner at the corner still proclaimed all-day breakfast in the window, but the glass was broken. His group of friends had occupied a corner of it most weekends, talking Pearl Jam’s latest and how the world would stop in a massive crash of computers come the New Year while “Mambo No. 5” played over the speakers. When they’d ducked for a smoke, they’d gone just around the corner into the alley, the same place Zach had first let Scott fondle his breasts and pinch his nipples with cold fingers, nails tickling as Scott ran them down to Zach’s stomach.

Zach thought he’d shuffled through whatever memories lurked in the back of his mind when he’d looked through the photos a few weeks ago, the ones in the folder crammed underneath his books from college. But being here now made him remember the summertime barbecues, wintertime roasts and carols, Halloween in-between and never, never being the pretty princess.

Zach stopped at the rusting fence two houses before Kevin and Elaine’s garden. He could turn back around now, wait twelve hours for another bus and just go on to Kansas or Oklahoma or Salt Lake City. He could pretend the nostalgia had never crawled out of the photos to settle in with the guilt over leaving he’d been carrying for years. He’d make the same choice all over again, but that didn’t make it right or the regrets any lighter.

When he took a few steps closer to their house, he saw his old bike still leaning against the side of the shed in the yard, half-covered in snow now, and he was once more the little girl his parents had shipped off to friends when they’d needed time to sort themselves out and then had never picked up again, leaving him to Kevin and Elaine.

Cars were parked in the road in front of their house for their traditional neighborhood get-together—friends, family, the people you only saw once a year—a few days before Christmas. People were visible through the windows, a few of them smoking on the back porch and quietly talking, the party in full swing. Laughter rose from inside and dissipated again into the clatter of voices talking over one another as Zach walked closer. He had some nerve to show up now, and as he fiddled with the sunglasses in his pocket, he imagined being told to shove it, the intervening years sitting as cold spaces in the middle of conversations where they’d once been close. He’d missed them—Kevin and Elaine, who’d cared for him like he was their own child, and Scott and Laura, who’d cared in different ways entirely. Who knew if they even remembered who he was?

Zach took his bag up the drive, inching past cars, and wiped at the snow on his face once he’d made it to the front door. All attempts at playing the coward a little while longer and hiding behind anticipating the worst had lost themselves under his soles with every step closer, so he rang the doorbell. Waited.

The door swung open, and of all the people who could’ve opened it, it was fitting that it was Scott. Of course it would be. He was wearing a striped button-down, a can of Budweiser in hand, work pants belted under a bit of a belly, and dirty, off-white socks. He’d filled out, beard thick on his cheeks and down his neck, hair on top a little thinner. Other than that, he still looked like the photos Zach had glanced through just days ago. Zach’s jitters made him think he was twenty and in love all over again.

Scott startled. His face moved through a range of emotions before it shuttered into guarded. “Zach?”

“Hey.” Zach slipped his hat off. The conversation inside quieted and Zach chanced a glance past Scott. A few guests craned their heads to look down the hallway at him. He cleared his throat as he focused back on Scott, his voice sounding like it wasn’t his own for the first time in years. His mind was awash with explanations and apologies, but he ended up going for, “I missed the bus out yesterday, would have been here last night otherwise. I know I probably should’ve written or called, but . . .”

“Hannah?” Kevin appeared behind Scott. Elaine, next to him, mouthed, “Zach,” at the same time. The movement of her lips and the sound of that name from Kevin still made Zach’s heart catch. It belonged to the photos he’d left to the dust mites, not to the guy he was now. Ten years since he’d last heard it, but he nodded at Kevin anyway and tried to ignore the whispers and looks from some in the room.

“Surprise,” he said quietly. Someone in the room chuckled nervously, and Scott faded into the background. Zach resisted pulling at his shirt as his coat morphed from snow-caked to sopping wet on his shoulders.

“Surprise indeed.” Kevin hesitated but offered a firm handshake before he pulled Zach into a full hug. “Welcome back, Zach. I didn’t think we’d see you again.”

“Couldn’t not come for this, could I? No one ever misses the Christmas party.”

Kevin tightened the hug and some of the guilt loosened in Zach’s chest, even if the joke sat heavy on his tongue. Elaine cried as Zach hugged her, kept saying nonsense syllables and fuck, he’d been a jerk never even to write when he had spent more time with them than anywhere, drunken confessions in the kitchen at 2 a.m. and throwing up in their bathroom after a party he shouldn’t have been at, having them pick up the pieces when he couldn’t possibly unload on anyone else.

When he’d bolted, Kevin and Elaine had seen him onto the bus, practically in the middle of the night. He’d called them once from Australia and promised to call more but never had.

The children in the back of the house picked up their play again, bored already with the adults standing around awkwardly. A group of teenagers sat on the floor in the corner, debating hotly across tablets and phones. That had been the three of them some two decades ago, sitting around the computer in Zach’s room while the Christmas party had gone on downstairs. When Zach looked around the room again, swept up in the nostalgia of the moment, he caught Scott’s gaze.

Laura stood next to Scott, curvier now, white blouse hugging her shoulders, ending at her elbows and flowing off over her skirt. She had plush house shoes on her feet and leaned into Scott as they both watched him.

Zach glanced away.

In a heartbeat, fifteen years didn’t even feel like ten minutes. All the things he’d waited to be able to move past still swirled in the pit of his stomach, his crotch, his heart. That last winter back from college, Scott, Laura, and he had been inseparable, moving from kisses to more, till he’d been on his knees with his hands behind his back for hours, quiet because he’d been told not to speak, petted when he’d done well, doing what they wanted in private, and then daring for a little more in public, if secretively. It had been tempting and intoxicating, and he’d been scared out of his mind by how much he’d wanted to lose himself in them and never face the rest of the world again.

It had been snowing like this when he’d run and left Scott and Laura curled up and sleeping together. The memory of that night was lodged at the forefront of Zach’s mind and had been for years, keeping him moving and never quite settling into any one place until he’d bought the ticket to come back and sat on the plane. But to say he’d been scared didn’t seem quite enough of an explanation for the decade and a half now.

One of the children tugged at Laura’s arm, breaking his contemplations. She nodded yes, so the kid grabbed a muffin and ran off with it.

Zach did the rounds of a few polite handshakes, unsure whether he should introduce himself but assuming the ones who’d been here would remember him, by either name. Most of them called him nothing but hey you, some of them with reservations dipping into hostility, others with hesitant smiles. He remembered them from class, the jocks and the princesses and the people no one talked to all grown up and still here. His pits were sticky with sweat, nerves, and small talk. Zach fiddled with his sunglasses and forced his fingers still in the pockets of his jeans when he realized he longed for a bit of that muted world of something he was familiar with in a less heartachy way.

This had seemed a good idea, nostalgia-spurred. Now in the face of people, not memories, he felt a little more brittle than he’d quite anticipated, glancing out at the neighborhood he knew too well and the room of people who just might have used the years to change even more than he had.

He skimmed the room for Laura and Scott while trying to avoid their gazes sweeping across to him, the Ramones running in the back of his mind while something much more current was on the stereo.

Whenever Zach caught Scott looking, Scott’s gaze skirted over Zach’s face and up and down his body, fingers tight on his can of beer. Laura kept her hand on Scott’s shoulder, thumb rubbing back and forth, but she snuck glances as well.

“I heard you say you were in Melbourne now?” Kevin handed Zach eggnog and took a muffin from the table next to them.

“Sydney first, living in Melbourne at the moment, yeah.”

“Must be very different from this part of the world.”

Zach laughed and nodded. He didn’t really want to talk about his life there, not that it even could be called much of one with the way in transit felt like his default state, but he owed them a little so he talked about the company he worked in IT for, his abysmal attempts at surfing, and sitting on the beach watching the sun go down while the day was just starting in this part of the world.

With the night fast approaching, they switched to beer and burgers grilled on the freezing back porch as per their whacked-out traditions.

They talked in stops and starts, and Zach showed Kevin some photos on his phone before one of the other men called for Kevin and he let Zach be with a nod. Zach tipped his fingers to his head in response. He sat and stretched out his legs, leaning back in the chair in his bubble of quiet and just watched, when a can of Bud moved into his field of vision, cutting his escapism short.

“Care for one?” Scott towered over him, broad shouldered, chest hair curling out where he’d undone the top button on his shirt, playing carbon copy to most of Zach’s fantasies and leaving him instantly short of breath and feeling foolish for it.

“Cheers.” Zach took the can and drank down a few healthy gulps.

Scott nodded at the porch and Zach followed him out, both of them grabbing their coats, Zach slipping into his boots while Scott was in only the plush shoes on the wooden planks. A few folks stood around the grill, leaving the opposite side of the porch empty. Scott pulled over a chair. Zach leaned against the railing. The words in Zach’s head clogged up the path to his mouth, rendering him quiet as Scott set his beer to the side and lit a cigarette. He offered it to Zach, but Zach shook his head, just watched him smoke.

“So you’re back?” Scott looked across at him, then out at the hint of the snowy, dark garden, voice quiet over the background chatter. “After you fucked off?” His tone dipped into vaguely disappointed, a hint of bitter.

Zach dragged his thumb over the rim of the beer can. “A visit.” He didn’t say maybe more or I don’t really know what I’m doing, I just knew I had to come back, but his voice felt like it shook with it anyway and all his attempts at playing it safe were for nothing.

Submissive Angel by Joey W. Hill
Snowflakes don’t make any sound. Like a first kiss. That must be why they feel the same against your skin.

Robert stared up at the thickly falling snow illuminated by the Victorian-style streetlight, the iron pole wrapped in a garland and red velvet bow. Earlier today, he hadn’t thought to test Ange’s assertion, but at this late hour, with no foot traffic and the storefronts cloaked in hushed silence, he found himself listening to the snow. Comparing how it felt, falling on his upturned face, to all the kisses he’d had in his life. As well as the kisses he might want in the future.

Even though they’re silent, you can still hear something. The way you can hear somebody holding their breath.

It made sense that one of Ange’s quirky observations would cross his mind right now. He’d collected a lot of them since the boy had started working for him nearly six months ago. After all, he’d made a hell of an impression, applying for the job while flat on his ass in garbage and bleeding profusely.

On that sticky June night, Robert had heard a noise behind the dumpster in the alley next to his vintage toy shop. Setting aside the trash he’d been taking out, he picked up the baseball bat he kept inside the back door. Not one of his 1920s Louisville sluggers, just a made-in-China piece of crap, but still solid wood. When he peered around the steel container and saw a blood trail on the cobblestones, he followed it to a pair of legs in ripped jeans.

He was confronted with a shock of dirty white-gold hair atop a long, lean form in a thin T-shirt. Someone had worked the guy over—his nose was bleeding all over the fabric. But he was holding the broken skyhook Robert had reluctantly tossed after he’d knocked it off a shelf. It was a jockey on a horse, perched on the top of a stand. When it sat on a table, the counterweight ball made the horse rock, so it looked like it was running.

In Victorian times, people couldn’t get enough of toys that used the law of gravity to do what seemed impossible, magical, and his modern-day patrons were no different. He had a whole shelf of balance toys from that era.

At Robert’s appearance, the kid, mid-twenties maybe, had held up the toy as if he didn’t have one eye swelling shut, a busted lip, and what was definitely a broken nose. Robert had done a couple tours in Afghanistan. Between that and boxing at the local gym for his daily workout, he was very familiar with the look.

“I fixed it, sir,” the young man said earnestly. And he had. He’d hinged the arm back in place on the jockey’s side, and fixed the snapped stand using tape he’d probably fished out of the trash. “It’s temporary, but I can solder the stand and re-attach the arm with wood glue. No one will even know it was broken. I’m good at fixing things people don’t think to fix.”

Robert squatted on his haunches. Putting his fingers on the man’s jaw to hold him still, he took a closer look at the damage. At his touch, his unsolicited applicant went quite still, except for a significant quiver that hit Robert in the gut, particularly when he lowered lashes as white-gold as his hair.

