This is a Scientific Method story, but takes place about three years before Catalysts.

Lucy’s gonna kill a man. A specific man. A white dude who likes screwing teenage Latina girls and just so happens to be married to her cousin. No, wait, she’s going to torture, then kill him. At least, that’s the plan until her best friend calls her for an urgent bondage consult.

Let’s be really goddamn clear: there’s no way Lucy’s gonna let Hugh tie her ass to a weight bench. If he has to lose a bet to accept that fact, she’s happy to oblige. The real mystery is what the hell’s going on with Nick, and who on earth is his handsome stranger?

Warnings: Contains over-bearing friends-who-are-family. And no sex. (I know!)

Lucy Wins a Bet (#2)

From The Scientific Method, Episode Six: The End. The Back End.:
“I hate being restrained. But you know who can restrain me and make it very, very effective, despite my dread?”
“Huh uh. Nick?”
“Nick, no. Nick would be horrified if I proposed any such thing. No, Lucy…. It’s happened three times, and each time I lost a bet.”

* * *

Lucy was late. Which probably saved her from an assault charge and an arrest.

“Where is she now?”

“She’s resting—”


“Lucy, she says nothing ever happened—”

She would have pushed through into the room, except Carla shoved her first, hard, and she would have taken a swing, except it was Carla, and Carla wasn’t fucking stupid.

“Luce—” Maria began again.

“Don’t fucking start with me.” Lucy spun around. “Don’t either of you fucking start with me! And don’t say you fucking believe her because there is virtually no goddamn chance that sonofabitch—”

“You gotta take off, Luce,” Carla said. “Seriously. Go.”

They hadn’t called Alma, she noticed. Alma was probably off making hats for fucking soldiers or praying for the souls of dead fetuses or some other fucking thing.

“I’ll take off. I know exactly what I’m gonna do. He still hang out at the fucking dive over off Lake Shore?”

“Don’t you dare make this about you, Lucy.” And Carla, little fucking Carla, stepped up to her, chest-to-chest. “This ain’t about you, Luce. Jazzy’s fine.”

“Jazzy’s fine? Oh, really? Because she hooked up with his sorry ass when she was sixteen, which I was willing to overlook then, but now you’re telling me—”

“We don’t know for sure,” Maria murmured. But Lucy was looking at Carla, and maybe Maria could work the denial a little longer, but she and Carla knew for sure, oh yeah, no fucking questions.

“Jazzy’s not going anywhere tonight. Do not fucking get arrested.


Lucy banged out of the house and into her car and, despite Carla’s words—make this about me, fuck you, I’m’a make it about all the little girls that sick sonofabitch diddled while he was fucking my cousin—she fully intended to drive around until she found him, and then pummel his fucking face in until no little girl would ever go anywhere with him again.

Which is when her phone rang.

Bluetooth probably saved her from an assault charge and an arrest.

She keyed Answer and snarled, “What?” expecting Carla or maybe Maria.

“You sound like hell.”

“Baby, I do not have time for this right now, I gotta go kill a guy.”

“Alternately, you can come here and drink with me.”

“No, I think I gotta kill a guy. Thanks for the offer, Hugh, but no.”

“You need to wait a few years before you kill anyone, Luce. I can’t afford to bail you out yet. Or hire a good attorney.”

“Fuck that, I got money.”

“Enough money to get a Latina dominatrix out of a murder charge? Is the guy you’re premeditatively going to kill white? Because you might have enough money to hire the kind of lawyer who can get you off for killing a black man, but definitely not a white man.”

Despite all of it, Lucy laughed. “Fuck, boy, you’re learning! Good for you, kiddo. I gotta go.”

“No, Luce.”

“Oh yeah, baby. Definitely. This guy’s scum of the fucking earth, and I’m gonna finish him right the fuck now.” She moved her hand to hang up when Hugh’s voice stopped her.

“Meet me at the gym. I have a different idea, but we need to borrow some equipment for a few minutes.”

“The fuck are you talking about, rich kid?”

“I need to call Nick. Meet me at the gym.”

And then fucking Hugh fucking hung up. On her.


But she passed the exit for the dive on Lake Shore and headed to the damn gym. La curiosidad mató al gato, fuck everything.

Curiosity killed the motherfucking cat. Lucy was always the cat.

* * *

She found them in Nicky’s steam room, even though he technically still worked out of the “office.”

