Shattered Dreams by Dakota Trace

Prologue

“What’s wrong?” Maxwell “Max” Rodkin softly questioned the quiet submissive sitting at his feet. In the past six weeks that he’d been scening with Elizabeth “Lizzie” Danders, he’d thought they’d become close. But tonight, when she’d come into the club, something had been different about her. It wasn’t just the fact that she’d been wearing a sexy cream-colored lace shirt that covered her from neck to thigh and then to her wrists. There was something he just couldn’t put his finger on. And like a dog with a bone, he refused to let it go. “I asked you a question, sub. I expect an answer.”

A strangled sound escaped her before she finally shook her head. “I just can’t get out of my head tonight, Master. Too much going on in there, and I don’t know how to shut it off.”

“Do I need to spank it out of you?” Max asked softly, his attention riveted by the dark head resting against his knee. While he wasn’t always in the dominant role, he found himself always there when dealing with the lovely woman kneeling at his feet.

“Maybe?” She didn’t sound all that certain. “No. Yes. Hell, maybe I shouldn’t have come here tonight?”

“Then why did you?” Max strove for patience but came up short. He hated that Lizzie had another man in her life, best-friend or not, he wanted Lizzie to be his and his alone.

“Because after dealing with Rainy earlier, I just need to…” She sighed heavily. “…you know what? Screw this.” She moved to stand, obviously intending to leave him.

He caught her arm as she turned. “If you don’t want to scene anymore, then safe word and it ends right here. But just because you’re frustrated with something outside my control, doesn’t mean you’re allowed to be disrespectful. Got it?”

Her shoulders slumped. “Yes, Master.”

“Good.” He tugged her onto his lap. “Now we’re going to sit here quietly and talk this out. Why you are so desperate to escape whatever is going on, and why you think you need to.”

She groaned in frustration – and not of the sexual kind. “Why?”

“Because, at the moment, I’m the top. You agreed to give me control, and I refuse to cede that unless you’re safe wording. Any dominant worth their salt cares about what happens to their submissive. This isn’t just about sex or physical intimacy.”

She bowed her head, the dark strands of her hair hiding her face from his view. It irritated him.

Using his finger, he tipped her head up. “Don’t hide from me. Just tell me what has you so riled.”

“What do you know about self-harming?” she finally asked.

“You mean like cutting?” He pushed up her sleeve to reveal the silvery marks on the inside of her arms, it was one of the things he’d first noticed during their first scene together. Which of course, had led to the rule that she contact him if she felt the need in the future. He’d give her the pain that she needed in a safe environment. He rubbed his thumb over one. “I know some people use it to relieve stress.” He shifted her closer. “Much like some subs need a good maintenance spanking to put them back on the straight and narrow.”

She nodded. “Some people do it because of that, but others…” A tear leaked from the corner of her eye. “…they do it for darker reasons. Rainy falls into that category. He can’t handle sizeable crowds, he can’t be in open spaces. Usually, he likes to sleep in the closet of our bedroom, but will come out for meals in our small kitchen, or sit in the utility room to chat with me while I do laundry.”

“I see.” He rubbed a circle on her back, fighting the urge to growl. He hated that this other man had upset his girl. “Go on.”

“I went in tonight to let him know I was coming here, and I caught him with that damned lighter.” Her slight frame shook. “He was lighting it, letting the metal heat, then pressing it to the inside of his thighs. The smell of burned skin and hair was horrible, but not as horrible as the blisters dotting his legs. God, there must’ve been about thirty of them. I took the lighter away and made him promise to stay put or I’d take him back to the hospital. He just looked so defeated…and I can’t get that look out of my mind. I shouldn’t have come here when he’s struggling but…”

“But what?” he gently prodded. He needed to understand.

“Sometimes I just can’t deal with it anymore…I love him, but I can’t fix him and it kills me.”

He stilled. “You love him?”

She nodded. “He’s like the brother I’ve never had. We grew up in the same foster home.”

Relief flowed through him. A brother he could deal with – as long as it wasn’t another man vying for her affections. “So, you’re worried about him?”

“Yeah. I start to relax, then I remember the defeated look on his face, and how I shouldn’t be here with you, when he’s in such a dark place.”

He brushed his thumb over her lower lip. “Would it help if we went and got him?”

“I…get him?” She was clearly confused.

“Why not?” He lifted her off his lap. “It’s obviously bothering you, and that bothers me. So, we’re going to fix it.”

“Are you sure, Master? You obviously wanted to scene since you requested that we meet here.”

He sighed as he stood. “Which will not happen if you’re worried about your brother. So, let’s assuage that worry, and then see what the rest of the night brings us.”

