Punishing himself for a horrific past that is not his fault, bestselling author Alexander Montgomery seeks redemption and love—and perhaps he will find it.
Famous author though he may be, Alexander Montgomery is not someone you take home to meet Mother. Seriously flawed, damaged by a horrific past, he’s trying hard to claw his way back to normality. But how can anyone respect what he truly is? His therapy involves regular sessions at Study in Scarlet, an exclusive S&M club.
Then comes Sage. Tall, with black hair and blue eyes, an up-and-coming actor with impossible charm and boy-next-door good looks, he’s the perfect choice to play the leading man in a TV adaptation of Alex’s last best-seller. Even more, he is a man you introduce to your family. Which Alex would do—if he weren’t taken by another man who offers the punishments Alex prays will wipe away the past and make him the person he wants to be. Yet, perhaps there is another path to redemption. If only the solution would reach out and touch him.
Sage was the last one leaving the television studio, exhausted after a long day of filming. Seeing a light on in the office, he went over to turn it off. As he got nearer, he saw Alex slumped over the desk, arms above his head as if sleeping. Alex’s coffee cup was overturned and there was liquid all over the desk and papers.
Alex Montgomery. One of the most beautiful men he’d ever seen. Sage carefully moved the empty coffee cup to the bin and mopped up the spill with tissues he found. He felt just enough charity that he couldn’t leave Alex like he was, despite the man’s recent less than amicable mood. These past two weeks Alex had kept very much to himself. Sage had asked what was wrong, but Alex looked at him stonily, saying it was none of his business and that he wanted to be left alone. Since then, things had become a little frosty.
“Alex? Come on, this is no place to sleep. You need to get home.” He frowned at the lack of response when he gently shook Alex’s shoulder. “Alex?”
The man’s shirt was loose, out of his jeans and rucked up around his ribs against the chair back. As Sage reached to pull it down, he drew a breath, noticing purpling bruises across the man’s lower back. Sage stared at the marks, not wanting to accept them. He lifted Alex’s shirt slightly, wincing in horror at the livid weals and the deep bruising disappearing under the waistband of the man’s pants. Slowly Sage drew the shirt back down, feeling sick to his stomach.
Feeling the first wisps of real fear start deep in his stomach, he leaned in to see if the man was still breathing, “Alex. Wake up.”
Alex’s face was ashen and drawn, his breathing shallow. Sage leaned over with more urgency and gently brushed his face with his fingertips. Alex stirred and moaned, and Sage felt relief as his eyes opened, unfocused and bloodshot, and stared at him in confusion.
Alex sat bolt upright, rocketing back in his chair, away from him in a motion of absolute panic and fear.
“Alex, it’s Sage. You fell asleep.”
Alex stared at him as his eyes focused. He passed a trembling hand across his face. “I fell asleep? What time is it?”
“It’s seven thirty. Everyone’s gone home already. I was just getting ready to lock up and saw the light still on. You need to go home. You don’t look well.”
Sage reached out a gentle hand to help him up, but Alex knocked it away. “Leave me alone! Just stop it, will you? I keep fucking telling you I’m fine.” He spat the words.
“Jesus, Alex! What the fuck is wrong with you? You pass out on your desk, you push everyone away and you act like a bloody drama queen. What bug have you got up your arse that you can’t accept someone’s help?”
“I don’t need help—especially from you, Christopher Sage, so just leave me the hell alone.”
But Alex’s voice quavered and he bit his lip, and Sage’s anger dissipated. He knelt down beside the man. “Alex. Talk to me, please. Tell me what’s wrong.” He hesitated. He wasn’t sure whether he should mention what he’d seen, a bit afraid of being branded a pervert or incurring a sexual harassment charge. But he wasn’t the sort to hold his counsel. His mother always said that the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat” was tailor-made for him, even as a boy.
“I saw the marks on your back. Your shirt was up and I saw the bruising and the swelling. Who did that to you?”
Alex stared at him with such fear and desolation that Sage’s heart finally broke.
“Is someone hurting you?” he asked. “Is that why you’re so defensive? Why you don’t let anyone close?”
When Alex spoke, his voice was that of a broken man. Small. Pitiful. “Just let it go, Sage. Please, just let it go. Don’t make me tell you.”
