The Subs Club (The Subs Club, #1)
This title is part of the The Subs Club universe.
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A year ago, my best friend Hal died at the hands of an incompetent “dom.” So I started the Subs Club, a private blog where submissives can review doms and call out the douche bags.
A perfect example of the kind of arrogant asshole I mean? The Disciplinarian. He has a pornstache. He loves meat, stoicism, America, and real discipline. And he thinks subs exist to serve him.
But . . . not everything about him is awful. His Davy Crockett act just seems like a cover for his fear of intimacy, and part of me wants to show him it’s okay to get close to people. And, I mean, sue me, but I have fantasized about real discipline. Not role-play, but like, Dave, you’re gonna be thirty in four years and you still work in a mall; get your ass in gear or I’ll spank it.
Not that I’d ever trust anyone with that kind of control.
I’m gonna redefine “battle of wills” for the Disciplinarian. Or I’m gonna bone him. It’s hard to say.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Skrillex was blaring when Miles, Kamen, Gould, and I walked into Riddle—one of two BDSM clubs in the city, and the only one we bothered hanging out at anymore. Riddle’s owners had a real hard-on for dubstep. Even tonight, at the Kink by Candlelight party, which had the potential to be a wonderfully atmospheric event if someone would just swap the violent sub-bass for some monastic chanting or Vivaldi. Or Enya. Bitches love Enya.
The place was already packed. The couches were full, so we had to stand. Most people weren’t even using the changing area; they just peeled off their street clothes there in the lounge and put on their harnesses and corsets and . . . capes? Yep, someone was definitely wearing a cape. Candles had been set up in the three playrooms as well as the lounge, and we were just waiting for the DMs to light them and turn off the overheads so we could get to the fun. Or at least what I hoped would be fun, though I was already starting to doubt it.
At the very least we might get to see a cape catch fire.
I glanced at the entrance to Tranquility, then made myself look away. Checked out the dry bar instead.
There was a guy standing at the end of the bar, rocking a glass-bottled root beer. In his forties, probably. Big-boned, a little paunchy even. Fucking pornstache, which normally would have been a deal breaker, but his was combined with some additional rugged facial hair that mitigated the situation. And he was mountain man-ish enough that the ’stache seemed not only right, but also necessary. His face was wide, his jaw square, and he wore his light-brown hair in an uneven crew cut. I was digging the long-sleeved polo, jeans, and loafers in a yeah, daddy kind of way. He caught me staring, and his pornstache twitched slightly. Then he turned away with a vigorous sniff, rubbing under his nose with one finger. He seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t figure out why. He looked up again. Made eye contact.
What da fuck, Pornstache?
“It’s been seriously forever since we were all here together,” Kamen said over the music. I turned away from Burt Reynolds Stars in Boogie Nights and faced my friends.
“Uh, yeah.” I scratched my neck, which was inexplicably warm. I’d never met a mustache that made me feel this way. “I know.”
It wasn’t the first time we’d come to Riddle since Hal, but it was the first time we’d attended an event, and the first time we’d wordlessly committed to trying to enjoy ourselves. I felt responsible for how the night went, like an enthusiastic dad overseeing a lame family vacation. I’d hustled everyone into the car this evening and sung along too loudly to the radio and pointed out a new special on the Golden Corral billboard as we’d driven by. But now that we were here, my gaze kept finding Tranquility’s doorway, and I could tell Gould was having the same problem. So I focused on the other attendees.
“Oh my God.” I tried not to point too obviously. “There’s Rachel. They’d better keep an eye on the candles.”
Kamen’s gaze followed mine. “Wait, what?”
Miles glanced at him. “She’s the rope top who turns people into human menorahs. You’ve seen her. She does the rigging all across their arms and makes rope candleholders . . .?”
“Oh, yeah.” Kamen nodded, but I didn’t think he had any idea what Miles was talking about.
“I let her do me last Hanukkah. It was fun.” My gaze flicked back to Pornstache, who drained his root beer and threw the glass bottle in the recycle bin for plastics. This bad boy made his own rules. Rawwwr.
Yeah, I put my glass in with the plastics. Yeah, I have a mustache even though it’s no longer 1978. Yeah, I wanna put my dick in your—
Gould clapped my shoulder, and I jumped. He looked at me strangely. “Anyone want drinks?”
We all put in our orders. Gould headed to the bar. I figured he wouldn’t want to talk much tonight. Not that he was ever a social butterfly, but he’d made the most effort of all of us to steer clear of Riddle over the past year. This was gonna be rough on him.
Pornstache was wandering toward Chaos.
