Chapter One – Welcome Home
For the life of him, he couldn’t remember why he’d chosen this house of all places as his first stop upon returning to America.
Exhausted and bedraggled, with his eight-hundred-dollar hiking boots still crusted with dirt from Machu Picchu, he should have been anywhere but standing in front of one of Manhattan’s most luxurious townhouses. Luxurious…no, that hadn’t been the word she’d used. What had she called it? After a year and half perhaps his brain had relinquished that little memory.
Swanky. She’d called Kingsley’s townhouse “swanky.” And he still remembered it.
Sighing, he passed through the wrought iron gate and mounted the steps. He rang the doorbell and waited. Not surprisingly a woman of shocking beauty opened the door. Dark red hair, amber eyes and ripe red lips…No. He wouldn’t let his mind go down that path. Not for this girl who looked far too young to be haunting this dangerous household.
“May I help you, Monsieur?” the girl asked, barring entrance to the house with her slight body.
The girl spoke with an accent, one he recognized all too well. French but not French. The inside of his cheek twitched.
“Something funny, Monsieur?” Her eyes flashed at him.
Prickly little thing. Kingsley did always like his women temperamental—said it was more fun to punish them when they’d earned it.
“Nothing at all,” he said. “Just amused Monsieur ‘if you aren’t from Paris, you aren’t really French’ picked a Quebecois for his Cerberus.”
“He must have someone standing guard to keep you English Canadians out.” She raised her chin and glared at him. Impressive. He thought he’d lost his long accent. Twenty years in the United States should have blotted out all his tell-tale pronunciations.
“He won’t keep me out. Is our Lord of the Underworld home?”
“He might be. He might not. Depends on who you are. And from the looks of you, I would say…non, the master isn’t home.”
The looks of him? Miss Quebec might have a point there. From South America he’d flown straight to New York. Yesterday he’d been in Peru. Today, Manhattan. He wore faded jeans to match his battered boots, a khaki long-sleeved t-shirt, and scratched wraparound Ray-Bans—the same clothes he’d had on yesterday. Add on two days of stubble, a weather-beaten tan, and blond hair in need of cutting and he knew he looked nothing like the usual type who dared knock on this door.
“Would you mind checking? S’il vous plait?” he added, hoping the French didn’t sound too sarcastic…just sarcastic enough.
“Very well.” The girl exhaled dramatically. “If he is home, whom shall I say is calling?”
“Just tell him it’s Daniel.”
The girl raised her eyebrow and regarded him coldly. She nodded at the front steps.
“You wait here…Daniel.”
The girl closed the door in his face and Daniel almost laughed. Gone for only a day and he already missed South America and its complete dearth of ill-tempered red-headed Quebecois. Originally he’d gone there for her…or more accurately gone there because of her. She’d joked about Terra del Fuego for some reason. Obviously she’d just liked saying the name. He’d had too much money, too much free time, too little sense, and the desperate need to prove something to her…and to himself too. He’d actually gone to Terra del Fuego, to the very end of the world, just to send the girl a damn postcard.
The door opened once more and the Quebecois gave him a look of such disgust that he forgot for a moment she wasn’t actually real French. Slowly, reluctantly she stepped aside. Daniel started to brush past her but paused mid-step. Something, some of the old mischief stopped him. He faced the girl, pushed his sunglasses on top of his head, and gave her a hard blue-eyed stare, the stare his late-wife had called The Ouch. Maggie knew when he looked at her like that, gave her The Ouch, she’d have trouble walking the next day…and not necessarily because he’d beaten her.
His grumpy little doorkeeper met his eyes with a vicious stare of her own. But Daniel knew a sub when he saw one. In Kingsley’s household one found only three types of people—Dominants, submissives, and the rare Switch. And that little sailor dress she wore with laced-trimmed bobby socks and black high heels certainly did not scream Dominatrix. The submissive in her apparently didn’t fight as hard as the Quebecois. After a few seconds she lowered her eyes to the floor. He took a step forward. She took a step back. Her cheeks flushed, her lips reddened…after her bad behavior at the door she most definitely deserved a little punishment. He opened his mouth to make a snide comment about Celine Dion when he heard a laugh echoing from the top of the stairs.
“It cannot be…our Daniel is finally out of the lion’s den.”
Daniel turned toward the voice and grinned. A tall man with his long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail strolled down the stairs. He wore a suit that looked like something off of a romance novel cover, his signature riding boots, and a dangerous smile. Nice to see some things never changed.
“Kingsley Edge referencing the Bible?” Daniel glanced around as if suddenly expecting lightning to strike the house. “Did Hell freeze over and no one told me?”
Kingsley shrugged elegantly and rolled his eyes. Kingsley, unlike the testy doorkeeper, was real French and he had the attitude, the accent, and the libido to prove it.
“It isn’t my fault. I keep terrible company these days. A certain priest of our acquaintance is trying to save my soul. I hate to tell him I don’t have one.”
Daniel’s smile faded as Kingsley met him at the bottom of the steps.
