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 6: Edge of Madness
Hours pass, during which Trace patiently sits on a chair beside the bed where Micah is curled up on his side. His body relaxed, weighed down with the effects of the tranquilizer, Micah dozes. When his eyes stay open for a longer period of time, looking like there’s some life behind them, too, Trace catches his gaze and holds it. It’s easy to feel, then, how much Micah needs Trace to be strong for him. The job of showing Micah the path to take to get him clear of his self-made torments is one Lilianna can’t handle. Not with the way things have gotten. Only Trace can help Micah.
“You with me, now, slave?”
“Yes, Master,” Micah replies readily. And God, it’s thin—the tattered remnants of a voice.
Thinking if Micah had enough fight in him to destroy his office, maybe he can muster up enough spirit to fight for himself a little, too, Trace says, “If you are, then show me. Get on your knees.”
Micah struggles upright, the strength in his arms nearly failing him as the tranquilizer makes them harder to command. His legs slump to the floorboards. Trace is ready to catch him if need be as Micah tumbles to the ground, but lands soundly on his kneecaps with a grimace. His arms hang at his sides for a moment, his head is bowed. Then he makes a valiant effort to clasp his hands behind his back.
“If you can’t, then don’t,” Trace says, hating to see the struggle. “Tilt your chin up. Look at me.”
Micah drags his gaze up. His warm, watchful brown eyes are the last part of him still crying out with dire, vicious need when they look up at Trace.
“Hit me,” Micah hisses, his voice sounding raked over hot coals. “Hit me, you fucker. You should hate me too, just like she does. Hit me!”
“Bet that’s what you want, huh, you little shit? Bet you’d love all of that pain. If you start begging me for the barn’s rafters, too, I’ll get the fucking gag out. You’ll wear it for days on end until you’re not even sure your jaw works anymore, and then you’ll wear it some more. So shut the fuck up. I’ve heard enough. All I want is your neck.”
He watches Micah’s chest rise and fall with each quick, labored breath, eyes blazing, soul screaming.
One, thick, terrible tear falls and Trace acts swiftly upon seeing it. He steps up to Micah, drawing the collar from his back pocket. Micah looks at it briefly, like a starving man offered sustenance at long last, and another tear falls. His chin snaps up as he stretches his neck, waiting, hoping—hoping so very much.
When the leather fits around his throat, clasping snugly, a shuddering, nearly orgasmic exhale leaves Micah. It’s a tangible symbol of their commitment to each other. It’s them—their love, their peace. He draws a deep, steadying inhale through his nose, blows it out past his lips, then does it again while Trace’s fingers work at the lock. Once it engages, Micah whimpers and sags slightly with relief so profound it seems to make him dizzy.
Trace hooks his index finger in one of the metal loops on the side of the collar, using it to keep Micah upright, caressing through his short, dark hair. The pure, absolute surrender in him leaves Trace breathless, and more resolved than ever to do whatever is in his power to help. Micah has given him body and soul. Trace knows he has to give Micah the same honor in return, devoting himself in every conceivable way to the exquisite man in his care. He just has to figure out how.
While his slave bravely fights an entirely internal battle, with such intense gratitude for Trace’s aid, and his love, that Trace can see from the expression on Micah’s face and in the shine of his eyes that there aren’t words big enough to even get close, Trace holds him up. Micah sobs, gasps, snarls and tries hard to push past the memories of what he’s done and how he’s failed. On his knees at Trace’s feet, Micah looks ready to dissolve into a puddle there, so he can leak through the floorboards into the earth and melt away to nothing. Trace knows how that is, to feel done with the trials of life, to be so used and mistreated, the act of simply staying in one piece is too much of an effort. So, he holds Micah up.
“Yours,” Micah manages, after a while. The simplest, biggest vow he could possibly make. “Anything. Always.”
For a few minutes, Trace can’t reply. That need to hit, to hurt something that deserves the hurt, is back and strong. He’s sick to death of adversaries he can’t lay hands on.
“Knowing her, she won’t be back for a while. Maybe days,” Trace tells him, tenderly. He knows he needs to be truthful, but doesn’t want to sway Micah toward abandoning Lilianna for Trace’s sake if that’s not what Micah truly wants.
Bypassing this, Micah swears, “Yours, Master. Anything.”
