“What the hell, Calen? Are you drunk? It’s not even eight o’clock in the morning!” Garrett’s angry words echoed off the office walls as Calen walked in.
Why couldn’t Garrett have gotten in late? He had a new sub and a wonderful relationship. Surely there was something else he could have been doing this morning. But no, he had to be waiting right there at the front desk on the very morning when what Calen needed more than anything else was coffee and some space.
Melissa looked back and forth at the two men, then shook her head before focusing on her computer looking like she’d rather be anywhere else. The office was usually fairly calm. They all did their best to keep things businesslike and push their more aggressive tendencies to the side. Melissa seemed to understand this wasn’t going to be the most civil discussion.
Not that Calen felt like arguing this morning. He was tired. Fighting with Garrett was the last thing he wanted. Why couldn’t Garrett figure out that he simply needed to back off?
“I’m not drinking at breakfast!” Technically, that wasn’t a lie. He was still hungover from the night before but nowhere near the legal limit. He’d been too frustrated for moderation. The weekend had been a total fuck up. And his morning hadn’t started any better.
“We need to talk.” Garrett’s firm words had a final ring to them. Turning his back to Calen, Garrett almost marched back to his office, clearly expecting Calen to follow.
Why did he work for a Dom who was his best friend again?
Trying to remember that it usually seemed more like he was working with Garrett than for him, Calen sighed. He liked insurance. He liked knowing that he was making a difference. Guiding people to the right choices to help protect themselves felt right. He always thought it was the Dom in him wanting to make sure people were getting what they needed.
When Garrett’s father died, he’d been lost. Stepping in to help was instinctive. He’d been working in corporate sales for a large national finance company and while he’d been doing well monetarily, he’d hated how impersonal it was.
Garrett needed someone he could trust to help get the office organized. Calen needed to fix things, so it had been a perfect fit. Some people didn’t understand how he could work for Garrett. They’d seen it as a step back in his career and thought he was crazy for working for another Dom. It might not pay as much but the flexibility and family he’d gained more than made up for any occasional frustrations.
This was going to be one of those occasional frustrations.
Calen shook his head and winced as his brains rattled around in his head. He should have at least taken the time to grab some aspirin or something. “Can I grab a coffee first before you chew me out?”
He shouldn’t have to listen to Garrett lose his mind without caffeine first. Maybe several cups. Calen’s alarm hadn’t gone off this morning, or at least he couldn’t remember it going off. He also hadn’t had time to stop anywhere without being late. He was cutting it close already with only minutes to spare before the doors officially opened.
Taking his time walking to Garrett’s office, he tried to think of what to say. There was no way he was going to tell his friend the truth. Admitting to another Dom that he’d gone to the club but hadn’t found a single sub he wanted to play with was not going to happen. He wasn’t embarrassed about not doing anything, it wasn’t like he was a slut, but it would open up a can of worms he wasn’t ready to deal with.
Garrett’s first instincts would be to ask what was going on so he could to try to help, and that was the last thing Calen wanted. He just needed to put everything out of his mind. Calen had hoped jumping into work would help distract him. But having to listen to Garrett wasn’t going to let him ignore his problems.
He’d gone up to the club Sunday evening with every intention of having fun. Possibly a scene, maybe just getting to know someone, but when he’d gotten there everything felt wrong. Being by himself was weird. The subs were all wrong. Even the club seemed empty without him there.
Calen knew he was a pathetic excuse for a Dom but he couldn’t help it.
He never thought he’d be the type to fall for a sub who didn’t want him.
Garrett was leaning against the desk as Calen walked in, shutting the door behind himself. Concern was clearly written all over Garrett’s face. “What the hell is going on? I’ve tried ignoring it and giving you some space. I’ve even tried talking to you about whatever is making you so crazy lately but it hasn’t helped. This has to stop, Calen.”
“I’m not drinking before work. I just—”
“Yeah, you didn’t sleep well. Being hungover will do that to someone. And for you to still be this fucked up, you must have had a hell of a lot to drink last night. What is going on? I’m asking as your friend, Calen, not as your boss.” Garrett’s tone started out mocking and sarcastic but by the end, Calen could hear the sincere worry in his voice.
Fuck. He couldn’t talk about this.
“I’m fine. I went up to the club last night and stayed up too late. It’s been a while since I went and I lost track of time.” That was almost the truth. Well, it had part of the truth in it. He’d just left the part out where he’d gone home early and drunk himself into oblivion.
