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It’s been two and a half years since the mysterious W disappeared from Chere’s life, and things are getting better. Sort of. She’s nearing the end of her design program and looking forward to a new career, even if her heart is shuttered for good.
But loneliness is a powerful thing, and she finds herself tempted by a no-strings-attached BDSM partner who happens to be her former professor. She knows it’s a terrible idea, and that he could never live up to W’s level of passionate mayhem, but she’s been waiting so long to be bound and hurt. She’s been waiting so long to feel something...
Unbeknownst to her, someone from her past has been waiting too. And when that someone realizes she means to move forward with this new partner, he barges back into her life to express his displeasure in the only way he knows...
Note: This book is super rough. There’s love, but it’s rough. Hence, Rough Love series. This full- length novel is book two of a three-part storyline that culminates in Happily Ever After. But, full disclosure, it’s going to be a rough ride.
I turned my head in the pulsating dark room, caught by a flash of blond and the hint of a white, tailored shirt. My heart rate accelerated as I looked past spanking benches and web racks to a cluster of clubgoers in the corner. By the time I filtered out the leather vests and silk bustiers, the white shirt was gone. A trick of the light, or that girl flitting across the room with the white collar.
It had been two and a half years, but I still thought I saw W sometimes. I’d catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye, but then I’d look closer and realize he wasn’t there.
Random things reminded me of him. A dominant stance, a hint of cologne, a man’s ironic look or sneer. I stayed on the subway an extra hour once to watch this guy smile down at his device the way W used to smile down at me when he was torturing me in one of his depraved sex games. Sometimes I followed tall, muscular men down the street because they moved the way he moved or looked the way he looked. I hated myself for doing these things, because it meant I was still as weak and stupid as I’d been the first day I met him at the W Hotel.
I despised W for what he’d done to me in the course of our escort-client relationship, the way he’d humiliated me and turned me inside out, and made me love him when he’d never wanted more than a sex toy. Two months. He had fucked me up completely within the space of two months. Years later, the wounds still lingered, festering emotion and unsettled angst.
Now I watched for him at places like this, in slick, exclusive BDSM clubs in Manhattan, in hopes I might get to confront him one day. I stood on the outskirts, in all the dark corners, thinking of the things I’d tell him, the things he hadn’t let me say. I hate that you left me. I hate that you pretended to care.
The last and only time I’d heard anything from W was a little over a year ago, when I’d received my apartment deed and title in the mail. It had come from the legal offices of Klein and Dunsingbush, containing my full legal name and address, and the name and address of the conveying party. W’s real name? Of course not. The property came to me from “Taunt, Incorporated,” his dummy corporation. I remembered the poetic allusion at once, as I’m sure he meant me to:
I’d rather have the want of you
The rich, elusive taunt of you
He was an asshole. A generous asshole, but still. His taunts were all around me and he knew it. Living in his apartment was a taunt, visiting these BDSM clubs was a taunt, my memories of him were a taunt I wished I could forget. He’d left me, deserted me, knowing full well I’d never be able to get over him. Taunt, Incorporated? Fuck you very much.
Since then, there’d been no other W-related contact, which was probably for the best. I wanted my heart to be free, and I’d kept it free of other entanglements since I’d walked out of the Gramercy Park Hotel with W’s glib dismissal in my hand. Good luck, starshine, he’d written.
I repeated that to myself whenever I started to feel too much, or care too much about someone who attracted me. It had become my mantra of self-awareness. Good luck, starshine. You’re just going to get fucked again. I didn’t even want to try. Love hurt too much, and I was clearly bad at it, based on my past and the selfish, harmful jerks I’d fallen for.
Instead I prowled the kink clubs in search of W, in search of closure, as if there could ever be closure for our fucked-up thing. I’d try to resist, stay home and watch TV instead, but then I’d think, what if this is the day he shows up? What if I miss him? I was a design major, not a math major. I chose not to think about the insurmountable odds of running into one soul-destructing pervert amidst the thousands in attendance at fetish clubs in New York City on any given night.
Forget the odds of running into him in New York—a rich guy like him might play in a different city every weekend. Vegas, London, Manila, Hong Kong, Berlin, the fucking Bahamas... By the time you added up those odds, running into him again seemed pretty impossible.
