Inch by Inch (The Professor's Rule, #3)
After two long, kink-free years apart, James Sheridan has reunited with his Professor: the sexy, dominant Evander Carson. But this time, things will be different. James is older, more sure of himself, and confident that he can draw the line between Carson’s demands and his own principles.
One of those lines is gorgeous menswear salesman Satish Malhotra. After their steamy dressing room encounter, James feels an unexpected connection to Satish, and he wants to explore it further. But Carson’s involvement—in James’s life, and in James and Satish’s budding relationship—complicates things.
Carson’s penchant for using other men in their sex games has always troubled James, and he’s adamant that Satish not be just another notch in their whipping post. But when Satish learns what prompted James to pursue him in the first place, will James’s new ability to draw the line even matter?
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
Click on a label to see its related details. Click here to toggle all details.
James stared down at the sent text on his phone and wondered if it was true. He’d obviously been confident enough when he’d sent the damn thing, but sitting here in his car on the street outside of Professor Carson’s house—which James had once called his manor, because house didn’t seem an elegant enough word to describe the place—well, that was another matter entirely.
But then, hadn’t that always been the case? Even before they’d broken up, it was hard not to get second thoughts when the inevitability hit. Add in two years of distance—not to mention the fact that his first act after James had accidentally contacted Carson this afternoon had been to disobey instructions, both assumed and explicit, in the changing room with Satish, the menswear salesman who’d caught both James’s and Carson’s eye—and James had a metric fuckton of reasons to worry about how this reunion would go.
When he’d parked, his eyes had immediately sought the basement-level window at the far east end of the house. A dim light flickered behind it, and James had to swallow. He released his death grip on the steering wheel to discover his hands were shaking. Carson had already lit the fireplace down in what had once been some family’s den or rec room. It had struck James as unusual when he’d first seen it because most Portland homes didn’t have basements. Carson had turned it into a room meant for recreation of a very different sort, one which was definitely not family-friendly.
It would be so easy to turn the ignition back on and leave, but sitting here, James could practically feel the prickle of eyes upon him. It wasn’t like Carson to spy out between the blinds, but James was certain the professor knew he was here.
Once upon a time, Carson would have stepped out the door and waited for James on the stoop, as if impatient to hurry him inside and strip him to the skin. This time he didn’t, though. He really was waiting for James to come to him, and James should have found that a relief, to have that level of control. But it also meant the onus was wholly upon James. Whatever happened from this moment on, James could in no way pretend he didn’t choose it of his own free will.
Taking his courage and his resolve in his shaking hands, James opened the car door and stepped out.
He hesitated again at the front door. Before, he’d been under standing orders to let himself in. Was that still the case, or should he ring the doorbell? After two years, were they starting over, or picking up where they had left off?
Finally, annoyed by his own waffling, James put his hand on the knob and turned it, and the door swung open as if eager to welcome him back inside.
Carson was nowhere in sight, which said to James that he, too, was more inclined to resume where they had left things, rather than move back to square one. With some necessary changes, James reminded himself, but he’d bring those up later.
He blew out a slow breath and licked his lips, then started up the stairs to what had once been “his” room. Usually when he’d stayed over, he’d slept in Carson’s bed, but Carson had given James a bedroom of his own, complete with attached bath, where James had always settled in and prepared himself. He’d kept changes of clothing there, and he’d even lived there a few weeks when he’d been between residences, transitioning from the dorms to his first apartment.
James blinked, surprised and yet not surprised to see that the room was exactly the same as it had ever been. Surely in two years, Carson would have found a better use for the space, or hell, given it to a new “pupil,” though it was actually—contrary to the campus rumor that had once set James on a mission to seduce a better grade from his history professor—quite rare for Carson to take up with a student.
The only difference was that on the emerald satin bedspread lay a length of heavy black silk that James recognized all too well. He’d had it wrapped around his eyes more times than he could count.
The unspoken command was clear, and James found himself obeying almost on autopilot, switching off his brain to settle into routines and rituals that had once been second nature. Undress and fold his clothes, storing them neatly in the armoire. Shower, cleaning himself inside and out, and shave. Carson had left extra razors and moisturizer next to the sink, reminding James that he no longer had a monthly waxing appointment. Fuck, that was going to itch. At least it wouldn’t hurt the way waxing would; he had a feeling Carson was going to give him enough of that tonight.
He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t aching for precisely that.
He felt naked in a way that he hadn’t in a long time, walking nude back into his room, and he looked down again at the blindfold. Carson wasn’t starting him off easy. The loss of his vision, having to rely on someone else to lead him around, having to trust them not to let him hurt himself stumbling in the darkness, had always been a challenge for James.
Swallowing, he sat on the edge of the bed—with his damaged knee, Carson had never insisted James kneel for him—and tied the black silk snugly around his brow. He situated the padded portion in the middle to block out any trace of light that might penetrate around the edges. He wasn’t foolish enough to assume Carson wouldn’t double-check, and the last time James had tried to pull that particular trick, he’d carried the welts from the resultant caning for over a week.