“What’s your name?”

“Ange.” He pronounced it in the French manner, so that the an sounded like own and the ge a soft ssh, like a mother’s gentle reproof.

“French for angel.” Robert tried for a smile but failed. The harm to Ange’s face must have been done with more than one pair of fists. It made his hand want to close in a similar position. Looking at the guileless eyes and sensitive mouth, he knew this kid had done nothing to warrant it except be what he was. “Come on. I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

“I’m okay. I don’t need a hospital. I need a job. Sir.” Ange held up the toy. “Since the North Pole layoffs, things have been rough. I’m just glad I found you before the other elves did.”

Robert’s lips twisted. Funny bastard. Odd fellow, obviously all in his head. Until he looked at Robert and said Sir. Then he was a hundred percent there.

“You have a lot of metal toys, trains, things where gears get stuck. I can unjam them. I can dust everything, keep it all looking good. Everyone hates to dust. You don’t have to pay me much. A cot in a back room and enough to buy my lunch. Don’t pay me at all until you’re sure I’m worth a salary.”

Robert put a quelling hand over his. He had slim, elegant fingers, like a pianist. Thank goodness whoever had beaten on him hadn’t noticed that. The knuckles were scraped, though. Ange had fought back. That, and the stubborn jut of his jaw, told Robert he’d gone down fighting. It sent a twinge to his groin, because he liked a sub with fire. Jesus.

“We’ll talk about that later. Hospital first.”

“I don’t—”

“You’re going.” Robert gave him a hard look. “Got it?”

He wasn’t sure what made him test those waters. For Chrissakes, he’d almost said You’re going because I said so. The vibe Ange put out was so strong he couldn’t resist it. He’d hung up the paddle, hadn’t taken on a new sub since . . . since everything had shut down. But apparently his desire to take charge, exert control, figure out the right combination to win willing surrender, wasn’t as dead as he thought. And it was coming back to life with an injured homeless man. How desperate was that?

Then the kid delivered a sucker punch in return, making it even worse. Like a switch flipped, the green eyes skittered down to Robert’s chest, focused on his dark blue bowtie. “Yes, sir,” he muttered.

Robert gave his jaw a reproving tap. “What was that?”

“Yes, sir,” Ange said more respectfully, with a quick glance up. When his fingers slipped out from under Robert’s and caressed his wrist with a shy touch, a spark flickered, reminding Robert what it was to want.

That touch dared him to be a Master once more.

# # #

Coming back to the present, Robert lowered his gaze. In the backdrop, he could see the lights of downtown Charlotte skyscrapers, but in this little SoHo-esque section, except for a few strings of Christmas lights edging the eaves of the buildings, the galleries, trendy cafés, and various stores were all dark. Well, almost all of them. His vintage toy store was lit up like the nativity star. The six Christmas trees placed at various spots inside the main showroom threw their illumination out onto the sidewalk, clouds of color against pristine snow drifts.

Earlier in the day, they’d forecast eight inches of snow, but no one had believed it until it started to fall. Charlotte rarely got snow in December, let alone three days before the holiday. Despite the late hour, on the walk here he’d seen people his age and older making snowmen, having snowball fights, laughing like kids. Couples kissing as snowflakes fell upon their hair, their clasped hands. Christmas spirit, all the hope and wonder of it, had infected everyone. Including him.

He’d gotten Ange fixed up, given him a fair wage and a cot in the back room. Crazy as risking all that was, he’d never dared taking his other feelings any further than they had gone that first night. Losing parents within seven months of each other had a way of shutting down body, mind, and soul. Everything became too tentative to deal with the aggressive joy of D/s play, which, when done with the right person, risked everything for the potential of gaining everything. For the past two years he’d been frozen in a fragile state of grief and loss. But during the last six months, he’d started to thaw.

There was only eight years’ difference in their ages, Ange nearing thirty, Robert on the north side of that decade, but Ange seemed so young. Not in the no-right-to-be-thinking-about-touching way, though. More like in the submissive-just-begging-for-a-Master way.

It was close to midnight, a dangerous hour for a lonely man to be standing in the snow. Coming to the store in the middle of the night was outside their normal structure, leaving anything open to possibility, but Robert had made that conscious decision when he’d left his apartment, heading back to the store for no other reason than a desire to be where Ange was. When he crossed that street, opened the door, there’d be no turning back.

Oh, fuck it. He was a childless, gay, nearly-forty-year-old man who wore a bow tie and suspenders and collected rare toys. All he needed was a cranky little dog to complete the stereotype, but he was allergic. What was holding him rooted to this spot was fear of loss, and he knew how irrational that was.

Taking a breath, he crossed the street, pulling out his keys. When his heart started to beat faster, he had to stop a moment, close his eyes. He wanted to do this. He would do it. He couldn’t fight it anymore. He wanted to be alive.

He’d told Ange to turn off all the trees except the small one in the display window when he went to bed. Robert didn’t want the more valuable cast iron collectibles to be seen from the outside. But Ange loved those trees. He’d keep them turned on twenty-four hours a day, would probably sleep underneath them every night if he could. However, since he took Robert’s orders very literally, if the lights were on, that meant he was still up.

Robert didn’t like to think of a break-in happening while Ange was there alone, so he’d be more specific, tell Ange the trees should be turned off at closing. Even as he had that thought, he was inundated with images of more punitive, provocative ways to impress the lesson on his only employee.

Unlocking and opening the front door, he also discovered Ange hadn’t turned on the security system. Again. He was so going to kick his narrow ass.

Brad Paisley’s “Silent Night” was playing, part of the Christmas playlist Ange had created, mixing old and new favorites. It was a balance the customers and Robert enjoyed, though Robert had never considered himself a fan of holiday music. Hanging up his keys, he moved out of the shadows of the foyer into the archway of the main show room. Since he’d come at the store from an angle that didn’t give him a clear shot into the front display window, he hadn’t seen what he saw now. If he had, he would have crossed that street with no hesitation at all, because no man with a pulse could have resisted the scene before him.

He and Ange had rearranged the main showroom so it looked like a late Victorian-era parlor at Christmas time, just waiting for the children to arrive and open packages. It recalled the opening scene from the Nutcracker ballet, particularly with Ange dancing in the middle of it.

Ange was in the middle of a fouetté. Tight, in-place turns that brought him up on the ball of his foot on each rotation, like a Turkish warrior dancing. He was wearing his bedtime pajamas of a thin white tank and gray sweatpants, the former displaying the layers of muscles on his arms and shoulders, the latter the flexing of his ass. He’d wrapped red ribbon around his wrists, splitting them into tails and using scissors to curl them so they fluttered as he danced. He had them on his ankles as well, with tiny bells. Now Robert realized why he heard a pleasing chime buried inside the Christmas music.

It was like watching a male swan. That sense of restraint, the quivering desire to soar compressed in graceful movement that hinted at what miracles would be possible if the bird’s wings weren’t clipped. If he had the confidence to soar.

Until six months ago, Robert had forgotten that feeling, his heart bricked off to withstand the harsh realities of mortality. Now he felt a painful, final crack in the mortar as Ange finished the turn, his fingertips reaching toward the treetops, his leg a straight line behind him. When he went from that into a standing leap, as impressive as a Lipizzaner stallion, Robert’s heart began thumping erratically again.

He pressed his fingers hard into the wood doorway, all the want and need he’d stored up pooling in his mouth and groin. Ange had landed, but his eyes were closed. As he tilted his head to the right, exposing the line from throat to shoulder, Robert had a vampire’s craving to sink his teeth into that pale column.

Then Ange saw him. He straightened, chest heaving, eyes bright, uncertain. His hair was dark with sweat at his temples and nape. If Robert put his nose there, he’d inhale that sharp scent of exertion and Ange together.

“Come with me.”

He didn’t look to see if Ange was following. He knew he was, the same way he’d known Ange was waiting for him when he saw the tree lights still on. Hell, the boy had been waiting for months. He was a true submissive. As long as he could take care of Robert, he was happy, but that didn’t mean he didn’t burn the way Robert did. More than once he’d caught Ange giving him a look so hungry, it took everything in him not to pin him to the wall then and there. He’d gone home at night and masturbated like a fucking thirteen-year-old, imagining that taut, slick ass, feeling Ange’s mouth on him . . . hearing him call him Master.

Ange always called him Sir, as if he knew the way it made things clench inside of Robert. He made it clear he was Robert’s, though Robert didn’t encourage that. Of course, he sure as hell hadn’t discouraged it, either.

When he returned to the front door and unlocked it, stepping out under the eaves, he found the snow was falling even thicker now. The street was covered in it, virgin and unmarred.

Glancing back, he saw Ange’s green gaze fixed on him. “Dance for me, out there. Show me how a male swan soars.”

He reached out, intending to guide him through the door, but Ange bent his head, brushed his lips over Robert’s knuckles, leaving the electric tingle of moist heat on his rough skin. Then he leaped out into the night, almost hovering in the air for a brief moment, light as the snowflakes. The thickly curling red ribbon and bells made Robert imagine a reindeer in harness, awaiting the command to fly . . . the touch of the whip.

Ange had given Robert very little of his past, but it had been easy enough to figure out he’d been a danseur before he’d been on the street. When Ange was pulling down stock from upper shelves in the back, Robert had seen him lift up on the balls of his feet with an odd sense of weightlessness, like he was levitating. He’d stretch one arm upward, his body remaining locked and upright, his back leg leaving the ground to create a rigid line from the tips of his reaching fingers to the point of his toe.

If he thought Robert wasn’t looking, sometimes Ange would whirl down an aisle rather than walk it. He’d spot his destination, his head whipping toward that fixed point, strong arms locked in a precise oval before him. When he reached the back wall, he’d stop like an expert swordsman executing a lunge.

Once, when a customer was waiting, Robert had asked Ange to bring him something from the back stockroom that would normally require a ladder. He’d followed him a moment later with another request, arriving in time to see Ange remove his shoes and execute a powerful spin in the air, catching the item on the turn. He came down into what Robert now knew was ballet’s fourth position. He’d been wearing a pair of faded jeans that fit him just right in the crotch and seat when he landed. Robert’s mouth had gone dry.

Taking a break from his auction browsing one night, he’d called up some ballet sites. What he’d seen Ange do that day was a modified tour en l’aire. He’d felt like he was surfing porn, lingering on pictures of male dancers in their nothing-to-the-imagination tights, which made him think of Ange in such an outfit. When he was in that swordsman lunge, his cock would be erect and long beneath the straining fabric, the imagined shape of the testicles making Robert itch to close his hand possessively over them.

The tune now turned to Tory Amos’s wistful “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and Ange changed the pace. He was dancing barefoot in the snow, in the thin tank and sweats, but his skin was glowing. When he spun toward Robert, he spotted on him, every whip of his head coming back to Robert’s eyes, until he finished with one of those floating-in-the-air, bent-leg bounds that he completed on his knees at Robert’s feet. Staring up at him, face flushed. Lips parted.

Robert reached down, intending to brush the long strands of hair from his forehead. Instead Ange pressed another kiss to his hand. Robert turned it, trailing his fingers over Ange’s mouth, the moist lips, to his chin. Ange dropped his head back. As Robert moved down to his throat, to his chest, Ange kept bending backward. Robert dropped to one knee as his head touched the snow between his cupped feet, the body in a perfect, severe arch for him. Ange’s arms were out, like a crucified swan. Or a man surrendering.

Ring Out the Old and In the New by Alexa Snow
“I just don’t feel like it, okay?” Evan yelled through the open doorway to the kitchen. He pulled his feet up onto the couch and curled himself around the pillow he was holding. He was pouting and he knew it, but he didn’t want to go to Grace and Charlotte’s on Christmas Eve. He hadn’t wanted to go anywhere since the night his life had changed.

