Prologue (The App)
I was sure I hadn’t hid my scepticism as Nathan held out the tub of homemade goodies to me. “Do you think offering me your boyfriend’s cookies will sweeten me up?” My voice was heavy with sarcasm as I nearly snatched Nathan’s hand off while taking the tub from him. Lenny, Nathan’s boyfriend, was a genius in the kitchen, and Nathan had taken to bringing treats when he wanted to bribe me. The lid lasted all of a second in my hands before I practically inhaled two cookies, making Nathan laugh.
“Me, really? You think I’d be so devious as to ask Lenny to bake every day?” Nathan fluttered his eyelashes at me, going for innocent and failing miserably.
“Yep, I do. You think I’m a sucker for them,” I quipped back, despite my mouth being half-full of chewed cookie.
“You are.” He pointed to the tub. “Because my man can bake.” Nathan was bragging, but it was the truth. Everything I’d tried that Lenny had made had been delicious.
“Okay… what do you want to change now?” I asked with resignation, laying the tub on the half-finished bar top I’d been sanding before Nathan had interrupted me.
The Flamingo Bar was the second large project I’d worked on for Nathan. The first was The Playroom, his BDSM club housed on the lower floor of the warehouse we were in. My teeth ground together as I reminded myself that Nathan had done a lot for my building contractor business by offering me my first large contract. That job had secured me several other big contracts, and therefore ensured my success.
Nathan held his hands up. “It’s only a small thing—”
My gaze narrowed on him, all my good intentions flying right out the window. I jabbed him in the chest, inwardly cringing as my finger left a dirty smear on his pale grey top. “What, like when you wanted the whole section I’d built for the DJ booth moved from one side of the room to the other?” I accused angrily.
“I said I was sorry for that—”
“Yeah, the same as you were sorry about the other nine changes you had me make. I stared him down. I couldn’t remember Nathan being this much of a pain in my arse the last time we’d worked together.
“It’s just that sometimes you envision things that look better when they’re slightly altered,” I huffed, my hands going to my hips as I struggled to refrain from interrupting him again, Nathan offering me a shamefaced smile in response.
“I was thinking… that we could add a platform at the side of the dance floor. For open nights, so that those that are here for puppy or kitty play could display their pets.”
Was he talking about role play? My heart skipped several beats and my palms became sweaty. Things between me and Glenn, my long-term boyfriend, had become a little stale in the bedroom department. Stale, my backside! Don’t you mean non-existent? When was the last time we’d been intimate?
I stilled, my mind frantically trying to find the answer. My heart sank as I came up empty. That was why I’d been doing a little research in order to spice things up between us. There was something intriguing about some of the scenes I’d found on the internet involving different role play dynamics. There had been a few film clips with a Daddy and his boy that had left me with feelings I’d struggled to understand. Is that why you haven’t mentioned it to Glenn?
I just needed to find my balls and man up. Like that is going to happen! I barely resisted rolling my eyes at myself.
Ever since Glenn had asked me to support him so that he could quit his job and set up his own business, something had changed between us. Initially I’d thought he was stressed, but as far as I could tell it was doing well. How do you know? He never talks to you anymore.
I wasn’t sure what my face conveyed as Nathan shifted his gaze to mine, but frown lines appeared on his forehead. “I can’t remember you mentioning that this bar was going to be for… that,” I commented, working on masking my jumbled thoughts.
“You know… role play… and such like.” Heat crept up my neck as I stumbled over my words. I lowered my gaze and stared at the floor.
“Is this a problem for you?” Nathan asked, concern lacing his question.
“No… it’s just… I thought this place was going to be a bar and restaurant,” I added lamely, not sure how to explain why he’d thrown me for a loop.
“It is, but it will also be a place for people that are into others aspects of BDSM, particularly role play, where they can come and play in a safe space without judgement. I’ll ask again, is this going to be a problem for you?” Nathan’s large body seemed tense as he waited for my answer.
I shook my head slowly, lifting my eyes to meet Nathan’s. “Nah, I… well…” My cheeks continued to heat as I shifted uncomfortably. “I’d be interested in a membership,” I stated before I could think better of it. Why did I say that?
Nathan’s gaze narrowed on me. “I’d happily give you a membership, if that’s what you really want?”
“Yeah, thanks.” What was I playing at? Unable to figure out what had just come over me, I walked across the room towards the dance floor. I took a few seconds to regroup and thanked my lucky stars that Nathan hadn’t made a big deal out of my request.
Several hours later, sweaty and tired from the day, I opened the door to my home and shouted out to Glenn, “Hey babe, I’m home.” I slung my coat over the bannister and looked down at my dirty clothes and then to the staircase leading upstairs. At the lack of response, a defeated sigh escaped, and I decided to delay facing Glenn and go and shower.
Ten minutes later, I stepped out of the shower into an empty bathroom. How long had it been since Glenn had come to talk to me about his day while I freshened up? My brow furrowed as I calculated the months. Shit.
When had things between us started to change?
The hurt I’d been tucking away at the loss of the closeness we’d once had overwhelmed me for a moment and my legs buckled. Without anything else to distract me, the discomfort I’d held at bay while I was at work returned. Quickly drying myself off, I went into the bedroom and dressed in some casual lounge pants, along with a T-shirt, before returning downstairs.
In the hallway, I took a deep breath and braced myself for what I might find when I walked into the kitchen. I’d been holding onto the hope that today might be different, the same as I had done almost every day for the last few months, but it only took the span of a few steps for that hope to wither and die. My gaze swept around the messy room, finding it empty.
With Glenn working from home, we’d agreed that he’d do the cooking during the week and I’d do it at the weekends. It seemed that, somehow, this had changed, and I was now cooking every day. I eyed the empty cooker top and sighed.