“You will tell her about us. You’ll find a way. Soon,” Trace warns. It’s not just their hearts on the line. “Waiting to tell her only makes it worse. She doesn’t deserve to be hurt again. Not like this, and I know you know it. You’ve been selfish. Greedy. Mean.”
Trace yanks on the collar, hard enough to make breathing a challenge. Micah doesn’t fight it, or protest, but just hangs there, his mouth working soundlessly. Easing up, Trace takes a chain from the nightstand at his side, hooking one end to the collar and winding the other around his hand.
“Yes, Sir,” Micah says in agreement. He falls to hands and knees as he gulps air, though Trace keeps the tension on the leash tight enough for Micah to feel it. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re coming home with me. You’ll service me. You will obey. You will not speak unless spoken to. You will wear my collar, and nothing else. You will not eat, piss, think, worry, or fucking breathe unless I want you to. You are mine, in every sense.”
“Please, Master,” Micah sobs, begging, desperate for it.
“Good boy. Crawl to my fucking truck, as slowly as you need to, because if you damage your body, my property, there will be hell to pay and you best damn believe it.”
A few hours later, after eating something and keeping busy with chores Trace gives him—sterilizing gear, reorganizing Diadem’s video library to be more easily searched according to content and kink, breaking down some old equipment for parts, Micah grows restless again. His movements slow, his focus dulls, and his posture sags. Trace sees all of it. The loss of distraction and fading influence of the drugs is making Micah’s pain rise closer to the surface.
Micah stands naked in the middle of the hallway, wearing a disoriented, heartbroken expression. Knowing exactly how it feels to be as adrift as Micah seems to be, Trace’s resolve to be Micah’s anchor drives him to act, and help. With a sigh, Trace tells him, “Get on the bed. Now. Now, slave. Go! Move your ass!”
The sharp command gets Micah going. He stands straighter and looks more alert, hearing the bite in Trace’s voice. That’s good. That’s a lot better than dull, rotting pain. Trace’s former Master, Nicholai, used to be the one he relied on to snap him out of it in moments when the past overwhelmed the present. It would be a wonderful way to complete the cycle to be able to show Micah how to heal his own wounds by leaning on someone who loves him unconditionally. Trace doesn’t know what he would have done without Nicholai, even if he didn’t always listen to what Nicholai was trying to teach him. All he can hope is that Micah is smarter and less of a rebel than Patrick used to be.
Micah gets to the bedroom, crawling up onto the bed. Trace notes that his slave’s breathing is heavier and his eyes averted. Following behind, Trace grabs a leather strap from its hook on the wall. He can tell Micah is watching from the corner of his eye when he starts grunting softly with apprehension. On his knees near the foot of the bed, hands balled in tight fists, Micah arches with a swallowed cry as the leather lashes across his shoulder blades. The skin is instantly red.
“Down! Ass up!”
Swinging again, Trace hits in a perfect horizontal line across the thickest part of Micah’s ass. With another swallowed yell, Micah tenses up, hands over his head as he gathers fistfuls of his hair in his hands and buries his face in the bedding.
The next lash is harder. Micah flinches violently, huffing and moaning as shrill whines slip in now and then. He widens his stance, trembling.
Another strike and he clenches up tight, tucking his hips forward.
“Ass out! Unclench!”
Two strikes, back and forth, one for each side and Micah’s breathing is out of control. Trace can tell he’s in real agony, so he waits a few seconds. It doesn’t really help as the anticipation of the next hit grows exponentially the longer Trace holds out. Staring at Micah’s striped ass and the sweat breaking out over the length of his body, Trace feeds on the anger, letting it infuse the muscles of his arm, strengthening his grip on the strap.
When Micah breaks, crying out hoarsely, “More damn it,” Trace acts. The strap snaps loudly against flesh four times until Micah is gasping with his sore, raw vocal chords, not sounding like himself at all. Micah writhes and tries to stay in the position as Trace unfastens his pants, taking his cock out, spreading lube to coat it thickly. He steps behind Micah, takes him by the hips and fits his tip against Micah’s unprepped hole.
The pause as Trace waits, letting Micah feel him there, is a gentle warning of what’s coming. It’s going to hurt, but Trace knows Micah inside and out and plays him easily, knowing when to ease up or go in harder. Without being asked, Micah stretches out his arms in front of himself, fingers splayed, like he’s praying, bowing to some unseen god and Trace begins to work his erection into Micah’s tightened body.