“But you love Grace and Charlotte,” Russell shouted back over the noise of the washing up.

“I just don’t want to go. Let’s do something else that night instead.”

“It’s Christmas Eve,” Russell protested from the doorway, a wineglass in one hand and the cloth he was using to dry it in the other. The bright white glow from the kitchen light glinted off the silver at his temples. “We always go to theirs.”

Maybe he should take the glass from Russell—he’d need another drink if Russ wasn’t going to let the conversation drop. No, that seemed like too much effort. “That doesn’t mean we have to do it forever. Things change.” He hesitated, narrowed his eyes. “You’re older than me; you must know that by now.”

Russell frowned, opened his mouth, then frowned again. “You think you’re clever, but you aren’t fooling me. And you know you’re being cheeky.” He turned back into the kitchen, and Evan sighed and hugged the pillow more tightly.

By the time Russell finished the dishes and came into the sitting room to join him, Evan had worked himself into a fairly impressive sulk, even by his own standards. Russell sat next to him; Evan didn’t move.

“I’ve been endlessly patient with you,” Russell said. “You’ve been through a difficult time, I know that, but you can’t continue like this. It isn’t healthy.”

Fuck you, Evan thought but didn’t say. He knew Russell would punish him for that deliberate rudeness, and he didn’t want to deal with that right now, fun as he might have found it at another time. He hadn’t wanted anything to do with their sex life at all, not for weeks. “We could go to Prezzos on Christmas Eve instead? You love it there.”

“I do, but I’d prefer to be with our friends. Our family, when it comes right down to it.”

“I just don’t want to go, all right?” But this was a lost cause if Russell was finally putting his foot down. “This one time. Why does it have to be such a big deal?”

“Because you’re hiding,” Russell said. “No, look at me. Evan.”

Two months ago, Russell’s command voice would have had Evan scrambling to obey, possibly even sliding off the sofa to kneel on the floor. That bastard on the Tube had changed everything, even this.

Evan reluctantly turned toward Russell, but kept his gaze just to Russell’s right. He didn’t want to see whatever was in Russell’s eyes. Whenever Russell looked at him now, all he could see was pity and revulsion. “What?”

“We’re going,” Russell said. “There won’t be any more discussion about it.”

“I don’t want to,” Evan whispered, and Russell sighed and reached for him, drew Evan closer to rest his head on Russell’s chest. That was better—it meant Russell wasn’t staring at him, and it made Evan feel warm and safe to be cradled in Russell’s arms.

“I know. But you will.”

Evan didn’t cry, even though the urge was strong. He’d learned to hold in his tears while the scar that twisted its way across his cheekbone and up beside the outside corner of his eye healed, and now he wondered if that lesson would ever fade. Instead he closed his eyes as Russell stroked a hand through his hair, which was getting long now. At first he hadn’t cut it because it had been the furthest thing from his mind; now he didn’t because he hoped that eventually, when it grew long enough, it would help hide his face.

“This has been a terrible time, I know,” Russell said gently. It was weird how Russell could be so stern and unforgiving in the bedroom, his hands hard, leaving bruises that lingered for days, yet when Evan was upset, he could be so kind. Not that Evan would want to be with someone who wasn’t nice to him. It was just a fascinating combination of qualities. “It’s been horrible. But you’ve had time to heal physically, and now it’s time to begin healing in other ways.”

Evan had only been in the hospital for one night, and that had primarily been for monitoring. He’d lost some blood in the attack, but not enough to put him in any danger. A plastic surgeon had been called in to stitch him up and had reassured him that in time the scar would be nearly invisible, but Evan didn’t see how that was possible. He’d spent the long, bleak night in a bed where he hadn’t slept at all, even with Russ there holding his hand. He hadn’t felt much of anything then—just shock, he supposed—so he hadn’t discovered until later at home when he’d looked at himself in a mirror for the first time that crying got salty tears into his stitched cut and made it sting.

Evan hadn’t taken the Tube since the incident. He’d stayed in as much as possible, actually, wanting to give the angry scar on his face time to heal and hopefully fade before he had to be around people again. He hadn’t worked—he’d been quite a successful artist’s model for some years, but he assumed all that was over. He couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to draw him now. He couldn’t imagine sitting with an entire classroom’s eyes on him, studying him.

God, no matter what was happening, Evan couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was with him every waking hour, haunting him from his peripheral vision. The cold scowl of the boy who’d cut his face followed him in his nightmares, bringing him awake in the dark of night while Russell slept peacefully beside him.

“You think I can just forget,” Evan accused.

“No,” Russell said calmly. “I’m sure you’ll never forget it entirely. But the memory of it will fade. It will get better, you’ll see. And there is help available.”

Maybe the scar would do the same, but Evan knew it would always be there. It wouldn’t be invisible to him. He could barely look at himself in the mirror anymore; he’d seriously considered growing a full beard just to eliminate the need to shave, and he hated beards.

It was funny how marks of a different sort, the marks Russell left on him, temporary though they were, thrilled Evan. Before, they’d talked about the possibility of something more permanent, something that would claim Evan as Russell’s. But now things were different.

“I’m not going to see some shrink,” Evan said, seething at what he imagined Russell was thinking, that he was crazy, had some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder. “I talked to the one at the hospital because they made me, that’s all.”

“I know.”

Evan pushed himself away from Russell and glared at him; Russell’s steady gaze just made him more angry. “You keep saying that, but you don’t know. You don’t know what it’s like, and you can’t help me. So stop trying.”

“Not possible,” Russell said. How could he stay so calm when things were so fucked up? “We’re going to sort this out together.”

Together. But it hadn’t happened to Russell, had it? Just Evan. Russell hadn’t even been there. Maybe, if he had, things would have been different—

No. Stop. That train of thought was dangerous and needed to be derailed at once. Evan pasted a cheerful expression onto his face—even that didn’t work all that well, since smiling made the scar tissue on his cheek twist and pull, though at least it didn’t hurt anymore—and said with forced merriment, “Let’s put up the Christmas decorations now. Otherwise the poor tree might die of a broken heart.”

“I thought maybe you’d prefer a quiet evening,” Russell said, and Evan shook his head.

“No, we’ve had enough quiet. Let’s do something fun.” He was already headed down the hallway to the spare room, where he’d piled the boxes of glass ornaments on the bed the day before. “Anyway, it won’t take long. The tree’s already up,” he called back.

Once Evan had carried the ornaments to the sitting room and was confronted with the tree, he lost some of his enthusiasm. He’d refused to go to the Christmas Forest on Twickenham Road they always bought their trees from, too self-conscious to appear in public if he didn’t absolutely have to. Now he regretted it, because the tree Russell had bought without him was definitely sub-standard. It was already losing needles despite Evan’s near-constant watering.

“We need music,” he said, and Russell moved to turn on the radio he insisted on keeping, no matter how often Evan told him it was time to join the twenty-first century and get an MP3 player. Russell was able to find a station playing instrumental Christmas music, and its soft, festive melody drifted through the air.

Evan hung some ornaments, alternating the older glass ones that had come from Russell’s family with some silly plastic ones he himself had bought over the past few years. Russell stood behind him, humming under his breath and unwrapping tissue from an ornament. “This was one of my grandmother’s,” Russell offered, passing him a delicate green glass teapot.

“I think you told me that last year,” Evan said, turning to kiss Russell quickly before he lost his nerve. There’d been plenty of hugs and cuddling between them since the attack, but not a lot of kissing and no sex at all. Soon, Evan kept thinking, but the thought of being naked made him uncomfortable in ways that didn’t even make sense. It was a relief to be reminded that kissing Russell, at least, still felt right.

Fireworks by Katie Porter
“Meet me for New Year’s,” Rachel had said. “One last hurrah.”

If she had no other choice, Emma would make sure it was a helluva night.

As ordered, she’d packed every toy both she and Rachel loved. Emma’s task was to arrange them in the final hotel room they would share, while obediently ignoring the suitcase Rachel had already deposited. Despite having done so repeatedly during their long-distance relationship, getting her collection through airport security always gave Emma a case of nerves. She didn’t care what an anonymous TSA guy thought when rifling through her checked bag, but she sure as hell didn’t want her rattan cane bent or the falls of her flogger caught in a zipper.

Not that it mattered. Rachel always said the same thing. “You, your clothes, and your mouth. And the clothes are optional.”

Except Rachel had been very explicit about Emma’s New Year’s attire. The backless scarlet dress nearly, nearly clashed with her hair. Her ma’am loved red in all forms: the clothes Emma wore, the shade of her hair, and especially the way Emma’s ass and back flamed when abused.

The elevator opened. Rachel stepped out.

While waiting in a corridor above the open atrium, Emma had spied her ma’am in the midst of Craig Industrial Exports’ New Year’s Eve party, but Rachel looked even more voluptuous up close. Dark eyes. Darker hair. Twin French braids were a deliberate tease. Emma adored when Rachel looked adorable, while Rachel insisted that a good Dom was never adorable. She always smiled when she said that, which was the closest Emma came to peeking past her lover’s wickedly sharp defenses.

With Rachel in front of her now, Emma’s heart was a wild, beastly thing. She needed to get a grip or she’d lose it within the first few swats of the nasty English ruler.

“About time, dearest,” Rachel said, her voice cool and controlled. “I was getting bored of the limp dicks at that party. Needed my hands in your hair.”

She suited actions to words and grabbed Emma by her long hair—grown out especially for Rachel. She dragged Emma down the hallway toward room 617, where something beautiful would come to an end. In mere days, Rachel would leave for a business posting to Tokyo and sever the two-year long-distance relationship that had fed Emma’s happiness.

The sharp snap of pain along Emma’s scalp flung away her maudlin emotions. Taller, more toned, she was still the one to be guided. Pulled. Owned.

Rachel unlocked the door and pushed Emma inside.

On a surprised exhale, Emma found herself jammed face-first against the nearest wall, pinned at her nape. Rachel made a purring sound, then scraped blunted, perfectly manicured nails down Emma’s bare back.

“Perfect,” Rachel murmured. “Such a good girl, doing exactly what you’re told.”

Rachel was practical. She was willful and rock solid, except for her body—lush, curvaceous, mesmerizing. In everything else, she kept her guard up. That included her emotional relationship with Emma. The lack of deep intimacy or promises was something Emma had learned to live with, as much a part of Rachel as her ambition and talent.

“Thank you, ma’am.” She hissed in a strangled gulp of air when Rachel’s fingertips dug deeper.

Rachel also liked things orderly. Emma had no doubt that her back would be patterned with precise lines in sets of four. Over and over. The same stretches of skin. She shivered, her cheek still pushed against the hotel room wall. Her nipples beaded against her silk bodice. No bra. Never a bra. Rachel wouldn’t have been pleased, not even in that mocking “not pleased” way that led to a fantastic beating.

“Turn,” Rachel said tersely. “I want your kiss.”

With a sigh of release, Emma did as she was told—really, did what she needed. This was connection and intimacy, if only on a physical level. Their mouths met, simmering and tasting. The promise of everything to come made her knees tremble and the breath catch in her throat. Rachel caught Emma’s jaw in one hand and pulled her hair with the other.

“So goddamn tall. Sit.”

She wrenched Emma toward a couch in their suite and pushed her down. Rachel was in control in every way. She was dressed in a black-and-white gown that flowed freely down to mid-calf, but hugged her ribs and full breasts. Christ, her breasts. Nothing better on the planet, except when she wielded a belt across Emma’s back.

The kissing began again—turned hot and greedy and promising again. Promises of more. Rachel caught the base of Emma’s tongue between her teeth and bit down.

Oh, God. Just the beginning.

The bite turned fierce. Testing. Rachel had never gone so far as to break skin, anywhere, but that was more of a psychological limit than one based on safety. Emma didn’t own a ring or a token from her distant lover, and that meant no scars either. When Rachel left for Tokyo, she would leave only a ghost to haunt Emma’s memories—nothing more solid than digital photos and hoarded emails.

