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Tattoo artist Geoff Gilchrest is convinced his life is some sort of cosmic joke. Why else would a hemophiliac also be a masochist? He’s given himself more than one elbow bleed since puberty just doing what guys do when alone and bored, so forget about whips and chains. How many partners would contemplate playing with someone even a mild flogging could kill?
Gallery owner Robin Brady knows he can deliver what Geoff needs: to be taken to the edge of danger but never beyond. But Robin came to Saugatuck to get away from the leather scene and heal from a betrayal by his former sub, so he’s not sure he should get involved with Geoff. His ambivalence isn’t helped by the fact that Geoff’s unwillingness to communicate about his well-being hits Robin in some very raw places.
Geoff’s hemophilia isn’t the obstacle he thinks it is. Instead, a lack of trust—on both their parts—is what could end them before they have a chance to begin.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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“Is that the last of them?” my sister asked, helping Jace stack boxes. She dusted off her hands as I glanced around the crowded self-storage room. Funny, they always sounded bigger than they were. When Ling and I decided to move everything from Colorado to Chicago in a U-Haul, a ten-by-ten space had seemed like plenty of room for storing the stuff we weren’t able to bring ourselves to part with.
“Almost.” I slipped an arm around her waist and kissed the crown of her head as she obligingly tucked herself under my chin. It had been nearly a month since we’d gotten the call from our mom’s neighbor that our mom had passed away, and we were still feeling a little shaky about all the changes. “Guess it’s pretty much over now.”
She squeezed me harder. “Yeah. The inscription on the urn will be done tomorrow. We can pick it up in the morning, before my flight back to Philly.”
“Sounds good. When does your plane leave?”
“One thirty. I should be at the airport no later than noon.” She snorted and shook her head. “Part of me wishes this had happened a few weeks later, so I could have taken care of it while I was on vacation. But then, I wouldn’t want to be traveling in spring break traffic.”
“Nah.” I kissed her temple. “Be glad for it. Now you can still have something of a vacation.”
“What about you?” She drew back and smiled at me. “What are you going to do now that you’re in Chicago to stay?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m still a little shell-shocked that I decided to leave LA at all.” In a spur-of-the-moment decision that was fueled by grief more than logic.
“Is Rogier still leaving you scathing messages?”
That was enough to brighten my mood. I grinned. “They’ve gone from scathing to positively blistering now that he’s noticed I took all my designs with me.”
Jace clapped me on the shoulder as he squeezed past us toward the van for another load. “Good boy.”
“Well, it was about fucking time he stopped passing my work off as his own.” I released Ling and followed him.
“I still don’t get why you stayed with him for a year after your apprenticeship ended.” Ling’s voice echoed down the stairway from behind me, bouncing off cinder-block walls, heavy with disapproval.
I emerged into daylight and scrambled up into the back of the truck to grab another load. “Because no one else reputable wanted to hire me. I’m pretty sure he spread a rumor that I lied about my HIV status so none of the other studios would poach me.”
“Fucking asshole,” Ling hissed, lifting the final box, then called out to me as I started down the ramp with my own, “Careful!”
I gave her a flat look, more determined than ever to carry that box no matter what it cost me. “I’m fine.”
It would have been nice to see some contrition, because she knew how I felt about that shit, but Ling arched an eyebrow. Jace stood by with his own armful. He didn’t speak a word, though his bland expression made it clear what he thought of my rejection of Ling’s concern.
After a moment, Ling shook her head with a wry quirk of her lips. “They’re your joints,” she muttered as she carefully walked down the ramp.
Now I was the one feeling contrite. She was the last person on Earth who deserved my grousing, and while it wasn’t in her nature not to occasionally be concerned for my health, she was never overbearing. We’d both been a little off since Mom’s death, and I think I, in particular, kept wondering when Mom was going to reappear, inserting herself into the middle of everything in a well-intentioned but carried-way-too-far effort to protect me from life’s bumps and bruises.
“Sorry.” I offered Ling a sheepish look as she passed.
Her eyes softened. “Forgiven. Now, back to Rogier. You might have been better off going home to do your apprenticeship. There was that great tattoo studio—”
“Oh, please. Like I was going to spend three more years than I had to in that town.”
She gave me an iffy smile. “It wasn’t really a bad town. You just had bad experiences there for a rather unique set of reasons. I’m kinda gonna miss it.”
“I guess,” I conceded grudgingly. As things went, our hometown actually hadn’t been that bad a place. My issues had been due to a lot of bad luck: unfortunate genes, public ignorance, family and social dynamics. Still . . . “There was no way I was going to move back that close to Mom.”
“Hmm, good point.” Ling shifted her box higher and turned toward the building. “So, did you hear from the realtor?”
“Yeah. He says the new buyers are ready to close on the house. The money will be in your account well in time to pay next year’s tuition.” I rolled my eyes when Ling grimaced. “Don’t give me that look. That was the deal. I got the life insurance policies, you got the real estate. It’s done, so quit arguing about it.”
“But you need it more than me.”
“Oh, so you’re not planning to go for your PhD now?” Our footfalls made twangy echoes in the stairwell until we reached the unit. I heaved my box onto the nearest stack, wincing at the strain in my arthritic elbow. Then I wiped the expression off my face before Ling caught sight of it.
“I am, but I can get loans—”
“But your medical expenses . . .”
It always came back to that, didn’t it? Once they began to grasp the reality of the expense and potential for disability that would come with my health issues, my parents had cut back our household expenditures to a bare minimum in order to afford the largest life insurance policies they could. The legalities of adopting Ling had been their last major splurge. We’d been well within the comfortable middle-class income bracket, but we’d lived like we subsisted at poverty level. Dad had worked a weekend job as well as his full-time job. All so they could be certain my health wouldn’t bankrupt me.
