Anchored (A Belonging Novel)
Network news anchor Daniel Halstrom is at the top of his field, but being at the bottom of the social ladder—being a slave—makes that hard to enjoy. Especially when NewWorld Media, the company that’s owned him since childhood, decides to lease him privately on evenings and weekends to boost their flagging profits.
Daniel’s not stupid; he knows there’s only one reason someone would pay so much for what little free time he has. But dark memories of past sexual service leave him certain he won’t survive it again with his sanity intact.
He finds himself in the home of Carl Whitman, a talk show host whose words fail him when it comes to ordering Daniel into his bed. Carl can’t seem to take what he must want, and Daniel’s not willing to give it freely. His recalcitrance costs him dearly, but with patience and some hard-won understanding, affection just might flourish over fear and pain. Carl holds the power to be an anchor in Daniel’s turbulent life, but if he isn’t careful, he’ll end up the weight that sinks his slave for good.
NOTE: This is a heavily revised and expanded second edition of Anchored, originally released by a different publisher in 2011. Over 10,000 words have been added.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:dubious consent, explicit violence, non-consent
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Twenty-Five Years Earlier
Daniel was folding ties for a new display when a well-dressed man knocked on the door of the boutique. They were appointment only, and he knew this man didn’t have one because the mistress was out to lunch and she never missed appointments. But if he turned away potential business, she’d be mad. She’d beat him.
Daniel sighed and put down a tie midfold. She’d probably beat him for letting the man in, too. He wasn’t supposed to wait on customers, after all—he was only eleven, and good for nothing anyway—but his mom was two blocks over picking up buttons, and Jaime was delivering a suit uptown, which meant it was him or no one.
The man knocked again. Daniel straightened his own tie, ran a careful hand over his hair, and went to the door. He thought of saying, I’m sorry, we’re closed, sir, but the man looked made of money, and Daniel couldn’t risk him complaining. He unlocked the door.
“Welcome to Roberta’s, sir,” Daniel managed to say without stuttering. Like Jaime would do, or the mistress, all smooth and confident. “Do you have an appointment?”
The man looked at him, looked at him in a way he’d only recently begun to understand, and Daniel darted his eyes to the floor, throat tightening, stinging. They were alone here, no one to stop the man from . . . But he wouldn’t, would he? Wouldn’t touch someone else’s property without their permission. Wouldn’t damage it like that. It was against the law. Men dressed as nice as this man didn’t break the law, did they?
“I’m afraid not,” the man said, voice gentle, and Daniel dared a glance up from his polished shoes. The man was smiling. A nice smile—not at all like the way those other customers had smiled before they’d . . . before they’d hurt Daniel. “Do I need one?”
Daniel swallowed down the tightness in his throat and said to the man’s silver belt buckle, “The mistress is at lunch, sir.”
“Then maybe you can help me until she returns. That would please her, wouldn’t it?”
Daniel meant to say yes—Never contradict a customer, you useless little shit!—but his body had other ideas, and he ended up half nodding, half shaking his head all at once.
“Let me see your face, boy.” The man took hold of Daniel’s chin, but not rough like his mistress, and Daniel dared to let his eyes stray all the way up to the man’s clean-shaven upper lip. He held perfectly still, didn’t even tremble, though he knew there was no way this could end well. The mistress would come in and find them like this and she’d be so mad and then—
And then the magic question, the one his mistress, in her endless stream of beatings and berating, had told him he would never, ever hear: “Are you for sale, boy?”
“I’m difficult, sir,” he replied, just like he’d been trained. “You wouldn’t want me. Nobody wants me.”
The man smiled, stroked Daniel’s face with a gentleness so startling that Daniel nearly jumped, and then pulled the hem of Daniel’s fitted shirt from his pants.
Daniel’s heart sank even as it began to thrash against his ribs. He’d told the man the truth, answered the way he’d been taught. Would the stranger punish him for that? Or worse, use him the way the mistress had recently let some of her other customers do while they waited for their suits? He glanced once, frantically, around the small showroom floor, hoping his mistress might magically appear. But no—even if she were to return from lunch right now, she would not protect him if this man felt wronged. She would watch, most likely, and then beat him later herself for upsetting a customer, and send him to bed without supper again.
