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 3: Lying and Leaving
The first time Patrick fell in love was when he was little more than a boy, a dumb teenage kid with a crush on a girl that landed both of them in water so hot, Patrick fled across the ocean to another continent just to get clear of the steam. Once he was in London, Patrick began to love another, a man named Nicholai Zhukov who was a Master Dom with an organization known as the Master’s Circle. Nicholai helped train young Patrick as a Dom and introduced him to the fantastically kinky world of BDSM. But loving a man and being in love with a man were different conditions of the heart. The first man Patrick had ever been completely in love with met him immediately after the worst decade of Patrick’s life. Patrick was in his early thirties. The man he fell so deeply for was much younger, in his early twenties.
His name was Gray Raoul.
Ten years of hell had changed Patrick. He’d fled the hot water of his adolescence only to tumble into the deepest, darkest pit. There, he’d roasted over flames for too many years, serving sick human beings and doing whatever was required of him for their pleasure. He was a slave, a whore, a pawn, and when he’d returned to London, he’d lost the ability to trust or respect anyone.
Beloved Nicholai had been there, waiting, and willing to help Patrick heal. Serving Nicholai as his Master’s sub, Patrick began the slow, torturous process of remembering how to care about himself and why it was worth trying to entrust his heart, mind, and body to another human being. Patrick had been a broken man. Yet, there’d been hope. Nicholai had deemed him off-limits. Patrick was not to be touched by anyone, but especially by the other Doms of the Master’s Circle.
Gray hadn’t listened to Nicholai’s decree. Enchanted by the challenge, Gray had been a young, headstrong, confident playboy learning to be a Master Dom, and he’d been unspeakably hot. In a time of his life when he hadn’t known if there was anything left in the world worth wanting, or even getting out of bed for, Patrick had met Gray. Gray became his reason to want to try again. Nicholai was his teacher, but Gray was his muse. Gray’s attempts at seduction, despite Nicholai’s explicit orders, were Patrick’s hope. So, he fell. He found himself in Gray’s bed, again and again.
He was being taken advantage of in new ways, willingly. He hadn’t known, then, how much it would cost him.
It was one of the most luxurious bedrooms Patrick had ever been in, and he’d been through a lot of them. The floor to ceiling windows overlooking the gardens, the rich fabrics of the curtains tied back to let the mid-morning light in, the handwoven carpets atop glistening hardwood floors, and the four-poster bed with its thick duvet, down pillows, and silk sheets—it was blessedly different than the impersonal, well-used hotel rooms he was used to.
The best thing about Gray was his quietness and intensity. Nothing about him was careless. Despite the ten year age difference, Patrick was always taken slightly aback by the fierceness of Gray’s intelligence. It helped him forget the details and just feel.
Gray pushed Trace, naked, up against the bedpost so that his hands wrapped the wood, his stance wide. A strap was wound around the post, twisted, then wrapped around Patrick’s wrists. Pulled tight, the strap bound him there. Skin prickling with awareness of where he was, who he was with, and how helpless he suddenly was, Patrick didn’t have it in him to hide his reticence, his arousal, or his darkness. The dark was always with him then, tempting him to say fuck it all and do what was easy, and what felt good.
Gray gripped Patrick’s jaw in a firm hold, forcing his chin up and around. Teeth scraped over the ridge of bone, down the column of his neck, then bit down at the junction of his shoulder.
Nicholai would see the bite. He would know. Gray bit harder, palming Patrick’s erection, growling as Patrick gave in to instinct to thrust; undulating, pushing into the contact. The pain helped him focus, kept him present. Gray licked the bite, kissed the mark. Patrick shamelessly fucked the hand wrapping his shaft.
“Nicholai,” Gray said in a low shiver of sound by Patrick’s ear. “He give you a proper fuck this morning?”
“Yeah, proper,” Patrick chuckled. “He gives it hard, just like everything else, bright eyes. And you? How do you give it?”
Rubbing down the planes of Patrick’s lean body, scratching hard enough to leave faint red lines, Gray gripped Patrick’s hipbones. With a bruising hold, he pulled back and pressed forward at the same time, grinding against Patrick’s ass. His cock was thick, hot and steely. Instinct took over.