I sighed and crossed my arms, pressing my back against the wall to make room for Jace to squeeze in and offload his armful.
“Ling, my sweet baby sister, you know as well as I do that the proceeds from the sale of that cheap little bungalow on the wrong side of the tracks at the ass end of Nowhere, Colorado, aren’t a drop in the bucket where my medical expenses are concerned. So, with all due adoration, shut the fuck up and take the money.”
Jace chortled. Ling narrowed her eyes at me, another argument blossoming on her tongue. It died unspoken.
She tsked once. “Fine. You’re right.” With a sad smile, she hugged me again. “No sense wasting our last afternoon arguing.”
“You can lighten the burden of your unwanted wealth by taking me out to lunch,” I offered.
“It’s a deal.” She lingered with her arm around my waist. I laid mine across her shoulders, closing my eyes as I pressed my nose against her temple. Dad and Mom were gone, and it was just the two of us. I wasn’t proud to admit that I found that as much a relief as a cause for sorrow, but it was what it was. Maybe now I could live my life rather than holding back to spare others stress and worry.
It would be different from here on, I vowed to myself, hugging her tighter. This was me leaving the old behind and beginning anew. The only thing that could drag me down now was myself.
* * *
Funny thing about grief: we’re led to believe that all our other needs simply stop while we’re dealing with it, but they don’t. It makes us feel guilty, like it’s disrespectful, like we should have more appropriate matters on our minds while we’re mourning, but it’s true. Which was why, an hour after Ling called to let me know her flight had landed safely and Jace left to go work out, I strolled into an adult video store and selected a booth. I settled in on the semen-stained sofa to watch my movie and wait.
While I might still need time to process everything that had happened in the last month, that didn’t mean I wasn’t craving a release to take my mind off things. This trip was a very uncomplicated solution to that problem. Here, at least, I wouldn’t have to deal with crowded clubs and the meat markets full of shallow tops cruising for only the cutest, fittest bottoms—of which I’d never be one. My body was too thin and untoned, because I couldn’t do the sort of intensive working out required to build a lot of muscle definition. My nose nearly required its own zip code.
I’d seen the video before, but I’d enjoyed it. Big, mean leather daddies and a cum-slut bottom filled the screen, covered in straps and riveted harnesses. The first segment had the willowy, brainy-looking twink strapped to a Saint Andrew’s cross, the apparent victim of an abduction by a group of massive, muscle-bound men decked out in leather. He pleaded for his life, for mercy, for more, as they whipped him with a heavy, braided cat-o’-nine-tails until his back was striped, until he sobbed and screamed, his pale skin looking this close to breaking. Some of those welts were fucking livid.
I groaned and opened my jeans.
Then they cut him loose and grabbed him by his hair, forcing him to his knees. One of them pushed him over on all fours and rammed a ginormous dildo up his ass while the rest of them took turns jerking him around and skull-fucking him until he gagged. One drew out only long enough to let him cough up thick strands of spittle that oozed down his chin before another one stepped up to shove his cock so deep in the bottom’s throat I could see it moving, shifting the musculature of the guy’s thin neck.
Jesus. I stroked myself slowly, not in any rush to get off yet. I envisioned myself in that bottom’s place, whimpering, sore, welted, bruised, stuffed full of cock. I wanted it. I wanted it so fucking bad.
A sound and movement in the next booth drew my attention. My dick hanging out of my fly, I practically jumped off the sofa to sit on the convenient stool next to the hole in the wall. That stool was a nice touch and not something I found everywhere. At least I’d be able to walk in the morning.
I laid my glasses aside and wriggled my finger in the elongated vertical hole. A moment later, a dick appeared, covered in loose, sliding skin so dark a brown it was nearly purple, hard and good to go. Fuck, yeah. I hated it when they arrived semisoft and expected me to get them up. With him at the ready, all I had to do was open my mouth, lean in, and go to town, licking and sucking like it was my favorite flavor popsicle.
It didn’t matter who was on the other end of that cock. Didn’t matter what he looked like, what his story was, whether he was married or single, out or on the DL. As far as I was concerned, he had no issues, and as far as he was concerned, I was likewise issue-free. For all he knew, I was capable of taking the brutal things that bottom in the video was taking. I liked the idea of someone thinking of me that way.
He was clean and warm, just musky and salty enough to reward my senses, and thick and long enough to be a little challenging. I sucked actively and pulled back when he tried to push deeper, to signal that I didn’t want him to fuck my mouth. Which was a lie, because I totally did, but even now the worry-filled voice telling me what I could and couldn’t safely do never quite went away.
The stranger rewarded me with a low moan. My ears might as well have been attached to my dick for the way it leaped at the sound. I grasped myself, stroking slowly enough to draw it out a bit.
A deep, gruff voice muttered, “Yeah, suck it, whore.”
I would have smiled if my mouth hadn’t been otherwise engaged. I’d gotten a talker, the kind who said exactly what I wanted to hear. There was enough of an inquiring note in the words to let me know that if I backed off or indicated disinterest, he would stop. Some guys wanted total silence, a complete lack of interaction, but words worked better for me. I made an encouraging sound and sucked harder. Yes, that would be quite agreeable, please and thank you. My hand pumped faster on my cock.
He sighed after a minute. “Fuck, that’s good. You been here waiting for me all night, you little slut?”
I agreed wordlessly and willingly. Oh yes, yes, I had.
“Fuckin’ little liar. Bet you’ve been gobbling every dick that’s gone through here for hours, just a cum dump waiting for another load.”
A whimper rose from my occupied throat, distressed and caught out. It didn’t matter that it was fiction. It was what I wished were the truth. I wished he was the latest in a nonstop line of strangers who had used my mouth and left, coating my throat with their spunk.