“Look at you,” Rachel said, so softly. Almost worshipful. Emma always felt the most special, the most cherished, when one of her hazed-out reactions drew a breathy comment from her ma’am. “You’re halfway to gone already, just from a simple kiss.”

Emma dared a cheeky smile. “Simple? Hardly.”

“I was waiting for that mouth of yours to start pushing my buttons.” Rachel hiked up the hem of her black-and-white cocktail dress, shoved Emma back into the small, firm couch, and settled in for a good straddle. “Stick your tongue out again. All the way out.”

Emma flinched on the first try. Such a small hesitation. Rachel wrenched her hair so roughly that Emma gasped.


The second time . . . Jesus, she always felt so vulnerable. And a little silly. Humiliated. She hated being humiliated, and Rachel knew it. Only on occasion did her ma’am’s debasing demands overlap with pain.

The pain was the reward.

Rachel leaned in and kissed around Emma’s lips, tongue, and even the tip of her nose. Full, gorgeous breasts pressed flush against her own, body to body. Softness against softness. Emma relaxed under such pretty, sweet attention.

With the next kiss, Rachel shoved all the way to the base of Emma’s tongue and pressed her teeth into that sensitive flesh. Hard. Harder. Pushing limits. Pain and pleasure threatened to short-circuit what few working brain cells Emma had left. Everything centered on clenching teeth. Then dragging teeth—dragging until, every time, she thought Rachel would bite the tip right off.


And again. And again.

Emma sank into the rhythm, loved it, even though it was the teasing S&M equivalent of teenagers making out in the backseat of a little Japanese car—which they’d also done. That had been a fun afternoon.

“Enough for now. I have other plans for us,” Rachel said, their wet lips touching.

Emma’s tongue was slightly numb, although the rest of her body sang and hummed and waited. She gazed up. Again she found that look of both authority and wonder in Rachel’s dark eyes. Rachel’s intensity, her amazing focus, would never lose its attraction.

No, it would simply leave. Within hours. Rachel would say goodbye and she’d mean it. She’d move to Tokyo, leaving Emma behind. For good.

Oh, damn.

Rachel took hold of her lower jaw, owning every movement, permitting only what she desired. “Would you like to know my plans, little girl?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

A nasty, gorgeous grin shaped her mouth. “It’s New Year’s Eve. And I’m going to make you into my own personal fireworks display.”

# # #

Rachel eased back toward the suitcase she’d stashed before the party, but she couldn’t take her eyes off Emma. Hands open, palms up on her knees, Emma’s expression was . . . not exactly placid. More like the embodiment of waiting. She was the one person in Rachel’s life who’d consistently waited for her, who’d kept wanting her, no matter what. Emma hadn’t pulled away the way everyone else had.

Those pale blue eyes were heavy-lidded with the anticipation that never failed to set Rachel’s blood on fire.

Rachel had the most perfect, darling girl that could ever be found. It was a miracle she’d managed to hold onto Emma for two years. Career ambitions and the distance between them had made it difficult.

Which was why her move to Japan was a good thing. Emma could find someone to make it real forever. Rachel had never managed to hang onto the important people in her life. Parents who ridiculed that she was gay? See ya. High school friends who couldn’t understand her big city ambitions? Your loss. Not to mention girlfriends who’d withdrawn when she had kept her true self close and guarded. Rachel had left them too—a means of beating them to the punch.

No one chose Rachel. The only safe place on the planet was the one she made for herself. Now that safe place would be in Tokyo. Good enough. Yet she had no delusions that forgetting her redheaded girl would be easy.

It would be impossible.

“You’re beautiful, my darling.” Upon checking in, she’d intentionally propped her unzipped suitcase on the luggage stand, taunting and teasing Emma with possibilities—Emma, who would never even think to riffle through it.

“Thank you, ma’am.” Emma smiled so easily. “You picked the dress, after all.”

She had, while shopping together via Skype. Rachel cataloged it as another instance of not good enough. They should’ve been able to do it in person, making naughty use of dressing rooms. Not good enough was a damn hard refrain to live with, even if Emma didn’t realize it yet. With enough time, she would—and her disappointment would snatch away what was left of Rachel’s heart.

“Now take it off.”

Emma’s eyes went wide. “Now, ma’am? You’ve barely seen me in it.”

“I didn’t ask for any lip.” She pitched her voice low and mean, when she actually wanted to grin. Rachel was fairly sure she’d never given it away, but she had a private nickname for her girl: Emma the Mouth. She loved every dirty, smart-assed, brilliant implication. “Strip. Now. Don’t make me say ‘or else.’ It’s too cheesy for words.” She lifted an eyebrow. “And you won’t get the smacks I know you came here for. Vanilla is the worst threat for a pain slut like you.”

After Emma’s eyes widened, she blanked her expression. “Yes, ma’am.”

Emma stood in a deliberate pose. Red silk draped over her body, all the way to the floor. She removed it with a delectable combination of teasing and obedience. Underneath she was completely bare, exactly as Rachel liked. Her hips were slim but womanly. She had small, perky breasts that proudly beaded with pink nipples. All her skin . . . She was pale. So very pale it made Rachel’s fingertips itch, made her teeth set against the need to bite.

Not nibble. Bite.

Her girl never left their weekends without Rachel’s teeth marks.

Emma clasped her hands in front of her neat, tidy pussy. Bare, of course. She waxed because Rachel liked that too. That obedience was as powerful as the aesthetic.

Rachel held down the shudder of pure excitement. Dominating Emma was always so good, so damn easy, like pulling on a custom-tailored coat.

“Stretch across the coffee table, head turned, your left cheek on the wood. Knees on the floor. Hands above your head gripping the far edge.”

“Ma’am always knows what she wants,” Emma said as she knelt.

Not always.

Emma’s ass, both soft and tender, was gorgeous—one of her physical attributes Rachel had always admired. The view only got better as she trailed her gaze up Emma’s body: the twin dimples just above those tempting globes, the dip at the small of her spine, the gentle slope of her back.

It wasn’t just her beauty. It was the way she submitted, like a leaf bending under a breeze. She gave and Rachel took and that was the way they worked.

Amazing. Emma was amazing.

And what was that refrain? Not good enough. If Emma ever heard the words in Rachel’s mind, she’d realize she could do so much better than settle for a woman as closed off as Rachel.

Carefully, precisely, she set four small jars in a row where Emma could see. The glass clicked on the wood. “Such pretty colors.”

Despite her curious expression, Emma never lifted her chin. Her brows were slender and graceful, like her, and always so expressive. They drew together. “Glitter, ma’am?”

Rachel had seen them in a hobby shop while Christmas shopping for her boss’s wife. She’d jolted on a fresh idea for New Year’s. Now three jars with white lids were respectively filled with silver, gold, and blue. But the fourth jar was her favorite.

She crouched low and dangled it in front of Emma’s nose. “Yes, glitter. Pink glitter, even. I bet you’re wondering what I could possibly do with these. What reward would make my little pain slut submit to the dubious use of craft supplies?”

Emma slanted a coy smile. “Finger painting?”

“In a manner of speaking. But I doubt it’ll remind you of kindergarten by the time we’re done.” She flicked off the lid, sending it spinning. For Emma to see, she poured a generous handful of the vibrantly pink glitter into her palm. “You see, after I’ve made you into my New Year’s display, I’m going to beat it off you.”

His Very Last Chance By Kim Dare
Everyone deserves one last chance.
We have until midnight tonight.
Pentworth Hotel. Suite 501. Now.
Drew Claymore raced along the hotel corridor. Five zero five, five zero three, five zero one . . . He skidded to a stop outside the door. Pushing back the sleeve on his leather jacket, he glanced at his watch. He’d made pretty good time, considering he’d had to get into the centre of London through the thousands of New Year’s Eve revellers crowding the streets.

Unfortunately, “pretty good” didn’t feel like anywhere near good enough for this particular situation. Bending over, he forced deep lungfuls of air into his body in an effort to catch his breath before facing his master. It was no use—he couldn’t waste any more time.

Straightening up, Drew shoved his hand through his hair, pushing the messy brown strands out of his face. He knocked on the door. A lifetime seemed to tick past before the door swung open, but at least it gave Drew a little more time to prepare himself.

He had another apology rehearsed and ready to leave his lips the moment Kingsley stepped into view.

“I’m so sorry, sir, I—”

“Save it.”

Drew fell obediently silent, realising it had been a bloody stupid idea to speak without an invitation. Kingsley hadn’t allowed him to apologise the night he’d screwed up, or even the morning after, and the look on his face made it clear he had no interest in hearing it now, either.


As Kingsley closed the door behind them, Drew desperately tried to get a read on his mood. Kingsley’s eyes were even more serious than usual. Lines furrowed between his brows. He was immaculate as always, in a crisp white shirt and black dress trousers. But he also looked undeniably stern—like a man who’d summoned Drew halfway across London to punish him more harshly than he ever had before.

Drew took a slow, deep breath. This was a good thing. Once the punishment was over, they could both put his stupidity behind them, everything could get back to normal, and—


Even before Kingsley had finished saying the word, Drew had shrugged his jacket off his shoulders. He was good at undressing himself quickly. He was even willing to consider it one of his greatest life skills. Tonight, anything that allowed him to please his master was right up there with the ability to breathe.

Drew set his jacket on the floor to the left of the door. T-shirt, trainers, jeans, boxers, everything came off, even his watch. He didn’t hesitate once.

Lowering himself to his knees, he bowed his head and put his hands behind his back, presenting himself as perfectly and as submissively as he knew how. His hair fell forward, long strands obscuring his vision, but there wasn’t much to see from that position anyway.

“Follow me.”

Lacking any order to rise, Drew took his hands from behind his back and crawled forward. He had to rush to keep Kingsley’s feet within his field of vision, but he didn’t dare look up. If he did, he’d pick the exact moment when Kingsley happened to glance over his shoulder and check on him. It would look like he was being cocky and not taking the occasion seriously.

Kingsley’s shoes were as shiny as ever. Drew couldn’t quite see his face in them, but that was only because Kingsley didn’t stop moving. The stitch in his side Drew had earned while running up five flights of stairs to reach the room returned. He ignored it and kept crawling.

The flooring changed from the rich maroon carpeting of the entrance to the cream-coloured marble tiles of what he assumed was the suite’s main room. In turn, that gave way to a dark green carpet, its pile thick and luxurious under his palms.

“Stay there.”

Drew stopped. He remained motionless on his hands and knees as Kingsley’s shoes left his line of sight. Behind him, a door clicked closed. The light flickered, almost disappearing entirely.

A moment ago, Drew hadn’t cared if he’d been allowed to study his surroundings or not. Now, he frowned at the carpet, wishing he could at least glance up and work out what the hell was going on. The lighting steadied, but it was still dim compared to the other parts of the suite.

It almost felt like the place was lit with randomly flickering Christmas fairy lights.

A birthday party. Yes, that was it.

It was strangely like that moment in a child’s birthday party where the lights were dimmed and the cake brought in. Unfortunately, Drew was sure tonight’s entertainment wouldn’t include Pass the Parcel or balloons. He—

“Do you remember what you said just before I joined you and your friends at your table?” Kingsley asked, his tone sharp enough to cut through such hazy recollection with ease.

Drew didn’t bother to feign ignorance. They both knew exactly what occasion they were discussing. Boxing Day, in their favourite club, when they’d each met up with their respective kinky friends.

It had been so fantastic just to relax and catch up with the guys, especially after being away from the scene for almost a month in the run-up to Christmas. The doms had given all the subs permission to unwind at a separate table, and the beer had been flowing, and . . .

“I said, ‘My master doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body. Kingsley doesn’t do love, he does leather.’” But it wasn’t intended as a criticism, sir. I swear, I didn’t mean to be disrespectful. I’d never make fun of you, no matter how drunk I was. If anything, I was boasting that my dom is better than all their doms put together!