Each of Riddle’s three playrooms had a name. Chaos was the largest and loudest, and had equipment for intense scenes—medical table, crosses, cages, ladders, stocks, and a dentist’s chair. I usually made straight for Refinement, which was quieter and smaller—spanking bench, bondage horse, rope frames. Tranquility was the smallest room and contained only an elegant, multipurpose bench and various steel rings on the walls and floor. There was no music, and the doorway had curtains and a velvet rope to keep the space private for whoever was doing a scene there. For some reason it struck me as strange that Tranquility still existed. It seemed like everyone should refuse to play there, out of respect or fear or whatever. Like it should have at least been repainted, the furniture rearranged . . . something.
Some girl was talking to Kamen. Of the four of us, Kamen got the most attention when we were out. People generally assumed he was a dom because of his size. I gave it about twenty minutes of chatter before Kamen—friendly as a golden retriever and often completely oblivious to what people wanted from him—figured out this girl was trying to get him to tie her up.
Miles, Kamen, Gould, and I were like a nineties’ boy band. Kamen was the heartthrob—six foot four of hulking, WASPlicious, buzzed-headed jock. I was the boy next door—silken of hair and blue of eye and straight of teeth. Gould was the shy one—short, a little stocky, huge mop of curls. Adorable. And Miles was sort of a weird combination of the bad boy and the middle-aged, straitlaced accountant who got pulled up onstage to dance during a concert and was mortified but secretly thrilled. He was smart as hell, and he was the only pain slut in our group. If someone asked him to try pulling a barge through the Erie Canal with a chain attached to his PA piercing, he’d probably do it. But you’d never know that about him, because he dressed like a minister’s daughter and behaved like the easily scandalized maiden aunt in a British drawing room play.
Cardigans in muted colors aside, he was gorgeous. He looked like a young Mos Def. I’d told him that once, and he didn’t know who Mos Def was. He did, however, know the difference between a fish fork and a fruit fork. So WTF?
I nudged him now. “Bowser. Ten o’clock.”
He followed my gaze. Bowser’s scene name was DorianGreat, though everyone called him Bowser. He was mostly into medical play. Like hard-core, let-me-speculum-your-ass-until-I-could-drop-a-grapefruit-in-there play. Miles was the only one of us who’d scened with him. His laugh was exactly like Bowser’s in Mario 64 when you tried to open a locked door in the castle and didn’t have enough stars. It was, in a weird way, kind of a turn-on.
Bowser caught Miles’s eye. Smiled at him. A surprisingly intimate smile given that the two of them had only played once.
At the door, a girl in a feathered tutu and a man in a red sequined devil costume were filling out the first-timer paperwork—a ten-page contract full of confidentiality agreements, disclaimers, and house rules. It made me long for the leather bar I used to frequent on 6th, where you could walk in, drink actual alcohol, then get your ass reamed and suck some daddy’s cock without having to sign a goddamn waiver.
I immediately felt guilty. Because Hal. Because rules were a good thing—if people fucking followed them.
Looking at you, Bill Henson.
Gould came back from the bar, two cups in each hand. “Sprite. Sweet tea—” He handed Miles and me our drinks. “And Kamen, they were all out of Mr. Pibb. So I got you water.”
“Aw, no! I hate water.” The expression on Kamen’s face was tragic.
Gould grinned and handed him a cup of Coke. “Kamen, you’re so easy.”
“I don’t know about easy.” I took a sip of tea. “He turned down a play date with Maestro last week.”
Kamen was stabbing ice cubes with his tiny straw. “He’s not my type.”
I snorted. “Is any human being not your type? You love everyone.”
“I hate Bill.”
None of us spoke. Skrillex continued thumping.
Kamen was engrossed in stabbing ice and didn’t seem to notice the rest of us exchanging glances. During all the shit that had gone down over the last year, I didn’t think I had ever actually heard Kamen say Bill’s name.
I drummed my thighs. “So are we gonna stand around taking attendance, or are we gonna go get some action?” I searched for Pornstache. I was anxious about being here and caught up in thoughts about Hal, and so the less sophisticated parts of my brain had latched on to the least appropriate, most obviously heterosexual person in this club and had decided it was this man’s destiny to bend me over and scrub my asshole with that mustache.
Gould’s gaze was on the door. GK, one of Riddle’s owners, had just walked in. Ohhh boy. I snapped my fingers in front of Gould. Nothing. I patted his curly hair, and he whipped around, looking embarrassed.
“You’re drooling,” I whispered.
Kamen crushed his cup in his fist. “We gotta wait for the lights to go off before we play.”
Kink by Candlelight was a twice-yearly event where Riddle turned off all the lights in the club and everyone played . . . well, by candlelight. It was awkward as fuck, and people inevitably fell off spanking benches or got sensitive bits caught in body bag zippers. But it was a tradition I never wanted to see die.
“I’m definitely not going to be graced with a suitable partner,” Miles grumbled.