I couldn’t have that, couldn’t seek out the physical roughness I craved. No matter how badly I wanted it, hard hands wouldn’t seize my hair, damn near pulling it from my scalp as merciless cocks battered my throat. These cruel words were the harshest treatment I could get. At least, without a lot of hassle I didn’t want to deal with.
“Suck me harder, whore,” he snapped. “Cram it down that slutty throat.”
I made another discouraging sound and draw back a little. No, sorry, I would not be taking him that deep, despite his persistence. But I didn’t stop sucking, swirling my tongue around the head, teasing the frenulum, moving as fast as I could without going so deep I bruised my palate or throat. He gave a dissatisfied grunt.
The dirty talk stopped after that exchange. Perhaps my refusal to deep-throat had displeased him enough that he’d lost interest in the game, or perhaps he was getting close enough to popping that he’d dropped the thread. My dented self-esteem feared it was the former, but the sounds he was making told me it might be the latter. Sure enough, he grew more rigid, and I was about to pull away when he choked out a warning.
“You gonna swallow my load, cum bucket?”
I drew off to whisper, “On my face. Let me have it on my face.”
He groaned loudly, like this was a perfectly acceptable alternative.
“Fuck yeah. Won’t even let me fuck your throat. You don’t deserve to swallow my load, slut.”
I shuddered, lost in a fantasy. My hand curled around the head of my cock and fuck, I was this close from the dirty talk alone.
I wrapped my other hand around him and jacked him hard and fast, leaning close enough that the thick crown of his cock brushed my cheek with each stroke. Two more soft groans and he swelled. I closed my eyes in anticipation. Hot, thick splashes of cum streaked across my face, hanging from my lashes, even splattering my hair. I jerked him until the pulsing stopped and he resumed breathing, then leaned forward and wiped the last drops clinging to the tip of his dick on my clean cheek.
After pulling his cock out of my grasp and back through the hole, the stranger reached through and tapped my lips in thanks.
“If you wanna come over here, help me get it up again, I’ll ream that slutty ass open until you explode.”
God, that sounded like a good offer. I was so hard. Aching, quivering with the need to be handled. Pre-cum had drizzled down the side of my cock, drying sticky and cool, and I knew I’d have to jerk off soon but—
I withdrew from the hole. He didn’t say another word. When I turned back to the video, that poor, mistreated bottom was wearing the cum of a half-dozen brutes, licking it from his lips like cake frosting. My tongue darted out in a sympathetic gesture.
I moved to the sofa and began stroking myself once more, too caught up in need to heed the ominous tingle that had begun in my elbow. Covered in a stranger’s congealing cum, I jerked hard and fast, panting. The orgasm stayed at bay, though, and I had to work for it, groaning and thrusting into my fist, squeezing and twisting. Finally, I blew with a gasp and sank into the sofa, panting and dazed. I fished out some tissues to wipe the back of my hand, then cleaned up the spooge painting my face.
Once I was presentable in my graduate-student-of-library-sciences way, I left the booth and made my way home. As the high of orgasm faded, the sharp ache and sickening bubbling sensation in my left elbow grew.
Fuck. I hadn’t managed to give myself an elbow bleed by jerking off in quite a while; it had become a considerably less frequent event in the years since adolescence. But then, I’d spent the day before moving heavy boxes as well. Stupid. I should have seen it coming.
Grimacing, I put my foot down on the accelerator and hurried back to Jace’s apartment and the clotting factor I kept in the refrigerator.
After nearly fifteen years of living in New York City, I didn’t think I was ever going to get used to the quiet. Saugatuck, Michigan, was downright comatose in comparison to other popular gay vacation destinations like Fire Island or Provincetown. Which, I supposed, was why I was in Saugatuck rather than Fire Island or P-Town. Also, the lack of proximity to NYC could only be a good thing. I often reminded myself of that as I lay in the narrow berth of my vintage Chris-Craft Commander, the weight of the silence nearly crushing me. I’d come to this spartan marina on Kalamazoo Lake to get away from everything familiar and start over again. New surroundings, new business, new perspective. A whole new life.
Of course, it didn’t help that it was early summer. The shores of Lake Michigan were a little too chilly to see a lot of action yet. I imagined July and August would be busier. But “not a lot of action” didn’t equal “no action,” which was why I found myself stepping from the balmy June night into the sweltering nightclub at the Dunes Resort. It was also the weekend of the Dunes’ annual Buns & Baskets Benefit, a fundraiser to aid with expenses for various Mr. Michigan Leather events. I might have been new to the Michigan gay and leather communities, but I felt obliged to attend and support the MML. I was also rather enjoying the prospect of being in such proximity to Chicago for the International Mr. Leather competition in May.
Relocating to the Midwest did have some advantages.
The scent of leather and man-sweat greeted me, raising an instant prickle of perspiration on my arms where they were bared by my leather vest. The full brunt of the music crashed against me like a tidal wave, and for the first time in nearly a year, I found myself wanting to move with it, wanting to dive into the sea of gyrating male bodies and ride the rise and fall of the rhythm with them. I had missed this, however much I had tried to convince myself I hadn’t. I’d thought I’d left the scene for good, but one glance at a couple of rounded and welted butt cheeks revealed by assless chaps and I knew it was never going to happen. I loved it all too much.
At one end of the crowded room, I could see the current Mr. Michigan Leather holding court, and the throng was rife with everything from lithe, collared subs in leather jocks to harness-bound bears. It was rather more kink than the resort had had on display at the New Year’s Eve party I’d attended. That had been mostly casually dressed (or club-wear dressed) vacationers and locals.
