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The car sped along the motorway, its interior lit by flashes of neon orange and red from signs warning drivers to take a break, not to drink and drive and to slow down in the rain. Esther looked at her husband, Adam, who was driving. His forehead was creased into a frown, his eyes narrowed in concentration. It was dark, the rain was kicking up more spray than Niagara Falls and every truck they passed seemed to be generating a tidal wave of watered-down mud. In the passenger seat, Esther rearranged the rolled-up pullover she was leaning against, but it was impossible to get comfortable and she couldnâ€™t relax anyway. She glanced into the rear-view mirror and pursed her lips. The cause of her anxiety was slumped in the back seat, the side of his face pressed against the cool window glass. His unusually pale eyes were open but unfocused, as though he were deep in thought. In the dim light it was impossible to see true colours, but his hair was dark and somewhat unruly, falling across his face in tousled waves.
"How long are you going to keep up the silent treatment, Aiden?" Esther spoke sharply and her husband cast a resigned glance in her direction.
"Leave him be, Esther. He doesnâ€™t have to talk if he doesnâ€™t want to."
"He brought this on himself, Adam. If it wasnâ€™t for me, heâ€™d be rotting in jail right now."
"I know. And heâ€™s going to have a whole year to regret his actions."
"Heâ€™s twenty years old. He should know better."
A pained sigh came from the back of the car.
"For fuckâ€™s sake, sis. Lay off. Youâ€™ve committed me to a year of purgatory. Stop trying to justify your own actions."
"Even you must accept that this is a better option than prison."
"Iâ€™d have been out in six months. This is double the sentence. Thanks a lot."
"You ungrateful brat. The things I do for youâ€¦"
Aiden rolled his eyes. "I didnâ€™t ask you to help, Essie. Stop acting the martyr."
That stopped the bickering as they pulled off the motorway into a gloomy, unwelcoming service station.
"Esther, relax. Aiden, think about it. What do you think would happen to someone who looks like you do in prison?"
Aiden scowled but then muttered an apology under his breath. Esther shook her head and looked at her little brother. Adam was right, but it wasnâ€™t Aidenâ€™s fault that he looked the way he did. He was prettier than she was with his beautiful, unusual eyes, fine bone structure and soft, dark hair. Sometimes it was hard to believe that they were related. Aiden was the only member of the family who wasnâ€™t stocky, sandy-haired and freckled. He was slim, pale-skinned and, at five foot eleven, relatively tall. She loved him deeply, but the last year had challenged even her tolerance for his behaviour.
It had all started three years ago, on Aidenâ€™s seventeenth birthday. He had decided, against her better judgement, to come out to their somewhat old-fashioned parents. There had been no histrionics, no judgement, just a quiet disappointment that had gradually eaten into Aidenâ€™s soul.
Heâ€™d been a brilliant student, a year ahead of his peers, and as soon as he could arrange it heâ€™d left home for university. To start with he had emailed his sister regularly, choosing to keep in touch with her rather than face awkward phone calls with his technologically challenged mother and father. Heâ€™d seemed to thrive in the rarefied academic atmosphere, embracing the demands of studying maths and IT at the same time.
Then, in his third year, the emails had started to tail off. Theyâ€™d become shorter and less informative. Esther had gone to visit and had found Aiden holed up in a darkened room with a computer and an intimidating man whose name she had never learnt. Though clearly shocked to see her, Aiden had taken her out to dinner, made all the right noises about studying and enjoying himself, then had sent her on her way. It was only when sheâ€™d got back home that sheâ€™d realised he had actually told her little of substance, and that she still had no clue as to what he was up to.
The first sheâ€™d learnt of exactly how much trouble he was in was when their mother had called her, mildly hysterical, to tell her that that Aiden had been arrested for hacking. Six months of hell had followed. Aiden had refused to talk about what he had done or why. Heâ€™d been released into Estherâ€™s care on bail, pending trial, and was banned from being anywhere near a computer. The university had allowed him to finish his degree remotely and that was what he had spent six months doingâ€”painstakingly writing his dissertation by hand and avoiding all mention of the impending trial.
