3 is the Magic Number – First Chapter

Chapter One


Outside the door to The Playroom, I stared up at the building, not quite sure how I’d got there after leaving Jake’s house. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed since I’d found Jake and Sam playing together. Considering what happened after I’d gone into the room and been faced with Sam’s pain and Jake’s questions; it wasn’t nearly enough. 

A shiver ran over my skin, despite the warmth of the day. The sky was deep-blue with fluffy white clouds, a picture of serenity. It reminded me of days when I’d found peace in submission, when I’d understood what I needed, what I wanted from life. It seemed I’d lost sight of that, and in the process, I’d fucked everything up at every turn, making it my mission to worsen an already impossible situation. Unable to see any way to fix things, that’s definitely how it felt.

Right now, I felt as if I were submerged in water with something tied to my feet, weighing me down. It was stopping me from getting to the surface, from taking a breath. And if it continued, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to find my way back, and that scared me more than anything. 

I cracked my knuckles as I eyed the door warily, knowing without a doubt that Nathan would make me face the hard truths.

What did I want? The easy answer was Sam, but it was also the complicated answer too. When Nathan had suggested reaching out to Sam and talking about what we could do to make things work between us with a third, it had all seemed so simple. But only if I didn’t consider the way I’d left things with him, that I’d never been honest about myself, or how I’d feel towards Jake being with Sam. I wanted to submit to Jake, but I also wanted to punch his lights out for having the connection with Sam that I’d dreamed about. 

Sam had been right to call me a coward. That’s exactly what I was, and the situation was a big, fucked-up mess. All of it was a mind fuck, and I needed to talk to someone before I burst a blood vessel. 

Inhaling, I let the air fill my chest, hoping it would ease the band that had formed around my upper body the second I’d walked out of Jake’s home and away from…what? 

A chance at the life you’ve always dreamed of? 

I didn’t dream of being in a relationship with two men!

That may be the case but look at what it could offer you.

What, the green-eyed monster?

That was just the shock, think about it.

I stood as the voices in my head argued back and forth for so long, the door in front of me opened to reveal Lenny. He was dressed for the warm weather in brightly coloured shorts and a T-shirt that clashed horribly with his red hair. 

He pulled up short and eyed me with a none-too-happy expression. “Nathan’s been worrying himself sick over you. Get your backside upstairs and set his mind at ease that you haven’t done anything stupid.” 

“Sorry,” I mumbled as he pushed past me.

“Bailey, I like you a lot, you’re a great guy, but you need to pull your head out of your arse because you’ll never find the sun up there.” With that, he patted me on the arm and rushed off down the street.

I didn’t bother to answer because, what could I say? I did have my head stuck up where the sun didn’t shine. I just needed to find the right crowbar to prise the fucker out. I grumbled to myself as I walked up the stairs with my feet dragging. Not at all sure what kind of reception I was going to get from Nathan, I used the stairs to delay the inevitable. 

On the second floor, I went to Nathan’s office to check to see if he was there. Finding it empty, I went up the last couple of flights to the third floor where his apartment was. Sweating like a stuffed pig, I pressed the bell and held my breath.

The door opened without preamble and Nathan stood there, his expression unreadable as he eyed me from head to toe. “You’ve managed to crawl out from whatever rock you’ve been hiding under I see,” he snarled.

My heart sank at the anger in his voice and I all but deflated in front of him. My shoulders hunched as I dropped my gaze to the floor and kicked at the ground absently, noticing I was still wearing Isaac’s clothes.

“What have you got to say for yourself, Sarge? I’ve been fucking worried sick. You could have at least answered a text to say you were okay,” he ranted as he stepped aside, opening the door to allow me past.

The air whistled through my teeth that he’d not told me to fuck off and shut the door in my face. There was no excuse for not responding to his texts. 

“I’m sorry, Nathan.” It was the truth, I was. I walked into the apartment and groaned at the delightful smell of home baking.

“Don’t be getting any ideas about receiving treats. A naughty sub gets a punishment, not a reward,” Nathan stated, though without his initial heat.

I nodded, then walked to the sofa and took a seat facing the large window. The view was distracting as Nathan came and took the seat next to me. He twisted so he was facing me, and I knew the second he touched my arm that he’d forgiven me.

A tear rolled down my cheek, followed by another. They dripped onto the wooden floor as Nathan waited me out. It took several minutes before the tears stopped flowing enough that I could talk. 

