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by Nicki Bennett, Ariel Tachna
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Exploring Limits Series Book Four Just when castmates Jonathan Braedon, Devon Aldridge, and Kit Webster think they've found a balance in their three-sided relationship, a specter from Devon's past returns to haunt him. The Dom who taught Devon about BDSM represents everything about the scene Devon fears, and he's now on the Camelot set with every intention of breaking up the lovers, reclaiming his sub, and leaving chaos in his wake.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: September 2010
14 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [181 KB]
Reading time: 117-164 min.
* * * *
He strained wildly against the restraints, but the metal only cut into his wrists, adding a trickle of blood to the sweat that coated his clammy skin. The blindfold kept him from seeing, the ball gag kept him from crying out, but nothing could keep the walls from pressing down on him, crushing him beneath their relentless weight. He fought for a lungful of air, but he couldn't catch his breath, couldn't stop the trembling that shook him as the dark and the cold and the silence closed around him. He'd buried him here, and he'd never get out, never get away....
A hoarse cry broke the stillness of the late summer night. Devon Aldridge's arms flailed against empty air as he struggled, shivering when the warm breeze wafted over his sweaty skin. His arm struck something and he recoiled wildly, pulling away with another raw sound.
Knocked out of a sound sleep by Devon's harsh cry and a glancing blow of his elbow, Kit Webster shook his head, trying to wake up enough for rational speech. "Devon?" he asked softly, not wanting to wake their third lover if Devon's cry had not already done so.
"Devon?" Jonathan Braedon muttered groggily, pushing his hair out of his eyes as he reached for where his lover should have been lying curled against him. His eyes fluttered open when his hand met only empty space and cool sheets. "What's wrong, babe?"
Kit sighed. So much for not waking Jonathan. Since they were all awake anyway, he leaned over and switched on the lamp. His eyes widened when he saw Devon huddled in one corner of the bed, knees drawn up to his chest, shivering violently. Pushing back the covers, he knelt up, trying to catch Devon's eye. "What's wrong, luv?" he asked.
Devon blinked as the voices penetrated his nightmare--warm voices, caring voices--his lovers' voices. The sudden snap of the light revealed not the dank crawlspace of his nightmare, but the familiar bedroom of Jonathan's rental house. Kit and Jonathan stared at him with wide eyes and worried expressions.
Jonathan couldn't imagine what might have disturbed Devon so much, but it didn't matter now; he had to do something to ease the panicked look in his lover's eyes. He slid over the sheets, reaching forward slowly to stroke Devon's leg, his touch as gentle as if he were calming Hengroen, the horse he rode in his role as Arthur in the Camelot mini-series that had brought them together. When Devon didn't pull away from his hand, he moved closer, pulling the shaking man into a loose embrace. "It's okay, babe," he murmured, his voice low and as soothing as he could make it. "Ssshh, it's okay."
Devon allowed himself half a dozen heartbeats resting in Jonathan's strong arms before swinging his legs off the edge of the bed and sitting up. "Sorry about that," he muttered, trying to force his voice to sound light-hearted. "Probably shouldn't have eaten that leftover curry right before bed--bloody indigestion's giving me the heebie jeebies!"
Kit frowned, looking to Jonathan for guidance. It seemed an awfully pat answer for what appeared more than just a simple nightmare. He wanted to push, to insist on a better explanation, but he wasn't sure that was the best path to follow.
Shrugging at Kit's questioning gaze, Jonathan returned his attention to the man beside him. He'd dealt with a pre-teen son long enough to recognize an attempt at distraction when he saw one. Tugging unconsciously at his earlobe, he moved next to Devon, putting an arm around the bigger man's shoulders, relieved that at least they were no longer shaking. He tried to think of a clever response to draw Devon out, but he was too worried to be subtle. "Don't try and bullshit us, Devon, that wasn't something you ate giving you agita. What's going on?"
Kit scooted to Devon's other side, his arm going around his fellow countryman's waist, waiting for an answer.
Devon really didn't want to have this discussion, but he knew Jonathan wasn't going to let it drop that easily. Rubbing his hand through his hair, he sighed. "It was just a nightmare, Jon. Maybe a delayed reaction to the bloody helicopter ride or something."
"That was over a week ago, Devon!" Jonathan protested. He knew how much Devon hated flying, even when it was the fastest way to rescue him and Kit from the mudslide that had trapped them on their way to location filming, but he couldn't believe that was still bothering Devon. His hands traced over his lover's shoulders, feeling the tension in the set of the broad muscles. "At least tell us what the nightmare was about," he urged, kneading the tight deltoids with gentle pressure.
"My mum always said talking about a nightmare took away its power," Kit added. "It always worked for me. It isn't as frightening when you think about it calmly."
