This chapter is dedicated to the late Gina Scalera, a dear friend who recently died of cancer. Until her death, Gina was beautiful, crazy, and religiously devoted to smut-reading. I miss you Gina. And Daniel misses you too.
How did he let Kingsley talk him into these things?
Over and over again Daniel asked himself that question as he wandered around attempting to get his bearings. He’d spent over a year sleeping in tents and huts and yurts. Now he stood in the living room of the luxurious Upper West Side apartment where he and Maggie had lived. They’d split their time between the city and the Big House, as Maggie called it, until she’d gotten too sick to travel and decided she wanted to spend her last months with him in the country. He never imagined that day he carried her frail body from the car and into the house that it would be years before he ever saw the city again.
“Dammit, Maggie…” he sighed her name as he stood at the window and looked down onto the New York morning. “This town’s too big without you.”
Maggie. Had it really been four years since she died? Daniel dropped down onto the leather sofa and closed his eyes. It all still seemed like a dream to him. Only twenty-five when they’d met, he’d been fresh out of grad school with his shiny new Master’s in Library Science. In his entire graduating class, he’d been only one of five men and the only straight guy in the bunch. He still wondered if his not entirely unattractive face and body were what got him the archivist’s job at the NYPL. He’d nearly filed a sexual harassment complaint against his boss Paige for how much she flirted with him that first year. Of course, when he started dating one of the top attorneys in the city, his boss’s self-preservation instinct kicked in and she’d finally stopped finding excuses to touch him all the time.
God, those early with days with Maggie had been crazy. Daniel Caldwell—mid-twenties and barely scraping by on his first real-job salary and living with two roommates was suddenly dating Margaret Delaney—late thirties, stunningly beautiful, with a law partnership and twenty-five million dollars in her bank account.
Daniel glanced down at the rug that stretched across the floor to the bookcases. Maggie had it imported from Turkey for a mere fifty grand. The shelves he’d filled with books collected from their travels all over the world. Books he paid for with his own money from his job he never quit even after they got married.
He would have been just as rich as Maggie if he had a dollar for everyone who accused him of being his older wife’s boy toy. Of course, no one knew that behind closed doors, Maggie was his toy, his possession. She was the one who introduced him to Kingsley and his crew of deviants, a crew she’d secretly belonged to. The world above knew her as a high-powered attorney. The Underground knew her as one of their pre-eminent submissives. Daniel had no Dominant-training at all when they started sleeping together. He just knew what worked for him—and Maggie on her knees in front of him worked. All the rest of the Dominant tricks of the trade, Kingsley had taught him. Maggie had taught him too—taught him how to touch her, how to use her, how far she could be pushed, wanted to be pushed. He’d loved that woman so much that owning her had come as easily to him as breathing and walking. Of course, she’d owned him too. She might have worn his collar in their bedroom every night. But the second Maggie slid the wedding ring onto his finger, she had him as much or more as he had her.
And when she got sick, nothing changed except maybe the impossible had happened and he figured out how to love her even more. Maggie’s oncologist, one of the best in the world, had given her a choice. Two or three months of relatively high quality of life followed by a quick painful decline or maybe a full year if she kept fighting, kept up with the radiation and chemo that made her sick and exhausted.
Daniel would never forget those beautiful tired grey eyes of hers turning to him and saying, “I’d trade a lifetime in a hospital bed for one night with you in our bed.” It had killed him to let her give up the fight. But he’d honored it and only let himself cry when she wasn’t in the room.
So he’d promised her he’d give her the best two months of her life. Anything she wanted—they could go anywhere, do anything…any wild fantasy she could come up with, he’d make it happen. One night after he’d made love to her—carefully so he wouldn’t hurt her too easily bruised skin, she’d whispered a request in his ear.
“Would you let me call Kingsley?”
For his wife, a month, maybe two, from death, he would have called in the entire US Naval Fleet to service her if that’s what she wanted.
“No,” he’d told Maggie. “But I’ll call him.”
