Chapter Four – A Game
Daniel didn’t move, couldn’t move. And as long as Kingsley stood there watching him, he wouldn’t move. But he listened. He heard a man’s voice, low and stern, a voice he hadn’t heard since that one perfect week with Eleanor. Then he heard her laugh again. That laugh, so joyous and lusty…it floated up the stairs and passed through him, chilling him to the core.
The voices retreated and Kingsley raised his hand, beckoning Daniel to follow him in silence. At the next landing they stopped and waited. From their post on the landing he and Kingsley could stay hidden in the shadows and still see into the townhouse’s private drawing room.
Eleanor…she looked as beautiful now as the day he first saw her. She’d pulled her hair back into a messy ponytail and fussed with it while He seemingly instructed her in something happening on the chessboard that sat on the table between them.
Even from a distance Daniel could make out the radiant happiness shining in her eyes as she feigned luxurious, yawning boredom. He reached out and snapped his fingers in her face and she instantly sat up straighter. With reluctance Daniel dragged his eyes from her to gaze at Him, a man he once considered a friend but now, since losing her, thought of as a rival. He hated himself for the bitterness he harbored in his heart toward Eleanor’s owner. But no amount of reasoning and rationalizing could help him swallow the bitter pill that remained lodged in his throat since the moment he asked her to stay with him and she said, “No.”
“He’s a priest,” Daniel said in a voice so soft he doubted Kingsley heard.
“How can she be that happy with him?” Looking at her face, her eyes, he had no doubt he looked at a woman completely and utterly in love. “He can’t marry her. Can’t give her children…not without getting excommunicated.”
“She loves him. And he her. And if there was any way to break them apart, I would have found it by now.”
Daniel heard a note of something in Kingsley’s voice, a note of bitterness that matched his own. Together they stared at the couple in drawing room—the tall man in all black—handsome, distinguished, with a face a decade younger than his thirty-nine years and eyes centuries older. And her—black hair, black and green eyes, full lips—lips designed for acts more intimate than simply kissing other lips. She wore girlish white pajamas and a white leather collar around her neck.
Daniel noted that while his own eyes studied every line and curve of Eleanor, Kingsley’s gaze focused elsewhere, onto the face of the man who owned her, onto the face of Kingsley’s best, and some would say only, friend.
The sight of them together, so contented, briefly overwhelmed him. Closing his eyes, Daniel found himself hurtled into the past, further than he wanted to go.
How he’d even gotten dressed that morning remained a mystery. In front of a mirror he stood knotting his tie with fingers that functioned from muscle memory alone.
“I’m burying my wife today,” was the refrain that echoed through his mind. “I’m a widower at thirty-four…and I don’t know why.”
He must have spoken the words aloud because he heard an answer from the door to his and Maggie’s bedroom.
“I’m certain it will come of no consolation to you, but I don’t know why either.”
Daniel turned around and saw six feet four inches of impeccably blond priestliness coming toward him.
“Actually, it is a consolation.”
The priest studied Daniel with kind, searching eyes. Kingsley had come by earlier with a gift from his medicine cabinet and the combination of the tranquilizer and the shock were the only two forces keeping Daniel vertical.
“I won’t insult you by asking you how you are,” the priest said. “I will only ask you what I can do to help you today.”
Daniel remembered that rush of gratitude that with this man, this priest he didn’t have to dissemble. He could tell him anything, confess any secret and it would be absolved.
“If I asked you to kill me, would you?”
The priest smiled.
“I’m a Jesuit. We’re pacifists. And while I disagree with the Magesterium on more than a few issues, I am generally opposed to mercy killings. Anything else?”
“Yes. Maybe. I don’t think I could stand it…” Daniel paused and tried to put his words in order. “If anyone touches me today or talks to me, I won’t make it. And I have to get through this. For her.”
The priest clasped his well-manicured hands in front of him at the wrist. Daniel didn’t recall ever seeing the Priest of the Underground in his cassock before. He usually wore only his clerics. In the floor length black garment he appeared even more intimidating than usual, like a being from an ancient world.