Feeling like the world's biggest prat for making the two of them worry, Devon shook his head. He should have been stronger, should have been able to keep his reaction inside, but Robert's call had shaken him even more badly than he'd realized. "It was just... I was trapped. Underground. You might have noticed I don't do small spaces well." He swallowed hard, hoping at least part of the truth would be enough to convince his all-too-perceptive lovers that it was just a random bad dream.
Devon's answer was too calculatedly casual, but Jonathan didn't know what good it would serve to push any further. Obviously, the other man didn't intend to share whatever was troubling him. Trying his best not to feel shut out, Jonathan settled for pulling Devon back down beside him on the wide bed. Holding him close as Kit spooned against their lover's other side after flicking off the light, Jonathan ran his hand through the tousled golden hair. "Go back to sleep, babe," he whispered, too wide awake himself to close his eyes. "We've got an early call."
* * * *
Kit didn't know what was going on, but Devon had been off his game all day. His takes had gotten a little better as lunchtime neared, Lancelot's persona winning out finally over Devon's fatigue; but then, during lunch, Kit saw Devon on the phone, talking very agitatedly, and it seemed he never had recovered. Concerned, Kit decided to see if he could catch Jonathan alone for a minute. Fortunately, Niall was finished with Lancelot, but he wanted to shoot an interaction between Arthur and Percival one more time, giving Kit the opportunity he sought as they walked back to the trailer once the director was finished with them. "Did Devon seem to be acting odd to you?" he asked.
"I thought at first he was just tired," Jonathan agreed, rubbing his beard with the back of his knuckles. "Even after he fell back asleep last night, he was pretty restless. But he's pulled some all-nighters before this and never blown his lines the way he did today. He wasn't Lancelot, and that isn't like Devon at all."
Kit sighed, a mixture of relief and concern. At least he wasn't the only one who'd noticed. "He was doing better right up until he got a call at lunchtime," Kit added, not sure Jonathan had seen Devon on the phone. "Do you suppose it was his ex-wife calling and making problems over the divorce?" They had talked about Devon's divorce on more than one occasion. It was one of the few things that really seemed to tear Devon up.
"Maybe, but usually when he's dealing with Marcy or the lawyers he gets quiet. Today he seemed"--Jonathan paused, searching for the right word--"brittle, maybe, like he was angry but trying to hide it by joking around." He shook his head with a frown. "Whatever it is, he obviously doesn't want to talk about it."
"So you think we should just ignore it?" Kit asked, surprised. "I mean, he seemed really upset. I hate to see him like that." He paused, thinking for a moment. "You know what it reminds me of?"
"What?" Jonathan asked. He didn't want to just ignore something that was troubling Devon so deeply, but he wasn't sure what they could do to help if their stubborn lover wouldn't confide in them.
"The day we went to the beach house," Kit replied, "when Devon was in such a mood. You remember, he told us a little about his"--he looked around to make sure no one was within earshot--"past. It reminds me of the mood he was in that day."
Jonathan nodded slowly, considering Kit's insight. Not for the first time, he thought how much the people who only saw Kit's beauty and charm underestimated the younger man. He had a sensitivity to the emotions of others that Jonathan envied. "But once we got him to the beach, he was fine," the actor reflected. "I thought we'd convinced him we didn't hold his past against him--in fact, I thought we'd made it pretty clear that under the right circumstances we even enjoyed it." He couldn't hold back a small grin as he remembered just how much they'd all enjoyed Devon's dominance that weekend.
"So what changed?" Kit mused. "Could we have done something that triggered another memory? Or I could be miles off the mark, and it could be something totally different. I really think we should at least ask him." He paused outside the door to their trailer, wanting to be in agreement with Jonathan before they stepped inside and faced Devon.
"You're right," Jonathan agreed, "we have to ask. I'm just not sure that in the mood he's in he won't think we're ganging up on him."
"Do you want to talk to him alone?" Kit suggested, seeing the sense in Jonathan's concern. "Or I could, if you'd prefer."
"Let's see how he's doing now that filming's done for the day first," Jonathan suggested. Kit's idea made sense, but a part of him didn't want either of them to question Devon alone. As unlikely as it seemed at the beginning, they'd managed to make their unconventional threesome work, and his gut told him whatever the problem was, they needed to solve it together.
Kit nodded and opened the door. Stacy and Carol were inside waiting for them, but there was no sign of Devon. Putting on his best face, Kit stepped into the trailer and smiled at the girls. "Is Devon finished already?" he asked, playing up his surprise.
"He was here and gone in about fifteen minutes," Stacy confirmed. "He didn't say much, but I got the impression he was in a bit of a hurry."
"Yeah," Carol agreed, "he didn't even tease us about our plans for the night the way he usually does."