Good luck, starshine.
I watched a nearby couple whispering to each other, a thin, blond submissive male and his bear of a Dominant. The sub wore a black leather harness that accentuated cut muscles while simultaneously making him seem lithe and petite. Directly across from me, a woman moaned under her Domme’s whip. I couldn’t see anything of W in that statuesque and businesslike dominatrix. She was restrained elegance, and he was...
He was passion and violence, and all the fucked-up things.
Beyond the Domme and her sub, a well-known rigger decorated a woman in webs of robe. She was gone, utterly blissed out as he manipulated her body. He was tender and attentive, nuzzling her as he worked at the pattern of knots. I could see a little bit of W in him, in the control he exerted over the woman, but any similarity ended there. It bothered me that I still compared all men to W. It bothered me that I remembered so clearly the dread and adrenaline of being under his power.
The Domme laughed, a mocking, joyful crowing, as her submissive victim waggled her bottom. There was appreciative laughter, a round of applause. The gay couple beside me remained in a world of their own. The bear unzipped, never breaking eye contact, as he played with his sub’s wild, blond curly hair. A moment later he grabbed a handful of those curls, and the harnessed plaything melted to his knees.
I tried not to watch, but I listened. W used to do that, grab my hair like that, and I used to melt for him in the same way. The young man made such beautiful moans and noises. Had I made noises like that? W used to choke me and slap my face, and drive into my throat until I couldn’t breathe.
The bear was growing more passionate—rougher—by the moment, not that his sub seemed to mind. I felt like an interloper. I hid my furtive glances beneath the dark curtain of my hair. Right after I stopped escorting, I’d gone back to my natural hair color, because brunettes blended in more easily than peroxide blondes. I’d also stopped straightening it. I’d basically changed everything about myself in an effort to become someone new and better, and indestructible. Not that I felt indestructible on any given day.
The scene with the Domme ended and another scene began. The characters took their places with their props: the top, the bottom, the bondage, the implements. I’d learned a lot about BDSM in the past couple years, since I’d been coming to the clubs. I learned that most people do BDSM in a relaxed and civilized way, protected by strict rules of consent. Within that consent, a whole array of activities might happen, some of them even wilder than the things W had done to me. We had never really negotiated, though, like these people. Everything he did to me was a trauma or a surprise.
And you loved that, Chere. You lived for those sessions.
Once the new Dom had his sub arranged on the spanking bench, he leaned down and whispered to her as he stroked her shoulder. So relaxed. So civilized. Sometimes I tried to convince myself that my “thing” with W had superseded such niceties as consent and civility, that we were that passionately connected, but then I remembered that our connection was pure illusion, and that he’d never even told me his name. To this day, I didn’t know his name. I’d bet that submissive knew her Dominant’s name, knew where he lived, knew his phone number.
I retreated farther into the shadows. The blond sub beside me was still on his knees, giving an incredible blowjob, if his Master’s drawn-out groans and grunts were any indication. The massive, muscular man was twice his size, and he wasn’t being gentle as he rammed his cock into the sub’s throat. I stood behind another couple so I could full-on stare at the blowjob without being noticed.
Watching them brought everything back: W’s force, his scent, even the hardness of his cock against my tongue and lips. This Master wasn’t as tall and handsome as W, but the aura of command was there. He finished with a roar, rearing deep into the sub’s throat, and the sub knelt there and took it in graceful surrender. Tears filled my eyes from the memories, or maybe the knowledge that I had never been that good. I’d always fought. W told me that he liked it that I fought. It didn’t matter now.
He’d left me.
The Master stepped back and disengaged from the sub’s mouth with a clumsy, awkward pat to his shoulders. The younger man looked up at him with a clear offer of continued availability. The Master wove a hand through the sub’s blond curls and then, to my shock, turned and walked away. I watched the sub, expecting him to crumble. Instead, he sat against the wall, took an elastic off his wrist, and used it to pull back his shoulder-length hair.