Tonight I could see the vacationers who hadn’t known about the special occasion—standing out in the crowd, dots of color in a monochromatic sea of black leather and silver rivets. One such pair walked in the door as I leaned against the bar. The shorter, dark-haired one in the red silk shirt I dismissed immediately. He was adorable, but the furrow between his brows and the strained edge of his smile said he was vanilla and caught completely unprepared for what he was seeing. The other one, though . . .
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what caught my eye about him. He wasn’t gorgeous. Fairly ordinary, in fact. String-bean thin, maybe a little taller than I was. Pale and unmuscled. Dishwater-blond hair. Blue-gray eyes in a face with high cheekbones, a long, protuberant nose, and lips that managed to be both thin and lush looking. Above average, I guess I’d have rated him. But skinny had always been my type.
What really got my attention, though, was when he turned around to say something to his friend. I nearly swallowed my tongue. Visible through his black mesh shirt was some of the most amazing tattoo work I’d ever seen. It was, like, the Botticelli or Monet of body art. A mural that covered his back from neck to waist and shoulder to shoulder, full of vibrant colors. The thought of the time and dedication it must have taken for him to get that ink, the discomfort he must have endured, made me wonder just how much of a masochistic bent he had.
I watched him more closely, enough that I could see none of his friend’s disinterest in the kink scene applied to him. He kept to himself, quiet, talking only to his friend. He didn’t flirt, didn’t make any inviting eye contact. But once in a while I saw him stare, from under his lashes, at one of the dominants when the guy wasn’t paying attention. The looks he gave them were hungry, full of yearning.
Why was he here with a totally vanilla companion? Why wasn’t he half-naked and kneeling with someone’s leash around his neck?
The other doms didn’t seem to be picking up the signals he was giving off. It was like his vibes were being carried on a frequency only I could receive. The others saw a vanilla tourist and didn’t approach. Some of the vacationers did, and he danced with them, but his attention wasn’t on them. Eventually his boredom communicated itself and his would-be partners drifted away, until he was left leaning on the bar, his eyes still full of longing.
I was intrigued enough to decide I needed a new beer. Which meant that when his friend joined him, I was still by the bar and got to listen in.
“I can’t believe this.” There was a note of derision in the friend’s voice that said his disbelief was not of the favorable kind.
“I want it known, for the record, that I’m not laughing with you, I’m laughing at you,” he teased. I smiled around the mouth of my beer bottle at the rejoinder. “I, personally, have no complaints with the scenery.”
“It’s the start of summer, dude. I thought this place would be crawling with twinks fresh out of college.”
“Seriously? Have you seen this town? Not exactly somewhere college kids are going to come to party. Also, last I checked, most kids fresh out of college are trying to find jobs, not vacationing at resorts catering to middle-aged bears. Or have you forgotten already what that’s like?” He took a long draw from his bottle and shook his head. “You could have checked the website. I’m sure they have a calendar of some sort.”
“Thanks. Your sympathy unmans me. What about you? Picked out anyone interesting yet?”
“Eh, you know me better than that. ‘Water, water, everywhere . . .’”
I paused with my beer halfway to my lips. He wasn’t on the prowl? He wasn’t even trying?
“So, lemme get this straight,” his friend huffed. “Here we are, in the middle of what has to be a waking wet dream for you with all these leathermen around, and you’re saying you can’t score?”
“Wouldn’t be a good idea.” The mutter was so reluctant I had to strain to hear it.
Whatever his response was, I missed it because he and his friend took their drinks and disappeared into the crowd.
Fuck. Now I wanted to know what this guy’s deal was, and why he didn’t think he could get any action.
But I hadn’t come here to find someone to play with. I’d sworn I was leaving it behind with Kyle and New York.
I wanted that guy on the business end of a whip in the worst possible way, though. I wanted to see him bound and screaming and afterward, muzzy and content, coming down from the high I could give him, that hungry look a thing of the past.
I must have watched him at least another hour, slowly nursing my beers so that I wouldn’t be inebriated if and when I made my move. There was activity on the stage. A drag queen was MCing the night’s festivities and gave a speech about the benefit and the MML competition before introducing Mr. Michigan Leather himself. The crowd roared for him. I couldn’t have cared less, except that the guy with the ink was watching him like a starving man might stare at a banquet table. I wanted to be the one he stared at that way.
When Mr. Michigan Leather was done speaking, the music resumed. The object of my fascination danced again, starting with his friend. Someone else approached, but he was as uninterested in that one as he had been in all the others. Which wasn’t to say he was rude; he smiled politely, occasionally leaned in to speak next to a partner’s ear in order to be heard over the music, did all the things you’re supposed to do at a club when you’re looking for someone to take back to your room for the night. But it wasn’t clicking; I could just tell.
When his next partner was just about ready to move on, I finished the last of my beer and made my way through the crowd to come up behind him. I put an arm around him and spread my palm across his chest, pulling him back against my body. The guy dancing with him gave me a surprised glance, then turned away and searched for other companionship.
“You look bored,” I said, speaking low beside his ear. I began to sway, grinding a little against his ass without making it seem crude. I didn’t let him stop dancing. He stiffened. Then his body damn near melted into mine, and I knew I’d been dead-on about what he needed.
“Are you here to help me with that?” he asked, peering over his shoulder. He couldn’t quite make eye contact or get a good look at me from that angle, but he didn’t seem to be trying to. As though what I looked like didn’t matter nearly as much as what I was saying. He just wanted to be heard better. I got a good whiff of his hair when his head moved. He smelled woodsy and sweet.
He fell into rhythm with me, his ass brushing my hips. My hand glided down to his midriff. “Absolutely,” I said, making less effort to be subtle in the way I was rubbing against his ass. “I’m Robin.”
