The mellow notes of Smokestack Lightning gave the atmosphere in the club a relaxed vibe, the volume not too high to make the music intrusive. Luke ran a finger through the condensation coating his tumbler of iced water. A slice of lime jostled for space with ice cubes riding on bubbles of carbonation, its color a splash of neon brightness in the dim light. He breathed deeply, taking in the scent of leather and wax furniture polish. The Underground’s Friday lunchtime crowd filled the tables around him and he caught the edges of innocuous conversations about jobs and families and holidays. A love of kink didn’t wipe away the mundane, everyday aspects of life, though it did make them a little more interesting.
Luke watched a young submissive, kneeling next to his Master’s chair, rest his head on the Dominant’s thigh. The sub’s expression when the Dom ruffled his hair was one of pure bliss. Luke wondered, as he often did, what it would feel like to put that expression on another man’s face. He couldn’t imagine anything more satisfying. Caring for somebody who wanted to be cared for, who craved his attention and guidance, was something that Luke could only aspire to. He hoped that one day the right man would come along and he’d get the chance to live the lifestyle he desired, but it hadn’t happened yet.
He sipped his drink, wondering at his own contemplative mood. It wasn’t like him to mope over what he didn’t yet have. He fancied that his job as general manager of The Retreat put him in a position where he could witness too many loving D/s relationships and it was beginning to have an effect on his psyche.
He knew the moment Carey Hoffman came into the dining room. There was a subtle change in the atmosphere and a slight rise in the noise level as staff and club members offered their greetings and exchanged the latest news. Carey was the definition of enigmatic. He had a powerful presence that drew people’s attention—they wanted him to notice them. Immaculate as always in a dark suit, light blue shirt and patterned tie, Carey strolled across the room with purpose, pausing now and again for a few words with people he knew well. Those he was less familiar with got a nod of acknowledgment at the very least. Nobody was excluded. His attitude was fundamental to the club’s success. Even the newest member was made to feel at home.
Carey arrived at Luke’s table and Luke stood to greet him, offering his hand. To his surprise, he found himself pulled into an embrace.
“It’s great to see you, Luke. I’ve been remiss in keeping up with your news. Life’s so busy, it’s difficult to get down to Hampshire as often as I’d like.” Carey took a seat at the table.
“It’s hectic for both of us. I hope my weekly reports have given you all the information you need about happenings at The Retreat.”
“They have, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the way you’re running things. I’ve had nothing but praise from customers who have dropped into the club after their stay, as well as emails and phone calls, all singing your praises. Tor’s cooking gets no end of compliments. The only thing close to a complaint I’ve had is men saying they put on weight during their stay.”
“I can understand that,” Luke said. “I have to ration myself or I’d be spending five hours a day in the gym on top of running every morning.”
Carey chuckled. “It’s fortunate for me that I have Alistair to make sure I keep in trim. There’s nothing like a young, willing submissive to keep a man active.”
“I’m sure. Is he around today? I’d like to say hello.”
“I’m afraid not. He has a new show opening next week at a small gallery in Mayfair. He’s over there setting everything up. No doubt he’ll get back later, flustered and stressed out—you’ll see him then. He’s excited that you’re staying over with us.”
“And you’ll be right here to calm him down.”
“One of my favorite jobs.” Carey gestured toward the nearest server, who came scurrying over.
“What can I get you, Sir?” The young man bounced on his bare toes, arse jiggling beneath his short leather kilt.
“My usual please, Gordy. Luke, would you like a refill?”
“Please.” Luke swallowed the last of his drink and handed the glass to Gordy, who skipped toward the bar. “Is he always that energetic?”
“I’m afraid so,” Carey said, his tone wry. “He needs a good Dom to wear him out a bit. He makes me tired watching him.”
The fresh drinks were soon delivered and Luke settled back in his chair. “So, I assume you’re going to tell me why you called me up here? Not that I object to the change of scenery.”
“Yes, I suppose I should. I wanted to talk to you about the big group you have arriving next week and your requirements for additional staff.”
“There are five couples coming, all members of the Manchester club Collars and Cuffs. They’re staying for five days and have a few theme nights planned, which should be exciting. They’re bringing their own costumes but have ordered some interesting outfits for the houseboys. Tor is matching his menus to their themes. He has a full complement of catering staff—two assistants. I think you know Benjy and Frank because they’ve done a stint here too. He has requested a dedicated server to help out. Normally Tor or his kitchen assistants wait on the guests, but with this number of people he thinks they’ll be too busy. I reckon one person should be enough. I still have two houseboys in residence—Fergus and Henry, who were both approved by the guests—and Rayne will be in his usual role as chauffeur. I have two additional cars on call should they be needed and Rayne has access to a minibus if they all want to go on an outing together. But you know all this from the plan I sent you.” Luke gave him a quizzical glance. “I was hoping you had some news for me about a potential server.”
“I’m going to send Goran down to run the bar, keep things stocked and generally help out,” Carey said.
“He’ll be a very welcome addition. I can leave him to get on with that side of things—he certainly doesn’t need my interference. But he’s not a server.”