I plucked at his cardigan. “Well, maybe if you didn’t come to a fetish party dressed like Mr. Rogers. Are you here to get your ass beat or catch a trolley to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe?”
Miles straightened his sweater. “I can work a damn cardigan. But I’m in the mood for knives and the only one here right now who can do a decent knife scene is Bowser.”
“So play with him.”
“I am most certainly not in the mood to feel like I’m running toward a transmogrifying painting of Princess Peach. Besides, if we play with his scalpel, then he’ll want to get out the rest of his toys and do a full exam. Before I know it I’m leaving with a lollipop and a prescription for prednisone.”
I started singing the castle theme from Mario 64. “Doop. Doop. Doop. Da-doo-DOOP. Doop. Doop—”
Miles whacked my arm. “Stop.”
Miles joined in, and we started moving our heads back and forth in unison like meerkats. “Doop. Doop. Doop. Da-doo-DOOP. Da-doo-doo-doodoodahdoodoodoo-da-DOOP-DOOP. Dah-nah-nah!”
“Well, well, well,” came a sardonic female voice. “If it isn’t the fab four.”
Miles and I stopped abruptly and turned, along with Kamen and Gould.
Behind us stood a woman—about thirty, tall and fit with bright red hair and a long, thin nose.
“Cinnamon.” I made no attempt to hide my distaste.
Cinnamon was apparently a big deal in the pony world. She’d won a bunch of awards at shows and stuff. But as a human, she sucked. I hadn’t seen her since Bill’s trial, and I’d been hoping never to set eyes on her again. “Where’s all your horse shit?” She was wearing a black leotard, but no pony gear.
“I haven’t changed yet.” She rocked on her stiletto boots—because yes, nothing made me think “pony” like a set of heels that could impale a man of substantial breadth—her hands on her hips. “Surprised to see you here. I didn’t think you were members anymore.”
“Still members.” Miles regarded her coolly. “We’ve just cut back on the amount of time we spend here.”
I was sure Cinnamon was going to say something sarcastic. Instead, her expression softened and she hesitated before she spoke. “I heard the memorial service was really good. I would have gone, but—”
“You threw a shoe?” I said sarcastically.
“Dude,” Kamen whispered beside me.
“I’m sorry, but if she’s gonna talk about the service being ‘really good,’ like it’s an episode of True Detective—”
“I cared about him too!” Her voice broke. And were those . . . tears in her eyes?
“Then how come every fucking thing you said in court helped Bill Henson’s case?” I demanded.
Gould stepped in. “It was a nice service. Dave’s just being his usual charming self.”
There was a time when any mention of Bill’s name—or Cinnamon’s—would have made Gould damn near hysterical with anger. But now here he was acting like I was the one who needed to be monitored.
Cinnamon wiped under one eye with her finger. “I know,” she said in a small voice.
And the fucking SAG award goes to . . .
“Sorry.” I shrugged. “I didn’t mean to stirrup trouble. It was nice of you to come over and say hay.”
She rolled her eyes and sort of laughed. “Oh my God. Really?”
“Why so annoyed? You mustang out with the wrong people.”
She shook her head and started off. “Bye.”
“What, are you bridling at my criticism?”
Gould clapped a hand over my mouth.
“Good-bye, asshole,” she called over her shoulder.
Gould slowly took his hand away. “You’re so pleasant, David.”
I swirled my tea around in the plastic cup. “How can you of all people defend her? Besides, I can’t stand furries.”
“She’s not a furry. Ponies are different.” Miles, the walking, talking BDSM encyclopedia. I didn’t care about the distinction; any kind of animal play made me uncomfortable.
“She might as well be a furry.”
Kamen tossed his empty cup into the wastebasket several feet away. “Why do you hate furries so much, man?”
“They just weird me out.”
“I always think one of these days you’re gonna break down and tell us some crazy story like in Team America: World Police, where the dude’s talking about how he doesn’t trust actors because of that time the cast of Cats gang-raped him.”
“I promise I was not gang-raped by furries.” I looked around for Gould, but he’d wandered over to talk to GK and Kel, Riddle’s owners.
God, why did I feel like I had to keep him in sight? We were all big boys.
“Look at that,” I said to the other two. “Look how happy GK and Kel are to see Gould. He’s like their favorite nephew. Any minute now they’re gonna pull a twenty and a Werther’s out of their pockets and ruffle his hair.”
“Pardon,” came a voice next to me. “I couldn’t help overhearing.” The accent was British but sounded fake.
I turned. A man with a weasel face and a waterproof jacket was grinning at me, showing off long, yellowish front teeth. “I’ve never understood the furry subculture myself.”