Drew bit his lip as he fought back all the excuses he wanted to make. Kingsley didn’t do excuses. Hell, Drew had worked that out even before he’d realised Kingsley didn’t do love.

A deep metallic taste filled Drew’s mouth as the skin on his lip split under his teeth.

# # #

Kingsley studied Drew very carefully. “Take your hands off the floor. You have permission to look up.”

As Drew sat back on his heels and put his hands neatly behind his back, Kingsley pushed Drew’s hair out of his face, then stepped to one side, ensuring he didn’t block Drew’s view. He wanted his lover to receive the full impact of the scene laid out before him. That was important.

Even viewed in profile, Drew’s response was impressive. His jaw actually dropped. He didn’t look to the side or try to meet Kingsley’s eyes. He stared straight in front of him, his gaze going first to the grand four-poster bed, then to the lit candles arranged across every surface that could safely support a candlestick.

For a moment, Kingsley saw Drew’s attention swing across to the Christmas tree lingering in the corner of the room, its heavily decorated branches blocking out part of the view over the Thames, reminding them both that it hadn’t been long since they’d enjoyed their first Christmas together.

Finally, Drew seemed to focus on the lush red rose petals scattered across the crisp cream bed sheets. “Sir, I . . .”

Kingsley had been impressed by Drew’s restraint in remaining silent, but he couldn’t bring himself to be sorry that Drew’s resolve failed him now. If Drew expected Kingsley to cut him short again, he was mistaken.

Drew took a deep breath, apparently realising this was his chance to say his piece. “I’m so sorry, sir. I really didn’t mean for it to sound as if I was complaining or like I was asking for . . .” Even though Drew maintained his position and was only able to gesture with a nod, he eloquently indicated the whole set up. “For—”

“Enough.” Kingsley had heard all he needed to hear on that particular topic. “You didn’t ask me for anything, and even if you did—a submissive can only request. It’s always up to the dominant to grant or deny him, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. But—”

“But nothing.”

Kingsley stepped forwards to stand directly in front of Drew. Very slowly, Drew tilted his head back. Their eyes met. It took all of Kingsley’s self-control to prevent himself from uttering something stupid when Drew looked up at him like that, his eyes so full of confusion, and need, and submission.

“I’ll determine tonight’s activities,” Kingsley said, his tone sharpening as he fought to avoid any hint of sentimentality. “Whatever I do, whatever actions I take, they are down to me, not you. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You said I don’t do romance. For the most part, you’re right.” Kingsley folded his arms to quash a sudden inclination to fidget. “However, I am very much the kind of man who does last chances. When better for a man to have his last chance than in the last few hours of a year?”

Drew swallowed rapidly, his Adam’s apple bobbing with a rush of nervous energy. His breathing altered. His eyes opened wider. If it were any other man, at any other time, Kingsley would have thought he was heading for a panic attack.

No. That was nothing but bollocks. He was blatantly projecting his own emotions onto the boy. Drew had no reason to worry about their upcoming scene.

“Stand up,” Kingsley snapped, before he made an even bigger fool of himself than he already had.

Drew pulled himself gracefully to his feet. His body was as glorious as ever. However, for the first time, his cock was completely soft at the start of one of their scenes.

“Anxious?” Kingsley asked, not entirely sure he’d hid his surprise.

“I’m not afraid to take a punishment, sir.”

Kingsley’s lips twisted into a wry smile. The boy really didn’t get what their scene was about tonight. He didn’t want to punish Drew. He wanted to make the most of the last few hours of the year to tell him he was in—

Kingsley’s mind stopped short. Bloody hell! What chance did he have of telling the boy how he felt if he couldn’t even utter the appropriate words inside his own head?

Kingsley’s hand tightened into a fist at his side, as if he could hold onto the boy that way, or perhaps even keep a grip on his sanity. He wasn’t sure what was more terrifying, caring about another man so deeply, or the fact that he might never have realised Drew was entirely ignorant of his feelings if he hadn’t stumbled upon Drew mouthing off to his friends.

He’d been so certain he’d shown Drew how he felt a hundred times over, so convinced it was obvious he felt anything but casual about him. Well, this time there would be no room for misinterpretation—Kingsley would make damn sure of that.

“You can move freely within this room,” he said, striding away before the temptation to reach out and grab Drew got the better of him. There would be plenty of time for touching later. Now was the time for talking.

Kingsley glanced over his shoulder as Drew lifted a hand to push it through his hair and rub at the back of his neck. Even though the boy was stark bollock naked, he didn’t seem the least bit concerned that the curtains were open.

Drew looked calmly around the room, but didn’t take a single step in any direction. Within twenty seconds, his attention was fixed unwaveringly upon his master.

“What do you think of the bed?” Kingsley asked when it became obvious he wouldn’t get a word from Drew unless he prompted him.

His question seemed to unstick Drew’s feet from the carpet. He stepped forward, making his way closer to both Kingsley and the bed, but only ever looking at his master.

He came to a halt barely a yard away from Kingsley and right next to one of the big elaborate bedposts. His hand settled upon the bed’s deeply carved footboard. “I guess it’s great, if you’re into that kind of thing, sir.” His tone made it quite clear he wasn’t interested in it himself.

“You mean, if you’re someone who prefers love to leather?” Kingsley asked. Closing the gap between them, he leant against the bedpost.

Drew nodded. His attention never wavered from Kingsley’s face. Of course, that meant he wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to Kingsley’s hands.

“What—?” Drew’s attention dropped to the handcuff Kingsley had just snapped into place around his wrist. “Sir?”

“Romance and bondage don’t have to be completely separate,” Kingsley said. “The décor may be different, but do you really think I invited you up here for nothing more than a quick fumble under the blankets followed by missionary-position sex with the lights off?”

Drew blinked as if he still couldn’t quite wrap his mind around the fact that he hadn’t been summoned to the city centre for the mother of all punishments, let alone take in anything else.

Kingsley lifted an eyebrow. “Romance? Perhaps. But vanilla? Give me some credit, Drew.”

“No, sir,” Drew rushed out. “I’d never accuse you of anything like that.”

“I should think not. A man doesn’t have to be a genius to notice that even the most staple romantic notions have a great deal of potential, in the right hands.”

Kingsley walked away. Drew had little choice but to remain where he was. The handcuffs were already attached to a length of silk, which Kingsley had, in turn, knotted firmly around the bedframe, out of sight beneath the mattress.

“Potential, sir?” Drew asked, his tone more than a little wary.

“Certainly.” Kingsley selected a rose from the bouquet arranged artistically on the dressing table. Keeping his pace calm and almost sleepy, he retraced his steps until he stood in front of Drew once more.

“Roses don’t just have petals,” he reminded Drew. He trailed the head of the flower over Drew’s chest, brushing the velvety softness across his nipples along the way. They immediately pebbled, the sensitive nerve endings looking for more attention. As he stroked the flower back in the opposite direction, he let the stem caress Drew’s skin, too.

A sudden intake of breath. Drew met Kingsley’s gaze. There was no doubt that Drew knew how the sentence ended now.

“Roses have thorns, too, sir,” he whispered when he seemed to realise that Kingsley expected him to say it aloud.

“That’s right. There’s nothing in this room that a suitably kinky man couldn’t pervert to his own ends.”

Drew didn’t look away, but Kingsley sensed the tension in him. He was desperate to inspect the room for other things that his master might use on him in unexpected ways.

Kingsley smiled. Drew’s gaze didn’t falter. Yes, the boy had very good self-control. But, if Kingsley had learnt one thing since Drew had uttered those fateful words, it was that there were occasions where too much self-control could feel far less like a blessing and more like a curse.

Kingsley knew all too well that if he didn’t find a way to relax and get his message across now, his own excess of self-control could easily prevent Drew from ever realising just how much his master . . . cared for him.

Tree Topper by Jane Davitt
“A star? Why not the angel I saw when I was getting out the tinsel?” Stan rummaged around in the box of tree decorations before straightening, an angel in his hand. “Found it! Please, Martin? The star’s so boring.”

Martin suppressed a sigh. He yearned to bend Stan over that box again and deal out a few swift slaps to Stan’s up-thrust ass, but if he did, they’d end up in bed, the decorating abandoned. He wanted the tree finished this afternoon. Outside, it was snowing lightly, flakes spinning lazily through the air, the perfect background to festive activities. Stan was ruining the mood with his complaints about everything from the size and shape of the tree they’d bought at the last minute, to the setting on the thermostat. And now, apparently, Martin’s taste in tree decorations.

“I like the star.”

“Then why do you even have the angel?” Stan swept his hand through his dark hair, all pout and petulance.

“It was my grandmother’s. I don’t feel good about throwing it out, but I never liked it.”

Saying that aloud had probably doomed him to coal in his stocking, but it was the truth. The angel had an insipid smile and garish pink and gold wings. The star was an airy twist of silver wire and crystal, breathtakingly beautiful when it caught the glow of the tree lights.

“You don’t like anything I like.” Stan let the angel fall back into the box, forgotten, then turned, flirtatious now, his dark gray eyes sparkling. “I bet you don’t even like spanking me anymore.”

Martin caught himself before he could fall into that trap and assure Stan that, yes, he really did. Stan would insist he prove it.

“If we don’t get the tree finished, where can I put your presents?”

“If I was five years old, not twenty-five, that might work,” Stan told him, his chin tipped up at a challenging angle.

Martin wasn’t buying the attempt to seem indifferent. Stan loved gifts, cooing over small tokens with genuine delight.

“Just untangle the lights,” he said. “They go on first.”

“Everyone knows that, stupid.” Stan paused as if waiting for something, then heaved a sigh, his shoulders slumping. “Lights. Right.”

Jesus, he was sick of Stan’s games. If Stan wanted Martin’s hand punishing his ass, why didn’t he kneel and beg for it instead of fraying Martin’s temper with his whining and increasingly unsubtle provocations? Martin would’ve made Stan wait until they’d finished the tree, but he wouldn’t have turned him down.

It was humiliating to know that Stan had minimal respect for him these days. Affection, yes, but no respect.

Martin could still remember the incredulous joy he’d felt the first time his hand had connected with Stan’s bare ass, all nervousness lost in that crisply resounding slap and Stan’s open-throated moan of pleasure. Delivering a spanking had once been the pinnacle of his fantasies.

Now he thought of it as more of a stepping-stone, except the next stone was out of reach and he was stranded at the start of his journey.

Stan was sitting on the floor now, shoulders slumped, listlessly untangling a strand of lights, masterfully depicting dejection.

Martin bit his lower lip, dragging his teeth over it until it stung. There was no point in decorating in a strained, tense atmosphere, jarringly at odds with the carols playing in the background. Hating himself for doing it, he cleared his throat and prepared to compromise.

“I don’t appreciate being called ‘stupid,’” he said, forcing his voice deeper. “I think you need a reminder of who you are, boy.”

Stan tossed the lights aside and winked at him before composing his features into a semblance of penitence. “I’m sorry, Sir. I know I’ve been behaving badly.”

Martin moved from the couch to a straight-backed dining chair and patted his lap. “Over my knee.”

Stan rose and took a step toward Martin, a faintly triumphant smirk on his lips. Resentment at the falsity of it all turned Martin’s annoyance to anger. He snapped his fingers and then pointed to the floor. “No. On your knees. Crawl to me and beg for your punishment.” Stan arched his eyebrows skeptically, the unspoken Really? making Martin flush and swallow hard to quell his embarrassment as his confidence drained away.


“Oh, just get over here,” he said wearily.

He didn’t bother to peel down Stan’s jeans for the few lackluster swats he administered. His cock was lax and disinterested, the brief spanking leaving him weighed down by shame at his failure to be the Dom that Stan deserved.

“I’m going out to get more tree lights,” he said when Stan had flounced off his knee, as disappointed by his spanking as Martin. “Throw the others out. They’re not worth the effort of untangling.”