“He can deal with the wine, but I have someone else in mind for table and room service. I have a young man here who has been helping out, but he’s a little nervous. The noise and the number of people in the club can be a bit overwhelming at times.”
“Does he have any other experience?” Luke asked, his curiosity piqued.
“Silver service training at a restaurant with two Michelin stars. He’s been taught to be invisible and he’s good at it.”
“Yes. He has huge potential. He hasn’t played with anyone yet but I’ve seen him watching. He’s interested. I don’t suppose he would have applied for a job here if he wasn’t, but he’s still finding his feet and he’s shy. I think it would give his confidence a boost if he went down to The Retreat for a while. With your guidance, he’ll have time to work out what it is he wants in a less intimidating environment.”
“He sounds ideal. Do I get to meet him?”
“Of course. That’s why you’re here.”
“Just one thing,” Luke said. “If he’s nervous, is he going to be okay with the dress code?”
“He understands it’s a condition of the role. He hasn’t had a problem with the uniform here as you’ll see.” Carey waved at Gordy, who immediately came to his side.
“Has Skye arrived for his shift yet?”
“Yes, Sir. He’s getting changed, I think. He’ll be out in a minute or two.”
“When he’s ready, ask him to come over and join us please.”
Gordy took off at a run and Carey rolled his eyes. “I’m amazed that boy doesn’t fall headlong over the furniture, or someone’s legs. He moves like a jack rabbit.”
“Someone needs to put him on a leash.”
“Indeed. I don’t think it will be that long before they do. He has a sweet nature and I’ve had a few enquiries about him. Ah.” Carey glanced over his shoulder. “Here’s Skye now.”
It wasn’t dignified, but Luke twisted around in his seat to take a look at his potential employee as he wound his way between the tables. He hadn’t formed an impression of what Skye might look like, but the reality was better than anything Luke’s imagination could have conjured. Skye was slight, delicate, maybe five feet six or seven, no more. His skin was lightly tan, a coloring that Luke guessed came from his heritage rather than the sun. He had no tattoos that Luke could see and considering that all he wore was a short leather kilt, that didn’t leave much room to hide any. The wavy hair Luke had assumed was pale blond was in fact silver-gray, though the boy’s eyelashes and brows were a much darker shade, which made Luke wonder if the silver was natural.
Skye stopped in front of the table facing Luke and Carey. He clasped his hands behind his back and ducked his head. “Gordy said you wanted to see me, Mr. Hoffman.” Skye’s voice was so soft Luke had to concentrate to catch his words.
“I did, Skye. You remember I spoke to you about a job at The Retreat in Hampshire?”
Nodding, Skye darted a quick look at Luke. Luke caught a glimpse of violet-blue eyes before Skye focused his gaze on the carpet once more.
“Well, this is Mr. Redding. He’s in charge of The Retreat. I want you to wait on us over lunchtime and show him what you can do.”
“Hello, Skye,” Luke said, keeping his voice low and trying to project reassurance. “I hear you’ve had excellent training. We have a mixture of guests staying at The Retreat, but they all have something in common. They love their food. We have a dedicated chef and customers can pick their own menus and eat as much as they want. That means a lot of serving both at table and in the guests’ rooms. Do you think you can handle that?”
Skye scuffed his bare toes into the carpet. “Yes, Sir.”
“And you understand that The Retreat caters for men who are in the BDSM lifestyle, just like here at the club?” Skye nodded and a light pink flush bloomed on his cheekbones. “Sometimes, you might be required to wear very little or nothing at all. Does that worry you?”
“No, Sir.” Skye’s response was barely audible.
Luke wanted to make eye contact with the shy young man but Skye kept his gaze lowered.
“Remove your kilt, Skye,” Carey ordered.
Luke tightened his grip on his drink. He expected Skye to bolt but instead he undid the buckle at his hip, let the leather garment drop to the floor then stepped out of it.
“Hands behind your back,” Carey instructed.
Luke glanced around the restaurant. Almost every man in the place had turned to watch. Skye stood absolutely still, clad only in the mesh thong that was issued to all the serving staff at The Underground to wear under their kilts.
“Fetch two menus, please.”
Luke watched, entranced, as Skye walked away, hips swaying. He might as well have been naked for all the coverage his underwear gave him. He had natural grace and if it weren’t for the slight tension in his shoulders, Luke might have believed he was entirely comfortable following Carey’s orders.
“You’re testing him. Why?” Luke didn’t take his eyes away from Skye as he collected two menus and returned to the table.
“Because you need to be confident that he will do as you ask, when he’d prefer to run and hide.”
“He’s attracting a lot of attention.”
“Are you surprised?”
“Not at all. He’s stunning.”
Carey’s smile turned into a smirk. “Then you can handle him from now on.”
Luke accepted the menu Skye handed him. He pointed to a spot on the carpet next to his chair. “You’ll only be serving us, Skye. Kneel here while we make our choices.”
