“ARE YOU mad at the computer?” Sam Thompson asked his lover, Aaron Greene, who was seated in his study, banging away on his keyboard, muttering to himself. Sam couldn’t miss the low grumbling that reached him all the way to the kitchen and had come downstairs to investigate.
“What’s the laptop ever done to you?” Sam said with a snicker.
Without looking up Aaron grumbled something, which Sam knew contained more than a few curse words.
“Care to repeat that?” Sam chuckled. “Because one, I want to be sure you said what I think you said, and two, I want you to feel ashamed for using that language in the first place.” He tut-tutted. “Shame on you.”
Aaron slammed the cover on the laptop, hard enough that Sam winced, then lifted it off his lap, glared at it, then tossed it onto the couch beside him, where it landed with a soft whump.
Sam was not impressed. “I don’t care how pissed off you are. Don’t take your mood out on the hardware.”
“Okay, that’s better. Now what’s going on?”
Aaron let out a heavy sigh. “I’m writing to a client. I had all the plans done—six weeks of work, mind you, to get them exactly the way his wife wanted. So the plans are done, she okayed them, but now she’s thinking she wants to go in a different direction.” He got up, moved away from the desk, and began pacing, flinging out his arms to punctuate his sentences. “Originally they wanted ultramodern, with black stainless steel appliances, an in-kitchen breakfast nook, and a library with built-in shelves. Plus a lounge with room enough for an ultrawide large-screen television, an office for him and her, oh, and something more ‘whimsical’ for the kids, who, by the way, are nearly seventeen. I worked my arse off trying to sort out the details, get estimates for the work, find the right kit to satisfy their requirements, and get it done within the allotted time span.”
Sam wanted to tell Aaron he had no business taking on all that extra work, but bit his tongue. With the dark circles under Aaron’s eyes, the coffee he’d been drinking by the potful, and the stress of juggling so many different things at once, Sam knew better.
Aaron scowled. “He just called me to say, guess what? She’s changed her mind.” His eyes glinted. “Now she no longer wants ultramodern. Instead she wants something French provincial, with an open, airy design that will let all kinds of light in because she read somewhere that children needed more sun.”
Aaron nodded. “I agree. And I could make it work, too, but there’s just one teeny tiny problem. They still want it by the original date, and he doesn’t seem to understand why that’s not possible.” He came to a halt at the window and dropped into the straight-backed chair beside it, staring out at the street below.
“What do you think about getting out of the house and taking a break? We could go to the club, see a few people, and forget the worries of the day.”
Aaron groaned and leaned into the firm grip. He tilted his head back and rested it on Sam’s stomach, staring up. Sam smiled down at his partner. He loved it when Aaron leaned on him. It seldom happened, and he wanted to enjoy it while he could.
Sadly, this time it didn’t last long either. Aaron pulled away, got up, and went over to the couch to grab the laptop. He sat back down at the desk and continued typing his letter, losing none of the attitude.
“Whispers closed, remember? They sold it to new owners, and it’s in the process of being renovated.” He gave a wistful sigh and glanced back at the computer. “I wish they had talked to me. I had some ideas for that place.”
Sam scowled, grateful that Aaron couldn’t see him. Aaron drove himself way too hard, working every night until Sam had to literally drag him up to the bedroom, with Aaron still protesting how much work he had to do.
“It’s better than sitting at home, don’t you think?” Aaron huffed. “Besides, I’m not sure I’m ready to go to the club anyway.”
“Well, I guess we’ll have to find something else to occupy ourselves.”
A shake of the head and a throaty chuckle gave him his answer. “Unless you’re going to bottom, that little scenario isn’t likely to get played out.”
Now it was Sam’s turn to expel a long breath. He couldn’t help but notice Aaron’s melancholy expression and knew exactly what the problem was.
“I miss Seb, too, you know. I understand he decided the lifestyle wasn’t for him, but it had been the three of us for six years. And they were good years, right?”
It was getting to be a familiar discussion in the time since their former submissive had asked to be released from his contract. Their hearts had been heavy and their hands had shaken as they removed the collar they’d placed around his neck in a ceremony at Whispers, with all their friends in attendance. When they’d signed the permanent contract, Aaron and Sam had been thrilled. And for years it had been perfect—or so they’d thought.
Until nearly a year ago, when Seb came to them, on the verge of tears, telling them he didn’t want to be their submissive anymore. He wanted a different life for himself, one they couldn’t be part of. He claimed that he no longer felt like a person, that they offered safety but not freedom.
It was as if their world had come to a shuddering stop.
