The moment Javier opened the door to the Citadel, the restless energy that had been eating at him from the absolute shit day he’d had at work calmed. This was a place he understood. The rules were simple and people came here to forget about the outside world for a few hours.
The fact that his experiences within the community for the past year or so had been soothing his soul less and less wasn’t the fault of the people. In fact, one of the only reasons he still came to the Citadel was because there were good friends inside. Friends who had made the whole process of relocating back to Dallas more bearable.
“Good evening, sir.”
“Good evening, Henry. How are you?”
The submissive’s radiant smile illuminated the dark entryway and his effervescent personality made him perfect for the position of welcome boy.
“I’m great. Master Everett and I are doing a caning demonstration this evening in the main playroom.”
“I’ll look forward to observing. You are always beautiful in your submission. Master Everett is a very lucky man.”
The young man practically glowed at the mention of his Dominant’s name. Everett and Henry had recently signed a permanent contract, after having been together for nearly two years. Aside from Brandon and Tyler, the two men were the closest friends Javier had. Therefore, he wasn’t going to rain on Henry’s parade and tell him that the thought of watching him get caned would be the last thing he wanted to end his day.
Everett was the owner of the Citadel and one of the best Dominants Javier had the pleasure of knowing. But he was so much more than a leader in the BDSM community. He was a brilliant businessman, and with every look between the two of them, it was clear Everett thought the world revolved around Henry.
It had, in fact, been Everett who’d introduced Javier to his last sub. Unfortunately, things had not worked out between him and Vincent. A couple of months ago, Javier had made the decision to end their association.
At first, Vincent had seemed a model sub, but a little over a month into their relationship, something had shifted in their dynamic. At first, it had been as subtle as a sneer in the mirror. A tightening of muscles at even a casual touch. It had been during one particular scene at his home that Javier had felt a quiver of animosity come from Vincent. He’d immediately called a stop and initiated a discussion about what was going on in the sub’s head. His sub’s state of mind and care during a scene were always his first responsibilities. But despite his best efforts to understand what Vincent needed, Javier had never felt they’d been able to forge a foundation to build on. So now he found himself without a submissive and, lately, questioning why he wasn’t actively searching for one.
He still enjoyed coming to the Citadel. Sharing space and socializing with like-minded individuals relaxed him in a way that a local mainstream bar never did. And today just happened to be one of those that he needed his friends. All day long he’d been putting out one fire after another.
Ninety percent of the time, he loved working with the patients at the sports and spine rehabilitation center where he was the chief physical therapist. But ten percent of the time he encountered a combination of either patients or management duties that sucked a piece of his soul. Right now, he was running on fumes.
He stepped through the interior doors and took in the scene. It was still early for a Thursday night, but there were a few members relaxing on the sofas and deep chairs scattered around the room. Walking up to the bar, he saw Everett playing bartender.
He nodded. “Can I get a shot of Maestro?”
Everett paused. “You know the rules.”
“I’m just here to relax tonight. You know what? Make it a double.”
Everett slid the shot towards Javier. “What’s going on?”
“I had a client call just before leaving work. I’ve been helping him rehab for the last several months after a spinal fusion surgery. But he wanted to let me know that he couldn’t make his appointment in the morning. Apparently his wife, who’s been battling cancer, is being moved into a hospice.”
Javier nodded. “I know I’m not a licensed counselor, but we’ve spent many of our hours together talking about his ailing spouse. I feel as though I’ve gotten to know her in a way.” He swallowed the shot. “You should have heard his voice. If heartbreak has a sound, it echoed through that phone line into my ear. They never had any children, and neither of them have any living siblings. Only each other, and it seems like that’s soon going to change.”
“That’s rough, man, but I get the feeling there’s more. You’re not the overly emotional type. So why the double shot?”
He looked around the room. Everyone present was paired up, and in the last several months he’d gotten to know the regular members well enough that he recognized the majority of them. Committed. Devoted. Each and every one. But maybe there were some people who simply didn’t have it in them to experience love like his client. Like Everett and Henry. If he were being honest, he knew more people who’d had a series of failed relationships than those who were successful. Sometimes even love wasn’t enough. Take my parents, for instance.