Skye hurried to do as he was asked. He dropped to his knees next to Luke’s chair, resting his hands palms down on his thighs, his arse on his heels. Luke found it extremely difficult to concentrate on the menu selection. The printed letters kept dancing a jig in front of his eyes.
“The chef here makes fantastic risotto,” Carey offered.
“Then I’ll have that. Anything you recommend is bound to be good,” Luke said, relieved not to have to think about it any further.
“I’ll have the same,” Carey said. “Bring a selection of chef’s appetizers while we wait for the main course.”
Skye raised his eyes, looking to Luke for permission to move. Luke got his first complete view of Skye’s eyes, which were a startling, unusual color. They, combined with his silver hair and delicate features, made him beautiful.
“You may go.” Luke handed both menus back to Skye. He noticed that the young man’s hands were trembling as he took the leather-bound cartes du jour, but he was steady on his feet as he walked back to the kitchen. “He’s got courage.”
“The orders make him brave. They give him enough focus to get past his embarrassment.”
Luke nodded. “I’ll have him stay with us while we eat. Kneeling will give him some protection.”
Carey grinned but didn’t say anything.
“He’s imprinting on you. You’re his safe place now.”
Luke shook his head. “You planned this all along, didn’t you?”
“I’m admitting to nothing.”
Smug suited Carey, much to Luke’s annoyance. He found himself scanning the restaurant, eager for Skye’s return. It was a few minutes before he emerged from the kitchen, a large plate of appetizers in his hands. When he bent to place them on the low table in front of Luke’s seat, there were several sharp intakes of breath from diners at the surrounding tables. Luke glared at their occupants.
“You may put your kilt back on, Skye.”
Not bothering to hide his relief, Skye buckled the garment around his hips. “Thank you, Sir.” He resumed his position kneeling next to Luke’s chair.
Grinning, Carey took a breaded prawn from the appetizer platter. “Eat something, Luke. I can’t manage all this food on my own. We’ll move to a proper dining table when the main course is ready.”
“Do you have any allergies, Skye?” Luke asked. Confusion shadowed Skye’s pretty face. “It’s an easy enough question,” Luke reprimanded. “I expect an answer.”
“No, Sir. I’m not allergic to anything.”
“Any strong dislikes? I’m talking about food here.”
“Nothing too spicy, Sir.”
Luke hid a smile. He selected a miniature blini, topped with a slither of smoked salmon and some cream cheese, from the plate then held it to Skye’s plump lips. Skye opened for him, accepting the treat. Luke fed him a few more appetizers before taking anything for himself. Skye’s quiet moans of satisfaction were enough to make Luke hard, something he didn’t try to hide. Every now and again he caught Carey giving him a knowing glance. Luke’s boss was enjoying every moment of the scene he had engineered.
“Find us a table for the main course, please, Skye.” Luke ordered. “I’d like a glass of white wine to go with the risotto, something light. You may ask the barman for advice on a suitable choice. Carey, would you like another drink with lunch?”
“I’ll have the same.”
“Two glasses then, please. Then you may check on progress in the kitchen. Take the wine straight to the table.”
Once Skye had risen and moved away to complete his tasks, Luke turned to Carey. “What exactly do you have planned, Carey?”
“Skye needs a Master, and you need someone to train. A Dom without a sub is an empty shell.”
“Very philosophical. And do you not think I’m capable of finding the right man myself?”
“Frankly, my friend, no.” Carey chuckled. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’re stuck down in Hampshire, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by men with their own partners. I don’t think Rayne or the houseboys are your type, and Tor keeps his kitchen assistants firmly chained to the stove. You have little opportunity to hunt down a good sub. You’re an excellent manager and I don’t want to lose you. Skye will keep you well occupied.”
“I never pegged you as a matchmaker, Carey. I’m appalled.”
“No, you’re not. You’re intrigued. You’re already feeling protective. Where’s the harm? Take him back to Hampshire with you tomorrow, put him to work and see where things go. Train him. He probably won’t even realize you’re doing it.”
“He’s very young.”
“He is. This is his first job after graduating. He got his other experience working part-time while he was a student. It’s all the more reason that he should find his way under the guidance of someone experienced. The Underground is a safe space, but sooner or later his curiosity is going to get him into the sort of trouble he won’t be able to handle.”
The thought of Skye venturing into the world of Dominance and submission without protection sent a cold shiver down Luke’s spine. “Perhaps it is time,” he murmured. “Fine. I’ll take him back to The Retreat. But don’t think you’ve heard the last of this, Carey. Wait till I tell Alistair about your meddling.”
“Who do you think is really behind this?” Carey chuckled. “Alistair will be delighted that his plan has worked. Be warned, the sub mafia is a powerful organization with a long reach.”
Luke sighed. “Someone needs to put that in the BDSM manual in big red letters. There are a lot of unsuspecting, innocent Doms out there ready to get hooked.”
“Indeed. How about we contemplate our vulnerability over some good food and wine?”
Deciding alcohol might be a good idea as he didn’t have to drive anywhere, Luke followed Carey to the table Skye had selected for them. He needed a distraction from silver hair and big violet eyes before he did something he might regret.