Jonathan's eyes met Kit's over the pictures of his son that covered one corner of his make-up mirror. The fact that Devon hadn't waited for them worried Jonathan even more than his unusual edginess during the day. Something was definitely wrong, and whether it upset Devon more or not, they needed to find out what it was.
Kit saw the determination on Jonathan's face and nodded slightly. They would finish up here and get home as quickly as possible so they could get to the bottom of this. Pasting on a passable smile, he looked at Carol. "So, what are your plans for the evening?"
Jonathan closed his eyes and let his mind drift as Stacy worked, only half listening to Kit's and Carol's chatter. He couldn't help but worry that their confronting Devon would only serve to drive their prickly lover further away. They had no choice but to try, though. They'd just have to make Devon see that they weren't trying to pry--their concern for him was based in love. He was startled when Stacy broke him out of his reverie with a nudge of his shoulder. "Go home and get some sleep in your own bed, Jonathan," she teased.
"Who says he'll be anywhere near his own bed?" Kit replied with an impish grin. "Last I heard, the King had plans for the evening."
"My only plans right now involve finding some food," Jonathan laughed, careful before the make-up girls to keep his tone teasing. He picked up Excalibur from where it leaned against the side of their wardrobe closet, having gotten in the habit of taking it home with him when they left the set so he could practice his swordplay during their rare free time. "C'mon, Percival, let's see if we can hunt down the King's champion and see if he'll join us."
"I could eat," Kit agreed, levering himself out of his chair and heading toward the door. "See you tomorrow, girls," he added as he stepped out into the cooling night air, shutting the door behind them when Jonathan joined him.
Inside the trailer, Stacy paused in putting away the cleansing supplies and straightening the counter. She met Carol's eyes speculatively. "You think...?" she asked.
Carol looked at the door, then back at Stacy. "Nah," they said in unison after a moment, returning to their work so they could get on with their own plans for the evening.
* * * *
After Devon's uncharacteristic behavior all day, Jonathan wasn't sure they'd find him at home, but he was relieved to see Devon's car parked in the drive as they pulled up behind it. He cocked an eyebrow at Kit, then shrugged. "Looks like the lion came back to his den after all," he muttered. "Let's see if we can find out what's got him so worked up."
Kit nodded and got out of the car, waiting for Jonathan before walking to the door and inside. They no longer knocked at each other's houses, having long since exchanged keys. Deciding to opt for humor, Kit chirped, "Hi, honey, we're home."
Devon grimaced, draining his tumbler of scotch and giving serious consideration to downing another before facing his lovers. At least they didn't seem to be irritated at him for leaving without a word to them. He knew he should try to think up some plausible excuse, but he was still too shaken by the day's events to think of anything clever. Falling back on his experience that partial honesty was the best policy, he turned to greet them, rubbing the back of his head which really did ache. "Sorry for leaving like that," he grumbled. "I've had the headache from hell all day, and when Niall cut me loose, all I could think of was getting home and taking something to get rid of it."
Kit crossed to where Devon was sitting on the couch, taking the glass from his hand and setting it on the table. "If it's a headache that's bothering you, this isn't the cure. I'm sure Jonathan will get you a glass of water. Close your eyes and let me see if I can help you relax," he suggested, his fingers going to Devon's neck to probe the tense muscles.
Carrying the tumbler and the half-empty bottle into the kitchen, Jonathan returned with a fresh glass of ice water and the bottle of aspirin he'd retrieved from Devon's kitchen cabinet. He set the water on the table and shook out two tablets, handing them to Devon with a comforting smile before he knelt at the blond's feet, pulling off his shoes and socks and setting them off to the side. Taking one of the strong, slender feet in his hands, he began to rub it soothingly, alternating long, gentle strokes with firmer pressure at the reflexology points on the instep and the base of the toes. "Just relax and let us take care of you, Devon," he urged, watching his lover's face as both he and Kit continued their ministrations.
Letting his eyelids fall closed, Devon arched his shoulders, trying to let go of his tension beneath his lovers' calming touches. This is what's real, he told himself. This is what I need to concentrate on. The hell with what that bastard said. The pounding ache that had inhabited his skull all day long was finally beginning to ease when the ring of the telephone sounded from the kitchen. His eyes snapping open with a start, Devon jumped to his feet before either of the other men could think to answer it.
"What the fuck?" Kit muttered, looking at Jonathan. He got up and started after Devon. He had no idea what was going on in Devon's head, but it was past time they found out.
Jonathan caught Kit's arm, preventing him from following Devon and pulling him back to wrap his arms around the younger man's narrow hips. "Let him go, Kit-Kat," he urged, looking up at his irritated lover from where he still knelt at the foot of the couch. "We'll find out what's bothering him, but he won't appreciate feeling like we're eavesdropping or spying on him."