Daniel called Kingsley. And Kingsley did what he always did—he came. Daniel had worried Kingsley would shrink from Maggie when he saw her. Cancer had ravaged his beautiful wife and turned her into a waif of ninety-five pounds with hair only just beginning to grow back out after one month without chemotherapy. But Kingsley hadn’t even flinched. He’d been his usual charming seductive infuriatingly French self. And that night at the Big House in their bedroom, Kingsley had done a few things to Maggie that impressed even Daniel. And then, at Maggie’s request, Daniel had let Kingsley do one surprisingly enjoyable thing to him. Kingsley treated Maggie like at the most seductive, alluring, exotic woman on the face of the earth. And because of that kindness, that night when Kingsley gave Maggie a vacation from her cancer, Daniel would do almost anything for Kingsley.
Including being in this goddamn auction of his. And go his goddamn tailor. And stay in the goddamn city that felt both crowded and empty without his wife by his side.
Groaning, Daniel swiped at his face and headed for the door. He had a million errands today and wanted to be out of the apartment when the cleaning service came to put everything back in order. Only Maggie’s parents had used the place since she died for their forays into the city. But no one had stayed in it in months.
In a less than good mood, Daniel grabbed a cab and headed for Kingsley’s tailor’s shop. Kingsley could never do things the normal way. He couldn’t just go pick up an Armani suit at an upscale shop in Manhattan and have it fitted to him. No, he had to have an ancient gay Italian tailor who worked out of a three-story walk-up in Greenwich Village hand sew custom-made original suits for him.
Kingsley took the King part of his name a little too seriously on occasion.
Signore Vitale greeted Daniel with a few more cheek kisses than entirely necessary. But Daniel didn’t protest. Octogenarian Signore Vitale was much cuter than his old boss Paige who couldn’t keep her hands off him.
Daniel waited in the center of the room in front of a three-way mirror. Somewhere Signore Vitale had a real shop with racks of clothes. But only his most special clients received an invite to his workroom.
“I get my assistant. She has better eyes for the measuring. I’ll leave you in her hands.” Signore Vitale disappeared behind a curtain and a woman came out a few minutes later. She wore a 1940’s era grey wool suit with flesh-colored stockings and her red hair in a neat knot at the nape of her neck. With the prissy reading glasses perched on the end of her nose, Daniel barely recognized her at first. But then she spoke.
“Oh…it’s you,” she said, crossing her arms.
“Ah, the Québécois has a day job.” Daniel grinned at her in a manner he hoped annoyed her even more than she already looked.
Anya tapped her foot on the floor and the sound of her retro-chic high heel echoed throughout the entire large closet sized room.
“The Québécois has several jobs,” she said, pulling out a notebook and a tiny pencil. “The Québécois has five brothers and sisters back home in Montreal who would like to go to college someday. Now hold still.”
Anya took a tape measure from around her neck and stood behind Daniel.
“Five brothers and sisters? Good Lord. Your poor mother.”
“Very poor mother.” She slapped the tape measure across his back. “She died five years ago.”
“And your father?”
Anya let loose a noise of disgust that he’d only ever heard Kingsley make before and that was when someone dared ask him what kind of car he drove. He’d rolled his eyes, made that perfectly French sound of disdain and answered.
I do not drive. I am driven.
“Mon père, he is too busy fighting a war to free Quebec from their Canadian overlords. His words. Not mine. He’s forgotten he even has children. Raise your arms.”
Daniel winced with sympathy as he lifted both arms. He’d thought Anya had a chip on her shoulder. Instead she just had the weight of the world there. But she lost a few sympathy points when she measured his neck and nearly strangled him with the tape.
As she jotted down his measurements, Daniel studied her face. Such a shame she hated him so much. He’d rarely seen a more beautiful girl in his life. Straight nose and porcelain skin…long, lush eyelashes and an oval face…had he been an artist he would have been tempted to spend his life sketching that face in every possible light. But preferably by candlelight. One candle right by the bed and her naked underneath him. Now that would make for a pretty picture…
“You’re staring at me.” Anya slammed her notebook and pencil onto the table as she picked up her measuring tape again.
