The Reluctant Dom
To Master Anthony Stevens, for his patience, guidance, and invaluable experience. (Told you I wasn’t going to redshirt you!)
To my hubby, who is definitely The World’s Greatest Husband™, who put up with a blubbering workaholic wife during the initial writing process. He’s probably my greatest supporter, and if it hadn’t been for him pushing me to pursue my fiction, I might still be focusing on computer tutorials.
To Mr. B. He knows why.
To my friends and adopted family at the Sarasota Society, you are too numerous to mention. Thanks for inspiration, education, friendship and fellowship, and for making me laugh every time one of you asks (usually hopefully), “Will that end up in one of your books?” (Yes, it probably will end up in a book.)
And especially to Sir Vic and the spirit of Annie.
Lastly, although while alive she likely never would have read most of my books, but she would have been proud of my achievement for getting them published, for Granny. I wrote this book originally as a way of dealing with my grief over losing her the day before my birthday in 2008. Also, for Grandaddy, who we lost exactly three years to the day later.
Sometimes, life is truly stranger than fiction. There’s a running joke in my family that I suck at remembering dates. Believe me, that one’s etched in my mind.
While this is a fictional story, the portrayal of a twenty-four/seven M/s relationship is not inaccurate. I have personally known people who use BDSM as a healthier, and safer, alternative to self-injurious behavior. I’m not saying it should be a replacement for medical intervention, but everyone makes their own choices in life. Being active in the BDSM lifestyle myself, I’m glad that I can write about it from a been there, done that point of view. This is, however, just one story, and a fictional one at that. There is a rich diversity to “the lifestyle” that most people never know about because their information comes from commercial BSDM fetish porn sites on the Internet. Try to define normal, either in a vanilla or kink relationship, and it’s truly impossible.
You might be more “normal” than you think…
“I made her three promises when we got married, Seth. I would never lie to her. I would always take care of her. I would protect her, never let anyone hurt her ever again.”
Seth watched his friend swirl the bourbon and ice in his drink. Kaden had laid his glasses on the table, and his face looked haggard and worn. There was something deeply wrong with his friend tonight. They’d known each other over forty years, since they were babies and their moms were best friends, and this was plain…
Kaden met his friend’s concerned gaze. “I love her, Seth. She’s my life. What am I going to do?”
“What are you talking about, dude? You’re freaking me out.”
Kaden sat back in his chair. “I went to the doctor today.”
Seth felt a mental chill. “Are you gonna make me beat it out of you or what?”
Kaden took another drink. This was their weekly boys’ night out, but Seth knew this was nothing like any other night. “I’m dying,” Kaden whispered.
This had to be a horrible practical joke. Kaden was always looking for a way to get one up on Seth and sucker him in. “Dude, that’s not funny. You don’t fucking joke about something like that.”
“Do I look like I’m laughing?”
Seth studied him, a cold, hard rock of emotion settling in his stomach. “What the fuck?”
“I’ve got cancer. Best guess is a year or so.”
“Well you need to go get a second opinion! Maybe the doctor’s wrong. They can be wrong, you know.”
Kaden looked at his glass again. “This was my third opinion. Pancreatic cancer. Inoperable.”
Numb shock engulfed Seth. This man was his brother in everything except name and blood. There were a few years they were separated by distance while Seth was in the Army, and even then they’d e-mailed and talked on the phone as much as possible. Other than that, they’d been close.
“They’ve got medicine, radiation, chemo. There’s got to be something.”
“No. I refuse to spend the time I’ve got left like that. They said it’ll only buy me a few months, if I’m lucky. I’d rather not spend it puking my guts up.”
“But there’s got to be something—”
Kaden shook his head. “I refuse to go out like my dad did. I go out on my terms.” He took another sip of his drink.
What do you say in a situation like that?
Seth shook his head. “Fuck.” He took a swig of beer. “How’s Leah holding up?” he quietly asked.
“I haven’t told her yet.”
He stared at his friend in disbelief. “What do you mean you haven’t told her?”
“I wanted to make sure before I did. I saw the first two doctors last week. They all agree on the diagnosis—and the prognosis.”
Poor Leah. They’d been married nearly twenty years. Seth was overseas in the Army when Kaden met and married her in the span of three months. Seth had immediately liked her when he returned home and got to meet her. She was good for Kade.
Seth was lost in a swirl of emotions. Kaden had to repeat his question. “How’s the apartment hunting going?”
What the fuck? Kade had just dropped the bomb that he was dying, and now he was asking about that?
Seth numbly shook his head while still trying to process Kaden’s news. “I’m still looking. It’s hard since I’m in school and shit. I’m sick of living at Ben’s place and need to get back out on my own.” Seth’s older brother had insisted on him staying with them during Seth’s divorce.
“So you’re finally free of the bitch? I knew the papers had to be coming soon.”
“Paperwork came through last week. I’m officially divorced. Only took two years and losing my ass.” He looked at Kaden and refocused on the discussion at hand. “Quit changing the fucking subject!”
Kaden knowingly smiled. “I wasn’t.”
Kaden sat back. “We need to have a talk.”
“Fuck that. You need to get your ass home and tell Leah.”
