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by Mickie B. Ashling
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Sequel to Cutting Cords Five years into their relationship, Sloan Driscoll's peaceful existence is suddenly upended. His lover, Cole Fujiwara, gives him an ultimatum: agree to a surrogate birth or break up. Noriko Evans, a beautiful woman of Japanese/American descent, is handpicked by Cole's father to be the surrogate. At the same time, Trent Hamilton, model and established Dominant, sets his eyes on Sloan, offering him another life choice. Sloan is thrown off balance by this series of events he can neither understand nor control. He'd thought the topic of children had been laid to rest years ago, but with the advent of a new form of genetic testing, Cole's fear of passing on retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that leads to blindness, has been greatly reduced. Noriko's abrupt appearance threatens Sloan, as does Sloan's attraction to Trent and a side of the BDSM world he'd never thought to explore. Will Sloan be able to muster the inner strength he'll need to deal with one shocking revelation after another, or will he succumb to a dangerous coping mechanism? His decisions will either lead to salvation... or hasten the end of the relationship that literally saved his life.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: November 2011
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [300 KB]
Reading time: 184-257 min.
The sun was starting to creep over the horizon when Reiko awoke. She could tell what time it was by the faint rays of light filtering through the blinds, illuminating her small bedroom. There was no need to look at the clock. She was a creature of habit and had always risen at dawn, eager to start her day long before anyone else stirred. She lay on her futon for a few more minutes, enjoying the warmth of the thick down comforter that covered her frail body. Soon, she would have to fling it off and brave the frosty air to begin this momentous day. It had been a decade since she had awoken with such a feeling of anticipation, and she forced herself to rise, knowing it would take more time to achieve the desired result because she would have to do it herself.
The okiya was silent as she moved about slowly, preparing her morning tea. Reiko remembered a time when the dawning had resonated with the tittering voices of young women on the brink of maturity. The geishas in training, the maiko, had occupied her every waking moment since she had taken over as okaa-san of her own house fifty years ago. Her days had been productive then, abounding with important decisions that could improve or destroy someone's life. She had trained a legion of women in the ancient art of being a geiko and had ruled with an iron hand, but time had been her enemy and the modern world her undoing. The traditions that were an integral part of her universe since she was fourteen years old no longer applied in this century when transactions were completed on cell phones and e-mails. The mizuage was a thing of the past, and the services of a geisha no more necessary than the hefty price tag that came with equipping them. The kimonos and obis that had cost thousands of yen and had once lined the walls of one room, had been sold one by one to support her, now that she could no longer count on the income generated by the karyukai. The disadvantage of living well into her eighties was that she'd run out of money, and the meager amount she received from her government pension was hardly enough to keep a tiny sliver of fish in her rice bowl.
Yesterday's phone call had been a most welcome surprise, and an opportunity she had jumped on with the eagerness of a sixty-year-old. Her arthritis and assorted aches and pains were forgotten in the momentary rush of excitement at being at the center of an undoubtedly protracted negotiation. Fujiwara-san had been very specific about his needs, and Reiko was pleased that, once again, she was in a position to provide a service.
She adjusted the magnifying mirror and gazed at her face dispassionately. Who was that old lady with the skin of a desiccated mushroom? No one she knew. Reiko's mental picture of herself had not changed through the years. She was still the beautiful geisha who had elicited voluminous praise from those who had been lucky enough to be graced by her elegant presence. Her mizuage had broken records, and when Hiro Fujiwara, Ken's father, had paid the astronomical figure to become her patron, she'd reached the pinnacle of her career and had become a legend in Kyoto. Now, Hiro's progeny needed a favor, and she was not going to dishonor his memory by greeting Ken-san as an old crone. The white rice powder would hide every wrinkle and imperfection, and the black wig would cover the sparse white hair that barely concealed the mottled skin of her ancient scalp. She reached for the pot of paste and poured water into the dried out concoction and began to mix it with her gnarled fingers. It would take some doing, but she would be presentable in approximately one hour, in time to wrestle with the only formal kimono she had left. By the time her visitor arrived, she would be more than presentable for the tea ceremony she intended to perform with the grace and panache of a geisha in her prime.
