Marquis and Navin have it all—they’re hot, they’re young, they’re successful, and they’re crazy about each other.
So why isn’t it working?
Marquis can’t show up on time, if he shows up at all, and Navin has stopped caring because the alternative is dumping Marquis for making him feel unimportant. They’re trapped by their insecurities, their work obligations, and their inability to actually talk to each other.
Marquis makes a last ditch effort at reconciliation by offering Navin a chance to lock him up—in a cock cage. It’s their first try at kink, but no matter how hot it makes them, they quickly learn that spice in the bedroom is no substitute for honest communication.
This title can also be read in the Rules to Live By BDSM anthology.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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“This isn’t a funeral.” Amrit elbowed Navin discreetly while passing him a glass of champagne. Navin was tempted to drain the glass all at once, but being drunk at release parties and press conferences was his brother’s thing. “Don’t tell me Mummy gave you a hard time about Marq. He’s a workaholic architect making six figures—what’s not to love?”
“No fear of that. He didn’t make it here.” Navin couldn’t even get Marquis on the phone. Across the room, their older brother Dev, the family golden boy, caught sight of them. He shot them a sharp look and gestured for them to mingle. “He’s on a deadline. On a Friday. Again.”
“For Chrissake,” Amrit muttered. “I warned you about that when I set you up with him. Keep him far away from Mummy and Dev until you have him better trained. They’ll eat you both alive if he can’t show up on time, even if he is working.” Amrit put a hand between Navin’s shoulder blades and shoved none too gently. “Look, there’s the client’s daughter. I think she likes you.”
“I hate you right now,” Navin said sweetly, smiling over his shoulder at his brother.
“Mummy said I had to stay away from her.” Amrit held up a hand helplessly as the client’s daughter closed in on them. With that, he was gone and Navin was alone on socializing duty. Bastard. Now he did finish off the champagne so he could trade the empty glass for two full ones and have something to say to the young lady in front of him.
“Champagne? I’m Navin,” he added awkwardly as she frowned and made no secret of looking about for Amrit. “We, uh, met last week at lunch. I don’t know if you remember.”
Fortunately for Navin, that was when Mummy caught up with them. “Navin, don’t just stand there. Both of you, enough talk.”
Mummy herded them into the boardroom for the client’s unveiling of their new product—an app for business networking on smartphones—in front of the press. The daughter excused herself to do her filial duty by looking pretty next to her father.
“Have you seen your brother?” Mummy slid her arm through Navin’s. No need to specify which brother. As always, Dev was already where he ought to be, at the front of the room with the client. As always, Amrit was absent when he was needed.
Navin glanced at Mummy. It was almost like looking in a mirror, the same cinnamon-toned skin, straight black hair, and sharp nose. What he lacked was her carriage—she might as well have been queen instead of simply the CEO of their company. Her shimmering pink sari and pink diamond jewelry only heightened the effect.
“I saw him just minutes ago. He stuck me with the daughter, said you’d banned him from speaking to her. You look lovely tonight.”
“Don’t try to distract me.” She glared at him before she returned to frowning at doorways as though she could summon Amrit that way. “You didn’t see him leave? What is wrong with that boy? And don’t tell me he’s bored.”
“Well, I won’t say it if you don’t want to hear it, but . . .” Amrit was always a step ahead of everyone else. Two steps. Amrit got in trouble because there was nothing else for him to do.
“It’s time that stopped being an excuse.”
“There he is.”
Amrit popped up from behind a tech blogger and waved, then sprawled in the press section, gabbing merrily as the client got ready to speak. He looked decidedly worse for wear. How anyone could get stoned that fast was beyond Navin. It was hard not to think how much happier he’d be if he could bring himself to be more like Amrit. Being a disappointment wasn’t a problem if you didn’t care, from what Navin could tell.
Mummy snapped her fingers. “Phone.”
He handed it over. His pockets were overflowing with lipstick, compact, blotter paper, phone, and more. Mummy didn’t like to carry anything when she was entertaining, leaving him to play the role of ambulatory handbag in addition to wrangling Amrit.