Kaden’s grey eyes settled on his. “I need to talk to you first,” he said, his voice dropping to a soft, steady tone. “Seriously.”
Seth took a deep breath. “Okay, what?”
“I want you to move in with us.”
Seth blinked. “What?”
“We’ve got plenty of room.”
“What?” He’d wake up any minute from this nightmare. Or whacked-out dream, or whatever the fuck it was. This could not be real, couldn’t be happening.
Kaden leaned forward and dropped his voice even further. “I need you to hear me out, without interruption. I don’t want you to give me a yes or no tonight, okay? Can you do that for me?”
Seth slowly nodded.
Kaden’s eyes never left his. “I need to tell you a few things about myself. About Leah. I need you to listen so you understand where I’m coming from, because this is hard enough for me to talk about without justifying myself to my best friend, okay? Promise?”
Seth nodded again. Kaden was the “still waters run deep” poster boy. They were close, but while Seth could dump everything on the table, Kaden played everything close to the vest. He always had. Maybe that was why he’d been happily married for nearly two decades and Seth was on his third ex-wife.
Kaden clasped his hands together. “You know I love Leah. She’s my fucking life. I have never cheated on her, and she’s never cheated on me.”
Seth nodded. He knew. He’d seen and envied their obvious love and passion for years. Any moron could see how devoted they were to each other.
“There’s a few things I’ve never told you. About Leah’s past. About how we met. Some of that doesn’t need to be told tonight. You’ll learn about it soon enough. Suffice it to say she was a fucking mess when we met. I probably saved her life. She had a horrible life before we got together.”
Kaden took a deep breath. “Leah’s not just my wife, Seth. She’s my slave. I’m her Master, her Dom.”
Okay, he was definitely being played. Seth fought and lost the battle against his grin, relief flooding in. “You’re fucking with me. Goddamn it, you got me again, you son of a bitch! You really fucking had me scared there for a minute, dude. That was so not funny.” That explained everything. Kaden had managed to pull the ultimate Punk’d job on him. Relief started to displace his fear.
Kaden’s eyes, his serious gaze, never changed. “I’m not fucking with you,” he softly said. “I need you to hear me out. You promised.”
The hard, cold rock in Seth’s stomach rolled over. He swallowed hard and nodded as his momentary relief retreated.
Kaden continued. Seth saw something for the first time in his life that nearly horrified him—
Tears in Kaden’s eyes.
“We’ve been into it since a little after we met. It wasn’t something we planned. It just happened. I didn’t set out wanting to do it, but she needed it. It helped her heal. I know that sounds weird, but trust me, it did. If you’d seen her before…” He paused, took another drink. “If you’d known her when I first met her, you’d know what I was talking about.
“I promised her I would protect her and take care of her. That’s what I’ve always done. I don’t have a lot of time to put things in order because even though they found it relatively early, this form of cancer is aggressive and moves fast. I need to know that when I’m gone, there’s going to be someone I trust with her life to step into my shoes and take over and keep those promises for me.” That was when his eyes did tear up, and he angrily brushed them away. “I need to know that she’s safe. I want to be sure she won’t kill herself or go looking for what she needs and end up with some asshole who will abuse her.”
Seth felt numb and wondered when the hell he’d wake up. This could not be real. His brain was not accepting that this was really happening. He knew his voice sounded soft and weak, emotional shock creeping in. “What are you asking me, dude?”
“I want you to come over for dinner tomorrow night. Don’t call Leah. Just show up at seven. I need to talk to her and break the news to her and tell her what I want to do. I don’t want your answer tonight. I want you to seriously think about this. I want you to move in with us. You can go to school and finish your degree, and I’ll teach you what you need to know to take care of her.” Kaden reached out and grabbed Seth’s arm, his grip almost painfully firm. “Please. I need you to seriously think about this for me.”
This was too much for Seth to process at one time. “You’re dropping the bomb on me that you’re dying, and now you’re asking me to, what, fucking beat your wife for you after you die? Are you shitting me?” Not only couldn’t he grasp that Kaden was dying, he couldn’t process that his respectable, successful, soft-spoken and kind-hearted friend of forty years had a secret life Seth knew nothing about.
Kaden vigorously shook his head. “It’s not like that at all. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t tell you unless you promise to help us because it’s personal between me and Leah. And there’s some stuff you won’t understand unless you see it in person. It’s not like the bullshit you see on the Internet. I mean, yeah, some people are into that, but it’s not like that for us. We’re twenty-four/seven. We live this. We’re happy living like this.”
Kaden took a deep breath. “Leah’s healed because of it. But she needs things, Seth. She’s always going to need certain things. I’m worried that when I’m gone, if she goes looking to others who don’t know her, who don’t care about her, it’ll hurt her and put her back in that bad place emotionally where she could have died. If she doesn’t kill herself to start with.”
Kaden released Seth’s arm. “I’m also a teacher. Those weekend seminars we go to? I do a lot of instructional stuff. I teach shibari.”
Alternate dimension. That was it. He’d fallen through a fucking wormhole. “Shi-what?”
“Shibari. Japanese rope bondage.” Kaden took another drink. “And a few whip classes. Please. Come to dinner tomorrow night. I can explain it better then. Show you. I’ve never asked you for anything before, man. I need you. We need you. Please.”