Really? Cuz you look like you’d fit right in, Sir Ferret of Windbreakersham. I stared him up and down. “Who are you?”
He held out a hand. “Dennis.” He laughed. “Regina said I ought to introduce myself. Said you and I might have similar interests. Discipline?”
I glanced over at the bar. Regina stood behind it. Sweet girl; biggest hair I’d seen outside of a Winger video. She knew everyone’s name and what they liked, and was always trying to Hello, Dolly! the shit out of the club. She waved at me. I forced a smile and waved back.
“Dave.” I shook Dennis’s hand grudgingly. I glanced at Miles, who sipped his drink and raised his eyebrows at me.
“So what do you say?” Dennis the all-weather weasel asked. The accent was definitely fake.
I gazed around the club. Come save me, Pornstache.
I thought I glimpsed his crew cut through the doorway to Refinement.
But, I mean, don’t, because I’m not attracted to you and I’m not here to have fun. I’m here to reflect on how stupid-lonely I am, and how I prefer meaningless sex to relationships, and meaningless spankings to meaningless sex.
I took a deep breath and flashed my weasel familiar a smile I didn’t feel. “Yeah. I can be a real pain in the ass. I like a guy who’s willing to do something about it.” I’d said shit like this a hundred times before, but for some reason the words put a bad taste in my mouth tonight.
Dennis nodded. “Ahh. Okay, okay. I like to give a good spanking. To a boy who deserves it.”
This was going to be a disaster. Dennis seemed like the kind of guy who spent an hour and a half waiting for a pizza delivery because the restaurant had forgotten his order. The kind of guy whose wife had divorced him by changing all the locks in the house while he was at work and just counting on him not to protest. He couldn’t credibly have told a dog to sit.
But I was horny. And destined to die alone, so gather ye rosebuds and whatevs. At least Dennis didn’t give off a danger vibe.
I exchanged nods with Miles—he’d look out for me. Then I turned to Dennis and jerked my head toward Refinement. “In there?”
He followed me through the doorway. A year ago, I’d never have played with someone like him. I’d have picked a guy who would know to grab my arm and march me over to the spanking bench, swatting me along if I resisted. Who would tell me that if I whined, he’d rip off my underwear and gag me with it. But tonight, I was almost grateful for Dennis’s bland passivity.
A small crowd had gathered around the spanking bench to watch a woman dressed as a cowgirl cane an older woman who was not dressed at all. The older woman was taking it quietly; she barely moved as the cane thwipped against her bare ass over and over. I shuddered, thrilled and horrified. Canes were the one implement I couldn’t do. I leaned over to Dennis. “Let’s wait for the bench.” No way did I feel like going over this guy’s knee.
As I scanned the room, I spotted the ’stache I’d never known I needed. He was watching the caning with impassive blue eyes. The more I stared at him, the more blood rushed to my dick, and the more I thought he looked like a genetic hybrid of Teddy Roosevelt and that guy who cut his arm off when it got trapped by that boulder. Suddenly I had this vision of him holding a paddle and going all stern seventies dad on me. The entire fantasy actually took place in the seventies. There was orange shag carpet, and my hair had been blow-dried and conditioned, and I was wearing rust-colored bell-bottoms that stretched tight across my ass when he bent me over. It was groovy as all fuck.
Come on, Pornstache. I know you want to spank me.
And then marry me and become my forever companion—except don’t, because relationships are doomed and marriage is an outdated and restrictive institution and hope is futile.
“Hey.” Dennis nudged me. “They’re done.”
The cowgirl had released the bottom and pulled her up into a hug. They went together to the shelf with disinfectant and paper towels and started wiping down the spanking bench. The crowd dispersed, and it didn’t appear that any of them had been waiting to use the bench, so Dennis and I laid claim to it. I was a little disappointed to see Pornstache on his way out. I wouldn’t have minded putting on a show for him.
Your facial hair is stupid, but I still want your penis inside me.
He didn’t turn back.
And then one day they’ll make our babies in a test tube and we can feed each other ice cream on the beach while our children play in the sand and then we can grow old together and fart in bed during reruns of Community.
But, like, I get it. You’re straight, and it’s cool.
Ugh, relationships. Who needed them? In my early twenties, I’d made a career out of getting fucked by strangers in bars of dubious repute. So why, over the past few years, did coming to Riddle increasingly make me wish I lived in a house with wainscoting and someone who would love me forever?
Pornstache vanished into the crowd without so much as burying his face in my ass and giving me mustache burns on my taint. Life was cruel.
To my right was a little alcove that housed a padded table. A tall, thin man was tying down an eager-looking bottom. Like my mustached hero, the thin man was familiar, and I started to wonder about my memory. I hadn’t been away from Riddle that long, and yet I’d lost the ability to put names to faces. Or, in this case, bodies. I couldn’t see the thin man’s face. He was so skinny though. It was kind of gross.