* * * *
"It's a wrap," Max said, stepping away from the camera and removing his glasses. "You can relax, Sloan."
Relax? What a concept. I hadn't relaxed in over three months, so his words were meaningless. I pulled out several tissues from the box on the dresser, attempting to scrub off the foundation and lipstick without the creamy solution that would have made the task easier and less damaging to my skin.
"I do plan on using your angelic face tomorrow, so please use the makeup remover, and stop trying to obliterate your features," Max said, giving me dagger looks. "I don't want to deal with any red marks."
"You can airbrush them away," I said, reaching for the jar of cream, however, and applying the white goop liberally. "What are we shooting tomorrow?"
"That means I can get blitzed, and no one will see my eyes."
Max stopped looking at my current photos on his computer and gave me the raised eyebrow. "What's going on, Sloan?"
He wandered over to my side of the room and gathered me in his arms. "What's the matter, darling? You've been out of sorts for weeks."
"I've got stuff on my mind."
"Is it Cole?"
"Isn't it always?"
"I mean medically speaking? Any new developments?"
"You can't get any blinder than blind."
"Stop being a sarcastic shit, and tell me what the hell is going on at your house. You've lost weight, and even though you're still the most beautiful face around, you're starting to fray around the edges. You're not doing anything stupid, are you?" He reached for my arm and pushed up my sleeve.
"Get your hands off me!"
"I'm sorry," Max said softly. "If you would be kind enough to tell me what's going through your lovely head, then maybe I'd leave you alone and not assume the worst."
"Cole wants a kid."
"His old man has been driving us crazy with this need for an heir."
"Well, unless something has changed, and one of you has sprouted a uterus, I don't see how that's possible."
"When you have the kind of money Ken Fujiwara has, you think anything can be bought."
"In case you aren't aware of this important fact, surrogate births are illegal in New York State."
"Is that so? I wonder if Ken knows that."
"Sloan, you're not seriously considering this, are you?"
I could see the concern in Max's eyes, and I knew he wasn't paying lip service. The man had been nothing but kind to me since we met five years ago, and he took me under his wing. Working together hadn't changed anything. He was still my mentor in the world of fashion photography and a devoted friend. Although he'd accepted my relationship with Cole and had respected my boundaries, it was apparent to everyone that I continued to be his "beauty." The primo photo shoots and contracts somehow managed to come my way, and I knew that all I had to do was give him one sign I was interested in starting up the intimate relationship we'd had long ago, and he'd be right on top of it, or below it, depending on his mood. He was twenty years older than me, highly respected in his chosen field, and a renowned Dom for those who participated in Manhattan's BDSM world.
My association with Max Leavitt had made me a household name, earning me millions as the face for Klas Cosmetics, but at the root of our friendship was a sexual attraction that had never faltered on his part, even though it had been snuffed out on my side by my love and commitment to Cole Fujiwara, my partner. Nonetheless, I knew Max cared. He'd understood the demons I'd wrestled with when we'd first met, most of which had been tamped down by my satisfying relationship with Cole. Lately, however, dark thoughts had begun to taunt me in the most frightening way. Max's inspection wasn't too far off the mark, which made it rankle even more.
"I've no choice but to consider a child since Cole and his father have been arguing about this issue for months."
"Didn't you tell me that Cole was terrified he'd pass on the gene that's caused his blindness?"
"It's always been the reason why we've never talked about starting a family. Besides, Cole's sisters had agreed that whosoever had the first grandson would be amenable to retaining the Fujiwara surname. Ken and his illustrious ancestors would be appeased by a male heir. The line would continue and the pressure on Cole would lighten up."