They’d promised him they could work it out, but in the end, Sebastian decided he wanted to dissolve the contract rather than work to fix the problems he claimed existed. When the day came for him to leave, there were tears, hugs, and promises to keep in touch. Both Aaron and Sam suspected that wouldn’t happen, and they weren’t wrong. As they watched Seb pull away, they clutched each other, then walked back into the house they’d all shared.
The one that no longer seemed like a home.
Everything that had been familiar, from the dining table where they’d sat and eaten, to the bed they’d shared each night, now held memories they weren’t ready to deal with. And that had led to problems for them both.
“They were the best years.” Aaron’s tone was harsh, his voice hoarse and scratchy.
With Seb there, the house had been filled with love and laughter. Or at least they’d thought it had. They still had no idea what the problem had been, and Seb had never told them. Through it all, Sam and Aaron stayed together. But two tops don’t make a working relationship, and they both knew it.
They’d met Seb at Whispers, the BDSM club that Sam and Aaron belonged to. The two men had never done a scene together, but that night nearly seven years ago, at Seb’s suggestion, they’d taken him to one of the private rooms. Seb had lain on his back, Aaron taking his pleasure from Seb’s mouth, while Sam filled his arse. It had been transcendent, and they’d done many such scenes over the next few months. Seb had been responsive and skilled, and it wasn’t long before they realized they’d both fallen in love with him. What surprised them more, however, had been the dawning realization that they loved each other too.
Just not enough to bottom for the other. There were limits to their relationship.
They’d tried going to the club a few times after Seb had left, but none of the subs caught their attention, and they’d returned home, frustrated and annoyed. Eventually Aaron had stopped asking to go, even though Sam still wanted to, practically begging Aaron to get out there again, reminding him they’d never find someone unless they did. Aaron would agree in principle, but it never went any further than that.
“How about we go out to dinner?”
Aaron pulled a face. “Maybe another time. I’m just not in the mood tonight.”
It was on the tip of Sam’s tongue to point out that Aaron had been saying that ever since Seb left. He’d heard all the excuses—too tired, not in the mood, a lot of work to do—and had put up with Aaron shooting down each of Sam’s ideas one by one, but Sam was determined to continue trying.
“How about if we shove some popcorn in the microwave and watch a film in the media room?” He smiled. “We can cuddle up on the couch.” Inwardly he prayed Aaron would take him up on the offer. The “couch” was more like a bed, one of several in their cinema room. Aaron’s doing, of course.
Aaron gestured to the laptop. “I’ve got a lot of work—”
Aaron’s eyes narrowed, and he opened his mouth until Sam held up a hand.
“Don’t argue with me on this, because I promise you won’t win.”
Sam stroked Aaron’s jeans-clad thigh, keeping the motion soothing. “It’ll be okay, I promise. We’ll figure something out.”
Aaron covered Sam’s hand with his own. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t snap at you. None of this is your fault. And you’re right. I have been working too hard. Maybe what we need is to take a holiday.”
The thought that Aaron might finally be willing to get out and enjoy life had Sam cautiously optimistic. “Sure, we could do that. Let me know when would be good for you.”
“Okay. I’ll check my schedule and we’ll see what we can work out.” Aaron leaned over and gave Sam a peck on the lips. “I’ll go make the popcorn. You can choose what film we watch.”
“We’re going to figure this out. I promise.”
With a sharp nod, Aaron left the study and went upstairs to the kitchen.
Sam leaned back onto his chair, sinking into the softness. He had no idea what to do to get Aaron to go out again. He wished Vic hadn’t gone out of town for work right then, because he could use a sit-down, face-to-face talk and some friendly advice. He made a mental note to talk to Vic when he came back. Maybe he’d have an idea about how to spark Aaron’s desire to get out and enjoy life again.
AARON MOVED through the house, taking in the changes he’d made since Seb left. He and Sam had the place redone from top to bottom a few months after Seb moved out. Aaron hated how depressed Sam would get when he’d see something that reminded him of the life they’d all shared. That left him with two options: either they needed to move or gut the house and redo it all. Given that Aaron worked on houses for a living, he’d opted for a complete makeover. Once he’d finished, the place was nothing like the original terraced house they’d bought together. Except “terraced house” had never been an apt description for the huge property in a quiet part of Belgravia. The Grade II listed house had featured in many articles, and Aaron was proud of what he’d accomplished.
But it wasn’t a house built for two.
Sex had been the other problem. He and Sam could let loose when they were with a submissive, but things between them felt awkward and stilted when they didn’t have anyone else. They knew they needed a third, a man who wouldn’t mind two big, bossy alpha-type guys guiding them in life and in love.
And how are you going to find that if you’re too scared to go to the club?