“I demand naked men,” she said, leaning in the doorway. Interesting. The two of them were standing, Nick with his back to the wall, not quite looking trapped, but damn. Hugh was bringing just a little vibe with him tonight, standing too close, his generally-conservative hand gestures reaching just enough. Subtle, in him, but Nick knew every shade of Hugh Reynolds. Nick would feel it.

No,” Nick said to Hugh. “Is this your idea, Luce? You know, I take this place seriously. It’s not just a goddamn fetish playground for when the two of you are bored.”

“I’m not bored. I was busy, until your friend there distracted me.”

“Busy threatening to kill people,” Hugh said. “Nicky, I need like ten minutes.”

“And a volunteer, I know, you already said that, and I said no. You remember no, right? Before you got all fancy with your safewords and your damn safe, sane, consensual cult, we used to have a word called no.”

Ow. Hugh’s face contorted. “Nick—”

“Yeah, Nicky, what the hell crawled up your butt?” Time to intervene. Lucy nudged Hugh over to a bench and followed him, then surprised him by sitting on his lap. (So easy to surprise him. A wonder he survived in the wild for twenty-five years.)

“What crawled up your butt, and why the fuck are the two of you in my office right now?”

“I have no idea why we’re here,” Lucy said. “Genius’s idea.”

“Well, the answer’s still no.”

The thing was, Nick never refused Hugh. Well. With the exception of becoming his boyfriend. But Hugh had probably never actually asked, because he was a fool.

Lucy wiggled her ass until she was more comfortable.


And grinned across the tiled room at Nick. Who gave in and smiled back.

“So, boy genius, what’re we doing here?”

He pushed her to the side until she was no longer sitting on his starting-to-perk-up little willie. “We’re testing a theory. WD wants me to tie him to his bench press.”

“And you said no?”

“Wait, which one?” Nick asked, and sat down in his usual corner of the steam room—oh, excuse me, his office—with the fileboxes and the abandoned coffee cups. (Nick had a twisted attachment to it, but the gym didn’t turn enough profit to demo the fuckin’ thing and turn it into a real office.)

“Wrinkled Dick,” Lucy said. “The old one.”

Nick made a face. “Oh, right.”

“Be nice. He’s okay. Anyway, he has a bench press thing.”

“So what?”

“So I can’t test it out on him, he’s a fucking client.”

“A client,” Lucy said. “You’re fuckin’ adorable, kiddo. You can tie Nick to a goddamn weight bench whenever, but what the hell am I doing here?”

“Oh no, he’s absolutely not tying me to anything.”

Another twitch from Hugh. What the hell was going on with the two of them? And since when did Nick say no to Hugh and bondage?

“I need you to evaluate, Luce. Or—fuck, Nick, why not? You suddenly decide I’m not trustworthy?”

“Yeah, it may look like my entire life is just sitting around waiting for dominant assholes to ravish me, but I have actual shit to do.”

Lucy threw her legs over Hugh’s lap and laid flat on the long bench, looking over at Nick. “What in the unholy fuck are you talking about?”

“Nothing. I’m not talking about anything.”

“What’s his name?” Hugh asked, like it was a casual question, when it so clearly wasn’t. His hands came down on her feet, and stayed there.

“Did you miss where I said I was busy?”

“Too busy to say his name? Must be a long name. With a complicated spelling.”

Nick glared. “Bernie. Bernard. And fuck you.”

“Where did you meet?”

“Does this look like fucking therapy to you, Reynolds?”

Dear holy god. She occasionally wished they’d actually hooked up when they met, instead of just fucking and telling themselves that’s all it was. If they’d burned off all the tension, maybe they wouldn’t have to stare each other down once a year like a couple of bulls ready to clash horns.

But if they’d done that, they might have destroyed each other instead. So this was better. Most of the time.

“Boys, boys, boys. Don’t fight, it’s tiresome. Listen, maybe you guys want to help me kill a guy instead of fighting. Entirely noble murder.”

“Who’re we killing?” Nick asked, because yeah, Nicky didn’t want to fight with Hugh, not even when he wanted to punch him in the face.

“Jazzy’s husband.”

“I close at ten, but if you can wait, I’m game.”

“You don’t even want to know what he did?”

Nick rolled his eyes. “He took advantage of someone, and probably Jazzy, too. You hate it when people are taken advantage of, Luce.”

“Unless you’re the one taking advantage. Nick—”

“No. I said no, and I meant it.”