“Pants off, and get on up on that bench, boy.” Dennis’s accent was slipping.
I grimaced as I unsnapped my fly. I took off my pants and underwear and knelt on the bench, leaning forward over it. It was facing the alcove where the thin man was doing his scene. Well, at least I’d have some entertainment while I was spanked. Dennis lifted my shirttail halfway up my back. I tried to concentrate on wanting this.
A DM was going around lighting the candles, so they were probably getting ready to turn off the lights. “Safeword?” Dennis asked.
“Red-yellow. Don’t touch my dick. No canes. Paddles are fine if you’ve got ’em.”
“All I’ve got’s my hand.” Dennis patted my ass. “Okay, boy, get ready for your spanking.”
“The moment we’ve all been waiting for!” someone yelled in the lounge area.
I lifted my head. Through the doorway to my left, I saw the lights in Chaos go out and heard a cheer. I readied myself for Refinement to be plunged into near-darkness.
At that moment, the thin man in the alcove turned so he was facing me. I stopped breathing, sure that my eyes were playing tricks.
No fucking way.
All the rage and fear and bitterness that had simmered so close to the surface over the last year threatened to boil over. In a flash, I saw Hal being rolled toward Riddle’s door on the gurney. Felt GK’s arm around me, keeping me in place.
Bill Henson stared back at me, looking as shocked as I felt.
Then the lights went out.
I met with Kel Bowles—aka Darknyss—and Greg Kummets—alias GK—at the Finer Things Café Saturday morning, in a corner where hopefully we wouldn’t be overheard. I was still pissed about Friday night, and I really wasn’t in the mood for Teatime with Tops. But I needed to talk to them.
Kel and GK had opened Riddle three years ago. I always thought of Greg as GK, but I could never bring myself to think of Kel as Darknyss. They were both only in their midthirties, but very experienced. They’d taught workshops all over the country, and they did their best to make Riddle an educational forum as well as a play space. They were simultaneously wicked and parental, total badasses and yet such a normal couple. Kel would have been my number one choice if I’d ever decided to get my het on—gorgeous curves, blinding smile, mess of black hair piled in the most interesting configurations on her head. GK had the goddamned softest-looking brown skin. Dark eyes, long lashes. And he looked dashing in leather.
They’d never liked me much, but they loved Gould. If my friends and I really were a boy band, Gould would be the one GK and Kel had posters of on their wall. And they’d know his whole backstory too—that he wasn’t simply the shy one, but also the one who’d survived some rare childhood disease. Gould just had a face like he’d struggled to overcome some unthinkable obstacle in his past. Even though I was pretty sure the only thing he’d ever actually struggled through prior to a year and a half ago was God of War III in Chaos mode.
Kel and GK bought me a tea and asked how my job was going. I forced myself to be polite and asked about their jobs and about the latex conference I’d seen on Fetmatch that they were attending next month. But I couldn’t relax, and finally I blurted the reason I’d asked them here. “Bill was at the party last night.”
Kel scratched her mug with one long, purple nail. “We know.”
“Why?” I needed some help with this one. “Why the hell would he be there?”
GK exchanged a glance with Kel before turning back to me. “Because we reinstated his membership.”
“Are you kidding me?” I would have accepted literally any other explanation for Bill’s presence in Riddle last night, from Spider-Man’ed up the side of the building to apparated. “After what he did?”
Kel could barely look at me. “Dave. It’s been almost a year since the trial. He wants a chance to be part of the community again.”
“You can’t be serious. He killed Hal.”
GK winced. “I know this is hard. It must have been a shock to see him.”
To put it mildly. “Gould’s not allowed to be within a hundred yards of him! Gould could have been arrested just for being at the club last night.”
Kel made what I thought was supposed to be a sympathetic face. “We really didn’t know you four would be there. You haven’t been around in so long.”
“Aren’t you afraid he’ll hurt someone again?” I demanded.
“Bill has made a huge effort over the past few months.” Kel was intensely interested in her mug. “We’re keeping an extra-close eye on him to make sure he plays safely and responsibly.”
“Hal’s death was tragic,” GK said. “But it was an accident.”
“I know. I can’t count how many times I’ve accidentally strangled someone during a sex game.” I looked around and offered an air high-five to several people in the café who were staring at me. “Amiright?”
“David.” Kel’s voice was quiet but firm, and she was finally looking at me. “I don’t know if you can imagine what it’s been like, trying to restore Riddle’s reputation. We lost ten percent of our membership last year, not to mention countless potential members who won’t choose our club because they’ve heard what happened there. And what we went through when the court was trying to determine our liability—”
“How many more members do you think you’ll lose by keeping that fucker around?” I was so furious I was shaking. “And since when is this a numbers game?”