“Keep everyone away from you then?” the priest asked.
Again Daniel nodded. Or tried to. His body and mind seemed to be working independently of each other.
“That I can certainly do.”
For the next two hours Daniel stared straight ahead—he heard nothing, saw no one but for a blur of black behind him hovering like a dark angel.
Only at the graveside did Daniel come back to awareness again. He stood staring down at the coffin as friends and family made their way back to their cars. Even the minister and his own parents finally gave up waiting on him and walked away. Only the dark angel remained—not speaking, not consoling, merely present.
“My wife is in a box in the ground,” he said more to himself than the priest at his side. “I should be in it with her.”
A long silence stood between them. Daniel sensed the priest weighing his words.
“Only Kingsley knows this,” the priest began, “but I now have someone in my life. Her name is Eleanor.”
“She hates it. So of course that’s what I call her.”
Daniel discovered he could still smile.
“If something ever happened to my Eleanor…” He paused and took a breath. “There would be no hole, no chasm, no canyon deep enough to contain my grief.”
No hole…no chasm…no canyon deep enough…Daniel felt the truth, the rightness of those words in his soul.
“I’m lost.” His unblinking eyes began to water. “I don’t know what to do.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Dig a hole deep enough for my grief, bury myself in it, close my eyes and not open them for a very long time.”
“Then do it.”
Daniel turned his head and met the priest’s eyes—eyes the color and strength of steel.
“What if I can’t ever dig myself out again?”
“Do you trust me, Daniel?”
Daniel didn’t answer for a moment. He respected the priest certainly. He’d never met a more intelligent or erudite man. But the priest easily qualified as the most notorious sadist in the Underground. Only one or two of the strongest, most well-trained female masochists ever braved an evening alone with him. He wondered about this Eleanor of his. She must be someone just like him—cold, hard, stern, and unbreakable.
Did he trust the priest? Daniel recalled when another sadist in Kingsley’s circle once ignored a submissive’s safe word and broken the young man’s wrist and nose. Kingsley and the priest had sequestered themselves with the sadist at one of Kingsley’s clubs. Daniel and Maggie had been there that night. The man’s screams had been so bestial, so plaintive that Daniel had nearly intervened. But Maggie was as vicious in a courtroom as she could be submissive in a bedroom. She’d been submitting since age seventeen and loathed bad Dominants more than anything. That night she’d put her foot down with him for a change.
“He needs to know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of no mercy.” Maggie turned The Ouch back around on Daniel. “Let it go.”
He’d let it go. Admittedly a big part of him wanted to be in that room meting out fierce justice of his own. The thought of any Dominant taking advantage of a submissive in bondage and actually harming him or her infuriated him to the point of near blind rage.
When Daniel finally answered the priest he spoke with complete sincerity.
“You scare the shit out of me. But yes, I trust you.”
The priest didn’t seem the least surprised by either statement.
“Then go,” he said. “Dig your hole and crawl inside it. If you can’t find your way out again, we’ll send someone to dig you out.”
And for three years he hadn’t been able to dig his way out of the hole of grief he’d fallen into. For three years he didn’t set one foot off their Big House property. But the priest had kept his promise and sent his own property to him, his own Eleanor, his own heart.
“God, I’m such an asshole,” Daniel said to Kingsley. “I can’t believe I tried to take her from him. After everything he did for me. After what she did for me.”
“And what did she do for you?” Kingsley asked, a hint of amused voyeurism in the question.
“She saved my life, King. I would have died in that house. I did die in it.”
In the drawing room Eleanor had a chess piece in her hand. He pointed to a square on the board but she shook her head. Knowing Him, He was attempting to teach her the finer points of some obscure strategy. Knowing her, she was playing by suicide rules trying to lose on purpose to end the game quicker. Again He snapped his fingers in her face. Again she shook her head. Daniel heard him release an exasperated sigh. He reached for the chess piece but she popped it into her mouth.
“Merde…not again…” Kingsley sighed.