“Something wrong?” He kept his tone light, though he caught Dev’s eye from across the room and shared a worried look—Mummy contacting someone during an event was usually reserved for server meltdowns. “I can go check on . . .”
“Dida better have her phone on,” Mummy said, tapping rapidly against the touch screen. “Or she’s going to be very surprised when your brother shows up to open our India offices.”
“We don’t have . . .” Oh. Hell. They’d talked about expanding for years. If Amrit pulled it off, which he probably would, great. If he fell on his face, lesson learned—or it’d be learned if it were anyone but Amrit. “Mummy, Amrit just took on that new gaming app account, and—”
“You’ll do it,” Mummy said briskly.
“That’s really not . . . My work is . . .” He was good at testing code and managing resources. Amrit was the thinker, the planner.
“Nonsense, Navin. It’s about time you had more responsibility.” The little chime of Mummy’s text message going through sounded like a prison door sliding shut.
He needed to get out, to find Marquis and hear his voice. Marquis made him feel as though he was more than just Amrit’s keeper and Mummy’s accessory. But it would be rude to leave now, rude and it might remind Mummy that he’d mentioned—in passing—that Marquis might be here tonight.
So he did the next best thing to actually fleeing. He simply let himself fade into the background.
“You didn’t think?”
Marquis jerked his head up at Silvia’s question. She hadn’t raised her voice, but she didn’t need to. Her tone of disappointment was more effective at getting people’s attention than the fire alarms. No one wanted to make Silvia angry or, worse, late on a deadline. “At what point did thinking become optional?”
This wasn’t even Marquis’s project and he was cold to the bone. The project lead looked nauseous, the rest of the team was almost huddled behind him. Marquis already had his phone out, texting a friend at city hall as fast as he could move his thumbs.
“It’s not a major alteration, I’m sure that—”
Big mistake. Marquis had been in this job long enough to know—
“There are no minor details.” Silvia’s words cut like diamonds scraping glass. “Get out. I’ll fix this.”
Marquis’s phone hummed in his hands. This was going to cost him his symphony tickets for the rest of the year, but it wasn’t as though he got to use most of them anyway. “I can run to city hall,” he offered. “Get the original documents for the whole block so we can compare the foundations.”
“This isn’t your project, Marq.” Silvia turned to look at him and, behind her, the development team scattered. Marquis wasn’t sure how many of them would have jobs by the morning. “And it’ll be well after hours by the time you get there anyway.”
“I know a guy.” Marquis waggled his phone at her as he got up to pull his jacket on. “He’ll let me in.”
“You know a guy.” Silvia winked at him. “I guess we’re all lucky you’re cute. I’ll call the contractor, you get the originals, we’ll make sure ground can actually be broken on this project tomorrow.”
“Not ‘know him’ like that,” Marquis protested. He didn’t mind the teasing—it was nice to have an office where he could be out. That hadn’t been the case most of his life, most of the places he’d been: school or work and even home. He tried to balance the quiet blessing of being able to be out at the office by never really attracting attention in any other way except the good ones, like saving the day.
“Get me some antacids on your way back,” Silvia ordered even as she started up the espresso maker. “And don’t dawdle. I need this to go through, Marquis.” Her voice followed him to the elevator. “I don’t want to look back on tonight as the night that lost me the Jefferson Medal.”
Silvia was that good. She wasn’t even ten years older than Marquis and already her body of work was well-known. It wouldn’t surprise him if she won one of the field’s most prestigious awards. The last thing he wanted to do was let her down.
It took Marquis hours of digging through a mess of files at city hall, then more hours digging through the mess of files back at the office, but finally he had what he needed. Crisis averted. Sometimes, the only times he felt good about himself were times like this. Hours of happiness with his focus narrowed to doing exactly what he needed to do and nothing more.
“I think we’re good,” he said to the empty room, just to hear the words aloud.