“He’s not here, is he?” Movement in the Music Room caught Daniel’s eye. He saw a few beautiful women lounging about two very lucky and handsome young men. But no priests in residence. Thank God. Daniel wasn’t quite ready for that conversation yet.
“Sunday afternoon,” Kingsley said and motioned Daniel to follow him back upstairs. “He’s either praying right now or reminding his little pet what his cock tastes like.”
“Or both,” added the Quebecois doorkeeper.
Kingsley exhaled, turned to the girl and said something in rapid French. In equally rapid but far testier French she replied. Finally Kingsley raised his hand, snapped his fingers, and pointed at the hallway. The girl gave a Kingsley a mock curtsy before spinning on her heel and storming away.
“Quebecois? Really?” Daniel asked.
“She’s part of my Imperial Collection. I’m creating the New French Empire…one beautiful girl at a time.” Kingsley started up the stairs and Daniel followed.
“I’ve never known anyone so tall to have such a Napoleon complex,” Daniel noted.
“I don’t want to conquer the world, mon ami. I just want to fuck it.”
“Watch out,” Daniel warned as they reached the third floor. “Sometimes the world fucks back.”
“I’m counting on it,” Kingsley said and began to whistle La Marseillaise, the French National Anthem. The whistling always made Daniel nervous. No man alive worked so diligently to cultivate an air so casual. Daniel knew better. When Kingsley ushered him into his private office, and Daniel found his back pressed to the door and a hand on his throat, he wasn’t particularly surprised.
Daniel stayed calm and didn’t fight back. Coming back here had been a risk and for the life of him he still couldn’t remember exactly why he’d decided to take it.
At first neither man said anything. Kingsley’s dark eyes bored into Daniel’s blue ones. Kingsley was rakishly handsome and had half the women in New York at his feet and a few of the men too. But underneath the playboy exterior lurked an extremely dangerous man. Dangerously intelligent…dangerously loyal to his best friend.
“So,” Daniel began. “I guess Eleanor told you.”
“Oui.” The fingers tightened on Daniel’s neck. “And be grateful it was to me she made her confession and not him. You know the rules, mon ami. We may borrow another’s toys, pet another’s pet…but we do not steal another’s property.”
Daniel took a shallow breath. As hard as Kingsley held his neck, a deep breath wasn’t an option.
“I didn’t steal Eleanor. I asked her to stay. There’s a difference.”
“You are alive. Obviously there’s a difference.” Kingsley released Daniel’s throat and backed away. He collapsed into a chair and threw a leg over the chair arm. “Et vive la différence, oui?”
Daniel rubbed his throat as he sat in the chair opposite Kingsley.
“Yes. Vive la différence.”
Kingsley laughed his low, sardonic laugh. The laugh died. Kingsley narrowed his eyes at him.
“Why did you come back here, Daniel?” he asked.
Daniel shook his head. “I’ve been asking myself that question since my plane landed. I don’t know. Tired of traveling. Not ready to go home yet. Plus…I wanted to thank you.”
“Thank me? Pourquoi?”
Leaning forward, Daniel clasped his hands between his knees. His hands…once they’d been smooth as a woman’s. He’d been a librarian once, an archivist and the worst thing that ever happened to his hands was the occasional papercut. Now for a year and a half he’d been scrambling up mountains, trekking through rain forests, and digging through ancient ruins and his hands looked it.
“The funeral…I would never have been able to forgive myself if I hadn’t gone to the funeral.”
Kingsley nodded. “It pays to have a well-stocked medicine cabinet.”
Well-stocked? Something of an understatement. Their third night together Daniel finally broken down and confessed to Eleanor his humiliating secret, that he hadn’t left his home for three years, not since his wife Maggie died and left him alone.
I made it to the funeral. I was on the human equivalent of horse tranquilizers…
That had been a lie. Not the human equivalent of a horse tranquilizer—Kingsley had slipped him an actual horse tranquilizer. On a normal day, such a drug would have put him on his back for a week. That day, it had merely removed his mind from his body and allowed him to stay vertical for those two necessary and nightmarish hours.
“Can I get you something now?” Kingsley asked. “From the kitchen…or the medicine cabinet?”
Daniel smiled. “No. I’m fine. Thank you. I should go.” Daniel started to stand but the door burst open and two laughing women nearly fell into the room.
“Tessa! Irina!” Kingsley glared at them both. “Come here. Now.”
Kingsley pointed at the floor and both women pasted on artificial looks of contrition as they simpered across the Persian rug and sat at Kingsley’s feet. Daniel could only shake his head at Kingsley’s harem.
“Ladies…” Kingsley began, “what are you two doing? Or do I not want to know? Tessa—answer me.”
He tapped the buxom olive-skinned girl on the tip of her nose.
“Anya said you were in your office with the ugliest man she’d ever seen in her life. We had to see for ourselves.”
“She’s such a liar,” said the green-eyed brunette glancing at Daniel. “He’s more handsome than you are, King.”
Kingsley gasped and put his hand over his chest in melodramatic shock.
