by Lynn Kelling
To everyone else, Trace is an enigmatic and carefully controlled Dominant. He runs Diadem, a private BDSM club and is a Master and mentor to his fellow Doms and their lovers—Gabriel, Darrek, Ben, and Kyle—while trying to be Master and lover for Micah. Trace is the one they all depend on to step in when anything or anyone threatens his closest friends.
But even Trace is in over his head when haunting events of the past endanger all their lives. Trace is forced to call on old connections for help from the world he tried to leave behind—the Master’s Circle in England. Tensions rise to a fever pitch as Trace’s hidden truths shake up the lives of everyone in his tangled, tight-knit family. (M/M+)
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Chapter 7: The Danger of Secrets
“You know,” Micah says. “I can’t help but notice an imbalance, here.”
Trace hadn’t called Ben after all, giving in to Micah’s desire for privacy. The mug filled with tea, sans the lemon they don’t have, warms Micah’s hands. The tea itself heats his worn body, helping his throat feel slightly better. Trace has finished making dinner and Micah ate what he could. The tea helps more than the food, but it’s Trace’s fierce loving care and steadfast company that helps most. Contrasted with Lilianna, the way Trace will stay by Micah’s side through anything speaks of a profound loyalty Micah almost can’t comprehend. He’s not sure what he’s ever done to deserve such a man, or his love.
“Mmm,” Trace grunts, tapping fingers on the tabletop, leaned back in his chair. He looks so relaxed and on guard at the same time, just cool, sexy, and confident. Watching him, wondering about him, Micah feels his many questions rise to the surface, needing to be voiced. If he can’t talk to Lilianna, he at least wants to be able to be honest with Trace.
“You know all about my shit. The good, the evil, my most twisted, awful secrets… they’re all out there. I confessed, let you in.” He thinks of Lilianna, how in love they used to be when they first met in college. He was a small town kid figuring out the complexities of his sexual orientation. She was wiser, patient, charming, and best of all, funny. They were friends first, but life, bad luck, and grief wore the foundation of friendship away and scraped the love thin. Knowing that, having lived through it, he takes a new view on his relationship with Trace.
Truthfulness is vitally important to Micah. Without full disclosure and full acceptance, they aren’t going anywhere, as Master and slave or as lovers. When Lilianna stopped confiding in her husband, Micah knew it was the beginning of the end. If Trace means to hold on to Micah, and Micah knows he does, there has to be something more to tip the scales.
“Look,” Micah says, “I know you love me. I know you trust me. But you don’t trust me.”
There’s a pause and Micah watches Trace become more uncomfortable than Micah has ever seen him before. It doesn’t take much, because Micah has never seen Trace look the least bit ill at ease with anything. The direst threat usually only gets a cocky smirk from him. Obviously, Micah has found one of Trace’s few vulnerabilities with his accusation.
Micah decides to start with what he does know, from what little Trace has mentioned. “What’s The Company? What did you do when you worked for them? Why won’t you talk about it? Why won’t you mention their name to any of our friends? You won’t even mention them to Ben and Gabe.”
The look Trace gives him then makes Micah afraid, because it seems like Trace is actively increasing the emotional distance rather than lessening it. Remembering what he has put himself through that long day, the hell he’d sunk into, the raw state of his heart, Micah begins to lose hold of hope and slip back into a bad place. So, he reaches out to the only person left who can save him.
“I can’t do this,” Micah admits thickly, hating the tears, tired of them. “I’ve lost so much and I don’t have anything left. I don’t have Lily. I don’t have you. I don’t have Moir—”
Trace takes Micah’s hand, holds it, and says in soft breath of command, infused with such devotion and understanding, “Stop, love. Please.”
They’re leaning over the small table in the kitchen, with the light hanging down from the ceiling illuminating their joined hands. Used plates, forks and glasses litter the table top. The house is a darkness wrapped around them, listening, waiting.
“There’s a reason I don’t talk about this shit. My job is to protect you. All of you.”
When he doesn’t continue, just keeps giving Micah a hard, unreadable stare, Micah asks, “From what?”
“All the past is good for is to fuck us over. Tell me that ain’t true,” Trace dares defensively.
“I need this,” Micah begs. “Please.”
Trace sighs heavily.
“Shit,” Trace curses, standing. After a trip to the liquor cabinet, he returns with a bottle of scotch and a clean glass. Pouring himself some, he sips, and sets the glass back down with a clatter.
“The reason I don’t tell you some shit is because knowing it would put you in harrm’s way. I won’t have you in harm’s way. Not you. Not now, when things are so….”
“What are you talking about? Me and Lily?”
“No,” Trace says with a sour expression, taking another drink, slicing his hand through the air to dismiss the suggestion. “’Course not.”
“What does ‘of course not’ mean? What ‘things’ are you talking about?”
“Things! Everything. Shit. See, everything I say is just gettin’ my ass in more trouble. I’ve had a lot on my mind. I’m tryin’ to keep all of this separate and organized but it’s all going to hell, fast, and I’m startin’ to fuck up. I’m trying to keep everyone safe. Not just you.”
“So this is about the others? Are you talking about the stuff going on at Gabe and Dare’s house? Or the isolation of Kyle and Dare after everything that happened with them?”
“Jesus,” Trace groans, exuding discomfort, looking like he knows he’s trapped right up against a wall he built himself, a long time ago. “Yes, okay?”
“Yes,” Micah echoes with surprise. “All of it? How can it be about all of it? Just tell me about The Company.”
“I can’t!” Trace says, sounding like he’s arguing with himself rather than Micah. It doesn’t make sense. Trace makes a frustrated growl. “Okay. Okay, smartass. If we’re doing this, we need to start with the basics. Common knowledge in some parts of the world, especially the BDSM world we like to think of ourselves as part of. You ever heard of the Master’s Circle?”