“You’re beautiful. Of course I am.”
Anya released another disgusted sigh.
“You rich Dominants…you think you own all women.”
Daniel started to protest but Anya suddenly dropped to her knees in front of him. He swallowed as his stomach contracted hard. In the mirror he could see her skirt ride up just enough to catch a flash of flesh-toned garter.
“Spread your legs,” she ordered. “And if you say, ‘That’s my line’ I will shove my pencil into your testicles.”
“Never even occurred to me.” Daniel obediently spread his legs hip-width apart while Anya unfurled the measuring tape. “So is this how you met Kingsley?”
“Oui.” Anya placed the end of the tape at the underside of his crotch. Daniel closed his eyes and thought of the dead horse being eaten by maggots he’d seen rotting outside a Chilean village. It helped. “He made me measure his inseam…ten times.”
Daniel laughed. Of course he did.
“Not many women can resist Kingsley’s charms. It must have impressed him that you did.”
Anya glared up at him from the floor.
“I work sixty hours a week for the Signore. I don’t have time to date.” She made a note of his left leg measurement.
“Kingsley doesn’t date either. He just…acquires.”
“He won’t acquire me. He said I could keep my entire take at the auction. He won’t even deduct his fifteen percent. The last virgin made two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
“Yes, but one of the other virgins he auctioned off a few years ago got bought by a sadist who put her in the hospital.” Kingsley might be a good friend but he was no saint. While everything that happened at the townhouse and at Kingsley’s clubs was consensual, that didn’t mean it wasn’t illegal. Illegal, immoral, and oftentimes brutal.
“That’s enough money to set up a school fund for all the kids. And that’s all I care about.”
Anya pulled the measuring tape away and stood up. Looking down at her notes she chuckled mischievously.
“What?” Daniel asked.
She raised her eyebrow at him.
“Kingsley’s inseam…it’s an inch longer than yours.”
Daniel glared at Anya. That’s it. Now she was in trouble.
He stepped toward her using his superior size to corral her into the bend of the three-way mirror. God, he wanted to turn her around, raise the back of her skirt, and fuck that chip right off her shoulder. He’d watch her face in the mirror while inside her, and before he’d let her come, he’d make her say something nice about a Canadian.
Daniel raised a hand to her face and with the tip of his finger, traced her bottom lip.
“Have dinner with me tonight.” It wasn’t a question.
Anya’s skin flushed just slightly and she breathed in quick and sharp and then seemingly forgot to breathe out again. A good sign. Whether or not she’d ever admitted it, she wanted him.
“Non. I have to work. Kingsley wants a new suit for the auction and now I have to start on your wardrobe. You can afford the time and money to eat dinner. I can’t.”
Anya stepped to the side and away from him. When she looked at him, the attitude had disappeared but something else had taken its place—grim determination.
“You go buy your own dinner. I’m not on the menu.”
Daniel left Signore Vitale’s and headed to Kingsley’s. They needed to discuss a few things. First they needed to talk about Anya and how seriously wrong it was for a girl to sell her virginity at an auction for the most hardened deviants in the tri-state area so she could pay for her siblings to go to school. And once that discussion ended, they would discuss exactly why Kingsley had decided to throw him into this auction. When younger, he would have relished the attention of women bidding on him for sexual favors. But he’d been a husband for seven years and had watched the love of his life die from cancer. Then he’d met the only woman beautiful enough and wild enough to lure him away from his grief and make him think about love again. He’d died when Maggie died and he’d been reborn when Eleanor came to him.
Then she’d left him too.
And after Maggie and Eleanor, love and sex didn’t feel quite like the game it once did. It certainly didn’t feel like anything that he could buy or sell or auction off. But Kingsley had been insistent about the whole thing so Daniel had said “yes.” Fine. Why not? It might be a night of deviant sex but most of the money went to a good cause anyway. He’d dominated and fucked a total stranger yesterday in one of Kingsley’s guest bedrooms. Wouldn’t kill him to do it again.