"It just eats at me to see him so upset." Kit gestured helplessly toward the kitchen. "There's got to be something we can do for him. Something."
"Let's get him fed and take him to bed," Jonathan answered with a waggle of his eyebrows and a leering smile. "Between the two of us, I think we can find some way to clear up his bad mood." He rested his chin on Kit's hipbone, his expression sobering. "And after that, we'll talk."
His pulse slowing with relief, Devon couldn't help but smile when he walked back into the parlor to see his lovers embracing. "Starting without me again?" he growled playfully, hoping the teasing would distract them from the near-panic with which he'd run for the phone. "That was Niall. He wants me in early tomorrow for some re-shoots of my scene with Guinevere with new and improved dialogue."
"We were just waiting for you," Kit replied with a grin, relieved to see the black cloud lifted, at least for the moment. "How does dinner sound? I bet we could convince Jonathan to cook if we asked him nicely."
Jonathan glanced up at Devon with a smile in his eyes. They'd keep it light and playful for now; Devon needed relaxation, not confrontation. "And after that, we'll see what else we can cook up," he drawled, reaching a hand out to invite their lover to rejoin them.
* * * *
Cold sweat trickled down his back as he fought to steady his breathing. He couldn't fail again, that was why he was here in the first place, but he could feel the walls closing in on him with each shuddering breath. He twisted against the cramp in his shoulder blade--he'd wrenched it during his struggles, and the cruel pull of the restraints behind his raw back made it worse. The movement sent a shower of damp earth falling over his face, and he couldn't hold back the moan of terror as his lungs seized and his limbs twitched in a futile need to break free, to claw his way out of here, to escape....
Devon's struggles and his sudden cry woke Jonathan with a start. His arms tightened instinctively around the thrashing limbs, but that only made Devon fight harder, his elbow striking Jonathan hard in the chest. "Devon!" he cried, letting go and raising his hands instead to hold the shaggy blond head still. "Devon, wake up. It's okay, it's me, Jonathan," he murmured, trying to keep his own fear out of his voice.
Jonathan's cry woke Kit as well. Shite! he thought. Here we go again. He settled his hands on Devon's shoulders, kneading soothingly as he added his own soft murmurs to Jonathan's. He didn't know how to get Devon to open up to them, but this had to stop.
Devon's eyes snapped open to meet Jonathan's, his lover's gaze wide with love and concern in the darkened bedroom. He drew a ragged breath and shook his head, the warmth of Jonathan's hands at his temples and Kit's on his shoulders grounding him from the last remnants of the nightmare's terrors. He raised a palm to scrub at his face, horrified to discover his cheek damp with tears. "Fuck," he whispered, wiping at the other cheek in turn. "Fuck, I'm sorry."
"You don't have anything to apologize for," Jonathan insisted, pulling Devon forward to rest their foreheads together. "But you have to tell us what's doing this to you, babe. Let us help you."
Kit's hands drifted lower over Devon's back. "You're covered in sweat!" he observed, surprised. This wasn't just a bad dream. Devon was having night terrors! "Why don't you go with Jonathan and have a quick shower while I get us all a drink, and then we'll talk."
Still half caught in the submissive mindset of the dream, Devon was unresisting as Jonathan helped him to his feet and led him toward the bathroom, murmuring soothing words and wrapping an arm around his trembling shoulders. "The water will make you feel better," Jonathan promised, his eyes meeting Kit's in concern over their lover's lowered head.
Seeing Jonathan and Devon disappear into the bathroom, Kit scampered down the steps in search of the brandy and three glasses. He was putting them all on a tray to take back upstairs when the phone rang. Frowning as he glanced at the clock, he wondered who could be calling at such a late hour. Niall had phoned earlier, so surely it wasn't him. "Hello?" he said, picking up the receiver.
Silence stretched on the other end of the line as the caller processed the realization that Devon hadn't answered the phone. So the big blond wasn't spending his nights alone! This could be even more intriguing than he'd hoped. "Have you worn Devon out?" he rumbled in amusement.
"Who is this?" Kit demanded, not recognizing the voice but taking offense at the insinuating tone.
"Tsk, tsk," the caller chuckled softly. "You haven't earned the right to ask any questions... yet." The voice hardened into a tone of command. "Tell Devon I'll be expecting an introduction." Not bothering to wait for a reply, he severed the connection, his groin tightening in anticipation. Oh yes, this would be good, very good indeed.
Kit frowned, looking down at the tray. Tea might well have been a better choice, but especially after that phone call, he needed a brandy. Picking up the platter, he headed back upstairs to see if Jonathan and Devon were finished and to join them if they were not.