At times, Carson’s awareness bordered on psychic prowess. The guy seemed to instinctively know when to come for James: as soon as he was ready, never a moment late or early. And there were no spycams anywhere in the place—James had checked. Today, Carson gave James just enough time for the darkness and quiet of the room to settle in before he entered, with only the lightest of footfalls and rustle of clothing to announce his presence.
In the past, Carson had always greeted him with a simple, “Hello, my sweet,” before instructing James. But this time, Carson stood there without speaking a word. James wondered if his silence was benign, or if he was so incensed at James’s flagrant disobedience from earlier that he didn’t even think James worth the trouble of addressing.
Or maybe he just wasn’t sure what to say after so long apart. Well, neither was James, so he was damn thankful “Don’t speak until spoken to” was the general rule. He got to his feet, but did nothing else.
No words. Carson’s hand lightly brushed James’s face, cupping his jaw. His thumb caressed along James’s cheekbone, soothing James’s fears at the same time it made his chest hurt. It was easy to forget the moments like these, moments when it hadn’t been all anxiety and performance.
“It’s good to see you again, my sweet,” Carson said at last as James leaned into that touch. “I’ve missed you.”
James swallowed against an unexpected lump in his throat. Without his sight, all he had was that touch and the gentleness in Carson’s tone to react to, and it was so different from the memories of all that had been wrong in their relationship that he didn’t really know how to respond. “Thank you, Professor.”
He felt the movement, the change in the pressure of Carson’s body near his, when Carson leaned close. James turned his mouth up to receive the kiss he thought was coming, but Carson’s face merely brushed past his and his nose stroked James’s neck. He breathed deeply, and James swallowed again, this time in apprehension. Carson had done that before, too. Almost every time he’d sent James off with another guy. James was glad he’d showered; he didn’t want Carson to have any more knowledge of Satish than he already did, not even his scent.
“Tell me, my sweet,” Carson prompted as he drew away. “Did you obey all my instructions before you came to me?”
James shook his head, licking his lips. “No, Professor.”
Somehow, James knew that his Professor hadn’t needed to ask that question at all. “I see. And were you simply seeking punishment when you disobeyed, or did you have some other excuse?”
James frowned, wishing he could see Carson’s expression. Was Carson baiting him? Or just genuinely curious about James’s motivations? If that was the case—
“I wasn’t seeking punishment,” James answered. “Though I have to say, the thought wasn’t exactly a deterrent, either.” A brief smile, but then determination furrowed his brow. “But Satish deserved better than being foreplay for you. And I . . . I wanted to share myself with him. For real.”
“Hmm,” Carson said, the sound woefully opaque. Was he angry? Happy? Curious? Disappointed? Hurt? It really wasn’t a great time for Carson to be all enigmatic, though James tried to remind himself that even if he did have his sight, he probably still wouldn’t be able to tell. That thumb caressed his cheekbone again. “Perhaps you’ve been a bit lonely since you left?”
Jesus, what was with the tender routine? James knew full well just how vicious Carson could be. He’d been counting on it. The sort of tears Carson seemed determined to drive him to just now were definitely not the kind he’d planned for. “I . . .” It was tempting to lie, to tell Carson his life had been nonstop parties and socialization in their two years apart, that he’d had a different lay every night and every damn one of them was someone he had chosen for himself. But he couldn’t. “I suppose so.”
Then Carson did kiss him, the merest whisper of lips stroking his. “You needn’t ever feel that way again, my sweet. Whatever drove you from me, I swear to you there’s nothing we can’t work out between us if you’re willing to trust me.”
James nodded, his throat too tight for words. The pad of the blindfold had begun to feel slightly damp. Something, though, didn’t let him accept Carson’s tenderness for what it was. Something niggling at him, some truth he needed to get out. “Okay, so yeah I’ve been lonely. Of course I have been. It’s an adjustment, going from . . .” What, a relationship? “A steady arrangement to being single. But you have to listen to me, Professor.” He licked his lips, wondering if the tone he was taking was about to earn him a punishment. Even in some alternate universe where he didn’t enjoy his punishments, he wouldn’t have been able to help it. He certainly couldn’t help it here and now. This was important. He knew that right down to the soles of his feet, even if he didn’t quite know why. “I didn’t want him to be one of our games, and he’s not just some low-rent replacement for you, either. He’s something else. I want something else from him. I don’t know what yet, but I do. And I don’t want you to dismiss that feeling, or him.”
His heart pounded. The darkness was claustrophobic. God, talk about word vomit. Where had all that even come from? James had felt guilty over using other men for his and the professor’s games, but it had never been like this. It had never felt like this.
After all, he’d never protested the game before.
That he was doing so now—even after all of Carson’s earlier assurances that he was allowed to set limits, that it didn’t have to be all or nothing—filled him with bone-quaking fear.
Please don’t send me away.
The thumb on his cheek stilled for a moment, the slightest bit of tension tightening the hand cupping James’s jaw, but then Carson gave him another whisper of a kiss.