He wasn’t scared, exactly. It was more that things had changed after Seb left. Both he and Sam had sunk into misery, and that had quickly turned to anger. They’d lashed out at each other, saying hurtful things. Aaron would admit, between the two of them, he had the worst temper. He sniped at Sam a lot, kept needling until Sam blew a fuse. When that happened, his anger was a thing to behold. Of course, making Sam lose control never made Aaron feel better. In fact, it caused his stomach to clench and his chest to ache. It got so bad, they’d taken to sleeping in separate bedrooms, neither one willing to be in the room the three of them had shared and both of them being too damn stubborn to deal with the situation.
Everything came to a head the day Aaron had come downstairs to find Sam sitting in the kitchen, his big hands wrapped around a half-drunk mug of coffee. He didn’t look up and say good morning like he usually did. What he blurted out had shaken Aaron’s world to its core.
“Do you think we should split up?”
Sam shrugged. “Because all we do is fight. Who’s going to want to be with two men who can’t even get their acts together?”
Aaron hated the fact that he’d done that to Sam. His anger had turned in on himself, making him wonder why he was trying to sabotage what they had together. “This is down to me.”
“No, love. It’s down to both of us. Last night I kept asking myself why we would stay together. We’re both Doms, but our relationship is about much more than that. We’re friends and have been for years. Seb completed us, made us feel whole. I won’t deny I miss him, and one day I hope we have someone who will complete us again, but in the meantime, I still love my friend and can’t imagine him not being in my life.”
Sam’s shocking question had been the start of them clawing their way back to first being friends—reconnecting over the things that had brought them together in the first place—then being the two Doms who needed a sub to complete them.
Only you won’t go to the club. Sam keeps asking, and you’re always putting him off.
Aaron might play a good game, but he wasn’t ready for another person in the house. He wasn’t sure he would ever be ready. The pain from when Seb left still burned deep inside. He knew what hurt the worst was not understanding what had happened between them. He’d lost count of how many nights he’d lain awake, wondering what could have changed. And he knew Sam was doing the same thing.
How could they prevent it from happening again if they found someone new?
“Shit!” Aaron yanked open the microwave door, grimacing at the sight of the burned popcorn. “I’m sorry. I—”
“Got distracted?” Sam rubbed the back of his neck and groaned. “Yeah, me too. I didn’t bother choosing a DVD. I’m not really in the mood.”
“We could go dancing? We might find someone there we could….”
Aaron couldn’t see them doing that. They’d enjoyed dancing with Seb. He’d been graceful and had a sensual way of moving that always worked them up. “Do you really want to do that?”
Sam sighed and leaned against the counter. “No.”
Maybe it was finally time to be honest about his hopes for their future.
Aaron looked Sam in the eye. “I want someone who’s willing to give us their heart and body. After what we had, I don’t think I could settle for less anymore. You know I was never really the easy-lay type. The truth is, I don’t know that I can handle being hurt again.”
Sam’s expression grew grim, but he nodded.
Aaron and Sam had met at university almost fifteen years ago and had fallen into a quick friendship based on their enjoyment of all things science-fiction related. Many nights were spent arguing over which movie had been better, Star Wars or Star Trek. Who made the better captain, Pike, Kirk, Picard, Sisko, or Janeway? They both agreed that Archer from Enterprise couldn’t be considered in the list since the show was crap, though both agreed that Trip had been hot.
They each knew the other was gay, but neither had considered any kind of sexual relationship to be feasible. One night they were surprised to find they both belonged to a club catering to Dominant men seeking submissives. They laughed over the fact that they finally understood why it wouldn’t work between them.
And then there had been a new discussion: which of them had been more dominant, and who would bottom for the other. One drunken night they found out. Aaron discovered that Sam had definitely been the more aggressive of the two of them when he’d shoved Aaron down on his knees and tried to stuff his cock deep into Aaron’s throat. Given the thickness of that monster, Aaron was surprised he hadn’t choked on it. Then, somehow, Aaron had found himself on his back, with Sam pushing his cock into Aaron’s arse. It had been the first and last time he’d bottomed for anyone, and Aaron would be eternally grateful for the fact that Sam never brought it up or tried to reenact the scene.
Anxious to avoid awkwardness between them, Aaron had stayed away from Sam for a time, but Sam wouldn’t have it. He cornered Aaron one day and made him explain why he hadn’t been returning calls. When Aaron spoke of his fears, Sam had pulled him into a hug and told him he needn’t ever worry. It had been a one-off, and it had been good—for Sam, at any rate—but it wouldn’t be more than that. And it hadn’t been, until the night they’d met Seb.
