Rick was dozing when his cell phone rang.
“Hey, dom-bro!” It was Cilla, one of his dom friends. “I’m watching the news right now. Shit, man – that looks painful. Way to go, bro. You’re such a fucking badass!”
“What…?” Rick fumbled for the remote and turned over to the news channel.
“TV star Richard O’Shea was pulled over for a speeding violation earlier today,” a smug-sounding presenter said. “It looks as if O’Shea has a lot in common with the character he plays on the hit TV show Collar Crime – trouble magnet Agent Alex Tanner.”
“What the hell?” Rick stared at the TV in horror.
“You’re one bad dom-fucking dom!” Cilla hollered down the phone.
“Yeah, whatever. Fuck off, Cilla.” He snapped the phone shut and turned his attention back to the news.
“It hasn’t been a good day for O’Shea – our sources tell us he took six in the studio discipline room earlier in the day, too – and then another six this evening at the Justice Hall. Even Alex Tanner doesn’t usually get into that much trouble in one day!”
Rick watched, in stunned surprise, as they showed some grainy cell phone footage of him in the discipline room at the Justice Hall. He could feel the embarrassment deep in his bones as he watched every single humiliating second of it. It only made it worse when he realized that whoever had taken the footage had to have been standing… right in the spot where Susan Antonio had been.
“Shit. What a crappy thing to do. I was nice to her as well,” he muttered, feeling completely betrayed. It wasn’t, strictly speaking, legal to video other people’s punishments, so maybe Susan Antonio hadn’t been the sweet innocent he’d taken her for. She clearly didn’t seem to have any problem breaking the law, even straight after being punished for it.
His cell phone rang again, but he ignored it. The only person he was worried about was Petra – he hoped this didn’t mean his job was in danger. He sent her a text, apologizing and saying he’d explain at work the next day. He really wasn’t up to any kind of conversation with his boss tonight; he’d probably only say something to make the situation worse.
He turned off the TV and stared blankly at the carpet for a long time, feeling like the entire world was against him. The doorbell rang, and he wondered if it was the press, wanting some kind of stupid interview. He supposed it was better to get it over with, so he rolled off the sofa, walked slowly to the front door, and opened it.
“Hey, Rick – are you okay?” Matt was standing there, holding a pizza box in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. He was wearing dark chinos and a blue shirt that brought out the color of his eyes. He looked like he was dressed for a date, except for the denim jacket slung over the top, which didn’t match his outfit at all, and the silver scarf draped around his neck.
“What are you doing here, Matty?” Rick asked tiredly.
“I saw you on the news.” Matt pushed past him and walked into the house. “You looked like shit, and I figured you hadn’t eaten, so I thought I’d bring something over. Pizza and sympathy?” He held up the pizza box.
Rick gave a little chuckle and shut the door. “No need, Matt. I’m fine. Okay, so this hasn’t been the best day of my life, but I’m fine.”
“Bullshit.” Matt’s eyes blazed angrily. “I can tell you’re hurting, and I don’t blame you. How dare they show that footage? Nobody should have been allowed to film you. That’s infringement. Do you know who it was? You could bring a case against them.”
Rick thought of Susan Antonio quietly snuffling into her tissue beside him on the bench. He thought of her thin shoulders, scuffed shoes, and the hole in her blouse and decided he didn’t mind her making a fast buck out of his misery. “Yeah, I know, but I won’t bring a case. I’d rather let it drop.”
“Good luck with that – it’ll be all over the papers tomorrow.”
“I know.” Rick ran a tired hand through his hair. “But if I don’t make a big deal of it or complain about it, then it’ll pass over more quickly.
Matt nodded, thoughtfully. “You know, for an idiotic lunk, you’re actually quite sensible at times.”
Rick managed a faint grin at that. “Did you say something about pizza?” he said, brightening a little as his stomach began to growl.
“Yup. C’mon – you can eat lying on your stomach, can’t you?” Matt grinned at him.
“Sure – I’ve had plenty of practice.” Rick wished he hadn’t said that the minute it was out of his mouth. “You know – from on the show,” he added quickly to cover his mistake. “Alex is always eating that way after the chief has punished him.”
“Yeah. Sure.” Matt patted his arm. They went into the living room, and Matt took off his jacket and scarf and hung them neatly over the back of one of the chairs, while Rick eased himself down onto the sofa with a sigh. “You really are having a crappy day,” Matt said, handing him a slice of pizza.
“Yeah, but it’s looking a lot better now,” Rick said, looking at the pizza, his mouth watering. “Pepperoni and onion? My favorite.”
“I know.” Matt went over to the sideboard, found a couple of glasses, and brought them back to the coffee table. Then he opened the wine and poured them both a glass.
“Wine – very civilized,” Rick said, taking a sip. “And expensive.” He let out an appreciative sigh and glanced at the bottle.
“Of course.” Matt inclined his head. “You might act like a complete philistine, but I’ve noticed you always seem to know a good wine when we have a cast party. So – how do you feel?”
“Sore.” Rick winced.
“I’m not surprised – twelve hard licks in one day – that has to hurt. What’s it like?” he asked curiously.
Rick took a bite out of his pizza. “You’ve never taken licks in public?”
Matt shook his head. “I try to never get into trouble. It’s really not that hard, Rick. You should try it someday.”
“Hah, hah.” Rick made a face. “Seriously – you’ve never been disciplined at work, ever?” Matt shook his head as he bit into his pizza. “How about at the Justice Hall?”
“Nope.” Matt shook his head again.
“How is that even possible?”
“Actually, it’s quite normal for most people.” Matt rolled his eyes. “You’re the freak here, Rick.”
“And you’re the control freak.” Rick grinned. “Never getting into any trouble – ever?” He raised an eyebrow. “You need to cut loose and take some risks, Matt. You might find you actually have some fun.”
“Yeah, because it definitely looked like you were having fun on that news item earlier,” Matt responded tartly. “And you didn’t answer my question – what’s it like?”
“Painful. Hey – didn’t you have a date with Ermentrude tonight?” Rick asked, changing the subject.