The man spun him around, and Daniel swallowed hard, squeezed his eyes closed. He wouldn’t run, and he wouldn’t beg, and he wouldn’t cry. Running and begging just made things worse, and crying was for babies.
But there was no pain, and no move to undress him further. Only a sigh, low and deep, and a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Relax, boy,” the man said, “I won’t hurt you.” The last man to strip Daniel had said the same thing, and it’d been a lie. A terrible, terrible lie. “I just want to see how difficult your mistress thinks you are.”
Daniel believed him. Or maybe he just really, really wanted to. Either way, the muscles in Daniel’s shoulder hesitantly unclenched beneath the man’s touch. The man released him and lifted Daniel’s shirt. Cool air met his back, and then fingertips skimmed a line of welts, gentle enough to be painless. A tug on the waistband of his pants sent his heart jackhammering again—to Daniel’s horror, he actually took half a step forward, like his stupid body didn’t realize how bad and wrong it was to try to escape his duties. But the man only lowered his waistband an inch or two, and then more feather touches traveled along the marks high on his hips, on the curve of his buttocks. The man let out a low whistle and spun Daniel back around.
“Quite difficult indeed, eh? Well, you’d better put yourself back together before your mistress sees you.” The man’s face looked carefully blank—no anger, no impatience, none of that other thing, either—but his eyes, Daniel thought, were smiling just a little. “And then show me something in a dark gray chalk stripe.”
The mistress looked shocked, then angry, when she came back from lunch to find Daniel tucking and pinning the man’s suit for alterations, but before she could work up too big a head of steam, the man said, “Sorry I didn’t make an appointment, but Daniel here was very helpful.” He fished his wallet from the pants draped across the table beside the stool he was standing on, pulled out his credit card, and then waved to himself. “I’d like to buy this, please. Daniel said he wasn’t allowed to use the register.”
Daniel knew better than to think the mistress’s anger was defused, but of course she wouldn’t show it in front of a happy customer. He went back to pinning the man’s pants. The mistress ran his charge card, all the while apologizing profusely for not being here, for any unknown slights her stupid slave might’ve committed while she was gone, for not having offered him a refreshment the moment she walked in. He waved her off, promised he’d been well cared for, but it wouldn’t matter. It never did. Not even the four-thousand-dollar sale would matter. The moment the customer was out the door, the mistress would punish Daniel just the same.
Or so he was convinced, anyway, until the man took back his credit card, pointed it at Daniel, and said, “I’d like to buy this too, please.”
Daniel jolted so hard he almost stuck the man with a pin. Not possible, he thought, and then, But what about my mom? and then, Oh God now you have to take me you can’t leave me here, when he saw the cold fury twisting his mistress’s face.
“He’s a lousy fuck,” she said.
Daniel was staring resolutely at the man’s shoes, but he could picture the gentleness on the man’s face, hear it in his voice when he said, “That’s not why I want him.”
“Then why?” the mistress practically spat. She’d kept the checkout counter between her and them, but now she circled around, big angry steps, and what had happened to never contradict a customer?
The man stepped off the stool, met her halfway. Daniel kept his head down and busied his hands with his pins and chalk and measuring tape, but his entire focus was on the man and his mistress. He might be nothing but a dumb cunt slave, but even he knew how important this was. How much his life might be about to change. How much his mother’s might change if he had to leave her alone here, couldn’t protect her anymore. His hands stilled—no one was paying him any attention anyway—and he watched them through his lashes, breath held.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the man said, and stuck his hand out for the mistress to shake. He seemed so pleasant, even in the face of her wary, guarded anger. But he was a customer, after all, so she took his hand. “I’m William Krantz. The Chief VP of Human Resources over at NewWorld Media.”