Daniel only watched as He reached out and pinched her nose closed. The battle of wills began. With her mouth closed and her nose pinched, Eleanor had no hope of winning this fight. The need to breathe would eventually overcome her willful refusal to play the game by His rules.
A minute passed. Eleanor clenched her eyes shut. The priest held out His hand, tapped under her chin, and she gave in and spit the piece into His palm.
“Merci mon Dieu,” Kingsley breathed.
Kingsley looked at Daniel.
“Last time she swallowed it.”
“By accident?” Daniel winced. That couldn’t have been pleasant—going down or coming out.
“On purpose, bien sûr.”
Daniel raised his hand and covered his mouth. He had to or he would have laughed so loudly the entire house would have heard him.
He remembered the night he and Eleanor had played a game of their own. But not chess—poker. Strip poker. And that night too she’d played by suicide rules and ended up naked but for her little white lacy panties after three hands.
“Hit me,” she said, rolling onto her stomach, her bare legs in the air and nothing on her from the waist up but a smile.
“This is poker,” he reminded her as he picked up the cards and shuffled them. “Not Blackjack.”
Every evening they spent in the living room by his fireplace talking, fucking, sometimes both at the same time.
“Poker? I don’t even know her.”
Daniel reached out and flicked the end of her nose.
“Oh fine.” She threw a few cards down. “Hit me.”
“Poker,” he repeated. “Not Blackjack.”
Eleanor looked up at him through the veil of her wavy black hair.
“Maybe I’m not talking about the game.”
Daniel nearly dropped the cards.
“You do realize we’ve only known each other for a few days,” he reminded her.
She shrugged her shoulders, her soft, pale shoulders he’d bruised with bites and rough kisses just a few hours earlier.
“You’ve fucked me more times than I can count, ordered me around, made me call you Sir…but still you haven’t hit me. You know you want to…Sir.”
She flipped onto her back and looked up at him. Was there anything in the world more beautiful than a woman’s naked breasts bathed in the light of a fireplace? Especially Eleanor’s breasts by his fireplace?
“I take inflicting pain very seriously,” he said even though everything in him ached to tie her to his bed and paint her pale skin bright red with welts. “That’s a lot of trust. Do you really trust me that much? After only a few days?”
“No, I don’t.” She reached her arms out and slipped a hand under his pants leg and caressed his calf. “But I trust him. And he trusts you. After all, I’m not submitting to you this week. I’m submitting to him.”
“Answer this question—how long did you know him before he beat you the first time?” Daniel asked.
Eleanor groaned melodramatically.
“Yes, I forgot. You don’t want to talk about him.”
She nodded as she sat up.
“Can you at least answer me in sign language?”
Eleanor reached out and took the deck of cards from him. She flipped through the cards and found a five of clubs.
“Five years?” Daniel asked and she nodded again. “Five years. Not a few days,” he said pointedly. “How old were you went you two met?”
Eleanor sorted through the cards again and held up two.
“You were fifty-one?” Daniel asked.
Rolling her eyes, Eleanor reversed her hands.
“Fifteen? You met him when you were fifteen. When did you two have sex the first time?”
She exhaled through her nose as she dug through more cards and pulled out a ten of spades and a ten of diamonds.
“You were twenty? So he waited five years not only to hit you but to have sex with you. And you’re ready for that with me after a few days?”
She nodded eagerly.
Daniel looked down at the cards scattered about.
“Are you really happy with him?” he asked, not quite sure where that question came from.
She sighed heavily as if she’d been asked and had answered that question a thousand times before.
“Everyone thinks because he’s so quiet and serious…”
“Not to mention six-four and a sadist-”
“That he’s this.”
She held up the Kings of Clubs who grasped a sword in each hand. “But he isn’t. Not with me. With me he’s…”
She dug through all the cards until she had a full suite.
On the floor between them she arrayed the cards.
“And who are you?” Daniel swallowed hard, her devotion to her owner a painful reminder of how close he and Maggie had been. Would he ever have that again? “Her?”
He picked up the Queen of Hearts.
“Oh hell no.” She reached him and grabbed the card box. “This is me.”