“Yeah.” Matt’s face had that pinched look it always got when he was unhappy.
“She dumped me.”
“What? Is she an idiot?” Rick tried to sit up and then winced and flopped back down again. “Are you upset?”
“No. That’s the weird thing. I think I should be, but I’m not. I’m more mad, I think.”
“That’s good. Don’t be upset – be mad. You totally didn’t deserve for her to treat you that way.”
“That’s not it. I wish it was. I think I should’ve got mad at her a long time ago, but I didn’t. Anyway, I’m not mad at her – I’m mad at myself. I knew I wasn’t enjoying being with her, and I should’ve ended it, not her. Damn it!” Matt kicked the pizza box and it went flying halfway across the room. He made an apologetic little noise and dashed over to get it and bring it back to the sofa.
“Well, I’m angry with her, even if you aren’t,” Rick said. “I always hated the way she ordered you around and treated you like you were something she’d scraped off her shoe.”
“Yeah, Matty. She wasn’t good enough for you. Never could understand why you stuck with her.”
“Me neither.” Matt sighed.
“Well, I’m glad it’s over,” Rick said between bites of his pizza. “You should play the field, Matt. You’re a good looking sub – doms everywhere must be falling over themselves to sweet-talk you into bed.”
“I’m not like you, Rick. I don’t think I’d enjoy playing the field.”
“You’re young – have some fun.”
“See, to me, that isn’t fun.” Matt bristled. “I want to connect with someone, Rick! To find a dom I can really trust and relax with and not…”
“Not?” Rick raised an eyebrow.
“Not have to count with.” Matt’s pale skin flushed an endearing shade of pink. “I wish I could switch off my brain and not have to count everything all the time.”
“It was worse with Emily, wasn’t it?” Rick said. “I could tell. She made you nervous, and when you’re nervous the OCD is worse. Also, you yell at me more on set.” He winked.
Matt laughed. “Well, you do deserve to be yelled at a lot of the time.”
“I know. What can I say? I’m trouble – and today that caught up with me, big time.” Rick glanced over his shoulder ruefully.
“I’m an OCD freak who can’t keep a dom, and you’re an idiot who can’t keep out of trouble.” Matt grinned and held up his glass of wine. “What’s left to do but celebrate?”
Rick laughed and clinked his glass against Matt’s. “You’re right. At least we can be screw-ups together.”
He finished his pizza and lay back down with a sigh, yelping as his sore ass made itself felt.
“Do you want me to put something on that?” Matt asked, getting up. “Where do you keep the ointment?”
“Whatever you use on your subs after discipline?” Matt raised an eyebrow.
Rick felt irritated, even though it wasn’t Matt’s fault. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never disciplined a sub in my life.”
“What?” Matt folded his arms over his chest, looking perplexed. “Seriously, Rick?”
“Seriously. Who the hell am I to discipline anyone for anything? I’m the biggest screw-up there is.”
“But have you never done a really hard spanking session with a sub because they enjoyed it?”
“No, because I wouldn’t enjoy it. It’s not my thing,” Rick said firmly.
“Really? What is?”
“Hah – that’s between me and my subs.” Rick grinned up at him.
“So, you hate spanking?”
“No!” Rick was outraged. “I love spanking – that’s the point. That’s why I’d hate to swing a strap around and do a really hard-core discipline scene. For me, spanking is… well, it’s beautiful.” He smiled as he remembered spanking that sub he’d picked up last night. “It’s an act of intimacy, affection and sensuality – I adore pulling a sub over my knee and building up a spanking, like playing a piano or painting a picture. Just to whale down with some implement for the sake of it, even if the sub gets off on it – that really isn’t my scene at all. It’s not me, or how I like to play.”
Matt gave a little whistle. “Wow – that’s almost poetic, Rick. Just when I think I’ve got you figured out, you go and surprise me. I’ve never met a dom like you before, although half the time I’m not convinced you are a dom.”
“Well, I am,” Rick said flatly. “Just not that kind of dom. Look, spanking is a really personal thing for me, Matt. It’s special, and a really big deal. I hated being down at the Justice Hall, not because I took licks, but because I had to watch other people taking them – especially subs. It was like watching something that’s incredibly important to me being trampled into the dust. It set my teeth on edge.”
Matt sat back down on the sofa again. “You actually mean that? It really did upset you?” He sounded surprised, and Rick realized that Matt had never seen this side of him. Then again, he never usually let anyone see this side of him.
“Yes. Not being punished myself – that wasn’t a problem – but watching and listening to it happening to others, especially subs; that was a kind of torture for me.”
“You’ve spent a lot of time in the Justice Hall, haven’t you?” Matt said quietly, looking at him.
Rick shrugged. “Some,” he muttered.
“So why do you get yourself into so much trouble?” Matt asked. “I mean, first there was today at work, then this evening.”
“I don’t do it on purpose.” Rick took another sip of his wine. “I don’t pay enough attention to details, I guess.”
“I don’t think that’s it,” Matt said, giving him a thoughtful look.
“Don’t psychoanalyze me, Lake. I’m not the one who counts things compulsively.” Rick dug his foot into Matt’s thigh to make it clear he was teasing.
“True.” Matt glanced across the room. “You really have the most giant TV screen I’ve ever seen, Rick.”
“Yeah, well, I earn all this money now, so I wanted to spend it on things that remind me of that fact whenever I look at them.” Rick grinned.
“Can we watch something?”
“Sure.” Rick grabbed the remote and turned on the TV. “I recorded tonight’s episode of Collar Crime earlier. Want to watch us for a laugh?”
Matt grimaced. “I hate watching myself. I always think I make really crappy acting choices, while you and Daniel are always so good. I keep wondering when Petra is going to notice and fire me.”
“Idiot!” Rick nudged Matt with his toe again. “C’mon – it’ll be fun. Isn’t this the episode where the chief’s dark secret is revealed?”
“Yup. Although we do already know what that is.”
“Yeah, but we haven’t seen it all nicely edited together with meaningful music. C’mon – let’s laugh at ourselves.”