“Geoff.” He sounded breathless, and I liked that sound a lot. I let my hand wander, bunching up his mesh shirt. Up to his ribs, then back down, until my fingers were touching bare skin.
“Nice to meet you, Geoff. Gorgeous tats.”
He stilled, and I could see the way his lips curved. He must have heard that compliment a lot, but for some reason, it thrilled him. Then he rocked against me again. One of his arms came up and snaked over his shoulder, reaching to curl his fingers around the back of my neck and hold me closer. He cleared his throat twice before he spoke. “Thank you.”
“I haven’t been able to stop staring since you came in.” I let my lips brush his earlobe. “I keep wondering what they’d look like without the shirt distorting them. Think I might be able to find out?”
Geoff chuckled. “You’re direct.”
I grinned, accepting the charge. “You were bored to tears by the dudes taking their time, so I thought I would cut through the bullshit. I want you to take me to your room when we’re done dancing and show your tats to me.”
“Why wait?” In one movement, he stepped away from me and began pulling his shirt up over his head. Eager to get my hands on his flesh, I aided in the endeavor, my fingers brushing his lean ribs. He wasn’t muscular. He didn’t have the lithe beauty of a twink or the unabashed bulk of a bear. He was just this side of scrawny—toned in the upper arms, but his abs were unsculpted. He was the kind of guy who usually tried to hide his skinniness, but whether Geoff was that proud of his ink or didn’t care how his body measured up to others, he went for it.
The tattoos were even more breathtaking without the haze of the mesh shirt covering them.
“Nice.” I hummed, my fingers itching to explore the skin he’d bared. I let myself trace the lines, puzzled by the strange texture of them. Was it only the fact that they were a solid, continuous work that made them feel different from others? I heard him moan softly, and the sound went straight to my dick. “But does this mean you won’t be taking me back to your room? Because honestly, I’d still like a crack at that.”
Geoff flicked a flirtatious glance over his shoulder. “Not making any promises, but what would you do if I did?”
I smiled. He might be the most eager-to-submit bottom I’d ever laid eyes on, but he had sass. I liked that. “I suppose that depends on how delicate you are.”
I don’t know what the fuck I said wrong, but the effect was instantaneous. He stiffened and began to withdraw, snarling at me over his shoulder. “I’m not delicate.”
The only thing that stopped him from leveling that irritation directly at me was my hand on his torso, holding him in place. Trying to recover quickly and get our groove back, I pulled him against me and refused to let him turn, grinding harder against his ass.
“Oh, good. Guess I don’t have to worry about being gentle, then, do I?” He didn’t yield as effortlessly as he had when I first approached him. Jesus, what the hell button had I pushed there? “See, I think the reason you looked bored was because those guys were all being too polite.” I moved my hand up, letting my thumb rub against his nipple, offering friction. He gasped, his spine arching. “Something tells me you don’t like nice all that much.”
“Close.” His mutter still sounded grudging, even if his body was sending the right signals. “It’s more that I don’t like safe all that much. At least, not in the way someone approaches me.”
Hmm. Any number of ways to interpret that. The qualifier made it clear he wasn’t talking about condom usage, which was definitely a good thing.
“Ah.” I chuckled, nuzzling the back of his neck. “You want danger, baby?”
“Yeah.” He spoke the word with a sigh, like a prayer, and went pliant against me. I brushed my lips against his neck a moment longer, toying with his nipple while I did so, before moving back to his ear and adding an edge of teeth. Just like that, he tensed and pulled away again. “No biting.”
My rhythm faltered. No biting? Seriously? He tells me he doesn’t want me to play it safe in one breath and then in the next rules out something as innocuous as teeth? “. . . Okay.”
“Tell me more,” he urged, swaying against me, coaxing me to begin dancing again. Now there was something sheepish, almost self-conscious in the way he tried to pick up the thread of our flirtation. Like it was on the tip of his tongue to apologize, but he couldn’t quite manage it.
After a pause, I let my hands wander again, thumbing his nipples, my lips ghosting down his neck. “First, I suppose I’d have to start by taking my time admiring the tats. Just touch. And taste. Spread you out in front of me, pin you down, and follow them with my tongue, from your shoulders to your ass.”
The music changed, and our rhythm altered with it. There was a heavier pulse to this song, and we could feel it in our hips, which drove together more firmly, more suggestively. The fly of my tight, well-worn jeans was feeling far more snug, because the word picture I’d painted was making me hot. I suspected I wasn’t the only one.
“Why pin me down? Are you afraid I’ll run away?” There was a slight breathy slur to his voice, and I recognized it. It was the sound of a guy transitioning from independent thought to the surrender of subspace. He wasn’t there yet, of course. Wouldn’t be there until I could push him harder, restrict him with my body or bondage, offer him a taste of pain, and get those endorphins flowing. But psychologically and hormonally he was primed. So very ready to lay it all down for me.
I smiled. Whatever that thing with the biting was, the rest of his responses were still screaming to the top in me. “No, I just think it would be fun. Or are you going to tell me you wouldn’t love to be helpless underneath me while I did whatever I wanted to you?”
Was that a whimper I heard? I was sure it was, but there was also a challenge in his words, like he was fighting his own inclination toward surrender. Why?
“You’re assuming an awful lot just from watching a few dances.”
“Then correct me if I’m wrong,” I said easily, because I wasn’t, damn it. I knew it with absolute certainty. He wanted to yield to me.
“I didn’t say you were wrong. Just presumptuous.”
I laughed against the sweaty skin of his neck. “Guilty as charged. I’ve never been subtle. But you’re not exactly telling me to fuck off, so I think there must be something about me you like.”
“I haven’t told you to fuck off so far.” There was a smile in his tone, softening the correction to make it a tease, and his body remained relaxed. “Keep talking.”