“Listen. We want to try to repair the rift in the community. Reach out to anyone who needs help understanding and processing what happened. And that includes Bill Henson.”
“No.” I stood, jostling the table, and watched GK make a dramatic grab for his coffee mug. “It does not include reaching out to a murderer. What you need to do is send a clear message that Riddle won’t tolerate unsafe players by never letting Bill through your door again.”
“Bill had been in the scene for years without hurting anyone.”
“That you know of.”
“Mistakes do happen in this lifestyle.”
“Quit calling it a mistake! A mistake is when you send your mom a text meant for the guy you’re fucking. Killing someone is a crime.”
The hipster at the next table glanced over at us.
“The point is—” GK lowered his voice “—Bill’s been through a rough time too. Many of Riddle’s members have extended support, and Kel and I have worked with him personally to help him come to terms with the incident. We think allowing Bill back into Riddle might help everyone heal.”
“The incident.” “What happened.” Nobody would come out and call it what it was. Even I had trouble with the word “murder.” I’d go to say it, and there’d be this second where I wondered if it was too intense, too ugly, too unfair to Bill. And then I hated myself for caring.
“Well, get ready to lose four more members.” I snatched up my cup. “Because I won’t play anywhere he’s allowed, and neither will my friends.”
All the stern seventies pornstache daddies in the world couldn’t drag me back into Riddle now.
I trashed my tea in a nearby bin, aware that people were, once again, staring.
I walked out the door.
The story goes like this:
Once upon a time, we were a group of five. Kamen and I knew each other from high school, and were surprised to meet each other again in a leather bar two years after graduation. Miles we found at a munch a few months later, and he knew Gould.
And Gould knew Hal.
Gould and Hal were casually dating at the time. It was a rocky relationship, at least what I witnessed of it. It was hard to imagine anyone having a rocky relationship with Gould, who was disconcertingly innocuous. But Hal and Gould together were explosive. That was mostly Hal’s fault. Hal was Gould’s opposite—tempestuous, reckless, hella fun; you’d slide down the metal rails outside the art museum with him, but you wouldn’t trust him to, like, remember to feed your cat while you were out of town. Yet Gould kept Hal in check, and Hal brought out Gould’s adventurous side, as well as getting under his skin like no one else could. The first time I’d ever heard Gould shout was during a fight with Hal.
Anyway, the five of us started hanging out. We were mostly the same age, and while our BDSM tastes varied, we had a common interest in the theoretical aspects of the lifestyle as well as the practical. We liked workshops and discussions and, in Miles’s case, reading every piece of BDSM literature ever published. Gould and I got along particularly well and had even messed around a little before he and Hal became official. We all joined Riddle the same year and grew, for lack of a better cliché, inseparable.
They were my only close friends at the time. I had plenty of casual friends—I loved socializing, and I could shoot the shit with just about anyone. But close friends, not so much. My parents moved to Canada after I went to college. Just up and left, like they’d been waiting on the edge of their matching leather recliners for me to move out. So Miles, Kamen, Gould, and Hal weren’t just my friends; they were my family. Gould and Hal broke up after a year, and while things were slightly tense between them after that, we’d been lucky in that it hadn’t affected the group dynamic much.
About a year and a half ago, Hal had wanted to play with a new dom who’d been hanging out at Riddle. Bill Henson was tall, scarecrow-ish, reasonably good-looking, and his Fet profile boasted an impressive resume. Claimed he’d led workshops at leather conferences. That he was experienced with edge play and TPE. But in reality, he was arrogant, and he didn’t seem to think there was anything more to domming than giving orders and getting pissed off if they weren’t obeyed. Hal thought he was hilarious.
“I wanna do a scene with him,” he’d told me that night.
“Don’t be an idiot.”
“He’s the worst!” I steered Hal toward the bar, where Bowser was drinking a Coke. “You want something outside the box? Play with the medicine man.”
Hal hated being told what to do, and later that night, I saw him in Tranquility with Bill. I figured he was doing it mostly to piss me off. So I left him to it and went to the bar for a soda and then outside for a smoke.
Diet Dr. Pepper. I can’t remember what time it was or how long passed between when I saw Hal alive with Bill Henson and when I saw Hal on the gurney. But I do remember enjoying the refreshing taste of regular Dr. Pepper with none of the attendant calories.
I’d been in front of the building when the ambulance pulled up. Two paramedics got out, pressed the buzzer, and were admitted immediately. Morbidly curious, I followed them through the door and up the stairs to Riddle. I kept asking them what was wrong, but they ignored me. When they opened the door to the club, the lights were all on. They strode across the lounge, and I tried to follow, but GK stopped me. “Dave,” he said. “Dave, stay here.”
