Authors: M.Q. Barber
Tags: #Romance, #Erotic, #978-1-61650-533-2, #BDSM, #Menage
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
Alice sectioned her pancakes into a neat grid. Focusing on the spongy bounce in the stack kept her hands from trembling. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Especially when Henry served the living-together discussion as the main course.
A flip and sizzle sounded from Henry’s spot at the stove. “I believe my studio might be repurposed.”
“Your studio’s already in the smallest room. Alice and I can share closet space. It’s not like we’d sleep there anyway.” Syrup dripped as Jay stopped his pancake-loaded fork halfway to his mouth and twisted around in his seat. “We won’t, will we? You’re not, I mean, your bedroom is—”
“Jay. Don’t borrow trouble, please.” Henry loaded fresh pancakes on the serving plate and turned off the burner. “I would not move Alice into my room and leave you alone.”
“And I wouldn’t let him if he tried.” She shook her head at Jay as he swung around to face the table.
“But as Alice has a much more organized aesthetic, Jay, it might be best—”
“I can be neat and clean.” Jay powered through without a hint of offense at being called a slob. Interrupting Henry right and left. Christ, he wanted this bad.
Not that she didn’t, but displacing Jay from his room fell short of ideal. She refused to make moving in a panicked reaction to last night’s disaster at the club.
Ouch. Henry’s gentleness cut sharper than his command voice. Jay’s suggestion would go down in flames.
“I can.” Jay vibrated in his seat. “Put it in my contract. ‘Keep bedroom to Alice’s standards of cleanliness.’” His usually rich tenor bristled and cracked. “Add it. I’ll initial the change.”
He seemed manic this morning, and for once bereft of sexual innuendo. God knew he had plenty of material. Her sharing his bedroom, and he hadn’t thrown a single suggestive remark.
Henry’s expectant stare weighed on her. He didn’t need her permission to alter Jay’s contract, so why—she’d be acting in a dominant role. The woman who couldn’t even figure out how Jay felt today.
Shoving aside her apprehension, she nodded. Serious responsibility came part and parcel with moving her relationship forward. She’d need to be consistent and set rules she could praise Jay for obeying. Make a ritual of checking the room so he knew she was paying attention to his efforts. Caring. One thing amid a sea of hundreds Henry handled. He thought that way all the time, for both of them.
Henry carried the serving plate to the table and set it between them. Taking his seat, he glanced at their plates before filling his own.
Jay stared, intent but restrained enough to refrain from asking again. She hadn’t believed him capable of such impressive self-control. Although, when he wanted something enough, he always managed to surprise her.
Finally, Henry quirked one corner of his mouth in a smile. “That’s a fine idea, Jay. We’ll add it to your contract today.”
Jay gave an exuberant shout. His fork clattered against his plate. He hopped up from his seat, rounded the table, and dragged her chair back.
Annnd there’s the lack of self-control.
“You’re done eating, right, Alice? We can go to our room and you can tell me what you want fixed and I’ll—”
Henry’s silent laughter greeted her pleading glance. She’d have to get him for that later.
“—and we can pack your stuff and I can move the boxes and—”
“I’m not done eating yet,” she said, breaking into Jay’s chatter.
Henry had warned her, while they lay talking late into the night and Jay slept beside them, that the new living arrangement would cause excitement.
“But I’m excited about moving in, too.” And carried the teensiest terror of making a wrong decision. For Jay. For Henry. For herself. “How about if you start by, umm, dividing your clothes into piles for laundry and putting away.”
He fidgeted with her chair. Henry would understand his anxiety without a prompt.
Okay. Unravel Jay-threads.
He needed to know she didn’t blame him for his panic at the club or her public discipline. That she loved him. That she wasn’t sending him off alone to punish him.
“I’ll join you when I’m done with breakfast. We can work on it together all day, and by tonight—” She lacked the authority to promise her hope.
Henry tipped his head and nudged the tips of his fingers in a go-on motion.
“By tonight we can all tumble into Henry’s bed together.”
“For good,” Jay said. “No more nights apart.”
“No more nights apart, Jay.” Henry’s decisive tone formed the firm bedrock of their relationship. “Now, I believe Alice has set you a task regarding your shared room. Perhaps you’d best get started.”
“Yes, Henry.” Jay pushed her chair in and swaggered into the second bedroom.
“You did very well, Alice.”
“I was terrified.”
“Nevertheless. You found your courage, and you gave Jay the reassurance he needed. Thank you.”
Cutlery clinked in their silence. Without Jay’s chatter, the hallway and its open door—the bedroom soon to be half hers—spawned a whirling tornado of questions.
She wasn’t a spontaneous person. She planned. Researched. Tested. Yet she hadn’t run design models before agreeing to move in. Why the fuck not?
Henry, that’s why. He whispered to her as he cradled her at night, and her questions and fears crumbled like improperly cured concrete. Love, that’s why. As long as she loved them and they loved her, everything else was fixable. Open to negotiation.
“You know I’ll never be as obedient as he is.” Loving Henry and Jay didn’t blind her to reality. Henry already knew. He had to. But saying the words mattered.
Henry laid his fork and knife across his plate.
Maybe he’d give her an answer key to this new world. The first time she’d been in love.
Henry’s persistent stare and slow-spreading smile gleamed with a touch of I-know-something-you-don’t-know smugness.