His mother had devoted her whole life to Javier’s father. But one day he’d woken up and simply said, ‘I don’t love you anymore. I’m not even sure I ever did.’ Next thing Javier knew, he and his madre had been living with his abuelos. And the woman who’d been raised from birth to be a wife and mother had had to go out and find work. With little education and no experience, the best she’d been able to manage was a night shift job in a warehouse. Which meant every morning while he ate his breakfast, he got to hear how his madre had failed. How if she had just kept her faith in Christ and been the woman his father needed, then he would never have questioned his devotion.
Then there was Brandon and Tyler. Anyone with at least one eye could see that those two men loved each other. They were exactly what the other needed, but miscommunication, fears and sheer stubbornness had had them on the outs for the last month.
“Guess the whole conversation really made me think about relationships. Why some work and others don’t. Why even when it seems like two people are a perfect match, everything still manages to go wrong.”
“Is this about Vincent? I’m sorry. I really thought the two of you would be good together.”
He eyed the bottle still sitting on the bar but knew another shot wasn’t a good idea.
Maybe a beer instead?
“Not your fault.” He pasted on a smile. “Hey, we can’t all be as lucky as you. Henry is special and his devotion to you is unparalleled.”
Everett looked towards the door and the warmth and heat in his eyes at making eye contact with his sub made Javier feel as though he was interrupting an intimate moment.
“Yes, he is. But it also took me many years to find him. I know you’ll find the man who’s right for you, too.”
There was a shift in the air pressure and Javier turned towards the door. He sucked in a hard breath as the sight of Vincent entering the club. Physically he was exactly what Javier gravitated towards—an imposing man with large muscles, a bald head and bright blue eyes. Right now, he vibrated with an energy that had Javier frowning. Vincent glanced around the room as if he was looking for someone.
Vincent hadn’t been back to the club in the two months since their separation. Javier had offered to help the man find a new Dominant, but Vincent had said he needed some time to process what had happened between them before starting over. Was he here now because he was ready?
Well, the least I can do is introduce him to a few of the Doms. I’ll leave it up to him to figure out who’ll be the best fit, since clearly I never figured it out.
Javier realized he was sitting in the shadow of a pillar. He moved to stand and as soon as Vincent saw him, his entire demeanor changed. It was as if he’d pulled a cloak over himself to portray a part.
“Are you sure this is the wisest course of action?” Everett asked softly.
“No, but I owe it to him. I may have failed him, but he’s still my responsibility in a way until he finds another Dom.”
“I’m here if you need anything.”
Javier turned towards Everett. “Lo se, mi amigo.”
He started toward Vincent. It only took a dozen or so steps but felt much farther. Even though his and Vincent’s arrangement hadn’t worked out, he shouldn’t feel this anxiety about approaching a submissive. What did that say about him as a Dom? Maybe, after tonight, he would reevaluate his ideals. When he’d first admitted he was gay, he’d gotten so hung up on being seen as a man of strength that he’d instantly gravitated towards a relationship that required a power dynamic. That had actually led to a truly unhealthy relationship with Tyler one summer. In his anger and self-hatred, he’d treated Tyler cruelly. A few years later, Javier had come back to Dallas with a new perspective.
He was fortunate that Tyler had forgiven him and the two of them now shared a friendship of mutual respect. But maybe it was time to take another look within and decide if being a Dom was his true calling. Maybe it wasn’t only Vincent’s fault that their relationship hadn’t worked. Maybe Javier was to blame as well. If his heart wasn’t in building a dynamic, then how could he ever expect one to develop?
“Vincent. Please join me.” Javier gestured towards two chairs nearby.
He expected Vincent to follow behind him as a sub typically did, but instead the man almost brushed past. Javier stopped walking and Vincent took two more steps before halting and looking back.
Javier shook his head. “My name is Javier or Sir, if you still feel the need. I believe the title of Master is a moniker only appropriate when a permanent contract between Dom and sub has been agreed upon.” He continued toward the chairs and when Vincent moved to kneel, Javier stopped him. “The chair, please.”
Vincent frowned. “Sir?”
Javier sat and relaxed against the cushions. He didn’t want Vincent to sense the tension radiating throughout his body. “My expectations of you are different now that we’re no longer together.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I’d really like to come back. I’ve missed you, Sir.”
