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A Dominant who doesn't believe in love and a submissive who can't forget, can love truly overcome everything?
When Aaron Langford walked out of his life years ago, Brendan Mackenzie felt his heart break and made the decision to never love again. When his best friend shows up on his door with a scruffy stranger, it takes long moments for Brendan to realise the stranger is actually his ex-boyfriend.
Physical scars tell the story of where his ex has been and the life the other man led. Promising to find a good master for the submissive male, Brendan finds it increasingly difficult to imagine Aaron with anyone but him.
Can love be salvaged or will the past be too much to overcome?
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"If you love someone, let them go. If they return to you, it was meant to be. If they don't, their love was never yours to begin with."
Brendan McKenzie scoffed and balled up the card along with Aaron's photo. It'd been three years since his lover — the man he'd thought was his soul mate — had left, and Brendan was tired of waiting and hoping, only to be disappointed in the end. Aaron had made his choice. Brendan could live with it, would have to live with it.
He still hated it.
"'It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all'," he read, picking up a postcard. "Ha. Anonymous has obviously never had to deal with either."
Tearing the postcard in half, he threw it in the burn pile. He made quick work of the rest of the box, electing to keep only a few items. After he was done, Brendan sat on the fieldstone surround of the cold fireplace and started to build a fire. Feeling his pockets for a lighter, he swore, stood and went to search the junk drawer in the kitchen, retrieving a book of matches instead. He swore again when the doorbell rang.
"It's fucking midnight! What the hell?" Brendan stomped to the door, and yanked it open. "Harden! What the fuck do you want? And why didn't you just walk in?" He scowled at the dark features of Harden Langford, his best friend since third grade ... and the cousin of his former lover. Harden's parents had named him after a grandfather, and it had given his friend no end of trouble.
"Thought it'd be better to knock this time," Harden said indicating a scruffy looking man standing near him. The other man stood slightly behind and to the left of his friend and stared at the ground, his hands behind his back. Brendan recognised the submissive stance immediately. This one was different. If he wasn't mistaken, the submissive had been abused. "Garrett's home, so he can't stay with me," Harden continued.
Brendan blinked and stared in disbelief at the dishevelled man as Harden's words finally sunk in. This wasn't just any submissive, abused or not. Brendan's scowl deepened. He recognised Aaron Langford, his ex-lover and partner, through the stringy, dirty blond hair and shaggy beard. The once bright, smiling green eyes were dull and lifeless. The smaller man had lost weight since he'd left — that much Brendan could tell even with the baggy clothes he was wearing.
"No." Brendan shook his head. His stomach clenched and his throat tightened. The last thing he needed or wanted in his life right now was Aaron. Responsibility be damned. He wanted nothing to do with the man who had ripped his heart out. Brendan blew out a breath and shoved a hand through his hair. He'd finally agreed to go out with Matt Carson, the good-looking office manager from the financial services firm that shared a floor with the advertising company that Harden worked at, after the man had pursued him for months. He'd spoken with the man several times and had a sensed a natural submissiveness in Matt that appealed to him on a certain level. Eventually, he would make a great sub. Aaron was a complication he didn't want or need.
"Brendan, he's only been in town a couple of hours and he has to stay somewhere," Harden implored. "Garrett can't stand him. He wants him dead and refuses to allow him in the house while he's around."
"The streets?" he suggested. "That smells like where you picked him up from. And what makes you think he is welcomed here or that my opinion is different than Garrett's?"
"He's family. My family ... we're all each other has."
"He's not my family," Brendan ground out, ignoring the pleading invading his friend's voice and eyes. Brendan knew Harden spoke the truth. Both men had been kicked out of the house and disowned by their entire family the day they'd come out. They'd been closer than brothers since then. At least until Aaron left them all and headed for New York City.
"He's your soul mate."
Brendan shook his head. "No. He's. Not. He made his choice. Three years ago he walked away from me, from us and what we had together. He walked away from you."
"He'll die on the streets. It's just a couple of days. Garrett leaves on Monday."
Aaron's eyes open wide, his face paled and Harden shook his head.
"It's not my problem, Harden. Put him in a shelter, a hotel, or a gutter. I don't care. But he's not staying here. He's no longer welcome," Brendan replied, steeling his heart. Having Aaron under his roof would be torture, especially when he knew Aaron didn't want him. Dating simply wouldn't be possible with his ex-boyfriend living under the same roof. He had a real date planned, not just a hook up with a submissive from the club, and he had hoped to get lucky with Matt tomorrow. An idea that had lost its appeal when combined with the reminder of Aaron living with him. Staying, he corrected himself. Aaron wasn't welcome.
"When did you become a cold hearted bastard?" Harden asked, balling his fists, testifying to the fury and worry running through his best friend.
"Swing at me if you must, Harden. You're my best friend and you of all people should know exactly why Aaron isn't welcomed here. I refuse to put myself through that again. Not for you. Certainly not for him. Not for any reason. There is no room in this house or in my life for that selfish prick." Brendan pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and removed the cash and one of his business cards and handed it over to his friend. "Here is eighty-three dollars, that's enough to get a room for a night or two at a motel. If I'm a cold-hearted bastard, you can thank your cousin for that. Get him off my property."