She held up The Joker.
“Is that because you’re funny or because you’re Gotham’s worst nightmare?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out. In the meantime, how about a little game of…”
She picked up two cards. One a six of clubs, the other a nine of spades.
Daniel glared at her.
“Now I am going to beat you. Now.”
He grabbed her wrist and dragged her to her feet. In less than a minute he had her in the bedroom with her back pressed to the bedpost. He devoured her mouth, her soft lips even as his fingers dug into her hips. With a ruthless shove he pushed her onto the floor. He didn’t even have to give her the order. She opened his pants open and took him deep in her mouth in seconds.
As he tangled his fingers in her hair, he tried to fight the fear that once he started beating her he wouldn’t be able to rein himself in. He and Maggie had been lovers for a month before he let himself slap her the during sex. But her reaction had been so intensely erotic that the very next day he’d invested in an arsenal of S&M gear, an arsenal of S&M gear that had touched no one’s skin but Maggie’s. And now he would use it on someone else.
Before he came, he pulled away and dragged Eleanor up to her feet again. He threw open a cabinet in his bedroom where he and Maggie stored the gear and took out a flogger, bondage cuffs, and snap hooks. He returned to the bed, wrenched Eleanor’s wrists behind her back and buckled the cuffs on.
“Tell me your safe word,” he demanded, knowing he sounded angry when inside he fought off the fear he’d go too far.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said and he felt her body go slack as she surrendered herself into his hands. “You won’t hear it.”
He’d almost laughed out loud then.
“That tough, are you?”
“No, Sir. That well-trained.”
And God, she had been. He’d seen other submissives cry at the very first fall of the lash, saw them struggle, heard them squeal as if the leather cords ripped their skin open instead of just reddening their sensitive backs with mere welts. But Eleanor stood still, kept her body loose and slack and breathed through the pain like a pro. Of course, what her owner did to her probably paled in comparison to the mild beating he inflicted on her. But her willing submission to the pain, to him, the trust she showed letting him bind her to the bedpost…
He dropped the flogger, pressed his chest to her back, pushed into her hard and deep. Her wetness, her heat enveloped him. For over three years he’d been celibate. Tonight he wanted, needed to make up for lost time.
Right before coming he wrenched himself away from her, picked up the flogger and beat her again. Harder this time, hard enough she finally let out a real grunt of pain. And that sound hit him harder than his flogger hit her. Again he thrust into her and felt he the layers of dirt that three years under the ground grieving Maggie had built up around him finally starting to fall away. With every brutal thrust he came more back to life, more back to himself again.
Finally he released her from her bonds and let her fall to the floor. In an instant he was on her and in her like an animal. Nothing could have stopped him then, nothing could have slowed him down. The one tiny part of his brain that remained rational as he fucked her with every thing in him thanked God she hadn’t told him her safe word. Had she uttered it he would have had to live with the guilt that he didn’t stop.
After he came for the fourth time he tried crawling off her, found he didn’t have the energy, and merely collapsed onto her prone body. He started to apologize for going too far, for losing control. But once again he heard that laugh. That incredibly erotic laugh. Homer, he decided then and there, had gotten all it wrong. The Sirens of lore were singers. “What?” he asked, kissing the back of her shoulder.
“Now that,” she said stretching out underneath him, seemingly fully content to let him stay inside her all night, “was poker.”
Daniel remembered laughing out loud at that. God, the girl even made bad puns during sex. The laugh stayed with him all the way back to the stairs, to where he stood next to Kingsley.
In the drawing room, Eleanor’s eyes widened and she turned her face toward the shadows on the landing. Daniel took a step back deeper in the darkness.
Kingsley beckoned him back upstairs and Daniel wrenched his eyes from Eleanor. If she saw him…if He saw him, it wouldn’t be good. Maybe eventually he could see Eleanor without wanting to drag her to him and beat and fuck the memory of any other man out of her head. Maybe someday…but not today.
At the top of the stairs Daniel turned his back to Kingsley just long enough to catch his breath.