Sage reached up from where he crouched beside Alex’s chair, cupping the man’s face in his hands. It felt so right. And he was resolved to get an answer. “Who’s doing this to you?”
“Me,” Alex whispered. “I’m doing it to me.”
Sage frowned, not understanding. “I don’t follow. How do you mean you’re doing it? To yourself?”
Alex nodded. “Please don’t ask me any more. Please, Sage.” He pulled away, but Sage stood, pulling him to his feet, holding him close to his chest, wrapping his arms around him. Alex melted into him.
Sage stroked his back with care, mindful of the injuries. For a while there was quiet before Alex finally pulled away. His face was pale, his eyes haunted. Sage again thought he was the most beautiful man he’d ever seen, especially vulnerable and without any barriers. Finally.
He spoke quietly. “Are you going to answer my question, then?”
The man scowled, and for a minute Sage saw the old Alex surface. “Christ, you never give up, do you? You’re like an annoying pressure headache that just won’t go away unless someone drills a hole in your brain.”
“An apt analogy.” Sage laughed. “It’s been said before, just not in those exact words.” He saw the faint hint of a smile on Alex’s face, but the expression was gone before it even took proper shape.
“I can’t tell you. If I do, you’ll never want to speak to me again.” Alex’s voice was expressionless, and he didn’t meet Sage’s eyes. “As we have to work together, that wouldn’t be a good thing.”
“I’m an annoying headache, remember? One way or another I’ll keep asking until I get an answer.” Sage moved closer, unwilling to be deterred. “I want to know how those marks got on your back, who put them there, and why.”
“Have you got a lifetime then?” Alex’s voice was silky, taunting, suddenly more in charge. “Do you really want to hear all the sordid details of my little life? Remember, sometimes you get what you ask for.”
“Yes. I want to hear.”
Alex regarded him thoughtfully and then smiled—fairly nastily, Sage thought with a pang.
“All right then. I’ll give you the short version first. Then you can decide whether you want to hear any more.”
There was a note of satisfaction in Alex’s voice, and Sage suddenly thought that perhaps this wasn’t the right thing to do after all. The sudden change from vulnerable to “here goes whether you like it or fucking not” Alex was quite scary. What the hell had he gotten himself into?
Alex focused steadily on Sage’s face. “When I was seventeen, I was introduced into a cult by an older man called Rudy. He kept me as his bitch for eight months. He used me for sex, whipped me, slapped me, raped me, burnt me with cigarettes and finally slashed my back four times with a sabre when I said something he didn’t like. This all kept happening until I was rescued by an extraction team. They came to save someone else and found me as well.”
The room spun for Sage. Alex carried on in apparent disregard. “I was repatriated and had counselling for the abuse for nine years with the same people who rescued me. Now I’m in formal therapy. Part of my therapy is that I see a man called Eric at least once a week—more of late—who whips me, slaps me, bites me and then fucks me. It makes me feel better.
“So tell me, Christopher Sage. Is that the kind of man you’d like to take home to meet family?”
Sue Mac Nicol was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom. At the age of eight, her family moved to Johannesburg, South Africa where she stayed for nearly thirty years before arriving back in the UK in December 2000.
Sue works until the small hours of the night doing what she loves best – writing. Since her first novel, Cassandra by Starlight, was penned, introducing the debonair Bennett Saville and his lovely lady, Cassie Wallace, Sue has since written the other two books in her Starlight trilogy. Her latest two offerings, M/M Romance ‘Stripped Bare’ and ‘Saving Alexander’ have became best sellers.
She currently has five further novels completed and has also contracted with Boroughs Publishing for a six book series called ‘Men of London’. She loves writing the element of gay male romance in her books and this thread runs all of them, including her Starlight series. Her passion is keeping herself busy creating worlds and characters for her readers to enjoy.
Sue is a PAN member of Romance Writers of America and also a member of the Romantic Novelists Association in the UK. She is also a member of a rather unique writing group, called the Talliston Writers Circle.
She lives in the rural village of Bocking, in Essex, with her family. Her plan is to keep writing as long as her muse sits upon her shoulder. Her dream is to one day be able to give up the day job and get that big old house in the English countryside overlooking a river, where she can write all day and continue to indulge her passion for telling stories.
Links for Susan Mac Nicol:
Twitter – @SusanMacnicol7