Rick grabbed hold of Matt’s arm and pulled him down on the sofa next to him. Matt kicked off his shoes and put his feet up, settling down beside him. It felt cozy, and Rick thought how nice it was to have company that he wasn’t trying to sweet-talk into bed for a change.
The opening credits came up, accompanied by the high speed, catchy theme song that summed up the show in a nutshell.
There was a moody, authoritative shot of Daniel, followed immediately by three faster shots of him: jumping over a car’s hood, gun in hand; looking angsty as he caressed a vintage collar nestling in a box, unused; and, finally, a rare shot of him smiling directly to camera, in which he looked devastatingly handsome.
Matt whistled. “Wow – you can see why he was named the sexiest sub in the world five years running when he was in the Insubordination movies.”
Then it was Rick’s turn – the first shot was of him looking at himself in a mirror while he buckled on his collar before work – which had been the very last scene from the original pilot. That was followed by a montage of him chasing a suspect; lying handcuffed and bare-chested in bed with a sexy smile on his face; and kneeling down in front of Chief Christie, looking contrite.
“Ooh – sexy!” Matt whistled at the bedroom shot. “How many sex scenes have you done on the show so far?”
“Tons. I’m the eye candy, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“Hah! I thought we’d all been specially selected to appeal to a broad range of possible tastes, Mr. Up Yourself,” Matt commented acerbically.
“Yeah – but I bring the sex, obviously.” Rick poked him in the thigh, and Matt rolled his eyes. “Oh, look what we’ve got here – poor little butter-wouldn’t-melt Agent Ben Harris.”
Matt’s first shot showed him fingering his throat in a disappointed way, clearly upset by the lack of a collar. His montage was him nervously dropping his gun; then gazing up a well shaft covered in grime; and, finally, looking cool, wearing a tuxedo to a party.
“Which episode was that? The tux?” Rick frowned.
“The one where I’m undercover, pretending to be a rich dom at a party,” Matt replied, taking another sip of his wine. He’d already gone through one glass and was on his second.
“Oh, yeah. I remember that one. It was your first undercover assignment; you totally fucked up, and Alex had to step in to save the day.”
“That’s the one.” Matt grinned at him over the rim of his wine glass. “I had a lot of fun with that one.”
“Ooh, kinky! Did playing a dom turn you on?” Rick purred seductively in Matt’s ear.
“Not really. Does playing a sub in every single episode turn you on?” Matt threw back at him.
Rick roared with laughter. “That would be telling.”
“The show’s about to begin, so shush,” Matt ordered, as the massive Collar Crime logo came up onscreen.
It was relaxing watching the episode with Matt. They both zoned out and enjoyed it, laughing at some of the bizarre twists the plot took.
“Ooh look – here comes Karl – time for that big showdown with the chief,” Matt said, pointing as Karl slunk onto the screen, in character as Jason Jarvis, looking slimy and sinister. “Now, he’s a good actor,” Matt observed. “I mean, he’s a really nice guy in real life, but he’s pure evil onscreen.”
“Aw, you have the hots for Karl Morgan.” Rick poked Matt in the ribs.
“I do not!” Matt giggled, waving a hand to shove Rick away and spilling some of his wine on his own shirt in the process. “Oh, shit…” Matt wiped at the big stain ineffectually, and his entire body tensed up.
“Leave it. It doesn’t matter,” Rick said.
“But there’s some on your carpet! I’m so sorry.” He turned a stricken face towards Rick. “I’ll pay for it to be cleaned. Oh, hell…” He rubbed at the carpet frantically. “Do you want me to leave?” he asked miserably.
“What? Don’t be an idiot. It’s fine. Shit like that doesn’t freak me out. Just relax.” Rick pulled him back onto the sofa. Matt was still tense, so Rick stroked the side of his thigh. Usually Matt shoved people away when they got too far into his personal space, but this time he seemed not to notice, and he gradually started to relax.
“Anyway, what would it matter if you did have the hots for Karl?” Rick said, trying to resume their conversation and further defuse Matt’s tension. “He’s a nice guy. You could do worse.”
“True, but I think he has the hots for Daniel, so it wouldn’t be any use if I did.”
“Really? He likes Daniel?” Rick blew out a surprised whistle. “Poor Karl. That’s never gonna happen. I bet most subs would fall over themselves to be with Karl because he’s a good looking dom, but not Daniel. He’s the one sub in the world that Karl can’t have.”
“Yeah. Poor Karl. He’s a nice guy, and so is Daniel. I think they’d be good together.”
“Talking of good together – this scene between the chief and Jason Jarvis totally rocks,” Rick said, as the scene playing out on TV reached a dramatic climax. “Aw! Poor Chief Christie. Jason once stole the only sub he ever truly loved, and it hurt him so badly that he’s never allowed himself to fall in love again. He’s kept the collar he was going to give her all this time because he never got over her.” Rick made a theatrical sobbing sound.
“And now Jason Jarvis is back, intent on hurting the chief again,” Matt said. “Cue sinister music!”
“How’s he going to do that?” Rick asked. “I don’t remember this bit. I sometimes zone out in the scenes I’m not in during the table read.”
“Just watch.” Matt winked.
They watched in silence as the final scene showed Matt as Ben Harris walking into a bar. In an act of rebellion against his strict Lenkan upbringing, he’d gone looking for a dom to take his virginity.
“Oh, shit,” Rick breathed, as Jason Jarvis entered the bar, sat down beside innocent, naive Ben, and turned to him with an evil smile.
“Jason is going to try and steal the chief’s agents from him, one by one, starting with poor Ben.” Matt grinned up at him.
“Oh no! So, next week are we going to see you and Karl writhing around naked in his playroom?” Rick teased. He was surprised when Matt’s shoulders tensed again. “Hey – is there a problem?”
“No. Well, not really…” Matt glanced at him. “Damn it, I knew I shouldn’t have drunk so much wine; I’ll say something I regret.”
“What is it, Matt?” Rick sat up. “Matt?” he said softly, ignoring how much his ass was hurting right now. “C’mon – you’re my best friend – you can tell me.”