“Thanks for staying late to clean up this mess,” Silvia said. Marquis looked up from shutting down his computer to see her standing in the doorway. She’d stuck it out tonight too. It was what she did, why she was so good at her job. She never put anything else first.
“No problem,” Marquis said. “I’m glad I could help.” It was true.
It wasn’t until he got to his car and the clock on the dash lit up that he realized the time. Shit. When had it gotten so late? Navin had probably been home for hours already . . . No, not home. At the launch party. And Marquis was supposed to have met him there. Hours ago.
Shit. Oh. Shit. Should he call? Or would that just make things worse? There was no fixing this, he didn’t have a time machine. Calling would only interrupt Navin if he was talking to someone, and that would be terrible.
He threw the car into gear and hoped for good traffic on the way to Navin’s place. He always went to Navin’s. Navin was the one who was home on time. Marquis was too unreliable. And when he thought about it like that, he had no idea why Navin had stayed with him this long.
If he didn’t stop fucking up, he was going to lose Navin. And he didn’t want to lose him—not today, not ever—so he had to get his shit together tonight, come up with something, some way to convince Navin that he was worth keeping around.
The whole drive there, he racked his brain for some kind of solution. He had to come up with something, some way to make this up to Navin. Some way that didn’t feel like he was taking advantage of someone he cared for more than anything else going in his life. Anything else but work.
Maybe the only thing to do now was to throw himself on Navin’s mercy entirely.
He grabbed his bag and briefcase, locked the car, and headed for the door. Hitting the doorbell, he put on his most charming smile and hoped it didn’t come off as anxious as he felt.
When Navin answered the door, he was looking sharp, if rumpled. Tie undone, white shirt open at the throat, tux jacket still on, black hair mussed as though he’d been running his hand through it. He was on the phone, speaking to someone in Hindi, maybe his mother. He stepped back and gestured for Marquis to come in.
God, he was pretty. When Marquis was with him, actually there with him, he couldn’t imagine anything being more important. If only he could get his dick or his brain—any part of him at all—to remind him how amazing Navin was when Navin wasn’t there.
I’m sorry, he mouthed, but Navin wasn’t looking at him. He was too busy on the phone.
Marquis set his bag and briefcase on the floor by the front closet and went through to the living room, dropped onto the couch, and let his head fall into his hands. Shit.
He rubbed his palms over his eyes again. He’d missed so many dates with Navin that, by all rights, he shouldn’t have a boyfriend anymore. He peered between his fingers at Navin, who was still on the phone. Maybe he didn’t.
The front door thumped shut, and Navin came into the living room, only to go to his desk and check something on his computer. Marquis didn’t know a lot of Hindi, much less Gujarati as he thought he was hearing now, but he knew the patter of Navin saying good-bye to someone. One of his uncles, Ajay Masa, it sounded like.
Navin tossed the phone down and snapped the computer shut.
“Hey,” he said, as though Marquis weren’t in the doghouse. He seemed indifferent to Marquis’s lateness—his total failure to even make an appearance at the party—which was worse in its way than anger. Not that Navin had ever really got angry as long as Marquis had known him. “Did you eat? I’ll get you something. You want some tea?”
“I had— Navin, wait.” Marquis surged to his feet, all his tiredness gone in the wake of Navin’s disinterest. He had to fix this. God, please, let him find a way to fix this.
He followed Navin into the kitchen and took his jacket from him as he shed it. Anything to help. “I’m sorry I didn’t make it to your event. Was it—” He couldn’t remember what it had been for. Christ, he was an asshole. He hung the jacket over the back of a chair. “How did it go?”
“Client project launch. Amrit got stoned with some bloggers. Mummy blew a fuse. Now she’s sending him to India to open a new set of offices for us. I don’t think she even gave him pocket money. That’ll keep him busy, finding the funds.” Navin pulled out a covered catering platter and began to put together a meal of sorts for Marquis. “I’ll have to take on his projects. I’ll have to do his hiring. Me, Marquis. Hiring people. I don’t have people. Amrit has people.” As the quick, efficient motion of his hands stopped, so did his words, but Marquis didn’t know what to say to fill the silence. After a painfully long moment, with his back still to Marquis, Navin said, “When you don’t show up, I never know whether to assume work is going well or badly.”