* * *

Lizzie slowly led her sometimes Master through the shady apartment that she shared with Raine. The one-bedroom apartment was all they could afford with her salary as a temp. Raine, who had been battling agoraphobia since they were kids in foster care, was close to finishing his accounting degree online, and helped with bookkeeping jobs he found on Indeed. Between the two of them, they made it work, but there wasn’t much left over for frivolities. But would her Master see that, or would he see the worn carpet, battered couch and stained walls as a reason to pity them?

“You live here, little girl?” Max had his hands on his hips. The distaste was evident on his face.

“Perhaps bringing you here wasn’t a good idea.” She stopped in the center of the living room. “I know it’s not much. But every scrap of furniture, every secondhand appliance has been bought and paid for by me and Raine. We all weren’t born with money and parents who loved us. What we have we had to work for. If you can’t accept that, then perhaps you should leave.”

“Whoa!” Max held up his hands. “I wasn’t belittling what you’ve accomplished, young lady. However, it breaks my heart to see you have so little. Especially when I want nothing more than to lay the world at your feet.” He moved close, his hand cupping the back of her neck and pulling her up against his body.

“You do?” she squeaked as she felt every muscle of his lean body against hers. They hadn’t yet been intimate, but she’d fantasized about what her Master was hiding behind his leathers.

“Absolutely.” He kept her close. “So, this is what I propose we do. We get your brother/bestie, whatever you want to call him, and I take you both home with me. I don’t think I’d be able to sleep a wink tonight, knowing you’re here and unprotected.”

She froze. “I don’t know. Raine might not want to go, and I can’t leave him. He’ll starve if I don’t go out and buy groceries.”

He studied her for a moment, then two. “Are you’re saying that you won’t come unless he does?”

She nodded helplessly. Her loyalty to the brother she’d never thought to have wouldn’t allow any other outcome. It was her and Rainy against the world. Or at least it had been until she’d had a chance meeting in a grocery store with Max. He’d courted her slowly, allowing her to get comfortable with him, before introducing her to something she’d never thought would exist – a safe place in his arms, where he shouldered her problems and she could just be.

“Alright then. Let’s go talk to the man about a move.” He released her, then gestured to her. “After you, sweetheart.”

“Okay.” She stood on trembling legs before moving into her room. Apprehensive she approached the closed door of the closet. Would Raine be sleeping, or staring off into space, his mind so far away even she couldn’t reach it? After wiping her hands on her leggings, she reached out for the doorknob slowly twisting it. It swung open under her hand, the light from the bedroom spilling into the dark confines. A sob caught in her throat. Raine was raking his nails over the blisters on his thighs. Several had torn open and were bleeding. “Stop, Rainy, please stop.”

He didn’t seem to even notice her plea. Behind her, Max cursed softly as he looked over his shoulder to see Raine. “Move, sweetheart. Let me deal with him.”

She reluctantly moved to the side, allowing him to fill the open doorway. She wanted to chew on her nails as he crouched down in front of Raine, catching his wrists in his hands. “That’s enough.”

Raine struggled at first, then focused on Max. “What, who are you? Let go.” He tried to jerk free.

“No,” Max’s tone was firm, the dominance that had so drawn her to him in the first place evident with every single syllable. “Your actions are hurting Lizzie, and that I cannot allow.”

Raine froze. “Can’t allow? What are you? Her owner?”

“One day soon, I plan to be,” Max retorted, voicing for the first time his intentions. “And for all intents and purposes, from this moment on, I will be the man you answer to.”

“What?” Raine looked up at him, the normal fear in his eyes banked by…was that anger? Even if it was, it was better than the former. “Dude, you’re not my master, and I don’t have to do a thing you say.”

“Really?” Max’s natural dominance turned up a level as he stared down the other man.

Lizzie shivered. She knew that tone. It was one that she tread lightly around when she heard it.

Which was why she was glad that even as pissy as Raine was, he seemed to understand there was more to the word than a mere question. Max wasn’t playing around here. He wanted Lizzie out of the apartment and in his…home…club. Hell, she wasn’t sure where he wanted her, but it was beyond obvious he would not let Raine’s mental issues or crisis deprive him of what he wanted. The very idea should have been ego stroking, but she worried about the fallout with Raine. He’d never dealt with authority well.

Raine opened his mouth, then shut it.

“That’s what I thought.” He leaned in, lifting Raine’s chin much like he did hers, when he wanted her total attention. It should make her jealous, but instead, a small kernel of hope blossomed in her chest. Was a power exchange what Raine needed to get his head on straight?

“This is what is going to happen. We’re leaving here tonight. You and Lizzie are going to come home with me. I’m in the process of renovating a Victorian home into a lifestyle club. Upstairs on the third floor is a master suite. All three of us are going to stay there until the renovation is complete.”

When Raine opened his mouth to protest, Max ignored him. “It has a walk-in closet that will be perfect for you. I understand your issues, but with some guidance from me, you will get better. Your sister needs you.” He leaned in until his nose was inches from Raines. “And to answer your earlier question, who am I? Until further notice, I’m the man you’re going to call Master. Got it?”