Oh yeah, I had him. I knew I had him. “You know, I’m really more of an action guy.” I kissed his neck again, opening my lips to suck on that fluttering pulse point.
Suddenly, though, there was nothing beneath my mouth as he jerked away. “No hickeys,” he said shortly.
Okay, what the hell? I stopped dancing and planted my hands on his shoulders, turning him forcibly around. He resisted at first, then yielded. I gave him a moment to take in his first real look at me.
“Next you’re going to tell me I can’t pinch you.” I brushed my thumbs over both his nipples at once, and his breath stuttered to a halt, his eyes sliding shut. When he opened them again, I could see something behind them, something he wasn’t letting himself say. Half-frustrated, half-fearful.
I decided rather than give it time to reach the verbal stage, I’d press my advantage. I kept his attention locked on me with eye contact and the touch of my fingers: gently tweaking his nipples, steering him until we were near the door and his back was against the wall. I dipped my head to let my lips and teeth graze along his neck without sucking or biting. I gripped his ass possessively when he tried to grind against me.
“Invite me back to your room,” I murmured. “Let me give you what you want. I swear, baby, I’ll fuck you so hard you won’t be able to walk in the morning. I’ll leave marks on every inch of you. You won’t be able to look at yourself for a week without remembering how good it was.”
Geoff groaned, a pleading, desperate sound, but I could feel something in him still struggling. He wanted to give in, his body was trying to give in, but his brain was holding him back. I felt it in the shuddering of his body, the way relaxation and tension pulled at him in turns.
“Okay,” he panted when my fingers tried to wedge their way down the back of his jeans. “But . . .”
“Yeah?” I tongued the shell of his ear. “Tell me.”
“We have to—” I tightened my hand on his ass and his words stumbled. Then his resolve rallied, and he opened his eyes. “Can we step outside, where it’s quieter?”
“Sure.” I nudged him those final steps toward the door. The cool air hit our fevered, sweat-damp skin like a blast out of a meat locker. I saw him shudder, his useless shirt still hanging from his back pocket, and I caught his body against mine, rubbing my hands over his arms. I pressed my erection against his hip. “Talk. You’ve got sixty seconds before I drag you back to your room.”
His mouth opened and closed, his forehead creasing with that inner battle I sensed but couldn’t quite understand. Seconds ticked by. Then he gave one decisive shake of his head and turned to mash his lips against mine.
Well. Okay then. So much for talking. I gripped his upper arms and yanked him closer, my tongue stroking deep inside his mouth.
He tasted as sweet and smoky as he smelled, and I thought I could devour him. Then the copper tang of pennies hit my tongue. I drew back in alarm, wondering if I’d forgotten myself and bitten him after he’d told me not to.
Realization dawned in his eyes at the same instant mine made sense of the dark streak beginning to flow from his nostril. It was . . . weird. He didn’t look surprised by it. Just resigned, and weary, and disgusted. He actually rolled his eyes.
“Fuck,” he hissed, letting his head fall back.
“Stay right there.” My would-be one-night stand dashed back into the bar. Furious at myself and my fucking body, I turned and followed the paths around the pool area that led back to the cottage with long, angry strides. Robin caught up with me before I’d gone fifty yards.
“I said to stay put,” he scolded. He thrust a bar towel at me, which I accepted, pinching the bridge of my nose through it. I imagined him watching the nearly black stains spread through the terry cloth, stripped of their color by the darkness. Between the dancing and the arousal, my blood pressure had probably been surging and dropping all evening. Along with the change in humidity and barometric pressure that came with traveling, and the fact that I wasn’t doing my prophy as often as I should, of course I was ripe for a nosebleed. I growled softly, too pissed off even to be self-conscious.
“Let me help you to your room.” He slipped an arm around my waist.
“I’m not an invalid.”
His eyes widened and an insulted expression settled on his face. I immediately regretted snapping, even if my voice was probably far too nasal with my nose pinched off for my rebuke to be taken very seriously. My issues weren’t his fault. He wasn’t aware of how irritated I got when someone hovered. “I’m sorry. That was rude. I didn’t mean to snap. It’s just— I’ve got this. It’s only a nosebleed.”
Robin dropped his hand from my waist, but he didn’t step back. Instead, he folded his arms and regarded me with a lifted eyebrow. “I’m aware of that. But there are dark walkways between here and the cottages. I thought it might be harder to navigate if you’re trying to keep your head tipped back.”
Shit. He was right. Perhaps even more importantly, his voice didn’t have that hint of concerned condescension I hated so much. He was simply being . . . logical. With a sigh, I conceded. “Right. Yeah, thanks. That would be good.”
His hand came around my waist again. I let him keep an eye out for ground-level hazards since I couldn’t really see much beyond my hand and the bulk of the bar towel. I directed him to our cottage. I could hear voices rising from the hot tub the two two-bedroom cottages shared. Sounded like Jace had found companions after all.
Not surprising. His vanilla inclination aside, there was never a time when he wasn’t determined to wring every ounce of fun out of life and share it with anyone within speaking distance. Being aware of his history as I was, I thought Jace’s way of handling his issues was about a thousand times better than some of the alternatives.
I smiled underneath my towel, too amused to be envious.
“Sounds like someone’s having a good time,” Robin said, sotto voce.
“That would be my friend, Jace.” I dug blindly for my room key, still trying to hold the towel to my nose. Robin pulled my hand out of my pocket and replaced it with his own. His fingers fished around right next to my dick for the card. Jesus. If not for the total unsexiness of the nosebleed, I would have been instantly hard.
“The one who wasn’t thrilled with all the leathermen around this weekend?”
“How did you know that?”