Patrick tilted his hips on the next push. Gray’s head caught and pressed right where Patrick needed it to, and it made Gray grin. Humming hungrily, he caught Patrick’s mouth in a kiss over his shoulder. It was lips and breath and gasping, aching as Gray steadied himself with a hand at the root, holding the angles of their positions. Fuck, but it hurt, and Patrick chased the hurt, pushing back as Gray drove inward, making him take it, and making him moan. Like everything else with them, it was rough and urgent. Gray fit himself inside Patrick in defiance of everything, and everyone. He had no right to do what he was doing. But, once he was there, inside, Patrick wouldn’t let him go.
Starting to move, riding the thick, gorgeous length of him, Patrick knew just how to rock backward into Gray’s impatient thrusts to make it good, to drag against his gland and take his pleasure for himself. Their eyes locked, briefly, and what Gray saw then made him chuckle. It was like he needed the dark, was drawn to it. Maybe Gray sought to fuck Patrick because he was told he couldn’t, but, once the act had commenced, it was Patrick that fucked Gray. Hands bound, ass stuffed with Gray’s cock, Patrick moaned and kissed and did that which he’d been doing for so long, perfecting technique every day for too many years.
That could have been all, but whenever Patrick began to fade, to shut out specifics and only move, yielding, giving his body over, divorced from mind, Gray would grab hold, bite down, and wring pleasure in new ways. And it kept Patrick there. The mental game was just as important as the physical one.
Gray was sliding easily by the end, as Patrick throbbed, hugged tightly around his possessor’s cock, claiming that which claimed him. Forehead pressed against the back of Patrick’s head, Gray pushed, and pushed and came with a heavy exhale. They stayed like that, with Gray nuzzling Patrick’s dark, thick, short hair and pressing a tender kiss to the nape of his neck. It was intimate enough to be frightening.
Patrick began to drift, to detach himself, to think of cleaning up and leaving, his route from the room, the best way to travel, undetected….
Gray pulled out, loosened the strap binding Patrick’s wrists, and turned his captive around to face him. Those deep-blue eyes glistened with mischief and knowing. He was still so engaged, even though the act itself was complete. Gray was never off. He was always on, and Patrick loved that about him as much as it hurt to be truly, deeply, seen.
When Gray looked at Patrick, Gray saw him. He saw all of him.
Patrick stared into those lapis lazuli eyes and let Gray see enough to force him to back off. That endless slideshow of faces washed over Patrick’s memory, all of those who’d bought the right to touch him, then threw him away once spent. And still Gray stared. He stared even harder, hand gripped beneath Patrick’s jaw, holding him there to be kissed deeply and roughly. Their foreheads touched as Patrick teared up, the heartache like an open, gaping wound and still Gray wouldn’t leave. A few gentle kisses trailed over Patrick’s smoothly shaven jaw to the end of his chin, then Gray’s hand caressed down the center of Patrick’s body to find his cock.
The hand release was just as intense—a bombardment of sensation for the sole purpose of proving himself, of trying to outdo so many others, even though Patrick didn’t care about any of that at all. The only thing that mattered was how clearly Gray looked at him, and how he didn’t flinch away, or second guess.
That was what damned them. Gray saw too much, and Patrick made the mistake of hoping that this time, love would be enough to make it last. But it was the love itself that frightened Gray more than the damage. So, he let go, and Patrick once more was left used and discarded.
The quietness of Micah scares Trace. It feels like the beginning of an ending, and he hates those, so he’s slow to ask. There’s so much he’s trying to hold together, and Micah is what’s holding him together. To lose him in any sense would be too much. But, Trace knows enough to know when someone’s needs change.
“This is about Lily, isn’t it?” he says upon returning to where Micah still stands and leaning in to catch the scent of him. His nose brushes the softness of Micah’s cheek and Micah reaches up to weave his fingers in Trace’s long hair. The gentle touch sends a tingle rushing under Trace’s skin. Feeling Micah tense, sensing his frown, Trace leans in more to catch Micah’s kiss.
Is he leaving me for her? Has he finally decided?
Like Gray, Micah is smarter than he should be. He sees more than most and he’s hardly ever intimidated. He dedicates the time needed to the things deemed most important to him. There are too many similarities between them to not be scared.