Trace is careful not to do damage, with plenty of experience at consensually taking Micah by force. Trace scratches, slaps and kneads the tender, welt-covered flesh of Micah’s buttocks, bombarding him with sensation, overloading his system to hold him there mentally. With shallow, hard, quick thrusts once he’s buried balls deep, Trace pounds his slave’s ass until he comes with a growled moan, coating Micah’s passage with his seed.
Right away, Trace gathers him up, guiding Micah upright and enveloping him in a tender embrace. Kissing Micah’s neck, caressing his sweat-slicked, heaving chest, holding him close, Trace laments, “This was my fault. I forgot. I did this to you.”
Micah hisses, clawing at the flexed muscles of Trace’s arms, bearing down even as Trace keeps him stuffed full. The first sob is strong and comes up from a deep, dark place. Trace just holds him tighter, nuzzling Micah’s neck, containing the fight. The next sob edges into a scream and Trace’s vision blurs. He blinks it clear, chest burning, aching to fix this, but unable to, ever.
“It hurts,” Micah seethes through gritted teeth. Wound up in Trace, Micah’s slim body feels like it’s trying to tear itself apart, so Trace squeezes around it to hold it together for him.
“I know, love,” Trace sighs. “Let it go. Please. You’re killing yourself like this.”
For a long time, they stay like that, wrapped up in each other. There’s nowhere else Trace would rather be and with the strength with which Micah keeps him locked in the embrace, Trace knows the feeling is mutual. Eventually, Trace eases Micah down so they can lie together, hoping sleep will come. For little stretches, Micah fades off, but surfaces silently, eyes opened but glazed over. Trace never lets him go.
If only he hadn’t loved Lily so much. If only he didn’t still.
The sun sinks lower in the sky.
Trace thinks about how hard Micah tries to keep it together all of the time, for his wife, for appearances’ sake, and in order to live the lie that everything is fine, everything is under control. That’s why the blow-ups happen. If Micah could admit to his failings and let off steam in healthy ways, in small amounts, it wouldn’t get this bad.
But who is Trace to judge? He’s dealing with the same problem of trying to do too much without letting on that, inside, the walls are crumbling. He’s not doing much better than Micah. Maybe they both need to work on owning up to their failings. If only they could figure out how to do it without losing everything in the process. There’s undeniable sanctuary in secrecy.
Breaking the stillness, the silence, Micah asks with his ravaged voice, “What if there’s nothing good left with Lily? What if I tell her the truth about me and you and it’s the last straw? What if it’s too much to forgive this time?”
“You know the answer.”
Trace folds their fingers more tightly together. They’re on their sides, with Micah pulled snugly with his back tucked to Trace’s chest. Another one of those awful sounds blooms from low in Micah’s throat and Trace touches his lips to Micah’s head.
“I can’t lose her, too,” Micah whispers.
“She might not be yours to keep anymore. If she goes, you have a place. Always. You know that.”
“I still love her,” Micah confesses. “As much as I ever have.”
“Doesn’t mean you’re good for each other. Talk to her. You’re just making yourself nuts.”
Lying there, trying to keep his mind active and think of other things he can do for his lover, Trace plans a dinner consisting of Micah’s favorite foods. Mentally, he checks whether he has all of the ingredients needed to make a curry and whether he has the right wine in the cellar. If not, he’ll have to ask Ben or Kyle for a favor, since Trace doesn’t intend to go anywhere for a while. Micah is his top priority for the duration. He’ll close Diadem for a few days, if needed.
“You need any of your things? I think I got the important stuff on my way out.”
“Everything I need is already here,” Micah murmurs, giving Trace’s arms a gentle squeeze. The words sound cracked and bleeding but at least Micah’s body feels more relaxed.
“Some tea with lemon’ll help that. We’re out of lemons, so lemme call Benny—”
“Don’t,” he argues. “I don’t need him knowing I’ve gotten this bad.”
“You know how much he cares about you. He would never judge you harshly, love,” Trace retorts softly, glancing around. His phone is on the dresser by the door. “Stay there,” he says, getting up to retrieve it. “He owes us one anyway.”
“I’ll help with the tea. I don’t want to be in bed anymore. I need to… to… I don’t know. I—”
“Hey,” Trace interrupts, hearing Micah’s frustration. One look from Micah and Trace gives in with a surrendering, “Okay, fine.” He’s pushed enough for one day after all.
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