“Your best friend? Really?” Matt said skeptically. “You’re the great Richard O’Shea, the hottest thing in town right now. Everyone wants to be your friend.”
“Yeah, but you’re the only one who came around tonight and brought me pizza,” Rick pointed out. “I don’t see anyone else at the door. You’re also the only one who didn’t show up to my public humiliation at work earlier.”
“Public humiliation…? But you invited everyone, Rick! You played the whole thing up.”
“I had to. People would have heard about it and come along anyway if I hadn’t. This way, I made it look like it didn’t matter.”
“But it did matter,” Matt said quietly. “Yes?”
“Yes.” Rick shrugged. “So tell me, Matt – what’s bugging you about the plot line between Jason Jarvis and your character?”
Matt looked down at the floor. “The writers are building up to a big sex scene. We won’t be filming it for a few weeks – first Jason is going to woo Ben and make him fall in love with him. Then he’s going to invite him over for a session in his playroom.”
“What’s the problem with that? You’ve filmed sex scenes before.”
“No, I haven’t. I’ve filmed love scenes before, and they were pretty tame compared to how this will be,” Matt said miserably. “In this scene, my character loses his virginity and totally gives it up to the dom who is seducing him.”
“I still don’t see the problem.”
“The problem is that I don’t know how that feels. I’ve never given it up to any dom – not really.” He looked so desperately embarrassed that Rick felt sorry for him.
“So that’s your dark secret, Matty? C’mon! As dark secrets go, it’s hardly that bad.” Rick pushed his wine glass away, deciding he wouldn’t drink any more in case he confessed to a few dark secrets of his own. He was pretty sure that his would beat Matt’s, hands down.
“But in this sex scene, Ben has to fall under Jason’s spell, submit completely, and really fly. He has to go into his subspace and stay there for hours,” Matt said gloomily.
“And you don’t think you can act that?” Rick asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never been in subspace in my life, Rick. I don’t have a clue how to act it.”
“Well, I’m not a sub but I still act that every day. You don’t have to have lived something to act it, Matt,” Rick told him reasonably. “If they wrote you murdering someone, you wouldn’t have to go out on a killing spree to know what it’s like. You have empathy and imagination – that’s part of what acting is.”
“I know that. It’s just… I know the audience will be able to see it’s not authentic. I won’t be able to go with it because I can’t in my real life, either. I get tense and anxious and that’ll show in my performance. I’m also worried about screwing up during the filming. It’s going to be pretty explicit, and I’m worried I might freak out if Karl has to tie me up, or gag me, or something.”
“Wow, this is really getting to you.” Rick put a hand on Matt’s shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. “Look, Matt, how about I have a word with Karl, and we go into a rehearsal room, just the three of us, and get you nice and relaxed and talk through the entire scene when it’s time? Karl’s a good guy – he’ll be happy to help.”
“I don’t want people knowing about me. About my sex life and how completely I suck at it,” Matt said uncertainly.
“Karl doesn’t have to know. I’ll just tell him you’re really nervous because it’s such a full-on scene. He’ll be cool about it. Between us, we’ll get you through it.”
Matt gave a tentative little smile. “Okay. Thanks. I think that’ll help.”
“Good.” Rick squeezed his shoulder again. “Matt… do you mind me asking something personal?”
“I’ve already spilled my guts about something very personal, so I guess not.” Matt grimaced.
“Why do you repeatedly get involved in relationships with service-oriented doms?” Rick asked curiously. “Because it doesn’t seem to me like you actually enjoy them much. I mean, I’ve been with service-oriented subs, and it’s fine, but it doesn’t really float my boat. I don’t care about being waited on, and I don’t like ordering subs around – well, not outside of the bedroom anyway.” He winked. “It’s not my thing, and I have to say, I never got the vibe from you that it’s your thing, either. And yet those are the doms you always go for; there’s Ermentrude, and that thick-as-shit guy you were with before her.”
“Troy? He wasn’t thick as shit, he was…” Matt considered it for a moment. “No, you’re right, he was thick as shit. Very good-looking, though.”
“And essentially all he wanted was a servant. You might as well have been his PA, Matt, rather than his sub, for all the attention he paid to you. You just ran errands for him all the time.”
Matt glanced up at him. “I didn’t know you even noticed who I date.”
“Well, I do notice you never seem happy with any of them. I mean… you never roll into work late, walking funny, with a giant smile on your face from some really great sex the night before. You never have love bites on your neck, or handcuff marks on your wrists from a fantastic takedown session. You never wince when you sit down and then smile, like you took a really great spanking the night before. You never look well fucked.”
“Like all your many subs, you mean?” Matt made a face. “The oh-so-lucky ones who’ve been treated to ‘the great Richard O’Shea sexperience’.” He snorted.
“Well, I do ride ‘em hard and put ‘em away smiling. I know that much.” Rick grinned. “Look, you can tell me to butt out, but I just wondered why you always choose people who don’t really suit your sexual dynamic. Unless… you do know what your sexual dynamic is, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Matt’s face flushed a bright red.
Rick frowned. “And is it so bad that you can’t find a dom who you’d be compatible with?”
“No. I just…” Matt shrugged helplessly.
“Or is it something you don’t think you’d be any good at? You know you can be great as a service sub, because you’re so organized and like controlling things, but you’re so terrified of not being perfect all the time that you don’t want to take the risk with something closer to your heart? Do you think you’d let a dom down if you asked for what you really want?” Rick asked quietly. “Because you think you can’t do it, or you’d be bad at it?”
“I…” Matt’s blue eyes were agonized, and Rick knew that he’d hit a nerve. “Yes,” Matt muttered, dropping his head and gazing mutely at the floor.
“Hey – look, I don’t know what kind of doms you’ve met, but plenty would be happy just to try stuff with you – you don’t have to be perfect or get it right from the outset.”
Except – this was Matt, and even as he said that, Rick knew that in Matt’s head, he did. It was all part of the OCD, his need to get things right and be in control, while counting all the cracks on the ceiling at the same time. That was who Matt was.
“I know that in my head… but I can’t…” Matt knocked the palm of his hand against his forehead. “I can’t do it, Rick.”