Aaron knew, even without verbalizing it, that Sam had been in charge of their relationship. He gave Seb and Aaron directions in bed. He would prepare the scene they’d share, and neither of them questioned him. Even though Sam never again tried to get Aaron to give up his chosen role, he was still a force to be reckoned with. Whether aggressively kissing both his lovers while he and Aaron conquered Seb in the bedroom, or giving directions about household assignments, there was never a question who was in charge.
But Sam could also be sweet. He always brought home gifts when he returned from a trip, whether he’d been to Manchester or the US. It had made Aaron wonder if Sam still thought of him as less dominant, but over time he came to realize it was his way. He liked taking care of people, and that included Aaron. When they were with Seb, Sam never once treated either of them as less than an equal partner, even when he’d been telling Aaron to warm that pretty little bottom that Sam would inevitably slide into, moaning at the heated skin. Then the next time, Sam would spank their boy, and Aaron would get the sensations. And through it all, Seb seemed to like it.
Until the day came when he said he didn’t anymore.
Aaron was certain he and Sam still loved each other. Being with Sam brought a completeness to his life, but the spirit, which had burned so bright, had dimmed when the light of their lives had walked out on them. They’d held on to each other, taking strength when they needed it and giving it in return. It never turned sexual, but it had been comforting.
Though he denied it, Sam loved to cuddle. And Aaron had to admit, he didn’t mind it himself. After Seb left, Sam’s desire to hold Aaron close grew more pronounced, as if he was afraid of losing Aaron too. Once they worked through their problems, their need for each other grew as well. Though they didn’t have anal sex, there was a lot of touching, kissing, and affirmations of love, with the occasional blowjob whenever the mood took them. Not that oral sex was anywhere near as satisfying as being buried to the hilt in Seb’s arse had been. And sure, he and Sam could suck each other off, but it seemed… awkward. Which was strange, because when they’d been with Seb, neither had had a problem with blowjobs. But with just the two of them, both wanting to take the lead, both wanting to say who did what?
Getting a blowjob should never be that much work.
Aaron knew how hard it had been for Sam to see Seb walk out of their lives, as though Sam felt he had somehow failed Seb and Aaron. And Sam, ever the stoic, was hurting but was doing his utmost not to show it.
Late into the evening, they’d talk. Aaron missed Sam as he had been when Seb was the center of their world. At times Sam seemed uncertain they’d find someone else who would fit with them. But now he was willing to try, and it was Aaron who was holding them back.
Aaron leaned against the counter, sipping his tea as Sam moved around the kitchen. His large frame had a grace to it that left most people in awe. How someone so large could possess such fluidity of movement stunned friends and colleagues alike. His dark, short-cropped hair and beard, plus the thick pelt that covered most of his body, and the bit of a gut classified him as the quintessential bear. Sam had one more surprise for people, though. He held two degrees in marketing and worked for one of the largest banks in London as the vice president of finances. Most people saw the domineering alpha-type male, never bothering to see the power carried through to all parts of his life.
In contrast, Aaron was equally furry but had more definition to his body. He also had tattoos that ran the length of both arms, which he’d gotten after his mother passed away. He’d taken some of the designs she created and had Mick, the tattoo specialist at Dominant Ink, transform them into a living tribute to the woman who’d raised him and died way too young.
Seb used to say Sam and Aaron were spectacular together. He loved touching them, worshipping their bodies, and providing any service they needed from him. He’d been an amazing submissive.
So why? Two years later, the same question still plagued Aaron. Why had he produced his copy of their contract and asked—no, begged—to be let out of it? He wouldn’t answer when they asked, and eventually they agreed to release him. The memory still haunted Aaron.
Though he didn’t really want to talk about it, Aaron needed to know. “Am I holding you back from meeting someone new?”
Sam released Aaron and spun him to face him. “What brought this up?”
“It’s just that you’re obviously ready to go to the club again, and I’m not. What if I never am?”
The sad, sweet smile on Sam’s face sent a tremor of regret through Aaron. “We’re in this together, remember? Neither of us walked away when we were having issues, and we fought like hell to get back to being who we are. Unless you’re going to call it quits, I think we’re okay. And it will—or won’t—come in time. And just so we’re clear, I’m every bit as terrified as you are about being hurt again. The thing is, yeah, I do want this, but without you, it wouldn’t be the same. I love you, and I’m willing to wait.”
Sam put a hand over Aaron’s mouth. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t stop trying to get us back out there.”
Aaron leaned back and chuckled. “Fair enough.” He drew Sam closer and brushed their lips together. “And for the record, I love you too.”
A lascivious grin flashed over Sam’s face. “Enough to bottom?”
Sam chuckled. “Does that mean you’re going to take all of it this time?”
“I repeat—hell no.”
They laughed and hugged each other before heading upstairs to sleep.