“Blasphemy, Irina.” He pulled Irina’s earlobe. “No one is more handsome than I am.”
“You’re too pretty,” the girl continued, flashing green eyes at Daniel. Green eyes…dark hair, almost like her. Daniel couldn’t take his eyes off the girl. Irina spoke beautifully clear English but with a tinge of a Russian accent. She too must be part of Kingsley’s Imperial Collection. “He looks rough, rugged. I like his eyes. They’re troubled.”
“Rough?” Kingsley scoffed. “I spent four years in the French Foreign Legion. I have bullet wounds. That,” Kingsley pointed at Daniel, “is a librarian.”
“Archivist,” Daniel corrected. Ex-archivist actually. He inherited a huge sum of money from his late wife and hadn’t worked in years. Now at thirty-eight he felt restless, useless. Being a man of leisure didn’t really suit him. He knew he needed something in his life again. Just didn’t know what yet.
“I love smart men,” Irina said, nearly purring the words.
Kingsley exhaled dramatically and snapped his fingers. Both women stood up. The Russian Irina cast another lascivious glance at Daniel.
“I’m extremely smart,” Kingsley countered. “I have wonderful terrible ideas. Now go before I’m forced to spank both of you for eavesdropping. And tell Anya to behave herself. Grand prize or not, I’ll turn her over my knee if I have to.”
“Yes, Sir,” both women responded as they shuffled toward the door.
“Irina?” Kingsley called out. He waved her back over to him. Kingsley reached up and wrapped a hand around the back of Irina’s neck and pulled her ear to his lips. He whispered something to her and she nodded, turned her head and whispered back. Daniel sighed. The whispering was one of his least-favorite of the Dominant tricks. He could be telling the girl to fetch his dry-cleaning for all Daniel knew. Probably was. But by whispering it to her, he created a little secret society that only he and Irina belonged to. Doms did that all the time in Kingsley’s world. Such a mindfuck. Back in his days as a Dominant, Daniel usually avoided the mindfuck. He’d rather skip straight to the body.
Irina kissed Kingsley on the cheek, glanced once more at Daniel, and left the room.
“Well…” Kingsley said. “Lunch?”
“No thanks. Not hungry.” Not for food anyway. Being around all of Kingsley’s beautiful submissives had him thinking things he’d long ago tried to push out of his mind. “I should go. I know you’re busy.”
“Yes…you see how stressed I am.” Kingsley glanced around his posh office, leaned back in the chair and laughed. “I should have Anya see you out. She’ll hate me for it.”
“That would be your ill-tempered doorkeeper?”
“Oui. Daughter of Quebecois separatists. She loathes Canadians. Don’t take her hatred of you personally. I’d punish her for how rude she was to you, but she’s off-limits, unfortunately.”
“Off limits? What woman in the world is off limits to you?”
“The auction’s in a month. She’s Le Grand Prix.”
Daniel’s eyes widened. “You’re still doing the auction? The FBI hasn’t shut it down yet?”
Kingsley waved his hand dismissively.
“Pas du tout. The FBI is always welcome at my auction. It’s for charity after all.”
Now Daniel had to laugh. Charity…well, technically Kingsley did donate a large portion of the proceeds to some Catholic charity for the poor. He took his usual fifteen percent, however. Kingsley’s auction happened every August and was the talk of the town. Ostensibly it appeared to be just another silly fundraiser for the rich and bored. Attractive people auctioned themselves off for dates with the highest bidder. But these weren’t your average attractive nobodies. They were highly trained submissives and Dominants. And the “dates” weren’t dates. No dinner and a movie for the highest bidder. They won sex—hardcore kinky sex with the beautiful deviant of their dreams.
“So your little Quebecois is the Grand Prize? I pity whoever wins her,” Daniel said. “She’s beautiful, I’ll give you that. But who could stand her personality?”
“They won’t be bidding on her personality,” Kingsley said, standing up. “They’re bidding on her virginity.”
Daniel only stared at Kingsley.
“You’d be ill-tempered too if you were still a virgin at twenty-two. The last time we had a virgin in the auction, the highest bid went into six figures. Most we’d ever made off one person.” Kingsley winked at him as he opened the door for Daniel. “Now are you sure I can’t get you anything? Something to eat, to drink? I feel so inhospitable threatening your life without even dejeuner after.”
“I’m really fine. I think.” Daniel’s mind still boggled. Anya, the temperamental doorkeeper, not just a virgin but a prize virgin up for auction…Madness.
“Perhaps something stronger than lunch,” Kingsley said as he veered off onto the second floor instead of heading down to the entrance. Daniel narrowed his eyes and followed. “Perhaps a little of this is what you need before you go.”
Kingsley stopped in front of a door and opened it. Looking in Daniel saw Irina, the beautiful Russian brunette kneeling naked on a bed in submissive silence, her long dark hair flowing like water down her back.
All day long Daniel had been trying to remember why of all places he’d come to Kingsley’s first after coming back to America.
Now he remembered.
Stay tuned for chapter two.
Read the Prequel to Daniel Part Two: SEVEN DAY LOAN
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