“I was going say I can use the bench in storage. I don’t have to be on the floor. WD has an older mail-order model anyway.”

Nick took a breath. “Fine. But unless you think Lucy’s gonna let you tie her up, I don’t see how it’s gonna help you.”

“I can still look at the set-up. I don’t think it’s strong enough for struggle, which is what he wants.”

“It’s strong enough for hundreds of pounds of weight, Reynolds. You think it can’t take an old man?”

“Not if I’m convincing about the line of big black men I have waiting outside to fuck all of his holes and make new ones so they can fuck them, too,” Hugh said, and squeezed her foot. “He’ll be blindfolded. I just have to make a little noise and move around.”

“Good god, what a fool,” Lucy said. “You should rob his ass so he knows to expect it.”

“Or you should bring over a couple of big black men and let him have what he wants,” Nick added.

Hugh, of course, was suitably scandalized. He tried to wipe it off his face fast, but the boy just couldn’t hide those noble goddamn roots. “So, Luce, you think you could do me a favor? I’m, uh, good for it.”

“Fool tying up a fool. I know you aren’t offering your ass in trade, Hugh, but if you let Lucy start talking, she’ll probably get it anyway.”

Lucy smiled. “I do love Hugh’s ass. Sure, baby, let’s play for bondage. What’s the bet?”

“Every time I bet with you, I lose.”

“You can see why I keep bringing it up.” She straightened up, facing him, legs folded in front of her. “Let’s see. You want some kind of handicap so you don’t feel I’m just screwing you?” Lucy pretended to consider it. “All right. Whoever scores first out in the weight room wins. It’s—what, Nicky?—95% gay men?”

“Scores meaning what?”

Nick grinned and kicked his feet up, watching them. Yeah. Nicky knew she was gonna win, didn’t matter what the fuck the bet was. She was always gonna win. Because Hugh wanted to lose to her. Every goddamn time.

“Let’s see,” Lucy said. “Blow job or equivalent. Has to be a stranger, so no rustling up a trick. Winner does the tying, loser does the lying.”

“And a rhyme, no less,” Hugh said. “This bet is heavily weighted in my favor, Luce. Are you planning to cheat?”

“Baby, how’m I gonna cheat in a gym full of gay men?”

“I don’t know yet, but I’m sure I’ll find out.”

Oh, so are we, kiddo.

“Fine,” Hugh said, and held out his hand. “No tricks, and I will definitely get someone to blow me before you’ll find someone to blow you, Luce.”

“We’ll see. Nicky, you judging?”

“You know I’m always judging.”

“Ha. Nice, baby. Okay, do we have a time limit or is it just first to the finish line?”

“First to finish.” Nick stood up and shooed them out like children. “Go, go. I’ll watch on the cameras, so don’t get clever.”

“Not a problem.” Hugh sounded a little more confident, now, which was good. That made it so much hotter that Lucy was about to beat his ass. (Oh, if only. But binding his ass to a weight bench would be good, too, if not quite as therapeutic as beating his ass.) “Good luck, Luce.”

“Oh, honey. Please.” She kissed air at him and went out first.

Nick, behind her, said, “I hope you brought comfortable ropes, Reynolds.”

Damn straight.

Speaking of straight. Lucy prowled first, doing some stretches, watching in the mirror. She’d caught the eyes of exactly three people, two of whom she knew too well to be sporting. (She shot a cheeky grin at Melissa, who liked to hold up her big butch front right up until Lucy pressed a strap-on to her lips, and then it was all over. Hell. If she’d been packing—but no, strangers, only strangers.)

The third man who was eyeing her covertly wasn’t interested in her body. It took her all of thirty seconds to see that. Slender, black, little bit of swish, but he wore a layer of fuck you over it. She looked at him through a couple of forward bends, not letting him see her noticing his attention, then turned fully and squared off. Usually that was good for a defensive twitch, but from this guy she got, instead, a lazy smile.

A smile.

She almost approached him, because fuck, he could play the game, he could obviously play the game, but her eye caught on someone else first, a mousy little man in ill-fitting track pants. Bingo.

Still, Lucy didn’t lose track of the black guy with the aura, either, not the entire time she was on the floor, not until she pulled her meat through the door to the locker room—women’s, because he didn’t want the guys to see, more the fool him—and pushed him up against the wall, making sure the camera’s eye could take him in.

“This might not work,” the kid said, nervous as she kneaded him through his pants.

“Are you one of Nick’s boys?”