Esther had attended court in the expectation that the trial would take weeks, but to her shock Aidenâ€™s lawyer had entered a guilty plea on his behalf. Aiden hadnâ€™t met her eyes once as the lawyer had made a statement pleading for leniency. Then the judge had asked for both the defending and prosecuting councils to meet in his chamber. What had emerged was a choiceâ€”six months in prison, or twelve monthsâ€™ attachment to an organisation of the judgeâ€™s choosing for community service. The latter depended on payment of a bond and that was where Esther had come in. She had agreed to post the bond, which meant that if Aiden reneged on the conditions of the sentence, she stood to lose her house and business.
Aiden hadnâ€™t been given any choice in the matter. The deal was made and the result was the sulky attitude in the back of the car. Heâ€™d been released into their custody, provided that they travelled to meet his custodian for the next year immediately. The alternative had been a prison van, so, ever practical, Essie had bundled her husband and younger brother into their car, dismissed the policeman who had walked them to the vehicle and set off into the darkness.
Cold, damp air swept through the car as Esther opened the back door to let Aiden out.
"Child locks, Essie? Seriously?"
"Act like a child, you get treated like one." Esther grimaced. She was starting to sound like their mother and that wasnâ€™t good. Aidenâ€™s raised eyebrow and sardonic grin said that he knew exactly what she was thinking.
"Shut up, Aiden."
"I didnâ€™t say anything!"
"You were going to. Now, a Mr Anders is supposed to meeting us in the cafÃ©. Heâ€™s escorting you the rest of the way."
Adam locked the car and they headed inside, Aiden trailing miserably behind them. It was late and there werenâ€™t many customers in the slightly grubby restaurant. Aiden watched his sister as she scanned the seating area. At the back of the room, someone waved in their direction. Esther marched them over and held out a hand.
"Mr Anders? Iâ€™m Esther Locke. This is my husband, Adam." They shook hands, then Esther grabbed Aidenâ€™s arm and pulled him forwards. "And this is my brother, Aiden Keller."
Aiden pushed down his inclination to make a sarcastic remark and looked up through his hair, then up a bit more. Christ, the man had to be six foot five. Eventually he hit a pair of steel-grey eyes and a stern expression.
"Heath Anders. Sit down, Aiden. Iâ€™ll be with you in a minute." Heathâ€™s voice was deep and soft but his words carried an air of command. Aiden found himself sliding obediently into a chair while Heath gently manoeuvred his sister away from him. The discussion that followed was brief, and Aiden couldnâ€™t hear what was said. After just a couple of minutes Esther gave a small smile in his direction and a brief wave, then she and Adam walked away without looking back.
Aiden swallowed hard. Esther hadnâ€™t even said goodbye. He lowered his eyes, blinking back the sting of tears.
"I find that prolonged departures do nobody any good."
Aiden looked up to see Heath towering over him.
"Would you like something to drink before we continue the journey?"
"Coffee. Please." The please was added a little belatedly, but there was something about Heathâ€™s stance that made Aiden think that rudeness would not be tolerated.
Heathâ€™s lips twitched. "Stay here."
Aiden watched as he walked away. Broad shoulders topped a body wrapped in a dark fleece and black jeans. Every movement spoke of restrained strength. He moved confidently with a measured, unhurried pace. Aiden couldnâ€™t stop his gaze from drifting down to a very nice arseâ€”the guy was exceptionally well put together. It wasnâ€™t difficult to imagine what it would be like to be held down by Heath, and somehow Aiden knew that held down was what he would be. Heath didnâ€™t look the type for caring and sharing. He was so obviously dominant that it oozed from every pore.
"Probably straight." Aiden hoped he had only thought the words rather than said them out loud. It was hardly appropriate to be thinking about the man in that way. Still, if he had to be stuck in some godforsaken place as slave labour for twelve months, at least there would be something nice to look at. Twelve months. Fuck. It felt like a life sentence, and Aiden wondered for the millionth time if what he had done was worth it.
Heath returned, levered his long legs beneath the table and placed a large cup of steaming coffee in front of him. Aidenâ€™s hands shook just a little as he ripped open a sugar sachet and sprinkled a few grains into his drink. The fight with the miniature milk cartons proved a bit more challenging until a large hand closed around his own, took the annoying little pot away and opened it for him. The burning sensation would have been less if Aiden had plunged his hand into an open fire. Skin on skin contact with Heath short-circuited his brain and turned his cock into a very hard problem.