The name meant nothing to Daniel, but it obviously meant something to the mistress, whose mean mouth turned up in the kind of grin she reserved for stupid rich fucks born to be parted with their money, and if you ever repeat that I’ll beat you to death, do you hear me? Then she turned that dangerous smile on Daniel, who dropped his gaze so quickly he made himself dizzy for a second. “Go to your room, Daniel.”
Never in all his life had he found it so difficult to make his mouth say, “Yes, Mistress,” what with the panic all tangled up with excitement clawing through his throat. But he managed it somehow, and through the same magic got his feet moving to obey. He scurried through the shop into the back room, then up the narrow flight of stairs and down the short hall to the bunkroom he shared with his mom and Jaime.
And then, like the bad little slave he was, he crawled beneath the bunk bed and pressed his ear to the air vent.
But they must’ve been sitting by the wet bar, which was all the way across the store from his room, because he couldn’t make out a thing. Still, he stayed there, breath held and trying to still his noisy heart, for a good two or three minutes. Until the thought of the mistress coming up and finding him sneaking like this scared him more than the outcome of their conversation, and he wormed out from under the bed. He must not’ve cleaned well enough under there this week, because some dust specked the knees of his dress pants, but he wiped it off easily enough. Then sat down on the lower bunk—the one he still shared with his mom because the room wasn’t big enough for a cot and it beat sleeping in the smaller upper bed with Jaime—and just tried to breathe. To reason.
If the man didn’t want him to fuck, then why did he want him? All he knew was tailoring and housework, so what could he possibly do for the man, who was wealthy and surely already had all the house slaves he could possibly need? Daniel crossed his hands in his lap and fiddled with the braided steel bands welded on each wrist. They were getting tight. He’d need new ones soon. If the man bought Daniel, might he have any use for Daniel’s mother too? She was a good fuck—he heard it all the time from the mistress’s best clients. And she could clean and sew and cook and even dance, dance as beautifully as those freewomen in pretty pink leotards in the old New York City Ballet program she’d kept from since before he was born.
But she was getting old now, thirty-six this March, and what would a rich man want with an old dancing slave?
Daniel stared out the window overlooking the old brownstone’s ventilation shaft and realized he was crying.
No. No. Crying was for babies, and he was a man now. He was. Man enough to service customers in private. Man enough to be sold on with or without his mom.
But please, God, with. I don’t ask you for much, I’m just a slave with no soul, I know that, and I know I don’t feel what real people feel and I know I can’t love like real people love, but please, God. Please. She’s all I’ve got.
But God didn’t listen, of course He didn’t, His mercy wasn’t for abominations like Daniel, for slaves, for those born soulless and wrong. People like Daniel could only hope to earn God’s love through good, loyal service, and no matter how hard he tried, he’d never quite seemed to manage that in his mistress’s eyes.
So it came as no surprise when she called him downstairs, and his mother wasn’t there, and nobody even mentioned her as the businessman bundled up his new suit and his new slave and put them both in the backseat of a sleek, black sedan. The man’s driver—a valued slave, Daniel could see, from the fine gold chains around both wrists, which could never be used to restrain the man like Daniel’s could—pulled the car away without a word. Away from the only owner he’d known for the entirety of his eleven years, and she’d sold him without a single word, a single glance. Just a cheery exchange of papers for money and a too-hard slap on the back.
He tried not to fidget or cry in the backseat of his new master’s car, wanting desperately to look around, wanting his mother even more desperately. But he didn’t dare ask about her or unglue his eyes from his feet. His master was sitting next to him, watching him so intently that Daniel felt the heat of the man’s stare. He wouldn’t cry in front of this man. He wouldn’t cry.
“Daniel?” the man said, and the “Yes, sir?” rolled so instinctively off his tongue that he had to stop, correct himself, say, “Yes, Master,” instead. And didn’t that feel strange, because his mistress’s husband had died so long ago that he couldn’t even remember the man’s face.
“I’m not your master,” the man said in that same kind, patient tone he’d used all along, and at that, Daniel couldn’t help but look up, a question in his eyes that he thought for sure would be slapped or punched clean away. And then he’d really cry, he wouldn’t be able to help it anymore. But the man just smiled and said, “I bought you for NewWorld Media. Do you know who they are?”
