"Sadist seeks masochist?" Daphne set the paper down on the kitchen table. She pursed her lips and shook her head in disapproval, tapping one manicured nail against a personals ad. "I can't believe they even printed this. I mean, really." She sipped her coffee. "I swear, this world is going nuts."
Nate stared across the table at his older sister, then down at the newspaper personals. Thirty-two-year-old male sadist seeks male masochist. Must be willing to take orders. One night only. The only other information listed was a phone number. Pretty bare bones, as personals went. "I didn't think you had a problem with that sort of thing," Nate said, keeping his tone carefully neutral. Daphne had never been as conservative as their parents -- hell, without her support, he probably never would have found the nerve to come out to them -- but there were certain things he didn't feel quite comfortable talking with her about. "I mean, S&M. You've always said that what turns people on is their own business."
"I don't mind what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms. They can wear frog masks and pee on each other's feet for all I care. But putting an ad like this in the paper?" She grimaced. "Some little kid could see this. 'Mommy, what's a masochist?' How is a parent supposed to explain that?"
"Kids don't look at the personals."
"Yeah, but they could still see it by accident."
Nate glanced at the ad again. The phone number started with the same three digits as his. Someone in the area, then.
Daphne leafed through the paper. "By the way, are you free this evening?" A smile curved her lips. "There's someone I want you to meet. He's from my graphic design class."
Nate winced. Daphne meant well, but ever since he'd broken up with Brian, she'd been relentless in her efforts to set him up with someone. And the men she tried to foist on him were usually good-looking but painfully dull. "Honestly, I don't think I'm ready for a relationship. I'm enjoying being single again."
"I'd buy that if you were actually going out and doing stuff, but ever since Brian left, you don't do anything except sit in your apartment and play those online RPGs. That's not healthy. And it's not you, either."
Nate knew she was right. In the past few months, he'd stopped going to clubs and dancing and just hanging out with people in general. It all seemed like too much to deal with. But Brian leaving him was only part of it. In truth, that relationship had had its problems from the start. On a deeper level, Nate had begun to wonder if there was something wrong with him, if having a truly satisfying sexual relationship was even possible.
Daphne laid a hand on his arm. "You need to get out and start interacting with people again," she said. "And your coworkers at Mr. Sushi don't count."
Nate figured that now would probably be a bad time to tell her he'd been fired last week. "I know," he said. "I just need a little time."
"If you say so." She got up to refill her coffee mug.
His gaze darted to the personals ad again. As she mixed in her cream and sugar, he grabbed a pen and quickly wrote the number on his palm.
That night, back in his own apartment, he sat on the couch staring at his palm. The numbers had become smudged from his sweat, but they were still legible.
Was he really thinking about doing this? Calling someone he'd never met for a night of no-strings-attached S&M sex? Sure, it had been a while, but he'd never even looked at the personals before today. What was the point? Nate wasn't exactly Adonis, but he was cute enough and kept himself in good enough shape that if he wanted to hook up with someone, he could just go to a bar.
But somehow, the ad had lodged itself in his brain, and it had been itching there ever since he'd left Daphne's apartment. When he closed his eyes, the words hovered in the darkness, as if they'd been printed onto his retinas.
Maybe Daphne was right. Maybe he did need to get out and be with someone again, even if it was just a one-night stand... but even so. This guy hadn't revealed a single thing about himself except his age, and the fact that he was a sadist. So why was Nate so curious about him? He could be a complete douchebag. Or a sociopath.
His teeth worried at his bottom lip, a bad habit that had been clinging to him since childhood. He forced himself to stop before his lip started bleeding. He reached for the phone, pulled back, reached for it again.
Just giving him a call couldn't hurt. Just to satisfy his own curiosity. If he didn't like the guy's voice, he could hang up, and that would be that.
He picked up the phone and dialed. After the second ring, someone picked up. "Pierce Collins speaking. Who is this?"
Nate's stomach flip-flopped. What a voice. A deep, velvety-smooth baritone, the auditory equivalent of dark chocolate. Even from the other end of a phone line, it seemed to vibrate in his bones. "Um..." Nate cleared his throat. His mind had gone suddenly blank.
"Speak. I dislike being made to wait." In contrast to that silky voice, he had a clipped, precise way of talking. There was something vaguely British about it, though he didn't have an accent.
"I'm Nate... Nathan Bird. I'm calling about the ad? The personals ad?" His pulse drummed in his throat. He really hadn't expected to be so nervous. "You know. 'Sadist seeks masochist.'"
"Um... I'm five eleven, long blond hair, blue eyes. I'm thin. But not scrawny. I mean, I work out." His mouth had gone dry. The man remained silent, as if he were waiting for something else, so Nate added, "I'm nineteen years old."
He expected the man to describe himself too, or maybe ask what sort of stuff Nate was into. Instead, he said, "My address is 7416 Peachtree Parkway. I will expect you here at precisely eight o'clock tonight."
"Whoa, hang on," Nate said. "I haven't agreed to this yet. If we're going to meet, shouldn't we meet in a public place first?"
"I would prefer you come straight to my house."
"If you're not comfortable with it, don't come. If you're not here by eight o'clock, I'll assume you're not interested."
"Aren't you going to tell me anything about you?" Nate asked, a touch of irritation creeping into his voice. "I gave you a description. Do I get one in return?"
"I have red hair and brown eyes," the man said. Then he hung up.
Nate stared at the phone. "What an asshole," he muttered. Did this guy think that just because Nate was a submissive, he could talk to him however he wanted and expect instant obedience? Fuck that. He was probably a nutjob anyway. Nate hung up, stretched out on the couch, and stared at the ceiling.
He wondered what he'd do tonight. Probably just stay in and watch TV. Or maybe bring his sketchpad out to the park and draw squirrels for a while.
He glanced down and saw that he'd scribbled Pierce's address on his arm. Weird, he didn't remember doing that. He ought to just scrub it off.
He shouldn't go. It would be stupid to go.
Even as he told himself that, he realized that on some level he'd already decided to go. Except he couldn't recall actually making the decision, or the reasoning behind it. The knowledge that he was going had simply floated to the forefront of his mind like an object bobbing to the surface of a lake... as if somehow, in some way he didn't understand, the decision had been made for him.
He wondered if that should disturb him.