“I wish you’d given me a warning on Saturday. I wasn’t prepared for seeing him. For the feelings, the shame, the fear, the love. They floored me, I just needed out. Needed a moment to breathe and figure out what the fuck I wanted to do.” I looked at Nathan’s contrite expression. “It’s okay, I get what you were doing, but a heads-up might have helped. Anyway, I’ve spent the last two days at Isaac and Ferron’s house—”

“The fuckers never let on,” Nathan ground out.

“I asked them not to, so don’t go blaming them. Ferron was being a good friend, and Isaac, well, he’s wrapped so tightly around Ferron’s little finger, I’m sure there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for him.”

“You got that right.”

“You’re not much better with Lenny, you know that, right?” I added, feeling a sliver of humour surface at the discomfort on his face, until I remembered my own shitty situation. 

“Yeah, that may be so, but look what I gained.” 

There was so much awe and love in his voice that I bled a little for the lack in my own life. I chewed on my thumbnail, an old habit I’d broken years ago, as I eyed Nathan. “I found Jake and Sam in Jake’s playroom this morning when I got back to the house.” I spoke so fast it sounded garbled to my own ears as the blood pounded in them, but Nathan nodded.

“Then what are you doing here?” His blond brows rose and disappeared under his fringe.

I got up and walked to the window, gripping the ledge as I stared unseeingly over the city, images of Sam popping through my mind. The exuberant joy he’d exhibited, now that I reflected on it, was what had thrown me off balance. What about his leg?

That thought increased the sorrow I felt for the pain he must have suffered and guilt quickly followed at how he’d kept such a life-changing thing from me. You rejected him!

Regardless of the fact I’d rejected him, it would seem a secret part of me had always seen him as mine. The moment it registered that he wasn’t, that he’d moved on with his life and found someone else, it had fucked with my head.  I was totally screwed, and I knew it. I didn’t want to be a Dom, and I didn’t want to challenge Jake. Far fucking from it. Yet, I’d done exactly that when my past expectations got in the way.

Releasing my tight grip of the little ledge, I turned and faced Nathan. “When I rejected Sam, as I told you, I thought it was for the best for both of us. It appears I’d secretly harboured this notion that no matter what, he’d always be mine. Faced with the reality that he’d moved on, well, it had me acting out of character. Or maybe I should say in character for the army sergeant.” I sucked in a shaky breath. “I challenged Jake.” 

The last part came out as a whisper, as if I were scared to admit what I’d done aloud. Nathan’s face lit with humour, but he didn’t laugh, so that was something. 

“How did that go down?” he asked, his lips twitching as he stroked his chin.

I quickly ran through what had happened, skipping the part where Sam had ripped open the old wounds that had never healed. “It ended with him asking ‘who was the Dom’. At that point, I did what I always do when faced with a personal crisis and high-tailed it out of there.” I rubbed my hands over my face and then through my hair before I walked back to the sofa on unsteady legs. I sank down, grateful to be sitting as Nathan spoke.

“You’ve fucked up big time my friend. I get why. You’ve spent your whole life living up to other people’s expectations, to the determinant of your own. The thing is, can an old dog learn new tricks?”

“Less of the fucking old, I’m only five years older than you,” I said without any heat as I sank back into the cushions, feeling flattened by reality. 

“I’m not sure I can,” I answered truthfully. “You understand there has always been a part of me that wants to submit, to let go. What you don’t know is how hard I find it when I’ve found a Dom to meet my needs. It’s rare that I’ve found the head space to really let go. It seems the other part, the part that is used to being in charge, is so ingrained that it just doesn’t seem to want to let go.”

Nathan sat forward, his eyes narrowing as he took hold of one of my hands and drawing my full attention. “Sarge, answer me this, who has the power in a Dom and sub exchange? Who keeps control throughout?” The quietly asked questions were like mini-explosions going off inside my mind.

“The…sub,” I stuttered, while my tongue felt too big for my mouth.

His eyes lit in approval and my heart quivered in my chest. How had I lost sight of that? You’ve not allowed yourself to truly let go since you fell in love with Sam. 

I gripped Nathan’s hand tightly as the reality of the thought shook me. It was quickly followed by a replay of what had happened today. Had I fucked things up again? Would Sam give me a second chance to prove myself worthy of him? Would Jake?