Harden nodded reluctantly. "I'll be in touch."
Brendan watched Harden guide his one-time lover back to the light green sedan parked in his driveway. He kept watch as Harden drove away, wondering if he'd see Aaron again. Hoping he would. Praying he wouldn't. Brendan blew out a breath and ran a hand through his hair. Why now, after three years had Aaron returned? What had happened to the man who had been proud of his looks? Why did he look and smell like he just crawled out of a sewer pipe? Looking at the cold fireplace, he retrieved a beer from the kitchen, and weighed his options. Blowing out a breath and rubbing his chin, he sat down on the couch, his mind swirled with unanswered questions.
Thirty minutes later, Brendan tossed a second empty beer bottle into the recycling bin and picked up his ringing cell phone. He glanced at the display and flipped it open. "What do you want, Harden?"
"Aaron freaked when we got to the motel. Even changing motels several times he refused to get out of the car. Brendan, I know he screwed up — screwed up big time — but he needs a place to stay. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."
"What in the hell is going on? He hasn't been in town in three years. He looks and smells like he crawled out of a gutter."
"I don't know, brother, but he needs our help."
"Damn it. That's low," Brendan swore. They'd sworn a blood oath years ago, when they were little more than kids, after they'd realised they were both gay and made better friends than lovers. They would remain brothers until the end, and would help each other out, no questions asked. Ever. "What time is Garrett leaving?"
"He's got a seven a.m. flight, which means he'll leave the house at four thirty or so."
"Aaron needs to be out of my house by five a.m. and while he's here, I don't want to see or hear him," Brendan spat. "See you when you get here."
Plugging his phone into the charger, Brendan headed towards the bathroom and laid out clean towels, shaving cream, soap, scissors and a disposable safety razor. He was adding navy coloured sweatpants and a matching sweatshirt to the stack when Harden called out. The quick arrival meant the pair had been close when Harden had called.
"I know this is hard, I'll make it up to you," Harden said, pulling Brendan into a hug.
"No need, you know that." Brendan squeezed his eyes shut and opened them, his gaze resting on Aaron. Fear swirled in the other man's eyes. "Five a.m., Harden. Not a minute later."
"Done. I'll call you tomorrow, if we make it out of bed."
"Get out of here before I throw up. The last thing I need or want is a visual of you and Garrett fucking. Go on and get out of here."
"Night, brother," Harden said hugging Brendan before squeezing Aaron's shoulder. "Cousin."
Tension filled the space between them. Brendan waited until after Harden pulled out of the driveway before turning to Aaron. "You know where the bathroom is, there is a razor and a change of clothes in there. You can stay in the guest room. Keep the door closed. I meant what I said. I don't want to see or hear you until Harden comes for you on Monday. I don't care where you've been or what you've done or not done. Take a shower. Clean up. Leave everything on the floor and I will start a load of laundry tonight."
"Thank you, Ma — Brendan. I ... thank you," Aaron said quietly, his voice rough.
"Thank Harden. He's the only reason you are here. If it was up to me, you'd be on the streets," Brendan snapped.
He sank onto the couch and rested his head in his hands as Aaron headed down the hall. Brendan listened to the water running and tried to forget his uninvited houseguest. He tried not to remember running his hands over the well-defined body standing under the shower, water running down a rock-hard abdomen, or how many times he'd taken Aaron like that. His cock hardened, straining against his jeans. Brendan tried to focus on the pain Aaron had caused him and circled back to the stumbled words from earlier. He could have sworn Aaron had started to call him Master. He'd recognised Aaron as a submissive before he knew who was standing in his living room. Aaron had no way of knowing about that part of Brendan's life. Brendan rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, trying to release the building tension. If Aaron didn't know about Brendan's lifestyle, the slip meant that Aaron was also a part of the lifestyle. A submissive.
Brendan blew out a breath, his brain shifting the pieces of the puzzle reluctantly. Aaron was a badly abused lifestyle submissive.
Waiting until he was certain Aaron had gone to the assigned bedroom, Brendan walked into the steam-filled bathroom and picked up the pile of clothes and towels.
"What the —" Brendan pulled his hand away from the fabric. Bright red blood streaked his palm. Aaron was bleeding. The dark streaks on the material told him the wounds were either fairly fresh or kept reopening. Anger seeped from his body, replaced by concern. Hurt gave way to worry. Dropping the laundry, he reached into the closet and withdrew his first aid kit. He crossed the hall, knocked once and walked in.
"What can I do for you, Sir?" Aaron asked formally, rising from the edge of the bed, a panicked look in his eyes.
"What's bleeding?" Brendan demanded, his brain registering the clean-shaven face staring at him and the hesitation in the movements.
"It's nothing, I'm fine."
"Do not lie to me." Brendan held up his blood- splattered hand. "Strip. I want to see the wounds right now."