“Dismissing your feelings is the last thing I ever meant to do, James, and if I have done so, I beg your forgiveness. It seems that whatever went on between yourself and Satish this afternoon will require more attention and care than you’ve needed before.” Why did Carson sound so relieved to say that? Shouldn’t he be disturbed or angry or threatened? “But for now, let’s do away with some of this stress, shall we? Then we can talk more calmly. You need to let go, James. Give yourself over to sensation.”
God yes, he needed that.
“Luckily, I have just the thing.” Carson’s touch returned, but this time his fingertips slid up James’s jaw, right up to his ears—where he pressed a pair of earplugs in, nestling them deep. After that, all James could hear was the sound of his blood rushing, the sound of his heartbeat, the sound of his own breath.
The earplugs cut him off completely, nearly panicked him before Carson’s hand cupped the back of his neck.
No more need to speak. To explain himself. To analyze every word Carson said.
His Professor’s steady hand guided him. Despite his unease with being so cut off, James kept his lips closed against any accidental blurting of his safeword. This was the important part, the hardest part, but the most rewarding. He knew he could make it through this if he just trusted Carson to take care of him, and after this terrifying point, everything else, even the agony, would be paradise. With trust came rewards.
But that didn’t make it any less scary.
The earplugs at this stage were new. They had used them before, but never before he went downstairs. Now, he didn’t even have Carson’s voice to guide and reassure him as he carefully felt his way down the stairs, just that guiding hand that tightened ever so slightly when he appeared to be in danger of stumbling, reminding him to slow down and test each step more carefully. Other times, the hand pressed against him gently, urging him to move more confidently, letting him know the coast was clear. That one touch was the only thing that kept him tethered to the physical world.
They made it to the basement without incident, which was quite a feat considering how out of practice he was. But each blind and deaf step had reawakened his memory of exactly how Carson’s home was laid out, and perhaps that was Carson’s objective. Not merely to put James in stronger communication with his other senses, but to force him to recall what they had once been and done with one another.
It had been a balmy day, but the basement was always cool and damp, though the warmth of the fireplace chased the chill from his skin. Carson was leading him to the paddling bench— No, the cross. The paddling bench was in the other direction. This meant a whipping or flogging was more likely than a paddling or caning. Sure enough, after a few more steps, Carson halted James just as he softly bumped the wooden struts where they stood out from the wall.
James stood pliantly as Carson strapped padded leather cuffs over his wrists and ankles and anchored them to the rings on the cross. That was his second clue of what lay in store for him. If Carson didn’t intend to inflict very severe pain, he would have gone with the more decorative rope bondage. The padded cuffs meant that James could count on thrashing violently in his attempts to escape the agony.
The beating of his heart within his ears grew louder. With no other outside noise to compete with it, it felt like a barrage of heavy artillery going off in his head. And further south, another pulse echoed it, only the slightest bit fainter. His cock brushed the varnished wood of the cross with each minute shift he made within his bonds.
The heat and motion of Carson’s body disappeared for a moment, and when he returned, he was shirtless, his skin already damp with sweat. It wasn’t that warm, though. Which meant Carson was sweating for other reasons. Feeling the clothed bulge pressing against his ass, James wondered if Carson intended to fuck him first. It seemed a sure bet when Carson began kissing and stroking his way down the planes of James’s back, going lower and lower, no doubt sinking to his knees behind James. But then Carson’s firm hand cupped his balls and pulled just short of roughly, making James yelp. If Carson responded, James couldn’t hear it. The feeling of soft cord twining tightly around the base of his scrotum said everything that needed saying, anyway.
James whimpered loudly, the sound strange when he could only hear it inside his own head, and the whimpers soon rose to cries as the binding constricted. He could feel a pulsing pressure as blood tried to flow in and out of his sac. It was hot and flushed, like his balls were being kept in a warmer where they hung stiffly between his thighs. And then Carson’s hands traveled up James’s back, sliding in the sheen of perspiration that had begun to prickle his skin along the way. Carson pressed close once more, and James was torn between the throbbing heat of his tightly wrapped ballsac and the sensation of Carson’s body against his own. Carson’s hands claimed possession of every inch of James’s flesh that they could reach, stroking his flagging erection back to life, twisting his nipples, scratching down his shoulders. Carson’s teeth scraped James’s neck before clamping down firmly, making James cry out again.
Then Carson was gone once more, and James’s skin was cold and bereft where it hadn’t been tormented. He would have given anything to be able to look over his shoulder and see what Carson was doing, or even hear his preparations. Without Carson’s touch, he felt alone, abandoned, even though he knew Carson would never do that. He found himself bracing, his hands fisting above the leather cuffs, because now surely Carson would begin the true punishment. He would whip James until James sobbed and begged for mercy, until the blindfold was soaked with sweat and tears and even he—confirmed masochist that he was—had lost his erection.
If you read only one m/m BDSM series of short stories, this is the series you have to read.
Once again, Heidi Belleau and Amelia C. Gormley deliver.
I love James.
At this point I’m completely invested in this series and chomping at the bit to get the next one.