“Nick the trainer?”

And bingo again.

“Good friend of mine. Close your eyes, kiddo.” She pressed her hand over them for good measure, and kept up the strokes to his half-hard dick. “Pretend I’m him, baby. You know how he gets all up close to tell you your form’s shit and your knees are wrong and you’re gonna fuck your back up and don’t come crying to him when you drop your bar on your little toes?”

Nod, nod, and yeah, now he was into it, jerking his little boy hips forward.

“And you can smell him, can’t you, baby? You can smell his sweat, and if he’s had a particularly good day, you can smell his cock, too, can’t you?”

The kid actually fucking moaned at that.

“That’s right, pretend I’m him. Pretend you just got off a workout and he was a bitch to you and the whole time you wanted to fucking kill him, only this time you go into the locker room and he follows you and tells you to close your fucking eyes, right? So you close ‘em and keep ‘em closed.”

The kid nodded again and Lucy took back her hands to shove his shit down to his ankles. Oh, hello, little white boy cut cock. Musty from his workout, but clean, too. Hoping for favors from the trainer, baby? Well, this is the best I can do.

It was over in a minute and a half. If that. Lucy would have to get Nick to rewind the tape for her so she could time it.

“Oh my god. I can’t believe I just—I’ve never—with a woman.” The kid shook his head. “Jeez, lady. Did you win your bet?”

“Let’s go find out.” She stood up and held out her hand, still slightly damp from his sweaty balls. Ha.

He shook anyway. “Well, thanks for the BJ. Never thought I’d be saying that to a girl.”

“The world holds many wonders, kiddo. God be with you.”

“And also—” The kid froze. “That is blasphemous.”

Catholics. Lucy could spot a Catholic at a thousand paces.

“Thanks for your help.”

She breezed out into the main room about five seconds before Hugh did, and they both looked triumphant.

“Think I beat you this time, Lucy,” he said.

“Well, my meat wanted a little bit of pillow talk, so I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”

“We better go ask Nick, then.” Smug, smug, smug.

Hell, Lucy wouldn’t have even minded losing, not really, except now Hugh looked smug, and there was no higher high than taking down a smug man, gay, straight, didn’t fucking matter. Nothing in the world made Lucy wetter than taking down a smug fucking man.

They went through the back door (marked EMERGENCY EXIT ALARM WILL SOUND) and Hugh stopped dead in the hallway.


She turned without clarification, to see what he was looking at.

Well. The world really did hold many wonders, and one of them was Nicky standing at the other end of the hall with the black mysterioso from the gym. The other man gestured and Nick stepped back, out of orbit, out of range.

Mystery man leaned in and even from here both Lucy and Hugh went still. Yeah. He was one of theirs, no question. He leaned in just enough to emphasize, nowhere near enough to beg.

And Nick, consummate bottom in every possible way, stepped back again.

Lucy cooled her own blood with an effort and put a hand on Hugh’s arm. They watched a second longer. Nick made a decisive slash through the air with one hand, then turned toward them.

She registered his steps faltering, but she didn’t look at Nick. She watched Nick’s un-friend, with the lazy smile. Not smiling now. No, he was looking at Nicky like Nick was taking away his fucking favorite toy, and he couldn’t stop him.

The man met Lucy’s eyes, accidentally, but it was enough to shake him loose. He nodded once and went out the far door.

“Bernie, I presume,” Hugh said dryly.

“Lucy won the bet,” Nick retorted, and slammed through to the steam room.

Hugh moved to follow him, but Lucy pulled him back. “Give him some fucking time, baby. He’s still smoking.”


“Come show me the bench and tell me what you want to do. You have your bag?”

“It’s in—”

“I’ll get it. I’ll meet you in the storeroom.”

Hugh gritted his teeth, but obeyed. (Yeah. Sure he did. Poor baby. Couldn’t ask for it, but needed it all the same.)

Still, Lucy counted to twenty before she went into the steam room. Her desire to protect Nick had mostly leaked away when she saw the despair on his pal’s face, but there was always the danger he’d take it for pity, which would not be good.

Hugh’s case rested against the tiles where he’d been sitting and she swept it up before turning to look at Nick.

“I don’t want to hear it. I can take care of myself.”

“Looks like. But Hugh thinks I could probably get off for killing a black man, and I am feeling murderous. I’m just offering.”

“The victim has to be black and male?”