Recognition sparks in Micah’s brain, but it’s dull, hard to get hold of. “Rumors,” Micah replies. “That’s it. But it’s not real, it’s just something people in the lifestyle talk about to freak each other out.”
“What do you think it is?” Trace asks leadingly.
“I don’t know,” he answers honestly. “Some organization that controls all of the Doms and subs, and regulates the whole scene from some covert place. It’s not real. It’s not….”
Trace just looks at him levelly and takes another sip.
“I was trained,” Trace starts with another sigh, “by a Master Dom named Nicholai Zhukov, at the Master’s Circle headquarters in London. This goes way back to when I was just a kid. Nicholai ain’t around anymore. He’s retired. Been replaced by new blood. Younger. Weirder. More of a pain in my ass.”
“Holy fuck, you’re serious about this, aren’t you?” Micah says with awe.
“Do I look like I’m telling a goddamned bedtime story?” Trace asks. “You say you want to know more about me, so this is about me. This is how I got to be a Dom. And you’re my collared sub, so you’ve got a right to know this shit. You’re right about that. Some people are less than fucking forthcoming with details, and I ain’t them. I mean there’s a difference between keeping people safe and being a grade A asshole, right?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you, asking me direct questions, and me giving you answers, like a decent person does. You appreciate that, don’t you?”
“These aren’t answers. Who are you mad at? Are you mad at me?”
“No! Of course not. Fuck.”
“Who are you mad at?”
“I’ll get to that later,” Trace says, waving the topic away, taking another drink. “Where the fuck were we?”
“The Master’s Circle.”
“Right. Those assholes. I saw an… opportunity, you could call it. So, I took it. Signed a contract as a Dom for hire with The Company. They run a nationwide prostitution ring catering only to the richest fat cats around. Clients are heavily screened before they’re given access. We’re talking politicians, white-collar criminals, billionaires, movie stars, mobsters, terrorists, you name it. Anyone who had the money to pay and didn’t have any diseases or murderous tendencies got a pass. Contracts for the employees are ten-years a pop. I did my ten, got paid, and got out. It was a long goddamned ten years and it fucked with me in every way a man can be fucked with, so I took some time off after. Spent time recovering at headquarters in London, with the Master’s Circle. It was the only place that felt safe anymore. Hell, the MC is filled with Masters from MI5, the Metropolitan Police, the army, you name it. Having guys like that watch your ass takes some of the unsavory sort of heat off, so that’s where I went—back to the MC. Back to Nicholai.”
A strange expression crosses Trace’s face. Frowning, head lowered, he clears his throat, then says, “Nicholai convinced me it’d be best to make a fresh start. When I got back to the states, I met Benny and we founded Diadem. It sounded like it’d be a good time. I wanted to have my own place, my own rules, no fuckin’ Master’s Circle breathing down my neck. I was sick and tired of people telling me what to do, how to do it, why, where, and to whom. When it wasn’t the Master Doms from the MC, it was those corrupt shits at The Company. I wanted to get away fromall of it. You know the rest. We found Gabey. Became a family.”
Frowning back at Trace, mouth tight, thoughts in turmoil, Micah lets the awkward silence stretch out for quite a while before reacting. At first, his reaction is too big to process. The shock is gigantic. Trace waits patiently, as he’s always been easily able to do. For the first time, Micah begins to glimpse the reasons why Trace is so good at being tolerant and patient with what he wants.
Finally, Micah says with passionate concern, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but why would you do that to yourself? You were a prostitute forten years?”
“Had my reasons.”
“My god, Trace. I can’t even imagine what you went through. Would you undo it if you could?”
“Don’t ask me those types of questions. You wouldn’t like me asking you the same thing.”
With disbelief, Micah says, “And you’ve told no one?”
“Yeah, and it’s gonna stay that way. If I want people to know, I’ll be the one to tell ’em. Understood?”
“They should know this,” Micah says urgently. “Ben, Gabe—why would you not tell them?”
“Would you want to tell your kids you whored for a decade? Don’t make me repeat myself. It’s done. You wanted to know, so you know.”
There it is, Micah thinks. Papa Trace, putting himself last so he can fill the role he’s appointed himself, and take care of everyone else first. And meanwhile, no one’s taking care of him. I should have asked about this sooner. He’s been suffering and I didn’t even know. No one did. And here I was, thinking it was only Lily I was hurting with my selfishness.
As it always has, it warms Micah’s heart a little, knowing Trace guards with such fierce paternal love the people he’s gathered around him, filling his life. Ben might only be a few years younger than Trace, but he’s still one of Trace’s beloved ‘kids’, someone who Trace would do absolutely anything to safeguard. Imagining what Trace must have gone through, being trained by some powerful Dominants in England, then being shipped off to sexually service the wealthy, with no input in what he does or is done to him, of course it makes sense that Trace seems so much older, so much more experienced. It’s because he is.
But there’s one person who does not so easily fall under the umbrella of Trace’s familial care. It’s someone Trace has been involved with for as long as he’s been with Micah. When it began, it used to be about sex, exclusively. Now, though, who knows what it is? The lines have blurred beyond recognition.
Micah asks, “What about Lily?”
Trace rolls his eyes, holds his head in a hand. “I’ll tell her. Need I say, also, that you are not to breathe a word of this to anyone? Keep it to yourself.”
“No problem,” Micah says, looking at Trace in new ways, letting his imagination run wild.
“And don’t give me that fuckin’ daydreamy look either. It’s not a role play scenario, it’s my damn life.”
“Explains a lot, I’ve gotta say,” Micah says over the rim of his mug.
With a faint smile, Trace says, “Yeah, well, you don’t get this good without some serious goddamned practice at your fuckin’ craft.”
“I hear that.”
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