“I overheard the two of you at the bar.”
“Oh.” I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But then, it wasn’t as though we’d been trying to keep it private. He hadn’t necessarily been eavesdropping.
Once inside the cottage, Robin sat me on the sofa and grabbed a clean towel from the kitchenette. I was going to have to keep pressure on my nose for at least another ten minutes while he sat there, waiting awkwardly as the seconds ticked by.
Hot. Real hot.
“Thanks, um, thanks for the help,” I muttered, trying to rein in my annoyance at my body’s betrayal so I didn’t sound as resentful as I felt.
“It’s not a problem.” Robin perched on the arm of the sofa, watching me with a patience that belied his earlier aggression.
“I know, but you didn’t have to. Especially after the way I nearly took your head off out there.”
He huffed a soft laugh. “Eh, that’s nothing. I’ve got a lot of practice dealing with people who get prickly because they would rather go on offense than play defense. I get it.”
I frowned at him. “What do you think I’m defending myself against?”
“Being seen as weak, obviously.” He shrugged. “First you got your back up when I used the word ‘delicate,’ and then you protested the idea that you might be an invalid. Pretty simple math to conclude that it’s a hot-button subject with you.”
“Right. You know, it’s just . . . baggage. Didn’t mean to take it out on you.” I drew the towel away from my face. The bleeding had slowed but hadn’t completely stopped.
Robin shook his head, brushing the apology off. Unsure what I could possibly say next, I looked away.
“You get nosebleeds a lot?” he asked after a moment.
I nodded, seizing on part of the truth to avoid explaining the whole of it. “Um, yeah. Sometimes.”
He studied me, his eyes searching. “It’s not uncommon. Why does it bother you so much?”
I wet my lips, tasting blood, as I tried to figure out how to make him understand. I tipped my head back farther and pinched the top of my nose harder. “When I was a young kid—God, I don’t remember when, maybe in the late eighties or early nineties?—I saw this movie. One of those athletic, coming-of-age things about a high school wrestler.”
“I think I saw that one. Had Matthew Modine in it, right?”
“Uh-huh, that’s the one. Anyway, you know, at one point he got a nosebleed. And after that, whenever his archrival was trying to rattle Modine’s character, he’d call the guy a bleeder. Like, having a nosebleed meant he was weak or something. So whenever something like this—” I waved my hand at the bloodstained cloth still pressed to my face “—happens, that’s the thing that comes to mind. That if you bleed, you’re weak.”
“I can see that.” Robin’s eyes were sympathetic but not pitying. Like he really got it. He slid off the arm of the sofa to sit beside me. “You know it’s bullshit, right?”
“Sure, I guess.” I looked away, because giving a more concrete answer would require details I didn’t want to share. I was more easily injured than most people, and it did make me feel weak, or at least prone to being perceived that way. “But there’s knowing and then there’s knowing, you know?”
He chuckled and nodded. “I know. Why hang so much weight on such a meaningless word, though?”
Fuck it. After oh-so-suavely bleeding all over him, I wasn’t getting any tonight anyway.
“Because for me it’s not meaningless. ‘Bleeder’ is a word the hemophiliac community uses to refer to themselves.”
I saw a wrinkle of confusion form between his brows before the pieces clicked together. “So, you’re a hemophiliac.”
I nodded, my eyes sliding away from his gaze to stare at the wall past his shoulder.
“Okay. Umm, aside from the whole business with Ryan White when I was a kid, and some movie that said a woman would die from a paper cut, I don’t know much about that.”
“We don’t die from paper cuts,” I growled between clenched teeth. “Hollywood idiots.”
“All right. Then how does it work?”
I had to hand it to him: he was being cooler than I thought he would about it. Some people immediately freaked or went all super-sympathetic, as if I’d told them I was dying. Or they got all uncomfortable and didn’t want to be around me any longer than it took to make an excuse to get out. Or they got morbidly curious and—
Never mind. “It means that when I bleed, internally or externally, it takes longer for me to heal. I don’t bleed any more than anyone else. Small surface injuries can heal up with basic first aid, especially if I keep up on my prophy—sorry, prophylaxis, which supplements my clotting factor to reduce the number of spontaneous bleeds I get—but major wounds can be a problem. The real worry is internal injuries. The stuff that can’t be bandaged up.”
He nodded slowly. “Like?”
I sighed. “Well, my joints are a problem. Bumping an elbow, banging a knee—hell, just overworking a joint can cause a bleed. Or it can happen spontaneously. Bleeds injure the joint a little more each time, so eventually you’re dealing with arthritis. Even worse are the deep-muscle bleeds. They can pinch off nerves and cause paralysis. Don’t get me started on head injuries.”
“No, please, let’s do get started on head injuries. I’d like to know.”
“So I know what your limits are. I’m assuming this is why you were declaring biting and sucking verboten. What else might I accidentally trip over?”
I blinked at him. Repeatedly. Was he saying he still wanted to get with me? I pulled the bloodstained towel away from my face, relieved to see the bleeding had stopped. Though my face probably looked like something out of a slasher film. I stared at the towel, not sure what to make of that possibility. Robin hopped up and disappeared into the bathroom, then returned with a wet washcloth.
“Right.” I accepted the cloth, trying to wipe away any traces of blood around my nose and mouth without a mirror. Robin took it back from me, gripped my chin gently with his other hand, and began cleaning me himself.
It should have felt patronizing and like all the oversolicitous crap I hated, but it didn’t. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the difference.
“Tell me about head injuries.”
“Fine. Okay. True story.” If he still thought he wanted to fuck me, I was going to let him know exactly how inconvenient it could get. “A couple years ago, I picked up a guy at a bar and went home with him. He was hot, I was horny, we were having fun. Then he pushed me against the wall to kiss me. Sexy, right?”