When I didn’t listen, he put his arms around me and held me in this bizarrely gentle embrace that tightened when I started to struggle. “Stay here,” he said. “Just stay here.”
Gould and I lived on the first floor of a neat little brick duplex near downtown. We had a stone porch, arched doorways, three bedrooms, and a bunch of plants and colored lights, courtesy of Gould. The living room looked out onto quiet Wayne Street—where Miles swore crack dealers lurked in the shadows—and the kitchen was roomy enough to accommodate the massive lacquered dining table my dad made me before he and my mom moved.
Gould was reading on the living room couch when I got home from the café. I’d been monitoring him closely since last night, but so far he seemed okay.
“Hey,” he said without looking up.
I left the front door unlocked and went to the couch. Leaned over the back to drape my arms around his neck. “I met with GK and Kel.” I spoke into his hair. “To talk about Bill.” No point in keeping it from him.
He stiffened. Slipped a parking ticket into his book to mark his place, and twisted to look up at me. “And?”
I stared at the book. “Did you get a ticket?”
“No, you did. Last August.”
“You ever gonna pay it?”
I kissed his cheek and let him go. “Probably not.”
Gould set the book—I Hate My Hips: 50 Ways We Sabotage Ourselves with Negative Thinking—on the arm of the sofa. I headed to the three-legged table under the window to sort through the mail.
“So GK and Kel said what?” Gould asked.
“They’re gonna let him keep playing there.” I tore a credit card offer in half.
“No.” He didn’t say it angrily. Just a simple, quiet no.
“I know. I’m sorry. I gave them hell, though. I figure we can—”
“No, they can’t.” Gould so seldom raised his voice that when he did, it was terrifying. For a second I was back in those days after Hal’s death, when I’d seen a side of Gould I hadn’t known existed.
Kamen walked in from the kitchen, carrying a huge plate of toast. “Wait, Bill’s still allowed there?”
“Kamen, Jesus.” I took a deep breath. “I had no idea you were here.”
Kamen plopped on the couch next to Gould and sent the book crashing to the floor. “I wanted toast.”
“Can you not make toast at your place?”
“You guys have the really good bread.”
“You are aware this bread is available to the general public? At literally any grocery store?”
Kamen took a bite of toast. Crumbs fell all over his lap. “Why’d they let Bill back in?”
I tried to think of a diplomatic way to phrase this. “Because he wasn’t convicted of murder, and they think he deserves a second chance.”
Gould was staring at the carpet.
“So I figured we could drop our memberships to Riddle,” I added quickly. “We don’t need to hang out there anymore.”
Kamen licked butter off his finger. “Ricky wanted us to take him this weekend.”
Ricky Chuy. People called me a twink, but Ricky made me look like Tom Selleck freebasing Rogaine. Vietnamese, 5’5, hairless, and so thin he could have worn a wedding ring as a belt, Ricky was new to the scene. And so, so eager to learn. We’d taken him to Riddle on occasion to help educate him, but it was like bringing the goddamn Little Mermaid to a bondage club. Every implement, every piece of furniture or costume—he wanted to know what it was called and how it worked. It was exhausting. He’d charm some dom out of a genital whip and add it to his collection of whosits and whatsits galore. He’d pick up a Wartenberg wheel and use it to comb his hair. The most magical thing I could envision would be if a sea witch stole his voice. Permanently.
“Maybe we could take him to Cobalt instead,” Gould suggested. I could hear how carefully controlled his tone was.
I went back to opening mail. “What if Kamen’s mom’s there?”
“Aw, shit,” Kamen said around a mouthful. We’d all stopped going to Cobalt long ago. It actually had a bigger gay contingent than Riddle, but Kamen’s mom frequented Cobalt, and we’d decided it just wasn’t worth the risk of running into Mrs. Pell and her string of fuzzy-chested play partners each time we went. Plus, Cobalt was like the White Castle of fetish clubs.
I opened an envelope from the electric company. Stared. “Gould. Our electric bill is almost ninety dollars.”
Gould propped his leg up on the coffee table. “Quit leaving all your shit plugged in.”
Kamen slapped crumbs off his lap. “My mom’s not usually there on Sundays. She has church.”
I checked the name on the bill to make sure it really was ours. “Well, we can’t spend our lives avoiding her.”
“I do,” Kamen mumbled.
“You don’t. You’re such a mama’s boy.”
“We should just be mature about it,” Gould said. “She has needs, just like we do.”
Kamen picked up another piece of bread. Butter ran down his fingers. “Ugh, don’t talk about her needs.”
I plunked myself between Kamen and Gould, bill in hand. “It is kind of awkward seeing her at the club. She feels too much like our mom.”