“What is it that you want to do, Matt?” Rick asked gently. “I know a lot of doms – I could get you together with one you’re compatible with, who’d help get you over this. What’s your thing? What turns you on?”
“Nothing really way out. Not even anything different or special.” Matt looked up, his face flushed with embarrassment. “I’d like to be swept up in my own submission, to lose myself in it. I want to be overwhelmed, to give in, to be taken out of myself, and to float. I want to feel, Rick, instead of thinking all the time.” He spoke in a low, passionate voice, and Rick could tell how much this meant to him.
“There are plenty of doms out there who’d be happy to take you on that journey, Matt,” he said reassuringly.
“But I can’t do it! I’ll get tense, and anxious, and start counting, and they’ll get annoyed with me, and I won’t be able to please them, and I’ll want to take back control, and they’ll get pissed off with me and be disappointed. Then they’ll end it, and I’ll be worse off than before we started.”
“Wow – you’ve got this whole scenario figured out.” Rick shook his head, chuckling. Then he took another look at his friend, who was sitting there, his face flaming up to the tips of his ears, and the realization hit. “Is that something that’s actually happened to you, Matt?”
Matt shrugged. “My first dom. Guy called Lucas.”
“Your first dom – and I’m guessing you were his first sub, too? You were both young, and Lucas freaked out because he couldn’t take you down. He felt it reflected on his performance as a dom, and you beat yourself up because you couldn’t be the sub he wanted you to be?”
“Yeah. That’s about it.” Matt grimaced. “Stupid, huh? I mean, everyone else manages to be out there having great sex all the time. It’s just me who can’t do it.”
Rick laughed. “I really don’t think everyone else is out there having great sex all the time, Matt.”
“Yeah. Well.” Rick shrugged. “I’m not everyone. Look – what happened to you is just inexperience; you’re older now.”
“It’s happened a few times since then, too,” Matt told him. “After a while, I decided to stop putting myself through it. I was starting to come over as a tease who couldn’t deliver in the bedroom.”
“So it was easier to get involved with service-oriented doms, and be good at that, than try to find a dom who shared your particular dynamic and could be patient and sympathetic with you?”
“That sounds crappy. You should cut yourself some slack, buddy. Sex isn’t about being perfect – it’s about having a good time. It sounds like you’ve got yourself so freaked out about it that it’s hardly surprising you can’t relax and enjoy it.”
“Really?” Matt chewed on his bottom lip thoughtfully.
“Really. You need to stop being so hard on yourself, Matt.”
“And on other people; I really wasn’t very nice to you earlier, Rick.”
“You have a temper – I like that about you. That’s your passion showing through, Matt, and it has to show through somewhere, because you keep it leashed most of the time. At least when you’re throwing fruit at me, you aren’t counting things in your head.”
“I never thought of it that way.” Finally, Rick coaxed a wan smile out of his friend. “Sorry, all the same. I bottle things up and then explode, but I’ve never seen you lose your temper once. You’re always so laid-back.”
“Well, like you said, I do have a lot of good sex – and that helps me relax.” Rick grinned at him.
“That’s your secret?” Matt rolled his eyes.
“Give me a sub’s beautiful ass to spank every day, throw in some hot fucking, and what the hell have I got to explode about?”
They both laughed, and Rick felt he’d at least been able to banish some of Matt’s misery. He wished he knew a better way to help his friend, but he decided he’d think about how to set Matt up with a dom he’d be compatible with, now that the loathsome Emily was out of the way.
“Sorry – I came over here to cheer you up, but all I’ve done is dump my problems on you,” Matt said tiredly. “And you’ve got plenty of problems of your own right now.”
“Hell, no – it’s been good finding out I’m not the only one with bad shit going on.”
“You won’t tell anyone about any of this, will you?”
Rick poked his thigh. “Don’t be an idiot. Look, Matty, I’ve got plenty of faults – most of which you already know because, let’s face it, I don’t do a good job of hiding them – but I’d never betray a friend. I promise.”
Matt smiled at him again and then yawned. “Thanks. So – what do you think Petra will do to you tomorrow?”
Rick sighed. “I have no idea. I’m more pissed off that the press will be following me around for the next few weeks, wallowing in this whole thing.” He stretched out wearily on the sofa. “Whatever Petra does, I’ll handle it.”
Matt yawned again, his eyes glazing over. “You know… I think I might have had too much to drink,” he muttered sleepily. His head jerked sideways, and he blinked, looking endearingly confused. Rick pulled him down gently, so that he was nestled against him. “Sorry… just… mmm,” Matt muttered.
“Don’t apologize, Matty,” Rick told him. “You’re always apologizing, and you really need to stop.”
“Mmm, yeah. Sorry,” Matt mumbled, and then his eyes closed, and he was fast asleep.
Rick smiled and stroked a hand over his friend’s tousled blond hair. “I bet your hair drives you nuts; it’s the one thing you can’t control.” He gently smoothed it with his fingers. “You’d never let me do this if you were awake. You’re such a prickly sub, always pushing people away when your eyes say you want to be scooped up and loved. You must drive your doms nuts.”
Rick leaned back with a yawn. “You know, not one of my clubbing friends gave a shit about what happened to me today, but you did. You’re a good friend, Matty – better than I deserve.”
Matt mumbled something in his sleep and moved his head so it was resting on Rick’s chest, his cheek squished to one side. Rick smiled and wrapped an arm around his friend.
“Thank you, Matty,” he said softly.
Matt woke up to find he had a pounding headache and what felt like a mouthful of sawdust.
“Urgh,” he muttered, lifting his head blearily.
“Mmmm,” a voice beside him said.
He thought about it for a moment, but he didn’t remember asking Emily to stay over. Then he realized his head was resting on a broad, solid chest… nothing like Emily’s thin body. He took a second to process this. He was lying on a sofa, pressed up against someone bigger than him; someone warm, who had one arm slung over his thigh. Where the hell was he?
The events of the previous evening came rushing back in a jumbled haze, and he sat up quickly. That caused a stabbing pain in his head, and he grabbed hold of it, moaning, as the room lurched violently around him.