He shifted uncomfortably. "I donâ€™t need your help." He fought the second milk carton and sprayed white liquid across the table.
"Of course you donâ€™t." Heath wiped up the mess with a serviette. "Look at me, Aiden."
Aiden suddenly found the tabletop very interesting indeed, but there was something about that voice that stripped away his resistance. Slowly, unwillingly, he raised his eyes.
"Better. I have one ground rule that we need to get out of the way. I know you donâ€™t want to be here. Well, suck it upâ€”I donâ€™t care. You did something wrong and this is punishment, not a fucking day trip."
Aiden blinked and clenched his fists beneath the table.
"From this point on, you do what I say, when I say it. Disobey me and you will be punished. Do as youâ€™re told and we will get along just fine."
"So, you say â€˜Jumpâ€™ and I say â€˜How highâ€™? Is that how this works?" Months of frustration and worry brought sharpness to Aidenâ€™s voice.
"How high, how far and what kind of fucking landing is required."
Aiden watched the steam rise in lazy swirls from his cup. "So who made you my lord and master?"
He tried not to twitch as Heath growled at him. "The misguided judge who saw fit to save you from the hazards of a custodial sentence."
"It was my first offence. That old bastard could have let me off with a fine."
"And what exactly would you have learnt from that? And just so you know, that old bastard is my father."
Aiden paled and shoved his chair back. "So this is some kind of convenient arrangement for providing you with free labour?"
"Donâ€™t be such a fucking drama queen. It wonâ€™t hurt you to find out what hard work feels like. I didnâ€™t ask to be lumbered with your useless, childish arse, believe me."
Aiden tilted his chair back on two legs and scowled. "Whatever."
Before he knew what was happening, a hand was wrapped in his collar, heaving him from his chair then shoving him unceremoniously towards the door. There werenâ€™t many cars in the car park, and despite the fact that he was being roughly manhandled towards it Aiden couldnâ€™t help but admire the sleek Jaguar they headed towards. Heath pushed him into the passenger seat with a grunt. Aiden was still marvelling at the cream leather and polished walnut when he felt cold metal close around his wrist.
"What the hellâ€¦?"
Heath smiled serenely and locked the other cuff around the door handle.
"You canâ€™t do this!" Aiden yanked furiously on the cuffs, wincing as the metal dug into his skin.
Heath shut the door with a solid clunk, then got into the driverâ€™s seat and started the engine.
"You need to get used to the fact that I can do whatever the hell I like with you. The next time you say â€˜whateverâ€™ to me, Iâ€™ll gag you."
Aiden banged his head back against the seat in frustration. He glared uselessly at Heath, but got no response other than a satisfied smirk. He closed his eyes and took a few calming breaths. After what heâ€™d been through recently, surely he could deal with this power-crazy bastard? He sneaked another peak. He might hate Heathâ€™s guts already, but he couldnâ€™t deny the man was gorgeous. He watched Heathâ€™s thigh muscles tensing under tight black denim as he changed gear, then took a sideways look at the strong hands clasping the wheel. No white knuckles thereâ€”Heath was sickeningly relaxed and in control of the situation.
Control. Now, there was a word to conjure with. Aiden let the thought of being controlled by Heath seep into his mind. His half-hard cock started to swell in appreciation of its ownerâ€™s daydreams and Aiden suppressed a curse. With one hand chained to the door, he couldnâ€™t even fold his hands demurely in his lap to hide the growing bulge. He muttered a silent prayer that Heath was the kind of driver who kept his eyes strictly on the road.
He exerted pressure on the handcuffs in the hope that the pain of metal digging into his wrist would deflate his errant cock. It had the opposite effect. He couldnâ€™t stop thinking about what it would be like to be forcibly handcuffed by Heath in the bedroom. On his knees. Naked. Shit. Now he was fully and painfully hard, and there was absolutely nothing he could do to hide it.
The stress is driving me crazy, he thought. Sure, heâ€™d had bondage fantasies for as long as he could remember, but this was hardly the time or place, or indeed the man to be having them about. He was stuck in a car heading for a year of purgatory, and only a handful of people knew that he hadnâ€™t actually done anything wrong. He should be scared, anxious or at least mildly pissed off. Instead he found that he was weirdly looking forward to spending more time with a man who took great pleasure in putting him in his place.