"So what's the problem?"
"They've had females so far. Ken Fujiwara has four granddaughters--not one man-child in sight."
"My sentiments exactly."
"Why is he bugging Cole again?"
"There's a company in New Jersey that can do PGD."
"What the hell is that?"
"Preimplantation genetic diagnosis."
"It's a new method of genetic screening that is performed before an embryo is implanted in a womb. Several genetic mutations or diseases can be ruled out so that only healthy embryos are retained and implanted, thereby eliminating the trauma of abortions performed in the past, when testing had to wait until the third or fourth month of gestation."
"It sounds like a godsend."
"It also allows for gender selection. Ken will be guaranteed a grandson if they go this route."
"You appear quite knowledgeable on this topic."
"I have been immersed in medical lingo for the last four months, Max. It's all Cole and his father talk about."
"You poor thing," Max said, practically cooing and drawing me closer. I lay against his broad chest and sighed in relief for the first time in weeks. It was so good to be able to share my thoughts with someone who knew the dynamics of my relationship with Cole and wouldn't judge me for my concerns.
"What do you want, Sloan?"
"I'd like this to go away. It's not that I have anything against children. I love Cole's nieces, but this whole surrogate business is macabre. It's like something Hollywood conjured: Avatar meets Frankenstein."
"What bothers you the most? Having another responsibility, or is it because a stranger will be carrying Cole's child? Maybe the entire concept of becoming a father is abhorrent."
"It's so premeditated and cold, Max. Shouldn't parenthood be a spontaneous and joyful event?"
"First of all, you're both men, so there's nothing spontaneous about this decision. Secondly, given Cole's genetic problems, you can't afford to be mysterious. The last thing you want is a child with retinitis pigmentosa. I understand where Cole is coming from."
"Intellectually I do, too, but my emotions are all over the place."
"We expected Cole to lose his eyesight, but he'd been holding for a long time, so we became rather complacent. When he went completely blind last year, it was still a shock. Coming to terms with irreversible darkness has not been an easy thing for him. I've been learning how to deal with Cole's mood swings."
"Has he been difficult?"
"He's had a lot of bad moments. Bringing a child into the mix won't be a simple decision. The bottom line is the kid's going to be one more item I'd have to deal with on a daily basis."
"Sloan, babies aren't items. In any case, you have the money to hire a full-time nanny."
"We could have a housekeeper, a chauffeur, and a butler," I pointed out, "but Cole wants none of that. He insists on doing everything and will only accept help from me. Lately though, I've been doing most of the work around the apartment."
"And a baby will just add more to your plate."
"Which is quite full, I might add."
"Oh, Sloan," Max crooned, rocking me gently. I was comforted by his mothering. I didn't even know I'd missed it, but the truth was I was overwhelmed by my responsibilities with Cole and hadn't realized how bad it was until now. "Am I wrong for being so selfish?"
"Sloan, you're one of the most selfless people I know. I haven't seen your brand of caring since the early days of the AIDS epidemic."
"He's not dying, Max."
"No, but you seem to be. Your contented aura is fading, darling. How's your sex life?"
"None of your damn business."
"I hope your needs are being met."
"Give it a rest, will ya? It's all good."
Max cradled my face and kissed me on the lips. "Tell me."
I sighed and turned away. Not ready for that discussion either. Somehow, telling my former lover I wasn't getting much action seemed highly inappropriate, although he knew me well enough to have guessed I wasn't floating on a cloud of sexual satisfaction. Far from it. Cole's libido had been waning since we started the discussion on babies. There wasn't anything I hadn't tried to bring the excitement back into the bedroom, but my efforts had been futile. I was living like a monk. All work and no play made for a very unhappy Sloan.
"Listen, I've got to get going," I said, reluctant to leave Max's cozy embrace but a little concerned that my body was starting to react to the close proximity. And he knew it too. The bastard was taking full advantage and shifted his legs to get closer. "Really, Max. I've got to go."