“You’re ready for a change, huh?” Stan’s smile was stiff, hurt.

“I’m talking about the lights,” Martin snapped. “It wasn’t a coded fucking message. Jesus, not everything’s about you.”

There. Another rule broken. Good Doms didn’t swear at their subs.

# # #

Martin ran his errand in a daze of misery. He’d told his parents he wanted to spend Christmas with Stan, holding firm in the face of their disappointment. They’d included Stan in their invitation, but Stan had refused to go.

“I don’t do parents, okay? Mine suck and yeah, yours sound nice, but I just don’t do that happy-families-around-the-tree crap. Go without me. I’ll be fine.”

At the time, choosing Stan over dry turkey and gentle nagging about his lack of a promotion had been an easy decision to make. Now Martin was regretting it. He’d taken time off from his accounting job, Christmas Eve through to New Year’s Day, sacrificing some weekends in November to do it. Stan was at community college, studying graphic design after five years of drifting from job to job, so he had three weeks free.

It should have been idyllic: the two of them holed up snug and warm, or braving the chill to ski the slopes outside their town with a group of friends. Martin had printed off recipes to try, planning indulgent brunches, romantic suppers.

He’d ordered online, too, erotic toys that deserved better than to be called that, given how serious they looked, all black leather or shining steel. Maybe “tools” fit better.

And maybe it didn’t matter, any of it, because Christmas was going to be a disaster.

In the line to pay for the lights, a display of red and green bag clips caught Martin’s eye. The springs on the clips were strong enough that, if used on flesh, they’d hurt like hell, the plastic teeth leaving precise, dark bruises behind. He reached out to take a packet, then let his hand fall to his side. Why bother? Stan wouldn’t let him use them. He paid for the lights and headed back to his car, veering between blaming Stan for not taking anything seriously and cursing himself for allowing Stan’s attitude to persist. How could he have so deep a need to dominate and yet be so inept at doing it?

When he’d met Stan at a party six months earlier, he’d known what Stan was after five minutes talking to him, despite his own lack of experience. A slow, powerful beat of arousal had thrummed through him as Stan’s easy flirtatious manner became deferential, appealing. They’d gone back to Martin’s apartment, and then, oh God, it’d been so good. Fantasies he’d never thought would come true fulfilled, Stan responsive, encouraging, so understanding when Martin had confessed that he’d never done this, not really, just wanted—

He wished he knew where his steps had faltered. It hadn’t been a single defining moment, but a series of them. The time he’d brought out a flogger and Stan’s eyes had widened, not with anticipation but wariness, the sharp shake of his head safeword enough. Or the night he’d cuffed Stan to their bed, planning to torture him so deliciously, make that lithe body strain at the bonds. He’d wanted Stan begging with every squirm and whimper for a mercy Martin would grant only when he was ready . . . but Stan had panicked with one ankle still free, his chest heaving as he struggled for breath, and the cuffs joined the flogger on a high shelf.

Once released, Stan had brushed Martin’s concerned questions aside with a shrug and a grin, his composure restored so quickly that Martin wondered if he’d misread Stan’s reaction to the bondage. “Of course you didn’t freak me out. Cuffs? That’s D/s 101. It’s nothing. Just not in the mood to be tied down. You know how it is. Another time, huh?”

That time had never come. If Stan wanted only the occasional playful spanking, Martin would have accepted that. His love for Stan didn’t center on Stan’s willingness to sub for him. It was certainly a factor in why he found Stan so attractive, but taken out of the equation, there was plenty left to build on. But Stan had been cheerfully frank about his previous boyfriends. With the exception of the last one, Neal, who sounded like an asshole, Stan had enjoyed subbing for them. From everything he’d said, what they’d done to him had gone a hell of a lot further than anything Martin had attempted.

So obviously it wasn’t the flogger or cuffs Stan had an issue with, but the inexperience of the man using them.

Martin pulled into his parking space and stared up at the apartment building. It was too cold to stay in the car feeling sorry for himself, but he had to make a conscious effort to get out, the boxes of lights tucked under his arm.

Once inside the apartment, he looked around for Stan. Stan’s laptop was open on the dining table, its screen lit up, but there was no sign of its owner. Martin called out a greeting as he walked over to the table to set down the lights.

“In here,” Stan yelled from the bathroom. “Nosebleed.”

“I’ll get some ice,” Martin called back, sympathetic but not overly concerned. Stan’s nosebleeds were frequent and messy in the winter when the heating was on around the clock and the apartment air was dry.

He glanced at the laptop. Stan had Skype open; no video, just an ongoing conversation in the message box. Martin was a page-at-a-glance reader, so good manners made him avert his eyes. Then his brain caught up to what he’d read. He sat in the chair Stan had left pushed askew, and scrolled back to the start of the conversation.

Stan had the right to talk to his friends and exes in private, of course, but not this one. Not Neal. It wasn’t nosiness that made Martin read, but an instinctive urge to protect Stan from the Dom he’d left so abruptly, breaking a brand-new contract in the process. Martin didn’t know all the details, but that was telling in itself; Stan had shared plenty about his other partners. Neal had been summed up in a few terse sentences: “Didn’t work out, so I left him, my job, hell, the state. I needed the space. I didn’t trust myself around him, and I sure as fuck didn’t trust him.”

Neal had initiated the conversation, peppering Stan with trivialities until Stan had relaxed. Viewed objectively, it was a clever seduction. The talk had eased into a playfully erotic inquisition, Stan’s answers becoming shorter, his discomfort with the intimate tone plain in the typed words.

Martin scanned the lines quickly, snatching at phrases, skipping through twenty minutes of talk in as many seconds, his heart thudding, a seashell roar in his ears.

I’m not needy. Martin gives me everything he’s got.

I’ve seen pictures of him on your Facebook, puppy. He’s cute for an older guy, but what’s a nice pain slut like you doing with a teddy bear for a Dom, hmm?

I’m not like that!

We both know you are.

I don’t like that sick shit you’re into. I don’t need it.

Lying to me? Really?

I’m going now.

Not until I give you permission. Tell me what the last thing was he did to you.


Nothing to tell, is that it?

He spanked me. I pushed him all afternoon until he lost it. Satisfied?

Hard? Did you cry for him?

No . . .

I would have made you scream.

He’s not like you. I love him. Didn’t love you.

Did I ever ask you to? You were mine. My slut. My slave. My boy.

Yeah, and you blew it. I left. I’m Martin’s now.

So come back to me. I’ll punish you for leaving, but you’ll love it, I promise.

Fuck off!

Oh, that was a big mistake, pup. What happens to you when you’re disrespectful?

I don’t remember. I have to go.

Tell me. Now. Or I’ll send your teddy bear some pictures of you. Nasty ones. The ones you begged me to delete.

You’re an asshole, you know that?

Tell me.

Fine. The soap for my mouth, the ruler for my hands, the cane for the backs of my legs, and the small cage for as long as it takes me to remember what I am.

Good boy. Now come back to me.

No fucking way. Ever. I’m with

Martin saw a splash of blood on the keyboard from the nosebleed that had made Stan break off his conversation. Anger blazed through him, directed solely at Neal, who had no business upsetting Stan by acting as if he were still Stan’s Dom with the right to control him.

“I didn’t feel safe with him,” Stan had said when Martin had pushed for more details. “The stuff we did, oh God, yes, it was good. Extreme, but I loved it. I had friends who warned me about him taking things too far, but I didn’t listen. The day after I signed a contract to go 24/7 for six months, I . . . realized they’d been right. Tore it up, left it on the bed, and got the hell out. He didn’t try to get me back. Don’t know what I would’ve said if he’d tried.”

“Then you moved here and met me,” Martin had said, awkward in the face of Stan’s distress. He’d wanted to ask more questions, but Stan was his now, safe, and it was clearly upsetting Stan to discuss Neal, so why put him through that?

Stan had smiled, sunrise-bright. “Best thing that ever happened to me.”

Martin eyed the laptop with loathing, consumed by a longing to punch a man he’d never met.

God. He slammed the laptop shut with a hand that was visibly shaking, stood, and turned to see Stan watching him, his expression blank.

Silence stretched between them, pulled taut until it snapped, leaving an empty, waiting space.

Candy Caning by L.A. Witt
We’re not even out of the car when the festive sound of the Salvation Army’s begging bell reaches us. Impressive when you consider we’re parked in the back forty because it’s a federal law that mall parking lots must be fucking packed between Black Friday and the day after Christmas.

I’m not the only one who hears the bell.

Stephen slams the driver’s side door and glares at the mall. If looks could kill, the whole place would be a smoldering crater.

I try to hide my amusement, but can’t help grinning as I ask, “Ready?”

From across the roof of the car, he throws me one of his infamous Stephen frowns. “Explain to me again why we’re here.”

I don’t even try not to smirk as I come around to his side. “Because the grocery store doesn’t have a decent selection of scented candles, hideous sweaters, or ski gloves?”

The look gets less amused. So does the voice. “Nate, I ask again—”

“Oh, come on.” I slip a gloved hand around his elbow. “We do this every year. It’s not that bad.” I pause. “Well, I mean, this part isn’t.”


I don’t argue. If he really didn’t want to be here, he wouldn’t be, and he wouldn’t be walking with me now past the rows of cars and piles of dirty snow toward the glowing mecca of consumerism. In spite of his grumbling, he always comes along because this is something we do together. Every year. No matter how much we both hate it.

“It’s just one shopping trip,” I tell him, just like I’ve done every year since we started dating. “One. I promise.”

“Can’t we just buy them a fruitcake and call it a day?”

“Stephen. Darling.” One of those rare moments when I dare to give him a look. “My mom is deathly allergic to nuts.”

“Right. I know.” His eyebrows slide upward. “And?”

Okay, so he doesn’t really want to put my mother into anaphylactic shock—I don’t think—but let’s face it: she doesn’t like him, he doesn’t like her, and this is rapidly becoming his least favorite time of year because he has to spend one evening pretending he wouldn’t sell his soul for the ability to Force-choke the woman.

I’m right there with him, even if I’d never admit it out loud. Stephen is just one of the things in my life that my mom doesn’t like, and when she starts dipping into the eggnog truth serum, I get to hear about all of those things. So does Stephen, from his sneer-worthy job as owner of a body shop to that “unsightly” dragon he’d had tattooed on his arm in memory of a dear friend. Merry fucking Christmas.

I squeeze his arm as we step onto the sidewalk in front of the mall’s gleaming doors. “Don’t worry. We’ll do this fast.” I reach into my jacket pocket and produce a folded piece of paper. “I’ve got a list, and I know exactly what to get everyone and where to get it all. This will be quick and easy, I promise.”

“Mm-hmm.” He stops, plucks the list from my hand, and unfolds it. He scowls as he scans the items. One eyebrow jumps, and he quotes, “‘Ugliest sweater ever.’ God, can’t you and your brother buy each other useful clothes?”

“After that monstrosity he bought me last year?” I scoff. “I owe him the ugliest thing I can possibly find.”

Stephen chuckles. Even he can’t help being amused by the ongoing tradition of my brother and me buying each other horribly ugly holiday sweaters, which we’re then required to wear to Christmas Eve the following year. Of course it amuses Stephen. Something that sadistic is right up his alley.

He continues down the list. “Scented candles for Jessica, ski gloves for your dad, an iPhone case for—” He lowers the list and throws me another look. “You know you can get this stuff online, right?”

“Yes, I know.” I take the list from him and fold it back up. “But it’s part of the whole family tradition.” I slip the list back in my pocket. “You know, actually getting up from the computer and putting some effort into it?”

Stephen exhales, but at least he manages not to roll his eyes for once.

I put a hand on his waist. “Look, I know, it sucks. But Mom is warming up to you.”

“Nate, the global climate is warming up too, but I wouldn’t recommend skinny dipping above the Arctic Circle just yet.”