“Take it easy,” the voice said, and he felt a big hand on his back, stroking reassuringly as his head swam. He opened one eye, cautiously, and saw Rick grinning at him.
“What the… why am I…?” He stared at Rick in disbelief. “Oh, shit! Did we…?”
“Relax. You just had too much to drink last night. We were lying here talking, and you fell asleep. I thought you might as well stay over as you were in no condition to drive home.”
“I had too much to drink? Didn’t you have too much to drink, too?” Matt asked suspiciously, because Rick was making this sound very one-sided.
“I hold my liquor better.” Rick smirked at him.
“I remember it all now.” Matt buried his head in his hands. “Did I tell you all kinds of personal stuff? About the sex scene with Karl, and about… oh, shit, did I tell you about my first sexual experience?”
“Yes, you did, and I’ll be tweeting all the details later.” Rick winked, and Matt thumped him on the arm – hard. “Ow! Don’t be an idiot, Matty – your secrets are safe with me. I promised you that last night.”
“Oh. Right. Yes, you did. I am so embarrassed.” Matt rubbed his head, feeling stupid. “I should have kept my mouth shut.”
“Hey – it’s fine. I’m good at keeping secrets.”
“Really?” Matt raised an eyebrow. “Because that doesn’t seem like something you’d be good at.”
“Hah!” Rick poked him in the ribs. “That’s where you’re wrong, Mr. Wasted-after-two-glasses-of-wine.”
“Don’t remind me. What time is it?” He glanced at his watch. “Damn it, Rick – we’ll be late for work.”
“Nah – there’s plenty of time. I haven’t been up this early in ages.” Rick swung his legs forward, bumping Matt off the sofa in the process, and Matt landed on the carpeted floor with a yelp.
“No, there isn’t,” he protested. “I don’t have time to get home, shower, and get changed before work.”
“Then don’t.” Rick shrugged. “You can take a shower here.”
“But if I go to work wearing these clothes…” Matt gestured helplessly at the large, dark wine stain on his shirt.
“People will think you had a hot date and didn’t go home last night. What’s the big deal?” Rick shrugged.
“Well, I could lend you one of my shirts, but I think that’d cause even more gossip, don’t you?” Rick grinned at him infuriatingly. “Anyway, who cares? You’ll be changing into Ben’s clothes the minute you get on set, so hardly anyone will see.”
“Oh, forgive me for not wanting to turn up to work late, smelling of liquor, looking like I’ve just had a one-night stand! Some of us have standards.”
“Whatever, grumpy face. C’mon.” Rick held out a hand. “Get up and in the shower – you’ll feel better after that.”
Matt grabbed hold of Rick’s hand and allowed him to haul him to his feet. The room swam again, and he lurched into Rick and held on tight. Luckily, Rick was built like a tree trunk, and he wrapped his big arms around Matt and held him up until everything was still again.
“Okay?” Rick was giving him one of those smug grins, and Matt thought it’d be easier to like him if he wasn’t so annoying.
“I’m fine, thank you,” Matt snapped. He pulled away sharply, wishing he felt steadier on his feet. “Where’s the shower?”
Rick directed him to the bathroom in the spare bedroom and found him a razor and a clean toothbrush, still in its wrapper. “I have a drawer full of them,” he said with a wink as he left Matt to it.
“Yes, yes, we know, for when one of your legions of subs sleeps over,” Matt muttered under his breath, as he shut the door firmly and began getting undressed.
Rick was right about one thing – he did feel much better once he’d taken a shower, washed his hair, shaved, and brushed his teeth.
He wrapped a towel around his waist and emerged into the spare bedroom to see a clean tee shirt lying on the bed. He pulled it on to find it more or less fitted him. He looked at himself in the mirror and sighed as he saw the words emblazoned on it: You want to spank me, and you know it! They were the words of an infuriatingly catchy pop song that everyone had been singing a few months ago. Still, it was better than his liquor-stained shirt, so he decided to go with it.
He walked down the stairs and found Rick in the kitchen, brewing some coffee. He had showered and dressed, too – in a pair of black jeans and a tight crimson shirt that hugged his body almost obscenely. There was the usual assortment of leather thong bracelets around his wrists, and he was wearing his favorite thumb ring. A gold ear cuff clung to his left ear, attached by a chain to a ruby ear stud with a long scarlet crystal spike hanging from it. As usual, Matt felt decidedly under-dressed beside him.
“Thanks – shit, I need this,” Matt said, taking the mug of black coffee that Rick handed to him.
“You’re welcome, and you’re right, I do.” Rick winked at him, nodding his head at the slogan emblazoned on his chest.
“Hah hah hah hah hah.” Matt glared at him. “Was this really the only spare tee shirt you had?”
“Nah, but I liked the idea of you wearing that slogan.” Rick grinned. “Also, it’s a great shade of blue on you – brings out the color of your eyes. Plus, it actually fits.” He stood back and surveyed Matt critically. “It’s not mine – some sub left it here a few months ago.”
Matt took a sip of his coffee. “And they never came back for it?”
“Nah – I never invite subs back. It complicates things.”
“Really? Never?” Matt glanced at him over the rim of his mug, startled. “I mean, I know you get through a lot of subs, but you never see them again after?”
“Nope. I don’t do reruns. Once is fun, but twice starts to feel like we’re dating, and I don’t date.”
“Why?” Rick countered with a grin.
“I don’t know – lots of reasons: intimacy, friendship, affection… love?”
“I’ve got friends for that. Relationships just complicate things. That’s why I’ve got my no reruns policy.”
“Wow – those are some massive commitment issues you’ve got there, O’Shea.”
“I freely admit it. Now, if you’ve finished guzzling that coffee – take this.” Rick handed him a motorcycle helmet.
Matt stared at it blankly. “Uh… why?”
“Because I don’t trust that you’re sober enough to drive yet, so you’ll be my passenger on the bike.”
“I’m not sober enough to drive, but you are?” Matt raised an eyebrow.
“I only had one glass of wine. You were knocking it back.”