"What's so pressing?"
You! "Ken and Eileen are stopping by after dinner, and I was requested to attend the meeting."
"It sounds like a command performance."
"It's probably more of this baby shit."
"Keep me informed, will you?"
"I'll do that," I said, relieved when he stepped back. "What time do we start tomorrow?"
"Be here by ten."
"You got it."
* * * *
The cab ride from Max's studio in Tribeca to our apartment in Chelsea was too short to suit me. I wanted more time to mentally prepare myself for this meeting with Cole's parents. Unfortunately, traffic was light since most of the business commuters had long gone, and the cab was in front of our apartment building in no time. It was close to seven in the evening when I inserted my key into the lock. I hoped my in-laws hadn't arrived yet because I wanted to shower and change. They were still a little judgmental about my decision to become a fashion model instead of pursuing my career in graphic arts, but the money was too good to pass up, and although Cole would never lack for funds, I preferred to pay my way. Modeling was a short-lived career anyway. The demand for a younger fresh face would be coming any minute now, so I had to take advantage of every opportunity until then. However, the less they saw of my modeling the better the outcome of the evening. It wasn't smart to show up with any residual eyeliner, and I knew that in my haste to get away from Max's probing questions, I probably missed a few spots.
I heard voices when I stepped into the hall and realized they were already here. My leather rucksack ended up on the table by the door, and I entered the living room prepared for a confrontation. Freddie came up to me immediately, wagging his golden tail and nudging my pocket by way of greeting. I rubbed his head and slipped him a small knot of rawhide before walking up to Cole, who lifted his face for a kiss.
There was a young woman standing between Ken and Eileen. She was staring at her feet, so I only saw the top of her head. She had jet-black hair that covered her face as it fell forward in a silky curtain.
"Sloan," Cole held my hand tightly. "I'd like you to meet Noriko Evans. She's agreed to surrogate for us. She'll be the mother of our son."
I heard what he said, but the explosion going off in my head after his appalling pronouncement rendered me speechless. The mother of our son. What in hell?
Noriko looked up and broached a tentative smile. Her hazel eyes slanted upward but were lacking the epicanthic fold more common in Japanese. Her complexion was flawless, practically glowing with good health, and devoid of any make-up but for a faint hint of blush over her prominent cheekbones. Her lip gloss was a light shade of peach, emphasizing her plump mouth. Bone-straight hair with long bangs that brushed her eyebrows framed her face perfectly. "Hajimemashite, Sloan-san," she said in a soft, melodic voice.
I gaped at her.
"I'm very pleased to meet you," she said, switching to perfect English. She stretched out her hand, hoping to obtain a polite handshake, but my body refused to cooperate. I nodded curtly and left the room.
* * * *
It didn't take but a minute, and Cole was in my face hissing, "Why did you walk out?"
"Would you have preferred that I stay and make a scene? Really, Cole," I spat out furiously, "did you hope that announcing the arrival of the Virgin Mary in front of an audience would make me jump up and down with joy? How fucking stupid do you think I am?"
"Sloan, please don't go off on me. Let me explain."
"There isn't much to explain, is there? You and your parents have obviously arrived at a decision without consulting me."
"Please," Cole said, reaching out for me. I stepped back, hardening my heart even as he groped for me. I moved left to walk out the door, but I underestimated his internal radar as he pounced in my direction and held me tight. "Don't pull away again." He begged this time, and I had no choice but to stay and listen.
"I never told you about Noriko because I didn't know. Mom and Dad showed up with her tonight and presented her to me like a fait accompli. I had no say in the matter."
"What a crock of shit, Cole."
"It's the truth, however stupid it may sound."
"Who is she, anyway? Does she live around here? Does she surrogate for a living?"
"She's from Japan... Kyoto, to be exact. And, no, she's not a professional surrogate. My father talked her into coming to America and doing this for us."