Javier take a closer look at the man. “That surprises me. For weeks leading up to our separation, I sensed your dissatisfaction in our relationship.”
“You could tell that?”
“Part of being a good Dominant is the ability to read micro-expressions and body language from a sub. You said the right words, but I could tell your heart and mind weren’t engaged. Trust is a fundamental in our community and you didn’t trust me.” He sighed. “And I’ve come to realize that I didn’t trust you either.”
He studied the man across from him. He wore a placid mask, but his fingers clutched his beefy thighs.
“I’ve had a rough couple of months at work. My head wasn’t in the game before, but things are better now. I can try harder—”
Javier held up his hand. “I don’t think that’s the problem. You recently moved to Dallas, and, believe me, I know the stress of relocation and starting over. But here’s the question I’ve asked myself. If the arrangement between us was right, then it should have been a time of peace. A time of clarity. Instead, when we were together, I perceived a wall between us, and despite my best efforts, the mortar only grew stronger. So, it became clear that we weren’t the right match.”
“I think you’re wrong, but I suppose there’s nothing I can do to change your mind. How about one last scene as a goodbye? We can even go back to your place, so there’s no public talk about us together again.”
Javier frowned. “That’s not really appropriate, but I will agree to a final drink. You said you needed time before you were ready to search out a new Dom. I’m still willing to help you with that, if you wish. If possible, I’d like to remain friends.”
“Thank you, Sir. Sorry, Javier. Can we maybe have the drink somewhere else?” Vincent looked around the room. “I don’t really feel like being here right now.”
Vincent locked eyes with someone in the direction of the bar. Javier assumed Everett was watching over them. Everett had a perfect resting Dom face, as Javier liked to joke. If that look was focused on Vincent at the moment, no wonder the man was squirming in his seat a bit. Javier was really tempted to look over his shoulder, but he refused to satisfy his curiosity. “Of course. Where would you like to go?”
“I know a little friendly place not far from here.”
“Sounds good. I’ll meet you there.”
“Actually, the parking is the one drawback. Not a big lot. We can ride together, and I’ll bring you back or I can ride with you.”
Javier nodded. “Let me just clear it with Everett that I can leave my car here for a little while.”
Javier looked over at the bar, but Everett had disappeared and the usual bartender was in his place. His friend was probably in his office, doing administration stuff. He didn’t really think it would be a big deal to leave his car on the premises for an hour or so. He sent a text instead and nodded at Vincent.
Maybe what I’ve been missing since breaking it off with Vincent is closure? Maybe now I’ll find the drive to find someone new?
And maybe that someone new didn’t have to be a trained submissive. If he opened his mind and heart to all possibilities instead of trying to fit a relationship into a pre-formed mold, then was it possible to finally find the right person?
“Let’s go.” They left though the front doors and as they passed Henry, Javier nodded. “I’ll be back. Please inform your Master I’d like to speak with him when I do.”
The fresh air hit Javier the moment they exited the building. A breeze caressed his face with enough energy to dissipate the lingering warmth of the day. It also helped that the sun was no longer doing its best to blind them from the sky.
“I’m parked over here,” Vincent said.
Javier turned the corner of the building and followed Vincent toward the parking lot in back. He saw Vincent’s truck right away. The bright white late model Ford stuck out in the sea of darker vehicles. Not to mention the blue lights that flashed brightly as he unlocked the doors, momentarily blinding Javier. He’d actually always hated the vehicle.
He climbed in on the passenger side and put on his seatbelt. He sniffed and detected the scent of a cheap air freshener that maybe should have been refreshing, but really resembled Pine-Sol mixed with spearmint. As soon as Vincent started the engine, he lowered the window a few inches. One drink or two as a courtesy, then it was back to the Citadel.
He watched the buildings of the Deep Ellum neighborhood pass by. Lights from other clubs and restaurants blurred together as they drove. He sat up as he realized that Vincent was driving south, away from the entertainment district.
“Just where are we going?”
“Someplace you’ll never forget.”
Vincent’s voice sounded different. Javier turned and found himself staring at the end of a Taser.
Javier jerked when Vincent pulled the trigger. Every muscle in his body contracted and his throat burned with the scream he unleashed before blackness enveloped him.