He hadn’t intended on getting wasted but when he thought about him, he didn’t always make the best decisions. Calen knew things had been unraveling for months, ever since that night, but he couldn’t figure out what to do. How do you get over someone when you have to see them almost every day?
He’d known Brent for years but it had only taken one night to change everything. One innocent suggestion…that’s all it took for everything to unravel.
“This can’t continue. Even if you’re sober, you look like shit and the customers are going to think something’s wrong. Relaxing things Friday afternoon is one thing, but this is Monday.” Garrett’s body language made it clear he was waiting for a good answer, but Calen didn’t have one.
Shrugging, Calen leaned back against the door and tried to appear calm. He was at a complete loss. He wasn’t going to tell Garrett the truth and outright lying to him felt wrong. With no idea what to say, he stayed silent.
Garrett’s frustration was clear in his sigh. “Calen. You’ve been unhappy for months. I can’t remember when you weren’t sarcastic and frustrated. This isn’t you. What’s going on?”
“Nothing’s going on. I’m fine.”
Garrett looked at him and it felt like the other Dom was trying to see inside his head. There was no way he would guess the problem. It had taken Calen a long time to admit it to himself.
“Nothing? You’re going to stand there pretending everything is fine?” Disbelief threaded its way through Garrett’s voice and Calen knew he was barely holding back a sarcastic remark.
“Everything is fine.” Maybe if he said it enough, it would sound believable.
“If that’s the only thing you have to say then I think you need a vacation. You haven’t taken time off in months, if not longer, and if you’re so stressed that you’re not sleeping well then you are going to take a break. Maybe some time off will help you work out whatever you’re struggling with.”
“What! I don’t need time off!” More time to think was the last thing he needed. Keeping his mind occupied with work gave him a break from real life. Besides, he had several big policies he was working on for a local small business that was starting to offer benefits for its employees.
“Not negotiable. I’ll handle anything you’re working on. You’re going to take a week off. If that’s not long enough for you to figure out what the problem is, we’ll work out more time. I need you here and lately you’ve been somewhere else. Get your shit figured out, if you don’t want to talk about it with me.”
Calen thought he could hear a thread of hurt in his friend’s voice. “Hey, that’s not—”
“Save the bullshit for someone else. I can’t make you tell me what’s going on, but you can’t go on like this and we both know it. Besides, if you really didn’t need the time off, you’d be putting up a lot bigger fight. God, between you and Brent I’m going to go crazy.”
“What about Brent?” Yeah, like that wasn’t going to give him away. Maybe Garrett would think it was his way of deflecting the comment about the time off. Because that was bullshit.
Luckily, Garrett didn’t think anything of it. “He’s been nearly as crabby as you lately. I made him take some time off work, too.” Garrett gave Calen a wicked grin. “I threatened to sick Mom on him if he didn’t figure his shit out. Maybe I should make the same deal with you.”
“Hey, that’s playing dirty.” While the thought of Garrett’s mother hovering over him made him nuts, Calen hoped the teasing meant they were done with the soul searching bonding moment but no such luck.
Getting serious again, Garrett gave Calen a pointed look. “I’m not even going to ask you if it’s about work because I know you’d tell me if something here was wrong. Whatever personal shit you have going on, it’s making you crazy. I’m here if you need to talk. As long as it’s not at work. You’re banished for seven days.”
“So I’m grounded, Dad?” Calen couldn’t resist a grin. Garrett was hilarious when he pulled his “mother hen” routine. And maybe if Calen could lighten things up, Garrett would back off with the questions.
“Yes. Grounded from work for being insane. You can come back when you’ve handled the problem. Or are ready to talk about it!” Garrett shook his head and took a deep breath. “Go home and get more sleep. If you’re bored, give Brent a call later. He’ll probably be climbing the walls by the afternoon. He’s more of a workaholic than you are.”
Trying to keep his face blank, Calen inwardly groaned. Yeah, calling the object of all his craziness would not make things better. “Sure.”
“You two are going to be the death of me. Go home.” Then Garrett pushed off his desk and came over to look into Calen’s eyes. “You’re my best friend.”
“Mushy dork. Having a full-time sub is making you all lovey-dovey.”