"Where did he find her?"
"I don't know."
"How can you not? That is the most basic question."
"Sloan, she's here to help us start our family."
"Us? You mean she's here to help your father, don't you?"
"I haven't agreed to this plan, and last time I checked I'm your partner and have equal rights in this decision."
Cole frowned, focusing the unseeing blue eyes in my direction. Outwardly, he hadn't changed in the five years we'd been together. There were a few more silver strands that weaved through the dark mane he kept long at my request, but his face was unlined and his body youthful and fit, thanks to the biweekly visits we shared at the gym. He was attractive as hell, and I never got tired of looking at him.
"Maybe I would be more open to the idea of a child if our relationship wasn't so fucked up."
"What's wrong with it?" Cole said, looking completely surprised.
"Do I have to remind you that we haven't had sex in weeks? We've been sleeping in the same bed, but every time I make a move you push me away. That's not my idea of a healthy relationship. Jesus, Cole. We've had our problems in the past, but our sex life has always been above average."
"Is that all? There's more to life than sex."
"I'm twenty-eight years old, not forty. Good sex is an important part of a relationship. If I had wanted a roommate, I would have married Emily."
Cole turned his back to me, which made me think he had something else he didn't want to share. I always knew when he was omitting a detail or two.
"It's not that I haven't wanted to have sex," Cole mumbled, still facing the opposite way.
"Then what the fuck's your problem?"
"They said I would increase my sperm count if I gave up sex for a few weeks before harvesting the donor eggs."
"What did you just say?" I grabbed his shoulders and spun him around. "Tell me you haven't been pretending to consult with me on a life-altering decision when in fact, you've already made your mind up."
"You've been lying all along?"
"Not lying, Sloan. Just hoping you would see things my way."
I pushed him away roughly. "I had no idea you wanted a child this badly. You should have been more honest."
"I didn't think I'd ever have the opportunity. When I was engaged to Juliana, the topic of children went hand-in-hand with a possible abortion. Until recently, I assumed that the only way I could have a healthy child was if I was prepared to stand by and let them abort a fetus that carried the gene causing my blindness. You know that's the reason I never brought up the subject anymore."
"I thought you never brought it up because you decided that you weren't cut out to be a father."
"Not true. I couldn't bear the thought of destroying a life. PGD has opened up a window I never had before."
"There are those who would argue that conception begins when the egg is fertilized, regardless of the location. A womb or a Petri dish doesn't change the fact that you'll still be destroying a 'life' if you pick and choose the perfect specimen for implantation."
"I prefer to believe that it's not a life until it's implanted and growing in a uterus. I've always wanted to be a father, Sloan, but I had to put my desires away when I started to go blind. Now, I have the opportunity to have a healthy child and provide the heir that will bring my father some peace. So far I've been an utter failure in his eyes."
"Bullshit! You were a successful ballplayer until you were benched by your eyesight. You have a master's degree in history and a fine job at NYU. You're not exactly a loser, Cole," I said. "What you're doing is buying into the guilt trip your father continues to lay on your shoulders."
"Maybe so, but now I have the chance to make it up to him. He wants a grandson and I want a son. It's a win-win situation."
"What about what I want?"
"I thought you wanted me to be happy--that's what you've always said."
"I said I would do everything in my power to make you happy. Unfortunately, I didn't realize it included a child. Obviously, I can't get pregnant."
"But we've found someone who can. She'll have the baby and be out of our lives in nine months. Why does this bother you so much?"
I shrugged but then remembered he couldn't see me, so I verbalized my concerns. "I don't see how it's possible to not feel something for her after she's given you a child. Once you let her into our lives, she'll never leave."
"You're jealous?" Cole's voice rose in surprise.
"You're bisexual, Cole. Before I came along, you only slept with women. How do I know you won't switch back and fall for the mother of your kid?"
"Oh, Sloan... that's not going happen."