He gets a better look at Micah’s face and how rattled he is. The threads holding him in one piece are frayed and unraveling. His eyes are too glassy, his lips too tight, his jaw clenched, and just beneath the surface… wildness.
“Talk to me, love,” Trace begs. “Please.”
Lowering his gaze, bowing his head, Micah shakes it.
“She won’t sleep next to me. She sleeps somewhere else… her lover. She won’t….” he gives a mean smile, full of teeth and bitterness. “She won’t look at me. Her gaze slides right off like there’s nothing in me to catch her notice anymore and….”
Micah blows out a breath.
“I deserve it! No wonder she feels better with Saoirse instead of lying next to me, pretending she can’t tell I’m shutting her out, too. She should be with someone who makes her happy, makes her smile. She’s been through hell and when I’m around her, I feel like I’m drawing her back down there instead of letting her move past it. She’s been trying so hard to make progress but I am lying to her about important things,” Micah says with barely concealed rage, but at whom or what, Trace can’t tell.
“Then stop lying,” Trace answers. As unlikely a turn-on as it is, Micah’s humility pushes every one of Trace’s buttons. To be a man so self-possessed, so successful and capable, but willing to readily admit to faults is one of the most attractive things about him. It also distinguishes Micah from Gray. Gray was always right, about everything, and it drove Patrick nuts. But Micah, with his brilliance, unassuming sexiness, and humanity, only pulls Patrick—and Trace—in closer and closer, until there’s nothing but heat and breath between them.
“It’s not as easy as that.” Micah’s eyes flash. Then he pushes all of the torment about Lilianna back, behind walls and layers of civility and control. The effort of doing that makes him look even more tired. “I didn’t come here to talk about it. I didn’t want to talk about this, I just wantedyou. I wanted….”
Trace grabs him, pulling him in, hard, kissing his breath away. It breaks through some of those barriers. Then, Micah is on him and taking over. He pushes Trace over to the couch, then down. He straddles Trace’s lap, sinking down, grinding against him. Raking his fingers through Trace’s hair, Micah moans into the kiss, releasing so much built-up tension that Trace feels the relief too.
There’s so much beauty in the way Micah is able to completely surrender to Trace. The love in the submission makes it mean more than it has with anyone Trace has ever been paired with. To be trusted as much as Micah trusts him, with his body, heart, and mind, helps Trace feel how lucky he is rather than how burdened. With his past loves, Trace was always the one doing the surrendering, and it never quite gave him what he needed, deep down. Maybe there wasn’t as much mutual trust then as he liked to think there was, but it’s not the case with Micah. With him, there’s a luxurious abundance of it, enough to get swept away in.
They kiss and touch, but it doesn’t go anywhere, because it doesn’t need to. It’s enough to be close and shake off the loneliness. Micah pours some of his frustration into his passion and Trace invites every moment of it. Another difference between Gray and Micah, past and present, is with Micah, there’s no end goal. Their feelings, their passion has always been and will always be driven by present moments. Too much of why Trace and Micah each suffer is because of the past. Everything that worries them has to do with the future, so they ignore where they came from and where they’re going and just exist, together. They’re messy and imperfect, but it’s worked so far. Trace knows all of the chaos swirling around them has nothing to do with the current moment. It’s all speculation and old pain.
“You feel so good,” Micah sighs between kisses.
“You taste like oranges,” Trace tells him.
Micah laughs and says, “I haven’t been anywhere near oranges. Guess I’m naturally fruity.”
“Hey, you said it. Not me,” Trace smiles. Micah smiles back and kisses him harder.
Holding Micah, kissing him, trying to soothe away his frown lines with light brushes of his lips or rough caresses of his hands, Trace tries to keep him there, where they have everything that matters.
For a little while, Trace has him. Palming Micah’s ass, encouraging every sexy little undulation as Micah rocks against Trace’s groin, Trace watches him, wondering. He wants to grab hold of Micah the way Gray used to grab hold of Patrick. Sometimes, it would work. Gray could keep him from slipping into the dark for a few, precious minutes. Trace sees Micah slipping. Experience tells him sex isn’t the answer. The only thing that will help is patience and love. It might not be enough. He still might slip away for good, but Trace knows he has to try.