“What? You think living with you all the time will change me?” The first time she’d lived with a lover. Two of them. One who’d dominate her at least part of the time. Fuck, she didn’t do things by halves. “Make me more submissive?”
“No, Alice.” Chuckling, he clasped her hand in a comforting squeeze. “It might, as change changes us all, but no. What amuses me is merely that even
is not so obedient as Jay.”
“He’s been on his best behavior? For our nights together?” If he’d been trying to impress her, she didn’t know the real Jay. She didn’t know weekday morning Jay. Cranky, bad-day-at-work Jay. Or what Henry was like when a burst of creativity struck. If he disappeared into his studio for days.
“You believe Jay has never defied me in front of you?” Henry raised an eyebrow.
“No, I guess he has.” Hell, Jay’d defied him at their anniversary dinner, moving things forward faster than Henry had intended. The very first night. In January, too, taking advantage of the relaxed rules granted for his injury. And the night she’d safeworded. He’d begged her and Henry both to listen to him. “A lot more than I realized. But he’s so easygoing. Jay-like.”
“He’s happiest when he has a clear task to complete and unconditional affection. He can be quite stubborn when he’s unhappy, for which I give thanks.” Closing his eyes, he bowed his head. “Convincing him that saying ‘no’ or disagreeing with me in some way would not result in the loss of my love and approval took a long while.”
“While I bulldoze ahead with my own two cents.” She turned her hand in his, running her fingers over his palm. His hand delivered pain and pleasure both. She hadn’t feared losing Henry’s love and approval before. She hadn’t known they were hers to lose. But she’d worried about losing her place in his life with Jay.
Now she’d traded the periphery for the center. No, not the center. An equally blended mix, one she wouldn’t know how to create and could never replicate. Corinthian bronze. Gold, silver, and copper alloyed into a form beautiful and precious. Yes, now she had something valuable to lose.
“You know your own mind very well, dearest.” He closed his hand, capturing her fingers and stilling their motion. “I don’t expect that will change. You’ll challenge me more often than he will. That, too, is a joy. You each complement the other in my heart, Alice.”
“You’re not expecting complete obedience from me? Even though we’ll be living together?” A recipe for resentment and hurt feelings if Jay had to answer to Henry and she didn’t. “Is that fair to him?”
“The question here is what’s fair to you. Submission gives Jay a sense of security. It is not a burden to him. Its weight on him does not grow heavier if your share is lighter.” Henry shook his head. “We’ll find a proper balance, whether that requires continued restriction of the hours in which you answer to me or some other method. So long as I have you both with me and happy, the rest is a matter of fine-tuning details. We’ll adjust as needed.”
“We’re going to memorize a table of on-and-off hours like a bus schedule?” A color-coded timetable on the fridge. Right beside the star sticker chart she’d never made for all the sex acts she successfully tried with Henry and Jay. A snicker slipped out.
Henry’s lips twitched. “If you’d prefer to expand your submission into something more akin to Jay’s, though perhaps with less oversight outside the home, I’ve no objection. It’s certainly something we may try. In that case, your safeword would take on a greater role. If you became uncomfortable with something—at any time, not only during a stated game—your safeword would instantly indicate such to me.”
“Even when we aren’t playing?”
“Even then. We would, in essence, always be playing. The games simply wouldn’t always have the sexual emphasis to which you’re accustomed.” He released her hand and gestured at the table. “If, for instance, I asked you to gather the dishes now, you might playfully protest. If you persisted, I might suspect you wanted to be commanded to do so or wished for more of my attention. But if you meant your protests in earnest and it seemed I had not recognized it, using your safeword would reset the conversation and our roles within it.”
“But I don’t have a problem clearing the table.” Henry cooked nearly every meal they ate. If she and Jay helped under his guidance, they fulfilled a necessary function. Contributing as equals according to their skill sets was sense, not submission.
“My hope is that I will not ask something of you that you cannot give, dearest. But you may at some point have a conflict of which I’m unaware. Be unable to take care of the breakfast dishes because you must rush to work for an early meeting, perhaps. Or you may have bruised your arm on the subway ride home and prefer not to carry the supper dishes.” He raised a finger. “In which case, I’ll examine the injury before we play games of any sort. But the point remains. Your safeword will indicate to me the serious and sincere nature of your objection.”
A safety valve. If the pressure of submission overloaded her tolerances, he’d adjust the flow rate to compensate and leave her the option to yank the emergency brake. “I’ll keep alert for those T riders throwing elbows. I’d hate to miss out on a game with fun rewards because some jerk muscled past me during rush hour.”
The hint of a smile accompanied his elegant shrug. “The real world must take precedence over my own control, Alice. Even when I have you firmly in my dastardly clutches every day.”
She imagined him twirling a cartoon mustache, ridiculously oversize and sinister, as he tied her to a set of railroad tracks. Well. Maybe not railroad tracks. Maybe his nice big bed. “Got it. Good thing I don’t like to eat pistachios. I’d hate for there to be any confusion.”
“Shall we try it, then, my sweet girl? When you’re in the apartment, you’ll answer to me as Jay does, with the exception of the second bedroom, which will have its own rules.”
A trial run. Fuck if she’d turn down a new adventure. “I’d like that. You want me to clear the dishes?”