I turned away from him, hoping to hide my feelings, but he could sense I was unhappy. It was a terrible feeling, but I had to admit I was insecure. Despite the fame I'd achieved, and the constant adulation and praise from everyone in the fashion industry, my mental image of myself continued to be critical.
"Sloan," Cole said, reaching for my hand. "I love you."
"God, yes," he said, opening his arms.
I let him embrace me, and I buried my face in the crook of his neck. "I'm scared, Cole. Our lives will change completely."
"I promise you that won't happen."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I just know it will be good."
"I think you're romanticizing the entire concept of children. They're a lot of work."
"Think of all the fun we'll have with our own kid."
"I'm thinking of all the horrible things I did as a teenager. You think payback will be a bitch?"
"Who cares as long as we're together?"
"I can't envision myself as a dad. I'm too young."
"Come on, Sloan. Our fathers were this age when they had us."
"I guess so. There is one thing I have to insist on before I can even think about this proposal."
"I'm not going on a sexual diet to improve your chances at harvesting. God, that even sounds wrong."
"Will fucking you on a regular basis make you more compliant?"
"It can't hurt."
Cole's laugh rumbled up from deep within his chest. "How could you even think I'd give you up for pussy?"
"Eww... don't say that word."
"Come on, Sloan. Let's go outside and present a united front."
"Kiss me first."
We came together like long-lost lovers. I raked both hands through Cole's thick hair and plied him with hungry kisses, grinding my pelvis against his obvious boner. It had been weeks, and I was as randy as a teenager. I grabbed his hand and placed it on my cock, which was outlined against my jeans. "You think you can manage to fix this problem before I face Madame Butterfly? I'd hate to walk out there with a stiffy the size of Tokyo."
"That is impressive," Cole said huskily. I could tell he was just as affected by the kissing as he squeezed me through the thick denim. "I'm going to have to do something about it," he moaned softly, "but not now."
"Cole?" I whined in protest when he removed his hand and stepped away.
"I won't do anything with all those people in the other room. It would be too weird."
I snorted in frustration. "Give me a second, will you? I'm not going anywhere in this condition."
"Think about a room full of naked fat women with pendulous breasts."
"What a buzz kill," I grumbled, adjusting myself and willing my erection away. "You owe me big time."
"I'll pay you as soon as everyone leaves," Cole teased.
"You'd better. Prepare to be ravaged, shogun."
We walked out of the master bedroom to a scene of comfortable domesticity. Eileen had brought a lemon pound cake and was plating the slices for everyone while Noriko poured the green tea into the ornate, paper-thin porcelain cups.
"Is everything okay?" Ken asked, looking hopeful since Cole and I were walking hand in hand, and I had a smile on my face.
"Perfect," I said.
I watched Noriko as we began eating. She was a beautiful woman and a perfect candidate for Mother of the Year. There was no question that she and Cole would make lovely babies. "Are you half-Japanese?" I was curious about her genetic makeup now that I realized she would probably be the surrogate.
"Hai," she replied automatically, "gomen nasia," and then she giggled, switching back to English. "My apologies, Sloan-san. I am still getting used to speaking English."
"No worries," I said, finally smiling to put her at ease.
"My father is American. My mother is Japanese."
"How old are you?"
"I am eighteen."
I raised my eyebrows. "So young.... Have you ever had any children?"
"Sloan." Cole frowned. "What's with the questions?"
"I'm just trying to get my facts straight, seeing as how I'm late to the party." I addressed my next question to Ken. "How are you guys planning on doing this? Max told me that surrogate births are illegal in New York State. Will Noriko be going back to Japan to have the baby there?"
"It is illegal in Japan as well," Noriko said, bowing her head and picking at an imaginary spot on her slacks.
"Oh." I raised a questioning brow and looked at Ken. "What's the plan?"
"Simple," Ken stated. "Cole and Noriko will get married."