“I’m fine. There is no way I’m getting on that stupid bike with you.”
“Tough.” Rick’s expression changed, and he folded his arms across his chest. “Because there is no way I’m letting you get behind the wheel of a car right now.”
Rick was usually very easygoing, so Matt had expected him to shrug and give in, but it seemed that he really did mean it about him not driving. He might have a point – Matt had drunk a lot only a few hours ago; it probably wasn’t entirely safe for him to drive yet.
“Why don’t you drive my car, then?” Matt held up the keys.
“What’s the matter…? Oh, wait.” Rick rolled his eyes. “You’ve never been on a motorcycle before, have you?”
“Well… no,” Matt admitted. “They always seem noisy, and dangerous, and -”
“Fun and exciting?” Rick raised an eyebrow. “You know, I don’t think there’s nearly enough fun and excitement in your ordered little life.”
“And I don’t think there’s nearly enough order and routine in your freewheeling existence,” Matt retorted.
Rick laughed. “You could be right, but we can’t all be as perfect as you. C’mon – let’s get moving. I can’t be late for work today after Petra’s dressing down yesterday.”
Matt took the helmet and followed Rick into the hallway. Rick paused to shoulder himself into his long, black leather coat, while Matt grabbed his scarf and put on his own much less dramatic denim jacket, and they went to the front door. Rick opened it… and they both froze as a dozen camera bulbs flashed at them.
“Rick, Rick – any comment about what happened down at the Justice Hall last night?” a reporter yelled.
Matt stood there, open-mouthed, taking in the sight of the crowd of journalists camped out on Rick’s front drive, complete with brightly flashing cameras.
“Damn it – I forgot to lock the gates when I got home last night,” Rick muttered.
“Are you worried about your job, Rick?” someone called.
“Do you think Petra Davies will fire you over this?”
“Rick – are you and Matthew Lake having an affair?”
“What?” Matt exploded.
The journalist who’d yelled that out grinned at him. “Well, you stayed over last night, and that isn’t the shirt you were wearing when you arrived.”
“How did you…?”
“Forget it, Matt. They just want to get a quote out of you,” Rick told him quietly. He took hold of Matt’s hand and dragged him across the driveway towards his Harley. “Have you never dealt with the paparazzi before?” Rick asked as they walked.
“Well… not like this, no. Have you?” Matt asked, shocked.
“Plenty of times, but that’s because I’m always doing stupid things and drawing attention to myself, whereas the most gossip you’ve ever given them is going out for a meal with your boring accountant dom, followed by a quiet night in.”
“That is not…” Matt began, and then he sighed. “Okay, that is true.”
“Matt! Does this mean you’ve split up from Emily Campanillo? Or doesn’t she know that you’re sleeping with Rick?”
“What the hell business is that of yours? And I am NOT sleeping with Rick!” Matt rounded on the journalist angrily. Rick took Matt’s helmet out of his hand, placed it on his head, and began buckling it up under his chin.
“Is it true she offered you her collar, but you turned her down because you’re secretly in love with Rick?”
“No! Where on earth do you get this shit?”
“Matty – I’ve told you, just stay calm and say nothing,” Rick hissed, fastening the helmet a little too tight, in what felt like an effort to gag him.
“No way! I am not letting them get away with making up stuff about me!”
“Matt – how does it feel to be another notch on Rick O’Shea’s bedpost?” someone yelled. “Do you feel cheap and dirty now? He’s had just about every other sub in town, after all.”
Matt saw red. He jerked away from Rick and stormed across the driveway… only to find himself suddenly walking on air, his feet kicking out uselessly beneath him as a strong arm latched around his body and swung him off the ground.
“What the hell…?” Matt hollered, as Rick threw him over his shoulder, cave-dom style, and carried him back to the bike.
He plunked Matt on it, jumped on behind him, and put his arms around Matt to grab the handlebars, trapping Matt there. “Now shut up and stay still,” Rick ordered, revving up the bike.
“But I -”
“Quiet!” Rick thundered. He twisted the throttle impatiently, and the bike roared out of the driveway and onto the road, leaving a trail of scattered journalists in its wake.
“Oh, shit…” Matt put his arms back and clung onto Rick’s solid body for dear life. “I thought passengers were supposed to ride behind the driver?” he squeaked.
“Normally, yes – but I couldn’t be sure you wouldn’t jump off to get into a fist fight with those idiots back there.”
Matt took several deep breaths and tried to relax as Rick wove in and out of the L.A. traffic, trying to lose the reporters chasing them.
“Oh… fuck… oh… agh!” Matt closed his eyes as the bike swerved, and sped up, and swerved again. “We’re going to crash and die!” he yelled – and he had to resist an impulse to jab Rick in the ribs when he guffawed in response.
“Don’t freak out, Matty. It’s fine. I’m good at this.”
“No you aren’t! You were arrested for speeding yesterday!”
“That’s true.” Matt could feel Rick’s chuckle against his body.
“Stop and let me off!”
“No. Don’t be a baby. Besides, you’ll be late for work, and Petra will find a way to blame me, and there’s no way I’m taking more licks after yesterday.”
“Fine, but if you ever get yourself disciplined down at the Justice Hall again, there’s no way I’m going to come and bring you pizza afterwards.”
“Well, you know what they say – no good deed goes unpunished.” Rick said that straight into his ear, and Matt could almost feel his infuriating smile as he spoke.
Matt closed his eyes and tried to maintain his bad mood, but he had to admit there was something exhilarating about flying down the road on Rick’s Harley. Rick might be reckless and ridiculous, but there was something reassuringly safe about being pressed up against his broad chest. Not that Matt ever intended to let Rick know that; he’d be insufferable.
Matt was almost disappointed when they swept through the studio gates. All the same, he shoved Rick’s hand away when he tried to help him off the bike, and threw his helmet back at his co-star in a huff.
“I hate you,” he said, before storming off towards his trailer with Rick’s annoying guffaw following him all the way to the door.