"Sir, it's really not necessary," Aaron protested, shrinking back, lowering his gaze.
"Voluntarily or I will do it for you!" Brendan ordered.
"Yes, M —" Aaron complied and removed the covers followed by the navy blue sweatshirt.
Brendan paused and raised an eyebrow. There was no way. Not Aaron. Sure, he'd always preferred receiving, but he'd never been submissive. Not to him or to anyone else that he was aware of. In fact, Aaron had always refused to do as he was told.
Brendan replayed the night's events, going over Aaron's actions. Aaron, who would've once protested being talked about like he wasn't there or while someone else made plans for him, had stood quietly by and let him and Harden discuss where he was going. It wasn't until the man's cousin was gone that Aaron had said anything. His words and actions were those of a man who had undergone extensive training in the acceptable behaviours and his position in life.
"I'm going to ask you some questions and you will answer me truthfully," Brendan commanded.
"I'll answer what I can, Sir." Aaron nodded, turning around.
Brendan inhaled sharply. Aaron's back was a cross hatch of whip marks that had broken the skin. It helped to confirm his suspicion that Aaron was a submissive. How had he not seen it before? Is that why Aaron had left? Then why had he come back? How did he have fresh cuts with a beard that was several months old at least? None of the cuts seemed to require stitching. Although he had a feeling that Aaron wouldn't go to the hospital anyway, the wounds should be seen by someone with more training than he did. Brendan shuddered as another thought pushed forwards. Was Aaron submissive by choice or had he'd been forced into it? The thought made him shiver. Questions bombarded him. They would have to be answered. If not tonight, soon.
"These need to be looked at by a doctor."
"No." Aaron shook his head, pulling away.
"Are these it?" Brendan asked laying a staying hand on Aaron's shoulder and dreading the answer. "You will answer me on this Aaron," Brendan ordered when the other man remained silent.
Aaron shook his head. "No, Master."
"There are more." Brendan prompted.
"Strip completely and let me take care of them," Brendan ordered. For whatever reason, Aaron responded better to commands than to requests. He needed to find out what had happened in the three years Aaron had been gone. What had he been subjected to? Had he submitted willingly? Had he been forced into it? Did he have a master or owner currently? Were they looking for him?
"Please don't," Aaron begged.
"Aaron, do as you're told."
"It's nothing, Master. It'll be okay. I broke the rules, that's all," Aaron whimpered. "Slaves are supposed to be punished when they screw up."
"I'm not asking," Brendan ground out. "Besides, no one deserves this kind of punishment." Brendan pulled Aaron into his arms. His soul sighed, knowing that Aaron was back where he belonged. His heart and mind protested his willingness to take Aaron back, to hold him or to allow him even the thought of a chance of being back in his life. "Now, finish stripping and let me take care of you."
"Brendan, are ... are you a master?" Aaron asked stepping back when Brendan released him and gingerly removed the sweatpants.
Brendan took a deep breath and debated how to answer the question posed him. He hadn't known anything about BDSM or Domination and submission until months after Aaron had left. He had been introduced to it by a man he'd met at a bar one night after learning Aaron had left town. He'd quickly worked out he was a Dom and spent months learning, first from one of the masters at X-tasy, the area's first and oldest BDSM club, and then from another one at Chaynze — a newer club, but with more safety protocols — using the atmosphere of both places to hide his broken heart.
"Yes, I am," he answered.
"Then it is right that I call you Master."
"I doubt that is a wise idea for either of us. Roll onto your stomach and I will clean you up." His heart protested automatically. Images of Aaron submitting to him swamped him. Aaron's place was with him. He ran. He left, his mind reminded him. Aaron would always be a battle between Brendan's heart and mind. He wasn't even sure winning was even a possibility.
Aaron nodded and lay down on his stomach.
Brendan left, returning quickly with a pan of warm water, a washcloth, and a towel. Carefully, he washed and dried the cuts covering Aaron's back, ass cheeks, and thighs. Most of the injuries were confined to his back, with only a couple breaking the skin on his ass and the discoloured remains of bruises on his thighs and cheeks. Brendan was certain that an unskilled hand had done all of the current visible damage along with more that had disappeared by now. He was equally certain that it was the hand of was not just a Dom, but a slave owner. One who could own a slave for a long period of time, that had caused the web of scars on the other man's back, possibly made by the owner of the tattoo stamping his one-time lover's body.
His gaze travelled over the ink to the hairless balls resting between Aaron's spread thighs. His fists clenched, mashing the wet cloth. The tattoo of a pair of handcuffs in the shape of a half circle with the letters M and J inside and the number seventeen underneath commanded his attention. The two-inch tattoo on Aaron's right buttock looked like an ownership mark. He ignored it for now, knowing he would need to ask Aaron about it soon.
"Did the man who whipped you hit your cock or balls or anything else?"
"Are you certain? If he did, then I need to know, so we can make sure no damage has been done."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "To Love Again"
Copyright © 2011 Simone Anderson.
Excerpted by permission of Totally Entwined Group Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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