“Oh hell no. I could kill a woman of color and probably not even serve jail time. But he doesn’t think there’s any way I kill a white man without going away for good. But a black guy, hey, who goes to jail for killing black guys, right?”

And yeah, it was the right tone, because Nick’s face relaxed just a little. “I don’t want him dead. But thanks for the offer.”

“Standing offer, Nicky. You gonna come in for the festivities?”

“Maybe in a few minutes.”

She nodded and turned to go.

“Luce. Don’t you want to know if you actually won?”

“Baby, I actually won the second he took the bet. Give me fifteen minutes.”

“Yeah, all right.”

* * *

Hugh had already unearthed a likely bench, and was mopping it off with discarded towels. She watched him work, meticulously dusting the bar, the hand-holds, the clips.

“Do you have a theory about what we just witnessed?” he asked, and got to his knees to make certain he’d gotten all the shit from underneath.

“I have a theory why it fucked you in the head so hard. Wanna hear it?”

“I’ve heard this theory, Luce. I’m not in love with Nick.”

“Maybe not. But you don’t like the idea of someone else owning him the way his friend, there, wanted to own him. Or did you not notice that part?”

“I can’t draw any conclusions from a man I saw for two minutes at the other end of a dark hallway.”

“You didn’t notice him on the floor?”

He looked up. “You did?”

“He noticed me. I always notice the ones who notice me.”


“He wasn’t intimidated, not even when I looked right back. I was pretty impressed.”

Hugh digested that and got up to sit on the bench itself, absently testing the uprights with his hands. “They didn’t look that friendly to me.”

“Then you’re blind.”

“Nick looked irritated.”

“Nick looked like he was fighting himself every step he took away. Give it up, Hugh. You must have seen that.” She advanced. “Ass up? It’s not nearly high enough.”

“He doesn’t want it for spanking. It’s an old fantasy.”

“Guy wants to be tied to a bench and not spanked? Please. Well, go on, work whatever position you’re going for and we’ll play with it.”

“Too many gym porn movies, I think.” Hugh stood up, rounded the bench. “You’re right, though. Too low and too narrow.”

That’s not the only thing I’m right about.

“Depends on what he wants you to do to him once he’s there.”

He shot her a sour look. “He wants six big black men to come in and rape him, Luce.”

“Oh, it’s definitely too low for that. They’d hurt their knees. Baby, fuck him with a dildo, smack his dick around, maybe torture his nips a little. Done, voila.”


“Play loud music, too. You can work a pretty good scene with loud music and a blindfold. You like WD? You’re putting a lot of thought into this, pet.”

He hated the nickname. But he hid it a little bit better this time than he had last time, so maybe he was learning.

“He’s old, and he’s career Navy, married forty years until his wife died in a car accident. I guess I feel for him. All those years, surrounded by men, terrified he’d be found out. I don’t know. I want to give him his fantasy. You think that makes me a horrible sap, Luce?”

“I think one of these days you should find someone who can give you your fantasies, baby. All right. I got it. You’re gonna have to cinch the knots on the bar down better than anything else, so you can do his legs. Lie back.”

Hugh contemplated the bench doubtfully. “Back?”

“You put him ass-up, you can’t stabilize him. It’ll have to be on his back. But I have ideas.”

They worked in silence for awhile. Lucy lost herself to knots and measurements and let Hugh do all the cuts with his pocket knife. By the time Nick came in, she had him pretty well bound, hands over his head, legs spread, tied to the uprights.

“You trying to fuck him like that?” Nick asked, surveying Hugh from different angles.

“That’s the idea. No?”

Nick shook his head, and squatted down. “No. Your force would be going in the wrong direction. The bench is built for an up-down stress. You’re talking about pushing it side-side. It’s not reinforced to withstand that kind of pressure. Unless you plan to be gentle.” He reached out to tap Hugh’s cheek.

“Not so much,” Hugh said. And sure as hell, leaned into Nick’s hand. “Who was he?”

“Every single answer to that question is ‘none of your fucking business.’” Nick stood. “Let me know if you need another consult, Luce, I’m doing a walk around.”

“Got it.”

The door closed.

“You are a fucking fool. Jesus, Hugh.”

“Untie me please.”

She could ramp him up to desperate with a couple of words, because Hugh had been there before.

Lucy sighed and began with his hands, so he could help with his feet. Fucking past trauma really screwed with her ability to have a good time while tying up her friends.

“I’m worried for his safety.”