“It was—” He didn’t want to talk about work, not even enough to explain what had happened. Staring at the straight line of Navin’s spine, the curve of his bent head, Marquis could finally see how bad things had gotten: Navin had expected him to blow it. That was why he wasn’t mad. Marquis was as bad as Amrit. Talk about a low bar. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t even me. It was just . . . other people, you know? It won’t happen again. What can I do to make it up to you?”
“Don’t.” Navin held up a hand. “I’m not saying that to be difficult. I just don’t want to get into this cycle. I know you feel terrible, you always do. But it’s not enough to make you remember the next time. It’s better to just deal with what’s here than for me to make you do penance. The consequences are what they are.”
Don’t. Not enough. The consequences. Navin was pretending he was indifferent but underneath it was anger—hurt. One of these days, the consequences were going to be the end. He caught Navin’s hand and blurted, “Make me. Make me remember.”
Navin closed his eyes and sighed. “How am I supposed to do that? I can’t nag you—you’ll end up resenting me and it’ll be a disaster.” Exhaustion and disappointment seemed to drag at Navin, turning down his mouth and darkening his eyes. It twisted something in Marquis’s chest to see. “Let’s just work with what we have.”
“Then don’t nag me.” Marquis cupped Navin’s cheek in his free hand. At this rate, he was going to ruin this just because of who he was, which seemed excruciatingly unfair. He couldn’t see a way out right now, but he wasn’t going to let go, either. “Make me remember. I don’t know how. I just— Don’t let me forget. I don’t want to forget, Navin. I want you in my head. All the time.”
Navin opened his eyes, blinking slowly. “What am I supposed to do? Tattoo my name on your forehead? You’re not my prisoner. They don’t make a leash long enough to go between our offices. I can’t be with you all the time. I wish I could be, Marq.” Navin kissed him on the cheek, then the mouth, pressing against him. At least there was emotion in that kiss. Navin cared, even if he didn’t have any answers either. “It would be perfect. When you’re around, I feel real.”
“I’m here now, and I’m all yours.” The glimmer of hope was energizing. He was good in a crisis, thought well on his feet. This was a crisis if he’d ever had one. “Take me to bed. I’m not hungry. Just . . . Hell, tie me up. Keep me here, yours, all weekend long. Take my shoes, take my clothes. Take my phone.”
“I should have guessed that’s the only way to keep you from the office.” Navin tugged at Marquis’s shirt, eyebrows raised. “Strip. Give me your clothes.”
Marquis fumbled with the buttons, finally working enough of them free that he could drag the shirt off over his head. He dropped it in Navin’s hand, and his undershirt after. Anxiety sparked in him in spite of his arousal, and he didn’t know why. How could he screw up being naked?
“I’ll be putting these somewhere you can’t get them. And your phone. And computer.” Navin hid the shirts behind his back. He tilted his head. “I’ll think of something you can do for me to earn them back for a half hour at a time, though, if you get desperate.”
It was a miracle Marquis wasn’t more light-headed with all the blood rushing to his dick. It wasn’t as though he didn’t know this kind of thing turned him on. Every now and then, he’d allow himself to indulge in fantasies or porn about being controlled, and he’d get off so fast his head would spin.
Not that he’d ever admit it to anyone. Except he just had, hadn’t he? Suggesting Navin tie him up had been foolish, laying it all out there like that. He didn’t want to put Navin off with his fantasies.
This wasn’t a fantasy, though. This was real. This was Navin—Navin’s idea, not his.
He couldn’t get his pants off and into Navin’s hands fast enough.