Garrett realized he was trying to deflect but luckily he didn’t say anything, letting him get away with it for the time being. “Damn right.”
Calen was glad the two men had stopped circling around each other and finally admitted what they wanted. Garrett said over and over that they were taking things slowly but Calen knew it was only a matter of time before they had a collaring ceremony and were living together.
Irritated with how the conversation had gone, escape seemed like the best option. Before he said something he’d regret—like actually talk about what was wrong. Calen reached out and gave Garrett’s shoulder a squeeze and moved away from the door. “I’m heading back to bed. I’ll talk to you later.”
Garrett’s expression was full of frustration but he seemed to accept that he wasn’t going to find out anything else right then. “Good. Have some fun and don’t forget to call Brent. He seems like he could use a distraction.”
Great. Just great. “Sure.”
He had a week off and instructions to spend time with the man who didn’t want him. Perfect.
It took him a long nap and two strong cups of coffee before he fully processed what his friend had said. Brent was miserable.
That didn’t exactly make him happy—but it did make him think.
Brent was usually even-tempered and had a way of organizing everyone without being obnoxious. He was the king of getting meetings back on track and keeping his brothers in line. For him to be considered cranky it had to be something serious. Calen couldn’t remember anything flustering him. If he was upset or even distracted enough to make his brothers worry, it was important.
Would it be too much to hope that he’d been remembering that night as well?
Did he even want Brent to be thinking of it?
Calen might be obsessing over what happened and how things changed in his mind but he couldn’t decide if he was ready to deal with the consequences? Was he ready to open himself up? Those were a damned good questions that he didn’t have any kind of answer for. Calen got up from his chair and started pacing around the living room, trying to sort through his emotions logically.
Too much caffeine and not enough exercise, probably. Nothing to do with his nerves.
His living room was mostly empty so there wasn’t much furniture to dodge as he went back and forth across it. Moving around was better than sitting. He always thought clearer when he was active. A run would be the perfect solution though.
Instead of turning around when he hit the end of the living room, he veered off towards his bedroom. When he’d first bought his condo, he thought it would be short term, so he’d gotten something small that would have good resale potential. But now that he’d been living there for several years, it didn’t seem so temporary anymore.
Digging through his dresser to find his workout pants, he once again kicked himself for not buying something that had enough room for a home gym. A run would do but a good workout sounded even better. He just didn’t have the patience right now to drive over to the gym. All his thoughts were on the magnetic sub that was pulling at him.
Brent wasn’t a sub who wanted a temporary Dom for the weekend. He’d always been honest that he wanted more than that. Sure he’d mentioned boyfriends and Dom’s in the past but it was never casual. He was always incredibly clear that he was getting to know them so see if they would work long-term.
Calen was possessive enough that long-term didn’t scare him.
Sure, he’d had mostly short-term relationships and contracts but that was because he hadn’t found the right sub yet. Yeah, it sounded like total bullshit and with most guys he’d think they were giving them a line of crap, but it was true. Most subs he’d met had very clear ideas of what a Dom should be like. He fit their image as long as they didn’t look too deep.
Not that he was encouraging them.
Tossing his workout clothes on the bed, he started stripping down. Catching his reflection in the mirror he had to admit he looked the part of a Dom. Even with a desk job, he’d kept in shape. He might not be twenty-one any longer but he still looked good. His short dark hair, cut tight to his head, wasn’t showing any grays, and neither were the finer ones that sprinkled his chest. At just over six foot, with a broad frame, subs never complained about his appearance. But he wasn’t sure they would accept what he wanted in the bedroom.
As soon as they would start discussing limits and preferences it was clear with most guys they wouldn’t be a long-term match. So he was careful not to promise them anything. Maybe it was a little underhanded, but putting himself out there to be judged when he and the sub weren’t looking for the same things didn’t make sense.
It had given him a bit of a reputation as a player but he wasn’t concerned. Subs understood they could trust him to stay in their limits and to make sure everyone had a good time. They knew he wasn’t one of those Doms who left right after a scene or was only there for the hookup. He also never promised anything he wasn’t going to deliver.
If they never realized he didn’t share much about his own preferences, he didn’t point it out. He discussed their limits carefully and asked clear questions, but he didn’t overshare. Once a sub made it clear that they expected there to be clear cut roles in the bedroom, Calen knew sharing wasn’t a good idea.
Who wanted a Dom that didn’t prefer to top?