“Liar. Nick can take care of himself. And you saw exactly what I saw: that guy, whoever the hell he was, reigned himself in, even though he didn’t want to, even though everything in him wanted to nail Nick to the fucking wall. Hell, he probably has better self-control than I do.”

“No one has better self-control than you, Luce.” He glanced at the door. “I should—”

“Absofuckinglutely not. Bend over this way. But you’d need padding. No way you’re playing that scene without chafing him over the bar.”

Hugh didn’t even bother. “Damn. Well, I can still do it, I just can’t give him quite the scene he’s looking for.”

“Uh huh. Hugh. What the hell’s going on with you and Nick?”

“Nothing. Or the same as always. One of us shows up, and if the other’s bored—” He shrugged.

He believed it, too. Insight like a tornado, his own inclinations the eye of the storm, untouched and unexamined.

Well. Over-examined, in Hugh’s case, though no more known for all his bloody fucking processing.

“You had him backed up against the wall when I got here,” Lucy said, and watched his face.

“I misjudged. Evidently. Is Jazzy okay?”

“She’s a fucking dumbass, but she’s fine, Maria keeps saying.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“The husband has a thing for barely-pubescent girls. Which seemed less creepy to me when I was eleven and he was hot, but apparently any evidence he’s been keeping his dick in his pants was greatly exaggerated.”

“Luce. Jesus.”

“Well, he never fucked me, baby, because Jazz was older and had that delightful mix of boyish figure and big tits. Fucking idiots. If I’d been older, I’d’ve taken her in for birth control and she wouldn’t have married the sonofabitch. That’s not a figure of speech, by the way; his mom’s a real treat.”

“What happened?”

“The parents of his latest—ah, well, she’d consider herself his girlfriend, but of course I consider her a fourteen year old—her parents were a lot less impressed by his portfolio of arrests and bar fights than Tia Lucia was back in the day.”

“No doubt the list was shorter then.”

Lucy met his eyes, and even though she braced for it, the force of his goddamn x-ray vision almost bowled her over.

“Perhaps just a beating,” Hugh said. “For you, naturally, since there’s absolutely nothing you can do about him. Or Jazzy. Your cousins are with her?”

“I’m not real reassured by the repetition of ‘she’s fine,’ but she took some pills and crashed.”

“He’s not in jail?”

“For fucking a little Latina slut? Who’re you kidding? I doubt they even called the cops, but the mom called Jazzy to tell her just what flavor creep she was married to. You know, I should have gone after the kid’s dad. I bet he’d be all over killing the bastard.”

Nick came back in, ignoring them and walking around the bench again.

“But instead of killing someone you’re gonna go pick up meat at a bar?” Hugh asked. “By which I mean you either say yes or you come home and get drunk with me. I’m free.”

“Was that a dig at Nicky?”

“What?” Comical confusion.

“Never mind. New ideas, baby?”

“Maybe. That depends.” Nick looked up. “How flexible is Wrinkled Dick?”

“He’s not arthritic.”

“Might be good enough. Come here.”

Lucy caught her breath. Because oh fucking yes, Nicky going all dominant about something that wasn’t reps and sets? Mm. Delicious.

“What’s your thought?”

Nick nudged him up to the bench and reached around him to grab the bar off the rack and slide it to the floor. (Despite having a body she liked very much, thanks, it was hard not to admire Nick’s strength. What’s a bar, thirty, forty pounds? It might as well have been a cheap curtain rod for the way Nick handled it.)

“What if we did it with no bar?” he said, and pressed into Hugh. “Bend over there, between the uprights.”

“I thought this was working against the appropriate directional force.” But he went. He allowed Nick to bend him between the damn struts, kick his legs open over the part of the bench meant for someone’s head.

“The question is, where do you put your ties?” Nick, taller than Hugh, followed him over.

Nobody mind me, Lucy thought. I’ll just stand here and jack off while the boys demo weight bench restraints.

“Straight arms aren’t going to work,” Hugh said. “I have no stability like this. Maybe if I—” He bent both arms and held his elbows, bracing himself on his forearms.

“You could do a wrist tie, but the twist would be off. Depends on how much he likes to remember his ropes the next day.”

“Not much. He could hide it, I suppose. The fantasy means something to him.” Hugh shifted, tried it with his head down on his arms. “I don’t know, Nick. Isn’t this the same force in the same direction?”