“Well, I’m not exactly asking you to skinny dip with my mother.”

He wrinkles his nose. “Thanks for the mental image.”

“You started it.”

“Brat.” He winks, and I’m only kidding myself if I think it’s the cold wind that just made me shiver. Then he nods toward the glass doors. “Come on, let’s do this.”

“Thank fuck, because I’m going to freeze to death out here.”

Inside, the crowds are thick and the music is loud, and it irritates the shit out of him. I know it does. He grits his teeth and at least tries not to scowl too much as we shoulder our way into a department store, but he hates this. When he offers to go look for gloves for my dad while I browse the scented candles for my sister, I don’t have to ask if he’s doing it out of the kindness of his heart or if he’s just trying to make this whole trip go faster.

As I look through a rack of sweaters—my God, do people actually wear these things for real? When it’s not an annual white elephant gag?—guilt gnaws at my gut. Stephen used to love Christmas. Hell, so did I. This will be the fourth year I’ve dragged him to my parents’ house for Christmas Eve. The first year, I wanted to be with them and him for the holiday. The second, I couldn’t imagine Mom would treat him like shit again after we’d actually been together for a while.

Last year, he wasn’t thrilled, but he came with me because I needed him to keep me sane while I put up with her. My mother is, after all, not someone to be faced without backup. We hadn’t even sat down to dinner before she’d launched into him about an offhand comment he’d made to my father about the economy affecting his business. Proof he was a loser leeching off me, if we asked her, which we hadn’t.

Fortunately, I’d quickly managed to steer the conversation to my own shortcomings, but a year later, I still feel guilty for that night. It’s no wonder he’s turned “bah humbug” over the whole damned holiday. Even the shopping and the parts that don’t involve my family.

This year, even though we both know he’d rather be anywhere else and so would I, we’re going again. Didn’t someone say something about the definition of insanity being when a person does the same thing over and over and expects different results?

But my siblings are in from out of state and this is the only time all four of us are ever together. And if I don’t show up, I’ll hear about it for weeks, if not months. And I’m a goddamned spineless chickenshit who wants to keep the peace.

Sighing, I shake my head and continue looking through the stacks of ugly sweaters. It’s one night, once a year. For him, anyway. I don’t bring him to the other sporadic family gatherings. Maybe I should let him off the hook for this one too. I’ll just go by myself and save him the—

“Holy shit!”

My head snaps up. Stephen brazenly swearing in public—especially when he’s surrounded by evidence of Christmas—is nothing unusual, but the note of unholy amusement certainly gets my attention. Is the ice around the Grinch’s heart cracking? On this shopping trip of all shopping trips?

I dart around the edge of the aisle, and, good Lord, the man is smiling. Not like a kid on Christmas. Not like someone who’s just gotten in touch with his inner Christmas spirit child or whatever.

Oh, no. I know that look. Yeah. That look.

And he’s holding up a candy cane that’s got to be three-feet long and easily as thick as—


I fold my arms across my chest and tilt my head. “And just what have you gotten into, Ebenezer?”

“Nothing.” He looks me right in the eye and smacks his palm with the candy cane. When the sharp sound makes me shiver, he grins even bigger. “Can you imagine the thud you could get out of something like this?”

My heart skips.

“Might not leave the same marks as the rattan canes, but I’m pretty sure”—he hits his palm again, harder this time—“you’d feel it.” His eyes narrow a little, and thank fuck my sweatshirt covers a few inches below the belt, because yeah, it is seriously that look now.

The whimper escapes before I can stop it. I clap my hand over my mouth, but the damage is done. His devilish look almost knocks my knees out from under me. He knows. Of course he does. He’s doing this on purpose. And he probably knows damn well that the effect is extra pronounced by the display of pristine white angels forming an ironic halo around and above his head.

“I thought you’d like that idea.” He winks and then hooks the cane back on its rack, no doubt well aware of the pang of disappointment in my chest. I literally bite my tongue to keep from begging him to change his mind. That’s not allowed, and the punishment for it would be not finding out what kind of marks a three-foot, cock-thick candy cane could leave across my ass.

Stephen puts his arm around my waist and kisses my cheek, which doesn’t even come close to distracting me from the fact that he’s now leading me away from the shelves full of giant candy canes. Of course I follow without resistance.

Keeping his voice low, he says, “You’d like to play with one of those, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes.” After a moment of hesitation, I chance a soft, “Please?”

No disapproval registers on his face or in his tone, and he playfully muses, “Hmm, I don’t know.”

Another couple walks by just then, and they shoot us disgusted looks, which only encourages Stephen. Like he needs it. He pulls me closer and nuzzles my neck, and he laughs softly when I almost trip over my own feet.

“It’s been a while since we’ve tried anything new, hasn’t it?”

“It has.” My mouth is dry. And yeah, it’s been a while. Not sure if I’d say we’re stuck in a rut, but . . . I guess we are. Still kinky, still fun, but predictable and inching toward routine. Somehow I manage to add, “A while, yes.”

“And you’d like to try something new?”

“Yes,” I whisper.

“Like playing with a giant candy cane?”

“Fuck. Yes.”

”Maybe we will, then,” he whispers, “if you’re a good boy.”

I bite my lip and pull in a breath.

His tone turns serious. “I wouldn’t be able to hit you too hard with something like that.” He’s keeping his voice down now. His arm tightens protectively around my waist as he adds, “I don’t want to actually hurt you, of course.”

I just exhale and try to keep my feet under me as we head out into the mall. He knows I trust him fully, and I’m not worried about him really hurting me. It’s the fact that he’s even talking about this with any semblance of seriousness that has me on the verge of stumbling. The man’s nothing if not true to his word, so if he’s talking about trying it, he’s really considering it.

He stops, and with no conscious thought on my part, so do I. People rush all around us, hurrying from sale to sale and shop to shop, and I swear they’re moving faster now, the colorful Christmas lights flickering more rapidly in the background, but everything is in my peripheral vision. Like we’re in the middle of this madness, but somehow separated from it.

With two fingers on my jaw, Stephen lifts my chin until we’re eye to eye.

“Be patient. We’ll try something new soon. Maybe not this, but . . . something.” He leans in and kisses me lightly, and he lets it linger far longer than he ever does in public. Just before he pulls away, he whispers, “I promise.”

Abruptly, we’re in motion again. Walking. Hand in hand, strolling among all the other shoppers like we’ve rejoined the universe we’d temporarily vacated, and my head’s still spinning.

Wandering through shop after shop, down aisle after aisle, with a list in my hand I can’t even read anymore, I’m only half aware of the vast array of gifts I’m supposed to be acquiring. When we left the house, I had a plan. A mission. I’d mapped out the shortest distances between the most-likely places to find specific gifts, and figured it all out in my head for maximum efficiency so we could get the fuck out of here. I’d had a plan, damn it.

Now? I’m standing in front of a table covered in perfectly hideous sweaters, and damn if I can remember why.

I have no doubt he did it on purpose. Stephen knows just how to make me crazy, and promising me something new without saying when it’ll happen is exactly the ticket. It could be later tonight. It could be next Christmas. It could be the Fourth of goddamned July.

And we both know I’ll be squirming and going out of my mind until it happens.

Which is exactly, I’m sure, what he wants.

’Twas the Night by Ava March
December 25, 1820
London, England
Percival Owens stepped out of his mother’s town house, a sigh of relief deflating his chest at finally being free of the drawing room. As he lingered on the last stone step, waiting impatiently for the footman to shut the door behind him, he shoved his hands in the pockets of his greatcoat. His fingers curled around crisp, folded paper.

I will expect you at eight in the evening on Christmas Day.

A short note. One line was all that was needed. And that one line had been foremost in his thoughts since he’d received the note yesterday morning.

With a smart snap, the footman shut the door. Instead of going east toward his apartments, Percy turned left onto the walkway, toward the direction of Michael Barlow’s tidy town house on the outskirts of Mayfair.

The rain that had made the family carriage necessary to attend church services that morning had abated, yet the chill, damp air held the promise of more rain soon to come. Thick clouds obscured the full strength of the moon, but the golden light spilling from the windows of the houses he passed kept the night from near pitch darkness.

The streets were relatively quiet, with only an occasional carriage passing him. Most people would be tucked safely in their homes, gathered around the Yule log or playing merry games, celebrating the Christmas holiday with loved ones.

Whereas his holiday would be marked by something entirely different.

Shame washed over him, familiar and unavoidable. He knew exactly what would transpire when he arrived at Michael’s home. Well, perhaps not exactly. Michael made the decisions. Percy merely did as bid.

But he wanted to do as bid. Needed Michael to take control. Wanted that large hand to palm the back of his skull. Wanted to be told to suck Michael’s cock. To be bound and restrained. To be buggered and spanked. To let Michael do all sorts of wicked things to him no self-respecting gentleman should allow.

Yet he did allow them. When he was with Michael, all those wicked things didn’t feel quite so . . . wrong. He didn’t feel so wrong.

Percy quickened his pace. The sooner he reached Michael’s, the sooner that sense of calm would wash over him. The worry and the shame gone. Wiped away for a few precious hours.

If only it could be longer. If only Michael could come to care—

He gave his head a firm shake, throwing off the thought before it could fully form. A handsome, successful man like Michael would never want him for more than a very obedient bed partner, and it would do no good for Percy to even begin to hope for more.

The yearning tamped firmly down, he headed north at the next corner to cross Oxford Street. It seemed like no time at all before he was standing before the third door on Henrietta Street. A check of his pocket watch proved he had not arrived late.

Michael was expecting him. There would be no need to knock. The servants dismissed for the evening, Michael in the study, perusing the Times or a report from his estate manager.

Percy stepped up to the door, reached for the brass knob with a hand that shook only slightly, and turned it.

# # #

The faint click of the front door shutting made its way to Michael Barlow’s ears. A smile spread across his mouth. Percy had arrived.

Setting the Times on the couch cushion next to his hip, he looked to the clock nestled in the evergreen boughs draping the fireplace mantel. Percy had followed his instructions.

No surprise there, though. Percy always did as commanded. No questions, no hesitation, no needs of his own to interfere. In fact, he couldn’t recall a single instance when Percy had asked anything of him. Not for so much as a touch or a kiss. Not even when he was gasping and groaning in pleasure, fingers clutching the coverlet, had Percy allowed a single plea for more to fall past his lips.

A furrow touched Michael’s brow. While he preferred his lovers not to be of the overly demanding sort, he couldn’t help but find such blind acceptance of his whims a bit disconcerting.

The sound of footsteps approached the study, and then Percy walked into the room. He glanced to drapes closed tightly over the windows, then shrugged his greatcoat from his shoulders, revealing a plain brown coat and trousers. “Good evening, Michael,” he said, finally looking at Michael. Coat folded over one arm, he shifted his weight, discomfort mixed with acute need radiating from him.

Michael did his best to keep the frown hidden from view. They’d been meeting for months. The uncertainty of a new relationship should have been behind them by now, yet the proof that it wasn’t stood just inside his study.

Patience, he reminded himself. Percy was young. Just three-and-twenty compared to Michael’s own thirty years. And while Percy had never explicitly stated it, Michael had the sense his prior relationships had been confined to a handful of hasty encounters.

“Good evening, Percy.” He tipped his head toward a wingback chair, the one that held the navy coat he’d discarded a good hour ago. “Did you have a pleasant dinner with your family?”

A grimace flickered across Percy’s genial features as he folded his greatcoat over the back of the chair. “I wouldn’t go so far as to classify it as pleasant. My mother still wants me to distinguish myself by becoming a barrister.”

“Did you inform her that you’d rather not?”

He shrugged. “It would not do any good to argue with her.”

“I beg to differ. If you prefer your position as a clerk, you should tell her so.”

“I reminded her I’ve been in Mr. Miller’s employ for a year, but to her, that’s a year too long.” He shook his head, his shoulders slumping. “Rather than listen to her go on about it, I left early and walked here instead of taking a hackney.”