Their arrival caused such a stir that people had come out to watch, and Matt flushed and thrust out his jaw defiantly as he marched to his trailer. It really was unbearable. He liked his routines. He liked waking up in his own bed, not on someone’s sofa. He liked being in his own home, with his own choice of breakfast cereals, and he liked peace and quiet, not being hauled over some big dom’s shoulders, thrown onto his bike, imprisoned between his strong arms, and whisked away against his will. It was… the most fun he’d had in ages.
He stopped short in surprise, his hand on his trailer door.
“Are you okay, Matt?” a concerned voice asked, and he looked around to see Karl standing nearby, a bemused expression on his face. “That was quite a dramatic entrance you made back there.”
“Well, it’s Rick, so what do you expect?” Matt snapped. “You know what he’s like.”
He stomped into his trailer, slammed the door shut behind him, and stood there, his chest heaving. He felt strangely exhilarated and alive, and he couldn’t remember ever feeling like this before. Damn it – this was another reason to hate Rick. He didn’t want to feel this way.
He grabbed his script and sat down on his couch, trying to calm down so he could concentrate. It took a while for his heart to stop beating at twice its normal speed and the flush to fade from his cheeks enough for him to brave his nosy co-workers. There was no place like a set for gossip, and Matt was sure that the news of him staying over at Rick’s last night and arriving on his bike this morning would have gone all around the place like wildfire. All he could do was to refuse to dignify any of it with a response.
“Never complain, never explain,” he told himself, nodding at his reflection in the mirror. It was a little saying his mother had taught him when he was a kid.
Everything was calm and peaceful when he arrived on set. Daniel was already there, reading his script intently, and Matt was relieved when he didn’t ask him any questions or make any jokes about the events of the morning.
“Where’s Rick?” Matt asked, realizing they were all ready to shoot the scene but, as usual, waiting on their errant co-star.
“Petra wanted a word with him,” Daniel replied, with a meaningful twitch of his eyebrows.
“Oh, shit.” Matt had forgotten, in all the drama, that Rick was probably in trouble for his all too public appearance at the Justice Hall the previous night. He had been in Petra’s bad books even before that had happened – supposing she decided this was the final straw and fired him? Matt couldn’t bear to even think about that. The Collar Crime set was a great place to work precisely because Rick made it such fun; it would lose its heart without him.
He studied his script morosely, going over his lines for the upcoming scene, and his heart thudded a few minutes later when he heard Rick’s familiar long strides as he walked onto the set.
“Hey, did you start without me?” Rick joked, but Matt could hear that he wasn’t his usual ebullient self. He glanced up to see his friend looking pale and chastened.
“Just adjusting the lighting and then we’ll be ready,” the director said.
Matt grabbed Rick’s arm and dragged him into a private corner of the set. “Are you okay? What did she say?” he asked quickly, all his earlier annoyance forgotten.
“Aw – you care.” Rick broke into one of his annoying grins.
“No, I don’t.” Matt bristled immediately. “Oh, for fuck’s sake – of course I do. What happened, Rick? Was it bad?”
Rick dropped the act and ran a hand through his hair. “Pretty bad, Matty, yeah. I can’t screw up again this season – not once, not in any way, shape or form, or I’m fired. Petra was pretty clear about that. She really means it, too – I screw up, or bring any kind of bad publicity down on the show, then I’m out on my ass.”
“She can’t fire you. You’re the main reason this show is a hit.”
“That’s nice of you, Matt, but there are plenty of actors in Hollywood who can do what I do. Nobody’s irreplaceable.” Rick shrugged.
“You are.” Matt stuck out his chin obstinately. “Look at those stupid photographers this morning, and the news item on TV last night. They could have caught me and Karl having sex on the lawn in front of the Justice Hall, and that wouldn’t have gotten half the publicity you did.”
“Nah. They just like me because I live it large.” Rick shrugged. “And is that your fantasy? You and Karl making out in public?” He leered at Matt suggestively.
“Don’t be an idiot.” Matt bashed his arm. “And don’t change the subject, either.”
Rick sighed. “Look, I don’t kid myself, Matt. I’m not a great actor. Daniel is – and you have the chops for it, too – but I’m just very good at the one thing I do.”
“That’s not true. You should see yourself the way everyone else does.”
“A total screw-up?”
“No – an idiot, sure, but an idiot with a big heart who manages to touch people in every scene he’s in. You make it feel real, Rick. I do my best work whenever I’m in a scene with you, because you make me relax, and you throw out this good vibe and sort of coax the best out of me. I’d be so anxious I’d freeze if you weren’t here, cracking your truly appalling jokes.”
Rick looked genuinely surprised by the compliment. “Thank you, Matty,” he said quietly.
“So you absolutely mustn’t get into any trouble between now and hiatus,” Matt told him sternly. “Promise me, Rick – because I really don’t want to do this show without you.” That sounded kind of sappy, so he added, “You’re my only chance of ever winning an award one day.”
Rick grinned at that, responding to the teasing as he always did. “Okay, Matt, I’ll do my best.”
“No – I want you to promise.”
“I promise, then. I already promised Petra: no clubs, no subs, no trouble – nothing at all to give the show bad press.” Rick gazed blankly into space. “Shit, Matty – how the hell am I going to do that?”
“I’ll help you. We all will.” Matt gestured around the room. “You can do it. I know you can.”
“You have more faith in me than I do.” Rick gave a wan smile, and Matt realized that was the truth. Rick didn’t have a lot of faith in himself; he seemed to almost expect to screw up, and Matt wondered how much of the goofing off was simply to pre-empt the inevitable moment when it all went wrong for him.
Impulsively, he reached up, put his hands on either side of Rick’s face, pulled his head down, and kissed him firmly on the forehead. “I mean it. You can do this,” he whispered fiercely.
He released Rick and walked back to his position on set, aware that everyone was looking at them again. Damn it, they were really giving the gossips plenty of fodder today. He wasn’t used to being the center of attention, and he felt himself flushing at the scrutiny. Rick came to stand opposite him ready to start the scene a second later and gave him a little wink, and Matt flashed him an encouraging smile in return.
Rick could do this – he had to.Chapters 9 - 12