Wow. Not crushed at all. Apparently he didn’t care much about the man he’d just submitted to. After a longer look, I realized I knew the guy from Norton Art and Design. Now that his hair was pulled back, I recognized his face from the cafeteria, and the subway station where we often waited for the same trains on the way to class. While I stared at him like an idiot, he gave a little wave, then reached to adjust the straps of his harness.
I turned away, embarrassed. His act of submission had brought back so many uneasy memories. A moment later, I felt a brush of contact on my shoulder.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m sorry if I was staring.”
“I don’t care if you stare.” He grinned at me. “I like when people stare. I’m an exhibitionist. Well, I’m a lot of things, but ‘exhibitionist’ is near the top of the list.”
I ran my eyes over his very impressive physique. Since he was an exhibitionist, he probably didn’t mind.
“I think I know you,” he said.
“I go to Norton.”
“That’s it.” He snapped his fingers. “Digital art?”
“No. Commercial design. Metals. But I think we shared a drawing class first year.”
“Yeah, we did. I remember now.”
The sub tinkered with his harness again. He seemed nice, maybe a little shy for all his bold subservience. I thought he would leave, even though I kind of wanted him to stay. It had been so long since I felt anything in common with someone. “Are you in digital art?” I asked, to keep the conversation going.
“Fine Arts,” he said. “Painting.”
Painting, like my ex-boyfriend Simon. I wondered if he was moody and precious in the studio, the way Simon used to be. I wondered if he used drugs.
“I had a boyfriend once who was a painter,” I said. “Things didn’t end well.”
“Painters make shitty boyfriends,” he joked.
“I agree. Let’s not talk about it.” I was trying to joke back. Probably failing. My lips wobbled and my voice wobbled and all I really wanted to know was how he could be so happy when his Master had just finished with him and walked away.
“Are you okay, really?” he asked.
“I’m okay. It’s just that…things get intense here sometimes.”
“Yeah. When I’m here I like to let my hair down, in more ways than one. But it’s good, don’t you think? I like that dude,” he said, gesturing in the direction the bear had gone. “He really gets into it. We hook up now and again.”
“Oh. And you like that?”
He shrugged. The chains on his harness tinkled with the movement. “I don’t dislike it. I’m looking for The One like everyone else, but in the meantime, I might as well have a little fun. Stay in practice and all that,” he added with a wink.
“When you were with him... The intensity...it reminded me of someone I used to know.”
“Really?” His eyes were dark like mine, and he had straight, white teeth. “And did you sub to this ‘someone you used to know’?”
“Yeah. I was the sub in our relationship, I guess.”
“If you’re guessing, honey, he wasn’t doing it right.”
I sucked in a breath. “He definitely wasn’t doing it right, but I was for sure the sub within our...thing.”
“Your thing?” He put a hand on my arm and gave me a sympathetic look. “I love a girl who’ll refer to a relationship as a ‘thing.’ I’ve had a few ‘things’ myself. That sounds like the beginning of a painful and fucked-up story.”
“You have no idea.”
He threw a look around the room, at laughter and perversity and lust. Like everyone else, he knew I didn’t belong here. Unlike everyone else, he was friendly to me anyway.
“You want to go get some coffee somewhere, and tell me your painful, fucked-up story?”
I looked around too, everywhere but his dark, earnest gaze. “I don’t know. It’s possibly too painful and fucked-up to tell.”
“Then I’ll tell you some painful, fucked-up stories instead. Most of them are good for a laugh.”
I hesitated. I’d been living as a closed-off, emotionally unavailable hermit for so long, rejecting even the kindest advances of my classmates. But here was someone who might understand my dark inner world.
“Will you tell me your name?” I asked.
He laughed. “Of course I will. I should have before. It’s Andrew.” He held up a hand just out of reach. “I’d shake, but you know where this hand has been. Let me clean up and put on some real clothes...” He trailed off, expectantly waiting for my name.
“Chere,” I said. “Like the French word for dear.’”
“Okay, Chere, my dear. Wait here, all right? And we’ll go get some coffee and something to eat. We Norton artisteshave to stick together, especially when one of us looks so fucking bleak.”
That was me, the bleak one, and him? He seemed kind and bright, so different from Simon’s tortured level of painter-artiste. “I’ll wait here, Andrew,” I promised.
And silently, to myself I added, Thank you for telling me your name.