Daniel didn’t bother going to the front door this time and waiting. Those in Kingsley’s inner circle tended to treat the three-story Manhattan townhouse like a second home. Kingsley’s friends and kinky clients were always coming and going…usually coming. At anytime of the day or night, one could walk into Kingsley’s townhouse and find a play partner. Or an orgy depending on what night of the week it was. Mondays tended to be wild at the townhouse as his white-collar clients stopped by to blow off steam. Daniel decided to forego the front room party and instead he had the cab drop him off on at the side entrance, which led to the back stairs of the old servants quarters. Most of the Underground didn’t even know the townhouse had a side entrance. As a handful of Kingsley’s clients weren’t just rich but also famous they needed a way to sneak in and out of the house anonymously.
Daniel climbed the back stairs and found Kingsley in the hallway outside a door engaged in a profoundly passionate kiss with a bistre-skinned goddess who stood almost as tall as Kingsley himself. Kingsley raised the girl’s leg and wrapped around his back and he slid a hand between their bodies. She gave a little gasp of pleasure as Kingsley’s hand disappeared under her skirt and did something to her Daniel couldn’t quite see but must have felt very good for how loud she panted.
Kingsley apparently noticed Daniel waiting. Somehow he managed to give Daniel a questioning look and slip the goddess a little more tongue at the same time. Must be a French thing.
The goddess finally pulled away and disappeared into Kingsley’s bedroom.
“You’re timing is impeccable, mon ami.” Kingsley straightened his crushed cravat and wiped off his fingers with a silk handkerchief.
“Sorry for the interruption,” Daniel said without a trace of actual contrition.
“I’m not. The girl’s insatiable. I’m French. Not a machine.”
Kingsley nodded. “Tahitian. The newest member of-”
“Yes, the Imperial Collection. Right. That’s why I’m here.”
“You know my Collection is like your library—you are welcome to check anything out as long as you return it in time.” Kingsley led them toward the back staircase.
Daniel’s stomach dropped a few inches at Kingsley’s joke. Of course Kingsley didn’t know how close those words hit to home. Suddenly that day in the library after his first night with Eleanor came back to him with painfully crystal clarity.
So you are a librarian. What does that make me then? A seven-day loan? Eleanor had asked, flashing her eyes at him.
God, those eyes…he’d never forget Eleanor’s eyes. Black one minute. Green the next. They changed colors as fast as she changed moods. He’d shoved his books aside as the need to have her—her, not the ghost of Maggie—but her, Eleanor, gripped him so powerfully he’d almost winced from the force of it.
Seven-day loan. . .I’m not sure I like the thought of giving you back.
Eleanor had laughed at his brash words then. Her laugh…he’d hear that laugh ringing in his ears on his deathbed—rich and throaty yet innocent and buoyant. Seductive, sensual…a laugh he wanted to kiss out of her mouth and swallow whole.
He’d been joking, just joking—anything to make her laugh. Unthinkable to even consider asking Eleanor to stay with him. She was somebody else’s property. And not just any somebody else. There were Dominants in the Underground. And there was Him. There were sadists in the Underground. And there was Him. There were people you fucked with and people you didn’t.
And there was Him.
“I don’t want to borrow anyone from your collection. I want to talk about Anya.”
They hit the first landing and Daniel stiffened in shock as a sound he hadn’t heard in a year and a half echoed up the stairs.
But not just any sound.
Daniel froze and met Kingsley’s dark, watching eyes.
“Eleanor…” Daniel breathed. “She’s here?”
Kingsley didn’t answer at first. The charming French rogue had disappeared again and the dangerous guardian of the Underground gave him a steely warning stare.
“Non, mon ami,” he finally answered. “They are here.”
To be continued…
Read the Prequel to Daniel Part Two: SEVEN DAY LOAN
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