“But at the strongest part of the bench.” Nick extended one hand to the back of Hugh’s neck and held his waist with the other. He thrust, experimentally. “You see? But I still wouldn’t exactly unleash on him.” He thrust again, harder, but the bench held strong.

Lucy chewed her lips to keep from saying any of the eight thousand things that came to mind. If she drew their attentions to it, if she said it out loud, it would end, and they’d go back to whatever tense truce they’d had before.

“I’m still not sure it’s worth it,” Hugh said.

“Well, let me at least tie you down, so you can test it.” Lucy pushed off the wall and tried not to sound eager.

“How necessary is that?”

“It’s your pajama party, princess, but there’s not much point of doing this without testing the way you’d be doing it.”

“Did you just call me ‘princess?’”

“She really did.” Nick moved away, still critiquing body and bench. “Tell him to buy furniture and you’ll tie him to that and make him believe he’s in a gym, Hugh.”

“Nick’s right.” She began to tie his ankle.

“If Nick’s right, why are we still doing this?”

“Because you, pet, lost a bet.”


“Because Lucy needs to concentrate on something other than murder,” Nick said. “Right?”

She rolled her eyes and tightened the two parallel ropes she was coiling up Hugh’s leg and the strut, then tied them off. “You going into Hugh’s line of work all of a sudden?”

“I’m sure it’s immaterial that I’m distinctly uncomfortable right now.”

“Pretty much,” Nick said, as he sat down on the bench. He laid a hand on Hugh’s back. “Gives you a better idea what WD will be going through, right? Anyway, you can tell us, Luce. You want to beat him to death?”

“Nah. Not scary enough. I want to tie him up and carve off little pieces while he watches. Way more scary. How much do you think I could cut off his dick before he went mad?”

“Start with his balls.”

“Agreed. But tie them first, obviously.”

Lucy, already kneeling at Hugh’s other ankle, glanced up at them: Hugh, still leaning, upside down, and Nick, his hand still resting on Hugh. “Well, obviously. Wouldn’t want the little buggers to escape. There’s a guy who could use a good sexual assault. You think six big black men would turn him off little girls for good? I mean for the fifteen or so minutes he survived between them being done and me finishing him?”

“Some luck with chemical castration, though it’s not exactly a revolution,” Hugh offered.

She bent to work on his ankle.

“Plus, it would take too long,” Nick added. “Hm. I don’t know. You could, on the side of not actually killing him, do something really horrific to his face, disfigure him. You gotta figure it’d be harder to seduce children if you look like you fought with a lawn mower and lost. Unless he’s really the creepy stranger in the alley with the knife.”

“No. Right the first time. He’s a charmer. Something a little off about him that maybe one in twenty people would notice.” Lucy finished the second tie and ran her hands up the ropes. (Hugh, poor, sensation-deprived Hugh, shivered.)

“Would we notice?” Hugh asked.

“Nick would notice, if he walked in here. You’d notice, not from afar, but if you spoke to him. You’d feel it. You would not introduce him to your teenagers at the school.”

“Fourteen, you said? My freshmen are fourteen.”

Lucy rocked back in time to see the light caress of Nick’s fingers along Hugh’s spine. “I keep trying to tell myself it’s better that she was old enough to believe she was consenting, to allow her own seduction, to participate, but I wonder if that just puts the ugliness off for awhile.”

She stood up, gestured to Nick, who surrendered the arm not on Hugh.

“Right now she’s pissed off, she’s embarrassed that everyone knows her business, she’s ashamed her papi is looking at her, knowing she’s been with a man. But she’s no victim. Hell no. She’ll be pissed off and righteous, and she’ll think she made all the right calls. But not forever. She’ll be sitting in a coffee shop someday and it’ll hit her, that they were never in it together the way she thought, that he played her up and down, that he took advantage of her and used her and laughed at her all along.”

She wove her rope up to Nick’s elbow, tied it off clean so the end dangled and reached for another. But his other arm was on Hugh, which she liked.

Nick held the arm with the rope band out to the side and she nodded. A harness. A nice harness was a good distraction.

She found the longest cut of rope she had and began again, over his neck, knotting down his sternum, once, twice, a third and fourth knot. A fifth, that she would not have needed if she was doing this with Hugh, but Nick was tall.

Nick passed the rope between his legs and she ran it up his back.

“I want to see into the future. I want to tell her we’ve all done stupid shit, and ultimately none of it fucking matters. You get out of bed, you go to the grocery store, you live your goddamn life. But I’ve seen kids like this before, and it’s gonna hang over her, that she wasn’t strong enough to see what he was doing, that she was duped.”