Kamen paused with toast a few inches from his mouth. “That’s awesome. Do you seriously think of my mom as your mom?”
“No,” Gould said, at the same time I said, “Well, she did buy us that slow cooker.”
I tossed the paper over the back of the couch, then leaned against the cushions, staring at the ceiling. “What are we gonna do about this Bill thing?”
Gould glanced at me. “Well, you just threw it on the floor, so I don’t—”
“No, the Bill Henson thing.” I sat up.
“I don’t know, man.” Kamen licked his finger and used it to pick crumbs off the plate and eat them. “Maybe we should keep going to Riddle. To show that we’re, like, not gonna let Bill ruin it for us.”
“Buddy.” I caught Kamen’s eye and nodded toward Gould.
“Oh, shit!” Kamen said. “I forgot. Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Gould didn’t look at either of us. “You guys are allowed to talk about it. I don’t care.”
Bill had taken out a restraining order against Gould a year ago due to an incident we generally took great care not to mention.
I shifted. “If we wanna club, I say we go to Cobalt.”
“You two can still go to Riddle.” Gould sounded irritated. “Seriously, it’s fine.”
Kamen crunched his way through another piece of toast. “It just sucks that GK and Kel let that douche bag back in.”
I sat up suddenly. “Douche bag!”
Kamen and Gould both looked at me.
I stood and hurried to the kitchen to get my laptop. “That’s who was at the club.” I brought the computer over and set it on the coffee table.
“What?” Kamen asked.
“There was this mountain man guy there on Friday.” I fired up the laptop. “I, like, wanted to have his children and shave his face but also feel his mustache sanding my balls and have him teach me how to smoke venison. It was a bounty of contradictions.”
Kamen’s brow knit. “You want to have children?”
“No, not at all; I want to die alone and unloved. Anyway, I thought he looked familiar. It was the Disciplinarian.”
“Ohhh.” Kamen leaned forward as I brought up Fetmatch. “That guy’s legend.”
I logged onto Fet and found the Disciplinarian’s profile. Yep, the picture was Pornstache—rugged, virile, and glowering at the camera with his pale-blue eyes.
“He’s meant to be a total hard-ass, right?” Gould let his leg slide off the table. “You have to, like, bring him the head of a dragon to even be considered for a session.”
I cleared my throat and read the profile statement out loud while Kamen looked over my shoulder.
“‘Obediance,’” I read, “—spelled wrong—‘is what I expect. I see boys by appointment only, and I train them in the art of obedience. I use corporal punishment to do this. Under my tutelage, many boys are transformed. If I select you to do a scene with me, I will expect your absolute submission. I am experienced with a variety of whips, canes, paddles, etc. You will be subject to my rules and my decisions.
“‘I am dominant in all areas of my life, and I do not tolerate disobedience, rudeness, or negative attitude. You are unlikely to find anyone as skilled as I at administering the discipline you need. But know that my training will not be easy.
“‘You must be under 30, in good shape, and able to hold position through a long punishment. You must also be able to think creatively about the ways you will satisfy me.
“‘If you are interested in a session with the Disciplinarian, please fill out the attached questionnaire. Serious inquiries only.’”
Below the profile summary was a six-item questionnaire for potential applicants, as well as requirements for answer length—between three and five sentences—and formatting. Dear Sir was the required salutation, and boy the sign off.
Oh my God. To think I’d wanted this fucker to spank the seat of my fantasy bell-bottoms.
I brought up the questionnaire.
- Why do you need to be punished?
- Were you physically disciplined as a child? How?
- Are you prepared to surrender complete control to me during a disciplinary session, and to allow me to determine the length and severity of a punishment? To submit to punishments that include: spanking, corner time, mouth soaping, enemas, body scrubbing, writing lines, housework, denial of bathroom privileges, figging, scolding, chastity, forced exercise, and rectal temperature-taking?
- Do you understand that “punishment” is intended to be unpleasant—no chickening out and safewording?
- What do you hope to get out of a session?
- What are your feelings on the outdoors?
“Dave, that totally sounds like your thing,” Kamen said. “All the punishment stuff.”
“Uh, yeah.” I scrolled through the questions again. “Except for the safeword-equals-chickening-out bullshit.”
“What a dick. I can’t believe I wanted to feel his mustache in all my secret places.”
[A] highly engaging and comical book. I look forward to reading the rest of this series and many more books by J.A. She is a masterful story-teller.
With an attention-grabbing series starter like The Subs Club, the bar has been set high for Miles's, Kamen's, and Gould's stories.
The story itself is brilliant. . . . [M]akes me believe that I can find a romantic True Love, just like David. ♥
This book was full of so much humor and kind mixed in with so many dirty, steamy scenes. I loved it!
[A] fantastic start to a series.