Daniel swallowed hard. “No, sir.” He started to apologize for being such a dumb cunt slave, but the man just kept on talking.
“What about InfoGlobe? Do you know what that is?”
Daniel nodded—of course he knew what InfoGlobe was. His mistress would watch in the back room on slow afternoons, letting it drone on while she sewed. Daniel would steal glances whenever he could, enthralled by the wonder of a whole wide world beyond the walls he knew, the limited sights he’d seen. He’d actually gotten so lost once in a report from the front lines of some distant war, filed by a slave—an actual slave reporter!—that his mistress had beaten him bloody for slacking off.
He still thought it might have been worth it.
The businessman reached a hand out, and Daniel bit his lip, wondering how he’d angered the man to violence without even speaking. But the man just ruffled his hair and chuckled again. “Well, NewWorld Media owns InfoGlobe, and now they own you. Because you, my boy, have a face just made for television.”
“Daniel, you’re late,” Tim said from the open door of Daniel’s office. He threw a warning glance at his watch and added, “News is live, you know.”
“Sorry. Coming.” Daniel saved the package he’d been editing for tomorrow’s broadcast, snatched his jacket and tie, and followed his handler out of his office. No way to tell if Tim would let his tardiness slip or if he’d be paying for it later, but he couldn’t afford to worry about that now.
Tim left for the control booth, and Daniel made a dash for the stairs, unwilling to wait for the overworked elevator to take him three floors up to the studio. There wouldn’t be time for proper makeup or sound checks then, and he didn’t want to get Serena or Mike in trouble.
He trotted into the studio a couple minutes past check-in, breathless and still tying the knot on his tie. Mike handed him his IFB, and the moment he popped the little speaker in his ear, he heard Tim complaining that he looked flushed. Serena must have heard it too, because she came at him with a makeup brush.
“Sound check, Daniel.” Tim again, voice sharp through the IFB. Mike was standing patiently behind him, waiting to run the mic wire up the back of his jacket. Daniel flashed an apologetic wince at the camera and stood so Mike could do his thing, winced again when Tim scolded him through the IFB. He liked Tim—liked him a lot, in fact—but Tim had bosses to answer to, and if Daniel screwed up any more tonight, Tim would have to report him.
Stupid, useless cunt.
No. He wasn’t that boy anymore. Hadn’t been for twenty-five years. Days like this, though, he could still hear her voice so damn clearly, feel her bruising fingers on his chin, her strap on his back.
He shuddered, shook the memory away.
Get it together, Daniel. Right now.
Easier said than done, though. It seemed not even the fear of present-day discipline could turn his thoughts from the issue that’d been gnawing at him all week: his new part-time owner-to-be. Maybe his old owner’s voice was so strong today because tonight he’d be calling someone master again for the first time in two and a half decades, and that hadn’t exactly been a gleaming highlight of his life. He’d been living in the West Side men’s dorm since NewWorld Media had bought him, but tonight . . . Tonight, he’d be sleeping in someone else’s home. Someone who’d won the right to be his mistress or master in one of those obscenely expensive celebrity-slave auctions. And Daniel wasn’t some ignorant child anymore; he knew there was just one reason why a person would bid six mil for a year’s worth of evenings and weekends with him. He’d never once been made to serve like that at NewWorld, but things were clearly changing with the company’s debts piling up and share prices dropping, and now hundreds of slaves they’d never used like that before were being leased out to—
“. . . iel! Damn it, Daniel!”
Shit. Tim. Daniel tried not to look guilty as he turned to camera 1, cleared his throat, and checked the prompter against the script an intern had dropped on his desk. “Yeah, Tim. I’m uh, I’m sorry, I was—” He cut himself off before any bullshit excuses could fall from his lips and compound the problem. Maybe a woman won my auction. That wouldn’t be so bad, right? “I’m set. Prompter’s set.”
“Live in thirty,” Tim said, a little stern, a little sad, a lot frustrated. Though he didn’t say Wait for me in your office after the show, Daniel heard the command anyway.