Navin carefully folded everything as it came to him. He was always good at being organized. All of it went into Marquis’s bag, and then that and Marquis’s briefcase went into the hall closet. Marquis watched them go—his phone was in there, how was he going to make sure there were no disasters at the office if he didn’t have his phone?—with a pang of fear that left his hands clammy. Suddenly, what he’d suggested felt all too real, and he wasn’t sure it was such a good idea after all. Then Navin turned around.
“I feel better now that I know I’ve got you to myself.” Navin took a deep breath and let it out slowly, his gaze hungry. His arousal was very evident through the thin, fine fabric of his tuxedo slacks. Oh. That was so much better, knowing this turned Navin on as well. “Bed?”
Navin’s lips twisted with a sly smile that made Marquis’s heart pound like he’d run a marathon. All his worries were gone in a rush of lust. That wickedness on Navin’s face was a gift wrapped up in Navin’s buttoned-down exterior. Marquis nodded quickly, already backing toward the bedroom door.
“Bed,” he agreed breathlessly, and turned away.
All the way to the bedroom, he couldn’t see Navin, but he could hear his bare feet on the hardwood—could almost feel his presence, not in the least indifferent now, watching every move Marquis made. Once the bedroom door clicked shut behind them, Marquis spun to face him.
Navin paused with his hands on the buttons of his shirt. “Want to help get me out of my clothes?”
“Please.” The word came so easily to Marquis, as did the fall to his knees.
He reached for the waist of Navin’s pants, hoping Navin wouldn’t notice the way his hands were shaking. With his fingers on the button, he stopped and turned his gaze up to Navin’s face.
“Wouldn’t have asked if I were going to say no.” Navin looked more at ease than he had in a long time. His expression was affectionate instead of just tolerant.
As the zipper came down, Marquis leaned in and nuzzled the hard flesh still hidden by Navin’s boxers. Being with Navin wasn’t new or unfamiliar—they’d been seeing each other for more than a year—but tonight, with Navin in control, he was needy and eager to please.
He got the pants to Navin’s ankles and drew back to let him step out of them, then moved in again to lick the exposed skin as he peeled the boxers away from Navin’s cock and past his thighs.
Navin’s hand was soft on his cheek before Navin slid his fingers to the back of his head and pulled him in toward his cock. “Mouth. I want you to suck me.”
Navin didn’t give orders. It’d never been like this before, with his hand on Marquis’s nape, making demands to which Marquis desperately wanted to submit. Marquis cupped Navin’s hips in his hands and sucked him in as deep as he could go, groaning. He swirled his tongue over the head on an upstroke, moaning again at the salt-bitter taste of Navin’s need.
“That’s good,” Navin said unsteadily. His breathing was ragged and his thighs trembled under Marquis’s hands. He grabbed Marquis’s shoulder hard. “Damn it. More.”
Shivering at the command in Navin’s voice, Marquis moved faster. The slick slide of Navin’s cock over his lips and tongue was like being fucked. He stroked his own dick lightly, moaning again.
“Wait.” Navin tugged Marquis’s braids, and the sharp pain stole his breath. “I want that.”
Being ordered to stop doing something that felt so good was even more delicious than being commanded to do something he wanted to do anyway. He shuddered, peeling his fingers away from his dick and clenching them on his thigh instead.
As if he knew exactly the sort of reward Marquis needed, Navin began to fuck his mouth. Marquis gave himself up to it, letting his hands lie limp on his thighs while Navin used his mouth, fingers still wound in his hair. Every thrust over his tongue sent shockwaves of need racing through his body.
Navin tightened his hand in Marquis’s braids and froze, flooding his mouth with come. No warning. Marquis swallowed fast to get it all down without choking.
“God, you’re so good,” Navin said roughly.
The praise felt like more than words, as though Marquis had slipped into a place where being told he was good made it true. It was liberating, being himself and being good at the same time. Such a relief, as well—he had nothing to care about in the world but whether or not Navin thought he was good.
“Bed.” Navin put his hand under Marquis’s chin for a moment, wiping the corner of his mouth with his thumb. “On your back. I want you. All of you. I want to feel like you belong to me.”