It took considerable effort for Michael to hold back his opinion of Percy’s social-climbing family. Anger on his behalf, or even compassion for being tied to a family that refused to appreciate him, wasn’t what Percy needed. “A reminder as to the length of your employment is not akin to a statement of your preferences,” he said, careful to keep his tone firm yet even. “Honestly, there’s no hope at all she’ll ever stop pushing you to become a barrister if you don’t make your wishes known.” For that, he received another noncommittal shrug. Holding back the sigh, he flicked his fingers toward the other wingback chair across from the couch. “Sit.”

Percy rounded the chair then stopped short, his gaze on the brown leather bag on the chair’s cushion. Simple yet sturdy, a bag fit for a barrister’s clerk.

“Happy Christmas.”

Shocked hazel eyes met Michael’s. “For me?”



“Yes,” Michael repeated, uncertain if he should be amused or concerned at Percy’s disbelief.

“Thank you.” Percy reached down, feathered ink-stained fingertips over the engraved initials on the small silver oval on the bag’s flap. “But . . . P J O. How did you know the J?”

Trust Percy to notice the smallest detail first. “I ran into your elder brother at my club the other day. Pulled the name from him.” Percival Joseph Owens, the Joseph coming from his grandfather.

A wrinkle marred Percy’s brow, his eyes clouding with acute anxiety. “Oh, does he suspect . . . Did he ask . . .?”

“Not to worry. He hasn’t the slightest suspicion of the degree of our acquaintance.” Michael waved a hand to the present. “Do you like it?”

“Yes. Most assuredly. It’s perfect. Thank you.” The words rushed out of Percy’s mouth, eager and pleased, the briefest of smiles lighting up his face. He ran a reverent hand over the smooth leather. “But . . .” There was that wrinkle again. “But I have nothing for you. It didn’t occur to me. In my family, the presents are given to the children, never among the adults. But I should have thought to—”

“Not to worry.” He knew Percy’s position didn’t pay him much, and that even though his mother possessed an ample fortune, she rarely pressed a few extra pounds into her younger son’s hand. The man needn’t spend a shilling on him, nor did he want him to. “Truly. Don’t fret over it.”

Teeth digging into his bottom lip, Percy nodded once, ever obedient. “If there is anything I can do for you, you need only to ask.”

“Perhaps I shall.” He lowered his voice. “Later.” He swore he could detect the frisson of anticipation grip Percy’s body. “For now, have a seat.” Once Percy sat, Michael asked, “Would you care for a drink? I had the kitchen make some wassail before they departed this morning.”

At Percy’s nod, he got to his feet and crossed to the console table.

Hands clasped over the leather bag on his lap, Percy glanced about the study, to the evergreen on the mantle, the holly sprigs on the corner of his desk, the punch bowl on the console table. “You’re one for the holiday?”

He needn’t sound so surprised. “Yes,” Michael said, handing Percy a half-full glass.

“Did you spend the day with family?”

Instead of taking up his spot on the couch, he leaned a hip against the edge of his desk. “No. They’re up in Cumbria. Wasn’t of a mind to travel this year. I took dinner at the club since the kitchen had the day free.” And then he had spent the rest of the evening alone, waiting for Percy.

Percy nodded once, then took another sip of the spiced punch. A little nervous wiggle in the chair. A fleeting glance to Michael. A glance full of stark, desperate need.

Michael couldn’t keep the command from his lips a moment longer.

“Stand up, Percival.”

Glass clinked as Percy set the tumbler on the side table. He carefully put his gift on the floor, then stood. Hands at his sides, eyes downcast.

“Remove your clothes.”

The only sounds that broke the silence were the swoosh of fabric and Percy’s quick breaths. There wasn’t one fumble, not one rushed tug at a stubborn button. His ink-stained fingertips made efficient work of removing his coat, waistcoat, and cravat. He whisked his shirt over his head, ran a hand over his short light brown hair to smooth it, then pushed his trousers down his legs.

After folding the garments and placing them on the chair, he turned to Michael, eyes once again downcast and arms at his sides.

The light from the candles flickered across his pale skin, his erection jutting eagerly from between his legs. Michael resisted the urge to reach out and wrap a hand around that beautiful prick, to coax a whimper from Percy’s throat, and instead simply took pleasure from the sight before him.

At a good five inches below Michael’s own six feet, Percy’s body was compact and softened to the perfect degree, with just a bit of extra flesh on his frame. Not so much as to cause a protruding belly, but just enough so he wasn’t all hard muscle.

The fire crackled in the hearth. Michael waited. Waited until the rhythm of Percy’s chest slowed, until his breaths turned even, the ragged quickness gone. Until the line of his shoulders finally relaxed.

“Upstairs,” Michael said, calm and without a hint of command.

Percy turned on his heel. Michael pushed from the desk and grabbed the folded clothes.

He could have had Percy undress in the bedchamber, but then he’d have been denied the pleasure of following a naked Percy up the stairs, that generous round arse bouncing with each step he took.

Once they reached the bedchamber, Michael saw to lighting the candles and the fire in the hearth while Percy waited at the foot of the four-poster bed. Pulling a small key from his pocket, Michael dropped to his haunches and then unlocked the trunk next to the writing desk. He made to reach inside the trunk but stopped, hand hovering over a pair of leather cuffs.

It hadn’t escaped his notice that Percy’s reluctance to voice his preferences extended into the bedchamber. The man embodied the very definition of a compliant lover. That wasn’t to imply Michel didn’t enjoy his evenings with Percy—he most assuredly did, and Percy’s reactions screamed he enjoyed them as well. But it was Christmas. And Percy had made him an open offer. Perhaps there was something Percy could give him that wouldn’t cost the man even a halfpenny. A gift that could benefit them both.

He wiped the smile from his expression, then stood. Percy’s gaze went to the writing desk, the surface clear of leather goods, dildos, and plugs, then to Michael’s empty hands. Confusion filled his eyes.

Stopping before him, Michael let the smile touch his lips in an effort to reassure Percy. “Earlier you said that if there were anything you could do for me, I need simply ask. I’ve decided what I want. Call it a gift, if you will. I want your voice tonight.”

A furrow crossed Percy’s brow. “I don’t understand.”

“I want your voice. I won’t do anything to you unless you ask for it.” That furrow became heavier. “It’s not difficult, I assure you. Shall I show you how it works?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Kiss me, Percy.”

Without hesitation, Percy raised an arm, cupped Michael’s jaw, and lifted onto his toes. Soft lips brushed across Michael’s. He held back the impulse to deepen the kiss, to take control of it, and simply savored his first kiss from Percy. The first kiss Michael had not had to take. The chaste press of his lips, the light puff of his breath across Michael’s cheek.

A flick of Percy’s tongue, a short fleeting taste of the man’s delicious mouth, then those lips were gone.

Michael cleared his throat, gathered his senses. “That’s what I want from you tonight. The gift of your voice. I will do whatever you want. Bind you in any fashion you desire. To the bed, to a chair, tie you down on the floor. I’ll redden your arse until you’re sobbing for more, tears streaming down your cheeks, bugger you until you can barely sit tomorrow. Prepare you for my cock and then make you wait an hour for it. Anything. You just need to ask. So do you agree?”

The discomfort, the uncertainty was back, tightening Percy’s shoulders, compressing those soft, sweet lips, convincing Michael that his instinct in this had been spot-on.

And so he held onto his patience and waited for Percy’s answer.

Author Bios:
Kim Dare
Kim is a thirty year old bisexual submissive from Wales (UK). First published in 2008, she has since released almost 100 BDSM erotic romance titles ranging from short stories to full length novels. Having worked with a host of fantastic e-publishers, she has just moved into self publishing.

While she has occasionally ventured towards other pairings, Kim's first love is still, and probably always will be, Male/Male stories. But, no matter what the pairing, from paranormal to contemporary, and from the sweet to the intense, everything she writes will always feature three things - Kink, Love and a Happy Ending.

Jane Davitt
When I was eight I decided to write a book. I found a notebook, scribbled a few hundred words about triplets with improbable names, and lost interest. Three decades later I still wanted to write a book, but the dim realization dawned that meant I had to actually, well, write something.

Yes, it surprised me too.

So I did. Not about triplets, but love, angst, hot and spicy smut, and for the most part they're m/m romances.

There's a shelf in my library where I keep the books with my name on them and yeah, there they are. I did it.

That eight-year-old me expected a lot of her future self though. Like being an astronaut. Did not do that.

Sorry, younger me. Here, have a wine gum.

Free reads and my fanfic are here: Jane Davitt at AO3.

Joey W. Hill 
An RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award recipient in Erotic Romance, Joey W. Hill has well over thirty titles available in contemporary and paranormal erotic romance. Her characters include everything from vampires, mermaids, witches and angels, to boardroom executives, cops and simple housemaids.

Free excerpts from all her works are available at, and additional vignettes, character interviews and graphics inspired by the work are at the fan forum site, accessible via Subscribe to her newsletter from her home page and receive the latest info about appearances and releases.

Though much of her work is BDSM, she has built her reputation on award-winning romances with absorbing characters who not only attract fans of the genre, but readers who would "never" read BDSM romance. "Whatever genre you're writing, if the characters are compelling and sympathetic, the readers are going to want to see what happens to them. It can be the coolest storyline ever, but if the reader could care less whether the hero or heroine survive (in fact, in some cases they may be rooting for their destruction just so they can be done with the darn thing), then it's not a story worth reading."

Katie Porter
Katie Porter is the co-writing team of Lorelie Brown and Carrie Lofty, friends and critique partners of six years. Both are multi-published in several romance genres. Carrie has an MA in history, while Lorelie is a US Army veteran.

Generally a high-strung masochist, Carrie loves weight training but she has no fear of gross things like dissecting formaldehyde sharks. Her two girls are not appreciative.

Lorelie, a laid-back sadist, would rather grin maniacally when Carrie works out. Her three boys love how she screams like a little girl around spiders.

Elyan Smith
Elyan Smith lives in the southwest of England. Friends regularly accuse him of being an antisocial sod who spends too much of his free time looking at porn on the internet, when in truth he spends most of it writing—but the porn's the easier excuse.

He works as a researcher in psychology by day, and when he's not writing, he's probably in the theater, watching other people create magic.

LA Witt
L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer who has finally been released from the purgatorial corn maze of Omaha, Nebraska, and now spends her time on the southwestern coast of Spain. In between wondering how she didn't lose her mind in Omaha, she explores the country with her husband, several clairvoyant hamsters, and an ever-growing herd of rabid plot bunnies.

She also has substantially more time on her hands these days, as she has recruited a small army of mercenaries to search South America for her nemesis, romance author Lauren Gallagher, but don't tell Lauren. And definitely don't tell Lori A. Witt or Ann Gallagher. Neither of those twits can keep their mouths shut...

Ava March
Ava March is a bestselling author of sexy, emotionally intense M/M historical erotic romances. She loves writing in the Regency time period, where proper decorum is of the utmost importance, but where anything can happen behind closed doors. With over fifteen works to her credit, her books have been finalists in the Rainbow Awards and More Than Magic contest, and deemed ‘must-haves’ for Historical M/M romance by RT Book Reviews readers. Visit her website to find out more about her books or to sign-up for her newsletter.

Alexa Snow
Alexa Snow is an emotional person who appreciates practicality in others. She's prone to crying at inconvenient times, drinking too much coffee, and staying up too late playing with words (either reading or writing.) A background of schooling she wasn't all that interested in resulted in a Bachelor's degree in Sociology and a vague sense of wasted time. Alexa lives in a tiny old house in New England with her husband, young son, and a small collection of pets.

Kim Dare

Jane Davitt

Joey W. Hill 

Katie Porter

Carrie Lofty

Lorelie Brown

Elyan Smith

LA Witt

Ava March

Alexa Snow