Great, one more thing to worry about.
Even if he had seen it coming. Even if he did deserve it.
Useless cunt slave.
He wrenched his mind back to the here and now, but still said, “Good evening, my name is Daniel Halstrom, and you’re watching Round the Globe with InfoGlobe,” a whole four seconds after they went live.
“Look, buddy,” Tim said after the show, with entirely more compassion than Daniel knew what to do with. Daniel stripped off and discarded his suit coat, tie, and dress shirt in short, furious little jerks that would have left his first mistress fainting with horror. “I know you’re freaked about tonight, but that’s no excuse for what happened in that studio.”
“I know.” He sighed, stuffing his cuff links in the pocket of his pants before yanking them down.
Tim watched his angry strip show impassively, Daniel’s jeans waiting in his outstretched hand.
When Daniel finally managed to work his pants past his shoes, he snatched the jeans with a short, prickly, “Thanks.”
“But . . .?” Tim asked, holding out Daniel’s T-shirt now.
“But what? But nothing. You may be unusually fine with the whole . . .” he waved a hand between them both “. . . casual thing, but I know better than to make excuses.” Daniel grabbed his shirt, turning away from Tim and staying that way as he popped his arms through the sleeves. His hands were trembling; he didn’t want Tim to see. “I know you have to tell them. I understand. I’ll go downstairs first thing tomorrow, okay? They won’t even have to restrain me; I’ll be good. Ten hours should be plenty of time to recov—”
Tim touched his shoulder, and Daniel flinched, muscles tense.
“Hey,” Tim said softly. “Hey. This is really bothering you, isn’t it?”
He didn’t dare turn around, lest he look a freeman in the face as he challenged him. “Which part? The imminent torture thing, or the whole being-leased-to-a-stranger-after-twenty-five-years-of-faithful-service thing?” When Tim didn’t dignify that with an answer, he tried, “Wouldn’t it bother you?”
“That’s different. I’m not a slave.”
In other words: I feel things like a real boy, Pinocchio. I have a soul.
Daniel resisted the very strong urge to roll his eyes. He felt plenty, thank you very much, and he’d seen enough in his well-traveled, deeply investigative lifetime to have figured out that this God thing was bullshit anyway. Not that he could ever say that to anyone—even liberal left-wing Ivy League Tim went to church every Sunday like clockwork, and not just because he had to be seen there to keep his social standing.
So instead Daniel said, as calmly as he could, “Think about it, Tim. Being leased off to some total stranger who wants God knows what from you—no, worse, God knows exactly what. Like I don’t do enough for the company already? They’ve got to strip me of the few moments of peace I ever have? The few moments of free time I’m allowed? They really—”
—expect me to pretend to want this person?
Tim squeezed Daniel’s shoulder, but said nothing. The man was rarely speechless, and he respected Daniel enough—slave or no—that maybe he really was listening to what Daniel had to say.
“You’re luckier than most, you know,” Tim finally said, but it sounded pretty flat to Daniel.
“I know.” Daniel nodded. He really was lucky, even without that comforting, smothering blanket of faith all the rest of his kind seemed to have. “I just . . . What if they—?”
“NewWorld screened the potential lessors very carefully. Especially those who expressed interest in their most valuable property, of which you most assuredly are. They wouldn’t send you to someone who’d mistreat you.”
Tim’s hand was still on Daniel’s shoulder; Daniel shrugged it off and turned to face him. “You mean they wouldn’t send me to someone who would mark me in a way that would show on camera,” he said, slowly and purposefully blunt. Not everyone was like his old mistress, maybe not even most people, but it wasn’t exactly unheard of, and the kind of person who would and could shell out six mil for a lease was either obsessed, dangerous, jealous, or all three. He knew damn well that slaves like him—the ones cursed with good looks, the successful ones who’d accomplished more than most freemen—were magnets for mean crazies like that.
Not to mention that he couldn’t fathom why anyone looking for something normal would feel inclined to spend six million dollars to get it, even from a famous slave. With that kind of cash, you could outright buy a custom-trained Nevada Arts companion. Two, even, and lily-white both. You didn’t need a guy like him.