“Can I get you anything?” Kingsley prompted. “Perhaps a member of my Imperial Collection could take your mind off le prêtre’s petite amie.”
Daniel turned around, grabbed Kingsley by the throat and shoved him hard and fast into the wall.
“I’m not in a great mood right now so you’ll just have to forgive me,” Daniel nearly growled the words. “One of these days, Kingsley, you’re actually going to care about a woman instead of collecting them like vases. If Anya ends up getting hurt because of this stupid fucking sex auction of yours, I’ll show you and the priest downstairs what real sadism looks like. Comprenez-vous?”
Kingsley stared him down. Daniel knew that for all his devil-may-care airs, Kingsley might easily qualify as one of the more dangerous men in the city, if not the country. But when Daniel looked into his eyes, he saw the tiniest shred of fear. Daniel grinned.
“Je comprends,” Kingsley said.
Daniel relinquished his hold on Kingsley’s neck and stepped back.
Once more Kingsley had cause to straighten his crumpled cravat.
“Now I’m leaving,” Daniel said and headed toward the front stairs. “I’m going to go have dinner. I’m going to go to my apartment. And I’m not going to think about you or Eleanor or Him or this world you’ve sucked me back into.”
Kingsley raised his eyebrow at him.
“If I recall, it is you who knocked on my door, Daniel.”
“Yes, and once this auction is over, I’ll never knock again. I’ll stick around long enough to make sure Anya survives this without getting destroyed. Then I’m gone.”
Daniel started down the hall.
“It was a test, mon ami.”
Even as he spun around to face Kingsley, Daniel regretted the decision.
“What was a test? No. Excuse me. Quoi?”
Kingsley glared at him. Nothing irritated him more than someone sarcastically wielding French back at him.
“That week together—you and Elle. It was a test.”
Daniel glared back and Kingsley laughed his infuriating French laugh.
“Lest you think he sent her to you out of some great affection for you.” Kingsley strolled toward him. “And lest you hate yourself for trying to take her from him after he did you such a service…He sent her to you as a test.”
“And let me guess—I failed.”
“You were not the one being tested, Daniel. She was. And she passed.”
The cold hard truth of the statement hit Daniel hard in the stomach and harder even lower. He wanted to answer, wanted to say something to deny it. But he had no words. She could have had him—someone rich, someone single, someone free. She could have had someone who could have married her, given her children, a life in the open…and yet she’d walked away from it all and chosen Him instead. Instead of a wife she was the mistress of priest. Instead of children, she had secrets. Instead of Daniel, she had Him.
“And I know this,” Kingsley continued, “because I was the first test.”
Daniel inhaled sharply. If he was a masochist he might have enjoyed all this pain.
“Let her go,” Kingsley said. “She’s gone. She’s with him. She might as well not exist.”
Daniel took one second to imagine punching Kingsley’s handsome face into an unrecognizable pulp of flesh.
“Took me six weeks to fall in love with Maggie, and I fell for Eleanor in six days. The fact that she’s downstairs eating chess pieces for His attention is proof of two things–I did let her go….and I shouldn’t have.”
He didn’t wait for Kingsley to speak again. Furious at himself for letting Eleanor get to him after all this time, he fled Kingsley’s townhouse, grabbed a taxi and gave the driver all the cash he had in his wallet and the order to just drive until the money ran out.
Two hours later the driver dropped him off in front of his building. Hungry, tired, and still angry, Daniel made eye contact with no one as he entered the elevator and headed up to his penthouse apartment. He’d change clothes the second he got home. Change clothes, go for a run, get some of this tension out.
Stalking through his apartment, he pulled his shirt off on the way to his bedroom. In the doorway he paused when he found a naked girl kneeling with his back to him on his bed.
Long black hair, voluptuous body…Now where had he seen that before?
“Irina—how did you get in here?” he asked, not entirely displeased to see the beautiful Russian again.
The girl turned her head and gave him a wicked grin.
“Did you miss me?”
Daniel’s heart exploded in his chest.
To be continued…
Read the Prequel to Daniel Part Two: SEVEN DAY LOAN
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