Why was I noticing all this stuff today?
As I mulled it over, my gut started to churn. I couldn’t recall the last time Glenn had been affectionate towards me. Not that I’d asked for much lately when he was always too tired to do more than complain. Why did I feel like it was always me bending over backwards for him all the time? You love taking care of him. He’s busy with his new business, that’s all.
Aren’t you busy too? Can’t he take five minutes to come and give you a hug, or a kiss?
The thoughts seemed to slam into each other and the simmering anger that I often buried with excuses for Glenn’s behaviour burned through me. My teeth ground together as I walked through to Glenn’s home office. An office I had spent many thousands on kitting out for him so that he could fulfil his dreams.
Was I asking for too much from him?
His head never lifted from the computer and he didn’t even acknowledge my presence.
“Hey.” I leant forward to kiss his cheek, but he pulled away before I could touch him, causing my chest to ache.
“Your beard needs trimming. It will scratch my skin,” he complained, without once looking in my direction.
“I’m sorry. I have a barber’s appointment at the weekend.” The apology tumbled from my lips, the need to appease him second nature when I heard the sharp edge to his voice. “What are we eating for dinner tonight?”
He shrugged his slim shoulders and still didn’t glance in my direction. “Whatever you can rustle up. I’m going out with some new clients. There’s a trendy new bar they mentioned in Soho that they’re taking me to.”
This was something else that was becoming a habit: Glenn going out and not bothering to invite me. “It won’t take me long to get changed. I’ll come with you.” I wasn’t in the mood but we hadn’t spent any proper time together for weeks.
“It’s not your thing.” His head finally lifted and he aimed a scathing look up and down my body. “I mean, you don’t really do trendy, do you?” His upper lip curled and he sounded so condescending.
I forced myself to keep a hold of my temper as my fingers clenched at my sides. Come on, think. There must be something you can do to make him look at you like he used to?
I ignored his sarcastic comment and went with the first thing that came into my head instead. “You know the place I’m working on? Well, it’s going to be a bar with a difference. It’ll be a place where couples can go and do role play. I asked Nathan for a membership. I thought we could try something different. You know, spice things up a little.” The smile I’d plastered on my face fell as I realised my mistake.
Glenn’s face turned a shade of purple that would have easily rivalled the girl’s face from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. “What are you insinuating? Tell me. Are you saying I’m the cause of our bedroom issues?” He stood up, almost foaming at the mouth as he stepped closer, his face turning ugly as he sneered. “You’re a pervert. Role play? What do you think I am? Some sort of plaything that likes to be shown off in front of others? I don’t fucking think so! This is about those websites you’ve been looking at, isn’t it? Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve been doing at night.”
Spittle hit my face as he continued to rant at me. I opened my mouth, a wave of dizziness hitting me from the nastiness of his tone. I clamped my lips together, realising it was pointless as I listened to the barrage of abuse he was throwing at me.
Why was he acting like this?
My mind circled back to all the times he’d spoken to me in this way over the last few months. Why hadn’t I noticed what a horrible shit he was being? You loved him.
It took a second to register that I was thinking in the past tense. I heaved a sigh, uncertain about what I should do. My pulse was pounding so hard that my ears had started to buzz. Four years we’d been together, and yet as I stood there listening to him, I realised I didn’t even recognise the man who stood before me. Where had Glenn, the gentle loving soul gone?
“Are you even listening to me? I’ve had enough. The tenants in my flat vacated it last week. I’m moving out. I think you need some time to think about what’s gotten into you lately. Role play, sex toys and web searches for Christ knows what! You’re nearly forty. You should be past this silliness.”
Not sure what my age had to do with it, I stood silently, trying to release my jaw after clenching it so hard. How was wanting to try new things, silliness?
“Don’t you have anything to say?” Glenn sneered.
“I wasn’t sure you were finished belittling me. I think you’re right, moving out is the best idea. We need some space and maybe a little perspective on what we both want from this relationship.” I swallowed another sigh as he swung around and stomped to the doorway.
He glanced back over his shoulder before throwing out a threat, “If I leave, I won’t be coming back.”
I didn’t point out that he was the one who’d suggested that he leave. This was a game he liked to play: making me beg him to stay. Only today, I wasn’t up to playing his game, not with all the hurtful things he’d said still fresh in my memory.
Why had I been putting up with this shit? He’s been using you for months, living off you, spending your money. He doesn’t love you. I barely stopped myself from blanching at the reality of what the voice in my head was telling me. Was it the truth?
I stared at the man I’d thought I’d be spending the rest of my life with and my heart broke a little for the dream of what could have been. A hope I’d been clinging on to for far too long.
I stood tall, keeping my thoughts hidden behind a neutral mask as he paused in the doorway, waiting for me to beg. “If you need a hand to drop your stuff off at the flat, I can get one of my guys to help you? It might need to be Monday though as they’re busy at the weekends.” Glenn’s mouth hung open, his eyes widening. I carried on speaking. “You’re right. I think it’s best if you move out. This… isn’t working for you, evidently, so it’s probably the right time to stop before someone gets hurt.” Even as I said it, I felt the tears clog the back of my throat. I stared at his face for a moment, seeing nothing but fury. No regret, no love, no remorse. I made myself walk away from him.
My head pounded and my eyes blurred even more at the sound of a door slamming shut somewhere in the house. But I kept walking until I’d reached the downstairs bathroom, only then with the door locked did I let go. Sobs tore from my throat as I shoved my fist into my mouth to muffle the sound. Oh God, what had I done?
It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.
The words were of very little comfort to me, but I clung to them.