Robin’s eyes had darkened. “I’m a big fan of up against the wall.”
“Yeah, me too. For a couple seconds, I was really into it. Then I stopped thinking with my dick long enough to realize I’d bumped my head when he did it. Not badly. You wouldn’t have had to think twice about it. But I had to leave him blue-balled so I could rush home for a dose of factor, and I spent the night afraid I would wake up in the produce aisle of the neurological care unit.”
I watched the reactions slide across his face: arousal transitioning to humor and then to disbelief.
Bitterness was starting to creep in again, bringing up my not-so-inner asshole. I decided to lay another slice of my reality on him. “I just came out of the closet a couple of years ago. Want to know why?”
His eyebrows lifted, his expression sobering. I think he was starting to get it. “Why?”
“When I was seventeen, I told my mom I was gay, and she had a complete breakdown. Like, she had to be hospitalized and sedated. Not because she had a problem with me being gay, as such, but because she was terrified I might get bashed. She spent the better part of a year having panic attacks about it, until I finally promised her I wouldn’t let anyone know.”
I could tell by his thoughtful frown that he was taking it in, pondering. “You were going to tell me about this outside the club, and then you stopped yourself.”
Licking my lips, I looked away. Fuck. That had only been, what? Twenty, thirty minutes ago? I’d been so damn hot for him, so ready to toss it all aside and take my chances.
If only I could go back to that moment and replay it without the nosebleed putting the brakes on everything.
“I gotta say, that pisses me off,” he said so mildly that the anger indicated by his words was almost lost—or maybe being held in check. I lifted my head to stare. “When we got back to your room, I was planning to get rough because that seemed to be what you were into.”
“I am. That’s what I wanted.”
“But you weren’t going to tell me.”
“Because I didn’t want you to think I was—”
“Exactly. I didn’t want you to hold back.”
“Wow.” He rubbed his forehead, like a headache was blooming. The line of his mouth was tightening, his lips bloodless. “How many guys have you played with, Geoff? I mean, not just hooked up with, but done BDSM scenes with? Or at least had sex rough enough to require a safeword?”
“Umm—” Damn it, now I was blushing. “I’ve never—” I cleared my throat. “None.”
“Oh, good. At least you’ve never put anyone else in the position of being responsible for your well-being without knowing your physical limits.”
“What?” I bristled, my all-too-easily-wounded pride snarling. “Excuse me, but I’m responsible for my own fucking well-being, thank you very much.”
“Then act like it! And while you’re at it, don’t bullshit a stranger into accidentally killing you without even the courtesy of a heads-up.”
I scoffed and glared at him. “Yeah, great, thanks. Ever think that this is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you?”
“So your answer to that is to put me in a risky situation without my consent?”
“It’s my risk to take!”
Robin threw his hands up in the air. His fury seemed excessive and somewhat misplaced. “Sure, until they fucking arrest me for reckless endangerment or assault or whatever grounds they want to use to charge me for your homicide. You think maybe, just maybe, I ought to have the right to decide if or how to deal with that issue?”
He deflated suddenly. “It’s about consent, Geoff. Yours and mine. RACK: risk-aware consensual kink. That acronym does actually mean something. If I don’t know all the facts, I can’t give meaningful consent.”
Okay, so there was some validity to that, but Jesus. “Wow. Dramatic much? I didn’t want you handling me any differently than you would handle someone else. Is that really so much to expect?”
His eyes narrowed. “You don’t get it, do you?” In an instant, he’d closed the distance between us, gripping my hair hard enough to command my gaze, keep me focused on his face right up in front of mine. His voice was a low, angry growl that spoke as strongly to my dick as his words did my ears. “You want to sub, baby, but you’ve got no idea what it means. When you give someone the power to do what they want to you, you also give them the responsibility of keeping you safe. Otherwise, you can’t ever really give in and let go.”
Oh God. His face swam before me, and my heart thundered, my pulse pounding with surge after surge of wanting. Yes, every nerve in my body screamed. Do that. Hurt me. Control me. Take what you want from me.
He let me go before I could become a whimpering, pleading mass of longing.
“Until you can give that up, Geoff, you’re never going to get what you want.”
It took me a moment to pull myself back together, and then I started to get angry again. “So, what, you’re telling me if I’d been up-front with you about it, you wouldn’t have held back?”
“I’m telling you the decision of whether or not I hold back, or how much—within any negotiated limits, of course—belongs to me, not you. And if you can’t trust me to make that decision and still give you what you need while keeping you safe, then we’ve got no business playing together.”
He pressed the damp washcloth, now marred with pinkish stains, into my hand. I stared at it while he pushed himself up off the sofa and strode for the door. “Think about that for a while before you go on the prowl again,” he said, gripping the knob. “Good night.”
I sat there for some time after he’d closed the door behind him, trying to wrangle my disappointment into something manageable. Then I growled in disgust at myself and went to dig some ointment out of my travel kit to keep my nose moist. I knew I should probably infuse to prevent another nosebleed, but if the prospect of unrestrained sex was off the table, doing my prophy was no longer imperative. It sounded like too much bother now, and too big a reminder of all the things that were complicated for me.
Instead, I threw the linens into a corner of the bathroom and went to my room.
Always, it is lovely. Loved this story, loved Geoff and Robin from start to finish.
[A] phenomenal story that highlights the love of two people. Take a solid storyline and a significant amount of spice and you've got the recipe for RISK AWARE.
The kink was top notch. . . . I highly recommend this for anyone who loves a BDSM romance and wants to experience one that is just a bit different from the norm.
[T]otally engaging and a really fascinating story.
[C]reative and interesting, and I was turning pages quickly to see it all play out.