“We’ve all been duped, too,” Nick murmured, as she knelt in front of him to weave new knots into the old ones.

She looked up and he met her gaze, but his eyes were more raw than they had been, when she was talking less theory. She flashed, again, to the mystery man in the hallway. Duped, huh? Oh, Nicky.

“I don’t know. There’s absolutely nothing I can do, and even killing him probably won’t make me feel better.”

“And there’s that whole prison issue,” Hugh said.

“You boys want to get drunk tonight?”

“Come over to the apartment. I’ll make food. Or, actually, you guys make food and I’ll be there when I close up here.”

“Yeah, all right,” Lucy said, finishing her harness. She stepped back. “You look good in ropes, Nicky.”

“So I’ve heard.”

Hugh picked his head up and went very still. “Oh god.”

“Ha. He’d hump you except he’s tied to the bench.”

“Let Hugh loose, mistress.” Nick adjusted the tension of the ropes over his shoulders. “Nice work, Luce. Very comfortable.”

“Jesus. Nick.” Hugh walked himself upright with his hands and just fucking stood there, mesmerized, still bound.

Nick twirled for him, out of reach. “You like? You want me to wear them the rest of the night, Hugh?”

“I would fucking pay you,” Hugh said reverently. “You’ve never let me put you in a harness.”

“Because you think you’re doing it for me. Lucy knew she was doing it because she wanted something to do with her hands.” Nick bent down to kiss her cheek. “Untie Reynolds, okay?”

“You are no fucking fun.”

“I’m fun enough.” He waved his fingers. “Get out of my gym and make my dinner, you two. I’ll see you later.”

“Is he really—”

The door shut behind him.

“Gonna close the gym tonight in ropes over his clothes,” Lucy said. “Oh fuck me, I love that boy. He was a very good find, Hugh.” She knelt and began un-winding him.

“I’m not in love with him. This is not that.”

“Sure, kiddo. Keep telling yourself that.”

Hugh sighed. “This is—he’s the first person who looked at me and saw past the…awkwardness. I suppose Ethan did, as well, but he twisted everything he saw until I didn’t know myself.”

“I saw you, baby.”

“It’s different. Nick saw me and I was someone he wanted. And now he can barely look at me and I have no idea what I’ve done.”

“Oh, honey. That’s not really about you.” She tugged the last of the ropes free and took up all the ends together, smoothing them into one handful of rope lengths.

“No? Because when he can’t look me in the eye it feels like it’s about me, Luce.” He stepped away from the bench and shook out his arms and legs.

“No, baby. That’s something else. You just came on too strong at the wrong moment.”

Hugh shook his head. “You see why I’m confused.”

“Adapt, pet. You’ve got more than one play, Hugh.”

“But this is the one Nick likes.”

“Clearly not right now, he doesn’t. Jesus, Hugh. He just waits around for dominant assholes to ravish him? Yeah, baby, that shit has nothing to do with you. And you know, if you shut the fuck up and stop badgering him, he might even tell you what it does have to do with.”

“I can’t believe he let you do a fucking harness.”

“I’m pretty irresistible. I just blew a little twink in the ladies’ locker room, baby, I earned that harness.”

“You did not.”

“Oh, I did.”

“Did you pay him?”

Lucy staggered, like he’d wounded her. “Fuck you, did I pay him. No. I told him I was trying to win a bet.”

“You cheated! Damn you, Luce! You cheat every fucking time.”

“I know. I don’t know why a clever boy like you keeps betting, but here we are. You ready to go?”

“Yeah. Still not quite sure what to do with WD.”

“Nick has the right idea. He’s gotta buy something built to take a pounding.”

“Or I have to get more creative with what he has.”

“Enough of your client, Hugh. What’re we doing for dinner?”

“As if you’re not going to demand Andrew’s.”

“Hey, Nicky said ‘make,’ so if you want to stop at a grocery store instead—”

“Be quiet. But you’d better call in your order before they shut down the kitchen. Get Nick a salad, he’s off grains and nightshades again.”

“He kills me. I’m getting extra nightshades, just to fuck with him.”

“Oh, that’s charming. Do you even know what a nightshade is, Luce?”

“Please, gringo. I’ll put my culinary knowledge up against yours any day.”

Hugh grinned. “Want to bet?”