Daniel bit his lip, but Tim was making that face at him, that open, understanding, tell me what’s bothering you face, and there was no way Daniel could hold the question back: “Why won’t you tell me who it is?”
A pause, a grimace; Tim actually looked upset. “The buyer paid us well not to. I’m sorry, Daniel, even I don’t know who it is. Guess the brass figured you couldn’t puppy-dog-eyes it out of me if they didn’t tell me. But they won’t hurt you, Daniel. I promise.”
I’m not gonna hurt you, boy. Be a good little cunt now and spread those legs.
Daniel shuddered, half-choking on memories of blood and agony and sobbing so hard he couldn’t breathe. So not comforting.
Tim grasped Daniel’s bare forearms just above the slave bracelets—thin platinum cables bound with rectangular gold links, slim and stunning and masculine without a single ring for binding—and squeezed gently. Daniel looked down at Tim’s hands, at his own, at the bracelets so different from the functional iron bands he’d worn twenty-five years ago. No matter his fears, Tim was right; NewWorld Media had been good to him. They’d rescued him from cruel oblivion and given him everything. They’d even gone back for his mother, once he’d proven himself a good student, put her to work in wardrobe and never made her—or him—touch another man again. If they wanted him to touch one now in return for those twenty-five amazing years, well . . . then what kind of ungrateful, spoiled little shit was he to balk? He wasn’t a child anymore, and surely he’d faced scarier things before, and Tim . . . Tim had never lied to him, not once. He deserved the beating he had coming tomorrow.
“Okay?” Tim asked, hands still on Daniel’s arms, studying him closely. “Good?”
Daniel nodded. “Promise you’ll pick me up in the morning?”
Tim laughed, grabbed Daniel’s coat, and tossed it to him. “Ten on the dot. Don’t make the driver come get you.”
The driver was the same one who’d ferried Daniel for the last four years, a quiet, placid giant of a man named Calvin who Daniel had never once gotten to talk to him in all the time they’d spent together. He could talk—Daniel had heard his occasional “Yes, sir” or “No, sir” or “Ten minutes out, sir” spoken crisply to the dispatcher over the radio. But with Daniel he wouldn’t even answer direct questions. Maybe he resented having to serve another slave, especially a white one; sure, they were all part of the same bottom class, but there was no denying his white skin brought privilege even among the low. He could pass for a freeman at first sight; the blacks, the natives, and especially mixes of the two like Calvin couldn’t. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time a slave had been jealous of Daniel.
Or maybe those were just Calvin’s orders. After all, idle chatter was a sign of idle minds, and a distraction besides, and he’d seen plenty of slaves beaten for less. So he tried not to let it bother him when he asked, “Where to, tonight, Calvin?” and got nothing but silence in return as the car pulled away from the curb.
Daniel stared out the window, too nervous to enjoy this rare glimpse of streets outside his normal route to Hell’s Kitchen. They swung up Park Avenue, crossed west on 79th and then turned down Fifth, stopping before a gorgeous pre-war townhome overlooking Central Park. No way one person owned this whole place—it had to have been converted to condos, right?
The doorman wore bronze slave bracelets that matched the cuff links on his uniform, and he gave Daniel an abbreviated bow when he opened the door for him. “This way, sir,” he said, and didn’t that just pull Daniel up short because he was still a slave just like the doorman, no matter the color of his skin or what metal his bands were made of. But Daniel followed him into the lobby—yep, definitely converted; he passed ten mailboxes on the way in, which meant two condos per floor—and the doorman deposited him in the elevator, turned a private key, and pushed the button for the north penthouse. “I’ll let him know you’re on your way, sir,” was the last thing Daniel heard for the next five floors.
Except, of course, for the too-quick thud-thud-thud of his own heart in his ears. Him. Not a woman, then. A man. With a dick he’d no doubt want to shove places Daniel never wanted to think about again. In fifteen, maybe twenty seconds, Daniel would be meeting the man who’d shelled out six million dollars for a year’s worth of partial ownership. Over $115,000 a week for what’d likely amount to no more than forty waking hours of company. Christ, most top-end companions didn’t earn their masters $3,000 an hour, and he hadn’t spent his whole life learning how to pleasure people like they had. He’d never even learned how not to bleed all over a man.
Despite Tim’s reassurances, there was just no way . . . no way this would be painless. And he had every fucking right to be terrified.
He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirrored panel above the elevator buttons and schooled his face. He couldn’t erase the exhaustion, but he was a passable enough actor to clear the fear from his features. He tried on a smile. It didn’t fit. Went for neutral instead.
The elevator stopped. Dinged his arrival. He cleared his throat, swallowed hard, threw his shoulders back and forced his hands to unclench at his sides. Forced himself not to fidget. He’d faced down warlords, terrorists, live-fire combat zones, tornadoes, wild dogs . . . surely he could face down this.
The door slid open.
Whatever it was he’d thought he might see—old man, young man, old money, new money—it certainly wasn’t the talk show host who shared his time slot on InfoGlobe’s biggest rival network.
Forgot how to walk. How to breathe. Even forgot to turn his gaze to the floor, to not look a freeman in the eye. Was this some kind of sick fucking joke? Or was fucking him in the ratings not enough for UBC?
Carl Whitman, the charismatic face of UBC’s Whitman Live—and what a big face it was in person, atop an equally big body—smiled down at Daniel like he’d been looking forward to this moment of shock for the last ten years. Daniel thought a greeting might come next, or perhaps a scolding for making eye contact, but instead Carl said, “You’re sweating.” And then, shit-eating smirk firmly in place, “Come on, before you end up back in the lobby. Lord knows I paid enough for every single second of your time.”
Daniel had no memory of walking into Carl’s—his master’s—living room, but there he was, staring obediently at a small patch of ultra-plush off-white carpeting despite the nearly overpowering urge to observe his new surroundings. To observe his master—try to figure out exactly what in God’s name this whole messed up situation was. Why he was here. Why NewWorld had ever agreed to such a preposterous arrangement, put him in such a perilous position.
But he said nothing, of course. Carl was a freeman; he could ask all the questions he wanted. Daniel might’ve been his equal as a talking head—maybe even his better; he didn’t ride a desk all day every day, after all, and he did actual journalism rather than, well, whatever it was that talk show hosts did—but right now, in every way that counted, he was nothing but a slave. Just a slave. And more specifically, Carl’s slave.
He could feel Carl’s gaze raking head to toe, long and appraising, but Carl kept his distance. Yet there was no mistaking the hunger radiating from the man, or the satisfaction—that strange sort of pride only ever seen in freemen, as if they had created rather than simply purchased something impressive.
Finally, after what seemed a long enough stretch to make even the most recalcitrant witness want to spill their guts, Carl spoke. “I saw your show tonight.” He sounded far too amused for Daniel’s comfort. Was that what this was? Why he’d insisted on the secrecy? Six million dollars to catch his rival by surprise and then humiliate him, and worth every penny?
Carl settled down on a black leather couch with an ease and comfort that Daniel knew he’d never feel anywhere, let alone here. Carl hadn’t asked a question or given Daniel permission to speak, so Daniel stayed right where he was, silent and still.
“You looked like a deer caught in headlights all night,” Carl said. He chuckled and added, “Still do, actually.”
Another pause, where maybe Carl was waiting for him to say something, as if the man didn’t know the laws, didn’t know how slaves had to behave. Or maybe he just thought of Daniel as different somehow, like the job he did for the men who owned him gave him magical freedoms outside the field or the set.
“You had four seconds of dead air before the lead on your A block.” Pause. “My EP would give me ten straight years of shit for that, never let me live it down. What about yours?”
“I’ll be punished, Master,” Daniel said to his feet, trying to keep his voice strong, to take ownership of his mistake and make it clear that such lapses were neither commonplace nor acceptable in his eyes. That he wasn’t a bad slave.
“Take your shirt off. What do you mean, ‘punished’?”